Morsels From the Med By Cindy Deachman
I’ll never forget, more than 30 years ago, one taverna in the Greek port of Thessaloniki. Even with the tables and chairs spilling out onto the street, all of us were scrunched together inside. Our table even had to pass dishes from the waiters to the other diners. Lamb liver brochettes started us off, rough food made simply, eaten in the right din of discussion. Time slowed down. That can happen when you nibble a little, drink a little, and talk some. And yet one needn’t be on the Aegean coast eating peasant fare. Appetizers can show originality. A French dish of nasturtium leaves stuffed with anchovies and herbs sounds crazy but works like a charm. Or how about a thoroughly modern dish of caramelized fennel with chèvre? Take a few chairs out to the driveway, and let the conversation begin.
Cichèti From North & Navy come northern Italian nibbles. For Venetians, says co-owner/chef Adam Vettorel, “the cinq-àsept way of eating” is normal, where ombres or little glasses of wine are accompanied by cichèti. Vettorel offers a variable menu of these morsels. For instance, smoked trout and apple slices are nestled in a treviso leaf, marinated oyster mushrooms have been charged with grain mustard, and meatballs taste the way meatballs should, not stodgy but light. Have a bite at the bar or order plates for the whole table. $2–$4. North & Navy, 226 Nepean St., 613-232-6289 Lebanese Mezza Give supper a miss if you go all out on appetizers from Cedars & Co., a grocery store with two locations. This, even though operations manager Marilyn Dib insists that mezza are just for cocktail-hour mingling, Lebanese-style. From kibbe, croquettes filled with spinach, to roasted red pepper hummus — it’s a veritable spread. All is balanced, nothing over-spiced. Also on hand: light little meat pies and lemony tabbouleh without bulgur, but full of parsley. Don’t leave without the za’atar pita chips. Prices vary. Cedars & Co. Food Market, 1255 Bank St., 613288-2797, or 1793 Kilborn Ave., 613-422-6526 Vegetable Board We all know about cheese and charcuterie. But what about a vegetable board? White aubergines, black tomatoes, young daikon, tiny plump beets with their little greens still attached, even chrysanthemums. “I remember once being at Pullman, one of my favourite wine bars in Montreal,” says Soif Bar à Vin owner Véronique Rivest, “and eating a gorgeous, ultra-simple plate of amazingly fresh and tasty vegetables. … I liked it so much, I had three of them and that was my meal.” Soif’s versions are pure delight. Chef Jamie Stunt obviously has fun playing around with the ever-changing vegetables and flowers. Not to mention his pestos and yogourt sauces. “Just before service, we go shopping for herbs,” says a smiling Stunt, referring to Soif’s own pots of herbs growing out back. $15. Soif Bar à Vin, 88, rue Montcalm, Gatineau, 819-600-7643