Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Week in Yum May 17-23 A Whirlwind Trip To Ottawa To Eat at Navarra And Lots Of Eating In

ahhh, look at that sway backed, knock kneed , young beauty rocking the sweater vest circa 1969.  I can't even with my mom's patriotic red and white ensemble

I think I kind of love Ottawa. My first real trip anywhere was to Ottawa as a five year old so it holds a special place in my heart. The Doctor ordered my mom to rest when her ulcer got really out of control but our Dr knew that this mother of five and wife to a man who demanded a steak on the table within five minutes of walking in the door would never be able to accomplish this. He told her and my dad that she had to hit the bricks and go visit someone so she decided to take me to visit her oldest sister who worked for the government in our nation's capital. If my memories are correct, I think we even flew there but my mom is no longer here to answer my questions and nobody else in my family remembers anything about it. If I didn't have this terrible photo of me in front of the parliament building, I would be able to be convinced that the trip never happened, to be perfectly honest. We stayed with my aunt Rita for a few weeks and she and my mom did nothing but drink coffee and Blue Nun while smoking endless cigarettes, gossiping in french, laughing and catching up while I was left very much to my own devices in her spacious apartment.




45 years later , more wrinkles but with much better posture and some patriotic red lipstick in honour of my mom

Her son, who was in law school at the time, had an incredible collection of Playboys in the den. Despite having three older brothers of my own, I had never seen such a thing so you can imagine how intriguing these glossy magazines were to a curious little girl. When everyone assumed that I was whiling away the hours in there reading Asterix and drawing in my drawing pads (I did nothing but read, draw and design clothing at that age - I was a precocious little shit) I was actually going through every single magazine and fashioning a fabulous outfit , of my own design, on each and every naked lady using markers, crayons and pencil crayons. I guess I thought that someone had been very thoughtful, indeed, providing me with an entire bookshelf full of naked ladies just waiting for me to dress them!

Nobody noticed until after we left to return home and he opened one up to read and then proceeded to check every one, only to find that there was not a naked lady left in sight. Because I was nothing if not thorough, I had not missed one Playboy bunny. I also have a vague memory of my mother finding a centerfold in my suitcase that I had smuggled home to give to my father. Luckily, the young law student had a fabulous sense of humour and found the entire situation hysterical and swore that he was not angry that his little brat of a cousin defaced his entire, meticulously kept collection.

Not finding the prospect of a five hour trip daunting, I was really excited about taking the bus all the way to Ottawa so I could go out to Navarra for dinner with Shack and then drive home with him the next day. He had been there all week, shooting some tv show and I missed him like stink.


Seeing that I arrived around 3pm for this little fly by visit,  I really only had to time to pop into the Parliament building to have a peek at the rotunda and make a wee pit stop at Byward Market for a bowl of tortilla soup to tide me over until our 8:45pm dinner at Navarra. The tortilla soup from Corazon de Maiz was surprisingly spicy and quite tasty, although it could probably contain half the volume of crispy tortilla strips and a bit more chicken and be happier for it. Regardless, it hit the spot and I had barely started eating it when I received a text summoning me back to the hotel when Shack finished work earlier than expected. I would have liked more time to poke around the market but I was anxious to see my poor, tired guy who was worn out from a long, stressful work week. He was waiting for me at the bar of the hotel, enjoying a cocktail and some gossip with his stunt wives and so I joined them. Having a drink at about 5:30pm when our dinner reservations were 3 hours away was our first mistake of the evening, but it wouldn't be our last.

ByWard Market

We had our cocktail and then retired up to our room to catch up and I wanted to give Shack his birthday gift that I brought with me. I am going to be out of town on his actual birthday so this was serving as our early birthday celebration. He had bought a bottle of Chateau Du Charmes Aligote, a wonderful white wine that I love that we usually have to purchase directly from the Niagara winery, so we opened that and had another glass of wine.


Since it was still too early to hit the restaurant, we just started walking towards it and stopped at some restaurant with the word Osteria in the name, which Shack thought meant Oysters in Italian. Since there were no oysters on the menu because Osteria does NOT mean oysters but we had already sat down and were cozy at the bar, we had another glass of wine.

I am not a big person and all I had eaten all day was a couple little bowls of soup. You do the math.

Finally, it was time to wander over to Navarra and have ANOTHER GLASS OF WINE while we waited for our table because we were 20 minutes early. This is where things get a bit fuzzy but not so fuzzy that I don't remember that the meal we ate was absolutely crazy pants delicious.
everyone was very calm and concentrated in the open kitchen under the watchful eye of Chef Rodriguez
Like most food loving Canadians, I watch Top Chef Canada every year and this one just ended a week ago. Every week I would drool over everything a handsome, serious young man with the sexy spanish accent would make. Born in Ottawa, raised in Oaxaca, Mexico from the age of 5 until he returned to Ottawa at 19, his flavours were my flavours. Week after week, Rene Rodriguez quietly kept making excellent dishes, seemed to kind of fly under the radar, not causing any drama and went on to win the entire enchilada. Because I have family just outside of the city , I knew that we would eat there by the summer's end but then this job came up for Shack right before his birthday and all the pieces fell into place.

Because everything here is considered to be served tapa style, we ordered two small plates and two large plates to share. After much deliberation, we settled on tuna tartare and the Dungeness Crab Salad. Chef Rodriguez made the tuna tartare on Top Chef Canada for Chef Morimoto who raved about it so I was way too curious not to get it. To call the other dish crab salad is like calling the Bilbao Museum a building with some art in it. The little puck shaped disk of crab is swimming in a serrano chili, grapefruit, vanilla aguachile. Aguachile is like a cousin to ceviche but the seafood isn't left to "cook" in the sauce with a long soak, instead it serves as a sauce to flavour the icy cold,  almost raw crab. There is avocado in there and it's topped with what they call sesame "ash" but I would liken it more to sesame crack. Rob Ford would stuff this ambrosia into his pipe and smoke it all day long. It adds not only a nutty, earthy flavour but gives a wonderful crunch to the otherwise smooth, creamy dish. It's not that the tuna tartare was not excellent, it just paled a bit in comparison to the crab and neither of us could remember eating anything quite like it. This crab dish, alone, made the five hour bus ride worth it.

no picture of the tartare because it was very dark and I was very tipsy

As soon as I spied the carbonara, I knew that was going to be one of the larger dishes because Shack lives for carbonara and this one did not disappoint. Despite the fact that this is not an Italian restaurant and it's one of the only starches I saw on the menu, it was a very, very fine carbonara. He was pleased to find that the pasta was penne instead of spaghetti and that the use of truffle salt was restrained and subtle. If this restaurant was in Toronto, we would visit regularly just for the crab and the carbonara. Oh and wine. 

Even though I know he doesn't care for lamb, I had to try the Slow Braised Quebec Lamb Leg with Hibiscus Mole after watching Ruth Reichl practically swoon over his lamb in mole on the finale of Top Chef (I was not unhappy that this version came sans crispy meal worms though). My only complaint was that after taking one small bite, Shack didn't want any more so I was left with the entire portion and I found it a bit too heavy and couldn't finish it (it would have been fine if I was sharing with one or two other people). The mole was complex and layered, the lamb was tender and full of lamby flavour and the parsnip puree gave a nice sweet hit to balance out the slight bitter edge of the mole, it was just a bit too rich for me. It didn't help that this was the final dish we were served and I had consumed my weight in wine by this point although I also credit the richness of the lamb with keeping me from feeling much worse the next morning than I probably should have felt.

I was left with only one perplexing question. You will notice, up there, that each dish included sliced radish. I had actually read a review where a man complained about this and basically said "Yo, what's up with the radishes?" I laughed when I read the review and assumed he must be exaggerating but, as you can plainly see that there are, indeed, radishes on each dish. I was kind of saying the same thing at the end of dinner but luckily, we both love radishes. It was certainly kind of odd. I'm just saying.


Navarra on Urbanspoon


Because we are clearly insane and had forgotten that we are no longer young bucks who can stay up and party all night long, we dropped into the wrap party for the show he was there working on. Within ten minutes I had a gin and tonic in one fist and a tequila shot in the other. Even though it felt like 3am when we finally left the party, we were back in bed, safe and sound, by midnight.

Despite being a wee bit frageelay Friday morning, we managed a quick visit to the Supreme Court and sat in while the court was in session followed by a spin past the Parliament Buildings before hopping in the car to head for home. 

the rest of the week leading up to my little 24 hour trip to Ottawa was spent eating at home
A  Saturday trip to Kensington for fiddleheads and other lovely spring veggies

Sunday we were invited to dine with The Neighbours because we are lucky, lucky folks
I finally used my giant can of salmon to make salmon cakes for The Kid
We bought meatballs and veal  from Lamanna's on the way home from Ottawa and Shack made marinara, turned the veal into veal parm and whipped up this light little post wild night dinner to soak up all that wine 



Facebook share of the week: FIDDLEHEADS!

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