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.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.

Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

Busy Weekend in Ottawa

I’ve been so busy in Ottawa that I haven’t had time to blog for my foodie friends. Head on over to Timothy Gwyn Writes for an idea of why I had an eighteen hour day Saturday. I’ll get right to the point – food. We haven’t been travelling anyway.

Friday night we found enough free time to get together at The Standard Tavern, a pub on Elgin. Caroline had excellent grilled Mahi Mahi tacos, which came with red cabbage shreds, much like the coleslaw style we do at home. I had the mac and cheese, which came in a little iron skillet. Both our meals came with a tossed salad of spring greens, lightly dressed. We did not linger, so that I could get back to Can-Con in time for the Bundoran Press party in the entertainment suite.

Saturday we had planned on separate dinners because the convention schedule was very full. In the end, we were both hungry at 8:00pm because I hadn’t managed to fit in a meal between the convention sessions and Caroline’s previously acquired deli food no longer looked so appetizing. We managed to connect for a late supper at Maxwell’s Bistro, also on Elgin. I was hungry because of the long day and the late hour and had a Pollo pizza with chicken and peppers on a nice brick-oven style crust. Caroline had a beef melt with carmelized onion, swiss cheese, and a horseradish and blue cheese mayo. The mayo was subtle, especially the blue cheese part, but nice. I walked Caroline back to our hotel and went to the second night’s convention party for a bit.

We went out for breakfast this morning, as we’ve been eating the hot continental at the hotel and felt like a change. We went to the Elgin Street Diner, which has all sorts of original touches like their own baked beans as a breakfast side as well as a breakfast potato that is closer to fried mashed potatoes than your typical hash browns. Before I forget, amazing blackboard art in this diner – I wasn’t sure it was really chalk. Wow! Not just beautifully lettered menu items all around the room, but an amazing mural of past present and future diners! Caroline says they know how to poach a soft egg. I can vouch for the three-cheese omelette, to which I added mushrooms. This place is open 24 hours, by the way.

Tonight we had more time. Can-Con ended in the afternoon, and I had time to come back to the Best Western and work on the other blog for a while before dinner. For a break from Elgin Street, we went the other way and walked over to The Buzz on Bank Street. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, you can bring your own wine and pay a very modest corkage of just $5. Other nights, BYO is not available. Lots of nice things on the menu, and we settled on sharing a Woolwich Cheese and Garlic Affair while I hogged a bowl of tonight’s soup, a mushroom cream with potato. I contemplated the Malay lamb shanks and even tonight’s seafood special, but it wouldn’t have gone with red wine, and we had taken a bottle of Guenoc (Californian) Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon that we picked up at the vintages section of the local LCBO. Caroline wavered between the duck confit and the venison osso bucco and chose the latter. It was very tender. I ended up ordering the filet mignon, and it was marvelous. Melt on your fork.

We shared a dessert, a pumpkin cheesecake with a cinnamon cream cheese icing. Amazing.

Winnipeg again: Bonfire Bistro

Another weekend in Winnipeg, another dinner out. This time we made sure to go to Bonfire Bistro early on Saturday, arriving before six because they do not take reservations. I love their menu, it’s original and eclectic, as were the night’s specials. The one that sticks in my mind was the ‘Surf and Turf’, which passed over the predictable lobster to offer a portion of smoked whitefish with the steak. I almost ordered it, but all three of us wanted to try the pizzas, because they have a lot of interesting varieties and a wood-fired oven. I felt like starting with a salad, and the Mixed Salad of baby field greens, red onion, currants, toasted pecans, balsamic vinaigrette and crostini (with the added fire-roasted vegetables and warm goat cheese) was ample to share three ways. We each have different tastes in pizza, so Caroline ordered the Wild Mushroom & Maple Bacon: porcini, portobello and oyster mushrooms with wilted spinach, fresh herbs, mozzarella and Stilton blue cheese on roasted garlic sauce, I ordered the Spicy La Bomba Chicken: fresh roasted red peppers, fresh jalapenos, mozzarella and cilantro on spicy La Bomba sauce, served with yogurt citronette, and Jonathan chose the Mediterranean Vegetarian: roasted red peppers, roasted roma tomatoes, roasted eggplant, marinated artichokes, Kalamata olives, fennel, zucchini, feta and mozzarella cheese with fresh basil and Carlo’s tomato sauce. Each of us enjoyed our own choice, and while we sampled each other’s, the general feeling was that we had chosen well for our own tastes. We were in the mood for a gutsy red wine, and the McManis Petite Sirah from California was just the thing. Service was good, but we could not linger because there were people waiting for a table. I give Bonfire Bistro four out of five.

Mini-trip: Winnipeg

We have no big road trips planned, but needed to do a little shopping and have a dinner out. The weather forecast was for snow and rain mixed, so running to Winnipeg and back on the same day seemed like a poor idea. With that in mind, we booked a room at the Hilton and made a mini-vacation of it. We lucked out – the snow never amounted to much. A cold and windy night made me dread my customary hour’s walk in the morning, which I usually do outdoors. Chickened out and took advantage of the hotel’s gym, which is available to guests twenty four hours a day. The pool was closed for maintenance.

As a foodie and travel blogger, I am often asked     I am sometimes asked    somebody asked me once: where do you eat in Winnipeg?

My new answer is Deseo Bistro. I was first taken there by a foodie friend, and have been trying to get back ever since. Struck out when I was in the Peg for the Central Canada Literary Festival – this small restaurant gets pretty busy on a Saturday night. This time around, we were able to get a reservation by taking a table at 5:30, but if we had planned this trip a little further ahead, I’m sure we could have managed a more fashionable hour.

What makes this place cool is their menu format. You can graze your way through a handful of ‘Small Bites’, sharing with your friends, or you can order a salad and an entree from the ‘Big Bites’ side and go your own way. On our first visit, the ladies went tapas style, and I ordered courses.

This time around, we just did a selection of the small bites. My favourite was the mushroom brioche with black garlic and chevre. Caroline really liked the sablefish on golden beet kimchi, and we both enjoyed the duck confit on fettucine with poached egg. That last was a nightly special, by the way, so don’t count on it. I approve of the use of specials to keep the menu from getting stale with regulars. They also have a pretty good wine list, with a good variety of wines available by the glass, including a Gewurtztraminer, which is a fun wine to have with spicy dishes, especially Asian inspired ones.

Gave this place four points on Trip Advisor, and I’ll be back.