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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


Enjoy, bon apétit!

Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar 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


XO Le Restaurant on Urbanspoon

La Tanière : Creative cooking on the outskirts of Québec City – Part 2

3 Jun

If you haven’t previously checked it out, I suggest you take a look at Part 1 of my review of restaurant La Tanière and it’s 20 course menu here: La Tanière : Creative cooking on the outskirts of Québec City – Part 1.  Otherwise, here’s the continuation, with courses eleven through twenty, and beyond…

The eleventh course called nordic wind, was the most dramatic of the courses.  First, they brought a plate of greenery and pine cones to our table.  They then brought out plates of seal cooked with honey and served with different varieties of beets and turnips.  They then came by to bring the nordic wind which created some wind over our plates with a reaction involving liquid nitrogen.  It was all very dramatic, however, I must admit that I did not like the taste of the seal.  I found it too chewy and with too much of a ferrous taste.  My boyfriend liked the taste since it reminded him of veal liver, so he was glad to finish this course for me.  You can find a video of the effect on my site on youtube by clicking here.

The twelfth course, called comfort, was just that, comforting.  It was confit duck gizzards, broad beens, mushrooms, and some parsnip purée.  The parnsip purée was delicious, it has almost a cheese like creaminess to it.  I was a bit apprehensive of the duck gizzards, but they had a texture similar to that of confit duck breast.  The broad beens were a nice touch which reminded me of my youth and shucking broad beens for soup, adding to the comfort food aspect of the course.  A great take on french cassoulet, this was a very tasty course.

The thirteenth course, called northern effervescence, was an effervescent mix of rhubarb, raspberry and elderberry with some labrador tea.  But most interestingly, there was a hard sphere inside which you had to bite down on while drinking.  It was a strange combination, though a bit too similar perhaps to the tea served in the first course, herbal trilogy.

The fourteenth course, silk road, was my favourite of all.  I imagine the name, silk road, references an indian influence to this dish, served with what was described as a miniature naan bread.  I must say, the naan bread did not taste much like the naan bread I am used, it being much too crunchy.  However, the mix of the lighlty seared bison with the crusted parmesan and mustard ice cream was amazing.  And, I know to most people, mustard ice cream seems unappealing but in this combination, it just worked, perfection!

The fifteenth course, called scottish perfume, started with our waiter asking us to smell a scent, on one of those paper perfume swatches.  My boyfriend and I were unable to place the scent, and that scent was whiskey.  We were then served, in a whiskey glass, some wapiti with brussel sprouts, over which our waiter poured some beef consommé.  This was served with some small bread rolls with pieces of boar bacon in them, and some meat butter.  The presentation was interesting, but the taste was not very special, and the taste of the wapiti was discreet, not gamey.  The meet flavoured butter was interesting over the rolls, but at this point, my stomach was starting to protest the amount of food I was ingesting so I did not finish the roll.

The sixteenth course was called the volcano.  It was a piece of foie gras pâté, served with a small bread crouton, some watermelon, honeydew lemon, a stalk of safran and some gellified prune cubes.  The gellified prune cubes were what stood out for me most with this dish, the small cubes were sweet and balanced the lush taste of the foie gras perfectly.  As well, there was a hint of fleur de sel which made the final complement to this blend of flavours.

The seventeenth course, called already breakfast?, was some eggnog, with some caremlized onions at the bottom, served with a small twist of flaky bread for dipping.  This was delicious, the creamy frothiness of the eggnog, and the caramelized taste of the onions were a nice mix.

The eighteenth course, called a midsummer night’s dream, was the first dessert course, we were approaching the end.  It was cheesecake made with goat’s cheese, served with a raspberry sorbet.  The cheesecake was decadent, with the goat taste barely noticeable.  However, the raspberry taste was the highlight of this, it was so sour as to be almost painful, but a perfect balance for the richness of the cheesecake, delicious!

The nineteenth course was called sous-bois, and had probably the most intriguing ingredient of all, candy cap.  Candy cap is a type of mushroom which grows in Gaspé and western Canada that tastes like… maple syrup.  Yes, you read right, a mushroom that tastes like maple syrup!  By this point, I was very full, and this plate proved to be too sweet for me at this point.  What with the creampuffs, chocolate mousse, candy cap flavoured ice cream, chocolate crumble and some confit berries, it was a bit of a sweetness overload.

The twentieth (and final, oof) course was called gourmandises végétales and was a series of bites with a vegetable base; that is, a small shortbread topped with some caramel corn, a carrot flavoured macaroon, some potato and pistachio candy and some chocolate and beet flavoured marsmallow.  Luckily, these were small enough that I was able to finish them, though at this point I was completely stuffed and tired.  However, while clever, none of them stood out to me as being particulary tasty.

One thing I especially liked was that once the meal was over, the waiter left us a cylinder which held the detailled menu before we left, signed by the chef.

In the cylinder were also some biscotti and some fruit jam, to continue the experience into the next day… a nice touch!

All in all, this was an exceptional once in a lifetime kind of meal.  It was incredibly long, we started eating at 7:15pm and finished around 12:00am, that’s almost five hours of eating!  They do offer other experiences though, so you can choose between 12, 16 and 20 courses, but be warned, there is no à la carte menu.  Luckily, we had also taken a taxi, despite the restaurant being on a lonely country road, because with the wine pairing (even with smaller portions and not all courses with wine pairing), we were both left feeling a bit tipsy.  The staff was professional and courteous but not overly friendly.  The ambiance was a bit reserved, and definitely not for kids.

In conclusion, I had a delicious and inventive culinary experience, that I recommend to all, but not as a regular experience.  If you have a special event, and have both the time and the budget, this can be a great meal.

Bon apétit, Enjoy!

La Tanière on Urbanspoon

La Tanière : Creative cooking on the outskirts of Québec City – Part 1

2 Jun

I first experienced molecular gastronomy a couple years ago at a restaurant called L’atelier in Ottawa.  There, I had a 12 course meal with wine pairing which was amazing.  So, when I heard of a restaurant called La Tanière near Québec City, I was anxious to try the molecular experience again.  My boyfriend surprised me for my birthday by offering me the best they had to offer, a 20 course meal… with wine pairing!

So, brace yourselves, as I describe the 20 fabulous and inventive courses we had the pleasure of partaking in!

We arrived at 7:15pm, the latest they suggested you arrive for the meal, since 20 courses can take a while.  The restaurant is in the middle of nowhere, on a country road, in a very unassuming converted house.  The interior, however, was much nicer, quite modern, and highlighted local art.

The first course was called herbal trilogy, and included three offerings:

The first was a fried ball of boar head pâté, that is deboned boar head, that is made into a country style bread, served with a branch of rosemary.  We were told by the server that the idea was to breathe in the smell of the fresh rosemary as you bit into the fried pâté.  The pâté was surprisingly creamy and not gamey at all, with a smooth texture.  And, the rosemary smell lent a nice and inventive addition to the bite.

Next, our waiter suggested we have the fresh scallop.  The scallop had just been shucked, so it was served with it’s roe.  I had never had scallop roe before and it was delicious.  It had a taste reminiscent of lobster roe or mussels, but with a smooth buttery texture, which was delicious.  It had that granular sea taste while still being very fresh.  Served with the smooth raw scallop with it’s more delicate perfume, the crunchiness of the mango salsa and the tang of fleur de sel, it was perfection!

Finally, the trio finished with a warm cumin and mint tea.  The particularity of this tea, however, was that it was served with a smooth sphere inside, which when you bit into it, released some cold ginger tea.  The combination of the warm and cold was surprising and delicious.  We were off to a great start, these three amuse-bouches were amazing!

The second course called illusion was an inventive take on caviar.  The idea was to reproduce the look, feel and taste of the experience of eating caviar, without it.  So, small gellified balls with the same texture as caviar were created out of different ingredients, namely squid ink.  They were served with small chips of dried parsnip, and a creamy sauce made of goat cheese and champagne.  The result was delicious, especially the creamy sauce, however, the taste of the caviar was not really reminiscent of real caviar.  The briny ocean taste so present in caviar was much more discreet here.  However, this course reflected the theme of the meal somewhat, where creativity and humour were mixed to create a food experience that is not meant to be taken so seriously.

The third course called marine cloud, was halibut served with asparagus, sea buckthorn and squash purée.  The crunchiness of the asparagus was a nice contrast with the tender halibut that was cooked to perfection.  Likewise, the sweetness of the squash was a nice combination with the tartness of the buckthorn berry.  This was also a larger portion, much more filling than the previous two, and I was starting to have some doubts about my ability to eat twenty courses!

Luckily, the fourth and next course, called on the banks, was much smaller.  It was a very fresh malpec oyster, served with grapefruit and a pansy (which are edible).  Again, teh flower was more decorative, and did not lend much to the taste of the oyster.  However, the presentation was pretty and the grapefruit was a nice comination to the fresh ocean taste of the oyster.

The fifth course called scratchy yet delicate, was a combination of nautilus, mussel and sea urchin served within a sea  urchin’s shell.  I had never had sea urchin or nautilus before, so I was very intrigued.  I found the nautilus bland and chewy, it was definitely more interesting than tasty.  The mussel and sea urchin, however, were grainy yet creamy, with a definite briny taste.  It was served with some jerusalem artichoke.  This was one of the less inventive courses.  While the ingredients were original and unexpected, the presentation was very simple, with very little variances in taste and texture, and not much done to alter the taste of the ingredients.  While that can be a good thing, in this case, it left me a little under-whelmed.

The sixth course was called a royal bite, it was lobster cooked under vaccuum, served with tortellini filled with a lobster purée, and served with dill, over a lobster-like bisque.  This was a delicious plate, with the lobster taste omni-present and saturating the whole dish with it’s rich, creamy taste.

The seventh course called apple snow, was a trou normand of green apple sorbet and white caramel, served with a cube of gellified green apple.  This was a nice break from all that food to help us digest and revive our appetite.  The green apple taste was very present, and the gellified cube lent an interesting texture to the dish.  The white caramel taste however was too discreet for me to clearly identify.  I was also impressed by the restaurant’s attention to detail.  We had mentioned to them that my boyfriend was intolerant to cow’s milk, so they offered him a soy-based ice-cream instead – that was much appreciated and showwed that they put considerable effort in accomodating our particularities.

The eighth course called still life, was an ode to older art portraying inanimate objects, such as fruit bowls or other.  It had some grapes, stuffed with some partridge liver pâté or else a grape paste, served with some dehydrated quinoa, dehydrated black garlic powder and sweet vanilla flavoured rolls.  I particularly liked the attention to the presentation in this plate, with the older wine glasses, the slate plate and even the carafe used to serve the wine was reminiscent of a renaissance banquet.  This was one of my favourite courses as well.  The creamy taste of the pâté, with the tang of the grapes and the sweetness of the vanilla flavoured roll was delectable.

The ninth course called coureur des bois, was some guinea fowl, served with some squash purée, asparagus, balsamic glaze, shiitake mushrooms and some fiddleheads.  I felt that the squash purée and asparagus were a little overused, having been in several of the courses at this point, at the same time, with this many courses, I guess that’s to be expected…  The guinea fowl was a little bland, but there was a nice mix of textures to the plate, and the fiddleheads were perfectly cooked and were different and surprising.

The tenth course called Catherine de Medicis, was an artichoke salad served with diced chorizo sausage and served with sweetbreads.  The course was named after Catherine de Medici since she is the French queen who is purported responsible for the introduction of the artichoke in France.  This course was excellent, a little lighter than the previous course, with a nice artichoke emulsion, crispy and creamy fried sweetbreads and crunchy, spicy chorizo sausage.

So, that was it for the first ten courses, be sure to read the rest of my review of La Tanière.  My review of the next ten courses will follow shortly….

Bon apétit, Enjoy!

La Tanière on Urbanspoon