Saturday, February 04, 2017

Eating Up the Hill: The #AlternativeFacts Taste of British Columbia at the Parliamentary Restaurant

Every couple of Fridays, The Parliamentary Restaurant allows the unwashed staffer masses inside for a buffet. And when I heard that last Friday's buffet menu was "Flavours of Canada: British Columbia" I, as a BCer, was obligated to make the trek up the Hill.

This is the second in what I surmise will be an ongoing series of provincial-themed menus -- you may recall the Taste of Newfoundland (but not Labrador) a little while back. I didn't have the authority to comment on the authenticity of that one, but as a BCer in Ottawa, I can definitely say this was not the flavour of my British Columbia.

Let's take a look at the menu. Curried veggie noddle salad? OK, we do have a large Indian population so that's a nod in the right direction. House-made granola? Now you're trafficking in stereotypes. Sushi? OK, I'll give you that one -- although you can't say California Rolls without California.

Most of the breakfast stuff is just standard breakfast stuff. Pancakes aren't particularly British Columbian. And putting smoked salmon on the eggs benny isn't really trying too hard.

Perhaps the closest to BC cuisine was the "side stripe prawn and oats, risotto style" which was delicious, even if I've never had it on the left coast.  And the Huckleberry Crisp was a good nod to the Okanagan, even though it had the consistency of soup. As for the cinnamon sticky buns, which I enjoyed, while I do have find childhood memories of the Aunt Bob's Cinnamon Rolls at the Driftwood Mall, we also had A&W in BC and that doesn't make it the flavour of BC.

If it was just a buffet without aspirations of reflecting regional cuisine, I'd give it a 6/10 -- where was the metaphorical beef, y'all? But as it was supposed to reflect the cuisine of the greatest province the grace of God put on the face of the Earth -- and failed badly -- it merits just 3/10.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Made to order pasta in the new Wellington cafeteria

After much anticipation, the cafeteria in the newly renovated Wellington Building opened its doors to the Parliamentary public last week. They had actually been open earlier getting ready and testing appliances and what not -- I offered my taste-testing services but, sadly, the offer was declined.

It was worth the wait though. Bright and airy, with big windows bringing lots of natural light in as well as views of Bank and Wellington streets, there is plenty of seating in the new cafeteria with a mixture of open tables and comfy booths. It was actually pretty busy for lunch much of the week, but I'm sure the novelty will wear off as people try it out and return to their own buildings.

Wellington seems designed to replace the old East Block cafeteria which, I vaguely recall from my last Hill stint well more than a decade ago, was the go-to Hill caf offering more than the standard fare. Wellington has several things you won't find in the regular caf -- for example, pizza slices every lunch hour, and a made to order omelette bar during breakfast.

During lunch, that made to order bar will be alternating between pasta and stir fries and, on Fridays, Pho. I'm looking forward to Pho-Fridays. And to sampling the stir fry. But this week, I ended up trying out a made to order pasta dish.

 Now savvy hill diners will know made to order pasta isn't exactly new to the Hill. It's long been a staple in the Centre Block caf, but only in the afternoon during sittings, after the lunch service. Pierre Poilievre is such a regular that the pasta maker knows his standing order by heart -- I offered to let him pass me in the pasta line one day, but he graciously declined.

Now, however, made to order pasta will be a regular option in the Wellington cafeteria on alternating days, so I'm looking forward to having it more regularly -- even if it does take a little time.

There were quite a few protein options available -- I opted for sausage, but chicken and bacon were also available. Quite a few veggies too -- mushrooms, cucumbers (what? -.ed), red onions, green onions, bell peppers. Do I want garlic? Of course I want garlic, good sir. It can be finished with a meat sauce, a red sauce, pesto -- I went with roseta. Or is it roset? Google is failing me. Red sauce with cream.

If I have one note here, it would be to offer more variety in pasta selection. With all the choices in veggies and proteins, there was only one pasta on offer -- penne. Penne is a very overpowering pasta which is not usually my first choice. It would be great if they had a second, more subtle choice, like shells or spaghetti.

Still, a hearty and satisfying lunch. Looking forward to the return of Parliament next week, and to stir fry and pho.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Steak frites at The Riviera

After trying historic political dining spot Mama Therera Ristorante last week, this week I joined a friend for lunch at a more recent on trend politico lunching spot: The Riviera.

Located on Sparks Street just a few doors down from Darcy McGee's, The Riviera opened last spring in a former CIBC branch. It was an old school CIBC, so art deco architecture and tall, vaulted ceilings make for a pretty cool dining experience. I'm told The Riviera opened not long after Hy's closed, but this certainly isn't a replacement as a setting for private conversations, gossip and deal-making -- the wide-open room and close seating make any secrets hard to keep.

While the menu at The Riviera is limited in quantity of items, they are greatly varied and I found myself pouring over it for longer than usual, racked with indecision on my entree choice -- partially because I knew that, no matter how delicious, at these prices I won't be here often.

I was deeply tempted by the "Spot Prawn, Scallop and Mussel Chowder with Crisp Bacon" and the Pork Ragu Pasta" but, in the end, I opted for the "Hanger Steak Frites." I know, a rather pedestrian selection, but I'm a simple man who likes a good steak. So, after confirming that their frites were appropriately thin and not those ridiculous thick beefeater things which should never be called fries, I placed my order for the steak frites, medium.

Then, the steak came. And it was good. The fries, while crispy, herbed and served with an aioli dip, were but a deliciously frequent brief respite as I tried to make the steak last as long as possible. It was cooked to a perfect medium and was one of the most tender slabs of beef I have ever been served. Melt in your mouth, with a delicious char on the outside like a good steak should be.

I did think the sauce was an interesting choice though, particularly in a steak frites entree. It made it a bit of a heavier meal than I would usually expect for lunch, when people usually need to go back to the office and can't take an afternoon nap. It was a tasty, beefy sauce though that complimented the steak nicely -- I wouldn't have objected to a few mushrooms, however.

At $32 before taxes and tip, this was their most expensive entree and certainly several times what I'm generally willing to spend on lunch. They do have plates beginning at $14 though, with the average being around $20. Still, for special occasions, it's a worthy indulgence.

The Riviera is also becoming a popular spot on the political reception circuit, so I shall have to visit again some time to see how they do appetizers. Expect a full report.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Lunch at Mamma Teresa Ristorante

At Sommerset and O'Connor, Mamma Teresa Ristorante is well outside the usual boundary I employ for Hill-adjacent restaurants for review on this blog. However, given that this is a storied Ottawa political hangout, when a friend suggested lunch there last week I had to make an exception.

The wall of political head shots at Mamma Teresa's certainly is Liberal-heavy, as this has been known as more of a Liberal hangout among the older set (didn't see any millennials during my visit), but there were plenty of Conservatives and even a few NDP pics too, so clearly they serve non-partisan pasta.

The restaurant is in a converted house and is divided into a few different rooms. It wasn't overly busy as we were showed to a table for a Friday lunch. It was a quiet atmosphere, conducive to conversation. The complementary bread was an unimpressive roll. Beware: the bottle of balsamic vinegar flows pretty freely, throwing off my ratio with the olive oil.

Examining the menu, I opted for the combination plate of Vitello Parmigiana, Cannelloni & Tortellini Giuliano. This came with a choice of soup or chef's salad, and coffee or tea, for $20.95.

I opted for the chef's salad, as the soup was something tomato-ish and, as mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of such soups. The salad consisted of mixed greens, red and yellow peppers, and tomato. It was topped with fresh pepper to taste, and much too much dressing. Should have gotten it on the side. Size was fine, but I didn't finish it as it became just too dressing-drenched at the end.

But on to the entree. The veal parm was sauced and cheesed well, but could have been more moist. The tortellini was, well, tortellini. What do you want? It was tortellini in a cream sauce. It was fine. But I could have done the same for maybe $2. I did quite like the cannelloni. Paste cooked well, cheese stuffing flavourful and creamy.

Overall, I left full and satisfied. It was a lot of food for $20 and I didn't need dinner that night. Still, it's more than I like to spend on lunch and is rather out of the way. I'd go back if it was a group occasion of some sort, but it won't be on my regular lunching list.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Buddha Satay Bowl at Freshii

Our office moved over to the newly renovated Wellington Building last week and, while the new cafeteria in this building looks pretty sweet, it won't be open for another week. As my offer to serve as a taste tester as they prep for opening hasn't been accepted, I've been venturing elsewhere for my lunch.

It's a great convenience to be in a building that has an entrance directly onto Sparks Street, and to be closer to a lunch option I'll be visiting more regularly now: Freshii.

Located at Sparks and Metcalfe with limited in-restaurant seating, Freshii is more of a take-out option. I'd been there once before and enjoyed it, but it was outside my radius for walking lunch back to the office for consumption. But now that we've moved, that's no longer the case.

Freshii is, as the name suggests, fresh, with lots of vegetarian options (but you can add meat too). Wraps, bowls, salads, smoothies, that sort of thing. Lots of customization and build-your-own options via a paper slip, so you can make your meal your own.

I opted for the Buddha Satay Bowl, which is rice noodles with broccoli, carrots, cabbage, crispy wontons, and green onions in a spicy peanut sauce. I added chicken and aged cheddar for an extra charge although, frankly, it would have been just as good without the chicken. I also added some corn (most veggie additions are included).

The peanut sauce was flavourful but not really spicy, the noodles sticky and complementary, and the veggies fresh and crisp. Frankly, I could have left out the chicken and cheese and it would have been just as delicious. The bowl was so filling, I really didn't need the bag of chips I bought as a side.

The bowl and chips came to $11.60 taxes included, which I thought was a pretty good value. Without the chips, chicken and cheese it will be a very satisfying lunch for under $10. I think Freshii will be a once-a-week stop on my lunch rotation.

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