Spotted - Zen Kitchen, Ottawa

Meet Dave and Caroline (pictured below). They are the friendly owners of Zen Kitchen, a gourmet vegan restaurant that pushes the envelope on vegan cooking.

Before I share my meal from Zen Kitchen, I'd like you to get to know the masterminds behind the operation first. Caroline is also the Executive Chef of Zen Kitchen, and Dave is the manager & drink expert ;-)

They are a warm couple who have a deep respect and affection for what they do. When I asked them who or what their biggest life influences were, this is what they said:

Caroline: My mother for better or for worse. She was very hard to live with, but she had a strong passion for food and presentation, and was a woman with a good sense of style and taste. She was a perfectionist. She loved people, and presenting food to people. Both my mom and dad were great cooks. My passion for style and presentation came very early for me.

Dave: Farley Mowat, whose books were instilled in me as a kid. He had a passion for protecting and caring for the natural world, but at the same time, maintained a good sense of humour. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take him to lunch, and took him to Fressen on Queen Street.

This month's Spotted interview is at Zen Kitchen, Ottawa.

Dave Loan and Caroline Ishii

Chef Caroline Ishii
  • Where are you from: I was born in Toronto but I've lived all over the world. I've lived in the Soviet Union, I studied in Quebec City, and I moved to Ottawa 20 years ago to study French.
  • One cooking utensil you cannot live without: A tasting spoon. I need to constantly taste stuff
  • Go-to dish when serving guests: I love serving hors d'oeuvres and small plates. I'll serve like 15 little plates of Japanese Cuisine. I'll serve a clear soup, then a sea vegetable salad, then rice, etc. I'll definitely do a Terriyaki of some kind. Maybe a Terriyaki fusion with wild blueberry. I usually change up the protein.
  • Weirdest thing ever eaten: Fish sashimi that was still alive. It was a whole fish cut up. It was so fresh, the meat was still hanging off the fish. I was a little kid at the time, and I just couldn't eat it. I asked the sashimi master to cook it, which obviously was a faux pas. He was insulted. It was horrifying. **laughs out loud**
  • Your last meal would be: I love Japanese food so it would be a simple Japanese meal of rice and homemade pickles.
Dave Loan
  • Where are you from: Southern Ontario, near St. Catharines. I've also lived in Huntsville and Sudbury.
  • One cooking utensil you cannot live without: My Chef's knife. It does everything from peeling to chopping to shaping. It is a Japanese knife from Japan. It doesn't have a specific brand signature, but it was handmade from a famous knife shop in Tokyo. The blade smith there makes only 2 knives a day.
  • What do you always have stocked in your fridge: Beau's Beer. That's an easy one.
  • Weirdest thing ever eaten: It was in New York at a sushi bar where the staff only spoke Japanese. I ordered a giant clam on rice. After I ordered it, the chef said something to Caroline in Japanese, where she replied 'oh'. They were telling us not to use the chopsticks to pick it up because the clam was trying to crawl off the rice.
  • Your last meal would be: Pasta...a nice ravioli. I crave ravioli all the time. It takes a long time to make.

Omnivore's Ottawa Supper Club at Absinthe, Ottawa

Absinthe, Ottawa

Omnivore's Ottawa Supper Club hosted their final supper of the year this past Monday, and it was held at Absinthe, a French bistro & bar in Westboro. One thing I have come to love about OO's supper club is the great people you get to meet along the way. Because everyone has one thing in common: FOOD, the conversation is always engaging. I end up sitting with complete strangers everytime I attend one of these dinners, and never are there any awkward silences at the dinner table (at least at the tables I've sat at).

Pat Garland, Absinthe's executive chef and owner, is a charismatic man with a strong passion for food. Although Absinthe is labelled as a 'French Bistro', I've noticed Asian influences creeping into his dishes such as the use of yuzu, fish sauce, and Sriracha hot sauce.

OO's supper club meets once a month and is organized by Ottawa's Ron Eade and Mike McCracken. The crowd seems to grow larger each time I attend, and this time, there were 45 in total.
Here is the wonderful 7 course meal we had that evening:

The first course was called H2O Duo. This was a Queen Charlotte albacore tuna taco with a spoon of crispy bass topped with truffle oil, grape and yuzu.

Crispy Sea Bass
Albacare Tuna Taco and Crispy Bass

The tuna taco was my favorite of the evening.

Tuna Taco
Albacore Tuna Taco

Next was a wild boar rillette topped with a layer of duck fat. This was served with rosemary crostinis, mustard, pickle, and pickled shallot.

Wild Boar Terrine
Wild Boar Rillette

The third course was Thistle Creek rainbow trout three ways: fish and sunchoke chips, gravlax, and tartar 'Selon Mon Ami Adel' (not sure what that means exactly). Of the three, I liked the fish and chips the best.

Rainbow Trout Three Ways
Thistle Creek Rainbow Trout Three Ways

The fourth course was a Barbarie duck consomme with foie ravioli. The ravioli was delicious, and I loved how the hot foie burst in my mouth with each bite.

Duck Consomme
Barbarie Duck Consomme with Foie Ravioli

Next came a baby arugula salad. This was served with walnut emulsion, candied walnuts, and baluchon cheese. This was a fairly mild salad.

Walnut Arugula Salad
Baby Arugula Salad with Walnuts

The main course was Ontario lamb stuffed saddle of Texel Spring Lamb wrapped in house smoked Berkshire bacon roasted whole and carved. This was served with jus simple, and a super smooth cheddar aligot. Aligot is a French mashed potato dish that is blended with cheese. I learned from Ron that the smooth texture of Absinthe's aligot was achieved by running it through a fine drum sieve. It was excellent, and I could imagine the effort it took to make it.

Lamb Wrapped in Bacon
Lamb wrapped in Bacon with Cheddar Aligot

Dessert was super rich. It was a trio plate of South American influenced Gianduja tart, lemon brulee, and chocolate fondant. The lemon brulee was delicious!

Chocolate and Creme Brulee
Gianduja Tart, Lemon Brulee, and Chocolate Fondant

Absinthe's steak frites made it on to Ottawa Magazine's 101 Tastes to Try Before You Die article, so I'm looking forward to trying it out. The recipe for the steak marinade can be found here.

Thank you for organizing another great dinner Mike & Ron, and see you in the New Year!

1208 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-761-1138

Absinthe Cafe Resto Bar on Urbanspoon

Aligot  on Foodista

Lunch at Le Cordon Bleu Bistro, Ottawa

Signatures @ Le Cordon Bleu, Ottawa

My friends and I recently had lunch at the re-vamped Le Cordon Bleu Bistro. Their quality 3-course lunch for $25, in my opinion, is a steal. It was a bit of a challenge trying to get a reservation (lots of phone tag), but we finally managed.

A new lunch menu is offered each week, and you get a choice of one appetizer, one main, and one dessert. Luckily, we had enough people to try out their whole menu. Here is the menu from the week of Nov 10th - 13th:

Their appetizers/entrées were a choice between the chicken liver terrine or lobster bisque.

I chose the chicken liver terrine with a layer of jelly of Porto on top.

Chicken Liver Terrine
Chicken Liver Terrine

This was served with frisee and a pickled onion. The pickled onion was especially tasty.

Frisee Salad
Frisee and Pickled Onion

The terrine was smooth and super creamy. I enjoyed it.

Chicken Liver Terrine
Chicken Liver Terrine

The other appetizer was the lobster bisque served with a lobster, smoked salmon and tarragon cake.

Lobster Bisque
Lobster Bisque

Their mains/plat principal were a choice between steak or fish.

I had the flank steak emincé served with Jerez juice, roasted garlic, paprika potatoes, carrots and crispy shallots. I thought the sauce was going to be spicy from the looks of it, but it was on the sweeter side. This dish was quite good overall.

Flank Steak Emince
Flank Steak Emince

The fish was filet of pike-perch baked with basil and fennel. The fish was served with roasted vegetables and a creamy fennel puree.

Baked Pike-Perch
Filet of Pike-Perch

Dessert was a choice between chocolate or creme brulee.

I chose the chocolate in different textures. It was a chocolate biscuit served with hazelnut & chocolate sauce. On top of the biscuit was a chocolate disk, and white chocolate ice cream. This dessert was very rich, and is perfect for any chocolate lover.

Chocolate Textures
Chocolate in Different Textures

The crème brûlée was also nice. It was served with citrus madeleines and fruit compote. The madeleine was perfect and I couldn't get enough of their fresh fruit compote.

Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal. It was well worth the $25. I love the concept of having the students prepare the food, and I was impressed by their abilities.

Qster, I read on Ottawa Foodies that you had the same meal that same week. Curious to see what you thought.

Le Cordon Bleu Bistro at Signatures
453 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-236-2499

Bistro Cordon Bleu on Urbanspoon

Jizo Japanese Cafe & Bar, Dunedin

Jizo, Dunedin

After Moeraki, CK and decided to check out Dunedin. I wasn't sure what to expect because we had heard that Dunedin is a big college town. For me, all I wanted to see was scenery.

Well, we were pleasantly surprised. We did the usual: Otago Peninsula, Lanarch Castle, Albatross Centre....But, our stay turned from nice to awesomely memorable when we accidentally stumbled upon Sandfly Bay. It is approximately 15km east of central Dunedin, and is a bay with large sand dunes and lots of wildlife. We spent a good part of our day here trekking through the sand dunes, and hanging out with the sea lions and penguins. We couldn't believe how close we got to the wildlife and were just absolutely astonished by the whole experience. I'll share more photos at the end of this post.

Sandfly Bay
Bird's Eye View of Sandfly Bay

Sea Lions at Sandfly Bay
Sea Lions at Sandfly Bay

After an eventful day in Dunedin, we stopped in at Jizo for a meal. This is a bustling 2-level restaurant that serves no fuss Japanese food. You grab your own menus, pour your own tea from the communal kettle, and order everything at the main counter. Once your food is ready, it is brought to your table by their very efficient wait staff.

To start, CK and I ordered the kushiage tofu: grilled, marinated firm tofu on a stick. This was delicious and the sauce had a nice hint of sweetness to it.

Kushiage Tofu
Kushiage Tofu

Next was the tori and vegetable udon. The was a chicken broth. The noodles were a good texture: slightly chewy, and this dish, overall, was mild.

Vegetable Udon
Tori and Vegetable Udon

We thought the Teriyaki tofu sushi looked different, so we ordered it. We were right. It was lightly breaded and fried tofu that sat on top of a ball of rice with a wonderful spicy mayo wedged in between. We really liked this dish.

Tofu Sushi
Teriyaki Tofu Sushi

We also wanted a traditional raw salmon sushi roll, and although there was a lot of rice, it hit the spot.

Raw Salmon Roll
Raw Salmon Sushi Roll

CK ordered a temaki salmon not realizing what it actually was. This hand roll was giant, and it filled him up quite well.

Salmon Temaki
Temaki Salmon

The spicy raw tuna roll is my default sushi dish. As I've mentioned before, I can't have sushi with ordering a spicy tuna roll. There was a little too much rice for my likings but the sauce and seasoning made up for it.

Spicy Raw Tuna Roll
Spicy Raw Tuna Roll

Overall, we really liked this place and would totally go back (if it wasn't half way across the world). It was casual, cheap, and their sauces were delicious and flavorful. The only thing we didn't love was the fact that there was too much rice in some of the rolls.

Here are some more photos from Sandfly Bay.

Some close ups of the sand dunes:

Sand Dune at Sandfly Bay
Sand Dune at Sandfly Bay

Sand Dune at Sandfly Bay
CK Climbing a Steep Hill at Sandfly Bay

More Hooker's Sea Lions. I was amazed at how large they were. They could have easily crushed me.

Sea Lion at Sandfly Bay
Sea Lion at Sandfly Bay

Sea Lions at Sandfly Bay
Sea Lions Sleeping at Sandfly Bay

We actually saw penguins in the wild! We couldn't believe it. CK was excited because penguins are his favorite animal. They are quite shy so we couldn't get too close.

Penguins at Sandfly Bay
Yellow-eyed Penguins at Sandfly Bay

Jizo Japanese Cafe & Bar
56 Princes Street
Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
Telephone: 03 479 2692

Vangionis Trattoria & Bar, Akaroa

Vangionis Trattoria & Bar, Akaroa

When it gets dark out, Vangionis is one of the few places still open in Akaroa. It is a cozy restaurant and bar serving Mediterranean style dishes. They use only fresh ingredients available in New Zealand, and they have an extensive menu ranging from tapas to large plates to pizza. CK and I stopped in one dark, rainy night and enjoyed a lovely dinner together.

I ordered the rabbit in prunes and bacon. It was New Zealand rabbit slow cooked in a thin red wine, thyme, bacon, and prune sauce. The word 'slow cooked' misled me to believe that it was fall off the bone rabbit meat. Unfortunately, you had to work for it.

Rabbit in Prunes and Bacon
Rabbit in Prunes and Bacon

My main didn't come with any sides so I ordered the sauteed beetroot to go with my rabbit. This was fresh beetroot sauteed with horseradish and cream. Although different, I can't say I loved it. I liked the horseradish but I didn't care for the cream.

Sauteed Beets
Beetroot Sauteed in Horseradish and Cream

CK ordered their spinaci pizza with spinach, basil paste, garlic, and mozzarella cheese. I really liked their pizza.

Spinaci Pizza
Spinaci Pizza

For dessert, we shared the baked Belgian chocolate pudding cake. This was a chocolate cake with a soft centre in the middle. The cake was served with vanilla ice cream.

Belgian Chocolate Pudding Cake
Baked Belgian Chocolate Pudding Cake

This was a quaint little restaurant and it was nice to have comfort food on a rainy night.

Vangionis Trattoria & Bar
40F Rue Lavaud
Akaroa, Canterbury, New Zealand
Telephone: 03 304 7714

Akaroa Fish & Chips, Akaroa

Akaroa, New Zealand

This week will be a New Zealand week. I spent some time catching up on my New Zealand posts, and I'm so glad I did because it was nice looking back at the pictures from my awesome trip. I will start this wonderful week with a post about Akoroa.

Akaroa is an unimaginably beautiful little town that is very French influenced. It's a town completely different from the rest of New Zealand. The street signs are in French, the architecture is French, and the overall feel of this place is very French. This is all thanks to Captain Jean François L'Anglois, who bought a piece of the land in 1838.

The drive to Akaroa is breathtaking. There is only one way to get in and one way to get out. The town itself is a beautiful harbour overlooking rugged volcanic hills. Akaroa is also known for their Hector dolphins, the smallest and rarest breed of dolphins there is. They can only be found off the coast of New Zealand, and I was scheduled to swim with them.

Akaroa, New Zealand
Drive to Akaroa

Akaroa, New Zealand
Drive to Akaroa

Unfortunately, it was incredibly rainy and windy on the day of the dolphin swim, and it got cancelled due to bad weather. I was part sad, but part relieved. As much as I wanted to partake in such a thrilling activity, I wasn't prepared to catch a cold over it.

With the entire morning and afternoon free, CK and I decided to head to Akaroa Fish and Chips for brunch. This place was recommended to us by a local in Marlborough Sounds.

Akaroa Fish Shop
Akaroa Fish and Chips

It was a pleasant little fast food joint that served very fresh fish. I ordered their fish burger.  

Fish Sandwich
Fish Burger

Massive pieces of battered blue cod wedged in between a fresh bun with beets, tomato, red onion, lettuce, and tartar sauce. It was delicious!!!

Fish Sandwich
Fish Burger

I honestly fell in love. The fish was fresh, and the condiments were just perfect. It was a beautiful sandwich! CK took a bite and agreed.

CK ordered the regular fish and chips. He was quite indifferent with his meal. He thought the chips were too dry, and the batter of the fish a bit too orangey.

Fish and Chips
We scarfed our food in our compact rental car, and set off for our next adventure.

Akaroa Fish & Chips
59 Beach Road
Akaroa, Canterbury, New Zealand
Telephone: 03 304 7464

Baked Blue Cheese Crab Cakes

Blue Cheese Crab Cake

While I was laying in bed one night, I thought to myself "ya know what, crab cakes would go really well with blue cheese".

Well, a few months later, I finally made it a reality. It took me a while but I finally did it. One warning to you though: please make sure you like blue cheese before you go and try this recipe. Blue cheese is an acquired taste, and it would be a shame to waste money and effort on these crab cakes to find out you don't really like blue cheese.

If you're not a blue cheese fan, go ahead and substitute for a cheese you do like. I'm sure it would be just as tasty.

Blue Cheese Crab Cake

This recipe yields about 10 crab cakes.

Baked Blue Cheese Crab Cakes
- 450g of lump crab meat
- 125g of a mild blue cheese, crumbled into small pieces
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 small red pepper, finely diced
- 1/2 cup of dried bread crumbs
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp old style grainy mustard
- 1 tsp of smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil
- dash of salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With your hands, shape the crab mixture into hockey puck shapes (approximately 3 inch diameter and 1 inch thick).

3. Place the crab cakes onto the baking sheet, setting them approximately 1 inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside until cheese hardens a little bit. Serve warm. To add a bit more taste and color, you can pan fry the crab cakes before serving. I didn't bother, to keep it on the healthier side, but I contemplated it.

Blue Cheese Crab Cake