Review: La Belle Patate

Despite being located adjacent to a somewhat seedy little strip mall, La Belle Patate is rumoured to have food belying it’s surroundings, and I’ve been anxious to try it out. Today I’m on my own for dinner, and swing in on a whim.
It’s late afternoon, that time between lunch and dinner where things aren’t too busy and indeed, there’s only two other people inside the tiny restaurant.
While the outside of the restaurant looks inviting, with it’s twinkly lights and quaint awning, the inside is every bit the companion eatery to the aforementioned seedy strip mall. Formica counters run across the front and left side, with stools. A couple of cafeteria-style tables fill up the middle, and down the right side is the order counter. Freezers are being filled in the back of the space, and a small television mounted in the opposite corner of the order counter.
A very angry Maury guest is berating her daughter for sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend SEVERAL TIMES OH NO YOU DIDN’T! Another guest has fathered five children and apparently this has caused great distress to their five different mothers. There are two young men working behind the counter, and they are so appalled at these behaviours that they are shouting along with the audience, righteously horrified at the loose morals on display.
Their state of righteous indignation makes it hard to get their attention, so I join them in hissing and booing at the man-whore and slutty daughter until they are ready to take my order.
Known for serving “Quebecois comfort food”, the Patate’s reputation is built on poutine and the menu lists many variations; I’m not a squeaky cheese curd fan, so I opt for a smoked meat sandwich and fries.
The order-taker is giving instruction to the sandwich maker on how to make the food, and praises him for heaping the smoked meat so high; I note lack of gloves, hand washing and hats so I conclude sanitation practices are not as well-regarded as afternoon talk shows.
The food is ready fairly quickly, and I’ve had my fill of television crazy-pants, so I take my order home.
Unpacking my grease spotted paper bag, I find a pickle in the bottom, wrapped in foil to keep it crunchy; the fries are copious but sadly, barely warm. I’ve got the leftover lunch fries, not fresh ones, and first taste indicates the fat is likely older than the cook. There’s also an odd sweet taste. When potatoes get old, the carbohydrates begin to break down into sugars, giving that same flavour. And, some fast food restaurants have used sugar on their fries to help them brown faster, so there’s that. I’m leaning to the old potato theory, which is too bad because they are the kind of hand cut fries that are hard to find anymore.
IMG_0841The stack of smoked meat defies the elasticity of my jaws, and I have to pick away at it rather than take a big bite. Now, I enjoy smoked meat sandwiches. I’ve eaten at the legendary Dunn’s, and I make an excellent smoked meat sandwiches. I’ve even had a song written about my smoked meat sandwich, the circumstances of which are much more humorous and much less pretentious than the statement sounds. Point being, I know what I like in a smoked meat sandwich.
And this one is outstanding. The rye bread is fresh, the mustard tart, and the meat warm and delicious. Well worth the Maury and the old fries.
This is a lot of food on one plate, so although it was 12.50 for sandwich and fries, it’s easily enough for two. That makes for a cheap date.
I must be getting soft in my old age, because I view the counter staff’s fascination with the television show indulgently, and was not as irritated as I perhaps should have been. Disappointment with old fries is mitigated by the excellence of the sandwich, and I will definitely go back.
La Belle Patate earns a return visit–but perhaps I’ll check the tv schedule first.

La Belle Patate
1215 Esquimalt Road
Tel: 250-220-8427
On the web here

Sneak Peek

My next cookbook is scheduled for release in Spring 2015, and I just got a look at the potential cover. This is a little piece of that. There is a shot of one of the recipes under the title banner, but as it’s subject to change, I haven’t included it in this sneak peek.

nfld kitchen cover1

And with that, National Blog Writing Month comes to an end. Thank you for joining me daily, and as always, for your feedback.

Simple Roast Chicken

We had snow last night, a rare occurrence for these parts. The colder weather puts a livelier spring in our dogs’ steps, and sparks a strong craving for comfort cooking. Preferably something that cooks long and slow in the oven, aromas permeating the house and tantalizing noses.
Tonight, it’s roast chicken. Roasting a chicken doesn’t have to be complicated, but it wasn’t until watching Heston Blumenthal’s “In Search of Perfection” series that I realized just how simple it should be. (Episodes of this incredible show are available on YouTube, and the accompanying cookbook should be on every kitchen witch’s shelf)
Here’s my interpretation.
Rinse chicken, including the cavity, with cold water. Make sure there’s no “goodie bag” of giblets inside.
Place chicken in shallow pan. Not tied, stuffed, or fussed with in any way. If you want stuffing, make and bake it separately–it’s easier and less risky food safety wise that way.
Now, get out your salt and pepper. Fresh cracked black pepper and fine sea salt is great if you have it, if now, whatever’s in your shakers will do. Liberally apply salt and pepper over the whole chicken–key word being liberally. Don’t be shy!
Put the chicken in a 350F oven, and roast until skin is golden brown and the internal temperature is 185F. (For roasting charts and more, he Chicken Farmers of Canada know their stuff, and all the info is here)
IMG_0566Let the chicken rest on a cutting board while you make your gravy, or reheat your vegetables, or set the table, or whatever other last minute thing you need to attend to. This resting period allows for the reabsorption of juices back into the meat. Carve, and eat!

Putting the “NO” in “NANOWRIMO”

I started out the month with a lofty goal–to take part in National Novel Writing Month and to put at least 50K words out by December 1. In conjunction, I would also take on NaBloWriMo, and post to this blog daily. That was the easy part.
Turns out the despite having all the time in the day I could ask for (or maybe because of that?) I am nowhere near the goal of 50k words, and unless I can churn out thousands of words by Monday, I am not going to win NaNoWriMo this year.
But although my focus has unraveled, I want to finish the horror manuscript I started, I just need to get back on track.
And last night, I got just the shot of inspiration I needed to get Silvern Voices talking to me again.

The Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel

We stopped by the Empress Hotel, to see our family visitors off. The Empress, like the hotel upon which the physical model of Silvern Voices’ Constellation is built, is also a former national railway hotel, an historic property laden with character. Unlike the Constellation’s inspiration, the Empress has had her air of grand elegance maintained, and as we made our way to our nephew’s suite, I could feel that palpable sense of presence, eerily familiar.
The Empress is much larger than the Constellation, and we walked through a maze of hallways, some ending abruptly, others veering off in seemingly random directions. Wide halls, patterned wallpaper, crown mouldings and archways–it wouldn’t have surprised me if we’d bumped into a set of twins anywhere along our route. Or, actually, a couple in period dress, heading out for an evening.
And so while I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, I don’t feel like I lost. As I continue to let the Voices tell their tale, I’ll continue to share from time to time.
Thank you for reading.

East VS West: Battle Cod

In cod we trust–or can we?

Atlantic Cod

Atlantic Cod

On the East Coast and especially Newfoundland, cod is not just a fish. Cod is THE fish. Cod is more than a fish, actually, cod is a deity, the bringer of wealth, the currency of the settlers, the hopes and dreams of the early immigrants.
And when we mismanaged our fishery, and didn’t protect it against others, cod left us for our sins and Newfoundland still waits for the day when cod will come again.
In Newfoundland, When people say “fish”, they mean “cod”, and cod comes in two forms: salt fish and fresh fish. Pretty straightforward, no false cods there.
Not so on the West Coast, where there are plenty of pretenders to the throne; even the Pacific cod goes by several names: true cod, grey cod, Alaska cod.
pacific codThen there are the false prophets that aren’t even in the cod family–black cod (sablefish), lingcod. Pollock can be labeled “Alaskan cod”, ¬†and that’s just the tip of the marketing iceberg.





Let’s look at it scientifically. There are three fish currently classed together as cod, in the Gadus genus:
Gadus morhua, Atlantic cod
Gadus macrocephalus, Pacific cod
Gadus ogac, Greenland cod

The two fish that I’ve noticed most marketed as “cod” here are not in the same family.
Anoplopoma fimbria, Black cod, is actually Sablefish (also nicknamed butterfish). Not quite sure why this is marketed as cod when it’s such a lovely fish that can stand on its own merits. The flesh is smooth, rich, and velvety textured.
Ophiodon elongatus, Lingcod, is of the greenling family.

Once the fish has been filleted, it’s very difficult to tell the difference unless you’ve seen a lot of each species, so you have to place some trust in your fishmonger.
Of the Gadus genus, Atlantic cod has the whitest flesh, with a pearly sheen. It’s firmer than the other cods, which remind me more of haddock. And although all cod has a mild flavour, I find that of Atlantic cod to be more distinct than other whitefish including Pacific cod.
Taste and texture are close, especially when used in preparations like fishcakes or fish and chips, I’ve had the chance now to cook with grey cod a few times and can taste the difference, subtle as it may be.

Based on the taste, and Atlantic cod’s historical significance, and the fact it doesn’t have the identity issues of the poor confused Pacific cousin, I give Atlantic cod the win.

Feeding Birds

IMG_0325Our new, closest neighbours are birds. All kinds of birds. IMG_7030
Out front, sea birds: seagulls, Canada geese, ducks, a lone heron, a bald eagle, and turkey vultures. Out back, the land birds: owls, crows, Stellar’s jays, robins, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, fat little brown ground feeders, quails, and more of which I cannot identify.
And so this year, I decided a bird feeder was in order. Sounds simple, right? I thought so too.
Aside from an ill-fated experiment with a hummingbird feeder, I’ve never had one before. Off I go to Canadian Tire to pick one up, and here’s the first problem: there are lots, and lots of bird feeders. Everything from tables for two, to deluxe condo style towers that can feed a crowd. There’s kinds for nectar, and seed, and suet. Okay, I think, I’ll get the biggest one, we have a lot of birds, and this community table will be nice. But then I see one labelled “woodpeckers” and I get that one too, because they have a different diet, apparently. And then another, little one that I think would be good for those newlyweds looking for an intimate dinner.
Okey dokey, as I stare at the cart, that’s great, I have the feeders, now what to put in them?
At first glance, I only need two things: suet plugs, and bird seed. Suet plugs, no problem. Bird seed–there’s about a gazillion different kinds. What would be on the menu? Sunflower seeds? Dried fruit mix? Nut blend? Premium? Songbird? Winter mix? Peanuts? Peanuts! I have a squirrel hanging around too, have to keep him happy and out of the feeders. Finally settling on a bag that had happy-looking birds on the front, I head home.
Then it hits me: community table, intimate dinners for two, dietary restrictions, special menus, menu theme–feeding birds is just like opening a restaurant.
At least it’s a self-serve.