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Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar: Great dining in Ottawa

15 Oct

I recently went to Ottawa for the weekend, and was quite excited because I had been impressed with their food scene in the past.  I had eaten at the very excellent molecular restaurant L’Atelier and had brunch at Benny’s Bistro.  So, when I knew I was heading back, I once again checked out the local food blogs to find a place to eat using the great site OttawaFoodies.

What I ended up choosing for my evening meal was Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.  It seemed reasonably priced, and had a good, though short, menu.

We started off with some drinks.  My boyfriend had their Beau’s All Natural Lug-Tread lagered ale on tap and I had a their cocktail of the day, a mix of lemon and champagne, delicious and refreshing!

At this time, they also served us some bread.  It was a nice mix of different sides of bread, things were looking good for the rest of the meal, we were off to a nice start.

Next was a salmon amuse bouche, served with a dollop of crème fraîche.  Light and fresh, and better because it was unexpected.

One house specialty is the beef tartare, which they change up with different elements.  This time, there was some maple flavoured bacon, corn, jalapeno peppers and lime chips.  My boyfriend and I shared this entrée, which was delicious.  I wasn’t sure about the combination when it was described to me, but on my plate, it was wonderful.  The corn and the bacon made for interesting changes in textures in the tartare.  And, the meatiness of the dish was well balanced with the crunchy, sweet corn and the spicy lime chips, wonderful!

Next, a “trou normand”.  Again, unexpected and therefore that much more appreciated.  It was a fennel and sambuca granité, a great combination.  Fennel has a very sharp taste which combined well with the licorice taste of the sambuca.  A great pause in our delicious meal.

As a main, I had the course of the day, which is constantly changing.  Lobster with mixed greens, braised fennel (amazing!), beets, crunchy chips and hot sauce.  An unexpected mix of tastes and textures, which somehow went together.  Another hit!

My boyfriend had the black angus beef served with some creamy cucumber salad, crunchy chips, raspberries, spinach and gratin dauphinois.  The steak was cooked perfectly and my boyfriend couldn’t stop raving about the creamy cucumber sandwich.

For dessert, I had the strawberry and rhubarb tart served with vanilla ice cream.  The crust was buttery and flaky and the mix of strawberries and rhubarb was a nice mix of sweet and sour.

Finally, before we left, we were offered some candies to go, a sort of butterscotch and coconut mix, which was crunchy and chewy, a perfect sweet bite to end our wonderful meal.

245 Richmond Road, Ottawa, Ontario

613-728-0220

http://www.juniperdining.ca/

Enjoy, bon apétit!

Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Le Pourvoyeur: Gastro Pub near Jean-Talon Market

31 Aug

Isn’t that a funny expression, gastro pub?  As someone who speaks French, gastro pub makes me think of a bad case of the flu.  However, what it really refers to is a pub with a more refined culinary offering, case in point, Le Pourvoyeur.  In French, they call themselves a “Pub Festif et Gourmand”.

I recently went to a tennis match for the Rogers Cup, and the match was delayed by rain.  So, we went looking for a restaurant to go pass some time with.  I tried for Kitchen Gallery, but unfortunately, it was closed (strange on a Thursday night).  So, my boyfriend and I ended up at Le Pourvoyeur instead. 

The menu has a lot of pub items, so I had decided on two appetizers, the salmon gravlax (Gravlax De Truite Au Gin Québécois « Ungava » Et Sirop D’Érable) and the mini grilled cheese (Mini « Grilled-Cheeses » Au Fromage Du Québec).  However, they were all out of gravlax, so I decided to fall back on a classic poutine instead.

I love poutine, it’s one of my guilty pleasures.  You know, the kind that makes you think : who cares about being healthy…. this is worth it!  However, when you throw caution and reason to the wind like that, you want it to be for a worthwhile poutine.  They also had a poutine with duck confit in it, but having had some bad experiences where they throw in onions in this type of poutine (I understand this might be a good culinary mix, but I despise onions, so it just doesn’t work for me), I decided on the classic one.  The fries were good, though a bit large and not as greasy as I like.  The cheese curds were a little too big, I had to cut them into pieces to have the proper cheese to fries to gravy ratio throughout the meal.  The gravy was nice, not jump in your face great, but a nice, respectable gravy.  Overall, the poutine was good, but nothing to write home about.

However, the definite standout for this meal was my boyfriend’s choice, the fish plate (Assiette de poisson).  He, unlike me, was reasonable and chose this dish.  To me, on a menu full of more appetizing suggestions (ie Hambourgeois De Légumes Et Fromage De Chèvre Des Neiges, Côtes Levées De Porc Du Père Canu, Hambourgeois De Pulled Pork, Gros Chien Chaud, Choucroute Et Chips), the fish plate seemed very underwhelming.   But I was very, very wrong.

Yes, you saw correctly, this was the fish creation that my boyfriend got.  Fish plate, what an inadequate name, this was more than a mere fish plate, it was practically art!  Delicately cooked, tender, white fish (I believe it was tilapia), served on top of a watermelon and strawberry gazpacho.  It was amazing, I was looking at my poutine and comparing it to his plate and suddenly regretting my foolish act of greasiness.

So, all in all, I really liked this gastro pub, despite regretting my choice of meals.  There was a really nice selection of white wine by the glass (I had the La Grenouille, France, Melon de Bourgogne and the Château des Matards, France, Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle) and of beer on tap.  The food was good and did go that extra mile to hit the “gastro” note.  And most of all, I liked the atmosphere, not too hipster, not too casual, just relaxed and busy on this rainy Thursday night.

Enjoy, bon apétit!

184 Jean-Talon Est, Montréal, QC H2R iS7

514-277-5858

http://lepourvoyeur.com/

Le Pourvoyeur on Urbanspoon

Restaurant XO, Hôtel St James: As luxurious as it looks?

21 Aug

I had heard of the Hotel St-James before; to me, it brings up images of rock stars and uber luxurious surroundings.  So, when a friend mentioned she was having her wedding reception (and meal) there, I was anxious to try it.  We were a small party of around 30 people, so we were seated on the mezzanine, with a nice view of the first floor and a wonderful chandelier.  Unfortunately, though, it was a little warm, with the air conditioning not quite cooling down the whole level.

I  started off with  a raspberry and lemon cocktail, fresh and tangy on this warm evening.

The tables were decorated with some lovely pink roses, very appropriate for this wedding supper.

The menu was preset, and we were served two entrées and then we had a choice of a main meal between veal or duck, and then a cheese course followed by a dessert course.

They started us off with a selection of breads.  They had some type of pizza bread, it was drenched in oil; greasy, but delicious!

Next, we started off the entrées with snow crab from Gaspé, pistachio powder, lemon, tarragon oil, whipped celery root and roasted red pepper.  I was a little put off by the size of the entrée, it felt a little too small.  However, it was a great start to the meal.  The crab was very fresh and the mixture of textures and tastes was intriguing.  I liked that the whipped celery root and pistachio powder lent some molecular elements to the dish, making it both tasty and interesting.

Next we had the foie gras with spiced brioche, strawberries, millet mint, macadamia and molasses.  The best part of the dish was definitely the spiced brioche.  It was so concentrated in flavours, cinnamon, molasses and nutmeg.  Also, it was a nice contrast to the creamy, unctuous foie gras.  While the crab was small, this was a huge piece of foie gras, and many people at the table were unable to finish it.  I therefore got some leftovers and ended up eating two to myself… yum!

I decided on the veal course for the main meal.  A duo of veal cheek and filet, celery root, butternut squash tortellini, burnt onion gel and collard greens.  Both the filet and the cheek were extremely tender, and the veal filet was cooked to perfection.  The butternut squash tortellini was another highlight of this dish, with a creamy and decadent filling.

The other option was the duck magret with apricot, kohlrabi, maitake, wheat berry, orange and wild leeks.  While I did not taste the dish, other guests mentioned it was good, and also very well cooked.

Next up was the cheese service.  I don’t recall the exact cheeses, but I recall them being good…. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese I didn’t like!

Finally, the dessert was a chocolate pudding with cherry sorbet, pistachio, crumble and yogurt spuma.  I didn’t particulary like the dessert.  Again, the effort was there with a pistachio chip, some whipped yogurt, the crunchy crumble, etc.  However, I’m not a fan of cherries and found the tastes, while all good individually, didn’t do much for me personally.  And, despite my earlier fears of the portion sizes being too small, I was now stuffed, so I didn’t bother finishing my dessert.

As a nice touch, we were also given some mignardises to finish the meal.  There was some meringue, some blackberry gelly, and some crunchy little cakes.

The décor was beautiful, though quite empty on this Saturday evening. I would have expected more people at the restaurant, and was surprised by the low turnout.

In conclusion, while probably not up to par with their usual service and offerings due to the fact that it was a set menu for a wedding, I nevertheless really enjoyed my evening at the XO Le Restaurant at Hotel St-James.  I felt that they showed inventiveness in their ingredient selection and their offering of different tastes and textures.  So, while it’s definitely not what I expect is a typical experience that might get if you went there for a romantic evening for two, I still felt it gave me a good idea of the quality of the restaurant.

I enjoyed my experience and would recommend the restaurant.  Definitely worth experiencing.

Enjoy, bon apétit!

XO Le Restaurant

355 Saint-Jacques Street, Montreal, Québec H2Y 1N9

514-841-3111

http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/dining.asp

XO Le Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Banquise: Is it really the best Poutine in town?

2 Aug

Poutine is often referred to as Quebec’s culinary achievement, something that we are quite proud of having created, and which is particular to Quebec.  So, there is fierce competition as to which is the best poutine in town.  For many, that poutine can be found at La Banquise, or so I’ve been told anyway.

After a night out on the town, me and a group of friends decided to head out for a poutine.  A great source of sustenance after having over-imbibed a little, and a great chance for me to experience this legendary poutine first-hand for the first time.

I had the classic poutine.  After all, what better way to judge if this is in fact the best poutine in town?  I must admit, I was under-whelmed.  The fries were delicious, and had a little sweet taste that made them extra special.  However, the gravy was too bland for my taste, adding nothing to the overall taste of the dish.  Moreover, one third of my fries had no gravy on them, which is not ideal.  And, the most important ingredient (for me) in a good poutine is the cheese, and in this case, the cheese to fry ratio was not sufficient.  I had to carefully ration my cheese to ensure I had enough to finish my poutine.

One of my friends had ordered the chicken and pea poutine.  She enjoyed her poutine immensely.  Personally, I find peas don’t fit on top of a greasy poutine, but she enjoyed it.

In conclusion, La Banquise has achieved cult status in Montreal.  Even at 3am, there is a line-up to get in and another line-up for takeout.  Personally, though, I am still not convinced this is the best poutine in the area, I think this place is overrated.  Good, but not mind-blowing.  Let’s just say that I still haven’t found the poutine I’m looking for….

La Banquise

994 rue Rachel Est

Montreal, Quebec H2J 2J3

514-525-2415

http://labanquise.com/

Resto la Banquise on Urbanspoon

Newtown : Expensive restaurant that doesn’t live up to its award winning chef

26 Jun

As with most people in Montreal, I was aware of the existence of the Newtown restaurant, and had even been a couple of times for an after work 5 à 7 (otherwise known as happy hour).  However, when the chef of the Newtown, Martin Juneau, won the National Golden Plate award I was intrigued.  However, I wasn’t intrigued enough to check it out until I saw a travelzoo coupon for a special deal there announced recently.  100$ for two amuses bouches, two appetizers, two mains, two desserts and three glasses of alcohol for two people seemed like a great deal, and an excuse to check out the restaurant and its award winning chef.

We had reserved for a sunny Thursday evening in early summer, so the first floor was filled with business men and women enjoying a loud, happy hour.  We were directed to the restaurant on the second floor.  We were seated first in the “lounge” area.  I didn’t really understand the concept and asked to be seated at a table, I was told I would be escorted their for the main meal.  So, we decided to have drinks while we waited.  I had a bloody caesar, it was good though a little too spicy, as is often the case at restaurants.  My boyfriend tried to order a “Ricard”, a type of pastis, but our waitress (who didn’t speak very well in French) brought him a Rickard’s red instead…. hmm, this wasn’t starting of so well!

Next, we were surprised while, still in the lounge area, our amuses-bouche arrived, and it was an aragula soup.  Generally, amuses-bouches bring to mind small bite sized portions, not soup.  Nevertheless, the soup was excellent, it was thick and creamy, and the aragula was well represented.

We were then escorted to our table.  I didn’t quite understand the change of seating, especially since the restaurant was half empty, but I was still glad not to be eating in the lounge on the couch.  Next, we had a choice of appetizers and mains from their regular menu.  As an appetizer, I ordered the tuna salad with teriyaki sauce, tuna sashimi and fried onions while my boyfriend ordered the porkbelly with beet salad and caramelized pistachios.  Note that they change the menu frequently, so these choices may no longer be available.

The tuna salad wasn’t great.  The tuna had been shredded and had this strange, stringy texture.  Maybe because of this, I found the tuna didn’t taste like anything, it was too bland.  The taste that stood out from the plate was the teriyaki sauce and it completely overpowered this appetizer.

My boyfriend enjoyed his salad, but also found the salad dressing overpowering.  Nevertheless, he liked the cold pork, beets and caramelized pecans.  It was good, but nothing spectacular.

Next, I ordered the grilled catch of the day, served with lemon caper butter, braised fennel and sweet potato purée.  The grilled catch ended up being salmon.  The presentation was excellent, but the plate arrived cold.  The fish was lukewarm, and the rest of the items were actually cold.  So, even though the plate was good overall with the sweetness of the sweet potato purée blending well with the tartness of the fennel and the meaty texture of the esalmon, the fact that it was cold ruined it for me.

My boyfriend had ordered the grilled flanksteak with “pontneuf” fries and gremolata.  My boyfriend enjoyed his meal, his wasn’t served cold 😉  The meat was rare, as requested, and it was well accompanied with a cheesy sauce and some large fries.

Finally, for dessert, we enjoyed a chocolate mousse served with a chocolate crumble.  While the presentation was again very nice, the spoon I was given didn’t fit the dessert dish, and I had to request a smaller spoon!

Despite this small setback, I enjoyed the dessert.  I found it a little too chocolatey, luckily the chocolate crumble was quite salty helping to counterbalance the sweetness of the mousse.

So, all in all, I was disappointed with my experience at Newtown.  What with the award-winning chef, and the high price (regularly, without a coupon) , I had been led to believe that this meal would wow me, and that wasn’t the case.  Also, the service wasn’t what you would expect from a restaurant that’s trying to showcase its food.  The waitresses were all very pretty in tight red dresses, but they were understaffed for the restaurant and were not used to serving wine or apéritif (hence the Rickard’s…) and did not speak French all that well.  They seemed more like bar staff than actual waitstaff.  What was interesting too was that we recognized the sommelier from Européa who seemed to be acting as manager for the restaurant on this busy Thursday night.  When we spoke to him and mentioned that we recognized him, he promised us some dessert wine.  We were pleased, but he never delivered, so it just added another disappointment, in an evening that had missed all my expectations so far.

In conclusion, this is a place to see and be seen, not for a culinary experience.  I get the impression it’s a bit of a tourist trap on busy Crescent street, so I would avoid.

Bon Apétit!

1476 Crescent Street, Montreal, Qc

514-284-6555

http://lenewtown.com/

Newtown on Urbanspoon

Icehouse: Trendy Texan… but not so tasty…

13 May

I had heard a lot about the restaurant Icehouse, via various blogs and on the quebec television show “guide resto voir”.  I had seen how they “dumped” your food on your table with no plates or utensils, so I had an idea of the type of simple place it was going to be.  So, when a friend suggested we go, I was excited.  We arrived at 7:00pm on a Saturday.  The restaurant is minuscule, with only about 15 places inside, and about 20 more on the terrace.  The terrace is separated from the restaurant by a type of garage door with windows.  On this early May evening, the door to the terrace was open and several patrons inside were wearing their jackets.  We luckily didn’t have to wait long for a table, only about 10 minutes.  We were seated on the terrace on a minuscule table made of three slats, and sat on narrow (and sometimes wobbly) benches with no backs.  But, this type of picnic table décor went with the no frills, Texan ambiance, so I was ready and looking forward to the experience.

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I started off with a glass of bourbon laced lemonade as did another of my friends, while my other friend took a beer.  He was quite disappointed by the limited selection, but settled on a pint of Creemore Springs.  My lemonade was delicious, the tangy taste of the lemonade combined with the sweetness and kick of the bourbon was perfect, this is definitely a combination I will try at home this summer!  I was pleasantly suprised, and was looking forward to some Texan “comfort food” to go with it.

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Next, we decided to start with some appetizers, we chose the popcorn shrimp and sweet potato tater-tots.  This is where things started to go downhill.  The shrimp were very small, deep fried in a spicy batter.  However, the shrimp were too small to be deep fried, and the taste of the shrimp was overpowered.  Also, they were drizzled in red wine vinegar, which did not go well, according to me, with the spicy taste of the batter, and left an unpleasant, vinegary taste.  One of my friends disagreed, and thought it went well with the spicy batter though, so we did not agree on this appetizer.

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Also at this time, it was getting quite cold so the door separating the terrace from the restaurant was closed, which unfortunately did not help the atmosphere, making us feel slightly isolate.  To counter the cold, the staff turned on some patio heaters on the terrace.  Unfortunately, the terrace temperature was very uneven.  One of my friends had their jacket on, while the other had the heater behind her and was sweating profusely due to the closeness of the heater, so we were not at our most comfortable.

The tater tots were served next.  The portion, like that of the shrimp, was quite small.  The tater tots were made up of a mixture of onions and sweet potatoes, but the taste of the onions overpowered the subtle sweet potato taste.  These were not particulary delicious, and with only 5 tater tots in the portion, we were not impressed.

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Next we ordered our main meals.  I chose the oyster po-boy sandwich, one of my friends ordered the lobster burrito and finally another chose the pulled pork taco.

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The oyster po-boy was served in a hamburger bun, with mayonnaise and lettuce and filled with fried oysters.  It was okay, nothing special.  The grainy texture of the oysters was strange in a sandwich, and there was nothing special about the choice of ingredients nor their quality.

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One of my friends had taken the pulled pork taco.  It came with a strange assortment of ingredients: pickled watermelon, chicharrón (pork rinds), caramelized pecans, and of course pulled pork.  This was a strange combination, the pulled pork was very tender, and on its own was quite good.  The pickled watermelon did not taste very much like watermelon, it had the texture of a melon, but with the vinegary taste reminiscent of the pickled turnip you find at Amir; the fact that it was pickled completely overcame any watermelon taste so that it was unrecognizable.  The caramelized pecans were delicious on their own as well, crunchy and sweet.  The Icehouse also makes, on site, their own tacos, so they have a very distinctive, authentic taste to them due to the fact that they use traditional corn flower.  Personally, I don’t like the taste of corn tortillas, and I felt it was the most prominent taste that stayed in my mouth when tasting the taco, but this is a personal prejudice, not specific to the icehouse.  The Chicharrón were terrible, I love “les oreilles de criss” as they’re commonly known in quebec, but these were dry and stale and frankly, disgusting; they completely ruined the taco for me.  All in all, this was a terrible plate, with some good elements indivually, but which together, made no sense and were not complementary.  My friend did not finish her taco and left half of it on her plate, uneaten.

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Finally, my other friend had taken the lobster burrito.  This was the best meal of the three.  It was more traditional, with lobster, black bean paste, pico de gallo, sour cream and grated cheese.  The pieces of lobster were large and generous, and the taste was very good.  Though, again, nothing special, just a good burrito.

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Still hungry after her unfinished pulled pork taco, my friend suggested we try a dessert, so we decided to try the deep-fried apple pie.

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It was the only dish served with utensils, but it was also a disappointment.  There was too much batter, and the fact that it was fried added nothing to the dish.  The batter was not salty to create a salty-sweet effect, so the overall effect was boring, and my friend even mentioned that it tasted like the apple strudel you buy at mcdonald’s.

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So, in conclusion, I felt the icehouse was greatly overrated!  The food was mediocre, and not worthy of all the hype it’s been getting.  The bourbon lemonade and interesting décor of the restaurant, and the quaint terrace, could make this a nice place to have a quiet drink amongst friends in the summer, but there are better places to eat comfort food in Montreal, with better bang for your buck!

51 Roy Street East, Montreal H2W 2S3

(514) 439-6691

Icehouse on Urbanspoon