Dinner Debriefing: The Buzz and Aroma Meze

Okay. Frantic rush to catch up on all the restaurants we ate at while we were in Ottawa.

I’m going to dash off a few words about the lobby lounge in the Ottawa Sheraton. I never noticed the name, but it was pretty decent. I had a perfectly good steak sandwich, Caroline remembers a very generous amount of chicken on a Cobb salad. I had lunch there another day, and the seafood club was also good. Points for Diet Coke in a glass bottle. Service varied.

Saturday. The Buzz, on Bank Street,is one of our favourite restaurants here. We ate there twice during our 2014 visit, and twice this year, too. I don’t know how to give you a clearer impression of how much we like the place than that.

We started with Calamari, which was on the pale side, but dusted with interesting spices. We ordered American wines by the glass, because I had a party to go to at my convention. We didn’t order any of the week’s specials, so you can find our starters and entrees on the menu. Caroline had the Lamb Shank, and I chose the Beef Short Ribs on Gnocchi. We were both very happy, and shared a Peach & Blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream that was the feature dessert.

On Sunday, we felt like something different, so we went to Aroma Meze on Nepean Street. Meze is the Greek version of tapas. You order lots of little plates, rather than two or three courses. They recommend six. If there are two in your party, you get two of each thing. If there are three of you, you get three, and so on. Unlike the rather random order we’ve sometimes experienced at tapas bars, they came out as follows: the pita and spicy dip; then the two garden dishes: the stuffed portobello mushrooms, the hot casserole of tomatoes and feta. Then the two seafood dishes: the calamari and the shrimp and black cod thing. Then the two meat selections: beef tenderloin with ginger and pulled lamb tacos.

Overall, this was an excellent meal. We ordered a bottle of Columbia Crest H3 Merlot (short for Horse Heaven Hills), which is an old friend from Washington state. It’s lovely and smooth, by the way. The vegetable dishes were good, the seafood dishes were a tad oily, (we shouldn’t have picked two fried things), and the red meat items were divine. It’s not often that Caroline raves about beef, and she said she’d be dreaming of the lamb tacos, which were like sopes. For dessert, we ordered two different desserts, rather than a matched pair. She had the chocolate explosion, I had the vanilla panna cotta. And the best decaf ever. Why does everyone not have a dark roast decaf? I demand that the universe be changed immediately! It was Kimbo, if you want to try it.

Monday for lunch, Caroline felt like returning to The Manx Pub on Elgin. She had eaten there a day or two earlier, while I was at Can-Con. But not on Cat Day, which might have been Karmic. It’s in a cellar, and it looks a little old, but the food was good and they are, “TV free since ’93.” Bravo. Today’s lentil soup was nice, and my pulled pork wrap was a delight. Caroline had the bean and cheese quesadilla, also very good, which came with a tomatillo dipping sauce. Interesting pub fare.

Monday evening, we went back to the Buzz. On Mondays (and Tuesdays, I think) you can bring your own wine and pay $5 corkage. We bought too much wine in Prince Edward County, in the sense that we have airline baggage limits. Our suitcases are feeling pretty heavy. So we took a Black Prince Cabernet Franc Reserve (2013). This is one of the weirdest wines I have ever tasted. We were enthralled at the winery by its date aroma. That’s right, it reminds me of sticky toffee pudding made with dates, or flake style pipe tobacco. It might appeal to Barolo or Zinfandel fans. It went beautifully with our meals.

We ordered off the regular menu again. We split a goat cheese salad, and asked them to hold the bacon. I’m allergic to one (artificial) smoke flavouring, and while I don’t actually encounter it often, it tenses me up to eat smoky foods. Mine was great. Caroline, who likes her dressing applied with a light hand, actually got the plate with more, so we could have traded if we had figured it out. She wanted the duck confit and it was just right.(not at all salty, Agrarian). I went with the six ounce filet mignon in a bourbon sauce. Num. We both chose the polenta sticks for the side, and they were splendid- crispy with parmesan. Caroline revisited the peach & blueberry cobbler, and I had coffee. Regular, not decaf, and very nice.

Dinner Debriefing: Maxwell’s

On the way to dinner, we were cheerfully jaywalking at a quiet corner with no traffic when I noticed the girl on the other side of the street change her mind and stand still. Too late to stop, I asked her. “Is there a cop car right behind me?” She nodded, but nothing happened.

We strolled down Elgin Street, refreshing our memories of where we ate last year and browsing menus from the sidewalk. We picked Maxwell’s, for it’s location close to our hotel, and half price on bottles of wine on Thursdays. We ordered a California red called The Show. We didn’t finish it, but we drank more than half. Win!

House salad to start. Large and fresh, with good ingredients, but either the house dressing was weak, or the leaves were wet when it went on. Not a lot of flavour. We shared a Max Combo pizza: pepperoni, mushroom, red onion and green pepper. It was good, with a nice thin crust. If we were at home, we would have put it on a hot stone to keep it crisp while we ate. When we asked about pepper flakes, we got not only the typical shaker, but also a bottle of oil infused with pepper flakes, and I enjoyed that.

Secret memo to self: take one of those to my next food fight. It would be like a Molotov cocktail of pepper spray. Bwahaha.

With the half-price wine, our bill was very reasonable. I was happy about that, because now that we’re in Ottawa, this is my half of the vacation, and I’ll be picking up the tab.

Dinner Debriefing: Agrarian

We found a parking spot on the street just steps away from Agrarian. It was a wet and windy night, so that was fortunate.

The wine list isn’t long, but does feature some local wines as well as a few international ones. After ruling out wines that we already tried on this trip, we chose a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery. There was also a Gamay from the same winery, but our server seemed to think the Franc would go better with the duck.

Our dinner started well. Caroline was still in the mood for greens, and began with the house salad. I was feeling the cold, and ordered the soup, which was a corn chowder today. It was very nice, and I was offered bread and butter with it, slices from a nice fresh baguette.

I was tempted by the tuna dish, but it sounded like something more suited to a summer day, so we both chose the duck confit with plums. Both of us found it uncomfortably salty. I ate most of mine before deciding to stop, which put our server in an awkward position. She offered to get me something else, but I didn’t want to eat another whole meal. Dessert would have meant violating my sugar guidelines as well as my salt ones. There was a cheese tray, but it was a mild cheddar, a water buffalo cheese and a blue. I’ve never acquired a taste for blue cheese, and my first exposure to water buffalo cheese this afternoon didn’t leave me craving more. At this point, I realized I was probably coming across as the customer from hell, and we decided to retreat before we made life any more miserable for the folks there.

They were kind enough to reduce the bill on my dinner, and we were able to take the leftover wine home with us. (In Ontario, a restaurant must have a special clause on their liquor licence to allow this.)

All in all, Agrarian didn’t really work out all that well for us tonight. Your mileage may vary- I’ve grown accustomed to a low-sodium diet, and if you don’t mind the occasional dish that has some salt, you might like the duck just fine, or you could order something else.

Dinner Debriefing: Merrill Inn

The Merrill Inn is in Picton, just a one-minute walk from our B&B. As the name suggests, the place is an inn, and the restaurant is in the lower level. The outdoor terrace is a little below grade, (and not open at this time of year) so there are only windows on the one wall. It’s a cozy room, with room for about two dozen diners.

The menu has some things in common with other local restaurants, at least as far as offering duck, rabbit and pickerel dishes. I think this is because good chefs everywhere look for locally sourced food. Tonight’s special was a bison striploin with a sauce of carmelized onion and sage.

Once again I am unable to find the wine list on the website. Maybe that’s an Ontario thing. The Inn works hard to promote County wines, with a good selection available by the six ounce glass, and an option to have two glasses for $22, which is in line with the bottle price but allows you more freedom to mix and match with your courses. We slipped slightly, and ordered a wine that is bottled in the county from grapes sourced in the Niagara Peninsula VQA; the Keint-He Voyageur Pinot Noir. This was a fairly light Pinot, but went well with our entree choices without overpowering the salad. There were imported wines on the list, too, and judging from the Californians offered, someone there knows their grapes. Edward, actually, one of the owners.

The bread basket featured a sourdough bread that is baked in-house, and a multi-grain sourced locally. Oh, and there were some little cheese biscuit thingies  with a fresh pear chutney. We both started with the house salad, and the inn got points for applying the dressing with a light hand. Caroline wanted the duck and fig dish, I chose the rabbit with pasta. Both were very nice, and we had enough room to share a dessert.

The pie of the day was an apple, served with ice cream made on the premises. We’re not really pie people, so we shared a nice little Opera Cake with raspberries and creme Anglais. Tea for her, coffee for him.

Another nice dinner. Considering that the population of Picton is under 4000 (the population of the entire Prince Edward County is around 25,000) this place is rocking the restaurant biz.

Dinner Debriefing: Blumen Bistro

The full name of this restaurant is the Blumen Garden Bistro. Located just a mile up the road from our B&B, this smallish place offers large helpings of imaginative fare.

Our table wasn’t quite ready when we got there, but we barely had time to sit at the bar and look over the menu before we were seated. The walls were decorated with pictures by local artists, and that community commitment carried over to the wine list, too, with many wines from Prince Edward County on offer. Sorry, the winelist isn’t on the Bistro’s website.

There were a number of things that sounded good on the menu. I narrowed it down to the pork tenderloin or the scallops. The waiter didn’t offer much in the way of guidance, so I went with the scallops. In case it was a lighter meal, I looked for a hearty starter, and chose the duck crepe. Caroline did the reverse, starting with the house salad and picking the rabbit and gnocchi dish for her entree.

We both chose to drink local wines which were available by the glass. I had a Chardonnay from Closson Chase, Caroline a Pinot Noir from Rosehall Run. I can’t find tasting notes at either winery’s website. The Chardonnay struck me as brassy, rather than fruity on the nose. Caroline said she liked the finish on it. The Pinot was robust, with some earthier notes. I hope to get to both of those wineries for a tasting soon.

And now, back to the food. We were hungry, so the bread with herbed oil was very welcome. The seed bread was especially good.

Caroline’s salad was big. I got to help her eat it. Kind of Waldorfy in concept, it had pecans, apples and local Black River Cheddar on mixed greens. Very nice. My duck crepe was huge. A broad cylinder nearly the size of my fist, it would have easily made a meal for Caroline. It was like a shepherd’s pie of duck: filled with corn, peas and dark duck meat, wrapped in the crepe and finished with a rich brown gravy. Delicious.

My scallop dish was interesting, with lots of distinct flavours, including lime, snap peas and mushrooms. It was okay, but it would have been nicer on a hot summer day on the terrace. I would order something else next time. Caroline’s duck dish was amazing. The kitchen make their own gnocchi, and the rabbit was rich and tender in a kind of a hunter sauce. It was a wonderful dish for a chill autumn night. Even with my help, she couldn’t finish it. It didn’t seem practical, but we would have loved to take the leftovers home.

There is a dessert cart, but it was out of the question, we were both too full. Caroline had noticed a pineapple upside-down cake on the October feature menu, but knew she couldn’t eat more than a forkful.

Great dinner. I recommend this restaurant.