Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Montreal Plaza

As winter continues the bear down, restaurants serving homey comfort foods have an even stronger appeal than usual. Montreal Plaza is a genre-defying small plate eatery that takes traditional dishes and flips, deconstructs and in some cases, blows them up entirely.

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Restaurant Review: Anthony’s 

Rustica – Cherry tomatoes, mozza, arugula, shaved parmesan and prosciutto

I am not a believer in the “All pizza is good pizza” motto. I’ve turned my nose up at many a tasteless and cardboardy mess masquerading as good pie. Anthony’s wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza is authentic, toothsome and peerless.

Apart from being quite tasty, many of Anthony’s pizzas are visually arresting. It’s hard to avert your eyes from the frescos of greens and reds. Owner Anthony Balestra has found a wide canvas on which to express himself, using pizza as his medium.

The emphasis is on clean flavours and fresh ingredients. The classic Margherita, with the sparest of adornment, allows the flavours of the San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil to come through.

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Restaurant Review: Wilf & Ada’s

While a small crowd huddles in the portico, some stragglers linger out front. Others, like myself, skedaddle and exploit the “we’ll text you when a table is ready” offer. You see, Wilf & Ada’s doesn’t take reservations. Waiting is the only option and there’s no way around it. Is the food worthy of such effort? Affirmative. This place should be on your “must get-to” list!

When you do finally get a table, try the “Eggs in Purgatory.” They will deliver you immediately to heaven. This dish is a carefully conceived idea with delicious results. Picture a small cast-iron skillet containing two eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, covered with a light dusting of Grana Padano, and topped with a heaping of arugula. Toast and homies ride shotgun.

You could also go for the breakfast hash. This particular one I tasted off the “specials” menu was made-up of a trio of roasted root vegetables—beets, squash and yams—tossed with caramelized onions, some crumbled sausage and Parmesan. The mélange was topped with two eggs and a side of toast. An unfussy breakfast, yet beautifully articulated and belly-filling.

What else is worth the wait? The servers. Instantly lovable, gabby and dedicated to ensuring that you have the best experience. The décor has the sparest of adornment yet is fitting for the space. And while the wait is a bit of a bummer, the food at Wilf & Ada’s earns high marks for sticking to the old rule book: make as much of the menu in-house, from scratch and source the best quality ingredients using local suppliers and products whenever possible. And, make it delicious!

Wilf & Ada’s is on 310 Bank Street in Ottawa and is opened 7 am-3pm on weekdays and 8 am-3 pm on weekends.

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Restaurant Review: Restaurant 18

Sometimes friends fade from your life and you wake up one day and say, “Whatever happened to so and so?” There was no scrap or disagreement. Life merely got in the way. As with an old friend, this can also happen with some formerly often-visited haunt. Back in the day, for me, Restaurant 18 was the place to be. Then, for no apparent reason, it faded from my consciousness. So after Restaurant 18’s decade-long absence from my regular restaurant rotation, I decided it was high time for me to zip back in and visit my old friend.

Much has happened there since I last visited. After a company shake-up last fall, Kirk Morrison was installed as the restaurant’s Chef de cuisine. Now at the helm of one of the top restaurants in the city, Mr. Morrison reinvigorated the menu, displaying an impressive set of skills he’s been developing since he interned under superstar Chef Lynn Crawford at the Four Seasons. The dining room has been made over in muted earth tones, rendering the space dark, moody and elegant. Think Paris-chic with striking modernistic design influences. But, it’s the food that stands out the most for me at Restaurant 18.  And, there is no better way to test the mettle of a chef than to make your way through the tasting menu.

The evening started off on the right foot with an amuse bouche, Pacific northwest oysters on the half-shell. Although I was self-conscious about tossing back a few in such a graceful setting, I knew after the first bite that Restaurant 18 and I were taking up where we had left off all those many years ago. The initial slurp was briny and oceanic; the flesh of the oyster, robust. Then the flavours crescendoed to a fruity, cucumber-melon finish. Unfussy and flawless.

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Toronto: Weekend getaway

 

The trip began with us being marooned for 2½ hours on the 401 and was followed with the unsurprising yet disconcerting demolishment of my beloved Red Sox. Thankfully, this Toronto getaway was heavily punctuated by food. So let’s focus on that, shall we?

To no one’s surprise I am obsessed with all things Momofuku, starting with the sculpture that jets dramatically from the ground near the entrance. Chinese artist Zhang Huan took two years to complete “Rising,” which has “peace pigeons” moving up the building’s facade and twisted tree branches that are meant to resemble the body of a dragon.

Drinks were had at Nikai, a bar and lounge located in a glass cube on the second floor of Momofuku. The cocktails are grouped into sparkling, stirred, shaken and classic twists. We indulged in Paper Plane (bourbon, lemon, aperol, amaro), Royal Bermuda (rum, lime, falernum),  Sunrise and Sunset (amaro, cream soda) and an Alberta premium dark horse whiskey—all refreshing and delicious.

A walk down the stairs brought us to Momofuku Noodle Bar for dinner. Up first were the Pork Buns—they are what dreams are made of. Fluffy pillows of bread enveloped around soft pork belly, stuffed with tangy pickled cucumbers, scallions and a dollop of hoisin sauce. It is a well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. The Momofuku Ramen has shredded pork shoulder, creamy pork belly, green onions, a soft poached egg and fish cakes floating on tender noodles and submerged in the most delicious broth. After dinner, I snuck back upstairs to Momofuku Milk Bar for some take-away dessert—Crack Pie, a lavish object of my desire. Believe me when I tell you that this pie is good. Once you start eating this rich-sweet-salty-buttery-silky creation, you won’t be able to stop.

I then joined the rest of my peeps next door at the Shangri-La Hotel Lobby Lounge. The 90-seat Lobby Lounge is an urban living room. Natural light streams through two-storey windows that highlight large paintings, sculptures and an Italian handcrafted Fazioli piano set amid contemporary sofas and chairs. It was a particular frigid summer day so we huddled around the fireplace and had drinks and sipped on fancy tea (there are 68 different types to choose from).  I loved lingering at this Tony hotel lounge. It felt like we had run away to a sumptous and sophisticated hideaway.

And with that, our weekend had concluded. As if on cue, our drive home left us stranded yet again, this time for a shorter period. Thoughts of steaming pork buns swirled around in my head and occupied the idol time. Toronto, Shangri-La, Momofuku—can’t wait till I see you again.

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Kettleman’s Bagel Co.

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Walk into Kettleman’s and you’re right in the hub of the action.

To the left, the bagel roller cuts and rolls the dough. To the right,  the bagels are boiled in honey water to seal moisture. The baker then finishes the bagels with fresh poppy or sesame seeds and bakes them for about twenty minutes in a wood-burning oven. The bagels never stop streaming out of the oven (over 6,000 a day), so it’s not uncommon to get one that’s still piping hot.

Founder and Montreal native Craig Buckley opened the first store in Ottawa in April of 1993. By rolling, kettling, and baking traditional Montreal-style bagels in a wood-fired oven using handpicked hardwood, this Ottawa-based business has become a legend around these parts.

A Kettleman’s bagel is toasty and crunchy on the outside and soft, chewy and sweet on the inside. These carby delights come in all the classic varieties like sesame, poppy and cinnamon raisin as well as more audacious flavours like lemon cranberry, mueslix and chocolate.

Whatever bagel you choose, they’re even better schmeared with one of the shop’s cream-cheese spreads. Kettleman’s also happen to make some of the most delicious bagel sandwiches. Best of all may be the Breakfast Bagel. Smokey bacon, a perfectly cooked egg, gooey cheddar cheese and served with a crunchy latke on the side.

To keep the line moving, they only accept cash or debit. Service is kind and fast. Kettleman’s is open 24/7 every day of the year, so you can nosh at any time of day or night. And believe me, it’s worth the schlep!

Kettleman’s Bagel Co. is located at 912 Bank St in the Glebe.

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Kettleman's Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Burgers n’ Fries Forever

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There is certainly no shortage of burger joints looking to re-invent the hamburger experience. Add Burgers and Fries Forever, aka BFF to the list. Nestled near Barrymore’s at 329 Bank street in Ottawa, BFF bill themselves as burgerologists, where you can find all things fresh, local, hand-cut, small batched and halal, with gluten-free and vegan options.

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Restaurant Review: Taqueria La Bonita

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Ottawa is 3,366 km from Mexico but quite suddenly I am a mere 10 metres from truly authentic Mexican cuisine. The drab, generic strip-mall location is quite a distance away from Cabo San Lucas but this should not deter you from experiencing the genuine Mexican classic dishes found at Taqueria la bonita.

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Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar

18B York Street, Ottawa, ON

You quite literally have to enter the side door to get into Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen + Bar.  Pretty cheeky. Once inside it’s rather expansive. An open-air patio this way to your left, a groovy bar thataway to your right and a mutli-level restaurant straightaway.Consistently noted as one of Ottawa’s finest eateries, Sidedoor is an Asian-fusion restaurant celebrated for two very distinct dishes that are seldom associated with Asia or with fancy-pants dining: tacos and donuts. Although, as we were about to discover, these two dishes have been cleverly brought to inspired levels.It’s essential to remember that the food at Sidedoor is tapas-style, is meant for sharing and is portioned accordingly. The tacos are quite mini, actually. Two bitefulls and it’s over. But it’s not always about how big things are. In this case, the emphasis is on flavour. We sampled the spicy beef, Korean pulled-pork and the Bajan crispy fish tacos. Arranged on soft corn tortillas, they are at once flavourful, delicious, tender, juicy, messy, sinful, dreamy and triumphant. Our personal favourite was the spicy beef tacos with just enough heat and a rightful amount of cool radish and avocado toppings.

Next up, we went for the Coconut-poached halibut. The buttery and tender fish was topped with mango, Thai basil and fresh chili giving every bite an elegant and complex mix of fresh, spicy and sweet.

Finally dessert time had arrived. I’ve never had donuts at a sit-down restaurant, but I was ready. Bring on the white chocolate mint and the white chocolate with cranberry mini donuts. Served pipping hot, they were light and airy with a sweet thin glaze. Easy to eat and share, they were very much worth the wait. I can see myself becoming obsessionally passionate about these swoon-worthy creations.

One thing I observed as the restaurant passed from buzzy happy hour to more serious dinner service, the space retained an almost serene atmosphere, a calmness that can only be described as a pleasure to the senses. We were able to have a conversation without resorting to hollering at each other. Very refreshing.

As for the food, it belongs in rarefied circles. Sidedoor’s chef Jonathan Korecki has been able to elevate the lowly donut and taco and make them so good that they transcend mere adjectives. Having now dined there, regular appearance on the “best-of-the-best lists” come as no surprise.  Consider this food blogger’s taste buds amazed. My dreams are now occupied with tacos and donuts!

Sidedoor

Korean pulled-pork taco

Korean pulled-pork taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy prawn taco

Spicy prawn taco

Green papaya salad

Green papaya salad

Crunchy meatball

Crunchy meatball

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Coconut-poached halibut

Coconut-poached halibut

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate cranberry donut

White chocolate cranberry donut

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Eating my way through Boston – Part 5

To travel to Boston is to be transported into a world juxtaposed between modern and historic. Gleaming contemporary architecture sit by centuries-old brick structures. Monuments to fallen heroes live side-by-side with Hubway bikes. It is a city that has carefully preserved its history yet is undaunted by the future. Always striving to move forward yet never forgetting where it’s been.

Much the same can be said for its cuisine. Classic dinning establishments are revered all the while new innovative eateries are championed. The art of good eating is a vital component of Boston. On my latest jaunt, I acted as if I had been suddenly dropped into the epicenter of this vibrant city and I set off on a little culinary adventurism. Determined to discover old as well as new heroes.

OTTO Pizza how do I love thee? I love thee purely, I love thee freely. You have won my heart. This is what pizza pie is supposed to taste like. Slender and crisp crust daringly topped with what seems like nonsensical ingredients. Butternut squash? Cranberries? White beans? Mashed potatoes? It’s unusual, creative and madly delicious. And it’s what sets it apart from other joints. I dream of one day living near an OTTO and indulging on mashed potato-bacon-scallions pizza every single day. One could be so lucky. OTTO Pizza I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. Till we are together again.

Otto Pizza on Urbanspoon

229 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA
Margherita
Butternut Squash, Ricotta and Cranberry
Spinach, White Bean and Roasted Garlic
Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion
Saus elevates the humble potato to a fine art. Belgian style fries, hand cut daily and served with your choice of condiment are their specialty. And they whole-heartedly believe in the power of the condiment, which is why they offer over 15 unique sauces, not including homemade mayo, ketchup, and gravy. Try the Ole Chipotle (chipotle in adobo, lime juice, fresh cilantro, mayo), the Sweet Bill’s BBQ (onions, cider vinegar, spices, mesquite smoke) or the Bacon Parm (applewood smoked bacon, Parmesan). Just around the corner from Faneuil Hall, check out Saus at 33 Union St.
Saus on Urbanspoon
Depending on who you talk to, Regina is seen as the best pizza in Boston. At 80 years and counting, it’s a genuinely old-school joint, filled with wooden booths and photos of local celebs. As for the pies themselves, the crust is crunchy-chewy perfection and the sauce is light and tangy with a signature drizzle of garlic oil. I can’t not have a slice while I am visiting the city. You shouldn’t either. Pizzeria Regina is at 11 1/2 Thacher St. in the North End and in Faneuil Hall.

Pizzeria Regina on Urbanspoon

I go to Boston to see my beloved Red Sox play. Fenway is the happiest place on earth. It’s amazing to me that though generations have come and gone, Fenway Park remains, much like it did the day it opened on April 20, 1912. Fenway Park is a place where dreams are made, traditions are celebrated and baseball is forever. Williams, Yaz, Fisk and Rice all played here. How cool. There’s plenty of food at Fenway but Fenway Franks is my must-have when I’m at the park. These signature blended franks are meaty, juicy with a touch of smoke and garlic tucked into a steamed New England Style split top roll. This dog has the right spice balance, perfect juiciness and the best flavour. Perfection!

The best salad I ever had, hands down, was at Flour Bakery + Cafe. Quinoa, tofu mixed with roasted cauliflower, carrots, portobello mushrooms, diced celery, fresh edamame beans, a handful of baby spinach all coated in a ginger scallion dressing. This salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan.
Gooey, cinnamony, warm and soft with layers of brown sugar-honey goodness. Pecans sprinkled on top add a touch of crunchiness. Yeah, I’m talking about Flour’s Sticky-Sticky Bun. I have them every time I am in town, as you should. So if you stop by for a Sunday morning treat, run. And make sure you call ahead. They run out quickly.

Flour Bakery + Cafe on Urbanspoon

New Salad! Quinoa, roasted veggies, tofu, portobellos, spinach, ginger scallion dressing. I could eat this salad every day. Actually, make that: I eat this salad every day. We roast tofu and mix it with roasted cauliflower and carrots and portobello mushrooms. We add diced celery and some fresh edamame beans and a handful of baby spinach. The salad is dressed with a ginger scallion dressing that you’ll want to put on everything. It’s the protein punch! Quinoa is the new superfood and this salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan. This salad is vegan as is.     – See more at: http://flourbakery.com/news/summer-2012#sthash.2zKeld0B.dpuf
New Salad! Quinoa, roasted veggies, tofu, portobellos, spinach, ginger scallion dressing. I could eat this salad every day. Actually, make that: I eat this salad every day. We roast tofu and mix it with roasted cauliflower and carrots and portobello mushrooms. We add diced celery and some fresh edamame beans and a handful of baby spinach. The salad is dressed with a ginger scallion dressing that you’ll want to put on everything. It’s the protein punch! Quinoa is the new superfood and this salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan. This salad is vegan as is.     – See more at: http://flourbakery.com/news/summer-2012#sthash.2zKeld0B.dpu
 

 

 

I stayed at one of the most historical hotels in all of America and I can’t recommend it enough. Opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker and located on School Street near the corner of Tremont, not far from the seat of the Massachusetts state government, the Omni Parker House Hotel has long been a rendezvous for politicians.

John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress at the Parker House in 1946 and also held his bachelor party in the hotel’s Press Room there in 1953. That must have been quite the party. Ho Chi Minh worked as a baker at the hotel from 1911 to 1913. Malcolm X, then going by the name Malcolm Little, worked as a busboy at the hotel in the 1940s.

The hotel was home to the Saturday Club, also referred to as the Saturday Night Club, which consisted of literary dignitaries such as Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Sr. Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for two years in his own apartments and first recited and performed “A Christmas Carol” at the Saturday Club at the Parker House. The Parker House currently holds possession of Charles Dickens lock and key to his apartment door and also his mirror.

The Parker House perfected the Boston cream pie, which is more of a cake than a pie. Created by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856, this pudding and cake combination comprises two layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. The cake is topped with a chocolate ganache.

The Parker House roll was also invented here during the 1870’s. Made by flattening the center of a ball of dough with a rolling pin so that it becomes an oval shape and then folding the oval in half, they are made with milk and are generally quite buttery, soft, and slightly sweet with a crispy shell. The story of their creation has several variations, but they all involve an angry pastry cook throwing unfinished rolls into the oven, which resulted in their dented appearance.Parker's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

The joint effort of a former Californian and a Boston chef, Dorado brings authentic Mexican to Boston’s Brookline area. Dorado tacos are the real deal. Made with soft homemade tortillas, they’re stuffed with your choice of grilled sirloin steak, marinated chicken or perfectly charred veggies. I went for the fish taco ensenada. Beer-battered Atlantic whitefish, cabbage, salsa fresca, pickled onions and Baja crema. Its the crunch of the fish and all those flavours that make this tacos irresistible. I’m still thinking about it weeks later. I also tried the house-made chorizo taco with guacamole and salsa fresca which was equally as delicious and flavourful. And for less than six dollars for two gourmet tacos, how could you go wrong?

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas on Urbanspoon

 

Now that Shake Shack is in town, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else for burgers and fries. Located in historic Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard Square Shack’s menu features all the Shake Shack classics (I had the ShackBurger) along with the MInT Chocolate concrete (chocolate custard, mint marshmallow sauce and chocolate truffle cookie dough), the Crimson Red Velvet (vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of crimson red velvet cake from South End Buttery Bakery) and the Lobstah Shell concrete (Vanilla custard, lobstah tail pastry shell from Boston’s North End, strawberry puree and ricotta cream). Good times in the Commonwealth!

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

 

How could you not love a place where everything on the menu is $5 or less? This place I love is called Clover and I frequent it every time I’m in town. They serve a simple menu that changes daily. Clover relies heavily on fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and boasts on its website about the fact that the restaurants have no freezers. The kitchen is expected to get orders out within an average of 3½ minutes. Fresh, organic food, fast. Try the breakfast sandwhich. A sous-vide egg in a warm pita, with sliced tomatoes, a piece of Grafton cheddar, and a dash of salt and pepper. THE perfect healthy breakfast.
Clover on Urbanspoon
In May of 2014, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe announced that it was closing at the end of June, ending its 87-year run. Though I had never been to Charlie’s, I decided to pay my respects.

Located in Boston’s South End, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is a neighbourhood diner known for its breakfasts. Charlie’s has been open since 1927 and has no bathrooms. There are only 32 seats, 13 of which lie along a counter across from wooden refrigerators purchased in 1927. For 32 years, the restaurant operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day. When Charlie’s finally decided to close on Sundays, the owners had to call a locksmith because no one had a key to the front door.
Though its story is in many ways about food, the diner is steeped in rich history. Charlie’s is known for serving African-American jazz musicians during the era of segregated hotels. The walls of the diner are adorned with pictures of customers like Sammy Davis, Jr., Vice President Al Gore, various former Red Sox players and managers, Governor Deval Patrick and President Barack Obama. As a child, Sammy Davis, Jr used to tap dance in front of the restaurant for change.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has won numerous awards over the years (most notably for its turkey hash), culminating in the reception of a James Beard Award in 2005.

I’m glad I went. Throngs of people came and went to wish the owner good luck. Asked what he was going to do when the shoppe is closed, he was overhead saying, “I’m going to sleep in.” Very well deserved, I say.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe on Urbanspoon

 

Senator Edward Kennedy

 

The famous house speciality, Turkey Hash