Spotted - Luxe Bistro, Ottawa

I had the pleasure of meeting with Luxe Bistro's executive chef, Duane Keats, to shoot the breeze. He is one of the most down to earth people I have met, and I enjoyed chatting about food, family, and work with him.

At the end of the conversation, I convinced him to be my Spotted interview for March.

Down to the last wire with just a few hours to spare, this month's spotted is at Luxe Bistro, Ottawa.

Duane Keats

Where are you from: St. John's, Newfoundland

Your signature dish: Anything you have to cook for a long time...braised short ribs, osso bucco.

Weirdest thing ever eaten: Wild boar tasted dirty.

Favorite ice cream flavour: Tiger tail: orange and black licorice ice cream mixed together. The funny thing is, I don't even like black licorice.

Your last meal would be: A selection of hot, crispy chicken wings.

Did you enjoy this post? Check out these other Spotted interviews:

Spotted at Cafe Neve, Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Spotted at Ventuno, Sydney, Australia
Spotted at Little Mercato Italy, San Diego, USA

Cupcake Camp Ottawa

Beautiful Cupcakes from Cupcake Camp

Not far from The Ottawa Home Show was Cupcake Camp Ottawa. This event was a first for Ottawa, and all proceeds went to Ottawa's Woman Alive/Femme Active Program. I honestly expected this to be a tame event where people stroll in with their kids to buy a few cupcakes, but I was wrong. It was lively, and flamboyant!

I arrived to a HUGE line up where I ended up waiting in line for 45 minutes. Why, you ask? Like everyone else, I was curious to see what cupcake camp was all about. I was bitching and complaining the whole time I stood in line, but in the end, it was worth the wait.

While waiting in line, this was all I heard “cupcake, cupcake cupcake, oh yes, cupcake cupcake. Cupcake, cupcake, cupcake, oh and, cupcake, cupcake cupcake…hmmm, yes, cupcake.” Beebs was with me, and I think she was about to go crazy.

The entry fee is $5 for adults, and once you are in, cupcakes are unlimited!

Cupcake Camp Disclaimer

Every 15 minutes, a round of assorted cupcakes are brought down the 'cupcake runway' for everyone to try.

Cupcake Runway

You need to hover around the tables when the cupcakes come out because they go fast! It was a free for all, and people raced to grab the best looking cupcakes. Each cupcake was labeled, but at the end of the day, it was hard to tell what was what because it was so chaotic.


As for the venue itself, it resembled a sort of mardi gras party, but celebrating cupcakes! The picture below says it all.

Cupcake Camp Ottawa 09

The majority of the cupcakes served at the event were entered in a competition (completely voluntary), where they were judged in a series of categories.
Here are some of the fine judges:

Judges from Cupcake Camp Ottawa

Some cupcakes from the judges' table, what a hard job!:

Judge's Table

Most of the bakers had gone home by the time the winners were announced, but the L’Oven team stayed to the end, and won the ‘Best Chocolate Cupcake’ category with their Before 9 minipops: a mini chocolate cupcake on a stick. L’Oven was started by two sisters from Ottawa, and their dream is to open up their own store one day. For now, you can place your cupcake orders via their website.

L'Oven Team from Ottawa

Another winner was the Oreo Sunrise by Kristen LaFrance for Best Decorated Cupcake.

Sunflower Oreo Cupcake

 And...the Best in Show was the Red Velvet Purse by Michelle Morrison.
Purse Cupcake

This rainbow bee cupcake didn't win, but it was my favorite by far.
Rainbow Bee Cupcake

After hours of eating and tasting different cupcakes, here's what I managed to take home with me.
Cupcakes from Cupcake Camp Ottawa

FoodMODE at Ottawa Home Show

Robin Duetta of FoodMODE

I found out that FoodMODE magazine was hosting a series of kitchen demos at the Ottawa Home Show, so I decided to go check it out today. I was not disappointed, and was actually surprised at how well organized things were.

The FoodMODE kitchen demos helped folks gear up for the summer time by creating presentations with a BBQ and grilling theme. Each demo consisted of a chef/local farm pair, so that you could eat good food and be educated on why eating local is better, all at the same time.

Today's line up was a great one. It was:

- Ron Eade of the Ottawa Citizen and Omnivore's Ottawa blog teamed with Keith Salisbury from Natural Lamb Farms cooking gourmet lamb burgers, and
- Marc Lepine of Atelier Restaurant paired with Aartje den Boer of The Pickle Patch cooking kurobuta pork belly (photo of Marc and Aartje below).

Marc Lepine with Aartje from the Pickle Patch

I didn't get to Ron's demo early enough to snag a front row seat for photo opps, but believe me when I tell you that his lamb burgers were amazing. They were very moist and lean, but more importantly, the burgers didn't have that overpowering lamb flavor you normally get when eating lamb dishes. The burgers were served with crostini, aioli, and a balsamic syrup reduction. The Katahdin lambs at Natural Lambs Farm are grass fed, and have a lower cholesterel content compared to domestic or New Zealand lambs.

Marc Lepine was up after Ron Eade, and he made a sous-vide kurobuta pork belly with a black olive caramel sauce, fizzy apple slices, and BBQ bread. The pork belly was first cooked for 18 hours in his kitchen, and then lightly grilled at the show as a finishing touch. His dish also tasted great.

Kurobuta Sous-Vide Pork Belly

In Marc's presentation, he explained the concept of his "molecular gastronomy" restaurant, and also explained how Atelier is different from others. He brought his sous-vide machine for show and tell, and was truly excited to be educating the audience on the different techniques used at Atelier.

In the photo below, Marc is torching rosemary while explaining how scents can trick your brain into thinking you are tasting something you really aren't.

Marc Lepine Torching Rosemary

For those that are not familiar with the term 'kurobuta pork', it is very similar to the idea of Wagyu beef and meat marbling. Aartje revealed that her pigs are fed beer to help with the marbling effect, but it is still too early to see if her technique is working. Either way, I think it is extremely cool that our local farms are employing techniques that I always thought were foreign.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself. The presentations were informative, and I am now inspired to eat more local.

Shamshiri, Los Angeles

Zereshk Polo

In L.A. where Farsi may as well be the third official language, it would have been a shame not to try Persian food while visiting. Our choice was Shamshiri, recommended by CK’s parents.

As soon as we parked our car and got out, we could smell kabob grilling from a block away! Not only was the restaurant open for service at 2 in the afternoon, but the place was PACKED! We asked each other, “How can all these people be feasting on Persian food at 2 in the afternoon?” Luckily, there was one table for two available, and we avoided waiting in line.

As soon as I sat down, I was smiling from ear to ear. The restaurant was decorated with colorful artwork, and the walls were a cheery red-orange color. The best part was that we were seated right next the kitchen. We were about a meter away and the only thing separating us from the kitchen was large see-through glass wall. I was so busy watching the kitchen staff happily grill kabob, and prepare rice that I couldn't concentrate on my conversation with CK. Boy, do they go through a lot of rice!

The menu at Shamshiri is extensive. They offer a lot of traditional Persian dishes that you normally would not see in a Persian restaurant. Persian food is very labor intensive, so most of the time, you will only see kabob and a tiny selection of stews on a restaurant's menu. Shamshiri offered that and A LOT more. They had ashes (soups), many different rice dishes, a large stew selection, and tahchin (rice infused with yogurt)! I, myself, had never seen tahchin being served at a restaurant before, and was very excited.

I was so indecisive that I originally decided to order three different dishes, one of which was the lamb tahchin. Unfortunately, they weren't making tahchin that day (I didn't read the menu carefully enough), so it was back to square one for me.

The lack of tachine completely threw off my original order, and I had to pick a different combination. While CK and the waitress waited for my new order, we ordered mast o musir (yogurt with shallots) to calm our hunger. There is a fine line in making mast o musir. Mast o musir is made by soaking shallots for days (which ends up stinking your kitchen), and then mixing it with yogurt. If you make it too mild, the shallot taste gets lost, if you make it too strong, you’ll have shallot breath for days! It is made perfectly when you get deadly shallot breath the next day, but only for 1 day.

We dipped their home made bread in the yogurt.

Mast o Musir

Fresh Persian Bread

After much debate, I finally ordered the zereshk polo with jujeh kabob (barberry rice with chicken kabob), and a side of a lamb koobideh kabob (ground lamb kabob). As I have mentioned before, zereshk polo is my FAVORITE Persian dish. When ordering this at restaurants, you have to be careful. Some restaurants make it very sour, while some make it on the sweeter side. I always ask how they make it before ordering zereshk polo because I prefer it sour. Shamshiri makes it a little sweet, but it still had a nice sour taste, so it tasted excellent. Their rice was so fresh, and their kabob meat was EXTREMELY juicy. We had tons of leftovers, and even after microwaving my kabob the next day, they were just as juicy as they were at the restaurant.

Joojeh Kabob

Lamb Koobideh

CK ordered the beef soltani. This is a beef dish that has two different types of kabob: koobideh (ground meat), and barg (filet of beef tenderloin). He loved his food just as much as I did.

Kabob Soltani

For dessert, we split a bowl of Persian ice cream and faloudeh. There is only one type of Persian ice cream: saffron and rose water ice cream with pistachios. It is an acquired taste, and it took me a few tries to finally like it. Faloudeh is frozen vermicelli noodles with fresh lime juice poured over top. At Shamshiri, they also throw sour cherries on top. It was my first time trying faloudeh, and I really liked it…very refreshing. I’m not, however, a fan of mixing the two together, and I prefer them served separately.

Faloudeh and Persian Ice Cream

I highly highly recommend this place, and I am getting hungry for Persian food as I type this. The service was excellent, which is rare for Persian restaurants.

The portions are humongous, and we took lots of leftovers back home with us. I still remember CK and I eating the Shamshiri left overs the next day, and being very stingy of our own food. When we were bartering kabob for kabob, we even counted the grains of rice that was stuck on each piece of meat. That’s how protective we were over our food…just proves how good it was!

Leftover Zereshk Polo

1712 Westwood Blvd.
Westwood, California, USA
Telephone: 310-474-1410

Shamshiri Grill on Urbanspoon

's Baggers, Nuremburg

's Baggers, Nuremburg

I recently got an inquiry about when I was going to post my eatings around Germany. In response to that, here’s one now.

This restaurant was at the top of my list of places to eat in Nuremburg, and I was lucky enough to snag a last minute reservation. I was supposed to eat here with a friend who was meeting me in the city, but after checking the restaurant’s calendar, it turned out that they were closed the entire week except for the day I landed. I quickly threw my luggage in my hotel room, booked an online reservation for 1, shook off my jet-lag, and headed to the restaurant to have dinner at 3pm in the afternoon (it was the only time available).

This restaurant is unique because it is a robotic restaurant. They do not have waiters serving you, and everything is done through computers and machines. 's Baggers in Nuremburg Germany gives a whole new meaning to the word 'service', and this restaurant resembles a life-size pinball machine. I had a very delightful meal here, and I'm excited to share my experience with you.

's Baggers, Nuremburg

‘s Baggers had an English version of their website, so I didn’t even think twice about the language barrier. However, I should have taken a cue when the online reservations page was only in German (thank you Google Translator). When I got to my table, the touch screen menu was 95% German...blast, how am I going to eat I thought to myself? Luckily, the restaurant seating was communal, and the German family beside me was kind enough to adopt me as their second child for the afternoon.

I was given a quick tutorial (in broken English, and lots of hand actions) on how the restaurant worked, and how to navigate through the menu. Here’s a photo of what the touch screen menu looks like:

's Baggers, Nuremburg Menu

Before being seated at your table, you are given a credit card type card, where your order information is stored. Once your card is inserted into the touch screen, you can begin to place your order by selecting your drinks, mains, sides, and desserts.

Touch Screen Menu

Each menu item will have a picture of what the food looks like, and if you want, you can zoom in the photo to have a closer look.

's Baggers, Nuremburg Menu Photo

They also provide the ability to search for a particular type of food if you know what you want. This saves searching through the entire (and long) menu to find what you are looking for.

Remember not to order everything at once because as soon as you place your order, the food will be prepared right away. Before you know it, your order will come flying down the metal spiral centerpiece. Luckily, I was warned of this early enough, and placed my dessert order after I finished my meal.

Is it confusing, you ask? Not at all. Everything is color coded, and the system is designed such that it is easy to identify what food is yours. Each seat has a color and number. Before placing your order, you will need to identify on the touch screen your seat color and number. Each pot of food that flies down to your table will have mitts corresponding to your seat color. It’s that simple.

My seat was the black eight ball:

's Baggers, Nuremburg Table no. 8

's Baggers, Nuremburg Touch Screen Menu

When you receive your food, you will also receive a little sticker that shows the time your order was placed, and the Chef that prepared your dish. I found that the whole system was designed and organized well.

Gulasch 's Baggers

Now that you get the gist of things, here’s what I ordered:

One thing I noticed is that Germans love to mix their drinks with water. On the plane, someone ordered wine mixed with water. When I was with my friend, she kept mixing her Coke with water. At ‘s Baggers, my adopted family recommended apple juice with water. What I didn’t realize was that they would mix their drinks with soda water, and not still water. So that was my drink, an Apfelschorle: apple juice mixed with soda water.

Apfelschorle at 's Baggers

For my main, I ordered an Angus beef goulash with hot peppers & tagliatelle. This dish was incredibly delicious, and I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh everything tasted.

Beef Gulasch

My dessert was a banana with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and whipped cream. This, too, was excellent. The banana was covered with a hard crunchy batter that was either deep fried or baked. It was incredibly light and not oily at all.

Deep Fried Banana at 's Baggers

At the end of the meal, you place your dirty dishes in the compartment in front of you, and someone will come remove them. Ok, so the restaurant is not entirely robotic, but close enough.

's Baggers, Nuremburg Dirty Dishes

Overall, the food was amazing, and the restaurant was a lot of fun to eat at. The food came out fairly quickly, and it was about a 10 minute wait for my main course.

At the end of the meal, you can rate your food by giving it a max of 5 stars. The ratings will be used as feedback to the Chefs, and also allow people to search for the most popular dishes.

‘s Baggers use a lot of organic ingredients, and ensures that their food is sourced from local farms.

The restaurant is a little out of the way, being tucked in the middle of an Industrial park about 20-25 minutes away from the city center. A cab ride could get expensive.

I’ll leave you with a video, showing how the food is delivered to your table (this is really cool):

Am Steinacher Kreuz 28
Nuremburg, Germany
Telephone: 0911 / 477 90 90

North Korea Opens Its First Pizzeria

I heard on the radio this morning that North Korea has just opened its first pizzeria. The country's dictator, Kim Jong-il, has a palate for fine foods, and has finally authorized the opening of the Italian restaurant after almost 10 years of trying to perfect the Italian pizza pie.

In the 90's, Kim Jong-il flew a few Chefs from Italy to North Korea in efforts to help train his men on how to make pizza. One of the chefs was Ermanno Furlanis. Even after the training, he was dissatisfied with the results.

Recently, he flew some of his chefs to Italy to learn the tricks of the trade, and soon after, the first pizzeria opened up in North Korea.

With the country's current situation, I'm not even sure if any of the general population will ever get to go to this new restaurant to try a gooey, cheesy slice of pizza.

Here are some more articles that talk about the pizzeria and Furlanis' experience in N. Korea:

The Guardian - This article has a neat bit at the end about Kim Jong-il's passion for fine foods, and how one of Kim's former chefs defected.

Sky News - There is a nice North Korea picture gallery at the end of this article.

BBC News - This article from 2004 talks about how Furlanis got summoned to go to North Korea to train Kim's men.

Asia Times - Furlanis' personal account of his experience in North Korea.

Bill Granger's Pastel De Nata Recipe

Gooey Custard

CK has been back in Sydney for less than a week, and already, we have a long list of new places to eat the next time I visit. Ever since I started my blog, he has been more aware of the food surrounding him, and he calls me up daily telling me of cool new restaurants/markets that he saw or passed by. I'm definitely looking forward to my next trip there.

One thing we recently talked about was the pastel de nata, a Portuguese custard tart. Ever since our first experience with pasteis de nata 2 months ago, CK has been noticing them everywhere, and most recently in Sydney.

A few Aussie blogs have posted Bill Granger's version of this sweet Portuguese pastry, and with Bill being one of my favorite Syndey chefs, I had to try out his recipe for myself. If you ever get a chance to visit Sydney, you must check out Bills for their creamy, delicate scrambled eggs for breakfast. They are to die for, and are totally worth the money. You'll know what I mean when you try them.

A pastel de nata made well will have burn spots on the surface of the custard. This is not easy to achieve at home, and these pastries are generally tricky to make because custard is best cooked at low temperatures while puff pastry is best cooked at high temperatures. The trick is to find the right balance, and you need to play around with your oven settings to find that perfect temperature.

There is one ultimate place in the world to go for these sweet delights, and that is at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem in Portugal. They even have their own name for the pastries: pasteis de belém. Everyone in Portugal will know of this Confeitaria, and apparently, their recipe is kept top secret.

The recipe below, however, is not a secret, and I invite you to try it for yourself.
This recipe makes 12 pastries.

Pastéis de Nata
Adapted from Bill Granger and Not Quite Nigella
- 3 egg yolks
- 115g caster sugar
- 230ml Cream (I used 35% whipping cream)
- 170ml milk
- 2 Tbsp cornflour
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- one sheet of puff pastry

1. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a pot. Gradually whisk in the cream and milk until smooth.

2. Place the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the custard to a bowl, and cover the bowl with saran wrap to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

4. Cut the pastry dough sheet in half, put one half on top of the other and set aside for 5 minutes. Roll up the pastry tightly from the short end and cut the pastry log into 12 x 1cm rounds. Lay each pastry round on a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll out until each is about 3 inches in diameter.

Buttery Puff Pastry

5. Press the pastry rounds into the muffin tin. Spoon the cooled custard into the pastry cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry and custard are golden. Leave the tarts in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pasteis de Nata

Post Mortem:
- I know my pasteis de nata are not the prettiest, but the taste was excellent. I think the custard was a bit overcooked, and I'm now determined to keep trying until those burn marks appear on the surface. The custard was soft and gooey when it first came out of the oven, but as soon as it cooled, the custard hardened and wasn't as good as when they first came out of the oven. That, unfortunately, did not stop me from eating all of them.

- I baked the pastries for 25 minutes because I thought the pasteis de nata would naturally develop that torched creme brulee look if you baked it for long enough. Silly me. I should have probably baked them for only 20 minutes.

- The original recipe calls for a bit more puff pastry than one sheet, so if you like more tart in your pasteis de nata, use more puff pastry.

***[Updated April 8 '09] I finally was able to get a burn spot on the surface of the custard (see pic below). It's a small little spot, but hey, it's still a burn spot! I baked my pastries at 450F for 18 minutes and then grilled them for 2 minutes. The heat was just a tad too high because the edges of the puff pastry burned. I also did not whisk the custard too hard because I read somewhere that it causes the custard to rise high during baking, and then sink low when cooling. I think it did make a difference. I will keep trying and post my improvements.***

Pastel de Nata - Bill Granger's Recipe
Small burn spot on pastel de nata - April 8 '09

Hungry for more sweets, check out these other delicious recipes:
Alfajores: shortbread with dulce de leche
Lazy lemon cookies
Healthy orange and nut date cups

The French Baker, Ottawa

Bread from The French Baker, Ottawa

As a continuation from my last post, here is what I picked up at The French Baker after my brunch at Benny's Bistro last weekend.

Before I dive into my post, let me preface it by saying that I have always been a fan of The French Baker, and my past experiences have been positive ones (proof in this past post). But for some reason, everything I bought was just off that day.

My favorite cookie at the French Baker is their sablés à la confiture. Their jam filling always has an amazing fresh fruit flavor! They didn't have that nice crunch that I normally like in their shortbread, but they still had that great buttery flavor.

Sablés aux Confiture

I haven't tried a macaron from any Ottawa bakery until now, so I don't have any local place I can compare it to. However, I have tried them in many other cities and countries, and this one just didn't have that nice delicate balance between crunchy and soft. Although there was a coffee bean sitting nicely on top, I couldn't tell what flavor the macaron actually was...I'm guessing it was supposed to be coffee flavor though.

Oversized macaron

I've attempted to purchase their croissants on a few occasions, and every time they were sold out. I finally got to try "Ottawa's best croissants" last weekend, and I was somewhat disappointed. I look for 3 things in a croissant: buttery, light, and flaky. The croissant I tried was buttery and had a nice flavor, but it was too doughy and not flaky enough.


After leaving a comment about my experience on the Ottawa Foodies site, one of the pastry chefs from the bakery contacted me to get more feedback. She was very professional and gracious, and took the feedback well. However, French Baker has a reputation for making one of the best pastries in town, and with that label, consistency is key. Had it been my first time visiting the bakery, I likely would not return for a repeat visit.

The French Baker
119 Murray Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-789-7941

The french baker on Urbanspoon

Weekend Brunch at Benny's Bistro, Ottawa

Benny's Bistro, Ottawa

CK and I met up with some of our friends, that we went to high school with, this past weekend for brunch at Benny's Bistro. Boy, how time flies. We found out that our good friend, J, is expecting a new baby boy soon. We also caught up on high school gos (gossip), which I always find interesting. We shared stories on who ended up where, and even though we haven't kept in touch with a lot of the people since high school, you always feel like you know them well because of the brief connection from your teenage years. We had a great time, and it's always nice to share a few laughs with old friends.

Benny’s Bistro is a small little bistro attached to the French Baker on Murray Street. Murray Street is starting to become my new favorite dining street. It's got so many great restaurants packed in a span of a few blocks.

Every weekend from 10:30 am - 2:30 pm, Benny's offers a brunch menu that changes with the four seasons. They still had their Winter menu when we were there, and this is what we had:

For me, it was a toss up between a traditional eggs and meat breakfast (which I love), and the organic forest mushroom & leek "confit" taco. I decided to go for something different, and ordered the taco. It was a flaky, buttery pastry taco shell smeared with a lemon & horseradish crème fraîche, with a pile of filling that was so high, it hid the actual taco shell. The filling was greens, mushroom, leek, Belgian endive, and shaved butternut squash all tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette. Although the idea was neat, I found that the pastry combined with the vinaigrette a little too oily and heavy. I would have preferred the vinaigrette to be less oily.

Mushroom and Leek Taco

J had the salmon gravlax served with a caper and fingerling potato salad. This was topped with a sunnyside egg, and on the side was a black olive tapenade. He really enjoyed this dish.

Salmon Gravlax

The pan roasted Pickerel filet was by far the most popular dish at our table. Everyone ordered this except for J and I. The pickerel was served with red quinoa, braised leek risotto, beet ribbon & mustard green salad in a Shitaki mushroom consommé. This was an extremely healthy dish, but note that it is also a light dish. CK was ok with the lightness but everyone else complained that they were still very hungry at the end.

Pan Roasted Pickerel with Red Quinoa

Overall, the food and ambience was OK. While they did have some interesting dishes on the menu, the taste just didn't make an overall impact on me.

After our meal, I couldn't resist buying a few pastries from the French Baker to take home. More on the French Baker pastries in my next post...

Benny's Bistro
119 Murray Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-789-6797

Benny's Bistro on Urbanspoon