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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

Ryu Tapas: Over-rated Sushi on Laurier

6 Aug

After having read an extremely flattering review of Ryu tapas on the foodie date night blog, I knew I wanted to try it.  I love sushi, and am always trying to top my best sushi experience so far at Sho-Dan.  I also love the idea of mixing a tapas inspiration with sushi, which seemed like a great mix in my mind.  So, when I saw a coupon offer for the restaurant, I figured this was my chance.

My boyfriend and I decided to go to Ryu on a warm Friday night, thinking this would be a great romantic evening.  I love the ambiance of Laurier street, and from the website, the place seemed trendy and sophisticated.  However, I was surprised to notice that the restaurant was almost completely empty when we arrived at 7:30pm for our reservation.  Near a bar on our left when we came in were several waitresses, all dressed in short, tight, black dresses and being more reminiscent of a club on Saint-Laurent street at 11pm then a sushi restaurant at 7pm.  But, we were keeping an open-mind, after all, the food was what we were here for!

We started with the scallop ceviche.  It was served in a citrusy sauce with some spicy oil and some greens.  While the scallop definitely tasted fresh, the overpowering taste of the citrus and the excess liquid left me feeling definitely un-impressed.  It tasted a bit like a sloppy mess, okay, but not great.

Next we had one of their rolls called Kokoro, a combination of scallop, crab meat, avocado masago caviar, tempura, shallots and lightly fried nori paper.  There was a nice crunch to this roll, and I liked the idea of fried nori paper, it being lighter than the traditional seaweed.  However, I found the tempura a bit much, already this roll is fried, no need to add more batter.  Overall, this was one of the better rolls we ate, but none of the flavours jumped out at me, and again, I was left under-whelmed.

Next, we had ordered the takeru roll, which included lobster tail, crab, oyster mushrooms, avocado and tempura.  Once again, it was hard to separate the different flavours of crab, lobster and mushroom.  The pieces of lobster, mushroom and crab were too small and so the main taste that stood out was that of the tempura and avocado.

Next we had the Surf n Turf  roll, which included beef tartare, shrimp, shallots, tempura, avocado, cilantro, spicy sauce, lime and tobiko.  I was intrigued by the concept of this roll as it is definitely represents a fusion of french and japanese influences.  I had actually tried something similar with a beef tartare temaki at Pied de Cochon before, so I was interested to see how this would compare.  The beef was good, but not spiced enough, making it, once again, an overall bland roll.  Despite all the ingredients advertised, it was hard to distinguish the individual tastes and the overall effect was not very good.

Finally, we had also ordered the Godzilla roll, which included eel, hamachi, lime, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, yaki sauce and shallots.  I love the greasy, slippery taste of eel, and on this, the roll delivered.  As well, the creaminess of the avocado was well complemented by the meaty texture of the eel.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that I noticed the lime, tobiko or hamachi in the roll as they were overpowered by the eel and avocado. Pretty good, but not above your average eel roll at any corner sushi place.

Also, one interesting option was that they served several sauces and these were left on your plate.  What ressembled wafu sauce, teriyaki sauce, spicy mayo and also a mix of wafu and teriyaki sauce were served.  I would have preferred that they select a distinctive dipping sauce to accompany each roll, which would have been better than trying all of them to figure out which completemented each roll the best.  At the same time, I appreciate the choice being given to us, it’s definitely better than no choice at all!

Finally, while the sushi was okay, none of what I ate at this restaurant left a lasting impression.  It melded into one big mis-mash of averageness.  For the prices they are charging, I would have expected different tastes and textures, but everything was too discreet or bland for my taste.  Also, the service wasn’t up to par.  The waitresses did not seem at all knowledgeable about what they were serving, and everything we ordered was served at the same time.  No lingering over your meal here, we were out of there by 8:15pm, only 45 minutes after we arrived, and that despite the bottle of wine we had ordered, and finished with our meal!  Also, the décor and waitresses made me think of an exclusive club instead of a gastronomic restaurant.  I was disappointed, I found this restaurant over-priced and un-memorable, I will avoid in the future.

Bon Apétit!

Ryu Tapas

288 Laurier West, Montreal, QC H2V 2K2

514-439-6559

http://www.ryutapas.com/

Ryu 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

Primi Piatti: Creative Italian in Saint-Lambert

14 Jul

These days, it’s rather rare for me to go to the south shore.  However, my cousin recently suggested we go to a restaurant in Saint-Lambert called Primi Piatti.  I don’t generally splurge on expensive Italian restaurants, often finding that they don’t offer as refined or creative an experience as French restaurants, for example.  Nevertheless, anxious to spend time with my cousin, and trusting her judgement, I decided to try it.

The restaurant is located on quiet Green street near Victoria street.  There was lots of parking nearby, though we missed the restaurant at first, it’s storefront being so discreet.  Indeed, the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside is very modern and elegant.  Also, it’s important to note that the restaurant has two seatings, one at 6:00pm, and the other at 8:30pm, and there’s also a terasse available in the summer, though we were seated inside.

My cousin and her boyfriend decided to order from the table d’hôte, whereas my boyfriend and I chose from the à la carte menu.  I started with the astice con mango e avocado, that is, half a lobster, mango, avocado, greens, saffran aïoli and coriander oil.  The meaty texture of the lobster was well complemented by the creaminess of the avocado and the sweetness of the mango.  On this warm summer night, this was a very refreshing appetizer, both delicious and generous.

My boyfriend ordered the polipo alla griglia, that is, the grilled octopus, served with dried cherry tomatoes, aragula, marjoram oil and fregola sarda, a type of Sardinian pasta.  The octopus was grilled, yet still very tender, so that it melted in your mouth.  The fregola sarda was a type of pasta I had never had before, and it provided a nice contrast to the texture of the octopus.  I had never had octopus this tender, I had heard this was a house speciatly, and I would definitely suggest this to anyone going to this restaurant!

My cousin and her boyfriend both ordered the beef tataki from the table d’hôte.  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the piece of meat was minuscule, and incredibly thin.  This ressembled a carpaccio much more than a tataki.  It was served with a creamy celeriac salad.  The mix of textures was definitely pleasing, the smoothness of the steak, the crunchiness of the salad combined with its creamy vinaigrette were excellent, however, this appetizer was way too small.

As a main, my boyfriend had the Guance di vitello brasato, or braised veal cheek served with asparagus and corn polenta, with a sauce made of cooking juice and some truffle oil.  The veal cheek was incredibly tender and cooked to perfection.  The richness of the meat and the sauce was well complemented by the creaminess of the polenta and the crunchiness of the fresh asparagus.  Antoher great plate, recommended!

My cousin’s boyfriend ordered the lobster and tomato penne off the table d’hôte menu.  He felt like they were a little stingy on the lobster, and wasn’t blown away by the plate.  I tasted it too and admit that it felt rather ordinary, just tomato penne with half a lobster thrown in.  Good, but nothing special or worth ordering at the restaurant.

My cousin ordered the veal escalopes with blueberries with a cream sauce, also off the table d’hôte.  Again, it was a good plate, but nothing different or particularly original about it.  Yes, the blueberries were a surprising combination, but they weren’t really incorporated into the dish that well.  My cousin and I both thought this dish was a miss.

Finally, I had ordered the medaglioni di foie gras e manzo brasato, that is, home-made pasta stuffed with foie gras and braised beef, served with portobello mushrooms, slivers of asiago cheese and a demi-glace and truffle butter sauce.  This dish was amazing, not because it was particularly varied in textured, but because it was decandently rich.  The meatiness of the braised beef, which was nevertheless so tender that it melted in your mouth, the saltiness of the asiago cheese, the creaminess of the foie gras, the richness of the buttery truffle demi-glace sauce and finally the chewiness of the portobello mushrooms all made this an amazing meal, that I will not soon forget!

Finally, for dessert, I ordered the crème brulée trilogy, there was a pineapple one, a lemongrass flavoured one, and I forget the flavour of the third one, but it didn’t stand out in my mind.  The dessert wasn’t a strong point for me, the pineapple chunks and lemongrass flavour were interesting, but in my mind didn’t improve the overall taste of the crême brulée.

My cousin took the chocolate mousse with mascarpone cheese.  I didn’t get to taste this dessert, but my cousin seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, my cousin’s boyfriend had the pain perdu with strawberries in balsamic vinegar.  This definitely seemed to be the best of the three desserts, with the strawberries creating a nice contrast to the pain perdu and ice cream.

So, in conclusion, I really enjoyed my experience at this restaurant, my appetizer and main were delicious.  My cousin and her boyfriend, who had been before, concluded that the table d’hôte wasn’t a good idea, and that their choices off the à la carte menu had larger portions and were more creative and perfected.  Moreover, the table d’hôte was not that great a value as compared to the à la carte meal.  What I most enjoyed about this restaurant was that it definitely contradicted my prejudice when it comes to italian food.  This was not simple, and while it was “comfort food”, it was still creative and elaborate.  Highly recommended!

Bon apétit, enjoy!

Primi Piatti

47 rue Green, Saint-Lambert, J4P 1S2

450-671-0080

http://primipiatti.ca

Primi Piatti on Urbanspoon

Carribean Tasty Treats: Jamaican food in the west island

5 Jul

As someone who loves to eat, I often like to explore different kinds of food, in this case Caribbean food.  Though, I think the name of the restaurant is a bit off since first of, it is misspelled (it should be Caribbean and not Carribean), and also because this restaurant is definitely Jamaican, first and foremost.  Of course, there are some things that are common to most Caribbean food, namely rice and peas, and the use of plantains.  However, the influence in this restaurant is clearly Jamaican.  For example, their plantains are cooked the Jamaican way, that is, the plantains are kept soft and moist as compared to Haitian plantains which are squashed and resemble chips (which is why they are often called banan peze in créole).

Regardless of the influence of the restaurant, I was interested to see what they had to offer, especially given that there are only a few Caribbean restaurants in the west island.  I started with some fish cakes.  At 3 for 1.00$, they are a steal, and they were delicious.  They have a wonderful light consistency with a discreet and pleasant fish taste, highly recommended.

Next, my boyfriend ordered the ackee and codfish.  This is considered the national dish of Jamaica, and is made up of ackee (a type of Jamaican fruit), fish and onions.  It was served with salad, some plantains and some rice and peas.  I personally don’t like this dish because of my intense hatred for onions, but my boyfriend said it was amazing, and the portion was big enough that he was stuffed afterwards.

I ordered the curry chicken.  The spice level was not very high, and the curry provided a great balance for the plantains, which have a bit of a sweet taste to them, great for dipping in the curry sauce.  I found the plantains to be too few in my plate so I ordered an extra side-dish of them.  I found the rice a bit too dry, I would have liked if they had offered gravy to go with it.  The salad, which I was too stuffed to eat, had some apple slices in it, making it one notch better than your average garden salad.

I had eaten at this restaurant once before and ordered takeout once as well, but I have to say this was my best experience.  When we ordered takeout, I had the chicken rôti, which is considered a Trinidad and Tobago specialty.  While it was good, it had bone-in chicken pieces in it.  Considering that rôti resembles a type of flaky crêpe which is filled with meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables in curry sauce, the fact that I had to be careful of bones was problematic in my mind, and I won’t be ordering that again.  As for the last time we went to the restaurant, we had gone on a Sunday night where there were too many patrons for the staff, and we had to wait very long for service.  That time, I had also noticed that they did not give us any plantains in our dish and the portions were very small.

Luckily, this last time, the service was excellent, the portions bigger, and there were plantains in my plate.  Obviously, this is not a high-end restaurant, but with the recent improvements in portion size and service (which may be normal for a fairly new restaurant just starting up), I will definitely be going there again for my Jamaican fix.

Enjoy, Bon Apétit!

Caribbean Tasty Treats

4410 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Qc H8Y 3B7

514-542-4410

http://caribtastytreats.com/

Carribean Tasty Treats on Urbanspoon