Category Archives: Food

Clutching forks and knives…

Frances Boehmer is not one to mess with. A former waitress at the Ritz 3, she hoped to one day own the restaurant, but her boss sneered, “When pigs fly.”

Ten years ago, the pigs spread their wings for Boehmer. Her restaurant, Flying Piggy’s Bistro Italiano is a diamond in the rough of Ottawa South, serving up fresh homemade pasta and other Italian favourites.

Fettuccine con scallops con basil

Fettuccine con scallops con basil

Nestled at Bank Street and Heron Road, Piggy’s looks like a weather-worn cabin, unworthy of attention. Yet the parking lot is always full – there is more here than meets the eye.

On a Thursday evening, the cozy restaurant is busy, but not full. A long table hosts a party of retirees, and there are a few couples seated at tables-for-two. Piggy’s has its fair share of regular customers, and reservations are recommended. The dining room, which holds about 40 people, is packed for lunches and weekends.

The dining room, awash in cheery orange paint, is dotted with pig knickknacks – a piggy mobile, pig holiday ornaments, even speckled hogs stare up from placemats. Handwritten chalkboards announce the specials, and soft jazz music plays below the hum of dinner conversation.

The menu is varied, but concise. Generous appetizers don’t disappoint. Springy mixed greens, artichoke hearts and button mushrooms are tossed in a creamy basil aioli, and topped with slender sprouts ($8.00). Chicken satay seems a long way from Thailand, but tender skewered morsels arrive alongside asian-style slaw and peanut sauce with a zing of heat ($11.00).

Service is friendly, familiar and no-nonsense. There’s no snooty flourish here, it’s like having your favourite uncle serve you dinner. For mains, our server recommends the full portion of pasta over the half size. At a few dollars more, he points out it’s a better value.

The Flighty Boar

The Flighty Boar

The Flighty Boar’s crispy prosciutto and sauteed mushrooms lend their smoky flavour to a bed of elastic homemade fettuccine in a slick of white wine and cream ($15.00). A seafood pasta dish ($17.50) overflows with shrimp, mussels and scallops, tossed in a perfect marinara sauce  – not too sweet or acidic. Silky noodles in a cream sauce flecked with basil are just the right nesting spot for succulent scallops ($17.50).

Sundried tomato pesto noodles with pear and ewe's milk cheese

Sundried tomato pesto noodles with pear and ewe's milk cheese

The menu specials are equally tempting. Ripe pears add unexpected sweetness to short twisted noodles in sundried tomato pesto with rapini and ewe’s milk cheese. A large rib eye steak is perched atop turnips and other tender vegetables, drizzled with a reduction of currants and gin. The sauce is slightly overpowering, but well matched with the steak, which can hold its own.

A full dessert menu is a pleasant surprise, as all sweets are made on-site.
One misstep though is the crème brulée special. While Piggys’ chocolate-fig anise crème is a brave flavour combination, the dish falls flat. A good helping of the dark brown crème could use a little more brulée, and while the fig chunks are a treat, the chocolate weighs it down. The flavours are a delight, but the dish is better described as a rich mousse.

A luscious chocolate cheesecake with a walnut cookie crust hits the right balance between dense and fluffy, and the slight orange scent makes it a refreshing end to the meal.

Flying Piggy’s is fine rustic Italian cooking at its best, served in a warm, casual atmosphere. It’s a rare gem of a spot, and for Boehmer, those little oinkers are soaring to great heights.

Condiments and Ice Cream: A Theory

You’re at a barbeque. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, you’re wearing your favourite flip flops and there’s a cooler full of your favourite beer.

The host tosses you a hot dog, hamburger, or veggie alternative of your choice.

Best Buddies!

Best Buddies!

You sidle up to the condiments, but obviously party planning isn’t the host’s strong point – they are only offering two condiments, ketchup and mustard. For some reason, you can only pick one to dress your weenie or burg. Choose your favourite. Don’t ask why. The cosmos will be thrown out of whack unless you select just one condiment.

What did you choose?

You eat and the meal is delicious. Now your host is serving up ice cream cones, but they’re running a tight budget and the only flavours are vanilla and chocolate. Like before, for some untold reason you can only choose one.

What did you choose?

Chocaholic, anyone?

Chocaholic, anyone?

Now, the theory:

I believe that those who choose ketchup probably also chose vanilla ice cream. Ketchup-Vanilla people are classic. They are often picky or unadventurous eaters. Cheetos or Regular chips were probably a favourite snack as a child. They are probably shy. They are level-headed, kind, and emotionally, they run on an even keel.

I believe those who choose mustard also chose chocolate ice cream. Mustard-Chocolate people are generally unruly. They are adventurous eaters, and usually enjoy spicy or sour foods. By nature they are extroverted, boisterous and pretty in-your-face.

Of course, there are those anomalies that mix and match outside the theory’s parameters. These people tend to strike a balance between the two categories – perhaps the ketchup lover in them makes them a picky eater, but the chocolate ice cream streak makes them a social butterfly.

Note: These patterns don’t hold true for everyone, but they are fairly accurate. These are my unscientific findings after several years’ investigation and results. Like any theory, there are exceptions to the rule.

Try this theory on your friends and see where they fit in. Does the theory hold any merit or am I just making wild assumptions?

Books to sink your teeth into

I love food. Always have, always will. The most memorable moments from my childhood involve food. Making mud pies at the beach, playing house with plastic food, making “salsa” and peppery carrot soup… just to name a few.

It’s no coincidence my favourite books as a kid have some foodie element to them. Let’s discuss.

Teddy Rabbit by Kathy Stinson

Teddy Rabbit

Teddy Rabbit

A book about Tony, a little boy from Toronto who’s going to the Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Centre Island. But Tony’s worried – he doesn’t have a real teddy  – his favourite toy is a plush Rabbit. It’s okay though, the kids’ “Teddies” are all kinds of animals, and Tony and Rabbit are welcome to join the picnic.

Yum Yum: Tony’s mom packs carrots in a paper bag for the picnic. The kids and Teddy animals eat sandwiches, cookies, berries with honey, tinned tuna and carrots. Stéphane Poulin’s artwork is drool-worthy.

Fish Fry by Susan Saunders

Edith goes to a fish fry picnic on a Texas forest riverbank with her family. There, she and gangly Eugene Greene meet an unwelcome reptilian visitor.

Yum Yum: Cookies, cakes, pies, and huge jars of pickles. Butter beans, potato salad, hush puppies, deviled eggs, fried catfish and watermelon cooling in the river. S.D. Schindler’s detailed illustrations make me hungry.

Too Many Babas by Carolyn Croll

Too Many Babas

Too Many Babas

A group of Russian grandmothers all want a hand in Baba Edis’ soup. In this story, too many cooks is not a good thing!

Yum Yum: Their first pot of soup is too garlicky, peppery and salty. When the Babas delegate and organize tasks, their cabbage, potato, bean and carrot soup is delish! My 1979 edition’s sepia illustrations lack pizazz, but the updated version has colourful folk art.

Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak

Chicken Soup With Rice

Chicken Soup With Rice

This rhyming book of months is a delight! I enjoyed my birth month most of all:

“In May I truly think it best to be a robin lightly dressed concocting soup inside my nest. Mix it once, mix it twice, mix that chicken soup with rice.”

– Sendak

My copy is well-loved, and taped up.

Yum Yum: Chicken soup with rice, all the time! Sendak’s illustrations set the tone for the month, but always incorporate the book’s namesake.

A Difficult Day by Eugenie Fernandes

A Difficult Day

A Difficult Day

Melinda has crumbs in her bed, she can’t sleep well, a nasty boy punches her in gym class, and she’s rude to her Mom. On the whole, it’s a rough day.

Yum Yum: At bathtime Melinda feels like a noodle in a beautifully illustrated bowl of chicken soup. Later, she and her sympathetic Mom share chocolate chip cookies under the bed.

And let’s not forget my favourite of the bunch…

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

Bread and Jam for Frances

Bread and Jam for Frances

Frances is a fussy yet lovable badger.  She soon grows tired of her favourite food and yearns to spice things up! This book reminds me of my childhood bread and jam infatuation  – every day for breakfast – bread cut in half, both cut sides facing me.

Yum Yum: Spaghetti and meatballs, veal cutlets and elaborate packed lunches complete with hardboiled eggs, a pickle and a cardboard salt shaker. Lillian Hoban’s simply-coloured illustrations don’t skimp on detail.

So many mouth-watering reads! What were your favourite books as a child?

Not so Hot Pot

When it’s cold outside, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, so warm its windows are fogged up.

Or so I thought.

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (1344 Bank St.) just opened at Bank and Riverside, and some friends and I went to check it out. Upon entering, we were hit with a wall of aroma, a complex layer of savoury scents. We weren’t sure what we were smelling, but we were hungry, and eager to chow down.

The place was hopping. During our hour-long wait, the manager appeased us with “Chinese desserts”. These were little balls with sweet sesame paste in the centre, rolled in a coating of whole sesame seeds. The starchy, gooey texture with a subtle crunch was odd, but a welcome surprise.

After unsuccessful waiting games of I-Spy and Movie-Star-Movie, number 32 was called – our table was ready. We were led to a speedily-wiped table, slick with moisture from either cleaning cloths or the latest occupants’ soup broth.

We ordered two pots of half mild, half spicy broth. The dinner special included delicately sliced beef, lamb and chicken, an array of many exotic foods I’d never heard of, and a selection of 9 different bottomless beverages.

I was parched and scrambled up from the table, glass in hand. I’d had my eye on the red juice fountain since we walked in. The flavour was sickeningly sweet and decidedly strawberry. Not thirst-quenching in the least, but what did I really expect from vivid red juice? Water would be my next pick.

Our sweaty server soon arrived with the soups and sliced meats. He turned the tabletop burners on, and soon the broths were bubbling away. The soups were teeming with garlic cloves, ginger, peppercorns, and chopped red chilies, among other unfamiliar pods and berries.

With the bovine and ovine slices already on our table, the glowing green refrigerators beckoned to us, their trays full of curious morsels. The familiar (broccoli, baby bok choy, yams) sat alongside the mysterious (cloud ear fungus, kelp, quail eggs and lotus roots). Shiny flat and vermicelli rice noodles seemed dull next to a cheery trio of white, yellow and green Shanghai style noodles.

The ungarnished trays looked appetizing only when brimming. Pools of leftover liquid in neglected and emptying trays were a turnoff.

Plates piled high, and armed with wooden chopsticks, we dunked our choices into the gurgling pots. The meats took less time than expected – only 30 seconds for a tender bite. The spicy soup was sour, with a zing of heat. The mild soup was salty at first taste, yet complex herbal flavours soon emerged.

The soups truly were the “highlight” of the meal – we spent more time with our faces in a pot instead of enjoying each other’s company.

By all-you-can-eat standards, my portions were meager. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the food. After my first plate, I felt like I’d had enough. The bright fluorescent lights, the heady steam wafting up from every direction, watching a friend’s raw squid jiggle its way into the boiling potion – I felt totally overwhelmed.

I stepped out for some air. Everyone at the table must also have had their fill, because when I returned, the table was cleared, and they were ready to go.

This place is not for the faint of heart. The food is tasty and unusual for a meat-and-potatoes palate, yet the atmosphere, presentation, and overall tidiness of the spot is seriously lacking. The restaurant is a welcome addition to Ottawa’s food scene, but these kinks must be worked out.

As my friends and I returned into the cold, tummies full and our clothes smelling of soup, we all agreed on one thing: Mongolian Hot Pot was an experience.

However, not an experience that I wish to repeat.