Friday, March 21, 2014

P&P's Restaurant Review #2 - Petit Bill's Bistro

It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down at the keyboard to write up restaurant reviews, even though I’ve been carrying a couple to share. It’s time though -- since we're no longer working backstage, and our wedding was a week ago – my “too busy” excuse card has run out.

Valentine’s Day, which fell on a Friday this year, found Pierre and I working a dress rehearsal at the Ottawa Little Theatre, rather than out for our annual dinner celebration.  We rarely allow an excuse for an evening out to pass us by, so we bumped it up, and had a romantic date night on the 16th instead. Consulting our custom “Best of Westboro” list, we picked the highly-rated Petit Bill’s Bistro, and oh my… what an excellent choice!

If there’s one thing I love about restaurants, it’s the warm, welcoming feeling that often comes in a family-owned and operated place. Led to our table by the smiling Newfie owner, I felt as though he was sincerely pleased by our arrival and truly appreciated that we chose his establishment over all of the others. [Pierre has said on more than one occasion that there are no nicer people than Newfoundlanders, and this gentleman was a fine example.] Our waitress, too, was wonderfully friendly and helpful, but neither to the point of intruding on our privacy. Excellent restaurant skills, I’ve decided, are their own form of art, and these people’s sincerity created an ideal, relaxed environment. 

Welcome to Petit Bill's

And the menu… wrapped in an embossed soft cork cover, we were presented with a myriad of options, from a full page of lighter, lower-priced Bistro fare to the Mains and Dinner plates, all of which looked blissfully gastronomically delicious! And then, score! On the daily special page, we found this delight: Table d’Hote for Two – choice of daily soups of the day (Five-Spice Boc Choy), Caesars, or House salads; entrees, and desserts, plus a bottle of Chenin Blanc or Douro wine for $100/couple / $75 sans alcohol. Being the value-conscious and experimental folk that we are, we closed the main menu, toasted with our water glasses and got down to the difficult secondary-decision-making process.

Five-Spice has never been my top blend, so that was an easy "no," and Pierre’s not a big bok choy guy, so salad it was. Garlic sets Pierre’s stomach (and nose) on edge, so we both decided on the house salads, which were heavenly! Generous portions of uber-fresh baby greens were topped with carrot and beet ribbons and the most yummy in-house maplewood smoked vegetable vinaigrette. A smokey salad dressing? Oh yeah… Arriving just before the salads was a lovely basket of soft, light bread and a perfectly piped dish of not-too-garlicy pesto butter. What a fine combination.

Given a choice, we will always opt for big, chewy red wines, and the 2011 Porca de Murca from the Douro region of Portugal was a delicious medium-bodied one, leaving a slight spice on the tip of the tongue.
Choosing entrees was a bit more challenging, but we both made grand selections. In honour of our bunny-rescuing friends, we both declined the braised lapin. I went with the Duck Duo Newfit – a breast (which was a touch overcooked for me, but perfect for Pierre), and a leg/thigh which really couldn’t have been better. Barely spiced, the meat was served on a bed of lightly wilted spinach, with a hint of ginger, and bordered by perfectly crisp-fried-outside / fluffy-inside halved baby potatoes.

Pierre chose the Steelhead Trout, which was also a tad overdone, but was topped with a mild but tasty salsa. The sides included mixed roasted vegetables (deemed “ok”), and P’s first ever bread pudding (savory and ginger-laced,) which we both loved. 

Steelhead and duck. mmm!

Desserts aren’t something we normally eat – neither of us are big sugar consumers – but when included with the meal, we make the sacrifice. ;) My choice was the Chili Chocolate Flourless Cake. Nearly as dense as dark chocolate fudge, and a tad grainy with a surprisingly barely-discernible chili bite, I was able to eat only a small portion, but wrapped the remainder of its deliciousness to-go. Pierre’s dessert was the clear winner: a Newfoundland Pound Cake, drizzled with screech, a rich, warming traditional rum, that went perfectly with the fresh whipped cream and ripe strawberries beside it. 

Well... if we must...  :)

Although a few aspects of our meals were less-than-perfect, so many parts exceeded our expectations that we were left with an overall feeling of pure satisfaction. For the fabulous atmosphere alone, I’d go back. Adding fresh, local, beautifully-presented ‘fine French cuisine with a Newfie accent’ guarantees a return trip.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Feb 10 - Feb 28, 2014 - Photo A Day Project

The long, icy winter continues to hang on here in Ottawa -- the news tells us it has been the coldest in 20 years. 

Canadians traditionally bond by complaining about the weather, but this year I think most of us are bored with that worn-out conversation. Everyone just seems to be peeking out between their toques or hoods and neck scarves while hustling from door to car, which we then start up, cranking up the defroster and heated seats, scraping and brushing down the windows yet again, and getting ourselves to the next warm indoor spot. Once inside again, we all whine briefly, but really... it's gotten to the point where we just sigh and use that energy to warm back up and get on with life. 
Spring is bound to come soon, right?

In the spirit of one thing coming to an end and something new blooming, I've decided, after an eight-month stretch, to once again end the photo-a-day project and change my focus to the restaurant reviews and my immigration story. Wonderfully, my friend, photographer Don Douglas, has begun fatmumslim's photo challenge, so the tradition continues within the family.

So here you are... my final installment of daily pictures... 
at least for this round!
[Thanks for your kind feedback during this project. I hope you enjoy -- and send your friends to peruse -- the upcoming reviews.] 

10 - I Am

... a soup-makin' mama!
First attempt at cream of broccoli and oh yum!!

(P.S. Notice that counter top? Prepare to see it GO.)

11 - Mistake

Working on the set-crew script and oops!
those pesky borders.

12 - Out and About

Such beautiful abundance.

13 - Perfect

OH the minute details required in training a crew!

14 - Heart

Our VD Exchange :)

15 - My Drink of Choice

A warming winter weekend whistle-wetter.

16 - Create

These folks truly make us believe they're
living in a nursing home.
Excellent actors!

17 - Vegetable

Green curry with shrimp & veggies
including lovely, delicious radishes.
(Not so pretty, but you must trust me about the taste!)

18 - Magic

Director Jim McNabb's vision
brought to life.

19 - Feet

Showing my Saudi student an online conversion site.

20 - Peace

Bought this pin in the mid-80's in San Francisco
and still love it and all it stands for.

21 - Funny (yes, that IS sarcasm)

Our neighbour clears a path so the melting
snow can reach the drain.

22 - An Act of Kindness

There were so many today, but this is the only one
I caught on camera. We were at the far reaches of the
Costco parking lot. It was freezing and windy.
This wonderful woman saved us from having to return
the cart to the store. It's the little things...

23 - This is Where I Relax

Chillin' after a delicious dinner with friends
and snugglin' with wild-man Kenji

24 - Half

Working the current play at the Ottawa Little Theatre

25 - Cut

Yummy spanakopita!

26 - Light

Or MANY lights!

27 - My View Today

New sink and counter tops get installed!

Panorama of the new look

28 - Reflection

Co-crew-chief Nadine in the backstage mirror
ready to carpool home.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

P&P's Restaurant Review #1 - Corner Bar & Grill

Feb 9, 2014


First night out on the Wellington/Westboro Restaurant Exploration.

After spending a couple of hours perusing Yelp and Urban Spoon, Pierre had compiled a list of more than a hundred possible three-star-and-up dining spots. Mapping the first 25 dinner houses, we scrapped our idea of one-from-one-end, then one-from-the-other, and instead decided to consult our taste buds. 

Our first choice: Naked Fish, a simple-sounding sushi house with an alluring name. Walking in the glass front door just before 8pm, we saw the two staff members sweeping up the snow-salty floor, and learned that they closed at 8 on Sundays. We were welcome to take home one of the last remaining Bento boxes, but the feeling I got in their austere, spray-it-clean atmosphere was fast-food, and Pierre’s blood sugar was nearing the red, so we passed. Life is too short to eat less-than-top-quality sushi. And, risking it could make life even shorter!

Back out on the icy-cold sidewalk, we turned left and then took an immediate left into another restaurant on our list: The Corner Bar and Grill... which is located, ironically, mid-block. Ottawa is peppered with pubs and sports bars, which, honestly, can get a little old. We’d deleted a number of them, but because of its rating, The Corner remained, and we’re glad it did. 

The Corner Bar & Grill - 344 Richmond Rd, Ottawa - one of three locations

Surrounded by soft fawn walls, not-too-loud music, and a multitude of TV screens, we had our choice of viewing the Olympics or -- you guessed it -- the Olympics, all of which were blissfully set to silent. Neither of us are big television fans, but we do sometimes enjoy watching sports. Pierre was a ski-jumper in his youth, so is especially keen on the fast winter games. We hit the jackpot: downhill skiing and speed skating was on, and the Canadians excelled!

It was a quiet night, so we shared the pub with around 20 other patrons. The bartender came out to wait on us with a warm welcome, impeccable timing, and a friendly attitude. The Corner is known for its extensive menu of local-ish brews, with three craft beers featured each day. Mine was delicious: Beyond the Pale’s “Pink Fuzz,” a grapefruit wheaten beer made right here in Ottawa. I’ve had many fruit-infused beers, and prefer a lemon- or lime- to a sweet orange-squeeze (which is more commonly served here), but this was my first beer made with grapefruit. I’ve added a trip to Beyond the Pale’s brewery to our list. Pierre chose a more commonly available Toronto beer, Mill Street’s “Tankhouse Ale”: a lovely, copper-coloured, spicy ale that he enjoyed. And even though I’m not a big hoppy-beer fan, I gave a thumbs-up to my sip. Not being a lover of the grapefruit, Pierre declined a taste of mine.

My standard pub fare is wings. Having been introduced to the real thing: Buffalo wings in Buffalo, NY (thank you, wasbundy!), I’m always on the lookout for excellent ones. The Corner’s Twice Cooked Chicken Wings (fried then baked) were some of the closest I’ve had to those across the border! The first plus was hearing that they were non-breaded (a must since I truly dislike that extra layer of flour and deep-fried fat.) Because it was slow, our server was willing to put in an order of half Cajun Dusted [a southern-style dry rub] and half Frank’s Red Hot [which was not too-hot, but oh-so-authentically-tasty]. Their dipping sauce was a blend of ranch and blue cheese, though finding the blue flavour was a challenge. That tiny detail was tad disappointing, but it was yummy nonetheless. The plate came with only one perfectly-fresh carrot- and celery stick; however, when requested, our server happily delivered more.

Pierre steered away from his normal pub burger to choose a Canadian pizza, made with molasses and black pepper bacon (which nearly made him choose something else: “Molasses on pizza? Ick.”) Mushrooms, pepperoni, traditional pizza sauce and mozza rounded out the pie. The crust was thin, just as we like it, and the oddly-cured bacon was quite tasty. He had the kitchen include his usual green pepper addition, so smiled throughout the meal... especially as his blood sugar began to rise.

Next stop: our gourmet dinner two days after Valentine’s Day: the next evening that was free.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Introducing: The P&P Restaurant Reviews!

I am a foodie. I love variety; taking my time with new flavours; talking about subtle spices, textures, and depths; discovering artist-chefs; and trying to determine just how that particular combination of tastes might be re-created.  And am pretty sure I have my parents to thank for that.
(Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Mom & Dad, Sissy & me. 1968
  As a child, I was teeny and completely uninterested in eating. Probably afraid I might starve, my folks insisted that I not only try a huge variety of foods, but clean my plate, even when one bite of cold asparagus stared at me as I sat alone through an entire episode of Little House on the Prairie. Eventually I choked down the offending morsel and joined my family in the play room. Thank goodness, it did get easier. And I learned to savor asparagus.

David & me. 1983 (Thank you, too, D!)
  Fast forward to my early-twenties, post-university, San Francisco Bay Area... A dear beau, earning tons of under-the-table construction cash, spoiled me rotten with his favourite activity: gourmet dining. The freshest seafood, California produce, Napa Valley wine, and Bay Area chefs... there was a blissful plethora to choose from. My taste-buds came alive. And I’ve never looked back.

Wayno prepares something delicious
with our chickens' eggs
Another leap forward in time... My wasbund and I, together for eighteen years, ate like royalty. He was a fabulous chef, and ran a number of wonderful Western Washington kitchens, including ours. Silly though it was, I was intimidated by his skills, and avoided preparing meals. However, as we used to quip: “Nobody likes to come home from work and go back to work,” so we dined out often. We talked food and flavours in delightful detail, as did most of our family and friends, and as I assumed everyone did.


Pierre cuts a turn on Lac Rheaume. 1979
Across the continent, my dear Pierre was living in Quebec and Ontario, the eldest son in a traditional French Canadian family. His mom was a trained Cordon Bleu cook, and his childhood meals sounded deliciously rich and saucy. But Pierre was on the move. Football, downhill ski-jumping, competitive water skiing, and partying were his passions. 

Food was, and remains, sustenance

To be clear: Pierre loves good food. And he’s fine with ok food. Often he’s even alright with absolutely boring, just-fill-the-stomach food, the kind that I have to work to get over. Perhaps most surprising to me is he can eat the exact same food every day and be perfectly content. It’s actually a trait I admire, but cannot imagine emulating. It would be like turning my entire world beige.

Fourth giant batch of chicken & sausage gumbo:
my sweetie's every-day lunch
As I may have stated once or twice, I am the luckiest woman on the planet. Although Pierre eats to live, as opposed to living to eat, he does enjoy -- perhaps even crave -- adventures. 

With me as the main cook at home, he’s willing to consume my kitchen experiments—he’s actually my greatest fan—and is a good sport and wonderful company when trying new restaurants... even if all he really wants is a burger (no-onion-no-pickle-no-cheese-no-bacon) and fries.

In the midst of this seemingly never-ending winter, we decided to spice things up. 

We live, you see, rather near the trendy restaurant-dense neighbourhood of Wellington / Westboro. So, Pierre proposed that, over the next few months, we visit and review previously untested eating establishments. 
Just a couple of places to explore
We started last week -- not at the place we'd planned -- and I'll share that first experience within the next couple of days. 

I hope you enjoy our upcoming (possibly diverging? :) ) perspectives on Ottawa’s west-end eateries. If nothing else, it's bound to be delicious!