Cocktail Party

Last night was the cocktail party for my husband’s work, which I attended as his plus-one. This is a yearly event held early every Christmas holiday season, and the general purpose is for middle- and upper-management to schmooze with clients. In years past it was open to all employees, which I got a kick out of because it was one of the few chances to see a lot of the non-managerial staff dressed in their finest, since so many of them never get more formal than jeans and a T-shirt for the average work day. I do miss that.

Of course, I don’t have anyone that I need to schmooze with; as the spouse of an employee, my role is mostly ornamental, although I am expected to occasionally make polite conversation. Mostly, it’s pretty much understood that I am there for the free food and drink. And boy, does the company put out a spread! This year the event was held at the newly-renovated NAC (National Arts Centre), although for many years prior it was held in a banquet hall at the nearby Westin Hotel.

The cold buffet was splendid. There was a wide array of Quebec cheeses (foreground center and background right), along with a delightfully large selection of sushi and sashimi (background left, where people are serving themselves).

The cold buffet also featured a couple of charcuterie platters (front and center) and, my favourite on the cold buffet, maple whiskey planked Chinook salmon with onion marmalade and caper remoulade.

There was an oyster bar where some of the caterers were shucking oysters fresh all evening. I’m told that there’s a real technique to doing so without slicing the crap out of your fingers; I’m pretty sure I’d rather not give it a try, myself. These oysters were tasty and fresh, and although I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, I quite enjoyed them. My husband tried his first oyster on the half shell last night and proclaimed it to be “meh”, mostly because of the slimy texture.

There were also a number of hot food stations scattered throughout the halls. Of course, the portions were tiny so that one could have a bite of this and a bite of that, but there was no limit as to how many each guest could take. There was a take on the traditional roast turkey with dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. The plate was garnished with microgreens. (What is it with this microgreen trend lately? They’re everywhere! It’s like how everything used to be garnished with parsley in the 70’s.) This was decent, with the highest point being the flavour of the gravy, but overall it was missing “oomph”.

The lamb was much nicer than the turkey, with a very soft texture and a savoury accompanying sauce (which I believe was polenta-based). And, of course, microgreens.

The funniest dish of the evening was what the servers called a “beef martini”. In each martini glass, starting from the bottom, was mashed potato, roast beef in gravy, tomatoes, microgreens (!), and crispy fried bamboo shoots. Despite the name, the dish is meant to be eaten with a fork, not drunk. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the tomatoes were perfectly seasoned, and the crispy topping set the rest off in an interesting fashion. There was usually a line at this station throughout the night.

My favourite dish of the evening by far was the seared scallops and jumbo shrimp in Maker’s Mark whisky, on a smear of Gruyere white sauce, with a scattering of microgreens (!!). The seafood was cooked up fresh to order and there was always a line at this station, with people coming back again for more over and over again. The scallops were melt-in-your mouth, and although the shrimp were not as excellent in comparison, they were still very good.

After speeches by the company’s head honchos, the desserts were brought out. There were French macarons, which I had seen many times but I had never actually tried before. I had expected them to be more crispy and wafer-like, but they were actually quite soft.

As always, the chocolate-covered strawberries were a hit.

I didn’t try all of the dessert mouthfulls, but the peach thingies (upper left corner) were quite nice. The brown desserts at the center of the photo were not chocolate like I’d anticipated; they rather surprised me with a strong sour lemon flavour. Once I got over my initial shock, they were quite nice. And the traditional Nanaimo bars on the right hand side of the photo were pretty good too.

All in all, I had a lovely time at the cocktail party. I returned home stuffed to the gills and just a little bit tipsy. I loved the new venue, with its huge windows and views of the Chateau Laurier, War Memorial, and Parliament Buildings. I liked every food I tried, and I even loved a few of them. I do miss a few dishes that were standards at the old venue, like the roast lamb stuffed with rice pilaf (I’m pretty sure they did that same dish every year for over a decade and each time it was cleaned down to the bones). Last year they also served Oka cheese melted raclette style from a half-wheel and spread over something… Bread? Potatoes? I ccan’t remember now, all I remember is that the cheese was delicious and I was really hoping for it again. However, I’d trade the Oka for this year’s scallops in a heartbeat.

Ice Cream Parlours

It’s been unseasonably hot here this past week or so, and it is forecast to be so for the next few days. By “unseasonably hot” I mean temperatures reaching 32°C (89.6°F), with a humidex of 42°C (107.6°F) every day since Saturday, and not much cooler than that the week before. This is honestly the closest to Christmas that I ever remember running my air conditioner. Now, southerners will probably laugh at my objection to the temperature, but please remember that the week before this started we had frost warnings and had to dig out the lightweight toques and mittens.


Brooklyn Place, 359 Rue Main, Shawville, QC, (819) 647-6522

So I guess it should come as no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cool desserts. I have a particular fondness for ice cream parlours, especially the ones I visit in small towns when I go on trips with the family.


Brooklyn Place interior.

One such place that I have taken the kids to often is Brooklyn Place in Shawville, Québec. It’s a lovely little spot to beat the heat, and the staff is unfailingly cheerful and courteous.


Brooklyn Place ice cream; that’s their smallest sized cone.

They serve Nestlé ice cream, which is a big name brand and many flavours can be bought in your local grocery store. However, this place is nice enough to make it worth a stop in anyway. If the weather is fine and you have kids that need to run off some energy, Mill Dam Park on Clarendon (just north of Highway 148) is a great spot to wander over to, ice cream in hand.


The Scoop, 33 Main Street, Cobden, ON, (613) 647-1568.

Another great spot I have stumbled across is The Scoop, which attached to (and run by the same people as) The Little Coffee Shop in Cobden, Ontario. The ice cream parlour is only open during the summer to cater to the influx of people from the whitewater region cottages and summer homes. I believe that the coffee shop may be open all year ’round. There’s nowhere to eat ice cream inside, but they have built a lovely little patio in the alley beside the shop, and it’s almost always in the shade (which is great if you’re like me and melt in the heat). The gelato is made in store; the hard ice cream and soft serve come from local dairies. There’s also a bulk candy section. I have to admit that I grab myself a few orange cream Livewires candies whenever I go in.


Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe, 165 St. Lawrence Street, Merrickville, ON, (613) 269-2168. This is an old photo — the munchkin in the middle is Thing 1 when she was about three years old. My mom is on the left, my aunt is on the right.

Last but most definitely not least is the Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe in Merrickville, Ontario. This is probably my favourite ice cream parlour ever. They make all of their own ice cream and gelato on site, and I haven’t yet tried one that wasn’t delicious. My first pick, if they have it, is always the one with the bits of crumbled sponge toffee throughout. Mouthwatering! Even if your tastes are much different than mine, The Shoppe has developed over 150 flavours so far, so you’re bound to find something you like.


Thing 1 desperately wanted the brilliantly pink gelato. It ended up being Grapefruit Zinger, and I was dubious that she would like it as most kids don’t like grapefruit, but she ate it all. Of course there had to be sprinkles, which I don’t think go with grapefruit at all, but what do I know?

Honestly, the food at the Downtown Ice Cream Shoppe is so good that it’s worth making a special trip from Ottawa for. If you want to make a day of it, there are all kinds of nice shops to browse in town as well, including a rather nice antique shop and a Christmas shop that’s open all year round. If you’re there for the sights, it’s also worth checking out the Merrickville Lockstation and the Merrickville Blockhouse. All of this is within easy walking distance of the ice cream parlour.

The Scone Witch

One of my favourite places ever to eat lunch is The Scone Witch. I started eating there years ago, back when they only had one location on Albert Street. The restaurant/cafe was in easy walking distance on a lunch break when I worked downtown, and I must have popped in at least once a week. Since then, they have moved their flagship restaurant, and they have three locations in total: one on Elgin (near City Hall), one on Beechwood (across from the Metro and adjacent to Books On Beechwood, which is just as tempting to me as The Scone Witch but for totally different reasons), and an express counter on Cyrville (across from Home Depot). Yes, I actually did like this restaurant before it was cool. How hipster of me.


The Scone Witch entrance at 33 Beechwood.

I am happy to say that the quality of their food has not suffered as the company has expanded. Their scones are flaky, their sandwich fillings generous and tasty, and their side dishes remain scrumptious. Service-wise, I think that increased experience only makes things better. At their pilot location, service was sometimes slow and the restaurant was often over-crowded — which, to be sure, was a problem with running a successful restaurant at downtown, where all office-workers seem to take lunch at the same time. I did make a point of trying to come by in non-prime hours when I could, and that did help a lot. But now that there are different (and more spacious) locations, and the staff is more seasoned, I find that things run more smoothly. Mind you, I haven’t braved the Elgin location at noon recently, either. I think that’s for the best.


The main counter at the Beechwood location.

I think that, over time, I have come to try everything on The Scone Witch’s main menu, although I may have missed some of the seasonal dishes. My favourite is the poached salmon with cucumber SconeWitch, closely followed by the bacon cheese melt. But honestly, I wouldn’t turn down anything on their menu, it’s all mouth-watering.


Poached salmon with cucumber SconeWitch with mushroom soup.

So if you can, head out to The Scone Witch for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. You will not be disappointed. And hey, if they are super-busy and you can’t find a seat, you can always get their food to go — or, in the case of the Cyrville location, that’s the only way it’s offered. If it’s not pouring rain (and this summer, there’s a good likelihood that it may be), bring your take-out to a nearby park and enjoy a picnic. I believe that there are city parks within easy walking distance of all three locations.