Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Jadeland of Chinese Food

Today for lunch my wife and myself headed over to Chinatown to investigate where in Ottawa we could find Chinese food. 

Earlier we had succesfully found a place for Vietnamese Pho, but now we were looking for Chinese food. 

We had heard Jadeland Restaurant (625 Somerset Street West, Ottawa) was recommended to us by others when looking for Asian style food. 

We headed over for a 2 P.M. lunch hearing that Jadeland can be busy during morning and noon with Dim Sum and lunch.  We arrived to the restaurant with three other tables just finishing up their meals.  There was one family visiting their aunt from Mississauga while another larger party was finishing up and leaving. 

The waitress seated us next to the front window, left some Jasmine Tea, and gave us three different menues to review.  Interestingly, one menu was completly in Chinese characters on one side while on the other there was regular English lettering.     We perused the menus for a little while trying to figure out if we were going to share or have our own plates.  Chinese meals are usually shared at large dinners but there are options for personal plates of something (e.g. chicken, beef, duck, etc.) with rice. 

One concern was the "chicken balls" on one of the menues.  A quick note from my wife: real Chinese restaurants do not serve chicken balls but can be found in more Americanized Chinese restaurants.  The other menus though had more traditional Chinese fare on them.  So we skipped the "Americanized" Chinese food menu and leafed through the one with Chinese characters on one side and English on the others. 

We chose to share a meal for two people, wrote our order down on the order sheet supplied and gave it to the waitress.

The Order:  Egg Drop Soup, Steamed Shrimp, Chinese Greens with Oyster Sauce, Beef Ribs in Blackbean Sauce, Jasmine Rice and Jasmine Tea.

The food came within ten minutes of ordering. 

The first up was the Egg Drop Soup which is minced roast chicken, sweet corn and egg mixed together.  A pretty thick soup normally when prepared correctly and this soup didn't dissapoint.  Things were looking pretty good even with a thumbs up from my wife. 

The Steamed Shrimp I do not normally care for.  My wife though thought they were delicious as she methodically took them apart and enjoyed them using her chopsticks.  

The Chinese Greens were a little oversteamed but not to a  point where they needed to be dumped due to over shrivelling.  I enjoyed them with a little Oyster Sauce which admittedly is not something I enjoy on a regular basis as any seafood beyond breaded fish or Salmon I normally steer away from. 

The Beef Ribs with blackbean sauce I thought were perfect.  They complimented the Jasmine rice decently but you had to be aware of the bones that were still present.  My wife thought the Beef Ribs were a little oversalted to her tastes. 

The tea was the traditional Chinese Jasmine Tea you would find at any Asian restaurant in Ottawa.  Nothing special, but is quite nice and heartwarming after coming in from a snowy day like today.

Overall, Jadeland Restaurant was a satisfactory Chinese restaurant. I admittedly normally do not frequent Chinese restaurants but my wife easily guided me through it as I felt adventurous.  The restaurant itself is a family owned converted ground floor of a Victorian home that fits into the historica neighbourhood setting.  We enjoyed our meal on a quiet snowy afternoon watching the City of Ottawa snow removal vehicles rumble by as they were accessing the sidestreets to remove the snow banks.  Not too bad to spend on a snowy Saturday afternoon.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ahora on Dalhousie Street

Tonight for dinner my wife and I visited Ahora (307 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa) to try some Mexican food.

We entered at 4:45 P.M., welcomed by a Spanish server, handed menus and led to our seats.  She politely explained that when we were ready please come up to the counter and place our order.  

Our seats were right next to the cafeteria style counter featuring a cash register, drink glasses if you wished tap water, and an open salsa bar to add toppings to your meal. 

The restaurant itself was based in the basement of a commercial building on Dalhousie Street.  The restaurant itself, once you descended the stairs, was brightly coloured every colour of the rainbow in shiny ceramic tiles. It looked like a tiled basement with a happy rainbow gone wild. 

We perused the menues and decided on our orders within five minutes.  We took the menus up the cash where the server typed our order into the cash register. 

The Order:  1 Taco Taco (2 Tacos: 1 Chicken & 1 Steak along with Soft corn tortillas filled with salsa gringa, cheese and avocado) with chips and a can of Coke and 1 Burrito Del Polo (with Chicken, cheese, salsa gringa, guacamole) with rice and a can of Sprite.

It took about five minutes for our food to be brought out to us by our server.  We then had to get up and approach the salsa bar to peruse our choices of salsa, add salsa and have a seat to enjoy our meal. On our visit there were eight different choices of salsa to choose from. 

I carefully rolled up my chicken soft taco and took a bight.  The chicken was delicious and coupled with freshly sliced vegetables and avocado.  The avocado interestingly was a whole slice instead of mushed into guacamole. The only complaint was the taco juice now escaping from the other end.  Good thing I had my plate there as it caught the juice escaping.  The escaping taco juice may also explain the use of the aformentioned tiles throughout the restaurant as they are easier to clean escaping taco juice from than other surfaces. A word to the wise, carfully fold up the other end of the soft taco shell to prevent juice spillage.

I strategically rolled up the steak taco shell to prevent juice slippage.  Another fine taco with the steak grilled.  I could tell that the steak nor the chicken was freshly grilled as the time to prepare these is obviously longer than the five minutes it took to put together both meals.  This is really the only improvement food wise I would make to better our culinary visit.   But the chicken was moist and but not over or under cooked. 

The chips were basic mexican corn chips you would find at any Mexicali Rosa's  (what ever happened to the Ottawa locations of Mexicali Rosa's I used to enjoy on a weekly basis?  In fact they are not even in Ontario anymore!)  The chips were great to use to experiment with a couple of the salsas from the Salsa Bar.  The only thing needed to be added was optionals sour cream.  Sadly this wasn't available. 

The soft drinks though were a dissapointment.  Yes they were the same regular 355 ml cans you would normally buy at any store, but at $1.95 each it seemed a little expensive.  I hate to see what the 1.5 litre bottles of Coke were selling for. 

The Burrito and rice dish were enjoyed by my wife.  She said it was mediocre but was willing to revisit Ahora again as a possible fast food option.  This leads to another question, is this a sit down place or a fast food location? 

Quite frankly this is inconclusive as you are welcomed and shown to a table like any sit down restaurant.  But you are invited to come up to the counter once you have selected something in order to place your order like a fast food or cafeteria.   Then you are served your meal at your table by the server  like a dine in establishment.  Yet you return to the salsa bar at the same counter you left from placing your order in the first place.  It is confusing if this a true fast food place or a dine in option. 

Overall, Ahora provides decent but not extroardinary take on Mexican cuisine in Ottawa.  It is not the best Mexican place to visit, but it also isn't the worst either.  I wouldn't call it mediocre as the food is better than that, but I wouldn't call it the best either.  I'm left pleasantly perplexed where exactly on the "good" scale it ranks.

Mediocre McDonald's on Elgin Street

Recently in the mail we received coupons for McDonald's. The usual coupons were there for 2 can dine for $9.48, 1 can dine for $4.99 and buy one get one free deals. 

I grabbed the 1 can dine for $4.99 and headed downtown to check out the McDonald's at 252 Elgin Street

I entered the location at 1 P.M. to find only one other customer there ordering.  Employee wise there was one cashier and one working the kitchen with a manager in the background not really servicing the customers via kitchen or runner help. Since it wasn't that busy, I wasn't expecting any assistance from the management team. 

I waited the two minutes for the first customer to be served before moving forward and placing my order.

The Order: 1 Big Mac, 1 Medium Fries and 1 Medium Coke.

When placing the order it was never requested whether it was "for here" or "to go".  I only realized this when the cashier was putting the Big Mac into a bag.  I quickly corrected her and she grabbed a tray with the usual paper tray liner, gathered the Big Mac and the medium fries.  

I visited the soft drink station to obtain my Coke and the necessary condiments.  The odd thing about this location is the soft drink lids are given to you when you obtain your glass and not at the drink station like at other McDonald's locations with similar layouts. 

I found a seat at the long bar style seating at the window to watch the world go by.  The problem with this location is that they put up their promotional posters that obstruct many of the sight lines of those customers wishing to people watch while consuming their McDonald's meal. But I was lucky enough to find a seat in the middle of the two posters that I could see out the window at the passing pedestrians of Ottawa's Elgin Street.

I dug into my normal looking fries.  Sure they had been cooked properly but seemed to have been waiting to be consumed slightly too long.  They were mediocre luke warm at best. Nothing special and definitely not freshly made.  

The Big Mac was mediocre at best as well.  Nothing special like freshly prepared meat that was still warm, in fact, the meat tasted luke warm just like the fries.  But the consistency of the amount of toppings, sauce and meat was better than I had at other locations if it was any consolation. 

The restaurant floors had a lot to be desired of. After yesterdays day of snow fall the front walkway was understandably slushy.  But the inside tile floors were soaked in water with the requisite neon yellow  "Wet Floor" visible.  Not an industrial carpet to be found inside the front door or in front of the cash that would even make an effort at sponging up any water from wet boots.  Not sure what the McDonald's management at this location was thinking, but a slip and fall lawsuit is quite easy. 

Overall, this McDonald's needs to pull it's socks up in terms of food temperature.  Serving food that is luke warm in temperature is not satisfactory especially with McDonald's pricing inching up year over year.  The wet floors are inexcusible as well considering the light foot traffic this location was seeing.  If this had of been a regular lunch time crowd, the water being tracked in would have been enough to float Noah's Ark.  Not a terrible lunch but not a great McDonald's lunch either.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

No Big Apple Approval for these Fries

On Monday I visited the Rideau Centre Mall while waiting for my wife to finish work for early on Christmas Eve.  We were planning an early dinner but I was hungry and decided to find a snack in the food court to tide me over.

New York Fries was a staple when I was hungry and needed a snack at the Upper Canada Mall Food Court in Newmarket.

I visited the New York Fries (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) at 11:30 A.M. to find no line up and some people in the food court eating their lunches.  Not a bad day at the mall considering it was Christmas Eve and harried shoppers were expected.  Turned out the mall was like a regular Saturday, more shoppers than a regular weekday but not overly stuffed like a typical day before Christmas.  Without a line up I placed my order immediately.

The Order: 1 Regular Fries & 1 Regular Pepsi

I payed for my order ($6.43 including taxes), retrieved my food, ketchup and napkins and then ventured to find a table.  Tables were easy to come by as it is before the normal busy time of noon.  After noon on a regular day at any mall food court you are lucky to even find a table. 

I sat down and review my order.  I scratched my head at what I saw. 

New York Fries' Regular Fries & Regular Drink
The fries size seemed to have shrunk along with the fountain sized drink.  The price, of course, had risen.  I scratched my head if McDonald's across the street would have provided their extra large fries and drink for a better price. Size wise, for the price New York Fries was charging it was quite disappointing. 

I shrugged and dug into my fries to see if New York Fries had redeemed themselves by ensuring it tasted the same or better than before.  Nope, same taste but the fries were luke warm at best.  Perhaps this was because customers at this point seemed scant thus the fries made were sitting longer. Taste wise the fries hadn't changed from those of yesteryear but by today's standards were nothing special. 

The fountain drink was mediocre, just like you would find at any of the other food establishments in the Rideau Centre Food Court.

Overall, New York Fries has upped their prices over time but seemed to have shrunk the sizing of the fries and drink containers.  The fries have stayed the same with the rest of the restaurant establishments upping their game in this department.  New York Fries hasn't changed from the 1990s only the prices have gone up and the sizes seemed to have gone down.  The Big Apple would never approve of smaller portions or not upping your game.  But then again "New York" Fries doesn't have a location in New York City now do they?  Hard to name yourself after something big when you have fallen into overpriced mediocrity.

Friday, December 21, 2012

It 'Twas a Snowy Day

It was quite the snow event in Ottawa today with the snow gently falling.  There is always mesmerizingly pretty about snow as it gently swirls through the sky and changes sizes over time. 

Even better is watching and hearing the wind whip it around at night on Parliament Hill with the Peace Tower tolling the midnight hour.  Years ago I loved going for a walk in the snow at night in the downtown past the National War Memorial all lit up and loop around Parliament Hill front and back timing it just right to hear the Peace Tower chime the hour. At night it is better as the traffic sound emanating from nearby Wellington Street has died down for the day and the sound of the wind takes over. 

Ottawa seems to know how to deal with snow with a large number of snowplows targeting the Transitway and major routes as well as doing a decent job on sidewalks.  After the snowstorm the sounds of dump trucks and oversize snowblowers take away the leftover snowbanks and rock the world of passing five year old boys. 

So in the words of somebody famous...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Delicious Kettleman's Bagels

I had planned to visit Kettleman's Bagel Co. (912 Bank Street, Ottawa) on Friday for a little lunch.  But with a winter storm warning issued for Ottawa, I thought I would visit this morning for a bagel. 

Coincidentally, in Monday's Ottawa edition of the Metro newspaper there was a coupon for a free Sesame Seed bagel from Kettleman's Bagel Co. in thanks for customers voting them as Metro's Readers Choice Awards for bets bagel.  As well, with Kettleman's Bagel Co. also ranking in the top ten on the bar was set high for these little bagels.

I entered about 8:20 A.M. this location (there are at least three locations in the Ottawa area) across from Lansdowne Park to find two employees slicing the bagel dough, forming them and a third at the ready to move them into the wood firing oven.

I mosied over the cash where I handed over my coupon and placed my order right away.  There was no lineup at the cash but service was quick and there was a family of four in the small seating area enjoying their bagels.

The Order: 1 plain Sesame Seed bagel and 1 Sesame Seed bagel toasted with cream cheese.

The free plain Sesame Bagel was the first casualty to my tastebeds.  Absolutlety delicious, just the way a Montreal style bagel should be served.  The bagel was warm right out of the woodfired oven after being baked that morning.  

Kettleman's Bagel Co. across from Lansdowne Park.
The Montreal style Sesame Bagel led me to contemplate which is better, New York style bagels or Montreal Style bagels.  I have now had delicious bagels of both version from my time in Brooklyn, New York and now Montreal style bagels in Ottawa at one of Ottawa's best bagel places. My taste buds will continue this great debate but first, a little cream cheese and another Montreal style bagel were ready. 

The Sesame Bagel with cream cheese was also delicious.  Kettleman's does not skimp on the cream cheese either.  So it is a freshly baked bagel with gobs of great tasting plain creamcheese.  Your tongue doesn't know which is better tasting the cream cheese or the freshly baked bagels.  Yet another delicious debate courtesy of Kettleman's.

Overall, Kettleman's Bagel Co. lives up to the acclaim.  Delicious freshly made bagels direct from a woodfired oven are reasonably priced.  It makes for a great breakfast and lunch place for bagels and bagel sandwiches available.   It is worth the walk to this location as it is in the scenic Glebe area of Ottawa.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guilt Trip

Last Friday my wife found free tickets for a screening of the Guilt Trip (starring Seth Rogan & Barbara Streisand) at the SilverCity in Gloucester Centre.  The tickets were courtesy of GoFobo where you can be invited to a screening of a movie before opening day.  Just don't expect any stars to show up as this isn't a traditional Hollywood prescreening. 

After eating our sandwiches on Monday evening we headed off on the rainy / snowy evening to the theatre.  On the tickets we printed ourselves GoFobo says to arrive early so as to not be dissapointed.  We arrived at 5:45 P.M. for the 7:00 P.M. screening only to find no indication as to where to go.  We walked over to one of the entrances to ask a ticket taker.  He looked at two people behind him for guidance.  These two people were setting up something for an event.  They signalled for us to go to the main ticket area to exchange our printed tickets for SilverCity issued tickets.

We walked over and got into line at the ticket counter.  To SilverCity's credit we moved at a steady pace as the ticket wickets were decently staffed.  We got to the front and handed over our computer printed tickets.  The ticket taker was a little confused, she had another set of computer printed tickets in front of her but had to call her manager over.  The manager came over and said we should go visit the gentlement next to SilverCity's ticketing area. 

We slid aside and the gentlemen said he was from GoFobo and explained to us and another group of four that normally they don't start taking tickets until an hour before the screen time. He looked at his watch and realized it was 5:55 P.M. and he just said he was going to be taking tickets in 5 minutes while not even being close to ready as he was short a table and his handheld scanner wasn't qued up.  I signalled to him that two people were setting up a table near the cinema itself next to the ticket taker.  The GoFobo gentlemen thanked me for my observation but dismissed these two as possibly cell phone promotional team.  He signaled for the manager of SilverCity that he was missing a table.  The manager and GoFobo representative dissappeared.  Two other employees appeared and set up the table.   At this point GoFobo didn't seem ready for a prescreening despite requesting people to show up early.  But the disorganization goes from there.

At about 6:05 P.M. the GoFobo representative was ready to start scanning tickets.  But one hitch was the preprinted rippable tickets from SilverCity Gloucester Centre showed a screening time of 7:30 P.M. instead of the GoFobo computer printed tickets that said 7:00 P.M.   The GoFobo representative asked the SilverCity manager to screen the movie at 7:00 P.M.  A few V.I.P. tickets were scanned before GoFobo started to scan the tickets of those who dutifully signed up and printed off.  

We were then asked to go over to Cinema 1  and wait outside the theatre.  As it turned out the two people earlier setting up near the SilverCity Ticket taker were from Ottawa's Hot 89.9 radio station.  They had set up a banner outside of the Cinema.  We were lined up outside the theatre and asked to wait for over thirty minutes.  With about 10 minutes left before we were let in, the SilverCity Manager stopped by, said we were going to be let in but the line needed to tighten up as two theatres were going to empty soon.  We tightened up like cattle headed into the slaughterhouse for ten more minutes. 

At 6:35 P.M. we were let into the empty Cinema 1 and sat down.  The reason for the delays as the theatre wasn't apparently ready?  Hot 89.9 had to set up their portable speaker, microphone and soundboard to play their on air music and have two of their roadies insincerely welcome us to the screening.  Great, organization by both GoFobo and Hot 89.9 for cross promoting this screening then not getting it together so ticketing and seating could occur in an organized fashion.  Perhaps the wait outside the theatre was a way to try and create buzz for the screening so other movie goers would see us lining up for the prescreening of Guilt Trip.  It left many of us in line wondering if GoFobo and Hot 89.9 were really that organized of companies to even coordinate showing a movie.

Once everyone was seated, the Hot 89.9 radio station brought up someone who welcomed us to the screening and then proceeded to hand out only 4 loot bags as prizes.  The loot bags consisted of a movie poster and a cloth bag.  Great, hand out only 4 cloth bags, they could have given one to everyone in the theatre as there were only about 100 of us there. Suggestion: if you are going to encourage people to come early to a screening, then perhaps give out bags to the first so many customers who show up.  That is what the Toronto Blue Jays do during giveaway days.

After the giveaway the radio station person hoped we enjoyed the screening.  We then had to wait another five minutes for the disassembly, the good byes of the three people from Hot 89.9 to leave and the GoFobo representative to take his seat.  By the time movie started it was 7:05 P.M.  Yes GoFobo which prescreens movies from Paramount and Fox can't even start a screening on time. 

The movie itself was a delightful comedy about a mother (Barbara Streisand) whose grown up son (Seth Rogan) invites her on a cross country car trip from New Jersey to San Francisco to sell a new cleaning product.  The movie took a little while to get started with the son visiting his mother for a day and then asking her about the road trip to San Francisco.  The dumb part was when the mother had to hedge whether she was going on the trip or not. 

Let's stop right there, if the mother decides to stay home, we have no movie.  There is no "Guilt Trip" of mother and son driving across America.  If she decides to go with her son, we are good to go with the movie plotlines. So why the dilly dallying?  Get on with it!

The mother and son depart from New Jersey and the movie advances along between car scenes, hotel scenes, scenes where the son is attempting to peddle his product to prospective buyers.  Throughout this of course are attempts at humour.  At the beginning the jokes seemed kind of lame and not well written.  As the movie progressed thow there were a few guffaws but nothing hillariously funny that I fell into the aisle.  The storyline though was endearing especially the scene at the end involving the son and mother in San Francisco.  No, there was not a sale in San Francisco of the cleaning product but something involving love that provided a quirky ending.  You will have to see the movie to find out. 

The movie was definatly not Oscar material but did provide for an interesting night out.  It won't be the best comedy you will ever see but it won't be the worst comedy you will ever see. 

Overall GoFobo needs to get things together.  This was the second movie screening we had seen (our first was in Richmond Hill) and making prospective customers to wait in the hallway like cattle going to slaughter seemed a little much when there was an empty theatre available doesn't seem right.  Add to this the ticketing issues of not being ready despite requesting customers come early also added to the frustration.  If this was a half price movie deal I would have left due to the unorganization of the event by GoFobo and Hot 89.9.  Hopefully on the next event SilverCity, GoFobo and whomever the radio station is will pull up their socks otherwise they need to have a serious Guilt Trip of their own.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Subpar Subway

Last night we had preview tickets to see Guilt Trip.  My wife and I decided to have a quick dinner before heading off to the theatre for the preview. 

We visited Subway (1567 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa) to grab some of favourite sandwiches.  Normally, as I've written before, I like to visit Subway for the "No fuss no muss, just the way I like to get my fast food" type of deal. Get in, get the food I'm expecting, pay and get out. 

I entered the location, within the Alta Vista Plaza, and got in line for a somewhat busy Subway location.  Things moved well at the start with the first of two employees in green garb retrieving the bread and starting the orders.  Next there was a gap, the second employee was focusing on ringing up the purchases while other customers waited in the middle portion where the lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables are normally added. It was like the location could easily have added a third employee or preferably a manager just to keep things moving when things get busy.  Optically it looked like the two could get things started and ring up the sale but couldn't keep things going in the middle to move customers along in progressive nature.  It was a little frustrating really. 

After two minutes in line I was asked what I would like to order. 

The Order: Two Footlong subs on 9 Grain Wheat, 1 a Meatball Marinara and 1 a Cold Cut Combo.

After placing the order, exactly as noted above, the first employee went over to the area where the different sub breads are stored.  He opened the door, turned around and inquired which bread I would like again.  Apparently he hadn't listened the first time so I repeated it slowly and he grabbed the right ones. 

He cut both breads and layed the meat for the Cold Cut Combo.  He inquired again what the second sub was.  I politly let him know that it was a Meatball Marinara. He opened the meatball container and scooped out some meatballs.

Next he inquired about the cheese, I looked at the options on the sticker on the glass: Yellow Chedder, White Cheddar and Swiss.  I chose swiss.  We don't have any swiss cheese came the reply.  So I went with white cheddar.

Since I was the last one currently in line the first employee decided to continue with adding the vegetables instead of leaving me in veggie purgatory waiting for the second employee to pick up where the first left off.

For some reason this location is missing the sticker for the vegetables that are available to choose from for your sub.  It is a wonder if this location is not stocking one vegetable and thus do not have the sticker in order to hide it or whether they were missed and thus were unable install this one.

I worked my through the veggies trying to stay ahead of him as after the tomoatoes two other customers walked in the door.  Thankfully he did everything plus the sauces and wrapping before handing me off to the second employee.  

The second employee did the usual Subway upsell of "would you like to make it a combo?" As I noted before the combos really aren't worth it.  I paid and left. 

The subs were delicious and not out of the ordinary.  Which for this location is a step up as normally the Meatball Marinara meatballs can just start to be crusty at times.  This is either from the meatballs sitting for so long or being overcooked.  Not sure which is the case but both are unacceptable. 

Halfway through my Cold Cut Combo Sub I reached for the plastic subway bag that the subs came in.  The bag was empty.  Great, they forgot the napkins. At other Subway locations in Richmond Hill and Aurora they provide ample napkins for whiping off the mayonaise or whatever sauce from your chin or hands. Not so at the 1567 Alta Vista location in Ottawa. 

Another issue that I pleasntly didn't have to deal with on this visit but have before is the store size itself. The store itself needs a renovation as the counter runs front to back with the cash in the back of the store. After the customer has paid for their meal they then have to return to the front of the store if they wish to leave. This can be challenging on some occasions as there is seating on the aisle opposite the cash that restricts room to move especially when this location is busy. The restaurant could easily be more spacious and easier to navigate if these seats were removed.

Overall, the service at this Subway location is spotty at best. Between not having certain items to having crusty meatballs the customer is just not served correctly. A renovation or relocation is dearly  needed. Since the CIBC bank branch has left the plaza, Subway could easily renovate the old bank space and put in a slightly larger restaurant that would better serve the customer.  Sadly, like the crusty meatballs and missing Swiss Cheese, this Subway location is probably not interested in properly serving the customer a renovated updated location. Sadly, until then this Subway will be Subpar.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Don't Bypass Zak's Diner in the ByWard

I first learned about Zak's Diner (14 ByWard Market Square, Ottawa) way back in the late 1990s or early 2000s when I was student at the University of Ottawa

Since then I have relied on Zak's for a good greasy spoon breakfast diner experience or some place where we are almost always guarenteed to not have to wait for a seat even on busier evenings.  This latter part is especially important if you are fed up with some of the other restuarants in the ByWard Market and their 30 minute waits for your butt to become acquainted with a seat nevermind ordering food.

Last night was one of those nights.  I met my wife after work and we headed over to the ByWard Market to look for Ahora Restaurant knowing it was on Dalhousie Street.  We ventured along Dalhousie street looking for it on both sides of the street starting from George Street and ending up at St. Patrick, nothing.  We gave up our search and ventured over to Chez Lucien which we had previously enjoyed, waited patiently for someone at the bar to take our name down and tell us how long the wait for the table was (30 minutes).  We left and headed over to explore further options in the ByWard Market.

We walked up Clarence Street considering our options. We decided on Zak's Diner as we hadn't been there recently and we were sure there would be space.  Normally when thinking a restaurant will have space, even on a typically busy night, it brings forth the connotation that it isn't a popular spot for whatever reason.  Zak's is not the type of spot.  Zak's Diner is a roomy 50's or 60's themed diner with plenty of tables and space so that you are not sitting basically on top of another customer's food and drink while attempting to enjoy a night out. 

We arrived shortly after 6 P.M. and was greeted before the door could even close behind us. Attentive service has always been a key attribute to Zak's and would continue on this visit. 

We were seated a table I estimate could easily have sat six people.  Thus, it was easy to spread out and enjoy our meal without having to do the restaurant table juggle of where to put stuff as it eminates from the kitchen.

We perused the menus for less than five minutes and our waitress stopped by with two glasses of water (straws included!), to inquire how we were doing, if we had any questions about the menu and if we were ready to order.  We replied that the water was good enough for us for the immediate time but may order drinks with our order which we were also ready to do. 

The Order: 1 Grilled Cheeseburger (Zak's Diner jumbo grilled cheese with a burger in the middle with Sourdough bread) with fries and cole slaw and 1 Zak's Big Breakfast (Two Scrambled Eggs, 2 sausages, home fries, baked beans, toast & jam) with a bottomless cup of Peppermint Tea.

The cool thing about Zack's is each server is packing a smart phone hooked up via wifi to the kitchen.  Thus as you are ordering the server is entering into the phone and the kitchen is getting it.  This speeds up ordering as now the server doesn't have to copy it down on paper, punch it in at the terminal and/or take it to the kitchen.  This obviously speeds up from customer ordering with server and the kitchen receiving the order and preparing the food. 

About ten minutes later our food was brought out hot and ready to eat. The waitress dropped off both plates and inquired if we had everything we needed.  I looked at the well stocked condiment station with ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper and other accoutrements and said everything was fine. 

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich burger was interesting.  Reading the menu I pictured the burger on regular hamburger buns sandwiched between two pieces of processeced cheese and grilled to perfection.  I was pleasantly mistaken as Zak's Diner rendition was better.  The burger was itself grilled, placed between two pieces different kinds of cheese and of course the bread is grilled as well.  It was like a grilled cheese sandwich but better as you added a beef patty.  An excellent original idea. Tastewise it was a simple sandwich delight that tickled the tastebuds.

The fries were interesting deli style fries.  Thin sliced fries were decently warm and tasted good.  Nothing overly special, but not terrible either.  Slightly above mediocre would suffice.

The standard small cole slaw was served in a small plastic container.  Again nothing special, but not terrible. 

The Big Breakfast lived up to it's name.  The scrambled eggs were satisfactory.  The sausauges set Zak's Diner apart though.  There are two large fat tasty sausauges that look like they are about to burst.  The old school cubed home fries as well are a solid contender as they are served hot but still have the taste of potato present instead of overly burnt or greased. The toast was the usual melted butter but also comes with packets of peanut butter and jam if you wish to add these to your tastes.  A full plate is offered at Zak's presenting true value and not the skimpyness of portions that some diners have sought to undertake to cut costs. 

Overall, Zak's Diner is one of Ottawa's best places to grab a good breakfast meal anytime of the day. Great service coupled with solidly prepared diner food along with interesting renditions of diner classics (i.e. grilled cheeseburger) seem to attract the customers.  Lots of room inside the diner for customers with the traditional 50's or 60's diner atmosphere also are big pluses.  If you are looking for the diner experience of yesteryear, Zak's Diner is hard to beat in Ottawa.

Friday, December 14, 2012

DiRienzo's Sandwiches

Word about town was Di Rienzo's (111 Beech Street, Ottawa) has the best sandwiches in Ottawa.  Local Ottawa media personalities John Hua & Rita Celli as well as several local restaurant books have recommended Di Rienzo's as one of Ottawa's best bets. 

I looked up the address on Google maps and had a couple of ways to go get their via OC Transpo.   Nestled near Dow's Lake, in little Italy this place is great to take children exploring.  I engaged my inner child by first taking OC Transpo's Route 95 westward from downtown along The Transitway to Bayview Station. At Bayview Station I transferred to OC Transpo's O-Train that runs from Bayview Station to Greenboro Station via Carleton University. On the O-Train I took it south one stop to Carling Station. What kid doesn't like a bus ride followed by a Train ride while on adventure? 

At Carling Avenue, I walked westward a block to Preston Street and then north on Preston.  If you continued south you would be into the National Capital Commission's Commissioner's Park near the Dow's Lake Pavillion and a great walking area especially during Ottawa's Tulip Festival in May. Throughout the summer this area is great for picnicing or perhaps eating a sandwich from Di Rienzo's. But this not being May or the summer I skipped this part as the temperature was hovering around freezing. 

Northward on Preston I walked through Little Italy. Surprisingly though one of the first places I passed by was a "Turkish Restaurant".  Really, this is "Little Italy?"  But the rest of the street seemed pretty Italian with restuarants and local shops nearby. 

I turned left on Beech Street into a residential neighbourhood and over the bridge over the railway tracks where I had just been whizzing by moments ago on the O-Train.  On the corner of Beech & Champagne sit's DiRienzos.  The store appears to have been renovated into a semi detached house from the late 1940s or 1950s.  I ventured inside to check it out. 

The inside of DiRenzo's is a two aisle grocery store with the main attraction being the sliced meat counter with two employees warmly greeting you.  The numbered menu of sandwiches is above their heads with what they offer.  But they will, apparently, gladly customize your sandwich anyway you wish.  The two employees warmly welcomed the lady in front of me in Italian, so they do recognize repeat customers but the same warm smiling service is always offerred.  The line moves steadily with the two employees making your sandwich and a third employee taking payment. 

I eventually got to the front of the line and placed my order.

The Order: Quantity 1 #7 Turkey Sandwich (with lettuce, tomato, and cheese on a freshly baked hero). 

The sandwich was quickley prepared and I paid.  The only issue I had was on the menu, there is no pricing.  But apparently this is easily overcome as all sandwiches are $5.00 each including taxes.  Not bad for a freshly made sandwich considering Subway makes a footlong Cold Cut Combo for $5.25 plus tax. 

The other downfall of this place is the confined space it is in which doesn't provide any seating.  But apparently during the summer months Ev Tremblay Park, across the street from Di Rienzo's, is a good place to take your sandwich to enjoy.  Again, this being December, I skipped this option and decided to head back towards the train with my sandwich in hand. 

On the way back to the train I crossed over the Beech Street bridge and then turned right onto the pedestrian pathway running parrallel to the tracks.  This is a picturesque little path with trees that hang over the pat with the running northward and southward from Beech Street parrallel to the tracks.  As I walked along the path I opened up the sandwich.

The first bite was beautiful. It tasted like a freshly prepared sandwich should.  It brought back memories of the 101 Deli from my time in the Rockaways of New York City.  The kaiser bun like tasting bread was delicious.  The turkey was freshly sliced and the lettuce and tomato did what they were supposed to, be there but not get in the way of the fresh turkey and bread.  It was a perfect sandwich to a good day.

Overall, Di Rienzo's is an old school style Italian Deli.  You come for the good food and good service at excellent prices.  This is what make's it Ottawa favourite place to grab a sandwich to eat.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A little Sugar in your Tim Hortons Black?

Yesterday I was on Rideau Street finishing up my Christmas shopping and stopped into Tim Hortons (99 Rideau Street, Ottawa) for a coffee.  I arrived shortly after 2 P.M. to find a short line and two cashes open. 

One cash was being taken up by a customer leading the Tim Hortons employee slowly through the dozen donuts and dozen Timbits he wanted flavour by flavour. 

The other cash was slowly serving one person.  Both of the cash registers only had one employee unlike the busier times of the day where there are normally two employees on the cash registers to speed up the service.  A supervisor returned and was more inclined to look at a bag that that was left at an unattended counter that was a customers who was looking for his change while in line.  Once the supervisor figured out the bag situation he ventured over to a door, entered the required code and dissapeared.  So much for helping out front with the line not really going anywhere. 

The wait was admittedly abnormal for this high volume location located on Rideau Street near the Westbound OC Transpo station and next to the McDonald's.  Normally, this Tim Horton's moves customers at a steady pace like a well oiled machine.  This afternoon, less so as it seemed just one staff member short. 

Eventually I achieved recognition at the counter for my order. 

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee.

I exchanged my cash and grabbed my coffee for my venture down Rideau Street to finish up my Christmas shopping. 

I did notice the bright white "B" on the top of my lid to denote "Black".  I thought that was amusing as there was only quantity one beverage ordered as opposed to two or more and the usual wonderment that goes on of whose coffee was whose. 

That white "B" turned out to be herring.  I opened the coffee took a sip and the coffee tasted funny.  I took another couple sips to figure out if my taste buds were operating correctly and to figure out what was going on.  Yes the same taste was there, now what was it.  Hmmm...good Lord! Why on earth would there by "SUGAR" in a "BLACK" coffee?  I removed the lid and inspected, yes it looked black so cream hadn't been added and the lids got switched.  Although that would have been amusing as the employee was working by themselves at the cash and poured the coffee themselves.  So that would have been hillarious to screw it up.  But really, Sugar in black coffee? 

Overall this Tim Horton's is a decent place to go to if you wish to get in and get out.  But this time the wait was a little longer than usual and a simple black coffee had sugar added.  This location is not a great place to visit if you are looking to sit down.  There are only a couple of seats in the front that are usually occupied. Your better to visit the Rideau Centre Food Court Tim Hortons location with more abundant clean seating.  The Rideau Street location needs to pull up its socks in terms of attention to what the customer wishes and to ensure it is adequatly supervised with the supervisor adding a pair of hands when needed instead of hiding in the back.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Best Burger at Hintonburger?

Today my wife and I decided to go on an adventure to Hintonburg to visit Hintonburger (1096 Wellington Street West, Ottawa) in the Hintonburg area of Ottawa.  Hintonburger claims they are Ottawa's best burger with signage throughout the store.  After two weeks of voting on July 3, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen wrote that Hintonburger made the best hamburger in Ottawa.

We arrived at Hintonburger at noon to find the old KFC restaurant location full of people.  The sign outside still had the old style KFC Bucket on top with Colonel Sander's face still plainly visible.  If the Hintonburger lightbox sign was not below, you would have rolled into the parking lot expecting the sights and smells of KFC Chicken wafting out the front door. 

Inside the restaurant there are only six tables including two booths which are always full of people.  You approach one of two windows to place your order.  We waited perhaps not an unreasonable two minutes in line to place our order which was written down on old style carbon paper with a copy handed to us.  As well we had to let them know which toppings we wanted on our burgers.  These toppings were recorded in black magic marker right on the packaging the burger would call home after being prepared. 

The Order: 1 Wellington Burger (6 Oz burger), Value Fries and a can of Coke and 1 Armstrong Burger (4 Oz burger), Value Fries and a bottle of water.

We clutched our receipt standing near the 2nd window, the pick-up window, waiting patiently for our receipt number to be called or a seat to open up.  The little signs on the wall teasing us that the we could easily take our order to the Elmdale House to eat as well but no outside drinks were allowed in.  But eventually a pair of customers vacated a table for two, I eyed the person who was in front of me in line when ordering as he corralled his toddler.  He didn't seem interested as the the two former occupants moved past me.  So I dove and got the table by the window.  The sad part is, this is a new location (opened January 2, 2012) for the Hintonburger and yet seating is still an issue especially during the winter months.  During the summer though, hopefully Hintonburger is allowed to utilize the pair of parking spaces that face Sherbrooke Street for picnic tables.  This would provide a nice place to rest your feet and enjoy the sun on a summer night. 

Fifteen minutes after placing our order our number was called.  Those numbers seemed to take forever to be called out.  It seemed like the person putting together the orders was also topping the burgers one by one while someone else fried the burgers in the kitchen.  The length of time between orders coming out and the volume of people Hintonburger seems to be serving are not ideal.  Perhaps another staff member could be added and efficiencies found to have the orders move at a more constant rate as opposed to three to five minutes between orders emanating from the window.

The orders come out in a brown paper bag just like Five Guys Burger & Fries. My wife retrieved the food, cutlery and condiments while I held our claim to a table from the vultures circling for a place to sit.  On the way back from the food window my wife had to dodge a large baby carriage being positioned next to one of the booths as a family with young child sat down.  It is hard to manoeuvre in the location if other customers are not minding the traffic patterns at the store. 

I opened my Wellington burger and took a bite.  The burger was juicy, but not overly greasy.  Definately could taste the freshness of the patty.  The toppings I could tell were lovingly cut and placed on the burger as opposed to the Wendy's burger I had on Friday. The burger was excellent tasting, but I was unsure if the burger was better than The Works in the Glebe.  I believe the taste rivals what I had at The Works, but The Works has more of a variety of different burger toppings as opposed to the usual Ketchup, etc. expected at Hintonburger or even Le Bac a Frites at the University of Ottawa.  But the basic burger would rival The Works burger and the paddy is definatly better than you would find at Le Bac a Frites because all Hintonburgers are hand made as opposed to brought in from some warehouse somewhere. 

The fries though were both interesting and dissapointing.  The Hintonburger prides itself on handmade burgers and not their fries. Thus, the fries are your traditional greasy truck burger and fries type fries you could find anywhere.  Sure they were good but you could have had these anywhere which means they were mediocrly expected.  The dissapointing part is that the Hintonburger had not attempted something different with their fries to set the apart from the local greasy fries truck. 

We left the restaurant feeling full but not really grabbing us as the best burger place in Ottawa.  For a complete filling meal with great fries and burgers Five Guys Burgers & Fries is so far our favourite.  For variety of burgers to choose from with awesome fries, The Works is a great destination.  Overall best burger?  Tough one, but the Hintonburger is not there, Chez Lucien, Five Guys Burgers & Fries and The Works are all right there.  Nothing really sets them apart except for their atmosphere and great tasting fries that accompany the burger.

Overall, Hintonburger provides a better than average burger taste wise. Service wise, waiting fifteen minutes during the lunch rush seems a little much to expect your order.  I've perused other reviews both in the blogosphere and the Ottawa Citizen's own review to find the average waiting time is ten to fifteen minutes.  This seems a little unreasonable during busy times as the burger paddies should be hitting the grill on consistant basis until the line shortens.  Moving customers efficiently from ordering to gathering food needs to be improved.  If Hintonburger wants to set themselves apart from the others, they have to be not just good at burgers but provide a tasty variation on the common french fry.

Wendy's Old Fashioned Service on Elgin Street

On Friday for lunch I gathered my coupons and headed over to Wendy's (200 Elgin Street, Ottawa).  I had received some Wendy's coupons in the mail about a week ago and was wishing to use them before they expired on December 16th.

I visited around noon on Friday which I thought was going to be trouble.  When I arrived there my nightmare came true.  The lineup seemed lengthy.  I joined the line to see how this would pan out. 

Surprisingly the lined moved pretty quickly.  All three cash registers were open with friendly staff taking orders.  This was quite unlike some previous McDonald's experiences where there is a decent line, yet cash registers are left unstaffed.  At this Wendy's a manager also was working acting as a runner as well as problem solver if need be.  As well there was another staff member running as well.  So orders were being taken and food was arriving in a timely manner.  Watching this from other side of the counter as a customer was fun to watch the efficiency.

In less than two minutes I got to to front of the line and placed my order. 

The Order: 1 Large Fries, 1 Large Coke and 1 Single Dave's Hot N' Juicy Cheeseburger. (Coupon was for 1 Free Single Cheeseburger with purchase of Medium Sized Drink and 1 Medium Fries). 

In less than two minutes the manager had retrieved my drink and burger.  The employee working the fries brought forth the fries and I was over to the condiment station. 

There is, like at most Wendy's locations, only has one condiment station.  This creates issues when there is a volume of customers moving through as most condiment stations can take two customers at most.  At this location at this time there were three customers there with one of the three not doing much but standing there waiting for his friend to finish up.  A personal pet peeve of mine is people who insist on occupying a spot at the condiment station and not doing anything.  It is similar on the pet peeve scale as the person who stands in line at a fast food place for more than five minutes, gets to the cash and has no idea what he wants to order.  Like really?  Get out of the way!

I eventually got to the condiment station to retrieve the usual necessary ketchup, napkins and straw. I then proceeded to find a spot.  The restaurant seating was busy but I found a spot at the storefront window counter to watch the pedestrians pass by on Elgin Street.

The hamburger was the usual Wendy's burger with the added cheese.  The toppings though seem to have become a little less the way Dave would have wanted.  1 tomato slice slapped on with a poorly sliced rippled piece of iceberg lettuce.  The cheese at least was somewhat melted.  Not the best Wendy's burger but also not the worst fast food burger I've ever had.  Mediocre at best. 

The fries were not skimped on in quantity.  The large fry container was overflowing with Wendy's new sea salt fries.  Taste wise they are what you would expect from Wendy's.  Temperature wise they were room temperature and probably borderline up to Wendy's standards.  

Value wise the meal was decent with the coupon.  For $5.29 including taxes it was excellent value.  The regular #1 combo meal (1 Single Dave's Hot N Juicy Cheeseburger,1 Medium Fries and 1 Medium Fountain Soft Drink) is normally $6.69 before taxes.  The price without the coupon is starting to get a little steep especially considering, like other fast food places, the prices of these combos keeps getting jacked upwards.  But with the burger wars going on customers would expect better burgers with competitive pricing.  Sadly that does not seem to be the case.  All we get is higher pricing with different packaging like the new burger packaging concept at Wendy's. 

The new burger packaging at Wendy's seems to have gone chain wide.  This involves the burger being wrapped in the usual hamburger paper packaging with one end of the burger exposed.  The burger, wrapped in the paper, is then turned sideways and put in a cardboard container that holds it sideways with the open end exposed.  I'm still trying to figure out what the marketing genius who came up with the concept was thinking.  Why not just wrap the burger like Wendy's and McDonald's have been doing for decades, in paper wrapping?  This is because the average burger served at a Wendy's location definately doesn't look like the ones shown in the commercials.  Thus, why on earth would you want to showcase it in this method?  There are too many variables that could go wrong at individual Wendy's locations chainwide to expose the burgers visually.  

Overall,  the burger meal was what I have come to expect at Wendy's now.  Decent mediocre fast food at good prices if a coupon is involved.  Service at this location is pretty quick with the location obviously knowing when the peak customer volume is and staffing it appropriatly with experienced staff and managment on hand.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fun & Frivolity on Parliament Hill

This past Thursday and Friday I have had some fun enjoying the events that those living in the Nation's Capital get to enjoy. 

On Thursday was lighting of the Christmas Lights on Parliament Hill and throughout the Ottawa area as part of the 2012 Christmas Lights Across Canada.   On the way to visit my wife after work I caught the choirs rehearsing for the evenings festivities. 

Centre Block overseeing rehearsals before the Christmas Lights lighting ceremony.

 My wife then searched for a good dinner place at the University of Ottawa before heading back to enjoy the carols, lighting of the Christmas lights and much more.  

Centre Block before the lighting of the Christmas lights.
There were of course fireworks to celebrate the lighting over 10,000 lights.  

Centre Block with fireworks as the 2012 Christmas Lights are lit.
The only hitch was my cell phone video.  I took a 2 minute video of the fireworks going off.  However, when I returned home there was nothing there.  I figured out the issue, after recording you have to hit "pause" to stop recording and then the "Stop" button.  I forgot to hit the "stop" button and lost everything.

The next day, I was waiting again for my wife to finish work.  I happenned to be at Parliament Hill while the Dominion Carrilloner was playing.   The Carrilloner was finishing up a piece, paused and started again with the chorus to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" then stopped.  That was weird, perhaps she was just playing choruses.  I had recorded about 30 seconds of it before she stopped. I erased the video and figured she was done for the day.  In starting to put my camera away, the Dominion Carrilloner started again. So I got out my camera and started recording.  This time I was successful in taking a video:

These are just some of the reasons I enjoy Ottawa. The events, the people and the unique places in the Nation's Capital make it all worthwhile.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Stone Soup Foodworks a Mere Fable at the U of O?

After leaving Premiere Moisson at the Faculty of Social Sciences building at the University of Ottawa, my wife and I headed over to the Stone Soup Foodworks Mobile Truck (currently occupying corner of Jean Jacques Lussier Private & Marie Curie Private outside Lamoureux Hall). 

We approached the large green truck that prides itself on locally produced organic food that caters to both vegetarians and regular folk who enjoy a mixture of meat and vegetables. 

We scoured the menu which was serving up tacos and soup for the main dishes of the day.  The menu does vary from day to day which makes for a great variety for regular customers.  However, it also means that for those of us who are in there to try it out for the first time, we are not sure what to expect. The best way to check out what is on offer is to check out the Twitter feed of the Stone Soup Foodworks as they tweet on a daily basis what the menu will be.  Otherwise, if you are in the area be sure to check out the chalkboard outside the truck, head to class, ponder what you wish and revisit to enjoy some fine cooking.

My wife and I decided to have the days Taco Combo which is your choice of one taco and one soup.  So we approached the window, asked a few questions (which were warmly welcomed and answered in a warm and caring way) and placed our order. 

The Order: 1 Korean Taco (Beef & Kimchi) & 1 Tomato-Basil Soup and 1 Refried Been TGaco with 1 Vegetable Chili.

After our food was ready, we inquired how the the name "Stone Soup Foodworks" came about.  It was explained was based on the fable of the Stone Soup and proceeded to tell it in short form. Interesting concept for a food vehicle but will the food live up to the fable?

We paid (2 Taco Combos for $20.00 including taxes), gathered our food and headed to Lamoureux Hall looking for warmth.  The only problem with a food truck in December is the hunt for a warm place to eat.  We ventured through Lamoureux Hall, Montpetit Hall and eventually to the University Centre where the main cafeteria is.  We sat down and dug into our meal. 

The Refried Bean Taco was delicious.  The refried beens were at the bottom of the taco but the rest was loaded up with lettuce and other vegetables.  The only complaint about both tacos was too much fresh toppings!  Nice problem to have but half of it ended up back in the taco container and needed to be mopped up with my soup spoon.  A word of warning if you grab the taco for a meal, make sure to grab more than one napkin, things are a little messy due to the number of toppings.  As well, be careful for the jalepenos they are hot but usually on the top and easy to pick off if you do not wish to many.  You can also request to "hold the jalapenos" which Stone Soup Foodworks will gladly do if you wish.

The vegetarian chili was excellent as well.  My tongue barely misssed the usual beef that was replaced by a nice tomato taste accompanied with kidney beans.  The chili was of a good consistancy and not watery due to the lack of meat. 

The Korean Taco with Kimchi and Beef my wife had.  She first questioned how spicy the Kimchi was before ordering.  It was promised not too spicy.  My wife enjoyed it and never complained about the spicyness of the taco.  She did note that between the taco and her soup this was perhaps the best tasting real food we had in a while that tasted both great and wholesome at the same time. 

The Tomato soup we were promised by the Stone Soup Foodworks was pretty popular one of their favourites.  The soup lived up to it's promise with a great tomato flavour that was accompanied by, our best guess, bread soaked in.  No crackers were necessary for this delicious soup as each spoonful delighted the tongue with tomatoey goodness. 

Overall, the Stone Soup Foodworks Truck is a great addition to the University of Ottawa campus.  The truck  is just a small ways from the former location that used to house the hamburger and fries shack that used to be owned by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa.  The concept is pretty good as it offers university students great dining options while also being mobile to attend festivals and other busy areas when the university campus is not as busy.  The only downfall is location is not really close to anywhere with great seating during the winter months.  The food quality is excellent and definately lives up to the fable with heartwarming home cooked style meals.  It is not a fable, it is at the U of O.

The Expensive Premiere of Moisson

On a night out to enjoy one of the traditions that Ottawa has developed, lighting the Christmas lights on Parliamanet Hill, my wife asked if we could visit the new Premier Moisson (120 Universite Private, Ottawa) at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Social Sciences building.  We ventured over but not before warning my wife this would be an adventure considering I have never set foot in this brand new building so I have no idea where this restaurant would be. 

We arrived shortly after 5 P.M. to find Premiere Moisson easily on the bustling ground floor of the new building. The set up is similar to a one aisle convenience store with a bakery added on.  You start one side and work your way around looking at the various baked goods and other wares for purchase.

The main issue with this store is it really does not fit in with the University student culture. I challenge anyone to find a meal at this place for less than $10.00.  The footlong sandwiches alone that I spied were about $9.00 before taxes which is a significant challenge considering Subway on nearby Laurier Avenue East is offering a footlong Cold Cut Combo Sandwich for $5.50.  Sure the bread at Premier Moisson may be artisian and baked that day, but when your a student every cent counts. 

The Croissants were also a little challenging price wise as well. $1.50 for a Croissant when the local Loblaws supermarket are selling them for $0.85 to $1.00?  Again, not really price competitive. 

There was artisian pasta sauce selling for $7.00 as well which may have given a few students a dream to treat themselves to a night of gourmet dining without having to leave residence.

We approached the checkout and reviewed what we would like to order.

The Order: Nothing!

My wife and I looked at each other and decided there was nothing special about this place except the to look for the Stone Soup Foodworks Truck which happened to be residing at the University of Ottawa for the school year.

Overall, Premiere Moisson is a high priced gourmet food store sandwiched into the Faculty of Social Sciences building at the University of Ottawa.  This location is the company's first location in Ontario and at a university campus.  Perhaps someone at Premiere Moisson missed the fact that Ottawa's Glebe area would be more suitable considering that customers looking for and affording gourmet foods would more than likely head there as opposed to the University of Ottawa campus.  This is mainly because people looking for this type of food are more likely to drive than ride the bus.  With the University of Ottawa campus not being the friendliest to drive on, a huge target market would be missed.  Thus, it is sad that the University of Ottawa students are stuck with overpriced gourmet food taking up space in a new building as opposed to affordable eating establishment.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Cinnabon: Not the World Famous Cinnamon Rolls

I can not remember how many times I have walked by Cinnabon (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) at the Rideau Centre without thinking about entering.  For coffee there are plenty of options at the Rideau Centre and Cinnamon rolls are not exactly my go to sinful dish, but I do appreciate a good one. 

But earlier this week I walked past the store to see the sign claiming "World Famous Cinnamon Rolls".  So I thought I would put that claim to the test and today was the day to do so. 

I visited shortly after 9 A.M. to be the only person in the store. There were two employees working in the front area with the mixer and other baking utensils. I looked quizzically as to where I should place my order as there was no sign or marker to indicate where to place and/or pick up your order.  Eventually one of the employees came over and I placed my order. 

The Order: 1 Minibon and 1 Medium Black Coffee.

I paid $4.19 including taxes, grabbed my items and left for the Rideau Centre Mall's Food Court.  To be fair the store does have sit down and eat, but I would have been the only customer there.  

Two minutes later, I sat down at the food court to dig into my Minibon and Coffee. 

The Minibon was a let down.  Not sure how the "World Famous Cinnamon Rolls" would let this pass.  The Minibon was luke warm and squishy.  At no time was I offered to have the Minibon heated up or as is.  Heck a simple microwave would have saved this.  I also doubt the Minibon I had was freshly made due to the lack of customers in the this location.   Sadly, the McDonald's Cinnamon Melts are better quality tasting and better value.

The coffee was worse.  The coffee tasted like instant coffee and I am now even doubting the brew I drank had even seen the inside of the Bunn-O-Matic machine for quite sometime or even at all. Cinnabon needs to pull up its socks on the coffee as it even tastes worse than the old McDonald's coffee and may even rival the old gas station coffee offered at the old gas stations off the Interstate in the back country of New York.  The quantity of coffee was the only saving grace, there wasn't much of it so it was easier to put the coffee out of it's misery and not feel too neglected. 

Overall, Cinnabon was a disappointment from the beginning.  "World Famous Cinnamon Rolls" they are not considering even McDonald's, who doesn't even specialize in Cinnamon Rolls, does a better job.  Your service counter doesn't provide any indication as to where customers are supposed to go when entering the store.  With lots of other coffee and bakery style places to choose from, customers are better to go elsewhere. Perhaps calling it "World Famous Cinnamon Rolls" was setting the bar high from the start.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Bridgehead in Byward

Today I thought I would give Bridgehead another chance after the last visit I had to their Elgin Street location. So I visited Bridgehead in the Byward Market (224 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa), a location I have yet to visit. 

I entered shortly after 9 A.M. to find nobody in line at the cash.  I walked up to the counter and placed my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Blend Medium Sized Coffee and 1 Triple Berry Oatmeal Muffin.

I paid for my order and left the location to check out the rest of Dalhousie Street.  Dalhousie Street, a number of years ago, was not that great heading northward towards the Ottawa River from Clarence.  It used to be a rundown stretch.  Now it is looking up a little bit with new stores moving in and the buildings getting a little TLC.  The side streets off of Dalhousie north of Clarence also looked questionable in years past especially at night.  However, during the days now there are people out and about walking.  It also helps the Byward Market stores and restaurants have expanded to at least Murray Street making the area a little more upscale in sections as well as bringing more people to the streets.

The new Triple Berry Muffin with Oatmeal was interesting.  Bridgehead, as noted in the previous Elgin Street location review, had added Oatmeal to their original Triple Berry Muffin.  Taste wise the muffin is a bit drier than the original Triple Berry Muffin. There is less berry zing due to the Oatmeal as well.  I'm not sold on the new taste but perhaps this new recipe will grow on me overtime. 

The coffee was Bridghead perfect.  No slightly burnt taste and it didn't taste like coffee grounds either.  An improvement over the Elgin Street location as well and more like the Sparks Street location.  Freshly ground coffee beans brewed freshly.  Pretty good combination. 

Overall, this Bridghead location is located on the edge of the Byward Market in an up and coming neighbourhood.  The coffee is up to standard and the usual exemplary service with a smile is provided.  Thus, this location will probably do well in the future.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Get your Caboose on Down to Starbucks @ Ottawa Trainyards

I visited the Ottawa Trainyards to do some shopping and before leaving decided to visit the Starbucks (100 Trainyards Drive, Ottawa) for some coffee. 

I arrived shortly after 8 A.M. to find a bustling coffee shop with only one customer at the counter awaiting their order and three Baristas working the counter including one adding more baked goodies to the display.

I placed my order right away as the other customer was finished and moving away from the counter. 

The Order: 1 Medium Blend Medium Sized coffee and 1 Chocolate Caramel Muffin.

The Barista who took my cash poured my coffee and retrieved my muffin.  A slight playful grimmace from the Barista who just restocked the baked goods was seen by me.  I apologized with a smile on my face at her misfortune of just finishing only to have to replace a single muffin. 

I left the store with coffee and muffin in hand. 

I dug into the $2.25 Caramel and Chocolate Muffin to see what sets it apart from anything to set the price.  Taste wise it was exactly the same as an Oreo Chocolate Muffin from McDonald's but with the added caramel.  But for an extra $1.25 it is much more pricier, and presumably upscale because it comes from Starbucks.  Was it worth it? No, better to visit McDonald's if your in search of the muffin because for the price of the Starbucks muffin alone you could have a muffin and a medium coffee at McD's.

The coffee was satisfactory medium blend from Starbucks.  Seems as though Starbucks has received the message from coffee drinkers that their old regular coffee was way to strong for most customers and have tamed it down.  A good starting point and I might get used to it. 

Overall this Starbucks is an interesting location.  Nestled in one of Ottawa's larger big box retail complexes, the Ottawa Trainyards, it is a decent spot to grab a coffee during or after getting your retail fix.  The location even spills over onto the oustide sidewalk providing decent sun and people watching opportunities.  But again, the downfall is the price of the baked goods, for the same price as an entire meal you could purchase a muffin or other baked good.  Good coffee but terrible baked good pricing.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Breakfast at Lieutenant's Pump

Sunday morning my wife and I visited Lieutenants Pump Pub (361 Elgin Street, Ottawa). We arrived at 9 A.M. for the Pub's weekend brunch and were seated quickly.

Our waitress stopped by shortly thereafter to inquire if we would like coffee.  She poured it right away with coffee cups, cutlery and napkins all on the table for whenever you might need it. 

The "bottomless" coffee was decent for a non coffee house place and was refilled several times over during our stay.  The waitress gave us time to enjoy our coffee and peruse the menu.   We decided what we wanted and waited for the waitress to return. 

The Order: 1 Strawberry-Banana Sourdough French Toast with coffee and 1 Scrambled Eggs with toast, fruit and home fries. 

The food took about ten minutes to be prepared and brought out.  Of course the coffee was refilled without being requested which is pretty good service.

The Strawberry-Banana Sourdough French Toast arrived with three pieces of plain toast sized slices of sourdough cut in half stacked nicely.  The strawberries and bananas were not mixed in or associated with the French Toast directly at all, but artfully arranged around the edge of the plate. This was interesting considering that menu called it "Strawberry-Banana Sourdough French Toast" $9.75 and did not mention any sides thus I was puzzled.  But there were ample strawberries and bananas associated on the sides.  Tastewise mixing in the straweberries or bananas with the toast or adding a little syrup was required.  I've learned that I don't really care for sourdough which is not the Lieutenant's Pump Pub's fault, but just my own personal preference. Added fresh melon and grapefruit slices were excellent value.

The Scrambled eggs my wife seemed to enjoy.  The home fries were fried cubed potato chunks served hot. Accompanied with a little ketchup, you have a great take on the traditional greasy spoon date of tomato and potato. Added melon and other fruit is, again, excellent value.  

The pub location itself is clean and arranged to be different cosy rooms adorned in traditional british pub style with leather seating and well kept wooden tables.  The pub itself could be full of people for brunch or on an evening, but each table seems remarkably quiet in their own private function.  The pub, indeed, prides itself on its intimate atmosphere. 

Overall, Lieutenant's Pump provides good wholesome well prepared food is a major draw.  Add in the summertime shaded patio that borders Elgin Street and you have a great place to hang out enjoy breakfast or a couple of beers with friends.  This place grows on you and is the reason it has become a favourite of mine.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Chez Lucien = Chez Mikey

On Saturday evening my family was in town for a visit.  I asked my sister to choose a place for dinner and provided her with several suggestions.  She came back with a suggestion from her friend Daley. Who recommended Chez Lucien (137 Murray Street, Ottawa) in the Byward Market

I looked on to find Chez Lucien in the top 10 restaurants. I ventured over earlier in the week to scope out the location of the restaurant as I had read on that it was a small location that was quite busy.  So was a little concerned that this place would be cramped or a long wait for a table like other popular chain restaurants.

The outside of the restaurant is nothing to write home about.  It looks like a wooden outcrop added on as a mudroom onto an older building. I peered through the front window to find a couple of tables for two and a long bar with some additional seating.  Not very roomy at first appearance.  I sent a text to my sister asking her to come up with a back up plan if we were not successful in obtaining a table.   She replied her second choice would be Tucker's Marketplace (which I visited earlier).  

On Saturday my family ventured over to Chez Lucien and arrived at 5:30 P.M.  I was a little concerned this would not be quite early enough as sometimes restaurants can start getting busy at 6:00 P.M. onwards. 
We entered the restaurant to find it bustling with quite a few people. The restaurant was bigger than I expected with an upstairs balcony with about eight tables and a downstairs near the food preparation area with another eight tables.  This was no small cafe but does have room issue due to the restaurant's popularity.

We approached the bar and left our names there on the list.  My sister, who left her name, forgot to inquire how long approximately the wait would be.  Before we could reconnect with the server, he went upstairs and spoke with a couple of people if they would be willing to move to a smaller table in order to free up some space for our larger party. They graciously agreed and moved tables.  The server though, went to another table in order to take a food order.  Thus we were puzzled if we were supposed to come upstairs to the table or wait for our seats to be adjusted.   But we were eventually ushered upstairs and sat down. 

We were not given any menus, so we were a little puzzled what we were supposed to order.  One of us found an acrylic table holder which in most restaurants contains the desert menu.  We discovered the acrylic menu had the full dinner menu on the front and back.  We passed around the menu to each member of our party to choose something from it.  The only issue with having one menu, is it takes time to pass around to choose something as opposed to having multiple menues available handed to you as you are seated.  But enjoying the company of my family who I had not seen in a while resolved this issue. 

The server returned and inquired if we were ready for drinks. We replied we were ready for drinks plus ready for the food order.  The server graciously said he was more than ready for everything. 

Note: Due to the large party of 5 people I will only provide an order for what my wife and I ordered.

The Order: 1 Grilled Chicken Sandwich Burger with fries & salad and a Kichesippi Blonde Beer and 1 Salmon Burger with fries & salad with a glass of water.

The food arrived fifteen minutes later which was pretty impressive for serving five people.

The Grilled Chicken burger was delicious.  The chicken was definately cooked but moist.  Garnished with fresh lettuce and tomato it was perfect.  The fries were string potato fries served at room temperature.  Not great, but considering they had to coordinate the meals with different cooking times all arrive at the same time is impressive though.  The fries otherwise were pretty tasty and an interesting take on the regular pub style staple.   The salad provided was lettuce, grated carrot and another vegetable I can't remember at this time along with Chez Lucien's homemade creamy garlic salad dressing. It dressing saved what would otherwise be a pretty boring tossed salad.  The salad dressing even was pretty good to dip the fries into as well. 

The Grilled Salmon burger was also equally impressive.  Served with the same salad, fries and other condiments.  The burgers all around seemed to be enjoyed by many but this restaurant also serves other pub favourites like liver & onions. 

The inside of the bar was mainly clean exposed brick with hand drawn artwork that was for sale by the artists.  The juke box played the entire time we were there with mainly oldies being the mainstay of the music. 

Overall, Chez Lucien is a hidden gem.  The unattractive exterior (as seen on Google Maps Streetview) they apparently gussy up with flowers in hanging baskets and window boxes, only hides the modern interior. The pub also has several local brews on tap like Mill Street and Kichesippi Beer.  The food is excellent pub food that many will enjoy for it's freshness and it's taste.  We will definately be returning to Chez Lucien.  As well, a big shout out thank you to Daley for his suggestion.

Popular Posts