It was as if I were in on a well-kept secret. The landscape, the river, the bike paths, the museums, the culinary scene and regal architecture stunned my senses. I am staying in the famed castle hotel, Fairmont Chateau Laurier, celebrating its 100th anniversary, and it lives up to its castle status. Had I known Ottawa, Ontario was such a spectacular destination, I would have visited this part of Canada sooner. But I am quite happy to have the opportunity to explore the area during the spring tulip season.
Spring seems to be the most beautiful time of year for Ottawa, unless you enjoy a snow-driven winter of skiing. But in spring, Ottawa welcomes its natives and tourists alike, perhaps due to the Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest in the world, and one that has grown to display more than 300,000 varieties in its 60th year. I indulge in a glorious bike ride along the Rideau Canal through a path of the gardens in Commissioners Park before touring through Parliament, which reveals more stunning architecture, inside and out, and a peek inside a room with a throne, where Queen Elizabeth makes seldom appearances at meetings. When she does, I wonder if she enjoys teatime in Zoe’s Lounge, which offers a menu fit for a queen.
On a culinary crusade, dinner in the Fairmont Chateau Laurier’s Wilfrid’s is all about the RMS Titanic, since the first owner of the establishment, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, had been booked as a passenger on the ill-fated vessel, but backed out last minute when his mother felt it wouldn’t be safe. She was right, yet he ultimately fell to his death in the sea on a separate journey. Although the Chateau Laurier planned to open its doors on April 26, 1912, it was delayed when Charles Melville Hays, the visionary behind the hotel, perished on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. The Chateau opened its doors June 1, 1912, and since the “Gilded Age” of their opening through modern times, the hotel has hosted heads of state, celebrities, dignitaries and guests from around the world. I spot Lou Ferrigno, former hulk, in town for a comic book convention.
To commemorate 100 years, an adaptation of the First-Class Menu on RMS Titanic, which offered 11 courses, has been adapted to modern times, but with classic tastes. Our table begins with oyster a la russe, and while we enjoy each tasty morsel, we learn that the Titanic carried 1,221 quarts of oysters when it left Southampton. From there, we move on to a beef consommé infused with port wine, called Olga, named after a woman on board. In honor of French nobility on board, roast duck was served as well. Dessert of Titanic proportions is served — a trio, in fact, of Waldorf pudding, chocolate éclairs and French vanilla ice cream, much like that served 100 years ago.
Page 2 of 3 - Aside from castles and tulips, food is the central theme to the area, and a walk on the C’est Bon Cooking Food Tour around the ByWard Market begins at the Metropolitain Brasserie on Sussex Drive, where we taste the best shoestring fries with aioli, and where they have “Hill Hour” weekdays from 4-7 p.m. A stop in cheese shops and produce markets are in order, as well as the Beaver Tail stand (think fried dough). On a corner, young boys sing a cappella opera on the streets.
The Courtyard is where we sample an egg plate cooked by the method “sous-vide” (bacon pouch in water bath, cooked for a day in a vacuum-sealed bag) by the molecular gastronomer/chef Michael Hay, and taste truffle honey at La Bottega Nicastro. We stroll past a previous lunch stop at Stella Osteria, a hip stop with patio tables for those who want to absorb the scenery and sunshine, and past Play Food & Wine, a funky eatery that specializes in small plates that include scallops, Ontario walleye (a pickerel), fiddleheads and baked Alaska. We sip on Vouvray, Moncontour from Loire, France and late harvest merlot from Cattail Creek, Niagara.
If you want a good meal, head to Ottawa, and you’ll get a side of culture and more than a sip of extravagance. In the meantime, here is a recipe that will bring you back a century, best enjoyed while dressed in your finest and seated at a linen covered table with your best silverware and China.
- courtesy Executive Chef Daniel Buss, Wilfrid’s
4 6 oz. tenderloin steaks
3 medium peeled Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup veal demi glaze
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 sprig thyme
1-1/2 lbs. butter
Fresh ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon truffle oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or canned truffles
8 cippolini onions
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1. Clarify butter: Place butter in a medium saucepot over low heat. When butter is melted and starts to separate, skim off milk solids as they come up. Continue until butter is clear and no milk solids remain. Strain and set aside in a warm place.
2. In a medium saucepan, sauté shallots in oil. Add thyme and bay leaf. Cook until shallots are translucent. Deglaze with red wine. Reduce by half, add demi glaze. Reduce by one third. Season with salt, pepper; mount with butter and truffle oil. Add chopped truffles.
3. Anna potato: Put 2 tablespoons clarified butter in a nonstick skillet with a large circle cookie cutter placed as a ring mold. On a mandolin, cut your potatoes thin, less than an inch thick. Place one piece in the center of the mold and then layer around, overlapping by 1/4 inch. Brush with clarified butter and repeat 2 more times. Turn pan onto medium heat, remove ring mold. Brown on one side and put in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes until golden on both sides. Set aside.
Page 3 of 3 - 4. Season beef tenderloin with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium/high heat, brown on both sides. Put in oven at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until 110 degrees (medium rare); rest for 10 minutes, then serve.
5. Peel cippolini onions. Place in medium skillet with a tablespoon of clarified butter, sauté onions until lightly browned. Place in oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until soft.
6. To serve: Place one piece Anna potato on plate. Put cippolini onions on top of potato. Then place one more Anna potato on top. Take rested tenderloin and put beside potato. Ladle sauce around the tenderloin.
Charlene Peters is Editor Special Features at GateHouse Media New England. She can be reached at email@example.com.