Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Open Letter to Bridgehead Coffeehouse

Dear Tracey Clarke:

If you have ever wandered over to my blog, which I hope you have, you will know that I love food. More importantly, I love coffee. Good coffee.

Lucky for me, there are now a dozen Bridgehead coffeehouses dotting the urban landscape here in the nation's capital. Today I stopped in to your Golden Street location at precisely 1:40 pm. Being one of your larger stores, I think of that particular coffeehouse as the 'gateway' to 'Westboro West'.

My mission was to pick up two critical breakfast accoutrements for the upcoming gal pal weekend deep in chalet country on the Canadian Shield in Quebec.

The first item was a half pound of Nicaraguan Dark, ground for an automatic coffee machine, basket filter. At this moment, the bag is driving me to distraction. The scent of fresh ground coffee permeating from that bag is pure drug.

The second item I needed to purchase was your 500 gram container of chunky handmade Bridgehead Granola fresh from the Bridgehead Kitchen. I faltered for a moment as I grabbed the 1.2 kg bag out of pure gluttony. Three breakfasts and four ladies. No matter how I did the math, there was no way I could justify it. I love how the rolled oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, honey, canola oil, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and almond extract cleave to each other in gentle bundles that quickly relax at the slightest touch of a knowing spoon or a closing jaw. This granola is headed to the top of the heap of fresh fruit and plain, fresh yogurt.

I thought my visit was straight forward, but as can often be the case, approaching the cash is not without its dangers. It was well past noon and without hesitation I scooped up your last pre-made tuna sandwich. Your grainy bread (also from the Bridgehead Kitchen) is pillowy soft. The cucumbers and lettuce, crisp. I love that you and your master food people know that dill and capers are absolutely exquisite in a tuna sandwich. Nice that you offer your sandwich bread for sale by the loaf.

When my foot crossed the threshold, I think I already knew that I would not get out of Golden without a latte crossing my lips. Being of the older persuasion, I know that past noontime means any coffee must be decaf. I love that you can make a decaf latte not seem like fake coffee. A mirage of ‘high test’ all the way.

It is with great regret that I did not ask the name of the young gentleman on Barista duty for my sacred potion. The espresso for my coffee was deep, full-bodied and thick. The micro bubbles of milk were silkily poured into my cup with the steady precision of an artist's hand. My latte art was not one fern. Not two ferns. But a full bouquet of three ferns engraved into my espresso crema. It would not be wrong to promote him to Barista Maestro if you have such a title.

So why am I writing? You already know your lattes are drinks for the gods. Even if mine was a decaf. You already know that your Bridgehead kitchen is doing very good things with your granola, your bread and your other culinary creations. You already know you have top-notch teams working each coffeehouse.

I am writing to you because I wanted to tell you that I know too.


One of Ottawa's Real Foodies

Bridgehead Coffeehouse
440 Richmond Road (at Golden)
Ottawa, ON

Mon to Sat: 6:30 am - 10 pm
Sun: 6:30 am - 9 pm

Bridgehead on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bistro St-Jacques - One of the 10 "Where To Eat Now" Restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau

Bistro St- Jacques: "It's like being in France without the cost of the flight." - Shawna Wagman, Ottawa Magazine

On Thursday afternoon I read the newly released November issue of the Ottawa Magazine. Divine intervention would have me buying the very first copy as I made my purchase at Britton's in the Glebe. Shawna Wagman's article showcased her "Where To Eat Now" list of top ten restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau. I thought I was totally up-to-date on the 'must try' eateries in this region, so imagine my surprise when she tucked into her list a place I had never heard of before.

My curiousity was piqued by the inclusion of a lesser known bistro nestled onto a side street in Hull called Bistro St-Jacques. Come mid-November they will be celebrating their 2nd anniversary. Although a very new restaurant, they know their vision and they operate it with confidence. Co-owner and general manager, Vincent Denis has global experience and on the local front he was longtime co-owner and founder of Jean Sébastien, which is right across the street.

The secret weapon in their arsenal is professionally trained executive chef Christopher Mulder, who has been with them most of the 2 years. Chef Mulder delighted us with a visit table side at our Friday night dinner. I didn't dare ask his age but his youthful presence seems a bit unbelievable when you hear about his extensive and intensive work opportunities in the industry thus far. Before coming to Bistro St-Jacques, he worked as sous chef to well-known teacher and chef, Gérard Fischer, owner of Le Tartuffe. The list goes on. He also worked for Robert Bourassa at Café Henry Burger. Not to mention time spent at ARC The.Hotel, Casino du Lac-Leamy's Le Baccara and in Montreal for a stint. This place has a team with pedigree!

The tables in the main dining room seat 40 and are covered in white linens. They also have room downstairs for another 20.

Our meal started with an amuse-bouche, a delectable single bite-sized hors d'œuvre consisting primarily of duck confit.

Our warmed and toasted bread came with a caramelized vegetable butter.

I decided on three appetizers. My first was one of their evening's specials. A salmon tartare with salmon gravlax and avocado. It was perfectly seasoned. This was my favourite dish.

I followed with their salad of tender leaves, fried shallots, marinated vegetables, maple & lime vinaigrette. I was so craving a salad, which is how I ended up at three dishes. I wanted fresh. I wanted light and I wanted simple. Again, a perfectly executed dish.

To finish, I had their risotto with asparagus, over-night tomatoes, coffee mushrooms, pancetta, chervil & vegetable consommé. You guessed it, I was still looking for fresh, light and simple. I am a fan of 'traditional' risotto but this time I was really appreciating that it wasn't heavily laden in cheese and richness. I typically pass on dessert when I eat out so this was the perfect ending. (Though I half expected to see Berthillon ice cream on the dessert menu!)

While I worked away on my starter salmon, the mister was collapsing to the temptation of their 'famous' frites and aïoli. I hate to bring the church into this but that aïoli was sinful. And I am sure they weren't telling a lie when they describe their frites as being 'famous'.

The mister then went to work on his main - a cassoulet with a leg of duck confit, pork belly, toulouse sausage and sprinkled with toasted crumbs. He said the meats were really nicely done, though he prefers the skin on his duck crisped. The mister's benchmark for cassoulet is a restaurant we frequented in Paris called Le Dauphin on Rue Saint-Honoré, near Palais-Royal. Those cassoulets seemed like they had been smoldering their flavours together for days and days into that fine mellow blend of sauce and beans. By contrast, the mister's beans on Friday night were fine enough but still a bit 'young'.

The mister sipped on a Griffon Red ale while I enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc. And here is one of the highlights of the night. Our bill came to a squeak under $80, before tax and tip.

The service was particularly warm, friendly and knowledgeable. Vincent's life partner and co-owner spoiled us with attention throughout the evening. She tends to all the details in the front of the house, while Vincent labours over the responsibility of being general manager.

The dining room was not as busy on this Friday night as I would have expected, considering that the calibre of this restaurant earned them one of the top ten spots. But Chef Mulder did say they were full for Saturday night and they are continually packed for the lunch service through the week. There are restaurants much younger than Bistro St-Jacques on Ottawa Magazine's Top Ten List that already have quite the buzz in the foodie community. This place is no less deserving. I look forward to their winter menu, which will be coming out in the very near future.

Shawna confesses that putting Bistro St-Jacques on her list is a sentimental pick. Having already experienced eight of the other restaurants, I can say confidently that her pick is a worthy, solid choice. She closes her vignette by saying "it's like being in France without the cost of the flight". Maybe just a wee bit too high praise, but we really did like it.

Bistro St-Jacques
51, rue St-Jacques
Gatineau, Quebec

Mon to Fri: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm

Mon to Sat: 5 pm - 10 pm

Bistro St-Jacques on Urbanspoon

Cozy Autumn Dinner Party

One of the most intimate gifts to give friends is the communion of food at your table. And last night was one of those occasions where we had the opportunity to host good friends to a feast of everything autumn. Our history goes back to university days but our visits are just too sporadic. Last night was a chance to catch up on all the news and relax like family.

For us, a cozy autumn meal showcases the beautiful late season colours of golden brown, earthy rust, deep red. The foods are of the harvest and the types that can be cellared, like beets and apples. The tastes are hearty and warm.

Do you have a favourite dish you like to serve when your are hosting in the fall?

Crab Cakes on a bed or Fennel Slaw topped with a Creamy Chili Chipotle Sauce and Baby Onion Shoots.

Roasted Beet Salad of Boston Lettuce and Arugula with Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Creamy Citrus Vinaigrette. [Inspired by Rachelle's roasted beet salad at Rachelle Eats Food and Karen's roasted beet salad at Tasty Trials found through FoodBuzz.]

Pappardelle Lamb Ragu. [Inspired by Marc Dorion and Steven Wall's pappardelle lamb ragu at Town on Elgin. I experienced it at a lunch back in August.]

Apple Custard Tarte. [Inspired by Henrik Lundsgaard, now at Palisades Retirement Residence but formerly the head chef at Stornoway.]

*** Happy to share any of the recipes on request. ***

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ottawa Magazine's Top 10 List 2010 by Food Editor Shawna Wagman

Shawna Wagman of Ottawa Magazine has taken on a different twist for coming up with Ottawa Magazine's Top Ten List for 2010 - Where To Eat Right Now. You will need to get the magazine to read her thinking on the Ottawa food scene and why she made these picks.

I was lucky enough to be the first person in Ottawa to put down coin for the November issue, which was made available at Britton's in the Glebe today. What timing for deciding that today was the day I needed veal stock from the Glebe Meat Market! The magazine will be widely distributed tomorrow.

Here is her coveted list:

The Wellington Gastropub
Fraser Café
The Whalesbone Oyster House
Play Food & Wine
Bistro St. Jacques
Taylor's Genuine Food & Wine Bar

I have tried them all except for Whalesbone and Bistro St. Jacques and know that those on this list are strong establishments.

Only 4 from this list are going to the Gold Medal Plates competition in November. Fraser Café, Whalesbone, Atelier and Play.

The Gold Medal Plates contenders not making Shawna's list are: The Urban Pear, Zen Kitchen, Murray Street Kitchen, Les Fougères, Harvest (actually in Picton) and Narvarra.

Missing from last year's Top 10 is: Beckta Dining & Wine, Domus Café, Le Baccara, Restaurant Ei8hteen, Benitz Bistro, Allium, The Urban Pear, Navarra and Juniper. In fact the only one of the Top 10 to stay on the list into 2010 was The Wellington Gastropub.

Some may also wonder about The Black Cat, Le Café, Farbs Kitchen, Sweetgrass Aboriginal, Perspectives, Social and Luxe as contenders in the past for top recognition in the city, whether on the Ottawa Magazine's 10 Ten List, formerly constructed by Chris Knight, or some that have gone to Gold Medal Plates.

Well, the politics is out of the bag. And in a city that seems to know politics best! Enjoy the buzz on this topic over the next week.

Although I have a soft spot for Allium and thought it should have made Shawna's list, what I see when I pull back and take the broad view on this, is how lucky for us to have so many great choices brimming over on our lists of stellar eateries here in Ottawa. What a nice problem to have.

Get the magazine! This article in particular is a great read.

Friday, October 15, 2010

When You Aren't Drinking Buttermilk, You Can Use It For Other Things!

Do I have any buttermilk drinking buddies out there in the foodie galaxy? Such kindred spirits seem to be few and far between. No one else in this house shares my fetish.

The website Good Health Tips shares the following health benefits from drinking buttermilk.
  • Buttermilk is a good source of potassium, Vitamin B-12, calcium and phosphorous. It also contains probiotics; they help with digestion and strengthen your immune system.
  • Buttermilk is easier to digest than regular milk because it contains even more lactic acid than can be found in skim milk.
  • Buttermilk actually has less fat than regular milk; the fat has been removed to make butter.
  • Healthy bacteria reside in everybody’s colon, and in return for food and a warm place to live these resident bacteria contribute to your health.
  • Some healthy things these bacteria do to your body are manufacture vitamins, improve digestion, boost Immunity, manufacture nutrients, protect against cardiovascular diseases and protection against carcinogens.
Happily I do share my buttermilk for other purposes. In an effort to be teamy, this morning I made buttermilk pancakes for the mister. He much prefers his buttermilk on the plate and not in a glass. Maple syrup works well with it too.

Do you take your buttermilk in a glass or lovingly incorporated into a pancake batter?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner. In a Word. Yummy.

Much of our extended family on both sides lives out of town. So when one is hosting Thanksgiving dinner for just a small group, one might be tempted to eat out. Order in. Or at the very least, consider just a basic selection of dishes to accompany the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Somehow we never seem to execute on any of those suggestions.

This year, like always, magically the little tastes of the many dishes added up to a very full plate. Starting at the top and going clock-wise: Sweet and sour red cabbage, boiled potatoes, baked acorn squash, roasted potatoes, a mix of roasted heirloom carrots (white and orange) and roasted parsnips, baked delicata squash, steamed peas and carrots, grain-fed turkey, stuffing, dreamy gravy.

Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA food baskets helped us out on a number of dishes: Sweet and sour red cabbage, baked acorn squash, roasted potatoes, roasted heirloom carrots, baked delicata squash, and finally onions in the stuffing.

This Thanksgiving we dedicated our meal to a special family that is dealing with a big crisis. For now, it is putting some of them on the other side of the world in New Zealand. Every day is one of big effort, both there on the scene, but also here at home for those left minding the fort. Divided by miles, they are together in love.

I am thankful that our family was able to be under one roof for this special weekend. Making almost a dozen dishes of everyone's favourites was a privilege and a way to honour tradition.

So how was Thanksgiving dinner after all that work? In a word. Yummy.

Will Two Pumpkin Pies Be Enough?

There are just five of us for turkey dinner tonight but will two pumpkin pies be enough?

Here are some clues to help you cast your vote. The pies are homemade. Of note, the pie crust is to die for, says some previous pie eaters. The pies are loaded with such addicting spices as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. One guest is over 80 years old. Another is a teenager who has been surviving on cafeteria food for the last 5 weeks.

So, will two pumpkin pies be enough?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lunching at Pan Chancho Bakery & Café - Kingston, Ontario

Pan Chancho Bakery & Café is the perfect place to dine for lunch on a sunny day in Kingston. You have the choice of their main floor dining space, their patio or the quiet upstairs that can be used for your private dining functions.

Pan Chancho has been in this beautiful location now for 8 1/2 years. The owner also has the very popular Chez Piggy restaurant, tucked in close by at 62 Princess Street.

The place is full of architectural detail with the exposed limestone walls and the double hung windows with deep sills. Thankfully we had a reservation. At 1 pm on a Thursday afternoon, the place was still bustling.

A certain amount of that bustle comes from the clients filing in to grab their wares from the bakery. Whether it is actual bakery items, takeout specials from their freezer, a selection of gourmet dishes on display in their coolers, high end dried pastas, or some entertaining fineries, it is easy to put together a taste-sensational meal with the help of Pan Chancho. They share their culinary secrets in a cookbook that is also available for sale in the store.

We had the pleasure of having our lunch upstairs in their private dining area. Our spot was by one of those deep windows and the beautiful, warm sunlight was streaming in, brightening our little spot at the table. It is the kind of setting that brings out your cat-like qualities!

We barely glanced at the extensive menu as our eyes were drawn to the daily specials.

We were first given a bread basket with a sampling of their choice breads from the bakery. I snatched up the end piece from a loaf of white. I just love end pieces. Many don't see them as the coveted treasure that I do, so I was pleased that Pan Chancho also thinks they are gold.

I started with the Tomato Pesto Soup with Parmesan. It was full of fresh from the field flavour with the chunks of tomatoes and vegetables stewing in the herbs. The thick grates of Parmesan melted into each spoonful. And look! More bread. A focaccia perhaps? It made for excellent dipping.

The hubby picked the Potato and Double Smoked Bacon Soup with Scallions. He likes it better when the crisp is still on the bacon, which seems to work best when it is adding in just at the end. His dipping bread left the plate rather quickly as it missed being in the photo.

For my main, I had the Greek Salad with Chili Garlic Shrimp and Toasted Pita Points. While I was expecting a heap of tomatoes and cucumbers, this Greek salad was more loaded with green, yellow and red peppers. The shrimps were fresh, bright and garlicky, though not too bold. (I happen to love garlicky.)

The hubby had the Orange Fennel Chicken Salad on Multi-grain Bread. It came with Yam Frites and Cumin Ranch Dressing with Coriander Oil. The portions were substantial and he made his way through half the sandwich and half the frites. The rest came home for a late day snack. He had positive reviews all round for the fresh bread, the chicken salad, the frites and the dip. The picture does not appear to contradict him.

Overall, our experience at Pan Chancho's café made for a great closing to our wonderful but short getaway vacation to Kingston. The service was attentive and thoughtful. The food quality was in keeping with the same high standards they hold for their bakery goods. And the treat is, they appear to do it all with such ease. Our thanks to our Twitter friends for giving us this recommendation. Next time we are back, we look forward to doing some solid 'product research' in the bakery portion of Pan Chancho.

P.S. I am now particularly fond of the hostess, Rachel. As she confirmed our reservation upon our arrival, she asked if I was an author. She asked because she thought my name SOUNDS like I should be an author! "The kind of name", she said, "that you could see on the front of a book". What more motivation does one person need to get started on that great Canadian novel trapped inside of all of us?

Pan Chancho Bakery & Café
44 Princess Street
Kingston, Ontario

Daily: 7 am - 4 pm

Mon to Sat: 7 am - 6 pm
Sun: 7 am - 5 pm

Pan Chancho Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Roots and Shoots Farm - 15th week of CSA Food

This is week 15 of the Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA food baskets. For us, as half share investors, this is our 8th and final basket. Robin told us that this basket would be a bit smaller than the others considering we are nearing the end of the season. But I thought it still looked like a nice helping of goodness to carry us into the Thanksgiving weekend.

This was probably the only week where I wasn't the first to do pickup. As a result, the bins were only half full at picture taking time.

Will you get a chance to have local, organically grown, seasonal produce for your Thanksgiving feast this weekend? I would love to hear what you plan to do with it.

Bin # 1: Lacinato Kale

Bin #2: Beets

Bin # 3: Heirloom carrots

Bin #4: Onions and Potatoes

Bin # 5: Acorn Squash

Bin # 6: Radishes

Bin #7: Lettuce

If you want to learn more about the farm, the contact information for Roots and Shoots is:
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