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Archive for the ‘Eating’ Category

Good Eats at Town

Menu on chalkboard at Town

Menu on a clipboard at Town

I think what it says on the menu "..and wants you to be happy." is true!

Corn in a bag

Corn in a bag with smoked tomato butter, lemon confit, pecorino, roast garlic and chives. I've never had corn like this before!

Stunning painting at Town

This painting is certainly the focal point of the room: a bold shot of colour and so intriguing.

Check out Town’s url and you’ll find townlovesyou.ca. After eating there last weekend, I’m ready to love Town too.

We were off to a good start when I got a smiley voice on the phone. The welcome at the restaurant was warm. The service  genuinely friendly and knowledgeable throughout the evening—thanks Jenn! The décor is appealing too: fresh, contemporary and comfortable.

Next came the food. It was, one dish in particular, finger lickin’ good. Literally.

I’ve never been to a restaurant that serves corn on the cob. Actually, corn in a bag. Sweet seasonal corn on the cob, cut into pieces and cooked en papillote with smoked tomato butter, roast garlic, lemon confit and grated Pecorino. To serve, they slit open the papillote, and sprinkled with chopped chives. I got to eat with my hands! Attempting to daintily cut the kernels off the cob with a fork and knife just didn’t seem right. The corn in a bag was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Sweet, smoky, salty, buttery. The Thirty Bench Riesling I had with the corn was a perfect complement.

The other dishes were no less tasty. David started with chicken liver crostini with rhubarb compote and bacon, a delicious contrast of textures and flavours. Then he had the dirty lasagna made with braised beef and topped with Swiss chard and a poached egg. Tender and flavourful. The portion was enough to make a lunch the next day. I followed the corn in a bag with ricotta gnudi dressed with coarse pesto. They were pillowy light. So simple, so good. The buttermilk panna cotta was tempting, but unfortunately I had no room left. Neither did David.

Why Town is a Good Eat

  • The food is prepared simply. It’s creative, yet familiar and comforting.
  • Service is super friendly. Town is a happy place.
  • It’s unpretentious, a relaxing place to be.
  • An original collection of vases and glass containers lined one wall, each one filled with a flower.
  • It’s fun to play with the name:
    • “Go to Town”
    • “Talk of the Town”
    • “A night out on the Town”

Things to be aware of:

  • Town’s website is a “one-pager.” The Facebook page has more info, including menu.
  • There’s a bright light in the kitchen. It’s somewhat disturbing when sitting toward the back of the restaurant, particularly when the lights are dimmed.
  • The restaurant isn’t that big, so probably best to make a reservation.

Town on Urbanspoon

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Absinthe at Taste of Wellington

Crazy line-up at Absinthe. It looked like they were serving a gourmet mini burger. No doubt delish, but I decided to pass.

Free food is guaranteed to attract a crowd. It’s no surprise then that the sidewalks were crowded along Wellington Street West for the 4th annual Taste of Wellington—smart marketing on behalf of the Wellington West BIA for the area also known as “Epicure Row.” It did a fabulous job of enlisting 36 eateries between Somerset and Island Park Drive to participate and promoting the event throughout town. Other businesses joined in with sidewalk sale items, giveaways or entertainment. Hintonburg’s Causeway Work Centre was collecting donations from visitors.

Il Negozio Nicastro and Caffe Ventuno at Taste of Wellington

The 36 eateries participating in Taste of Wellington are marked with balloons.

Parma Ravioli at Taste of Wellington

Crowd despite the rain.

I have the pleasure of living in the neighbourhood and being familiar with several, but certainly not all the hood restaurants and food shops in the area. Shortly before 1 pm, I braved the downpour and made it as far as the Bagelshop, where I wasn’t the only one seeking refuge from the rain. Despite the promise of free food samples, I had a bagelsub. I was hungry and didn’t want to depend on the samples for lunch.In hindsight, I could have.

The food bites were plentiful. Once the sun came out, the crowd got bigger and the line-ups longer. At 3 pm, the sampling was still in full swing at many places.

I walked to Somerset and back, stopping at the places where I haven’t had the chance to eat along the way. Here are my favourites:

Allium

Allium at Taste of Wellington

Serving organic smoked chicken burgers at Allium Restaurant. Behind the sign is the one of two boxes of herbs and produce growing in front of the restaurant. Fresh and local.

Allium is one of the restaurants I haven’t yet dined at. I had their duck schnitzel with crunchy cabbage on a soft pretzel at Beau’s Oktoberfest last fall and it was fabulous. Today, they were serving delicious organic smoked Mariposa chicken burgers with avocado mousse and mango salsa. Allium is definitely next on my restaurant-to-try list! Note the raised boxes in front of the restaurant are planted with herbs and tomatoes (supplied by Mariposa Farms). The people living across the street can probably witness the chef picking fresh greens and produce for the evening’s dishes.

Dish

Dish Catering at Taste of Wellington

Filling the serving boxes with caramel-gingerbread-curry popcorn. The mini lamb burger was nestled on top.

It’s too bad the new Dish Catering space on the corner of Fairmont and Wellington will be reserved for events and catering pick-up, i.e. not open to the public, because the exotically-spiced, perfectly grilled (not dry) lamb burger was full of flavour! It was accompanied by caramel popcorn that tasted of gingerbread enhanced with curry. I would eat there if it was a restaurant.

Thyme & Again

Thyme & Again serving watermelon marshmallows at Taste of Wellington

Thyme & Again serving watermelon marshmallows at Taste of Wellington.

Fun, light and delicately flavoured watermelon marshmallows served by smiling faces at Thyme & Again.

As it got warmer, I was grateful for the refreshing drinks I tried at Nectar Fine Teas (cool citrus oolong tea) and Siam Bistro (Thai iced tea made of a black tea from Northern Thailand mixed with condensed milk).

I didn’t drop in on my neighbourhood favourites The Wellington Gastropub, Three Tarts and Sushi Umi, but I’m sure their samples delighted those who had them.

Flowers Talk at Taste of Wellington

Flowers Talk had the most colourful stand at Taste of Wellington. Thanks for the beautiful rose ladies!

Art in the Alley during Taste of Wellington

Art in the Alley organized by Alicat Art Studio dresses up with fab canvases, lights and lanterns and livens up with musicians the alley next to Alison Fowler's studio.

In addition to the food samples, I was thrilled to get a long-stemmed rose from the ladies at Flowers Talk (I love the quote “earth laughs in flowers” on the business card—I just made myself a pottery plaque with same quote by Emerson for my garden). I was also happy to see Windhorse Yoga doing demonstrations on the sidewalk, and Art in the Alley hosted by the artist Alison Fowler of Alicat Art Studio. I spotted other local artist Andrew King stopping by the alley too. I took refuge from the rain a second time at the Cube Gallery. I love that the gallery is so unpretentious. Makes it easy to stop in and just admire the artwork.

A great and tasty afternoon in the village. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Whalesbone oyster shucker

Shucking oysters for one of many oyster platters served at Whalesbone.

The Whalesbone Oyster House gets positive press and comes highly recommended by friends. I finally made it there last week and it was love at first bite, literally. Soon after being seated, we were served bread and butter. The butter was different. It had a nutty, toasted flavour. Beautiful. Turns out they heat butter until the milk solids caramelize (make brown butter/ beurre noisette), then mix it back into softened butter. Wow, what a great start!

Although there were several tempting dishes on the menu, we chose the four-course tasting menu. When asked if we had any allergies, I suddenly realized I had a dilemma… I don’t like seafood. Fish, yes. Seafood, not so much (and I’ve tried). But either the whole table takes it or no-one gets it. So, I went for it (no mussels or clams) and thankfully so! Not only did I try new things, but the meal was simply sublime.

Scallop tartare

Scallop tartare with cucumber. A delectable mouthful, captured just before the last bite disappeared.

First, tender and sweetly of sea-tasting scallops contrasting with the sweet crunch of cucumbers and the salty crunch of fleur de sel, balanced by the acidity of a blood orange vinaigrette, rounded out by soft, creamy goat cheese.

Second, bright green spring peas and asparagus with grilled morels and fresh herbs hosting the red-speckled flesh of a lobster claw.

At this point, all the tables around us were getting fresh oysters. David couldn’t resist. We ordered a four-oyster palate cleanser. The XL Angel from B.C. was the size of the palm of my hand. We discovered the difference in taste between farm bed-raised oysters and ones finished on the beach, i.e. left to roll in the surf. The latter have more flavour. We also learned how baby oysters are made.

Then, salmon on a bed of pre-summer succotash (corn, tomatoes, small gnocchi, ramps). And, to end it all, sundaes with Pascale’s vanilla ice cream and deliciously fun and fresh toppings.

As I left the restaurant, I almost felt guilty. Did I cheat on the Wellington Gastropub, my other favourite restaurant? Blushing yes. My first date at Whalesbone was such an exceptional experience, that it now shares first place for favourite restaurant on my palate.

Why I ♥ Whalesbone Oyster House

  • The food is fresh and perfectly prepared. I want to say that you can tell there are women in the kitchen, but there’s no way I could prove that!
  • It’s Ocean Wise certified. The fish, oysters and seafood come from sustainable sources.
  • Staff is friendly, attentive, patient, and knowledgeable.
  • The kitchen is tiny and open. You can see the chef at work. The counter that divides the kitchen from the restaurant is home to fresh sprouts. Snip and plate.
  • The restaurant is cozy. The atmosphere is happy, warm and welcoming. There’s a sense of humour in the décor.
  • Chances are high that you’ll have a friendly conversation with the people at the next table.
  • It has a retail store, where you can buy fresh fish, oysters and seafood, smoked fish and a brown bag lunch.

Things to be aware of:

  • It’s snug. Not much space for private conversations.
  • Seating is limited. Best to make a reservation.

Story from our evening at Whalesbone Oyster House

On May 12, La Presse published an article about Ottawa, which listed some of the great shops and restaurants in Ottawa. Whalesbone was on the list. As we were digging into dessert, two older gentlemen came into the restaurant with this article from La Presse. No tables available, so they took two seats at the bar. It turns out they had come from Montreal to eat at Whalesbone! No doubt, it was worth the drive.

Epilogue

It’s May 23 and I just found a blog post by Lynne Frappier—from inside the kitchen on that same evening—about the same two gentlemen!

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

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Asparagus appetizer at the Wellington Gastropub.

The highlight of my Gastropub meal on Friday, April 30. This appetizer captured perfectly, and simply, the spirit of spring: asparagus with bearnaise, lardons and truffle oil.

For me, there are few better ways of spending an evening—and my money—than discovering and enjoying good food. Food is entertainment (and much more); our spending on other leisure activities is minimal. It’s no surprise then that sometimes I think we could have a budget line dedicated to the Wellington Gastropub. It’s our neighbourhood restaurant and we end up going there about every 2 months. Although there are many others, we always gravitate toward the Gastropub. It offers good value on the plate, and we know the food will be tasty and fresh. But the service is, in my opinion, what really sets it apart.

On our very first visit 3 years ago, we were greeted warmly and made to feel that we were important to them. It’s still the same today. By now, they know our names and we know theirs. We have conversations with them about where the food comes from, exchange tasting notes, tips and other food adventures. It’s a personalized and highly enjoyable dining experience. As a result, we probably allow ourselves to indulge a little more at the Gastropub, but we are also recognized from time to time for our loyalty, which only strengthens the relationship. I realize that this is smart business for them, but I do believe it’s sincere, smart business. And, the food is consistently good. Few restaurants in town manage to get the whole equation right.

Since they seem to have adjusted the size of their mains (portions used to be so generous, that it was often too much), I would make only one suggestion: add more vegetables to your plates!

Why I ♥ the Wellington Gastropub

  • The food is contemporary, fresh and well-prepared.
  • The quality is consistent.
  • The menu is small, changes daily, and features local producers.
  • The portions provide good value on the plate.
  • There’s a changing selection of Ontario beers on tap and a good by-the-glass wine selection.
  • The servers are congenial, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and unpretentious.
  • The atmosphere is convivial and casual.

Things to be aware of:

  • Book early for tables on Friday and Saturday nights, but reservations are probably best any night of the week.
  • The menu gets put up shortly before the restaurant opens (and the website only has a sample), so you’re in the hands of the chef.
  • It can get loud/noisy as the evening wears on.
  • Some interesting music choices in the background.

Story from an evening at Wellington Gastropub

Family friends Erwin and Josette Doebeli are the ultimate restaurateurs and veterans of the Vancouver food scene. David and I had the pleasure of hosting them in Ottawa, one of the stops on their cross-Canada motorcycle tour. We brought them to dinner at the Gastropub and had a delightful evening there. Our server Ivan kept up with our guests’ quick wit and there was fun, friendly banter when each course and the wine were served. The food was delicious. Now this couple knows excellent food and service when they experience it. Upon leaving the restaurant, they declared it was the best meal they had in their multi-month travels from the East Coast to the West Coast!

Wellington GastroPub on Urbanspoon

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