Wednesday, 28 October 2009

New Restaurants to Try? Oh My!

To those foodies and gourmands who like or love to try new restaurants, rejoice. En Route has published its annual restaurant guide, which includes an article on Canada's 10 Best New Restaurants of 2009. I serendipitously discovered this guide last year on an Air Canada flight to Ottawa in November; until last year I hadn't flown on a November since I was 3. The rest of the guide indicates restaurants that are still quite noteworthy and at least worth trying, and it also includes past 10 Best New Restaurants from previous years.

Last year's #1 new restaurant in Canada according to En Route was Nota Bene. Not only did my sister beat me to trying that restaurant, she "taunted" me about how good it was there. At least this time around I'll be able to try a top 10 restaurant with her; we're eyeing the Black Hoof when I join her in Toronto during my vacation. Keep your eyes peeled for a review on either of our blogs.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Soupin' Up for the Fall

Oh, there were several possible factors that motivated me to make some suit for the first time in a while, and a slow-cooked one for the first time ever. Perhaps it was my sudden realization that I hadn't done any experimental cooking since this spring. Perhaps it was the bout of snow my city got last week. Perhaps it was my sister showcasing a slow-cooked soup she made herself recently. Perhaps it was my sister reminding (taunting?) me this weekend how I've been missing out on some finer foods and especially more exotic and/or unique ingredients that at times can only be found in large cities. In any case, the urge to experiment had sprouted and had to be nurtured to fruition.

My inspiration at one of my local supermarkets this weekend was oxtail. Though there is a definitely Chinese version of oxtail soup, my first thought upon seeing oxtail pieces was my childhood experiences of Hong Kong-style Western cuisine, of which my memory of oxtail soup was most vivid. HKW cuisine is essentially fusion cuisine with a slant that's more suited to Chinese tastes. and often than not feature ingredients that are either frequently in Chinese cuisine or are readily recognized as foreign derivatives of Chinese ingredients. With an inspiration and a memory in hand, I proceeded to create my own rendition of oxtail soup. I'll admit now that my method of making this soup was restricted by what I could easily get in town; a traditional southern Chinese version of oxtail soup with certain Chinese herbs was very impractical for me to make, and I've yet to start stocking up on those items from my Winnipeg daytrips.

Behold, a (large) sample of the final product! Though in hindsight cabbage could've been used here, I didn't buy any nor had any leftover to put in the soup. However, I did have plenty of celery from making some chicken thigh stew the previous weekend; carrots I had to buy during my weekly grocery run. To further add a Western twist to this dish I also added some pot barley and bay leaf into my soup. The oxtail meat easily fell off the bone after being cooked for about 4 hours, though perhaps I should caution that this cut of beef, with some gelatinous texture and, of course, a few large bones, may not be for everybody. If you're not a fan of oxtail, you could substitute with other bony cuts, and it doesn't have to be beef at all; with the soup my sister described in her blog, she used pork shoulder instead.

With this experimentation, I must confess I've failed on two points. First, in hindsight I could've added some more vegetables, such as cabbage and tomato. The second and arguable the bigger mistake of the two was that I didn't bother trimming the fat that was present on the larger oxtail pieces; I'll have to remember that next time. I didn't blanch the meat beforehand like my sister did with her pork shoulder in her soup, but I was able to skim off the surface the foam that naturally comes from boiling chunks of meat. Next time I could try adding other ingredients that could bring different flavours to the soup as well; for some reason Ancho chilis come to mind right now.

Below is essentially what I did. Feel free to experiment with other vegetables, herbs and/or flavourings to suit your particular tastes.

Andrew's Fusion Oxtail Soup

~1.5kg (~3.0lbs.) oxtail bones (preferably the larger, meatier pieces)
~1.5kg (~3.0lbs.) mix of vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (e.g. carrots, celery) or shredded (e.g. cabbage)
1-2 bay leaves
75mL (1/3 cup) pot barley
3 litres of water (preferably filtered)
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot add oxtail bones to the water and bring to a boil for about 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, cut up the vegetables. (If using celery, save the yellow portions in the heart, especially the leaves; they themselves can help flavour the soup.) After the water has taken its time to boil, skim off the foam on the surface of the boiling water with a small sieve.

Add vegetables, bay leaves and barley to water and bring it back to a boil. Cover and let simmer for about four (4) hours on medium-low heat. If you've added something starchy to the soup mixture such as barley or potatoes, stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot, which will result in burning which can easily ruin the flavour of the soup.

Just before the soup's ready to be immediately served, add salt and pepper to taste. The soup can be served with the meat and vegetables on the side or, if served as a meal, in a large bowl with the broth itself.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Lured Back to Little Italy

The last time I ate in Winnipeg's Little Italy was the summer of 2008 when I tried a Vietnamese restaurant there. Before that, it was in the autumn of 2006 when my parents and I accidentally discovered the wonderful and aptly named Glutton's, which alas! became no more after Chef Makoto Ono left to set up a restaurant in Beijing in 2008. The building in which Glutton's stood is now home to Mise; Mise has apparently kept Glutton's grocery store which under the old name was small but featured some of the more unique, exotic and/or higher-end items that were typically harder to find in the rest of Winnipeg, such as Greaves Jams & Marmalades from Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON. In spite of the name, Little Italy is culturally diverse with restaurants featuring other ethnic or cultural foods other than Italian dotted here and there along Corydon Ave. One of the noticeable additions to that street in the 2009 dining guide year was Italian, though.

Fazzo features contemporary Italian cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. Don't even bother thinking about pizzas when you enter this bistro, not even thin-crust ones; they're just not on the menu. Dinner main courses here are either pasta dishes or actual entree dishes with a featured meat and the customary veg and starch sides, while the lunch menu offers sandwiches, salads or, to my pleasant surprise, frittatas. Unlike other Italian dining joints where I've eaten to date, this place had a comparatively short menu, which was fine by me as I already had a tough time deciding between a few dishes, and I anticipated the chef would then be able to better focus on the quality of the dishes he/she created.

For my appetizer I was torn between the pan-seared scallops and arancini. In the end I went for the scallops partly since the server suggested it was good and partly because, though I was tempted to try those fried delights, I didn't want to feel stuffed before the main course arrived as the server noted there would've been three fairly large arancini to tackle (my sister will likely remember my experience with polenta at Bertoldi's in London, ON). I was slightly caught off guard by the saltiness of the seared sides of the scallops; it wasn't overpowering, but it was instantly noticeable. However, the subtle sweet and sour flavours of the tomato jam and the cool smoothness of the creamed leeks countered it nicely. Though only the white parts were used in the creamed leeks, the dark green parts still got to perform in this dish as a flavourful garnish in fried thin strands. The fried leek strands provided a hint of crispiness to contrast the soft and smooth textures of the scallops, creamed leeks and tomato jam.

I also had some difficulty picking a main course dish, but in the end, with my being in the mood for something relatively light and to go with the scallops I had for starters, I went for the sablefish (aka black cod or butterfish), which came served as a fillet with the skin made crispy. The meat of the fish was flaky yet moist, melted in my mouth and had a strong flavour thanks to its high oil content. Though I couldn't resist the crispy skin I found it to be just as salty as the seared sides of the scallops from the previous dish; at least the meat itself helped temper that saltiness. Fried bits of what I suspect was parma ham were sparkingly sprinkled amongst the cipollini onions and crushed new potatoes, and until that evening I'd never had, let alone seen, white beets.

Dessert selection here was limited and none of the items called upon me, so I skipped dessert this time around. I wouldn't suggest skipping this place, though. It's a cosy little place that exposes one to the joys of contemporary Italian cuisine. I was, however, a little bit surprised that I encountered two dishes where I felt there were some elements that were saltier than I anticipated and expected to be, though in fairness to the chef, I've grilled and eaten enough scallops to know they can taste saltier when seared compared to, say, simply stir-fried. Considering this was my first and as of yet my only visit to this place, I can't say for certain now if it was just a fluke or if this place is a bit more liberal with the use of salt on some of its food items.

Name: Fazzo
Address: 905 Corydon Ave., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Contemporary Italian
Price Range: Lunch $10-$30; Dinner $20-$55
Accessible: Yes