Best and worst bites

I skipped lunch at home Saturday, and instead found that $40 worth of tickets can get you very, very full at the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival. Some of the small plates I tried at the Ottawa Convention Centre were about as good as I think food would get under trade-show conditions, while a few things that I sampled let me down. From best to worst, here’s what I ate:

1. Assorted small dishes from the Wakefield Mill

They’re rocking it over at booth No. 421, offering not only more choices, but more irresistible choices.

I couldn’t help but blow 20 tickets on three dishes (left to right): chicken confit, pear and cranberry tarte tatin, thyme and goat cheese sauce; salmon rillettes, pickerel gravlax, shallot vinegar pearls, yuzu eggs; and bison tartare, smoked cheddar cream, cabbage and pistachio slaw. I was visibly and audibly enjoying all of these dishes so much — especially the fine detail such as the goat-cheese tang of the chicken confit’s sauce and the pop of the vinegar — that sous-chef Remi-Paul Duval threw in a bowl of cream of onion soup, enhanced with Calvados, blue cheese and apple. “It’s a new way to have onion soup,” he said, adding that it would be on the Mill’s upcoming night menu.

Duval also added proudly that many of the ingredients for the dishes had come from West Quebec producers — bison from Ferme Takwânaw, vegetables from La Ferme du Ruisseau Noir, chicken legs for the confit from Ferme aux Saveurs des Monts. I wasn’t surprised that these producers had had a hand in the deliciousness, as I recently wrote about Petite Nation’s thriving farmers.

2. Tuna Tataki from Izakaya

A lot of distinctive and appealing flavours came together on this plate. There was nothing wrong, of course, with the plump and yielding lightly seared fish, but it was the pan-Asian garnishes (roasted sesame seeds, fried shallots, coriander, a fish sauce-y dressing) that really lifted things up.

Highly recommended as a light, clean bite, especially if you are feeling weighed down by heavier meat- or  poutine-based options (or are still coming down from the Martin Picard dinner on Wednesday).


3. Lobster Roll from Petit Bill’s Bistro

Thanks to fond memories of eating lobster rolls in New Hampshire and Rhode Island during a recent summer vacation, I popped for the lobster roll from West Wellington’s own Petit Bill’s Bistro. It was smaller than I expected — miniscule compared to those New England crustacean bombs — but it still managed to pack in plenty of lobster flavour. Plus, it was lighter than the lobster poutine option, which at that point Saturday afternoon would likely have done me in.


4. Braised Bacon Balls from Hintonburg Public House

I had no problem with the flavour and texture of these savoury bad boys, which came three to a bag. And the Mukoska Mad Tom Mustard was a smart condiment choice, sweet and sour.

But the packaging in what I knew in my childhood as egg roll bags was a bit downscale, and were we really supposed to eat these with our fingers? Yes, the Hintonburg Public House, like a few of Ottawa’s casual yet culinary-minded eateries, wears its hipster casualness like a badge of honour… but, really?


5. Steak and Mashed Potatoes From FarmTeam Cookhouse & Bar

I haven’t eaten yet at the relatively new Bank Street restaurant, but I had high hopes given that the poster said its booth was serving O’Brien Farms beef. (You might recall that I think the Preston Street small plates hangout two six {ate} is making fine steaks and burgers using meat from that producer.)

Unfortunately the steak from FarmTeam had been steamtrayed into ignominy. The striploin that was so beautifully medium rare at two six {ate} was a sad, tough, flavour-free grey-brown. I did a double-take when it was handed to me, thinking that I had received meatloaf. Underneath, the mashed potatoes were made with too much sour cream and the two mini-carrots poked into potatoes won’t be taking home any awards for garnish presentation.



BONUS: three picks for chocoholics

1. Treats from Chocomotive (shown at right)

For festival-goers with sweet cravings, the Montebello-based chocolatier’s booth is a must-visit.

2. Port in a chocolate shot glass from Rochef

3. Chocolate -covered blueberries from Rochef





The Ottawa Wine and Food Show continues at the Ottawa Convention Centre through Sunday night.


Follow Food writer Peter Hum’s Blog Keen Appetite.


Connect with Peter Hum |Google+|@peterhum|