Tag Archives: Italian food

Zolas and Sunshine

For your viewing pleasure, a beautiful evening at Zolas during their annual party (this year a cocktail pairing) and a little love to the Sunshine Foundation in preparation for their upcoming Bright Night Big Dreams Masquerade Ball at Ashbury College October 27th.

Well done Chef Antonio and team Zolas!


On our mission to expand our dining experiences beyond the downtown core, we jumped in the car Sunday and headed out to Zolas Restaurant in Bells Corners for a late lunch.

I had recently met Gina Vacchio sister to Chef/Owner Antonio Vacchio while planning an event. This bubbly, excitable soul encouraged me to stop by some time. So I did. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, good food, good wine, good company.

We started with the Porchetta Poutine topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg. The golden yolk really added warmth to this indescribable mouthful of complete and utter genius (with a Pelee Island red, perfection). Zola’s own delicious Porchetta. Heaven. That is all.

Next up, Chicken Gorgonzola. A gorgonzola cream sauce topped with roasted pine nuts served with seared vegetables and roasted potatoes, a creamy, dreamy dish. For the gorgonzola lovers out there this is a real treat. This sauce served with my personal favourites, pine nuts, over a moist, generously sized chicken breast.

We finished with, Penne with Hot Sausage (Grandpa’s recipe), pan seared calabrese sausage in a spicy tomato sauce. As you know I like a little heat, but really need the flavours to shine through. This dish did the trick, layers of tomato and spice with a nice kick.

Zola’s open style kitchen and funky atmosphere really lend to its warm, inviting feeling. The little Italian shop out front offers up pasta (both fresh prepared and packaged), a variety of canned goods, and take home meals. Soon to come sandwiches to grab and go, including the delicious porchetta.

Question….does porchetta trump bacon? Perhaps…..

As I said in the beginning of the post, my first experience with Zola’s is in planning an event for the Sunshine Foundation happening, Saturday, October 27th, 2012 at Ashbury College. The Sunshine Foundation is the only national Canadian charity to provide individual dreams to children with severe physical disabilities (such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy) as well as life-threatening illnesses. In fact, 80% of Sunshine Kids are challenged by a severe physical disability. Sunshine was the first organization to bring DreamLifts to Canadian children. Sunshine’s one-day, whirlwind DreamLift adventures transport approximately 80 children by plane to an exciting destination such as a Disney theme park.

This event, Bright Night, Big Dreams Masquerade Ball is being hosted by the National Capital Chapter. Some of the food I showcased today will be on the menu for the evening along with Pelee Island wines, a martini bar and some great big band music.

For ticket information visit Eventbrite.

For your added viewing pleasure:

Please plan on a visit to Bells Corners and Zolas soon, and if you want to support a great cause join us in October!

Biagio’s Italian Kitchen

If you asked most of my Italian friends “What is your favourite Italian restaurant?” They would probably tell you it was their Mother’s kitchen. I know this because I have asked. I understand this. If I cook a dish particularly well, or my Mother does and I see it on a menu I wouldn’t order it. It may seem unfair, but when you come from a family of good cooks….

So when we had a craving for Italian Sunday afternoon we decided to try some place new. That place was Biagio’s Italian Kitchen on Richmond Road. I have to admit a lot of Italian restaurants have similar menus and Biagio’s is no exception. What I think set it aside for me was excellent customer service. Wait staff who were both professional and knowledgeable about the menu (albeit the word delicious was used a lot), and when I say knowledgeable, they genuinely cared which I think gets lost some places.

The food was good, we were pleased with our meals. Starters were calamari fritta and crostini topped with pancetta. The calamari was tender and lightly dusted, a very large portion served with lemon and a garlic aioli. The crostini, called Monaco was topped with thin salty pieces of pancetta, garlic and mozzarella.

I ordered a pasta dish served in garlic and olive oil called Capricciosa. A firm fettuccine noodle with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. A flavourful dish, but too heavily laden with sun-dried tomatoes. I love sun-dried tomatoes, but the dish could have used about half the amount.

My table mates ordered Pasine a penne dish in tomato sauce with grilled spicy Italian sausage, red and yellow peppers, and red wine and Rughetta a linguine dish in tomato sauce with spinach, grilled eggplant, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and ricotta cheese.

The Pasine got rave reviews, lots of flavour and good spicy sausage. The Rughetta was well received but it’s tomato sauce was a bit lacking in flavour, kicked up a notch it would have been perfect.

I think perhaps had I ordered a glass of wine, it may have been a great addition to my meal, but I am off wine for a bit. I missed it.

Dessert was easy. I love Panna Cotta, light cream with a hint of Cointreau set in a crisp Galliano candied basket, finished with a mango and cherry compote was almost too lovely to eat, but we did and it was light and luscious. It’s yummy candied basket was fun and added a perfect crunch. Isn’t it pretty?

We also ordered some chocolate/raspberry Tartuffo. Really, how can you lose with a good Tartuffo?

Would I go there again? Absolutely. It was a nice experience and we would definitely like to try some other dishes from the menu.

Biagio’s Italian Kitchen, 1394 Richmond Road, Ottawa 613-828-0770

Paradise on Preston

Italian Bakery 1The only question I have for myself after all of this time is, what took me so long? Why after close to two years in Ottawa has it taken me forever to get to Preston St.?

In the past month I have been lucky enough to have 2 great experiences there and today being able to spend some time with Joe Calabro at Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana Ltd was a complete pleasure.

We wandered in searching for breakfast. My daughter told me about this place, raved about their chocolate creme brulee. I had forgotten, but not for long, when I walked through that front door I was like a kid in a candy store, in fact the first two people I thought about were my nieces and how I couldn’t wait to bring them here, to see the looks on their faces. A beautiful display case full of gorgeous cakes, macaroons, biscotti, truffles, meringues, you name it. Next to that a hot counter full of the days special pastas, sandwiches, and a beautiful coffee counter where amazing creations were being lovingly concocted. Italina Bakery 3

Even after seeing all of this, I still wanted breakfast and they serve it until early afternoon. I ordered a toasted western on whole wheat that arrived with home fries and an assortment of fresh fruit, I opted for a 12 oz regular coffee (my first in weeks). The western was perfect and much to my delight had red peppers in it. Adrian could not pass up one of the pasta specials, he ordered the meat cannelloni with a tomato cream sauce. The two large cannelloni were perfection, the pasta cooked perfectly, the meat filling generous and the tomato cream sauce balanced everything with its delicate flavours. Cait had the gnocchi, tender and delicious which also came with tomato cream sauce. The staff here were fun, knowledgeable, considerate.

There are two seating areas, one as you come in and a more private space in front of the counter where they make the coffee. On the walls, pictures of Joe Calabro, the places he has been, competitions he was part of, the awards he has won.

I couldn’t really resist asking to take a few pictures to blog about, so the staff needed to ask the boss and few minutes later there he was, this humble, kind, award-winning chef, 30 years with this wonderful business. Joe is a member of the Canadian Federation of Chefs, a member of the European World Master Chefs Society and member of Les Toques Blanches International. Not only did he oblige with the picture-taking but offered to take me upstairs to view the beautiful cakes he creates, for weddings, birthdays, baptisms, and anniversaries. My family in tow we headed upstairs and honestly I felt like I walked into heaven, rooms filled with beautiful cakes, I could only imagine how a bride would feel in this space. I asked Joe what the average wedding cake costs, his start at about $400 and go up, the average being about $850. I thought this extremely reasonable, these cakes were like art.

The sugar and marzipan creations were skillfully done, every detail carefully crafted. Cookies and other party favours can be personalized. They do both corporate work and contribute to the community through endless amounts of non-profit support.

We couldn’t leave without something sweet. I felt it important to have something Italian, so we ordered 2 large cannoli and 1 pink macaroon (I have wanted a macaroon since seeing some on David Lebovitz’s web page). The cannoli are filled right there, with sweet ricotta cream each end being topped with candied fruit. There was a secret hidden in these cannoli’s, a flavour barely there, but it’s softness elevated the experience that much more, fruity, nutty, both perhaps? I decided I didn’t want to know, I wanted something magic.

Later, heading home, the scent of baking chocolate lingered on our clothes and I realized how fortunate I had been this day, me the one who loves to write about food and experiment with new recipes, stumbling in to Paradise on Preston Street.

Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana Ltd., 200 Preston St. Ottawa, ON


Italina bakery 2