Apr 26

Imperial for Sunday Brunch: Not exactly best of the bunch!

Imperial on Bank in Ottawa

It might be a good place to meet but don’t go for the meat!
So the Ottawa Blogger Group was meeting once more
This time we were hoping for more than just four!
Bramasole was packed so to Imperial we did move
but on ZenKitchen’s fare, it couldn’t improve
Vegan friendly for sure, but still it was poor…

This was to be my second participation in the monthly Ottawa Blogger’s Brunch. In March, the group met at ZenKitchen and I really enjoyed the experience, even though, in the end, we were only a group of four. There were some rumblings that maybe the price was a little too steep for some members’ pockets, so this month a more plebeian location was chosen: Bramasole Diner at Bank and Gladstone.
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Imperial Interior ShotWhere we went: I arrived at Bramasole a couple of minutes past the allotted meeting time of 1PM. I was relieved to find that  I was the fifth member to arrive which meant that we had already exceeded last month’s total. However, I could see immediately that our problem was lack of tables that could even accommodate our current group, let alone the larger number that was expected. Although there was some minimal communication with the wait staff, they neither seemed concerned nor hopeful that we would be seated any time soon. We waited about 20 minutes and there was no end in sight. We were now 7 people and all seemed to agree that our prospects were not improving. There was a consensus that we should move the meeting to Imperial just a little further down Bank Street towards downtown. Someone had phoned ahead and discovered that we could be seated immediately. Having not previously been aware of either location, it made little difference to me either way. The difference between the two locations was striking. Where Bramasole was bright, loud and bustling with activity, Imperial was subdued, calm and almost empty.

Blackberry JuiceWhat we ordered: Making a decision on food was going to be relatively easy since there were only 3 items on the brunch: A meat lover’s plate, The Vegetarian, which was a type of bread pudding and finally, vegan blueberry pancakes. If I had stopped and thought that ‘ vegan’ meant no eggs and dairy, I would have probably made a different selection but the idea of blueberry pancakes appealed to me so that is what I ordered. I also ordered a blackberry juice and since I was particularly thirsty, I requested a glass of water. One thing that was a pleasant surprise at Imperial, was that their beverages were very reasonably priced: $1.50 for juice and $1.77 for coffee. Vegan diners are also well-served, since soy based specialty coffees are available. Unfortunately, the requested glass of water never arrived 🙁 

Vegan Blueberry PancakesWhat we got: Considering that there were only a handful of patrons other than ourselves, it was surprising how long it took for our orders to arrive. Although the dishes were quite attractively presented, the food itself was nothing special. My pancakes were somewhat tough and dry.  The real maple syrup was not enough quantity to redeem them. The home fries mixed with sweet potato were a nice concept but were lukewarm and slightly soggy. Even the bread that accompanied the dish was dry and lifeless. The vegetarian plate didn’t appear to be a whole lot better, although I didn’t actually sample it. There were certainly no raves coming from my fellow diners.

Worthy of note: Unfortunately, I found very little worthy of note here. Other reviewers have indicated that evening dining might be a different matter. Based on this current experience, I am not sure that I would take the risk. On a more positive note, the posters which adorned the walls were interesting and helped to mitigate the wait for our orders.

Summary

  • Positives: Vegetarian and vegan friendly. Good location.
  • Negatives: Food was mediocre at best! Service was lackadaisical. Wait time for food was longer than necessary
  • Recommendation: I could not in good conscience recommend this restaurant to a friend!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality *** Uninspiring
Price $$$ Reasonable for brunch
Decor *** Interesting posters
Service *** Very nonchalant
Overall Rating ** I wouldn’t rush back!


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Imperial is a town in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The town, with 321 inhabitants according to the 2006 census, is located along Saskatchewan Highway 2.

Imperial Food & Beverage on Urbanspoon
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Apr 24

Father and Sons: Pub, Sports Bar or Greasy Spoon?

Father & Sons

Another Saturday morning breakfast at Father & sons.
For U of O students they don’t need a car
The trek to Father and Sons is not very far.
We went there for breakfast and found it quite good
One of several such places in this part of the ‘hood
Seems it’s as much greasy spoon as it is a Sports Bar

As we trundle around, each wrapped up in our own daily grind, it is sometimes easy to forget the sheer variety of eating establishments available to us here in the Ottawa area! In just over a year of posting to this blog, we have managed to review a mere 60 or so and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. At the rate that new ones come and go, we could never hope to cover them all. So when you feel like you are stuck in a rut, don’t despair, just go somewhere different. You’ll be surprised how envigorating it can be to step outside of your comfort zone every now and again.
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Father and sons, Pub or greasy spoon?Where we went: Now, I’m not trying to suggest that our recent visit to Father & Sons on Osgoode St. in Ottawa, smack bang in the middle of Ottawa University Campus was exactly a walk on the wild side, but it was certainly a departure for us and a slight reminder of a world we left behind many moons ago. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that Dorothy and I are alumni of Carleton University rather than the University of Ottawa. Back in the day, (was it REALLY that long ago?), we rarely ventured onto the Uof O campus, but similar venues were easily found further South! In any event, since we were meeting up with a current student who lives on campus, here we were! If you take a look at the picture ( RHS), other than the Rickards logo in the background, nothing would suggest that this was a pub. Even the exterior seems to smack of identity crisis!

What we ordered: It really did not matter to us exactly what type of eatery we were in, since we were there for what the English would term a ‘ bog standard’ breakfast. Even though we all went through the motions of perusing the menus proffered, we all opted for the breakfast special except yours truly who really went outside of the box by ordering poached eggs with ham! 

Poached Eggs breakfastWhat we got: As you can see from the pictures, what we got was pretty much what one would expect in any of potentially several hundred locations throughout the city. If any should doubt that we humans are creatures of habit, just stop and imagine how many millions of similar breakfasts are served world-wide on any given Saturday morning!

Worthy of note: Of course, I can’t guarantee that you would enjoy the same experience, but my poached eggs were cooked to perfection. The waiter had asked how I would like them cooked and I opted for medium. Whether it was serendipity or just dumb luck, that was exactly how they arrived!

Summary

  • Positives: Great location for Ottawa University.
  • Negatives: Parking is not easy!
  • Recommendation: The breakfast is as good or bad as many other locales in our illustrious city!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality *** No complaints
Price $$$ moderate
Decor *** cafe-style
Service *** Forgetable
Overall Rating *** OK, not outstanding


Frivolous Foodie Facts
What is a ‘greasy spoon’? A small cafe or beanery that serves fried and deep-fried foods. The food is often delicious and almost always bad for you.

Father and Sons on Urbanspoon
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Apr 23

Scores, Ottawa Trainyards: Just a Swiss Chalet look-alike?

Scores Ottawa Trainyards

Scores, not true to its name actually misses the mark!
For some time now, we’ve hankered after chicken at Scores
On Fridays, it’s all but impossible to get inside their doors
So we went on a Wednesday to give them a shot
but our fries, they were cold and the chicken not so hot
Perhaps we would do better at another of their stores?

Although we primarily dine out on a Friday evening, every now and again, we break down and treat ourselves mid-week, especially if we have been running errands and supper-time sneaks up on us. In such cases, we will often use the opportunity to frequent a locale where we would not usually take the three girls either because wait times are too long or the restaurant is not kid-friendly for one reason or another.  
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Where we went: So here we were on a Wednesday evening in the area of Ottawa Trainyards. Although the Scores location just off Industrial Avenue has been open now for almost six months, I had not yet managed to get further than the front entrance due to its apparent popularity. Twice we had checked out the wait times on a Friday evening and found them unacceptably long. We figured we should be safe on a Wednesday. The fact that we were able to find a parking space right in front of the entrance was certainly an encouraging sign.

Fruit and Salad BarWhat we ordered: Whether or not you are a fan of the Swiss Chalet restaurant chain, it is hard not to use this as a yardstick when evaluating Scores. The fruit and salad bar that is front and centre as you are shown to your table is a cogent reminder that you are at the latter rather than the former. Score 1 for Scores.  😉  However, in our experience at least, the comparison went downhill from there. The menu covers an almost identical array of items as Swiss Chalet. If you stick with the signature quarter chicken where the soup  and/or fruit and salad bar is included, Scores might appear to come out on top. On the other hand, any other selection will cost you more even before the soup and/or salad is added. On this occasion, we stuck with the quarter chicken. One surprise is that there was no up-charge for white meat. 

Lentil SoupSalad Bar SelectionQuarter chicken dinner

What we got: One advantage to the soup and salad bar is that you can take the edge off your hunger and make the wait for your main course more pleasant. Typically, at Swiss Chalet, this is not a problem because their service is pretty quick as a rule. Nevertheless, the soup and salad bar was probably the highpoint of the meal for us. Of the three of us, only one received fries that were more than lukewarm. In a move that is unusual for me, I actually returned mine to the kitchen while Dorothy toughed it out preferring not to wait. The fresh fries were an improvement but still not to the standard of Swiss Chalet. Similarly, neither the chicken itself or the bun and sauce measured up. It seems that Swiss Chalet is not in danger of losing our business.

Worthy of note: The soup, salad and fruit bar is only included with the quarter chicken meal. For all others it is extra.

Summary

  • Positives: Inexpensive if you stick to the basic quarter chicken.
  • Negatives: Not inexpensive if you stray from the quarter chicken!
  • Recommendation: Although it was not terrible, we were expecting more and better!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality ** Nothing special
Price $$$ Inconsistent
Decor *** Standard
Service *** Average
Overall Rating ** We won’t rush back


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Renowned for its famous Rotisserie chicken and delicious back ribs, the first Scores Rotisserie opened its doors in Montreal in 1995. As a growing business, its network of franchises now includes over 40 rotisseries across Quebec and Ontario.

Scores Rotisserie Trainyards on Urbanspoon
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Apr 22

Brigadoon in Oxford Mills: Good food but not cheap!

Brigadoon Restaurant Oxford Mills

It wasn’t a thrill to get Brigadoon’s bill!!
To get to Brigadoon in Oxford Mills one has to drive a great deal
And though invited by friends, we also went for the meal
Only twice in a decade but the food was still great
Even though the Sens traffic made us arrive quite late.
Just a shame the bill didn’t so much appeal!

It’s not often that we would travel as far as Oxford Mills just for a meal. For the uninitiated amongst our readers, Oxford Mills is South of Kemptville more or less in the middle of nowhere! You can be entirely forgiven for not knowing its whereabouts. If it has a claim to fame, we don’t know what it might be. We chose it on this particular occasion because we were meeting up with some friends who live in Spencerville (even further South on HWY 416). Oxford Mills, whilst not exactly equi-distant was a good compromise. 
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Where we went: Although we had not realised it at the time that we made the rendez-vous, we had actually been to Brigadoon once before in September of 2001. I would not have been able to pin the date down in the normal course of events but September 2001 was not in the normal course of events! As it turns out, the restaurant has changed very little since our last visit. I must admit that I only have very general recollections of the food but the minute we walked through the front entrance I recognised the decor. It is almost like a museum with artifacts and antiques of all kind, mostly of British origin. Nice to look at perhaps but I would not want to be the one who does the dusting.

What we ordered: Wisely as it turned out, the majority of our group did not order an appetizer. One did order the snails and another the bruschetta, which was magnanimously shared. Both were deemed to be edible. For the rest of us, we were treated to freshly-baked, home-made bread which was too tempting. For mains, we managed to sample a major portion of the menu between us. Our orders ranged from prime rib, duck leg, rack of lamb, halibut filet and wild boar (my own choice).

What we got: Everyone appeared to be happy with their selection when it finally arrived. For my part, the wild boar was cooked to my liking and the shitake mushroom and port wine sauce was a perfect complement to the strong gamey flavour of the meat. The daily vegetable medley was the cause of some discussion as we collectively tried to identify its ingredients. My only slight gripe might be that portion size trended toward the American fashion. Personally, I would have been content with slightly less. Nevertheless, most of us were tempted by some of the desserts that we had seen being transported to other guests. Personally, I had already decided that ‘ Chocolate Glory’ was not to be missed.

Worthy of note: Most mains are in the $28 – $35 range and a dessert adds a minimum of $8.95 to your bill. If you are on a budget, this might not be the best place to go. Although service was not terrible, the fact that I cannot recall any details of our hostess/servers only a couple of weeks after the event, indicates to me that it was obviously nothing outside of the ordinary.

Summary

  • Positives: Interesting varied menu. Desserts were delicious if calorific.
  • Negatives: Portions too large and too expensive! It’s a long way from Ottawa.
  • Recommendation: If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, its worth a visit but you can find as good or better closer to home!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality **** Above average
Price $$$$ Not cheap
Decor *** Lots to peruse
Service *** Not extraordinary
Overall Rating *** Too far & too expensive


Frivolous Foodie Facts
In case you wondered: Brigadoon is a musical with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. It played for 581 performances on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre and for 685 performances in London at His Majesty’s Theatre.

Brigadoon Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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Apr 21

Dandy is Handy for Brisket if you decide to risk it!

Dandy Brisket

Fortunately, Dandy Brisket is better than it’s name might imply!
If the location is handy,
The food is just dandy!
I’d say you should risk it,
Since they’ve more than just brisket!

Every now and then, a draft post gets overlooked and then hides way back in the archives. It turns out that my first visit to Dandy Brisket was back in October of 2010. At that time, I was helping a friend purchase a new TV and he ended up taking me to this restaurant for both breakfast and lunch. A couple of weeks ago, I was back with the same friend. These two visits were certainly enough for me to gain a good appreciation of the place.

Dandy Brisket MenuAlthough Dandy Brisket is tucked away in a small plaza on Lancaster Road just off St. Laurent Blvd. near the Science Museum and the Ottawa Athletic Club in Ottawa’s East End, it seems that people have nevertheless managed to find it, since it was relatively busy on the occasion of both my visits. 
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Where we went: The first thing that stands out about this restaurant other than its unpreposing exterior is the affability of the owner/operator couple who are clearly of Lebanese origins. Even though one might think that the food is of paramount importance it has been my experience that the best food can often be overshadowed by lousy service. By the same token, sub-par culinary art can sometimes be mitigated by comfortable surroundings and sterling service. In the case of Dandy Brisket, although the ambience is more that of cafe than of fine dining, both the food and the service are beyond reproach.

What we ordered: On my first visit way back in October of 2010, I sampled their breakfast special and it was neither outstanding nor terrible but simply what one would expect. However, on the second and subsequent visit I ordered their Shawarma pita. I should say that generally, I am not a big fan of this particular style of cuisine.

Shawarma PitaWhat we got:  However, Dandy Brisket has changed all that since, on both occasions, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have become a fan. One reason, perhaps for my previous misgivings was the amount of garlic. Although I really like garlic and use it frequently in cooking, I prefer not to have it oozing from my pores. 

Worthy of note: Dandy Brisket is only open for breakfast and lunch.

Summary

  • Positives: Great food, reasonable prices, friendly service.
  • Negatives: Poor visibility, hard to find!
  • Recommendation: If you like Lebanese food, this should be on your list!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality *** Good cafe food
Price $$ Good value
Decor ** Slightly dingy
Service **** Convivial
Overall Rating *** Worth a try


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Shawarma, is an Arab sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Arab world, Israel, Europe and the Caucasus.

 Shawarma is eaten with pita bread, Lavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba.

Shawarma is shared by many country variations. In Greece, it is called gyros, meaning “turned”. In Armenian, it is “Tarna”, literally meaning “to turn”, and in Turkish it is called döner kebab, which in turn means “turning kebab”.

The word shawarma comes from the Turkish word çevirme, meaning turning.

Dandy Brisket on Urbanspoon

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Apr 20

Coconut Palm Restaurant is Vietnamese cuisine at its best!

Coconut Palm Restaurant in Ottawa Trainyards

Hard to spot this Coconut Palm in Ottawa’s Trainyards!!
Tucked away in the Trainyards, this place is hard to find.
And it’s decor is not fancy but we’re sure that you won’t mind
As soon as that food passes your lips
You’ll even consider increasing your tips
’cause the owner and chef is incredibly kind.

Ottawa Trainyards just off  Industrial Avenue in an area known as Riverview, is still growing by leaps and bounds. For many, it’s a little off the beaten track and although close to OC Transpo Hurdman station as well as being directly opposite the Via train station, I would hazard a guess that many Ottawa/Gloucester residents are still ignorant of its existence. 
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Where we went: Recently on a shopping trip looking for maternity clothes for our pregnant daughter, we found ourselves needing sustenance before continuing this arduous task. We opted for Vietnamese food at the Coconut Palm Restaurant which faces Walmart on the Western-most tip of the mall. Although this establishment looks tiny on the outside, it is somewhat deceiving, being able to accommodate almost 50 diners at a single sitting. Both times that we have been there, however, there has only been a single server who may also be the headcook and bottlewasher and most likely the owner.

What we ordered: In a novel approach to streamlining his workflow, the owner offers you a menu and also places a pad and pencil for each table on which you inscribe your order(s). We both ordered the coconut curry, mine with shrimp, Dorothy’s with chicken. Since one is able to specify a level of spiciness, we both requested medium.  

Coconut Chicken CurryWhat we got: As is often the case, the picture does not do justice to the flavours and textures of the food. I can only say that in both presentation and taste, Coconut Palm deserves high praise. Also, they do not scrimp on the shrimp or chicken.

Worthy of note: The Coconut Palm closes at 8PM in the evening earlier than most restaurants. They do not have a liquor licence but do offer guests a complimentary pot of chinese tea, a much healthier alternative. Perhaps the best surprise here is the bill. Without alcohol to pad the bill and moderately priced food, you will be pleased with how light on the wallet your outing may be.

Summary

  • Positives: Great food, great prices.
  • Negatives: Not open late, No liquor licence (a positive for some!)
  • Recommendation: We highly recommend that you give Coconut Palm a try!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality **** Great
Price $$ moderate
Decor ** A bit Spartan
Service ***** A1
Overall Rating **** Recommended


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Coconut fruits float readily and have been dispersed widely by ocean currents and by humans throughout the tropics; they probably originated somewhere in Indo-Malaya. Marco Polo was among the first Europeans to describe coconuts.

Coconut Palm Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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Apr 19

A taste of the Islands is too pricey at Fishy’s Tropical Garden

Fishy's Tropical Garden

It gets my goat that it is so costly to get my goat!
When you first enter Fishy’s, it’s a bit of a mess!
And the prices as posted, should really be less
But for a taste of the Islands, it just can’t be beaten
That delightful goat roti was all-too-soon eaten.
I’ll be back again sometime, I have to confess

If I were to claim a third nationality after British and Canadian, it would almost certainly be Barbadian! For almost three decades, our closest friends hail from that part of the world and we have happily adopted large chunks of their culture. One of the most important aspects of our relationship has revolved around food. Since our children were knee-high to a grasshopper, they probably ate as much Caribbean-style cooking as they did North American; a family get-together would always feature peas and rice, for example, no matter what else might be on the menu.
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The above will explain why I often get a hankering for a good roti. Over the years, Caribbean restaurants have come and gone and we are always on the lookout for any new ones that might crop up and are especially grateful should they happen to be situated in Ottawa’s East End. So you can imagine our glee when our local Caribbean grocer (Cool Runnings at Montreal & Canotek Roads) mentioned that there was one such establishment in a strip mall on Montreal Road near St. Laurent Blvd.

Just the other day, I happened to be in the neighbourhood and decided that I would treat myself. This would not be my first foray but it had been probably six months since my first. There was never a doubt in my mind but that I would be ordering the goat roti, since it is certainly my favourite. What did take me aback somewhat, however, was the price. First, let me mention that although there are a couple of tables with chairs, this is principally a take-out only location. Also, it is not in a particularly upscale neighbourhood. Taking this into consideration, I find the price of $13.50 to be rather high.

Goat RotiSince I was already committed, having walked in and perused the menu for some time, I went ahead with my order, somewhat against my better judgement. I definitely made the right decision! The photo on the left really doesn’t do justice to the end product which although highly-priced was worth every penny. It was chock full of tender, perfectly-spiced, boneless goat meat with a delicious curry sauce with just a smattering of potato. It was accompanied with a teasing of  ‘island vegetables’ (mostly pre-frozen) and a couple of pieces of fried plantain.

If you have never tried Caribbean food in general or roti in particular, I recommend that you try it!

Summary

  • Positives: Authentic Caribbean food.
  • Negatives: Take-out only, rather pricey!
  • Recommendation: Great tasting food! You’ve got to try it at least once!
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality **** Exquisite
Price $$$$ Too high!
Decor ** Grungy!
Service ** Gruff
Overall Rating *** Go for the food!


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Roti is generally a South Asian bread made from stoneground wholemeal flour, traditionally known as atta flour, that originated and is consumed in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is also consumed in parts of the Southern Caribbean, in particular Trinidad and Tobago. Its defining characteristic is that it is unleavened. The Indian bread naan, in contrast, is a yeast-leavened bread.Roti and its thinner variant, known as chapati, are an integral part of Indian / Pakistani cuisine.[2] It is particularly popular in all of Pakistan, northern India, central India and western India.[3] In the Indian state of Maharashtra and some parts of Gujarat, poli and bhakri denote unleavened Indian breads

Fishy's Tropical Grill on Urbanspoon

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Apr 18

Tim Hortons just got a little smoother!

Donut Display

Donut whine when you dine at Tim Hortons
When you go to any Timmies, you shouldn’t be whining
You know from the outset that it isn’t fine dining
But the doughnuts are fresh and the coffee is hot
Their breakfasts and lunches won’t cost you a lot
If you offer to treat me, I won’t be delcining 😉

I know that we usually post about restaurants and some might argue that Tim Hortons does not qualify on this count. Nevertheless, it is deeply  ingrained into the fabric of Canadian society. Also, we are not food snobs and do occasionally indulge in the gooey treats that abound in calories.
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Berry Smoothie and blueberry fritterFrankly, our main motivation for this review was the relatively recently introduced fruit smoothie (with or without yoghurt). On this particular visit, we tried our first one.  The only slight negative was watching the shot of yoghurt being oozed out of a huge plastic bag into the cup before being blended. The end result, however was not at all unpleasant experience and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back again for a repeat once the hot days of summer arrive.

I should also point out that I am happy to see the blueberry fritter make a reappearance at this particular location (Montreal Road at Sinclair in Beacon Hill). For some reason, it was taken out of the regular line-up for some time and I was concerned that one of my personal favourites was going to bite the dust.

Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality *** It’s donuts!
Price $ And coffee…
Decor *** It’s Timmies!
Service *** Minimum Wage!
Overall Rating *** It’s Timmies 😉


Frivolous Foodie Facts
The doughnut, as we know and love, supposedly came to Manhattan (then still New Amsterdam) under the Dutch name of olykoeks–“oily cakes.”

Tim Hortons on Urbanspoon [ad#Google Adsense Banner468x60]

Mar 22

Indie Blogger Brunch at ZenKitchen was enlightening

Zen Kitchen at Somerset & Bronson in Chinatown

ZenKitchen, tucked away in Chinatown at Somerset & Bronson!

Zen Kitchen Facade

My first blogger brunch was a Zen experience!!
The staff at ZenKitchen thought me far out to lunch
When I told them of 15 bloggers coming for brunch..
In the end, we were just four
Though we’d clearly hoped for more…
Perhaps next time there will be a whole bunch!

This adventure started a few weeks ago now when I stumbled across a group on Facebook called themselves the Ottawa Blogger Brunch. Since I blog, live in and blog about Ottawa and generally enjoy brunch, this seemed like a reasonable fit for me. At first, it didn’t seem like people could select a venue. However as the time drew close a decision was finally made in favour of ZenKitchen even though some felt that it was overly expensive. Nevertheless, as of noon on the 20th March, the allotted date, there were 15 confirmed attendees. That seemed like it would be a perfectly-sized group. I had wondered, though, who had taken upon themselves the task of making a reservation.

Where we went: I had never been to ZenKitchen before but knew that it was in the Somerset & Bronson area of Ottawa’s Chinatown. Even though I was running tight for time, I entered the restaurant on the dot of one o’clock. One of the staff members asked me if I had a reservation. I answered in the negative explaining that I was with the blogger group. The perplexed look on his face made me somewhat uncertain. There was no reservation for any sized group at 1PM and one for 15 would be hard to miss. Could I have the wrong date? he politely enquired. 💡 I wielded my trusty smartphone and punched up the event on Facebook. I showed the event listing to the waiter and he deflated somewhat explaining that they would likely have some difficulty finding space before 1:30 for that size of a group. In the meantime, he asked if I would like to sit at the bar and sip on a coffee.
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To cut a long involved story short, I finally discovered at 1.25PM that there  were two solitary members of the group sitting at the back of the restaurant: Ming Wu and Katy Watts. I would have recognised Katy immediately since we had met before but unfortunately she was blocked from my view. Shortly after I joined them, our final member, Samantha Everts arrived. Boy did I feel naïve, foolish and not just a little old-fashioned for thinking that if 15 people confirmed, something close to 15 would turn up. Surely in the world of instant communication, it is not too hard to log on and change your status. Indeed, when I logged onto the event page on Facebook, my phone informed me that I was marked as attending and would I like to change my status? Since there was no option for slightly miffed, I declined the offer.

What we ordered: Well, at least accommodating our group was no longer a problem! We were seated at a table for four and we were now just four. Many people, when they see a brunch advertised, will assume that it is a buffet-style affair. This is not the case at ZenKitchen. In reality, brunch, being a combination of the words breakfast and lunch, simply refers to a meal that is a combination of the two.  See the full ZenKitchen brunch menu here. I had not been aware until recently that ZenKitchen is fully vegan, which means, among other things, that no milk, cream, cheese, eggs or butter are used in their kitchen. I could imagine tolerating the absence of meat, but breakfast without dairy products barely seems possible. My personal choice was between the pancakes and the apple fritters with granola and fresh fruit. In the end, I opted for the latter. Others ordered the Reuben sandwich and Dragon Bowls with crunchy maple tofu (see pictures in gallery below).

Samantha Everts

Samantha who is vegan was in her element!

What we got: I would be truly remiss if I did not mention the quality of the service. Not only were the staff knowledgeable proponents of their cuisine, they were also attentive but in an unobtrusive manner. Sometimes I find that over-eagerness can be worse than lack of attention. That was not the case here. If I was initially a little concerned that my chosen dish would be short on quantity, nothing could have been further from the truth. It was a totally novel concoction for me. The only slight minuses would be that there was an excess of sugar on the fritters and not enough of the vanilla bean crème anglaise for the quantity of granola, which made it rather dry. On the whole, though, it was a treat, although very filling. When I saw ‘a slice of our daily loaf’ as part of the dish, I expected a piece of home-made bread. Instead, I received a slice of what I took to be banana bread (also pictured below). A small dish of home-made jam accompanied it. Although I was too full to partake of dessert, Samantha and Ming ordered the bread pudding and Katy the black rice pudding.


Worthy of note: When I checked in to ZenKitchen on FourSquare on my cell phone, I discovered that I had earned 3 bonus points for my first visit to a gay bar. 😕 Some people had complained that ZenKitchenwas too pricey, however, including a beverage and tax, my bill total was still under $20. For the quality and amount of food, I consider  this to be good value. Caroline, the chef & owner, took the time to come to our table and talk a little of the philosophy (sic) behind her restaurant. She also offered us a sample of  a new Treleche pudding she was introducing (see picture below). This I was able to sample and would not have believed that it could have been made without dairy products. For any celiacs out there, it is also worth mentioning that many items are gluten-free and many others can be made so to order.

Summary

  • Positives: A very healthy place to eat but don’t expect to save any on the calories. Caroline maintains that many of her calories are less fattening than junk food. I’ll have to meditate on that one for a while 😉
  • Negatives: If you really insist on meat and dairy every day, then this might not be the place for you!
  • Recommendation: Step outside your comfort zone if you are not vegan and into it if you are!
  • Website: http://www.zenkitchen.ca
Category Rating Explanation
Food Quality **** Interesting & different
Price $$$$ Still value for money
Decor *** Clean & bright
Service ***** Knowledgeable & attentive
Overall Rating **** You’ll forget it’s vegan!


Frivolous Foodie Facts
Zen is unique among religions in the sense that it has no doctrine or philosophy or teachings that can be learned from books. It stresses only experiential understanding. Zen is touted as being the fastest way to enlightenment.

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Mar 21

JustRW – Canada’s Un-chef is one year old today!

Roy's Birthday Cake

Cake made as per recipe in The Un-Cookbook Pg. 112

If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake! Wait a minute, I guess I did… 😉
Today marks a significant milestone  for this blog. It is exactly one year ago to this very day that I wrote and posted my very first entry. At that time, I only had a very general idea of what I wanted to achieve. Someone once said: ” If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” But then someone else countered: “It’s all about the journey, not the destination!”  Well,  we have certainly had quite a journey and have not yet reached our destination, wherever that may be!

I know that statistics can be dry and boring but I feel that it would be the right time to share a few with you:

                     JustRW Website Statistics
   Visits Pageviews   Google Searches
 Mar. 2010  767  2,245  27
 Feb. 2011  4,715  15,134  857
 Total Yr.  39,826  180,962  5,476
 Avg. Daily  109  496  15
 Current Daily  197 913   31

As you can see from the table above, we have experienced significant growth. In March of 2010, our site was receiving an average of 24 visits a day where today, we are approaching 200! Our increase in Google Search engine exposure is even more dramatic with less than 1 search a day in March of 2010 where now we average 30+ searches each day. Other than Google, our two main sources of referred traffic are from our Facebook Fan Pageand Urbanspoon. These three sources combined account for almost 50 percent of our total traffic.

Within the last 12 months we have authored almost 100 individual posts. The majority have been restaurant reviews: 62 in Ottawa, 10 in Florida, 2 in Ontario, 2 in Upper New York State, and a few in Europe. In October, we finally completed the 2nd edition of our cookbook: The Un-Cookbook: The Art of Cooking without Recipes. So, you can see that we have not exactly been inactive….

Although we have mostly stayed under the radar of the local media, there have been some interesting highlights:

  • One of our posts was quoted in a local coupon deal and caused a sudden spike in traffic.
  • A local restaurateur threatened to eject us if we ever entered his establishment again just because he didn’t like our review.
  • Although rarely recognised by owners and/or managers, we have received special treatment on a few  occasions because someone obviously suspected that we might be reviewing them. After all, there are not many people other than bloggers and reviewers who get out their cameras every time a new dish arrives at the table! 😉

What’s in store for the future? We have some interesting things planned for the near future. Since we now have a following of 5,000+ monthly visitors, we are going to see if we cannot turn this to your advantage. We have already made a start by including an Ottawa Daily Dining Deals Page, where we list all of the various Coupons, Discounts and Group Deals from the various sites that have sprung up lately. Now,  instead of having to monitor a flood of disparate sources to make sure you do not miss out, you only need go to a single page. In the near future, we have in mind a way to leverage current trends to get our readers special discounts to their favourite restaurants without shelling out for ‘coupon deals’. We will keep you informed.

Finally, we would like to say a heartfelt thanks to you our reader for consistently coming back. Although we enjoy the blogging in and of itself, it is nonetheless gratifying to know that people find it of value. This alone spurs us on to bigger and better ventures. We will endeavour to continue to earn your trust and loyalty in the next 12 months.