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.
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.
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.
I stared at it like I would an expressionist painting. What was his vision? His Motivation? Was he in pain? Troubled? Inebriated? No. Just “Inspired by spring,” I was told. As a visual, it was bright and uplifting, expressive and assured. It pained me to take the first bite and unravel the masterpiece but this canvas was made for savouring.
Layered on a brushstroke of pesto were little diamonds of young yellow beets. The earthy quality of the beets were a perfect match for the refreshingly tender peas, served alongside their shoots. Crisp little domes of pastry hid luxuriously rich duck pâté. The honeycomb gem was a treasure and provided sweetness and unique texture.
There was nothing not to like about this salad. Within a flash I had devoured it. I was sad yet ever so thankful to have enjoyed a wild-fully original gustatory chef-d’oeuvre. Bring on Spring.
This bright jewel of a dish was created by Chef Kirk Morrison for his tasting menu at Restaurant 18. And it was the best thing I ate this month.
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.
I received more than a few puzzled stares when I announced that I had just dined on chicken and waffles at Hooch Bourbon House restaurant. For hardcore obsessives of Southern cuisine, there is nothing more heroic than these two combinations. Where today, most chicken is served devoid of bones or skin, this Cornish hen is proudly dished-up bone-in, skin-on and artfully displayed on its cutting board canvas. A perfect tribute embodying the soul of the south in the dead of winter. The smokey-sweet chipotle maple emulsion provides a compelling counter to the soft, chewy buttermilk waffles and tender crispy chicken. This is a stunner of a dish. A simple, good thing elevated to symphonic heights. And it was the best thing I ate this month.
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.
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!
Korean pulled-pork taco
Spicy beef taco
Spicy prawn taco
Green papaya salad
Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint
Last year, the owner’s of Mello’s came up with a cool idea to breathe new life into the 70 year-old diner. A permanent “pop-up.” Why not open in the evenings, reinvent the menu and offer new takes on old classics? Steak, burgers, noodles, dumplings and sandwiches have been elevated to a supernatural level, all wonderfully executed and kindly priced. The basic yet envelop-pushing dishes are some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
The word “best” is bandied about so indiscriminately these days that its true meaning has been distorted. “Best” has become slang-fodder for anything that’s remotely good, pleasing or enjoyable. But it should be reserved for a supremely incomparable, truly award-winning and momentous thing or occasion. So allow me to restore “best” to its original luster and speak about something that is world-class, top-grade and truly “the best,” the Mello’s Burger.
Now I’ve seen a lot of things, been to a lot of places and eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime. Shake Shack, In-N-Out, Craigie on Main…all glorious. But I’ve never ever, NEVER EVER been sent to hamburger heaven as I did that night I visited Mello’s.
A flat-top griddle is used to sear the patty, creating a crunchy caramelized crust and a juicy center. The beef was beefy and each bite oozed with luscious flavour. Served on toasted bread, the burger experience was made all the more memorable with a just-right melding of cheddar, onions, mustard and pickles. This burger, folks, is a thing of beauty.
There is plenty of other fare to be had that is equally as delicious. My pals devoured the scallops with chorizo and rosemary cauliflower puree. It was declared a winner! My side-salad was huge, big on flavour and included a creative combo of ingredient (celery root, eggplant and mint dressing.) There is an inventive but affordable take on a braised beef sandwich with fermented chili sauce, daikon sesame slaw and rings. I spied guests devouring the roast pork cubano sandwich, which is made up of ham, spiced mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles. That’s on my list for my next visit. But really, the ultimate champion of the evening, was without a doubt the Mello’s Burger. It was, truly the best!
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.
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?