Friday, April 27, 2012

First Impressions: Café Ninety7

I'm riddled with guilt, oh but definitely wide-eyed today. I usually make the household morning lattes. I didn't. I like being on time for book club. I wasn't. I responsibly pay for what I 'purchase'. I forgot.

What threw me off my game? Café Ninety7. I read about them recently on the internet. The available information actually being quite sparse. But what I was able to glean led me to wonder if there might be another wonderful indie coffee shop in the heart of Ottawa.

Café Ninety7 is located on the east side of Main Street, just south of Lees Avenue. It is not in my neck of the woods and barely on the way to anywhere I typically frequent. But I fixated on this place for the past three days. This morning I hatched a plan. If I took an alternate route to my literary compadres, I could squeeze in my first taste.

A late start to the morning left our Rancilio Silvia cold on the counter. I departed for book club with absolutely no extra minutes to spare.

My small latte was made with 2% milk. I chose no flavours, passing on the popular 'vanilla'. I stayed for a brief sit in their quiet, multi-windowed, well furnished back room.

I liked it. I do prefer a bean with a more caramel. Probably whole milk would make it sweeter still. The seating area has sanctuary qualities in this tranquil setting. Thankfully, there are a few spots for vehicles in the back, as street parking seems near impossible.

The beans are from Canterbury Coffee in British Columbia. The machinery to make that fine espresso shot is a big, shiny Nuova Simonelli beast of a thing.

They offer treats made by a local baker and they have cakes that are purchased. The industrial panini press awaits a lunch sandwich of choice and two large cauldrons stand ready for soups.

I realized midway through our dissection of Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, that it is was quite possible during all the coffee chatter with the barista, I left without paying.

My return trip was just hours later to settle my debt and, of course, take one to go. [Mr. Barista rewarded my honesty with a latte on the house!]

Is Old Ottawa East your neck of the woods? You might want to check them out.

Café Ninety7
97 Main Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Twitter: Cafe_Ninety7
Facebook: Cafe ninety7

Cafe Ninety7 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Los Tacos de Mauro - Eclectic yet Charming

I am sure I am the last in Ottawa to make it to Los Tacos de Mauro in the Byward Market area. I first heard about this place last year from a neighbour. He gave it a reserved but positive thumbs up. Now, it seems that everyone has tried it already. They either love it or well, not so much. I can't tell if this reflects on their past authentic Mexican experiences or if it is just a matter of taste. Despite a few dissenters, the theme seems consistent - the place is eclectic and the service is charming.

Located at 349 Dalhousie Street, across from the hotel Courtyard Marriott, there is small signage on the building and also a bright, colourful sandwich board propped on the sidewalk. By now everyone knows it as the place upstairs in the discothèque, discoteka, which operates as a restaurant by day and a dance floor by night.

It's true. I lunched in a disco lounge complete with at least six glittery disco balls. Six! Maybe more.

Tempted with their non-standard soda choices, all made in Mexico, I selected the fizzy Grapefruit. Very refreshing. I found my neighbour's soda Sangria to be too sweet. Both were $2.20.

My eyes stopped at the Tacos de Carnitas (Michoacán-style pork tacos) 3 for $8.50. You can check out the rest of their menu on-line.

My lunch came with a salad. Basic, fresh, filling and loaded with chunks of avocados. We were also served a starter of large wedges of tortilla chips and guacamole. Although I found the purée of green a bit too salty, it was an excellent addition to my carnitas, where seasoning was needed for the pork.

The condiments offered with my dish were: a squeeze from fresh limes, chopped cilantro, diced onions, salsa verde with a jalapeño bite and a piquant red sauce.

In addition to slathering on the guacamole, I also pulled on a few pieces of the queso blanco cheese. My two 'cheats' made the dish since the pork, although very tender, was a bit bland. The soft corn tortillas were supple but sturdy and carried the load well.

I tried a bite of my neighbour's Tacos de Papas Con Chorizo (a mix of potato and Mexican chorizo) but it wasn't to my liking. Too mushy and plain. A bit of a surprise considering the addition of chorizo. She also had the carrot soup. I winced at the school of Goldfish crackers swimming on top. I took a pass on a taste.

The service was caring and attentive. So pleasing. Even the chef came to the table to help deliver our lunch.

This is a CASH ONLY shop. For $10.70 before tax and tip, I had an exceptionally filling lunch. Depending on your menu choice though, it could be hit or miss. It is a long way to climb, but I would enjoy lunching on those carnitas again.

Read what others had to say:

Professional food critics from local publications
Shawna Wagman at Ottawa Magazine
Anne DesBrisay at Capital Dining, printed in The Ottawa Citizen
Colleen Johnston at Ottawa XPress
Shari Goodman at Metro Ottawa

Review sites and bloggers
Ottawa Foodies
Kathy Eats
Simply Fresh Ottawa
365 Days of Ottawa Food

Les Tacos de Mauro
349 Dalhousie Street
Ottawa, Ontario
Facebook: Los Tacos de Mauro (Authentic Mexican Cuisine)

Tues to Sat: 11 am - 9 pm
Sun: 11 am - 5 pm

Los Tacos de Mauro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 15, 2012

'Preserving' and 'In Season': My CSA Food Basket Companions for Season Three

I am about to go into my third season as a member of Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA (community supported agriculture) food basket program.

Being is a CSA member is both exhilarating and challenging. The two challenges that loom large are: what surprises will be in my weekly basket and how will I use this produce respectfully.

I have chosen to recruit support this season to help me to be better informed about my foods and to also provide me with more recipe ideas beyond my current repertoire. I am also looking to extend my bounty beyond the end of the growing season.

I consider Pat Crocker's latest book, Preserving, a must have reference resource in my food library. Even if you don't want to go the third mile and do canning or freezing, Preserving is loaded with information for using your fresh produce. In Season, put out by Fine Cooking, is also a similar compendium. They are well matched companion pieces.

The books are both laid out by the harvest seasons. Between the two of them they give much information. Background on the fruits, vegetables and herbs. Descriptions of varieties and history. Details about care, storage, preparation, cooking, and matching. And if you are feeling ambitious, how you can preserve it - canning, pickling, jamming, drying, freezing...

Of the two books, I find Preserving to be more comprehensive. Size alone would be your first clue. It is over 500 pages of carefully crafted pictures and text.

Pat Crocker's book appeals to my sense of responsibility to food safety. In fact, she is emphatic. In a time where preserving has been romanticized, it is critical to understand the dos and don'ts of proper preserving. It is not difficult to perform these tasks but it is critical they are fully understood. Botulism and food spoilage is serious business.

Although Preserving is encyclopedic, it is well written and an easy read. How many times do we turn to mom and ask, "Help me. I want to make .... How do I do it."? When I am reading Preserving, I find its voice so similar to that of my late mother. (High praise, indeed!) The pictures help too. Pat Crocker supplied her own stunning photos for her book.

It was a pleasure to meet Pat Crocker at Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 in Waterloo where Nick and Nat put on a special dinner to showcase Pat's creations from the book. Chef Nick Benninger is already a dedicated preserver. So it was no surprise that the food was delicious and inspiring. The take away message resonated loud and clear - this is easier than you think.

I am feeling more ready than ever for this growing season. With Preserving and In Season by my side, new and exciting magic will be taking place in my kitchen this spring, summer and fall. Oh yes, and winter too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

blumenstudio - Can Anybody Make A Better Café Crema?

.i go to blumenstudio at 465 Parkdale Avenue for the café crema
.double shot
.served in the
#4 size Könitz Coffee Bar cup
.one part espresso
.one part microfoam cream
.made by Katrin Kosk herself

.i could have a cortado
.or a John Wayne
.or a café con panna
.or the usual cast of characters - latte, americano, cappuccino
.but I don't

.it's always the café crema

.thursday I brought the darling husband to my secret place
.well, not so secret because I do tell him all the time just how great the café crema is at blumenstudio

.again, café crema
.I went for my 'girl' cup
.the #4 size Könitz Coffee Bar cup
.he took the more masculine tumbler presentation
.the very special Classic Gourmet Coffee bean from Vaughan, Ontario means they were both delicious

.Kat fills her display case with a rotation of local treats
.Art-is-in Boulangerie
.The Flour Shoppe
.Simply Biscotti
.Auntie Loo's Treats

.new to the top shelf is chocolates from ChocoMotive from Montebello, Ontario

.chocolate together with coffee is brilliant
.though not a divine revelation that I can lay claim to, it bares repeating

.our 'product research' included:
.Manon: marzipan, butter cream, fondant, toasted pecan, coated in white chocolate
.Caramel & fleur de sel: flowing caramel, Maldon salt, coated in dark chocolate
.Sucre d’orange: Fondant, candied orange, coated in dark chocolate *
.Lingot: nougatine, coated in dark chocolate and dusted with gold powder *

.* favourites

.Kat also is the corner store for milk, butter, eggs and refreshing drinks
.Local friends in that mix
.Cochrane's Dairy in Russell
.Stirling Creamery in Stirling, home of Kraft Hockeyville 2012!

.Kat does big things with 'blumen'
.her many large coolers display a selection of sophisticated blooms that play to her unique European sense of style

.a recent post on Apartment613 reminded me that it was time to pay blumenstudio a visit again
.to say happy 1st anniversary
.although we missed it by a day, we helped to ring in the beginning of year two
.year two of many more

.need a quiet place for a great coffee?
.be careful where you sit though
.she is always re-arranging

.restful .inspiring .heavenly café crema

465 Parkdale Avenue
Facebook: Blumenstudio
Twitter: @blumenstudio

Tues to Thurs: 8 am - 6 pm
Fri: 8 am - 8 pm
Sat: 9 am - 7 pm
Sun 10 am - 4 pm
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