Monday, 11 February 2008

The Taste of Winterlude (and Happy Birthday F&C!)

Posted by Bonita

It's hard to believe that Forks & Chopsticks has been up and running for a year now. It was exactly a year from yesterday that Andrew and I started up this blog, in hopes of sharing with everyone our own gastronomical experiences, both inside and outside of the kitchen. It's been an amazing year of great recipes and more importantly, great food, and hopefully there will be many more years to come! Happy 1st Birthday F&C!!!

Our one-year anniversary will go by with little fanfare unfortunately, with school keeping me busy and the looming reality that I will graduate and be thrust into the "real world" in less than four months time. Scary! However, I did find some time...correction...make some time to come back home this weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year with my parents. Yes, with any huge celebration, this means that there was lots and lots of food this weekend...perhaps far too much for only three people. But more on that on Wednesday...

My coming home this weekend also coincided with another big festival in the city: the annual winter carnival known as Winterlude, known for it's beautiful ice and snow sculptures, the world's longest outdoor rink, and deliciously pipin'-hot beavertails. Many Canadian cities now also have annual tasting events, where a number of restaurants feature prix fixe table hote menus. I was excited to find out that Ottawa had a similar event, called the Taste of Winterlude. It claims to be in its third year running, but I myself have never heard of the event until this year (after many years of grumbling about why we didn't have one). It is considerably more low-key than other cities, like Toronto's Winterlicious and Summerlicious.

There were a number of restaurants on this year's list that I wanted to try out, but the two restaurants that really popped out at me was Ambiente and Juniper, both of which feature Canadian regional cuisine. In the long run, Ambiente won out, and lucky for us, it did not disappoint.

The ambiance of Ambiente itself is really nice, a little corner restaurant on Beechwood Avenue. The interior features warm brown tones and a semi-open kitchen. The restaurant itself isn't very large, seating 36, and 4 to 5 at the bar, keeping the atmosphere nice and intimate. The evening started off with an amuse-bouche of Butternut purée with an apple and beet reduction and mascarpone. The soup, served in a little Chinese tea cup, was a really nice starter, with the reduction adding an extra hint of sweetness to the squash. Next was the starter itself, between a choice of soup or salad. I opted for the Smoked Yukon gold potato and leek soup with black pepper mascarpone. The soup was really nice, and the fact that they smoked the potatoes gave the soup an amazing woody scent and aroma that screams bacon, without having all the fat of bacon in it.

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Next was the main course, a choice between beef tenderloin or trout. My dad had the beef tenderloin, which was served with a some sautéed greens, scalloped potatoes and oyster mushrooms. My mom and I, on the other hand, went with the Steelhead trout, lightly roasted with an almond crust, with fromage frais pomme purée, spinach sautéed with almonds, and caramelized pearl onions. I didn't particularly care for the presentation of my dish (what's up with those blobs topped off with pearl onions?!?), but it was delicious nonetheless. However, I must say that I do prefer the beef tenderloin out of the two dishes after trying a bite of the beef. It was amazingly delicious and tender, and the scalloped potatoes were to die for.

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Last but certainly not least was dessert. My dad had the Pineapple tarte tatin with homemade coconut ice cream, while my mom and I both had the Warm Valrhona chocolate cake with homemade banana ice cream, crushed walnuts, banana fritter and caramel sauce. The cake was sinfully decadent, with the warm chocolate centre oozing out when I cut into it. The banana ice cream was surprisingly delicious as well, and made for a lovely compliment to the bittersweet chocolate cake. And while I'm a huge fan of fried bananas, I did find their banana fritter slightly on the greasy side. But overall, it was definitely a satisfying (and decadent!) dessert.

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The evening ended off with a petit four and it was another butternut squash creation: Butternut squash ice cream with diced pears and crushed amaretti. The warm spiciness of the cinnamon was really nice with the diced pears, and the amaretti added a nice layer of texture. Slightly on the sweet side in my opinion, but the extreme smoothness of the ice cream made up for that slight fault.

Overall, I was really impressed with Ambiente, and even my parents can't wait to come back to try their full menu. The Taste of Winterlude menu was a bit more pricey than what you might find in Toronto, coming to $45 a head, but I think it was worth it in the end. It was certainly a lovely evening at a beautiful restaurant with some delicious food, and I definitely cannot wait to come back here again!

Name: Ambiente
Address: 101-18 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa, ON.
Cuisine: Seasonal Canadian
Price Range: Dinner $60-80
Accessible: No (Unfortunately, I didn't spot a wheelchair ramp as an alternative to the stairs...unless all that snow was covering it.)

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