dinning

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

 

Bobby Flay Saves the Day

Turning 80 is no joke. You’ve managed to outlast the Soviet Union, multiple wars, Beatlemania and Bieber Fever. The least you can get for all your travails is a decent celebratory meal. Tis the reason that I turned to Bobby Flay to fittingly help mark my mom’s 8oth birthday.

Certain occasions in life call for a steak. It’s the perfect carnivore offering for joyous festivities of all kind. But which cut of meat to choose? Enter Broiled Hanger Steak from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Restaurant.

Hanger steak is used infrequently since there is only one of these per cow. It can be a little bland tasting so thankfully this recipe cleverly enhances the steak’s flavour with a savoury spice rub, a homemade steak sauce and “bright” parsley oil.

With steak knifes grasped firmly in hand, family tore into steaks they described as juicy, crisp and tender. The spice rub helped to make the flavours big and dramatic. The homemade steak sauce was a balanced blend of the sweet and sharp notes of molasses, honey, Dijon mustard and horseradish. It delivered a jolt that was at once salty and sweet yet did not overwhelm the steak’s own flavour. Succulent and intoxicating came to mind.

Wine was had, presents were opened and the steak was talked over. Kind, strong yet gentile, it’s no wonder why Momma has had such staying power. She has left an indelible mark on all of us with many more years to go. Although Momma was the star of the evening, the steak was certainly the centerpiece. And I have one person to thank for that. Bobby Flay? Thanks for saving the day.

Bobby Flay’s recipe for Broiled Hanger Steak with Homemade Steak Sauce can by found in Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain cookbook at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Bar Americain on Urbanspoon

Southern Dinner 2014

The nature/nurture debate ends right here. I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. If I ever have the misfortune of being on death row, my last meal request will be Leah Chase’s Fried Chicken, Patti LaBelle’s Over-The-Rainbow Mac ‘N Cheese, Lee Bros. Fried Green Tomatoes, James Villas’ Candied Sweet Potatoes, Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse-style Biscuits and some sweet tea with bourbon. I could then die in peace.

But where did I develop my admiration for Southern food? I mean, it’s a reasonable question and one that’s often asked. I’m a French-Canadian dude who lives far north of the Mason-Dixon line. I didn’t grow up under a cypress tree in Charleston nor did I visit any relatives in Augusta during summer break. I was raised squarely on escargots, soupe à l’oignon and Coquilles St-Jacques. Not a biscuit to be found for kilometers. So really, there is no explanation other than I’ve coveted fried okra and peach cobbler since my beginnings. I’ve long ago surrendered to the fact that I was just born with smothered chicken gravy running through my veins. And why should I fight it? There are worse fates than having an innate ability to cook fried chicken and shrimp & grits. When it comes down to it, I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles, its use of fresh ingredients, but mostly to its ability to provide feel-good old-fashioned comfort.

It is for this reason that every year I play host to a group of friends who indulge me in my zeal to create a Southern tradition north of the border. And I’m more than happy to be their comfort food ambassador. Here are some pics from this year’s “Southern Dinner.”

Bon Appétit Skillet-Fried Chicken
Light, crispy, juicy, tender and delicious. This best describes Bon Appétit Skillet-Fried Chicken or as the magazine describes it, “the only fried chicken recipe you’ll ever need.”

Tart and brimming with brisk flavour and apple-like crunch, these fried tomatoes are topped with a refreshingly creamy butter-milk lime herb dressing. This dish is unusual and one that my friends clamor for every year.

Lee Bros. Cherry Tomato and Soybean Salad 
Soybeans are married with sweet cherry tomatoes and tossed with a buttermilk-basil dressing. A good, fresh-tasting complement to any Southern meal.

Lemon Meringue Pots de Crème
Light, airy and tangy with a delicate lemony flavour, these pots de crèmes were the perfect ending to the feast.

Love + art + latin tradition = Café Morala

She emerges from the back to welcome us like returning war heroes. Miriam, the gregarious owner of Cafe Morala, sets the tone for her restaurant, greeting us with warm affection and fussing over every detail of our order. To dine here is to experience veritable Latin cuisine.

The clientele is dotted with loyal fans and neighborhood regulars. English, French and much, much Spanish can be heard. Cafe Morala has been a local Glebe favourite for decades now.

Want authentic empanadas? Yum! Find this place. A master chef formerly from Bolivia pops in daily to deliver handcrafted empanadas from a cherished family recipe. She makes them for her family, for the café and for no one else. The chef’s love, art and tradition meld together in pure synergy to produce perfectly baked pastry stuffed with an abundance of tasty fillings like spinach, chicken-chipotle, beef-vegetable, cheese and lamb. To savour a Cafe Morala empanada is a privilege. After one bite you will “see the light.” They are otherworldly.

One of my other go-to’s is the salad. It’s circus-like colours will fascinate you, like Versace on a plate. Sheep and goat feta, avocado, roasted almonds, strawberries, cranberries, peppers, beets and greens are tossed together with a lemon-Dijon dressing creating a wondrous palate pleaser.

Although not a coffee drinker, I hear (in English, French and Spanish) that this is the place to come for the best coffee in Ottawa. Cafe Maya, cafe baires and cafe caramel are some of its offerings. Pair it with a lemon cookie or try the alfajor, a traditional confection made up of flour, honey, almonds and several spices, such as cinnamon.

To be a patron at Cafe Morala is to revel in its warm ambiance and experience true Latin cuisine. The diner’s pleasure here is truly essential. And I’m a happy patron!

Morala Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Boobs, Whipped Cream and Sage Business Advice: Steve DiFillippo’s new book "It’s All About the Guest"


“Boobs slathered in whipped cream are great, but money is better. If you want to do well in your business, you should think the same way.” –Steve DiFillippo, It’s All About the Guest.

I love this guy. I’ve yet to meet him, but I am already quite fond of him. How could that be? It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way is no less all about the reader than it is about the guest, and I came away from the book feeling confident that he and I could be bona fide old chums.

DiFillippo is a great raconteur. In the book, his “character” leaps off the page, and you can’t help but cheer for his obsession with food and admiration for people. You are left with the sense of a man who has given himself totally to this world and who has an insatiable appetite for life.

He’s an all-in type of guy, one who shows reverence and a profound commitment to his family, friends, guests and his people. He’s inextricably bound to his upbringing. “Warm and comforting memories,” he calls them. In the book, he recounts how he grew up in the kitchens of his mother and his aunts—both Portuguese and Italian. From his Nana (grandmother) he learned that food mattered, and how it was prepared mattered. “I’m not sure where I’d be today if it wasn’t for Nana.” From his dad, he learned that it was all about having good people in your life. “You can’t get anywhere without them. And you have to treat them right. Then watch, they treat you right.” It’s clear that both his dad and Nana have had a profound effect on how he runs his business and conducts his life.

DiFillippo’s instincts and deepest beliefs are on full display in his book. His narrative shifts as he recounts the highs and the lows from childhood fat-camp, to coffee clerk, to head chef, to a multimillion dollar brand. Part The Art of the Deal, part Kitchen Confidential, with cherished recipes and practical wisdom thrown in for good measure, It’s All About the Guest is a story-driven, passionate chronicle of what it takes to triumph in the restaurant business.

But, this isn’t just a story about how to make it in business. It’s All About the Guest is a tale of DiFillippo’s personal, passionate pursuit to own and operate a successful restaurant, a quest that began when he was a young boy growing up in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. It’s a story of lessons learned along the way, and it provides a recipe for success for young entrepreneurs.

DiFillippo is a model of what it means to be focused and doggedly determined. “If you want to thrive for decades, you can never let up. Not even when a topless server flings whipped cream in your face.” Well put Steve, well put.

It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way” by Steve Fillippo is available at Amazon.com and Chapters.Indigo.ca.

Davio's on Urbanspoon

El Camino. Go for the tacos but stay for the salad.

El Camino is the most trendy, of-the-moment, “it” hot-spot in Ottawa right now. Imagine a taco stand that’s achingly cool and a haven for O-Town’s social butterflies. Taking no reservations and making eager diners line up forever-and-a-day to gain entry only serves to perpetuate its mystique. But make no mistake about it, the food is worth the wait.

This gourmand outpost built its fast-developing reputation on the strength of the tacos. The tacos are what has lured most. And the tacos are good. Delicious, in fact. We sampled four of the five on the menu: Beef, Cripsy Fish, Pork and Ox Tongue. Surprisingly, the latter was the favourite of the bunch. Tender charred meat was well married with the sloppy collection of sauces, spices and toppings. The fact that the “winning” taco was delectable helped with the reality that I was tasting something that could once taste me back.

But if you’ve come for the tacos, please stay for the salad. What was a throw-away suggestion (…wanna try a salad?”) turned into a gastronomical event of epic proportions. I’m talking about the
Green Papaya Salad. This noteworthy gem combines strips of green papaya, bean sprouts and tomatoes tossed with fish sauce, peanuts, garlic and lime juice. This salad cleverly achieves the artful balance between sweet, spicy, tangy and amazing.

Now, am I suggesting that you run to El Camino to set your place in line with the mob of foodies, stumble-upons and downtown hipsters? Uh, yes. But once you get in, just don’t forget to order the salad.

El Camino is located at 380 Elgin St. in Ottawa.

Starting from the left, pork, fish, tongue and beef tacos.

El Camino on Urbanspoon

A taste of authentic Vietnam

It’s the sound of the batter hitting the hot oil that gives this dish (pronounced “bun say-o”) its name: banh xeo. Literally “sizzling cake.” Though it’s difficult to pinpoint its origins, one theory suggests that banh xeo was developed from the crêpe, introduced to Vietnam during the French colonisation in the 19th century.

The thin, runny batter is ladled into a large flat crêpe pan or shallow wok and swirled quickly across the pan until it’s very thin, crisp and golden. The crêpe is then generously topped with pork, shrimp, diced green onion and bean sprouts and folded. Once cut up, it is served in lettuce or mustard leaves and stuffed with mint, basil and dipped in a sweet and sour diluted fish sauce.

The banh xeo combines interesting contrasts of texture and flavour. The crunchy exterior, the perfume of the fresh herbs punctuated by the pungent dipping sauce make for a rewarding and appetizing culinary experience.

Venerable gourmands will want to check out Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro for this and many other Vietnamese classic dishes.

Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro is located at 359 Booth Street in Ottawa.

 

Huong's Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon

Momofuku TO truly inspires

Nowadays, it seems that many chefs are full-fledged brands first, cooks second. Money-printing machines armed with theme restaurants, much hyped cookbooks and TV shows. IMHO, many of these “rock star chefs” are undeserving of the spotlight and often tarnished by too much celebrity, too many product endorsements and simply too much hype. The focus on cooking appears to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

I wish I had the superpower to bestow some of the chefs in my own life with fame, fortune and a cookware line. Case in point, my buddy’s mom. Recently, my taste buds were taken to heaven by her deconstructed lasagna. The dish was pure, authentic and skillfully presented. A true culinary experience, yet one that goes unrecognized but for the acclaim from the lucky few in her entourage (count me in as one of her fans).

But not all celebrity chefs are publicity-seeking and image obsessed. I’ve always had much reverence for Chef David Chang and his ability to maintain a strong sense of self and emphasize food over fame. He grew up working in his father’s bistros in D.C. He trained at the French Culinary Institute before taking jobs at various prestigious establishments. Working at local ramen shops in Japan led to him eventually starting his own restaurant, Momofuku. He now presides over a culinary empire that has been the recipient of two Michelin stars and numerous James Beard awards. For months, I talked everyone’s ear off about my upcoming trip to Momofuku TO, his newest venture. And now, here I was. About to feast on the cuisine of an artist.

The restaurant is fascinating. An odd tree-like sculpture hovers near its street-level entrance. Once inside, the split-level space is extremely unpretentious and dominated by minimalist design in muted tones. Tables with backless stools, towering ceilings, stone and glass complete the look. It’s clear from the outset that this design was deliberate. The focus is on the food.

Ah, the food. We dined on heavenly pork buns. Juicy and tender meat wrapped in soft, pillowy dough garnished with a dollop of hoisin and topped with cucumbers and scallions. Next up, my friend had ginger scallion noodles with shiitake, cucumber and cabbage and I tried the dan dan mein, spicy pork, dry scallops, and peanuts over noodles. I was fascinated by the well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. I simply admire the way he creates dishes, building from tradition and adding a simple spin to create blissful works of food art. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that a meal at Momofuku was one of a higher order than any I’d ever had before and one the best I’ve had in my life.

Chef Chang and my buddy’s mom have much in common. They both have a passion and commitment to bring joy and comfort to their people through food. They both inadvertently inspire. And they both do it without a cookware line. That’s admirable.

momofuku to – 190 university avenue, toronto, on

pork buns – hoisin, scallion, cucumber
kimchi / pickles

ginger scallion noodles – shiitake, cucumber, cabbage
dan dan mein – spicy pork, dry scallop, peanut


crack pie and compost cookies
crack pie

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

{Guest Blog} Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar: soooo not a hipster fortress. But hip? Sure.

I seem to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with food. It’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. For a while now my friends and family have hinted about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friend Zimby. Enjoy!

Pork Belly. Allow me to repeat those two simple concepts. Pork. Belly.

If you’re like me, those two words trigger a veritable eruption of sensations, among them lust (yes, lust), desire, salivation and greed. That last one is important. Greed. For there is never, it would seem, enough pork belly on one’s plate to sate those carnal urges rending the very fabric of our civility. Must. Have. MOOOOOORE! But we’ll get back to this swinish nectar of the gods later.

One evening last month, your humble servant and that other humble servant (you know, the cool dude who writes about food) and I ventured into the funky neighbourhood that is home to Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar. We were accompanied by the lovely Catherine, who wanted to check out this “hipster fortress” – so named by a displeased reviewer on Urban Spoon.

Our first visit was on a Friday evening at 7. We had reserved a table for 6:30, but two of us were late. Cool Food Dude, punctual to a fault, was patiently waiting for us when we arrived, adopting his usual pose: seated, shoulders slightly hunched over his faithful iPhone, no doubt checking up on some stupid reality show or other… The ambiance was indeed hip. A lamp in the Rococo style sat just to our left. Exposed vents? Check. Trendy art work? Check. Wooden school desks (circa 1970s) standing in for dining tables? Oh yes, definitely check. The only non-hipster accoutrement were the mustard colour walls. Please. Sooooo 90’s.

Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar, 750 Gladstone Ave., Ottawa

 

Our first foray to Pressed was for dinner. Service was friendly, attentive and charming. The server was a newbie – if memory serves, it was her very first night. Her unfamiliarity with the menu was more than made up for by her eagerness to please. Pressed allows community groups to have meetings on the premises. While we were there that evening, there was a prayer-group-slash-community-action gathering from the Afro-Canadian community, having a lively conversation that was much fun to eavesdrop on.

As for the food, both C.F.D. and Catherine maddeningly ordered the same dish: pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale. Both termed it very nice, if somewhat on the plain side. And indeed, the fish, not to mention the presentation, was a bit naked. But still, a generous portion of trout, cooked just right. Yours truly ordered the five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles. Ah yes. Pork. Belly. Now, pork belly can be cooked a myriad of ways. But let’s look at two in particular: you can dry bake it at low temps for a few hours, let it sit for a while and then crisp it under a broiler or on the barbeque, so that it is flakes succulently apart with your fork, with the meaty flesh oh so tenderly giving way to the crispy, bacony layer of fat. Like what they do at Café Odile. Or should I say, like what they USED to do at Café Odile, as, sadly, that beloved resto is about to close its doors. Or…

Five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles
Pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale

You can do what they do at Pressed: render away most if not all of the fat, leaving behind a chewy, less fatty and, hence, less flavourful concoction. Good? Hell yeah. But not the earth-shaking, orgasmic experience of the aforementioned variety. And to Pressed’s credit, they give you a HUGE portion of pork belly. So in some respects you’re getting quantity over quality, although as I said, the quality is perfectly fine. The spicing was just right, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. After dinner, my companion had an allongé coffee. It was bland, barely passable. More on the coffee later.

We spoke to the owner after our dinner. A very affable chap who expressed the hope that we’d come again. And sure enough, we did – the very next morning. He seemed genuinely pleased to see us. We had heard wonderful things about the brunch, and I am pleased to report that we were not at all disappointed. For brunch, you order at the counter and get your meal delivered to your table. In our case, the meal deliverer was a delightful young woman made up to look like a hottie straight from the 40s or 50s. Hair up in a bun, high heels, hip hugging skirt with an explosion of bright red on the lips. Seriously, this woman looked just like my mom, circa 1958. Hi Mom! Love you.

Onto the food. Catherine ordered the florentine – Wilted Swiss chard, poached eggs, house-made hollandaise served on a buttery waffle. The eggs were cooked PERFECTLY. Runny but not too runny, just the right degree of firmness. The waffle could have flown away on a feather, such was its airy, fluffy lightness. And the sauce was nice and tangy. Yours truly had more of a dessert waffle, with a gazillion local strawberries sitting on a bed of fresh whipped cream, lying atop that same wonderful waffle. Simple, yet just right. One sour note, though (and I mean that literally): the filtered coffee was dreadful. A sour taste to it, made with what seemed like fishy water. Thought it might be the mug, so we got a fresh cup, but equally disappointing.

Florentine
Dessert waffle

Final verdict: a fun place to hang out, with solid food for the most part, great service, nice surroundings and crappy coffee. Oh and do try the pork belly, won’t you?

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Milos Raonic, poutine and mango flowers converge at the Rogers Cup

Disclaimer. I attend the Rogers Cup to bask in the presence of the world’s most elite tennis players. I gawk, observe, touch, run after, pose with and marvel at. It’s an exhilarating and sometimes exhausting endeavour that requires regular fuel ups throughout the day. Although I am thankful for the rationed IÖGO yogurt and Lindor chocolate samples, they are certainly not sufficient enough to sustain me for a day of chasing after Rafa and Nole.

I am usually quite ambivalent of sport arena grub. I’m there for the event. I don’t expect stadium food to be a first-class gastronomical wonder. But in a culinary mecca such as Montreal, I yearned for something a little more palate pleasing. This longing set me up for a big letdown.

For lunch, I ingested a hapless sandwich named “The Baguettini.” It was sad, painful and even insulting to eat. The hard, dry exterior managed to sheer off the skin on the roof of my mouth. The sandwich’s interior contained a tasteless collection of flavourless turkey, soggy lettuce and some kind of spread. This rather unpleasant experience cost a whopping $11.50.

After having scored a pic alongside Milos Roanic and snapped some shots of Nadal and Djokovic, some substenance was required. After my last experience, I was wary to venture into anything too adventurous, so poutine was my next selection. The iconic dish is a Quebec native. Perfection was not expected but I didn’t anticipate the sloppy, deplorable, unappetizing mush that I was subjected to. Disappointing.

Was I just bad at making the right choices?

Seems not. I was saved by a food on a stick in the form of a mango flower. Imagine a whole mango, peeled and carved into a blossom. Wacky novelty? Yes. Delicious and beautiful? For sure. Manly? Not so much. But a relative bargain for under $5.

So what’s the lesson here? The Rogers Cup is Disneyland for adults. A rip-roaring fun place to marvel at the brilliance of professional tennis. Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Roanic and Simon are a wonder to behold. But the food? Well, let me set myself a reminder for next year. Pack a lunch. It will save me from the unsavoury alternatives of the concession stand.

Milos Raonic


Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray
Rafa Nadal
Daniel Nestor
Gilles Simon
Grigor Dimitrov
Rafa Nadal
Stan Wawrinka (with little man on his shoulder)
Vaclav Pospisil