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.
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.
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.
The best thing I ate this month was yet again a creation from Allium Restaurant. This time around, it was their take on biscuits & gravy.
When I sat down and looked at the menu, I was a bit unsettled to discover this classic Southern combo north of the Mason-Dixon line. I nearly dismissed it out of hand. I mean, what do Canadians know about biscuits and gravy? It turns out, a whole heck of lot.
The rich and peppery smoked pork and mushroom gravy was perfectly paired with the biscuits, which were buttery and had an airy flakiness about them. The chicken was classically Southern-style and ideally cooked. Crispy, light and never greasy. The apple jam and hot honey added just the right touch of sweetness. The pickled cabbage and peanuts were a nice complement, bringing freshness and crunch.
This dish was a triumph and a contemporary exploration on one of the most revered dishes of the South. And it was the best thing I ate this month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!