Growing up I was very familiar with Kenny Rogers. Not only did my grandparents have it in the rotation on the 8 track in between ABBA and Neil Diamond, but mom was a rather obsessive fan. I remember her travelling down to Toronto to see him in concert and returning with a huge, glossy souvenir book which sat in a rack for months afterwards. His gleaming face on the front cover would greet me at the front door every time I got home from school. I knew all about Ruby, Lucille and Reuben James. I knew that somebody believed in Kenny and that the Gambler could not possibly outrun the long arm of the law.
Kenny’s legacy continued when I moved to London. There was a Kenny Rogers’ Roaster’s a few blocks from my house. I went once but was more impressed with Canadian chicken juggernaut Swiss Chalet which was located a block closer. The chain’s popularity likely hit it’s peak in the mid-nineties after an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer reluctantly falls in love with the chicken despite the fact its annoying red neon sign lights up his apartment. Despite the publicity, the company eventually declared Chapter 11 and is now owned and operated out of Malaysia with franchises scattered throughout China, the Philippines and Cambodia. Maybe Kenny is to Malaysia what Hasselhoff is to Germany.
During a recent trip to Ottawa, I was craving seafood more than I was chicken, so I decided to grab dinner at Whalesbone. The oyster house has become a staple among many Ottawa foodies and is known for its innovative menus and bar side turntable which bellows the output of spinning vinyl throughout its tiny confines. I arrived in time to grab a bar seat before the place got too full. I sat down and had flashbacks when I saw Kenny’s bearded mug staring at me from behind the bar while his voice serenaded me with the suggestion that I decorated his life.
I was greeted by a pleasant barkeep who quickly sliced some bread (served with a delicious maple butter), passed me the daily menu and eagerly explained the daily catch of oysters in great detail. Finding it difficult to decide, I opted for one of each of the mollusks from the likes of Colville Bay PEI, Foxley River PEI, Eel Lake NS and Simon NB and Deep Bay BC. Equivalent to the variety of oysters was the carousel of condiments that came with it which included the standard horseradish, lemon and Tabasco in addition to the housemade seafood,hot sauce and mignonette and even a shaker of blended scotch. The variety of both the oysters themselves and the additions made for a very enjoyable start to the evening.
All of the half dozen starters looked incredible but I settled for the scallop ceviche ($20) which was served with grapefruit, red onion, jalapeno, crisps, cilantro and fraiche. It was presently beautifully and had a crispy acidity which nicely coddled the tender scallop. I was hoping for a little more heat from the jalapeno. The radish, which wasn’t listed on the ingredients, was a bit like an uninvited guest whose powerful presence was a little too dominating in the midst of the others party goers.
For the entree, I was fascinated by the walleye and clam combination flavoured with bacon, beans, radish, potatoes and herbs ($30). As a side note, some of us get rather annoyed by the use of the word walleye instead of the much more Canadian pickerel but I suppose I should pick my battles. Once again, the dish was picturesque. The pickerel fillet was nicely browned and served atop a fragrant broth which housed the remaining ingredients. This time the radish was a welcome guest, adding some crunchy bite to the dish.
For dessert, the banana cream pie ($11) was calling my name. It was served in a mason jar and served sprinkled with a graham crust. Those who are not extremists may be a bit turned off since it was heavy on the sweet side but despite this, I enjoyed the taste and texture, highlighted by fresh cream and chunks of ripe banana.
From start to finish, I enjoyed the Whalesbone experience. Whether it was the fresh bread, the array of available oysters, great service or the other innovative dishes, it had all the components of a great but expensive meal. Each offering was well thought out and attractively presented with an array of textures and flavours by pleasant and knowledgeable waitstaff.
I rarely tweet while at a restaurant but the combination of the oysters and Kenny’s crooning put me in the mood to proclaim my sultry experience to the world. My message was quickly retweeted by somebody at the restaurant and one clever follower asked me if I counted my oysters when I was sitting at the table; I said there’d be time enough for counting when the eatin’s done.