All posts by admin

11 Mistakes Travelers Make in Las Vegas — and How to Avoid Them

One of the most popular travel destinations in the United States, Las Vegas is home to several luxury hotels, retail shops, theatres, celebrity chef restaurants, and of course, casinos.

The availability of multiple-choice locations makes it difficult for first-timers to determine where to visit and what to do during their stay. There are different ways to have fun in Las Vegas and if you’re not careful, you can also end up spending more money than you bargained for.

Having a plan while in the famed ‘Sin City’ is very important, according to Anthony Curtis, owner of Las Vegas Advisor. Due to how competitive the region is, businesses are always trying to attract visitors with different juicy offers and your only obligation is to find them, said Curtis.

“Look around. If you see a magazine, open it up, and see what’s inside. Don’t just do the first thing you see; look around a little bit until you find the best deal,” he said in a report.

Many may argue that being financially prudent is near impossible in Vegas. But with a town full of people trying to get a huge chunk of your wallet, having a plan is important. Here are some common mistakes travellers make when visiting Las Vegas and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Not having a travel plan

While spontaneity is part of having fun on any trip, particularly in Vegas but planning ahead of your visit would go a long way in making your stay more pleasurable.

If you’re visiting during peak periods like spring break, Valentine’s Day or Christmas, booking reservations ahead of time would help you avoid the rush and most times, price inflation.

2. Betting wildly at the casino

What’s a Las Vegas trip without trying your hands out on a few games at a casino. Despite the pandemic offering players online slots for real money, some people still like to feel the thrill of being in a land-based casino in Vegas.

However, before you hurriedly grab a seat at a poker table or throw in money into a slot machine, be sure you are aware of how the gameplay works. More often than not, you will lose more money than you win and that’s why Derek Stevens, owner of a downtown casino in Vegas advises beginners to only try out slots.

3. Not hiring a private car

There are different transportation options in Vegas; from taxis to monorails, rideshares and trams. But if you’re keen on sightseeing, then hiring a driver to give you a mini-tour of the city is much cheaper than riding around.

For $50 per hour, you can get a comfortable neat and air-conditioned sedan or Limo to chauffeur you around this city. When compared to hiring numerous Uber of Lyft rides, hiring a driver is a lot more cost-saving.

 4. Waiting for airport car rentals

For several reasons, many Las Vegas travellers prefer to drive themselves around but one mistake you would make is waiting on the airport’s car rental service.

Not only would you have to struggle to get on a long waiting line for airport car rentals, but you also run the risk of being liable to pay the exorbitant concession recovery fees. Your best option is to choose a car rental service close to your hotel after you must’ve checked in.

5. Failing to tip

There’s always a large crowd at most popular venues in Las Vegas, especially at certain times of the year.

If you’re looking to have a good time and haven’t made any reservations, being a generous tipper can get you ahead in Vegas, especially at restaurants, concerts and bars.

“Make sure you’re tipping the valets, bartenders, and cocktail servers. They always have a pretty good idea of [what’s out there.] If you need tickets to a Celine Dion show or something, they might be able to point you in the right direction,” said Stevens.

6. Failing to check the Las Vegas events calendar

It is important to know what events are happening in Vegas during your visit to avoid being crammed up in a massive crowd.

Once you know what the peak event periods are, you can choose to avoid them if you’re looking for a less-congested travel experience. Otherwise, you would have to compete for everything, from car rentals to hotel and dinner reservations.

7. Overpacking

It is advisable to limit the amount of luggage you have to just a carry-on when travelling to Vegas. This would help you avoid having to struggle with many bags when getting out of the McCarran International Airport.

You don’t have to worry about running out of clothes because Vegan has lots of retail and gift stores where you can always shop for new items.

8. Missing out on deals

Every frequent traveller knows that there are popular aggregator sites where you can get the best deals on hotels. However, there are also other ways to save money on your Vegas hotel reservations.

Some high-end hotels like Four Seasons, Aria and Bellagio offer guests different incentives like free daily breakfast and $100 worth of spa credit. These offers can help you save money on food and spa treatments, among other things.

9. Not knowing if the pools are heated

While the weather in Vegas is typically hot and bikini-worthy, during months like January and February, temperatures can drop to as low as 30°C at night.

If you’re a huge fan of bathing up in the sun by a pool, then you can either visit during warmer months or choose a hotel that has a heated pool all year round.

10. Not visiting downtown Vegas

Most first-time travellers to Vegas are always infatuated by the Las Vegas Strip that they never bother to visit anywhere else.

However, one easily overlooked part of Vegas by visitors is downtown which provides a much pedestrian-friendly experience and better value for money. You don’t have to pay top-end dollars for a steak dinner as you would at the Strip, but the food would taste just as delicious.

11. Missing out on the ‘fourth meal’

A wild night out in Vegas is never complete until you have tried one of the iconic late-night restaurants. While the pandemic has affected a lot of popular outlets, there are still some amazing spots to find some of the best finger-licking meals you can get.

So, before you get cosy in your hotel bed, make some time for an additional meal to complete your Vegas adventure.

5 online casino betting strategies for beginners

In recent years, online casinos have become very popular. With the coronavirus pandemic causing many people to be forced indoors with little or no other source of entertainment asides from the internet, online gambling has skyrocketed.

However, while this growth has been consistent for several years now, gambling at casinos online isn’t as straightforward as many newbies think. Therefore, you decide to try your hands on casino jackpot games—or the variety of other available online casino games—it is important to learn about some proven tips to help you navigate the world of online gambling as a newbie easily.

1. Learn about the local online gambling laws

It’s important to always remain on the side of the law. Therefore, before you choose to gamble at an online casino, you should have legitimate information about the gambling laws in your state or country.

Be certain about several things including the minimum permissible age for gamblers and this are the information you get from the regulator or gambling commission in your country. In the United States, places like New Jersey have legalized online gambling since the start of this year.

2. Choose the best online casino

Once you confirmed that online gambling is legal in your state and you meet all other legal requirements, the next and possibly the most difficult thing to do is finding the right online casino for you.

Several factors should influence your decision, especially as a newbie punter. You should look out for reputable casinos that allow you to play either through a mobile app—and compatible on both iOS and Android devices—or via a web browser.

Take out time to read expert and user reviews on available online casinos in your region. This would show you just how reliable and enjoyable your experience would be playing at a chosen casino.

As a newbie gambler, it is important to select a casino with a wide variety of games such as video poker, bingo, slot and card games, amongst others. These games should also be provided by renowned online gaming providers like NextGen, Playtech and Evolution.

Your choice casino should have the right banking options for deposits and withdrawals for easy access to your money. Also, lookout for a casino that offers the lowest deposit limits and the largest withdrawal limits.

3. The safety of your choice casino

Your safety is very crucial when gambling online and it is highly recommended that you only patronize online casinos with the right amount of security.

Ensure that the casino has been endorsed by the relevant gambling authority in your country before giving out your private or financial information. Also, every reputable online casino should have secure SSL encryption enabled on their website to prevent hackers from gaining access to your financial details.

Avoid casinos that have been blacklisted by either the authorities or other users due to issues such as delayed payments, unsecured payments, poor customer service, or failure to pay users their winnings.

4. Get started using free games

Most online casinos today offer new users free games just to help them get settled in much faster. Therefore, before you start gambling with real money, you should first familiarize yourself with the platform using these free games.

In fact, some casinos would offer users a free no-deposit bonus that can be used to play for real cash once they sign up.

5. Choose the best bonus

Making a smart choice would be going for an online casino that offers you total value for your money. Today, there are thousands of online casinos available with most of them offering different bonuses to attract newer players.

Take your time and select a casino that offers great welcome bonuses, jackpots amazing games and several other benefits. However, be sure to read the terms and conditions of each bonus, so you don’t get misinformed at the end.

BâtonRouge Steakhouse and Bar

Since 1992, Bâton Rougesteakhouse and bar doesn’t compromise when it comes to taste. From delicious ribs to the tender steaks, all of the meals available at BâtonRouge are freshly prepared on site and only the best quality ingredients are used in their dishes. At theBâtonRouge steakhouse and bar, the passion for the restaurant business and satisfying everyone’s palate is said to be this restaurant’s core. Out of all the restaurants in Ottawa, here are the reasons why you need to visit a Bâton Rouge steakhouse and bar and what to expect from your dining experience.

About Bâton Rouge

To ensure the dishes are served to an impeccable standard consistently, the longer route is taken when it comes to the dish prep, but the results that can be tasted make it worth all of the effort. A bite from every dish has been perfected by experts to taste the Bâton Rouge Way. Thanks to this obsession to detail, guests receive a fantastic culinary experience.

The Food

There are a number of delicious food choices available to you. The ribs and the steaks are what Bâton Rouge is famous for, but you can also enjoy a range of tasty pasta dishes, salads, chicken, seafood and burgers. At the Bâton Rouge Steakhouse & bar in Ottawa, you can sit and enjoy a full three-course meal at dinner time. If it’s lunch you’re after, there are some great choices available on their lunch menu, including some unique sandwiches.

The Drinks

At Bâton Rouge, expect to make some tricky decisions when it comes to what drink you want to accompany your meal. With most of the signature dishes consisting of meat, there is a range of fantastic wines on offer, which have been selected and stocked to compliment the meals they are served with. If wine isn’t your thing or you want to try something completely new, then take a look at their cocktail menu, where you can find a variety of original and traditional cocktails, such as a strawberry daiquiri or margarita.


Bâton Rouge restaurants believe that the decision to open up a franchise in the restaurant industry must be well-informed and clear. All of the aspects that surround the investment as well as its undertakings need to be understood. Bâton Rouge has several areas where they are looking to open new restaurants. If you already have a restaurant and want to join this sector, get in contact with a Bâton Rouge steakhouse and bar today.

Find a Restaurant

Bâton Rouge has restaurants located all over the place. If you enjoy the food and you are interested in finding a restaurant in the area you are in, then take a look at the Bâton Rouge steakhouse and bar website and put in your location to find your closest restaurant.

With so much choice, Bâton Rouge steakhouse and bar is somewhere you should definitely think about going if you are in Ottawa or any of the other restaurant locations. The wide variety of award-winning food is fresh and can cater for a large number of different palates. Take yourself there today to see what all the fuss is about.

Foodie Friday: Shared commercial kitchen finally opens its doors

Azura Fennell of The Kneaded Kitchen, at Cauldron Kitchen.

It took nearly two years but the Cauldron Kitchen is finally open for business.

Ottawa’s first, ultra-flexible, totally shared commercial kitchen, targeted at Ottawa’s budding small-time foodie businesses in need of a place to prepare their goodies without violating health and safety laws, opened its doors last month.

Dave Neil and David VillarroelDave Neil and David Villarroel

“What we discovered is that building a kitchen from scratch is not a simple feat,” says co-founder David Villarroel, who anticipated a summer 2014 grand opening when he last spoke to Apartment613.

Between fitting the Overbrook industrial space with essential water, sewer, electricity and heating services, to securing the necessary funds to design and outfit the kitchen, the vision proved a bigger challenge than anticipated and there were times they nearly threw in the dish towel.

“We passed so many milestones with the construction phase. It was a hard slough,” he says. “It was amazing when we announced our official opening… it is good to focus on business development and getting the Ottawa food industry interested in what we are doing.”

So far, about eight small scale chefs have signed up to use the space. The Kneaded Kitchen’s Azura Fennell is their first regular.

“I decided it was now or never,” says Fennell who was elbow-deep in a delectable-smelling roasted cauliflower dish during an open house last weekend to formally launch the Cauldron Kitchen.

The single mom quit her corporate job right around the time the kitchen opened in order to launch her gourmet vegan/vegetarian pre-made meal business.

“It’s a really great space,” says Fennell who spends a day to a day-and-a-half per week at the Cauldron preparing her meals.

As a mom who needs to be home before and after school, she loves the flexibility the Cauldron Kitchen offers and the fact that all the cooking equipment is provided. It’s also proven to be a great place to network with other foodies who seem happy to support her and offer feedback.

“It’s invaluable,” she says of the camaraderie.

The concept of a shared commercial kitchen is one that’s taken off across the United States and in larger Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

Strong supporters of the shared economy ethos, Villarroel and business partner Dave Neil, who co-owns Westboro craft butcher The Piggy Market, funded the space, in part, through a little crowd-sourcing and a lot of support from family and friends.

They envisioned a place where resources would be shared and where everybody involved could save on overhead and through bulk buying power. They wished to nurture a community environment where like-minded foodies could swap ideas, collaborate and support one another.

Since they first hatched their plan, similar commercial kitchens have entered the Ottawa market, but Villarroel says the Cauldron Kitchen remains the first to do it as a solely shared model, where anybody could rent the space at an affordable hourly rate.

Cauldron Kitchen Open House Saturday Feb 19That cost is $25/hour for the 150 sq/ft kitchen, which includes a six-burner range, a standard oven and full size convection oven. A separate prep and assembly space can be rented for $20/hour, though both must be booked in four-hour blocks. They hope to turn a second prep space into another full kitchen down the road.

Industrial induction burners, a gas steamer, deep fryer, meat slicer, dough mixer, food processors, blenders and scales are among the add-ons. There’s also two stand-up freezers, a pair of walk-in coolers and dry-good storage space on site. Package deals and storage bin rentals are available for frequent fryers and a shared dish pit equipped with a 90-second washer and all the cleaning supplies one might need is provided for easy tidying.

In the hopes of attracting local farmers and helping them sustain their businesses through the winter, they’ve also invested in a blast chiller that can go from 160F to -18F in two hours.

Dubbed the “crown jewel” of the kitchen, it’s available for rent for an extra $50 a pop.

“Farmers can come and make their own frozen vegetables and sell it at the market,” says an excited Villarroel, who also hopes to attract food truck vendors with three parking spots out back complete with plug-ins.

“We would like to brand the Cauldron as a place to innovate and experiment,” he adds, noting a local cricket flour processor has expressed interest in using the space.

Dave Neil and David Villarroel with customer Azura Fennell“We want restaurants to use our space to develop their menus. We want bakers to use our space to push out new ideas like the cronut.”

In fact, they see it as a true “community kitchen” that can be used in many ways.

To celebrate Family Day, for instance, a group of kids enjoyed cupcake decorating at the Cauldron. Meanwhile, their first client—an 11-year-old boy who baked cookies for the Beechwood Market—has since expressed an interest in returning to host his next birthday party.

Neil also plans to deliver a hands-on series of workshops on knife skills, chicken-cutting and bread-making in the hopes to draw in amateur chefs looking to improve their skills.

Despite their struggle to get going, Villarroel is optimistic. He recently revisited the website that first inspired his business—a directory of commercial kitchens.

“In our early days in 2014, this directory had 300 kitchens listed all over the U.S. Last week, I wanted to add my kitchen to the directory and they had over 600 kitchens listed,” he says.

“In two years the commercial kitchen industry doubled so the future definitely looks bright!”

Read more…

Ottawans offered A Taste of the Arctic next Monday

While Ottawa has the largest Inuit population outside of the Arctic, many Ottawans who don’t have ties to the North have few opportunities to experience the richness and diversity of Inuit culture.

Next Monday, an event offers Southerners an opportunity to sample the NAC kitchen’s take on a variety of Inuit culinary delicacies, with ingredients including arctic char, arctic berries, arctic shrimp, and muskox.  There’s also a generous promotional rate being offered to Apt613 readers: read on for details.

A Taste of the Arctic is a collaboration between Canada’s national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and the NAC’s Executive Chef John Morris.  Now in its sixth year, the event has been praised as one not to be missed.

The event shows Inuit culture as both deeply rooted in tradition and also open to innovation and syncretism.  The entertainment at the event will include Inuit-inspired electronic and house beats from DJ Geronimo Inutiq of Montreal, a member of madeskimo, The Trade-offs, an Arctic soul band from Iqaluit, and a square dance band hailing from Nunavut Sivuniksavut, an Ottawa-based college program that serves Inuit youth from across Canada’s north.

A media preview for A Taste of the Arctic introduced journalists to some of these foods in their more traditional, and much simpler, preparations.

We were in for a treat: many of these foods are not frequently served south of the 60th paralell. Inuit living in Ottawa and other southerly cities eagerly await visits from family members bringing with them country foods like caribou and muskox meat, muktuk (beluga skin and blubber), and pitsi, also rendered as pipsi or pitti  (sun-dried arctic char).

Thanks to ITK’s longstanding collaboration with the NAC, however, pitsi is now on the menu at Le Café, where it is served in a citrusy risotto along with roasted acorn squash and a crab & tomato hollandaise.

We ate these foods in their simplest form: served raw and frozen, sliced into bite-sized pieces with the curved blade of an ulu, which one ITK staffer jokingly referred to as “the world’s best pizza cutter”.

I was especially curious to try muktuk.  The beluga skin is quite tough, which is why it is generally served cut and scored with an ulu, as was done for us.  While the hardy, rubbery texture was a bit of a challenge for me, I enjoyed the delicate, slightly nutty flavour that the fat releases when warmed in the mouth.  It’s now popularly served with a bowl of soy sauce for dipping: apparently China Lily is the preferred brand, although there was some dissent among ITK staff on that matter.

I was also interested to learn that muktuk is extremely rich in Vitamin C, and that the nutrients it contains are best preserved when it’s eaten raw or frozen, as is the tradition.  The oil and livers of cold-water fish and mammals are also an important source of Vitamins A and D for Northern people with little access to fresh vegetables.

The versions of these dishes that will be served at A Taste of the Arctic will combine centuries of Inuit culinary tradition with European flavours and techniques, making them more approachable for the curious but unfamiliar.  For some, it will be an exciting opportunity to try something new.  For others, it promises to be an inventive twist on familiar traditions.

Read more…

Dining Out: How some Meaty Sandwiches Measure Up

Meat In The Middle
311 Bank St., 613-422-6328,
Open: Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday noon to 6 p.m., closed Sundays

Meat Press Creative Charcuterie and Sandwich Shop
45 Armstrong St.,613-695-7737,
Open: Monday to Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Sundays

I have loved a good smoked meat sandwich for as long as I can remember.

As Nepean-raised teenagers in the 1980s, we’d make trips to Nate’s Deli on Rideau Street for its storied smoked meat. I was even more keen on the sandwiches from the Villa Deli on Bank Street that my late father and I bonded over.

When I attended McGill University, smoked meat at Schwartz’s, and better still, the Main, beckoned. Those legendary delis served the thick-cut, robustly flavoured real thing, best devoured during the wee hours. In a pinch, downtown, we made do with sandwiches from Ben’s and Reuben’s.

In recent years, I’ve had a hard time finding a smoked meat sandwich in town worth getting excited about. The version at the Grand Central New York Deli, when it was open, was a good attempt, although I thought there was room for improvement. Last spring, I thought the smoked meat at The Butchery in Bells Corners wasn’t bad.

Since then, I’ve begun popping by Meat in the Middle on Bank Street, which opened in the summer of 2014, mostly for the made-in-house smoked meat sandwiches. In recent months, I’ve found that when they’ve been good, they’ve been very good. But one of four sandwiches really missed the mark.

The meat there is Alberta beef brisket that’s been brined for a week or so, and then smoked. Thick-cut to order, the best sandwiches I’ve had here could have been a little more hefty for the price ($9.95), but their rich flavour and luscious texture were really commendable, delivering that primal smoked meat experience — maybe even good enough to support the sandwich board outside the shop that says its smoked meat is the best in town.

Smoked meat sandwich at Meat in the Middle- pix by Peter Hum Ottawa Citizen Photo Email
Smoked meat sandwich at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street

The 26-seat shop, where classic rock usually plays, is too unpretentious to call itself “artisanal,” but its chefs, Jeremy McDonald and Bruce Robitaille, can craft some above-average meat, with reasonable consistency.

I did have one smoked meat sandwich this month that was a dud, much too fatty and much too salty. To her credit, Janet, Robitaille’s wife, could see my disappointment — that is, the uneaten, fatty scraps on the plate — and she offered me profuse apologies and a replacement. I want to be charitable because, frankly, recent trips to Montreal’s revered delis have yielded some mediocre and even lousy sandwiches as well as good ones. Perhaps everywhere, it comes down to the luck of the cut.

Other sandwiches that we’ve had at Meat in the Middle were successes. A panini-style reuben was cleanly made, with all of its elements shining through. So was the grilled-cheesy croque madame, although with roast chicken in lieu of ham and no fried egg on top, it departed from its French namesake. A smoked pork shoulder sandwich, perked with gremolata and arugula, was delicious but also extra juicy to the point of messiness.

Smoked pork shoulder sandwich at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street
Smoked pork shoulder sandwich at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street

Croque Madame sandwich at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street|
Croque Madame panini sandwich at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street|

Reuben panini at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street.
Reuben panini at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street.

The shop also serves basic barbecue fare after 4 p.m. But the so-so chicken, with dry white meat, and sloppy, less than memorable ribs made me think that sandwiches remain the shop’s strength. Side dishes though, including a Greek kale salad and some no-frills mac ‘n’ cheese, were quite good.

Barbecued chicken at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street
Barbecued chicken at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street

Ribs at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street
Ribs at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street

Side dishes, beans, mac 'n' cheese, kale Greek salad, Caesar salad at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street.
Side dishes, beans, mac ‘n’ cheese, kale Greek salad, Caesar salad at Meat in the Middle on Bank Street.


Meanwhile, more or less three kilometres due west, there’s another sandwich place that puts its appeal to carnivores in its name.

Meat Press Creative Charcuterie and Sandwich Shop opened in early October, the endeavour of the young chef Étienne Cuerrier who has worked at the Wakefield Mill and Soif Wine Bar on the other side of the Ottawa River.

True to the Hintonburg neighbourhood, Meat Press scores high for hipster cred, ambience, and locavorism. Cuerrier sources ingredients from producers such as Enright Cattle in Tweed and Mariposa Farm. He tends a community garden plot and has incorporated its vegetables into Meat Press’s offerings.

Cuerrier’s continually changing sandwiches have been sizeable, even quirky, and pleasingly affordable at $7 or $10 with a drink, such as a refreshing house-made pear or raspberry soda, and a side dish.

Over several visits in the last few months, I’ve sampled a variety of sandwiches and been pleased more often than not.

Perhaps so as not to offend smoked-meat purists, the shop’s chalkboard has offered smoked brisket sandwiches, with long, thin shavings of meat keeping company with not the usual mustard, or even sauerkraut, but marinated avocado and salted cabbage. It didn’t have the meat-bomb satisfaction of your classic smoked meat, but it was a novel and harmonious meet-up that I’d want to eat again. The vegetable curry soup, thickened with cashews, was another win.

Smoked brisket sandwich at Meat Press on Armstrong Avenue
Smoked brisket sandwich with vegetable curry soup at Meat Press on Armstrong Street

Another unconventional sandwich that made me a believer was made with rabbit confit, its fattiness offset by slaw and carrot purée. Mashed potatoes with curds and a savoury gravy made this combo rib-sticking.

Rabbit confit with carrot puree and slaw sandwich and mashed potatoes with curds at Meat Press
Rabbit confit with carrot puree and slaw sandwich and mashed potatoes with curds at Meat Press

A little less noteworthy was a sandwich of unsmoked brisket with aioli and red pepper, and least interesting was a sandwich with lacklustre roast beef, fennel and pickled carrots.

Roast beef sandwich at Meat Press on Armstrong Street.
Roast beef sandwich at Meat Press on Armstrong Street.

Timing seems to matter at Meat Press. On one weekend lunch visit, the shop had run out of the chicken club made with pork jowl, spicy mayo, kale and mushy peas. Once, when I arrived at the end of the afternoon, there were no sandwiches to be had. Fortunately, some pork ribs ($14) from the showcase they shared with cheeses and charcuteries were very good when they were taken home and reheated.

I’ve been told by Meat Press staff that dinner-hour service, presumably with dishes other than sandwiches, could be happening down the road. Let’s hope so. The best food and practices here so far give reason for high hopes.

Read more…

Dining Out: Asian Alley Serves Some Pho of Note in the ByWard Market

Asian Alley

8 Byward Market Sq., 613-860-9889,
Open: Sunday  11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Prices: main dishes $10.50 to $15.95
Access: no steps to front door or washrooms

My dining companion took a sip from his bowl of piping hot Vietnamese soup and exclaimed, “Ah. Downtown pho.”

We were eating last week at Asian Alley, a narrow eatery among the row of restaurants along ByWard Market Square, where, for starters, the funky, new-generation ambience sets it apart from Chinatown’s myriad and more traditional soup shops.

The 40-seat restaurant, which opened in August 2014, is sandwiched between a long wall painted with a graffiti-style, video-game-themed mural, and a large blackboard that re-lists the two-page menu’s choices. Underfoot is a floor made with thousands of preserved pennies, and behind the open kitchen are washrooms that are conversation-piece quirky. Adele’s playing on the sound system, not Vietnamese pop. Backless wooden seats and banquettes would be harder on bonier derrières if service here weren’t so fast.

But back to the pho. Asian Alley’s soups are more limited in number than what a full-on pho shop offers. The restaurant’s Facebook page and website mention that organic beef and chicken are used in dishes when possible. Also, the pho can cost a few dollars more here, although fortunately, the most expensive, signature soups are worth savouring.

Quite satisfying was Asian Alley’s rendition of bun cha ca ($13.95), the chicken-broth based soup with thin rice noodles and slippery, spongy slices of deep-fried fish-and-shrimp patties.

Bun Cha Ca soup from Asian Alley
Bun Cha Ca soup from Asian Alley

Equally good was the beefy special pho of thicker rice noodles and tender braised veal ($15.95). Its broth was winningly complex, with a strong star anise note, and my friend appreciated the optional and very much “downtown” fried egg that he ordered.

Braised veal soup at Asian Alley
Braised veal soup at Asian Alley

On another visit, a vegan friend tried the vegan pho ($10.50/$12), which turned out not to be a contradiction in terms. Its broth relied on a mushroom-based mix that we were told could be purchased in Chinatown.

Vegan pho at Asian Alley
Vegan pho at Asian Alley

I’ve tried that standard-issue beef pho ($10.50/$12), and prefer the razzle-dazzle of the premium soups. For one thing, the thinly sliced beef was not only well done to the point of toughness, but also flavour-deprived.

Beef Pho at Asian Alley
Beef Pho at Asian Alley

Like many an Asian restaurant, this one swaps its proteins into various dishes. The braised veal, for example, is available on rice too, or with stir-fried rice noodles or fried rice. To my taste buds, the most interesting of the meat options was beef rendang, a spicy Indonesian preparation with intense slow-cooked flavour that’s too infrequently seen in Ottawa.

The rendang did a fine job of enlivening a dish of chow fun rice noodles ($15.95). While it looked like casual, short-order, somewhat greasy stuff, the noodles were the lip-tingling satisfaction that the spice-hound at our table was craving.

Beef rendang chow fun at Asian Alley
Beef rendang chow fun at Asian Alley

Even if every other dish at Asian Alley didn’t appeal, I’d return just to try the rendang, perhaps in fried rice or in a sandwich.

Of the appetizers, pork potstickers ($10.95 for five) were winners, packed with a pork filling made punchy with lemongrass and nicely seared. We only wished they were a little less pricey, and that their sauce was more special than from-the-bottle hoisin. A rice wrap ($4.45 for one) disappointed with flavourless shrimp.

Potsticker dumplings at Asian Alley
Potsticker dumplings at Asian Alley

Shrimp roll at Asian Alley
Shrimp roll at Asian Alley


Chicken pad thai ($13.95), taken home and sampled, lacked the vibrant flavours that make better versions of the ubiquitous noodle dish worth getting excited about. More on the mark was the shrimp fried rice ($14.95).

Pad Thai from Asian Alley
Pad Thai from Asian Alley


Shrimp Fried Rice from Asian Alley- pix by Peter Hum Ottawa Citizen Photo Email
Shrimp Fried Rice from Asian Alley



Asian Alley is licensed, with several Beau’s and Bicycle Craft beers among the choices. There are no desserts currently available,  although the online menu lists a few. Now, a server might direct you and your sweet tooth to the Cupcake Lounge next door.

Servers have always been prompt and enthusiastic, and they’ve ranged from completely in-the-know to very much neophyte.

That Asian Alley Facebook notes that the restaurant’s chef a few weeks ago returned to China — for a family visit, that knowledgeable server told us. The Facebook page added another reason, saying that “Chef Lisa” was “on a secret mission to discover and renew herself with the wonderful street food scene there.”

Other Facebook posts show more dishes that I’ve not seen available at Asian Alley when I’ve visited, including bao buns and laksa, the spicy Chinese-Malay soup. Given what I’ve enjoyed most, I’m hoping for greater ambitions along these lines from Asian Alley.

Read more…

Ottawa Wine & Food Festival Seeks Judges Order to Stay Alive

The Ottawa Wine & Food Festival will shut down unless a judge restrains the Ottawa Convention Centre from renting its space to other events during the first two weeks of November 2016 to the exclusion of the festival, a court heard Thursday.  

If there is no festival at the convention centre during that time period, as per the festival’s wishes and long tradition, “it will kill the business,” said Fraser MacKinnon Blair, one of the festival’s two lawyers.  

The festival, operated by Treefort Hip Productions, the company of Joan Culliton, is embroiled in a larger legal battle with the convention centre, distinct from the motion it put Thursday before Ontario Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett.

Late last year, the convention centre filed a statement of claim alleging Treefort owed more than $156,000 in connection with the November 2015 festival. Culliton and her company responded with a counterclaim seeking $9.6 million in damages from the convention centre due to an alleged breach of contract.

None of the allegations from either side has been tested in court.

Treefort’s other lawyer, Scott McLean, argued that he was not asking Parfett to build a contract between Culliton’s company and the convention centre. After she purchased her event in 2007, Culliton staged it first at Lansdowne Park for several years, then at the convention centre. Before that, the 30-year-old event’s precursor, the Ottawa Wine and Food Show, was held at the Ottawa Convention Centre, typically during the first two weeks of November.

McLean argued there was a protocol and memorandum of understanding that supported his client’s receiving a booking at the convention centre during early November each year.  

Court heard that the convention centre has contracts with GTEC and with the Ottawa Police Gala and the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show during the first week of November 2016. McLean submitted that the festival would not disrupt GTEC, as there was only one day of overlap, and that it could share the convention Centre’s space with the police and clothing show events.

McLean argued that this time frame was crucial for Culliton’s event, which was staged last year over Halloween and suffered severe financial consequences, allegedly as a result. He also argued that no other venue, such as the EY Centre, the Ottawa Conference and Meeting Centre on Coventry Road or facilities in downtown Gatineau, was an acceptable option for the festival.

Convention centre lawyer Andrew Lenz maintained that the centre had no contractual obligation to rent space to the festival, and that furthermore, due to financial and other problems, the centre had good reason not to do business with Culliton.

The centre cannot ignore that Culliton owes $156,000 “in circumstances that are, to say the least, highly problematic,” Lenz said. The centre, a provincial Crown agency, “is trying to recover the taxpayers’ money,” Lenz said.

He argued that Culliton “flunked” an assessment of last year’s event because it was marred by over-pouring of alcohol, intoxication, rowdiness, urination, vomiting and other problems.

“How bad does it have to get before my client has the right to say enough?” Lenz asked. “How much vomit do we have to have?” 

Parfett reserved her decision but did not say when she would deliver it.

Read more…

Dining Out: A modest take on Congolese fare at Holland Kisa Grill

The day after last week’s Snowpocalypse, we wanted to put all the white stuff and shovelling behind us with a meal that had nothing to do with winter. Congolese chicken, we thought, might just do the trick.

Not that we knew what Congolese chicken would taste like. We would need to make our first visit to Holland Kisa Grill, which opened last fall where the Red Sea Café was on Holland Avenue’s restaurant row north of Wellington Street West. Even then, what little information the restaurant offers on its menu is more intriguing than descriptive. The chicken there is “seasoned with spices of the Bayou Djakarta style,” says the menu, leaving us to wonder whether this Congolese food would taste of Louisiana or Indonesia.

Chicken dinner at Holland Kisa Grill
Chicken dinner at Holland Kisa Grill

We had our fingers crossed, because we’re big fans of the spicy, charcoal-grilled birds served by some of Ottawa’s West African restaurants, and we wondered how chicken prepared by a central African establishment would compare. Holland Kisa Grill, the sister restaurant of Grillade Kisanola in Gatineau, also promises the smoky appeal of charcoal-grilled meat.

The restaurant, we found, was modest in more than a few ways. It seats about 20, and its decor is dominated by a Renoir print and a large TV that I’ve not seen in use during my three visits. Its menu is compact, lacking in desserts. Also, some items listed on the menu weren’t always available. A liquor license application is in the works, we’re told. We’ve experienced delays in getting food because, in one instance, staffing was limited to one person who was cooking and serving.

Still, there’s pride here about the food. After all, this is a place where the Wi-Fi password refers to the eatery’s superior chicken.

It turned out that the chicken was quite good — not the best in town, by our tastes, but definitely seasoned appealingly and enjoyable to eat. Not so much spicy as deeply savoury, brusquely hacked, bone-in chicken pieces yielded moist, flavourful meat after sufficient prying.

Grilled goat involved more chewing, but the salty yet intriguingly dusky seasoning made the effort worthwhile.

Goat dinner at Holland Kisa Grill
Goat dinner at Holland Kisa Grill

Whole grilled dorade, which anglophones would call bream, was a winner thanks to the flavour boost of a perky relish-like sauce made with lemongrass and coriander, although eating it did involve grappling with or spitting out many small bones.

Whole dorade at Holland Kisa Grill
Whole dorade at Holland Kisa Grill

 We wanted to try the house-made samosas, but were told that the kitchen was out. A few days later, I ordered some to go and wound up waiting 20 minutes longer than the 40 minutes I was told it would take to prepare them. (That Wi-Fi password came in handy.) The beef samosas (neither chicken nor shrimp, both listed, were available) were crisp and tasty, although awfully oily too.

Samosas at Holland Kisa Grill
Samosas at Holland Kisa Grill

My final visit was made this week to sample the eatery’s brochettes at lunch, and to see if these $11.99 options provided better value than the pricier dinners.

Of the chicken, goat and beef brochettes, the chicken was clearly the best, as per the Wi-Fi password. Seasoned winningly as the chicken pieces at dinner had been, the boneless pieces were sufficiently moist. Both the goat and beef tasted basically of themselves and charcoal, but were tough and dry.

Chicken brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill
Chicken brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill Peter Hum / Ottawa Citizen
Beef brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill
Beef brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill
Goat brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill
Goat brochettes at Holland Kisa Grill

All dishes have come with mounds of very ordinary salad, and something starchy (fries, plantains, rice and beans). The plump, just-cooked, ungreasy plantains were always a cut above the other choices.

So, some kinks and omissions seem still to be worked out at Holland Kisa Grill. Unique flavourings and friendly service both count for something, but unavailabilities, slowness and tough meat detract. Until the eatery raises its bar, chicken and plantains seem like the best bets for a simple but satisfying meal.

Read more…