Sunday, December 30, 2012

My New Year's Eve Signature Canapé - A Soup Shooter

Many New Year's Eve celebrations for tomorrow evening will be home parties.  For the gatherings we go to or host, potlucking those tasty nibbles has worked well for providing variety and sharing the workload.

This year our party canapé is a Roasted Carrot and Tomato Soup Shooter. I like it because it looks festive and it is easy, easy, easy.  It suits my gluten-free friends and gives an option to meaty protein apps that are so abundant. I have soup stored in the freezer that I will reheat.  But the soup I did make was straightforward and is very flexible, depending on what you have on hand.

My shooter cups came from Ma Cuisine down in the Byward Market on Dalhousie. They labeled them as a Dipper/Sipper. I picked up a few extra before Christmas and at that time they had 36 in stock. They hold about 85 ml when full.  It is better to pour your soup into the cups, instead of ladling. Not only is is faster, it is less messy. Pour slowly though, as not to splash. Presentation is everything.

To decorate on top, I use plain yogurt, sun-dried tomatoes and sunflower shoots. All of it is prepared ahead of time so assembly is quick. Anything that helps to keep the soup hot.

For the yogurt, I want it to 'flow'. I put it in a squeeze bottle with a bit of cream and shake it together.  I find the squeeze bottle allows for greater control when decorating the soup cups and it makes the work speedy too. The yogurt should not be so thin that it 'runs' out of the squeeze bottle. Try a pattern - a star-shaped, an 'S', dots, ...

I picked up the sun-dried tomatoes at Il Negozio Nicastro Westboro at their deli counter. I brunoised them ahead of time. (Brunoise means to cut a very fine dice, technically 2 mm by 2 mm by 2 mm or less.)

For the sunflower shoots, I use the heads of the shoot for a 'bow-tie'. My favourite brand comes from Butterfly Sky Farms in Gatineau. I usually pick them up at the Herb & Spice Shop on Wellington. I de-stem the heads ahead of time and keep them in in the fridge until show time in a small sealed container with just a drop of water to keep them hydrated.

Are you planning a signature canapé for tomorrow evening? What are your preparation secrets?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Royal Treasure Restaurant - Our Destination for Hot and Sour Soup

For maybe 15 years now our regular haunt for Chinese food has been Royal Treasure Restaurant on Somerset. What draws us there each time is their hot and sour soup.  For us, it rates as the best around.

Many have claimed that Royal Treasure is one of the most authentic Chinese food restaurants in Ottawa. I am absolutely not an expert on Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine so won't be able to verify this claim.  What I do know is that we love the flavours and the variety of dishes. And when it comes to Szechuan, they deliver a nice bite.

We usually get to the Treasure each season. Oddly it is most consistently around this time of year when the days are darkly long and the weather too carries quite the bite. I make sure to dress warmly because the door to outside is constantly swinging with customers coming in for their orders.  We prefer to go with a crowd to enjoy a good selection of dishes. It is hard to cover the favourites with just the two of us.

Tonight we mustered up a gang of five. Although our dining buddies live right around the corner, they tend to frequent Jadeland or So Good Restaurant. It seems the Treasure satisfied though, as there was barely a grain of rice left behind. I find the dishes amply portioned and keep that in mind when ordering.

Prices have gone up since we were last there.  For most dishes it was by $1. Some dishes even more. There are new menus to pay for and a fresh coat of paint on the place.  Surprisingly, it wasn't as drafty and cold as I have come to expect. Perhaps there have been other changes going on too.  The place is small and it always feel like a gamble to get one of the bigger tables. Karma was on our side tonight.

The restaurant is fully licensed but we settled for the tea. It is family run and friendly. Although they move very efficiently and like to turn the tables quickly for this tiny place, we rarely have felt rushed.

The medium bowl of Hot and Sour Soup yielded 8 servings. It carries a good balance of tang and heat. It is full of bamboo shoots, tofu, mushrooms, egg and green onions. $12.95

Spring rolls come 2 to an order. They are quite large and well stuffed. $3 an order.

The General Tao Chicken is the darling son's favourite. Well sauced, not greasy and very crispy. $11.95

Yang Chow Fried Rice is full of shrimp. This dish had been well spooned by the time I had a chance to take a picture. We sometimes call it Royal Treasure Fried Rice. $9.75

The sizzling seafood delight comes with scallops, shrimp and squid. $15.95

Spicy Assorted Mixed Vegetables $10.25

As far as my fortune cookie went, I didn't warm to it. With the new year just days away, I was hoping for an optimistic proclamation of good things to come. That would have suited more than advice free from Dear Abby. Alas, none of my dining partners were willing to trade. When it came time to leave, we shared the bill with our friends.

Royal Treasure Restaurant
774 Somerset St. W.
Ottawa, Ontario

Mon: Closed
Tues to Thurs: 11 am - 2 pm; 4 pm - 9:30 pm
Fri to Sun:  11 am - 2:30 pm; 4 pm - 9:30 pm

Royal Treasure 敦煌酒家 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Illume Espresso Bar - Possibly The Best Latte In Ottawa

I think I can boldly say with barely a hesitation that this morning's latte was probably the best I have had in Ottawa.   (* read my additional updates over the first month. There have been some changes.)

Illume Espresso Bar opened this morning at 6:30 am.  They are located on the north west corner of Wellington and Carleton, across from the Metro grocery store. 

When I arrived (not at 6:30) one customer was seated enjoying his java.  I had the well-staffed espresso bar all to myself. This gave me the opportunity to pepper them with my many coffee questions.

Those who know me well, know that my quest for Canada's best butter tart is rivaled only by my search for the world's best latte.

Besides the usual suspects of espresso, latte, cappuccino, etc, they also do pour overs - Chemex,  Clever, Siphon plus the very specialized and exclusive German Walküre.

The espresso bean being ground this morning was the highly regarded Phil & Sebastian from Calgary.  They also plan on offering the 49th Parallel Bean from Vancouver.  Also a big favourite with me.

All drinks are served in the same sized cup - super stylish Walküre too, I might add.  I don't like my latte milk too hot.  They heat it to about 145F. Perfect.  I love a strong latte. They pull a double shot. We are feeling the same vibe.

I was expecting a very good latte. I knew that with the Phil & Sebastian bean I would get an espresso shot with bold, caramel, nutty notes. Their micro-frothed whole milk was in perfect balance. It did not disappoint. Barista Amy made it for me. Not bad for being customer number three on opening day and latte number two pulled from their impressive Mirage machine. A piece of fine Dutch manufacturing.

I've never considered this before, but is it over the top to mention to the latte-art-crafting barista that I'm left-handed? Upside down or not, this heart was full of coffee lovin'.

Seating includes a lounge space, plenty of table arrangements with punchy red, ultra modern metal chairs and bar stools at the counter. As the winter chill was in the air, I was happy to sit in their more private alcove area, away from the front door.

The food display case housed a bushel of large oranges. Not for sale but for freshly squeezed orange juice.  The case is meant for their wide selection of gluten-free products baked from their local east end supplier. The delivery was coming just as I was leaving.

I brought my cup back to the bar to pay and to ask for a spoon to scoop out the gold still clinging to the porcelain. For this 'the best latte in Ottawa' I wanted every last drop.

Update December 17, 2012:
I returned two short days later to have an equally high quality latte (still the Phil & Sebastian bean) and found out they plan to be open every day from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. (Update: This eventually changed again to be 7 am to 8 pm.) This makes them a great destination stop on the way to work. A latte is $3.53 + tx.

They also sell a wide selection of private label tea.

Update December 20, 2012:
And I am back again on Friday. The third time in week one.  This time they were serving up the 49th Parallel bean.  A lovely latte again by Barista Amy, though I would say I favour Phil & Sebastian.

The display case was brimming with salads from Market Organics, 126 York Street.  Market Organics also provides illume espresso bar with their daily soup.

Update January 3, 2013:
Today I had a decaf latte since I stopped in late afternoon.  Barista Conor told me that it would be Phil & Sebastian's decaf.  I found it a bit thin tasting.  It can be a challenge to get a decaf espresso shot to taste as full-bodied as 'high test'.  The milk was warmer than I am used to. Note to self to mention it next time I am in.

The shelf is sporting JJ Bean Coffee Roasters' Eastside. I didn't see it opening day.  As well there are two selections from Social Coffee Company. Conor tells me that they are using Social primarily for brewing.

Phil & Sebastian beans are there as well but no 49th Parallel to be found.


Update January 4, 2013:
I'm back again because I am tempted to try the JJ Bean Coffee Roasters bean from Vancouver. Sure enough it was in the hopper. Barista Conor and I connect on my milk temperature. Thank you for that. I liked this latte well enough but I still prefer the Phil & Sebastian bean. Barista Amy really spoiled me on opening day!

Update January 10, 2013:
It is a morning visit today. So that means my latte will be in the loving hands of my favourite barista, Amy.

I ask every time, "What bean?" Today it's the Blaser Cafe, a Swiss bean that I have seen on the shelves at Morala Trading. That's a LONG way to come. I don't ask but I wonder about the roast date. It is lovely enough.  A bit acidic. I definitely favour the Phil & Sebastian. No word on when or if it will return. I'm puzzled.


And then the big wham. My latte has gone from $3.53 up to $4. The Cappuccino is also up at $4. New on the board is the Americano and the Machiato. (As a reference point, I consider the size of Illume's singled-sized Walküre cup to be on par with Bridgehead's medium cup, which sells for $3.50.)

Update January 11, 2013:
I pop in again for a morning visit. But no Amy-the-favourite-barista today. Someone new for me. We chat. It sounds like he has been around coffee for more years than he hasn't. Hopefully a good thing. So, "What bean?" The Swiss Blaser Cafe bean. Again. Now I'm really puzzled.  I had some great coffee chats with Fadi (the owner?) in December. I'm missing that. He REALLY knew his coffee. It seems he isn't around anymore. More puzzlement.

Update January 12, 2013:
This morning I pull in with a girlfriend before we head to lunch.  It's Saturday and there is a busy buzz to the place.  Many seats are taken and there are a number of staff on the ready. It is still the Blaser Cafe bean. I long for Phil & Sebastian or 49th Parallel - their original beans on opening day. Barista Conor serves me my latte.  He remembers to watch the heat on mine.  Third times a charm. I prefer my milk at 140F to 145F. My buddy got the regular super hot treatment. Next time she knows to mention it.  I am still wincing at the $4. latte for the far traveled Swiss Blaser Cafe. I find out Barista Amy is gone. Time to regroup.

Update January 16, 2013:
On my way to work and it's an easy pit stop to drop into Illume. A large bag of Phil & Sebastian is on the counter but my barista confirms that it the Swiss Blaser Cafe bean is still in the grinder's hopper.  At least it is good news that Phil & Sebastian is finally back in the shop. Also for sale on the shelves to take home. 

My latte ends up being too hot to sit for my quick visit.  I have it poured into a cup to go and drink on the road.  I confirm I am not a Blaser Cafe bean fan and feel relieved that its days in this shop seemed numbered.  The first month of Illume has not had the consistency I was expecting.  And I still haven't come to terms with the $4. latte.  This little neighbourhood could use a great coffee shop. Here is hoping for good things going forward and that the wrinkles get worked out.

Update January 29, 2013:
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Barista Brad.  He fussed over my Phil and Sebastian latte and was very inquisitive of my coffee peculiarities. I appreciated the attention.

He showed me the family of cups being used now at the coffee bar.  All are the beautiful German Walküre NYNY series.  Brad says the largest on the right is 8 oz and used for the latte (still $4.00).  The second from the right is 6 oz and used for the cappaccino (price dropped back down to $3.50). The second from the left is between 3 and 4 oz and is used for the macciato.And the small pup on the left is for the espresso - single or double shot. Brad also talked about seeing more activity on their Facebook page and on Twitter. A wise decision for a service focused business in this social media world, for sure.

Update February 14, 2013:
This is visit number 11. Illume has been open for two full months now and it seems like they have been in the neighbourhood forever. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Barista Alex.  He was very attentive.  I appreciated that he came to my table later in my visit to serve me with a loyalty card (and offer me a glass of water - nice touch!).  The loyalty card was just recently introduced.  Now the question is, will I remember to use it or even find it in my burgeoning wallet. Of course I ask, what's the bean today?  I find that they have set up two grinders to offer a choice. One was the, you guessed it, Swiss Blaser Cafe. Not my favourite.  Hopper number two held a Colombian bean roasted by Equator Coffee up in Almonte.  I have a soft spot for Equator so that was my pick.  I want my Phil & Sebastian bean though.  It is why I go to Illume.  Alex tells me I'm a day early.  New P&S beans are on there way. Lucky me to get a Valentine Swiss chocolate on the side.

 Have you stopped in yet? What did you think?

1433 Wellington Street West, Unit 111
Ottawa, Ontario
Twitter: Illumecafe
Facebook: illume espresso bar

Mon to Sun: 7 am - 8 pm

Illume Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...