RestauRanting: Allium, Ottawa, Ontario

(*This review is a lot more in-depth than others I’ve posted, as it was done for a school project.)
AlliumLogo
 http://www.alliumrestaurant.ca

Allium restaurant is located at 87 Holland Street, a half block north of Wellington Street. Open since 2004, Allium’s website describes the restaurant as a “modern bistro-style restaurant”, and I think this is a very fitting description. Allium offers both lunch and dinner menus and the ever-popular Monday night tapas menu. The service style is tableside service. The menu is changed the first Thursday of every month, offering new and exciting dishes to those who choose to frequent the restaurant more than once.

We made last minute reservations for Monday, October 20th 2014 at 8pm. Around noon that day, I used the online reservation to book a table for two. There was still space available, I assume due to the fact that we were having a later dinner as opposed to a regular time. We arrived a little earlier than 8pm, but we didn’t have to wait for our table.

The hostess greeted us promptly, confirmed our reservation and took my jacket, hanging it in the nearby closet. She lead us to our seats, left us with menus and the wine list and told us our server would be with us shortly. As Dan looked at the wine list, I took this time to check out the table and cleanliness of the surrounding area. The table itself was not wobbly and it was clean. We were seated beside a window, I was impressed to see the window was streak and fingerprint free and the window ledge was well dusted. There were no unnecessary items on the table aside from a small tealight in its holder.

There was no marketing in the restaurant, on the tables or walls. There were paintings along the walls with price tags below them, I’m assuming they were from a local painter. (Also, they weren’t cheap.) I think the lack of marketing is good for this restaurant as they are maintaining the “higher-end” feel of it.

Our server came over and asked us if we wanted regular or sparkling water, we chose the regular water and she filled our glasses. She didn’t ask if we wanted drinks, but Dan was still looking at the wine list, so she may have assumed we hadn’t made up our mind. I was surprised that she didn’t offer any help in selecting wines, she just filled our water glasses and said she’d be back.

Dan and I decided on the DonaMatilde, a 2009 bottle of red wine from the Duoro region of Portugal, after making a few food decisions. It was a Monday night, so Allium was only serving from their tapas (small plates) menu, which was one of the reasons we chose this specific restaurant. The server went off to get the wine and we worked on finalizing our menu selections.

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When she returned with the wine, she held the bottle with the label facing Dan and pointed out the name, the year and where it was from. She opened the wine, again with the label facing out, and did not set the bottle down on the table. She tucked the foil into her pocket and set the cork on the table in front of Dan before pouring a small amount in his glass for him to taste. He approved of the wine and she proceeded to fill both our glasses.

The service wasn’t overly bad, but nothing really stood out either. She didn’t upsell us on any of the food, nor did she even suggest a certain dish or anything. She didn’t help with our wine selection either. Maybe she assumed we were wine connoisseurs or something, but I personally think it’s nice when they offer some kind of assistance to the food and wine selections, even just mentioning their favourite dish or something of the sort.

The first two dishes we decided on was the fresh bread with local goat cheese, balsamic, oil and cheese and the beef tartare with Dijon, truffles, chives, pickles, hot sauce and smoked corn salad.

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At first I was annoyed that we had to pay for the bread, normally that’s included in the meal, but I didn’t say anything to anyone. I assumed it was because it was a tapas night. However, when the bread showed up, I was very impressed. Not in the bread itself, that was just white sliced baguette, but the amount of creamy goat cheese that accompanied it. The balsamic vinegar drizzled over the cheese was one of the best balsamics I have tried so far, very sweet and not at all tangy.

The beef tartare is one of my favourite dishes, and this one did not disappoint. The smoked corn salad was a wonderful addition to the tender pieces of meat. While I do appreciate larger chunks of beef in my tartare, this beef in this one was cut quite small. The truffle flavour was incorporated into the hot sauce, giving a richness to the spice and vinegar. One complaint was that there wasn’t enough crustinis to finish the tartare. However, when we asked for more crustinis, she brought us another little bowlful immediately so we could finish the dish.

Our next choice was a duo of duck dishes. We chose the crispy duck confit wontons with hoisin, spicy honey and braised spicy cauliflower as well as the duck rillette and foie gras terrine with pickled beets, pistachio aioli, crisps, chervil and balsamic.

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Both of these dishes were amazing. The crispy wontons were spicy, sweet and crispy and paired very well with the well-seasoned cauliflower florets. I wish they had asked us if we wanted to add another wonton though, as there were only 3 on the plate and Dan and I were sharing everything. This would have been an excellent upsell option for the server as well. The terrine was fantastic as well. The foie gras was melt-in-mouth creamy and the duck rillettes surrounding it added to the delectable flavour. My one complaint about this dish was the repetition of the truffle flavour. I’m not sure what it was in, quite possible the terrine, but it was too similar to the beef tartare. (It was also not mentioned on the menu, which I found surprising.)

Another note on service, while it wasn’t very busy in there, I thought our empty plates stayed on the table far too long. When we first looked at the menu, she mentioned only ordering two plates at a time, as we were at a smaller table. With that information, you would think the servers would have worked at keeping the empty plates out of the way. As we waited for her to clear the plates, Dan mentioned that there were three servers chatting it up at the bar. I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting as I was in the corner. They talked for quite sometime, which was quite annoying, as Dan and I were done with our food and we were waiting to order something else.

Instead of dessert, Dan and I opted for a cheese plate. I’m not exactly sure what the three cheeses were, but it was paired with an onion and apple compote, pear and apple slices and a spicy honey.

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The cheese plate was okay, but it definitely lacked in colour. The cheese plate was monochromatic with lots of yellow and brown shades. The fact that it was served on a wood board didn’t help either. The compote was not bad, but I would have preferred something sweeter.

When we finished dinner, we were brought the bill and our table was cleared. There wasn’t a lot of chatting going on between the servers and the few guests that were left, I assumed they just wanted to get out of there as it was nearing 10pm. The restaurant concept was good, I really like the tapas or small plates idea as it let’s you sample a number of dishes as opposed to just one.

Dan and I made our way to the bathrooms, which were located downstairs on the lower level. (On that note, I’m not sure what they would do if they had to deal with someone in a wheelchair.) On the way down, I asked him to take a look at the men’s and I would do my check of the women’s.

It was a single stall, dark tiles on the wall and floor and dim lighting. I ran a finger on the shelving unit in the bathroom and noticed it needed dusting. The lighting however, allowed this to go unnoticed. The wastebasket was overflowing with paper towels and probably should have been changed at least once during the evening. Other than that, it was alright, as far as bathrooms go. It served its purpose and I could wash and dry my hands, although my paper towel landed on the ground as well, due to the overfill of the garbage. Dan’s experience in the men’s was nearly identical, aside from the fact he didn’t dust check the shelving unit. He also had an overflowing garbage and a very dimly lit bathroom.

As for things I would change or improve, I would recommend the servers get to know some favourites, for both wines and dishes. This small gesture would make for a friendlier overall service. I would also have bread available at no cost, but without the goat cheese. This would give the servers an additional chance to upsell at the table. They should also refrain from chatting in a group at the bar and focus on the customers in the restaurant. In conclusion, aside from the few small slips in service and a not-so-perfect bathroom, I would definitely return to Allium as well as recommend this restaurant to others.

Mandy

New Anthology: Operation Ice Bat

operation ice batEven with culinary school keeping me busy, I still manage to get a few new stories out into the world every so often.

I was messaged about being part of a benefit anthology for one of my good friends. I could have sent in a few reprints but I wanted to send in a new story, so that’s what I did… and this one is a good one. ;)

I’m amongst some great storytellers in this awesome little book.

Introduction – Brian Keene
Breathe My Name – Christopher Golden
The Tin Box – Kelli Owen
For Whom We Mourn – Geoff Cooper
Inviolable – Mandy DeGeit
Mouth – Nate Southard
Little King – Nikki McKenzie
Home – J.F. Gonzalez
The Taste of Our Indiscretions – Robert Ford
In the Details – Michele Mixell
The Guardian of Tsalal – Brian Keene
A Family Birthday – Jacob Haddon
Emily’s Kiss – James A. Moore
Pretty, Pretty Shiny – Alyn Day
I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday – Mike Lombardo
The Mime – Mary SanGiovanni
The Wretched Spawn – Michael H. Antonio
Arrearages – Wesley Southard
Noogle Knock – Robert Swartwood

I don’t think there’s any reason why you shouldn’t take two seconds and go order yourself a copy of Operation: Ice Bat. It’s only $2.99.

Here’s the Amazon.com link.

For all other e-reader needs, check out Brian Keene’s blog post.

Disclaimer: I should warn you, my story “Inviolable” is a short, little flash story; but it will linger with you long after it’s over.

~MDG~

 

Recipe – Mandy’s Macaroni Salad

With BBQ season upon us, I decided to ring in spring with one of my favourite BBQ add-ons (and the one I tend to bring to potlucks most often), my macaroni salad. Now throughout this post, let’s pretend the words macaroni and potato are entirely interchangable. I make the same recipe, both with macaroni or potatoes. However, this time, due to what I had around the house, I went with macaroni.

This recipe is amazing for anyone, because it’s entirely modifiable to whatever you prefer. Don’t like red peppers? No prob, use green peppers. Maybe you hate all peppers in general, well then, leave them out. Have carrots instead of celery, that’s fine too. No fresh parsley, use dried or none at all. I can go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. You can use whatever you have in the fridge, it doesn’t matter.

This also applies to the dressing. Don’t like hot sauce, don’t use it. Hate mustard, leave that out too. Change up the herbs and spices to ones you really like and omit the ones you don’t. The only thing you pretty much need for the dressing is mayonnaise, but if you don’t like mayo, why not do an oil and vinegar dressing? It all comes back to use whatever you want.

You’ll notice there are no amounts in this recipe… I just throw stuff in, for both the salad and the dressing. I suppose I could tell you what’s in this batch, but the salads and dressings I make are never the same. I reiterate once again, it does not matter what you use. Use your judgement, obviously you won’t add 8 cups of mayo to 1 cup of macaroni… At least I hope you won’t. Taste as you go and adjust seasonings as necessary. Go with your gut, it’s where the macaroni salad is heading anyways. ;)

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Mandy’s Macaroni Salad Ingredients:

Macaroni, cooked in salted water and cooled (or potatoes, cooked, cooled and diced)

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Parsley, chopped
Red Onion, small dice
Celery, small dice
Red Pepper, small dice
Shallot, minced
Hard-boiled eggs, chopped
Dill Pickles, small dice
Olives, sliced

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Dressing Ingredients:

Mayonnaise
Yellow Mustard
Dijon Mustard
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Pickle Juice
Olive Juice
Garlic Powder
Basil
Celery Salt
Herbes de Provence
Salt & Pepper

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Procedure:

1 – Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. (My ratio of macaroni to other stuff is about 50/50, but this is how I like it.) Set aside.

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2 – Combine all dressing ingredients in a smaller bowl. I use the pickle/olive juice to thin out the mayo. (Adding a tart flavour as well as saving me on added calories.) If you wanted to make your salad way more colourful, substitute the pickle and olive juices for pickled beet liquid for a bright pink dressing.

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3 – Whisk this ingredients until smooth and adjust seasonings. I used a different dill pickle brand this time, which was far more vinegary than my usual one, so I added about a tablespoon of white sugar to balance the flavours. Too watery? Add more mayo. Not spicy enough? Add more Frank’s. I like mine to be a salad dressing consistency, tangy and sweet, with a tiny bit of heat on the finish.

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4 – Combine the dressing with the salad and mix until thoroughly coated. Taste to ensure the seasoning are right and enjoy!

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*The salad can also be refrigerated for a later date, which I tend to do. This allows the flavours to meld together much better, but you’ll notice the macaroni soaks up a lot of the dressing. You can either throw together another small batch of dressing or just use some mayo or a bit of pickle juice to moisten the salad.

ENJOY!

Mandy De Geit
Chef-In-Training
“If food was meditation, we’d chant Om-Nom-Nom.”

RestauRanting: The Port Pub, Port Williams, NS

We had heard about it from one of the boys, a gastropub somewhere near Wolfville. Yesterday, in the middle of a snowstorm, we decided to take the rental car (which does not have snow tires…) and run some errands. I’m not sure what lead us to Port Williams, but I noticed a sign mentioning “gastropub” as we were heading down the  main road. After a quick u-turn, we followed the sign and made our way down the road to the building set on the Cornwallis riverbank. The Port Pub is in a great location that I think would be amazing in the summer.

  Photos of The Port, Port Williams
(This photo of The Port is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

As we pulled into the parking lot, I was happy to see that it was in the same building as a micro brewery. Unfortunately, The Sea Level Brewing company was closed on Sundays, but the pub did have their beer available. We started our lunch with a tasting flight of beer.

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Usually when I have a flight, there’s one or two beers I find to be too hoppy for my likes. The flight consisted of five different types of beer, (from the far left going clockwise), The Rojo Mojo Red Ale, the Planter’s Pale Ale, the Blue Heron Extra Special Bitter, the Port In The Storm Porter and the High Street Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. My favourites were the Scotch Ale and the Bitter.

The menu had a lot of variety, which kept us deciding through most of our flight, but we finally decided on sharing a bunch of the appetizers.

We started with the lobster poutine. There were big chunks of lobster, cheese curds and a delicious lobster cream sauce served on crispy french fries. The sauce and cheese was evenly distributed throughout the poutine, which was very important as one of my biggest pet peeves when eating poutine is to end up with just fries at the bottom. I could’ve eaten the entire bowl to myself, but I was reserved enough to eat slowly and share half with the fiancé.

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For our second “course”, we ordered the chowder. A thick, chunky soup loaded with different seafood and a creamy base was what came to the table. Once again, it was amazing. The seasonings in the creamy broth were bang on and complemented the big chunks of seafood really well. My favourite spoonfuls were the ones with the huge bites of scallop in them.

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Finally, we ended the meal with crab cakes. The accompanying lemon dill sauce was excellent as were the crab cakes. My only complaint was that there was only two of them. (I could’ve done without the salad, which was good, but still just a salad.) It was an appetizer portion, therefore the two crab cakes make sense.

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We are already planning to make a second trip to the pub this week, as there was a lobster club I wanted to try, but I just couldn’t make room.

Overall, I would highly recommend this gastropub to anyone in the Wolfville/Port Williams area.

Mandy

RestauRanting: Play Food & Wine, Ottawa, Ontario

Play Food & Wine is amazing and still remains one of my favourite restaurants in Ottawa (and everywhere else so far). Sure I’m a little biased since my best friend used to work in the kitchen here, but even after her departure, the food and service continue to be top notch.

I love their lunch menu, (which is the same as their dinner menu) but they offer 2 for $22 on their dishes. Play offers small plates and a constantly changing menu, based on what’s in season. What “small plates” means is a normal dinner would be 2 or 3 selections from the menu. I do find that 2 plates with a drink or two is quite substantial however. I appreciate the small format, cause I like variety. :D I’m a fan of trying more than one thing from the menu and with the small plates, it makes it possible without overeating.

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On the last trip to Play, Dan (the fiancé) and I brought my best friend Dickie, who had never been to Play before. We went for lunch, and each ended up with two selections from the menu. The boy chose a great bottle of wine, but again, I don’t remember the name. *(This is why he’s in charge of the wine selections.) I was saddened to see that my go-to usual wasn’t on the menu, the steak tartare. I’m hoping they do bring it back, but I was just as satisfied with my other choices.

I started out with the scallops and I’m happy that I did. These were the highlight of the meal, well that’s what I thought. Dickie chose the scallops as well and he was also greatly impressed by them. I’m pretty sure we all licked our plates clean at the end.

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Dan started with the Beef Laab. It was like a spicy beef lettuce wrapped taco. They were really good, but made quite the mess. It was suggested to eat with our hands, which we did, but it was very drippy and messy. Even still, the mess didn’t detract from the awesome flavour packed into these totally tasty taco-like things.

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The Arctic Char was my next selection. This was awesome. The broth was rich in flavour and the skin of the fish was super crispy. While I’m not a potato girl, I really enjoyed these potatoes, (most likely cause they were in that amazing broth).

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Dan chose the Pork Belly. While I normally love pork belly, this dish didn’t seem to have the same “WOW!” factor the other dishes did. I’d like to say that it was missing something, I thought maybe salt, but I doubt it would be that simple. Dan and I both agreed that it was our least favourite out of the four selections. This didn’t stop us from cleaning this plate though. Even a mediocre dish at Play is still really awesome.

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When we were done lunch, the waitress came by with the dessert menu.

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While I wanted to say no, since my waistline DOES NOT NEED more fat, there always seems to be room for creme brulee. I asked Dan if he’d consider sharing one with me and when he said yes, I put in the order for the Autumn Spiced Brulee, which was absolutely divine.

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All in all, it was another amazing outing with great food and excellent service.  Play continues to impress me on all levels of food and hospitality and it continues to be one of my top rated restaurants.

I would fully recommend this restaurant if you are ever in the Ottawa area. (Let me know if you decide to go, I’ll join you for sure.) ;)

Chef-In-Training Mandy

Review: Bob’s Book Of Baby Madness by Robert Ford

Bob's BookI was flipping through my Kindle for something to read, when I came across Bob’s Book of Baby Madness. I’d totally forgotten about purchasing this until I saw it and figured why not. I was on a flight home for the holidays, so I jumped into the book. Now I’m not a parent, but even still I really enjoyed this book. (I assume people with children would definitely be able to relate more to what is said in the book.) Needless to say, I ripped through it in one sitting. Ford walks you through every step of having a child, from the “I’m pregnant” moment to the beauty and horror of delivery and into the first few months of being a new parent. The book is really well written, funny and informative. I’m sure it would appeal to those who already have kids, people who are thinking of having kids or ones like me, who have no children at all.

If you’re looking for something different, check out Bob’s Book Of Baby Madness.

Pick up your copy here. 

I give this one five out of five.
MDG

Review: On The Lips Of Children by Mark Matthews

OnTheLipsOfChildren-1I do most of my reading during daily exercise on the treadmill. As I got into the story, I realized that the main characters are also runners. There are a few minor differences however, they run outside, where I prefer the indoors, and they run, where I’m more along the lines of jogging/walking. (It’s difficult to read when you’re running.) :D

“Meet Macon. Tattoo artist. Athlete. Family man. He’s planning to run a marathon, but the event becomes something terrible. During a warm-up run, Macon falls prey to a bizarre man and his wife who dwell in an underground drug-smuggling tunnel. They raise their twin children in a way Macon couldn’t imagine. And Macon, and his family, are next.” On The Lips Of Children – Mark Matthews.

The book was interesting and opened up a world of horror in the underground tunnels below San Diego. Unsuspecting tourists and helpless people are taken as hostages, their captors fuelled by the need for drugs and money. The family living in the bowels of the earth are much more than just dysfunctional and newly taken hostage Macon must pull himself together if he wants to save himself, his wife Erin and his daughter Lyric.

The story kept me intrigued, as I wanted to find out what would happen to the family. Matthews goes into great detail with his writing, from the aspects of running to the description and feel of what it’s like to get a tattoo. I felt in some instances there was a little too much description (like with the running), but he does take the time to ensure the reader can see what’s happening in the story, rather than just telling us what’s going on.

I did feel the ending was a little abrupt, as I wanted to know more about certain things, but it did leave me satisfied enough to have enjoyed the book.

I recommend this book for horror lovers as it was a good story with well-thought out characters and plot lines.

Three and a half stars.

MDG