Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Bites Dining at the Lindenhof European Restaurant

The Winter Bites menu for the Lindenhof European Restaurant was all the temptation I needed to check out their new location at 268 Preston Street near Gladstone. Well, new to me. They have been there for almost 2.5 years now but my last visit to the Lindenhof was back in the day when they were located near Richmond and Carling.

European fare is 'stick to the ribs' comfort food. A good match for a lousy January winter night in Ottawa. Not a calorie was spared. Because of the storm warning in effect, the place was empty save for our table and another that cabbed in shortly after we arrived. (Cabbing would have been a good idea.)

We received great service and thoughtful attention to the pace of our meal. I appreciated that.

We were served beautiful multi-grain buns with butter (Lactantia!) but took a pass, knowing many calories lay ahead.

Beer is the right beverage for this menu. I picked their 17 oz Lindenhof draught ($6). Not heavy at all.

Our first course was the Zweibelkuchen, a baked caramelized onion tart. It came accompanied by a dill sour cream. This dish is normally $7.

We both picked the Jaeger Schnitzel, pork fried schnitzel with assorted roasted mushrooms in a red wine reduction with spaetzle and braised red cabbage. This dish is normally $18.

The dessert was Hall's Apple Strudel with Bourbon Whipped Cream. This dish is normally $6.

The Jaeger Schnitzel stole the show. There was a distinct smoky flavour throughout the dish that complemented the spaetzle and the pork. I love braised red cabbage and wished there was more but there was no plate real estate left to allow for that.

The onion tart was tasty enough and the dill sour cream was a refreshing partner. I can only guess how rich it was and may take a pass next time.

A strudel is a predictable dessert in a German restaurant. Not a problem though. I dug out the cinnamony apple and then went for the strudel. The top was flaky but the bottom too dense.

Our Winter Bites menu of choice was priced at $30, which works out to a dollar off on the 3-course prix fixe combination. A bit of math I figured out later. I don't often order an appetizer and dessert with dinner and in hindsight, I think I would have just ordered the Schnitzel, as it was very filling. I pushed hard but still didn't finish. In fact, next time I would just order off the menu.

If you are coming to the Lindenhof before January 28th to try their Winter Bites menus, go with a big appetite. You will enjoy the food experience but you are going home full. More than full.

Lindenhof European Restaurant
268 Preston Street
Ottawa, Ontario
Facebook: Lindenhof
Twitter: TheLindenhof

Lindenhof on Urbanspoon

Check the Winter Bites website for details on the 29 participating restaurants.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Bites Lunching at The Pelican Fishery & Grill

Since the Winter Bites menus started pouring into the "WinterBites by Ottawa Magazine" Facebook page, I have been spinning through the wall photos like some kind of roledex. Constantly reading and re-reading.

[Image Source: Ottawa Magazine]

I love eating seafood when I go out, since I find most places do a better job than I can do in my own kitchen. I appreciate the fresh, well chosen selection. And I appreciate the fuss that goes into making a special dish.

It should be no surprise then that I fixated on the Pelican Fishery & Grill's lobster bisque, which was being offered on both their lunch and dinner Winter Bites menus.

I admit this sudden cold snap has kept me cocooned the past few days but when I had to head out for my bi-annual visit to the dentist, I stole the opportunity to stop in at the Pelican being nearby.

The Pelican Fishery & Grill is located in the Blue Heron Mall, a strip mall anchored by Farm Boy on Bank Street just north of Heron Road. The outside is the usual unassuming look you can expect from a restaurant located in a strip mall. But once inside you see the wide display cases loaded down with the latest catch laid out on crushed ice. Sharing the space is the restaurant, which seats about 40 on copper topped tables.

I arrived at lunch just as they were opening at 11:30 am. Some food critiques will say never eat fish on a Monday, questioning its freshness. Imagine my surprise to see 9 reserved signs dotting almost half the tables. I appeared to be a lucky walk-in. As the first to arrive, I was still able to get a seat reasonably close to the windows.

I took note that the steady flow of clientele following me were greeted by name and ushered to their 'regular' seats. A strong following of repeats! For sure a good sign of things to come. For a moment I actually felt a little awkward. Was I sitting in someone else's 'pew'? I might have expected such a crowd on Fridays with those faithful to their strong Catholic traditions, but on a Monday? Impressive.

Warm multi-grain buns arrived promptly. No whipped butter! Thank you. Lactantia happens to be my favourite of the big butters.

An advantage of being first for lunch, I had all the attention of the wait staff for some moments before the busyness set in. I lapped it all up. Right down to the unsolicited coaster slipped under the northwest leg of my table to take away the 'teeter'. I wouldn't have asked, not wanting to be a bother. Thanks for noticing the small things.

I knew I was there for the lobster bisque and dessert was already established to be maple crème brûlée. Now to pick between Coconut Shrimp or Wild Pacific Halibut. I went for the fish, though quite concerned about portions. Thankfully I took a pass on breakfast.

The bisque came in a small cup. A perfect starter size. The texture was velvety smooth. The flavour, deep with the heat of cayenne and a swish of brandy to embolden the seafood broth. Parceled secretly at the bottom of the bowl were 3 or 4 bite-size morsels of lobster meat. A pleasing treasure to uncover. The small helping of bisque was deceivingly fillling.

Then onto the main.

The lunch size portion of halibut vanished but I came up shy on the fries. A shame too since they were great fries. A creamy, buttery potato flesh with a crisp outer layer. Not too crisp though. I liked the dressing on the slaw as well. I tend to use more onion and Dijon but I think the more mellow flavour was a better complement to the mildness of the battered halibut. The same could be said for the tartar sauce. I was left wanting for a more relishy zip. This fish was very nicely done. I like my batter a bit more crispy, more of a tempura. I think that is a matter of preference. Overall, I really enjoyed my main.

The problem with a 3-course prix fixe menu is that your appetite can run ashore before you get to the pièce de résistance. In this case, the maple crème brûlée. I have had many crème brûlée in this town and this one rates in my top 5. Besides the silky custard, I was happy for the deeper, more narrow dish. With less surface area to 'brûlée', there is a better custard to sugar ratio to my way of thinking. The brûlée was still reasonably thick and very evenly fired. The maple flavour shone through but was not overpowering. The garnish of the raspberry and blueberries freshened each bite. I was satisfied with my decision to forgo a good portion of my fries.

The Winter Bites 'deal' at the Pelican means the dessert is essentially free. I was delighted to be tempted back to this gem of a place as it has been years since we have been there, not being in our neighbourhood.

If you are considering the Pelican Grill for your Winter Bites adventure, you will be pleased you made the trip. All round it was a top notch experience.

Winter Bites runs until January 28th. Check the Winter Bites website for details on the 29 participating restaurants.

Pelican Fishery & Grill
1500 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario
Facebook: Pelican Fishery & Grill

Pelican Fishery & Grill on UrbanspoonLink

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Committed Again. 2012 CSA Food Basket From Roots And Shoots Farm

My summer eating is again going to consist of fresh, local, organic vegetables such as kale, beets, carrots, zucchini, lettuce, and tomatoes. This morning I renewed my subscription for my 2012 CSA food basket with Roots and Shoots Farm.

Roots and Shoots Farm is going into their 3rd season and so am I. A half share (less than $300) suits our family best. We will receive 8 baskets every other week, starting the end of June and going into October.

Roots and Shoots will be opening up subscriptions to their waiting list in February. Are you interested? Here is where you can sign up.

Below are some of my food baskets from this past season. Click on the picture to see more details from that week.

Looks delicious, doesn't it? Are you considering joining a CSA farm this summer? It likely is a good time to start looking around.

[Thursday, June 30, 2011]

[Thursday, July 14, 2011]

[Thursday, July 28, 2011]

[Thursday, August 11, 2011]

[Thursday, August 25, 2011]

[Thursday, September 8, 2011]

[Thursday, October 6, 2011]

If you want to learn more about the farm, the contact information for Roots and Shoots Farm is:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Bites Ottawa - Why On Earth Would I Do It?

[Image Source: Ottawa Magazine]

Winter Bites starts tomorrow.

Ottawa Magazine has teamed with local restaurants in the deep of winter to promote their good eats by offering 3-course prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner (some establishments are only doing dinner). The promotional period runs from Thursday, January 12th through to the 28th.

Typically there is a lunch choice of either $15 or $20. And dinner choices are $30 and $40.

I have been tracking this event out of the corner of my eye since it was first announced at the end of October. At first, I was quite 'beige' to the idea. Always weighing the value proposition, I needed content to get me to commit. That crisp, fresh, snappy blue, white, grey and red logo kept me watching as new news rolled in.

Eventually the list grew and the tweets began to stream. Winter Bites is now up to 29 participating restaurants. By contrast, Toronto's Winterlicious event started with 36 restaurants in their first year a decade ago. They are approaching their 10th year as Winterlicious kicks off at the end of the month. They are now up to a whopping 175 participating restaurants. By that measure, Ottawa's first year of Winter Bites appears to be a success.

So why on earth would I do it? Why would you do it? Who eats out in January?
  • Maybe you, like me, missed out on seeing a number of good friends over the busy month of December. I personally am taking time in January to catch up.
  • If guests are coming to town to enjoy all that winter in Ottawa has to offer, some are picking January over February to avoid the big Winterlude crowds. Or as some affectionately call it, 'Waterlude'. Ottawa has seen its fair share of mild Februarys.
  • Here is a chance to try out some restaurants on the hesitation list - hesitation because of what I may have heard; a prior 'meh' experience but think they deserve a second chance; just don't know that much about them; it feels like it's too far to travel. A prix fixe menu says 'deal' and in some small way minimizes the risk of taking a chance.
  • For those pushing their Christmas parties into January because December's dance card was too full, it will be a way to take on an event at a great price.
  • I never warmed to the Groupon concept. I want to pay a fair price for what I receive. Groupon deals make me feel like all the risk is being born by the restaurant. I want to support local and I want to see these businesses thrive. They can't give their food away for 'free'. A prix fixe menu event like Winter Bites seems like a great way to court potential new customers where both sides can win.
  • Many of us cocoon in January solely because of the weather. With these constant mild spells, I want to be outside, not in. Let's hope this keeps up from the 12th to the 28th.
  • The price point for Winter Bites is much lower than many choices with Taste of Winterlude, another fine food event starting at the end of the month. There are plenty of people wanting to watch their dollar but also enjoy Ottawa's eating scene. Nice to have something for everyone.

So what do I need to actually commit and make plans?

  • Well, first I need to line up some great company with my wacky schedule. My friends 'catch up' list is long. Already a challenge with two invites from those planning parties at non Winter Bites establishments. (I have made my pitch but have no say in the restaurant pick.)
  • Secondly, I need to see menus. If I am jumping into this event, I want to be lured in. Tell me what you are going to offer for lunch and dinner. If it's a lunch date I am on and you are just participating in the evening, I will be taking a pass on you. BTW, my preference is for lunch dates. I crave daylight!
Naturally, I have seen a lot of repetition on the menus so far, as 'winter fare' is popular now. And that's okay. It gives it all a competitive feel. Perhaps a chance to crown the best crème brûlée in town.

Probably the easiest way to peruse the many menus is to go to the Winter Bites Facebook page and cruise through the images in their wall photo library. This has been so helpful for me to start my Winter Bites battle plan.

Winter Bites is here to take a bite out of Ottawa's winter. Are you making plans to be a part of it? I would love to hear your picks and why!

.................... [Image Source: Ottawa Magazine]

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Winter Issue 2012

Thin is in. As usual, the Winter issue of the LCBO's Food & Drink magazine sends the subliminal message in its January issue, that like us, they too are slimming down this month. Although almost a third of the size of the Holiday issue, it still packs a punch with great comfort recipes to see us through the remaining dark days of winter.

Here is what gave me tummy rumbles this issue:
  • Spicy Chilean Shrimp (From Value Added by James Chatto & Lucy Waverman)
  • Dumplings with Crispy Sage & Sherry Brown Butter (From Hot Potato by Leeanne Wright)
  • Seared Chicken with Mexican Mole Sauce & Lamb Shanks Braised with Cinnamon and Honey (From Sweet on Savoury by Michael Fagan & Julia Aitken)
  • Fig and Roasted Walnut Salad (From Enlightened Entertaining by Leslie Beck)
  • Microwave Rosemary & Black Pepper Chips & Caramelized Onion Dip (From Champion Chips by Heather Trim)
  • Steamed Grouper Japanese Style (From Cooking Clinic by Lucy Waverman)
What's New by Julia Aitken caught my eye. Everybody seems to be talking about Rioja. I think I'll be doing a 'me too' and check out the Beronia Tempranillo Rioja. I like the price, coming in under $12. Also the Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout just might be my secret weapon in the annual chili cook off I now enter each March.

Did you know that the Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival is on from January 13 to 29? Neither did I. Here is more info.

A fan of the LCBO Playlist? Rick Shurman and Earl Torno's Winter Playlist will keep you warm. In fact, downright hot and bothered. Whether warming up a winter night and or priming for Valentine's Day, you might want to load up your tunes with the likes of Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill, Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye and Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton. Check it out on iTunes.

Last but not least, a big WOW for Ottawa's own Claudio Fracassi in Cynthia David's Spotlight segment. Who in the Capital doesn't know The Soup Guy. Claudio spreads soup love in the bowl AND with song. Congrats Claudio!

Plan ahead: The Spring issue hits the stores 8 weeks from today on Wednesday, March 7th.

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