Photo courtesy of LexnGer (click image for for more)

Photo courtesy of LexnGer (click image for for more)

For better or worse I count myself among the army of Ottawans that toil daily for the government within several blocks of Sparks Street downtown. We have our peculiar habits.  You may have noticed the ID tags clipped to our belts:  A hideous fashion choice that we gladly make in order to avoid the inconvenience of reaching into a pocket or purse when entering the workplace. Such is the efficiency and commitment of the federal civil servant. You may also have noticed that we congregate at bus stops between 3:30 and 4:30pm (or used to, before the interminable strike) because we believe it’s worth getting to work at 7:30am if you get to leave the office while the sun’s still out. And our employer is fine with that.

Anyways, another thing we share in common is lunch. Between 12 and 1, you’ll find swarms of us in the basements of our grey office towers lining up at equally grey food counters serving up meals of a similar hue. Surely you, like me, believe in your heart that there is a better way.

This post, the first in an occasional series, will point the way to the culinary adventures that await only minutes away from your ergonomic keyboard.

Today’s discovery:  Tokyo Sushi on Kent between Nepean and Lisgar.  The place is small — maybe 6  tables.  It wasn’t busy though, even during peak mid-week lunching hours.  The decor is clean, fresh, and minimalist.  It makes for a nice break from the taupe an beige tones of your typical Government of Canada workplace.

The reason you come, though, is the sushi and good prices.  This is seriously tasty sushi. Much better than the nearby (and better-known) Festival Japan.  It’s also reasonably priced, a near miracle in Ottawa. The maki sushi combos start at $6.95 and top out at about $11 for enough sushi to make a good-sized lunch. The spicy salmon roll is delicious.  The veggie gyoza are crispy and light.  And the edamame were nicely cooked and salted. The best part of all: Pots of pungent japanese green tea are free and plentiful.

So ditch the basement sandwich shop, don your parka, and check it out.

New Kid on the Block

January 22, 2009

Play

Play Stephen Beckta’s new wine and cheese shop on Sussex Drive is now scheduled to open on January 30th. (One month behind schedule but who’s counting?).

Man of the dayWatch history live over lunch at one of these Ottawa hangouts, and try your best not to let those feelings of “why can’t we have one of those” (inspirational politician, not handsome black man) seep through. The musical prelude starts at 10, the official stuff at noon. All the cool kids will be tuning into BET’s extensive coverage which will go from 6am to 3pm on January 20th, 2009.

1. East African Restaurant
The Rideau Street restaurant will have a big screen TV and ethiopian food. What more could you ask for?

2. James Street Pub
Ask your server to turn off the curling tournament on one of the Bar’s 20 TVs, and salt your fries with tears.

3. Why not watch it at D’arcy Mcgee’s and join in on Parliamentary Hill gossip about the new President?

4. Other suggestions?

An old poster for Disco Bongo

An old poster for Disco Bingo

Humphrey’s on Bank St. may be in the midst of an identity crisis: family restaurant on the outside, cocktail lounge on the inside. By becoming the new venue of Spins and Needles popular Disco Bingo night, the Glebe eatery may be making a move to assert itself as the latter.

Granny gambling is enjoying a new cachet as part of the same movement that has seen knitting circles and ugly sweaters become trendy. S&N puts a twist on the original by adding 70s and 80s music and whimsical prizes: Kraft Dinner, packages of Ramen noodles, disco balls, strings of lollipop, a New Year’s Resolution file fax, etc. A lack of reverence for tradition was also evident in the shapes players had to form in order to get their paws on the loot, as crosses and diagonals replaced the standard horizontal and vertical lines.

The monthly event outgrew the Shanghai restaurant on Somerset and will be making Humphrey’s its perminent home. The cost is $5 for the first two cards, and $1 for each card afterwards. Definitely worth a visit next February 6 if you feel like shaking to the Eurithmics while taking a shot at winning a pack of shot glasses.

HOT Wine Buy at the LCBO

January 18, 2009

yellow-jerseyOften times folks scoff at how much wine costs us here at the LCBO – when south of the border you are paying about half for exactly the same product. This week however, the LCBO is offering a crazy deal on what I think is a decent wine.

Yellow Jersey wines, a Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are all going for a crazy low $5.95.

I recently bought out the supply at one LCBO, but judging from their website there are still a few bottles scattered across the city. I drank (not alone…) a couple bottles of the Pinot Noir on Friday while playing a rousing game of Puerto Rico and found that at the price point the wine was simple, easy-to-drink and matched well with the House of Georgie’s Pizza we also ordered.

Last night I had a bottle of the Chardonnay with a dinner of scallops and risotto and found it to be a bit tangy, but perfectly drinkable. It was nice and crisp and would go well with a variety of take-out options and I imagine would nicely cut the spice of a curry.

If you find some buy it.

The Best Poutine In Town

January 7, 2009

poutine
I have a confession to make. I don’t eat meat but I can’t stay away from poutine. Yes, I know it usually – the best ones at least – comes with beef gravy. And even if it doesn’t, then it usually has gelatin and anyone who professes to be a herbivore should probably stay away from concoctions made with grind up bones. I just can’t help it. I love poutine.

Here’s my top five faves:

1. New York Fries’ Poutine. What? Are you complaining that I’m giving a food court option? I truly love it’s deep dark beef gravy. Yum. Even better with mayonnaise and some of NYF’s california spices. Watch out though, according to calorie count the small size has 710 calories. (!) $3.95
2. The Standard’s Poutine: Real cheese curds and spicy peppery gravy are what make this poutine great. Consistency can be a problem –which for $8 a dish should be fixed.
3. Elgin Street Freehouse : The Freehouse used to offer a wonderful poutine with blue cheese, deep dark gravy and wild mushrooms. Why it escaped from the menu is beyond me and they should bring it back. Bring it back! $9.
4. Elgin Street Dinner’s Poutine: Delicious. But the fries could use a bit of help – why are they so small? And at $7.99 it’s getting a bit pricy. Try asking for a small version. At $5 a pop it’s a much better deal and you won’t fill ill from your poutine adventure.
5. Wedge’s Plus: This poutine makes the grade only because Wedge’s delivers. Not to try unless you are desperately seeking Quebec’s national dish. The wedges are good but there are no curds and the gravy is pretty weak.

What no chip wagon? You’re right, it should be there but I haven’t found one that blows me away yet. Prove me wrong.

I<3 Legumes

January 6, 2009

Chickpeas

I love beans. The chickpea, sometimes called a garbanzo bean, is my favourite. Black beans, kidney beans and black-eyed peas are classics. Mung (or Moong) beans and Adzuki beans are becoming regulars. My cupboards are overflowing with beans (don’t even get me started on lentils). And unlike the case in one of my favourite films, Delicatessen, beans are dead cheap.
Until a year ago or so I was a fan of canned beans. I bought them without thinking, lugging the heavy cans back from the grocery store. Once the BPA reports started coming in and with it long distance phone calls with my sister, also a voracious bean eater, as we discussed the validity and concerns of all our canned-bean eating. It was time to change our habits.

Not taking anymore chances I started eating dried beans but I had no idea what I was doing.

Buying dried beans is easy. The basics will be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. Better dried bean selections are at Grace on Bank St. and any Bulk Barn.

I tried several different methods of cooking the beans and looked to food blogs trying to sort out the best. After a year this is my standard for any type of bean.

1 part bean: 3 parts water
Soak overnight, or during the day (minimum 10 hours)
Rinse the beans and put them in a pot with water to boil, and then simmer. After the beans have started boiling a foam will appear that should be skimmed off.
The length of time the beans need to simmer depends on the age of the beans. Anywhere from thirty-five minutes to an hour (for very old beans). I usually nibble on a bean to see how soft it is after forty minutes.
I like to do several cups of beans at one time and freeze or refrigerate the extra beans (they’re good for a week). Typically I put them in baggies of the same size as a can of beans so I can simply follow my favourite recipes.
19oz can = 2 cups of cooked beans
14oz can = 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans

As a bean lover, there are two great and immediate rewards for eating beans this way: they taste better and they are supposedly less gaseous. I asked my cat if he thought this was true and wisely he had no comment.