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I like Mekong more every time I visit
Anne Desbrisay, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, July 22, 2007
This is not your rock-bottom-priced, cash-only, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. Mekong is a spruced up, white-clothed, raspberry-walled, mostly-Occidental-cliented Chinese restaurant with matching chairs, a steady kitchen and a service staff that goes the distance.
I like Mekong more every time I visit. It's always been a cut above and owners Dennis and Ruby Luc have always been gracious hosts. But the service seems more loving than ever and the food just keeps improving: specials more interesting, flavours more pronounced, raw materials more big ticket.
My only heartache at Mekong is whether I try all those dishes I've never tried before, or return to the ones I love: supple pot stickers, delicate shrimp dumplings, Szechwan style crispy beef, eggplant stuffed with pork in black bean sauce, five spice squid, Chinese broccoli with roasted garlic.
We are greeted warmly. How lovely to see us. Our table is ready. We follow our host upstairs to the cosy garret room created a few years ago. The little outdoor terrace is already filled. We sit on the long upholstered bench that rims the room, under loft beams painted yellow. And then we over-order.
Soft rice paper rolls, crisp rice paper rolls, Hunan dumplings, delicate shrimp dumplings, and pork siu mai, steamed wontons filled with pork and prawns. Skewers of beef are fragrant and moist, served with a well-balanced peanut sauce.
Duck is on special. Crispy-skinned and juicy-fleshed, thick slices of the supple bird are piled on Chinese greens, topped with fragrant mushrooms and crispy-fried taro. Lobster is also featured. The sweet meat is spilling out its shell, perfectly cooked and fresh tasting, slathered with ginger and scallions. The classic Szechuan crispy beef is all a good crispy beef should be, which is to say, crisp without being overly chewy and spicy without being incendiary.
Some of the seafood suffers from over exposure -- the Thai seafood soup holds mussels that are withered in their shells and the big fat shrimp are tough -- but then again, we find squid tender and yielding in its five spice powdered sauce, and a platter of tilapia moist-fleshed, bolstered with a black bean sauce and bright green broccoli.
We take lunch downstairs in that cotton candy pink room with black trim and white linen. It starts with a decent hot and sour soup and then a Vietnamese-style noodle dish of tender pork sprinkled with peanuts, served over greens and vermicelli with a sweet, sour and spicy broth redolent of lemongrass. It makes a fine lunch.
Mekong has more of a wine list than most Chinese restaurants, with many choices by the glass. There is also beer on tap and sake.
Original Ottawa Citizen Article... (280K)
Taste for duck
Ron Eade, Ottawa Citizen
May 30, 2007
With Ottawa facing off against Anaheim, is it any wonder loyal Sens fans have a sudden craving for grilled waterfowl? Of all the feathered creatures great and small, duck must certainly be among the most tasty. Every summer I can safely predict I’ll consume more than my fair share on the grill and in the frypan. Properly prepared, duck ranks among the most succulent fowl on earth.
The fact that Ottawa’s home team is pitted against a gaggle of grown men who choose to call themselves Ducks inspires us today to introduce others to this delectable treat, too. As if we needed any more reason.
To that end, we have assembled
RON EADE tasty do-at-home recipes on page E2 to enjoy duck seared in a sauté pan, baked in the oven, sizzling on the grill, and turning slowly on a rotisserie spit. Oh, let us count the ways. And, for the kitchen-challenged among us, we can also point you to restaurants in Chinatown like the Mekong at 637 Somerset St. W., where obliging proprietors Dennis and Ruby Luc are only too happy to serve up duck, duck, and more duck, either in their dining room or in a plastic box to take out.
Try their savoury chunky duck soup ($3.99 a bowl), or delightful soy duck ($16 for half a duck), as well as the more famous Peking duck ($29.99 for a whole bird complete with two different courses and side dishes).
One course of the Peking duck includes the crispy skin, crêpes and garnishes, while the second offers the meat along with stir-fry vegetables.
Takeout orders are 10 per cent cheaper than eat-in. During the playoffs, whole barbecue duck for takeout is on special at the Mekong for $18.
Duck is also on the menu at other restaurants in Chinatown. On my recent visit I spotted duck roasted, shredded and braised on the menu at Yang Sheng Restaurant, 662 Somerset St. W.
At New Great Wall Restaurant, 704 Somerset St. W., the duck comes barbecued.
And you can buy whole barbecue duck hanging in the window at Wa Kiu Foods, 713 Somerset St. W., at $14.50 each. Owner Hong Chhay Ngo will cheerfully chop it into manageable pieces and stuff it into a plastic box for you to graze on during a Sens game. I ask, can it get any better? Peking duck is an elaborately prepared Chinese dish where air is pumped between the duck’s skin and the flesh. It’s then coated with a honey mixture and hung until the skin is hard and dry, then roasted.
As you can imagine, Peking duck takes a fair bit of work so Ms. Luc at the Mekong suggests you order it at least six hours ahead by calling the restaurant at 613-237-7717. Then, simply pick up your duck before the game, follow her reheating instructions, and stuff yourself silly while basking in the glow of sage commentary by Ron McLean and Don Cherry.
A word of advice when preparing duck — the bird, not the team: Do not overcook it. Health experts say duck should be cooked to an internal meat temperature of 165°F (74°C) to remove any possibility of foodborne illness. But chefs tend to treat duck breasts like red meat where, marinated and cooked on the grill, they are served a bit pink in the middle, like good steak.
If you follow your instincts and cook duck to death as you do chicken, a duck breast will be tough and stringy. Me, I serve duck breast at 150° to 155°F (68°C) and am still alive to talk about it, but you’ll have to decide for yourself how rare you’re prepared to go.
As for libation to wash it down, Citizen wine columnist Rod Phillips suggests the classic pairing, pinot noir. Try Condo Sur Pinot from Chile, or to keep it Canadian reach for Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir.
The recipes, here, offer something for everyone.
Experienced home cooks will appreciate executive chef Colin Thornton’s multi-faceted Tangerine Roasted Duck Breast with a Grand Marnier sauce, rhubarb marmalade and risotto from the Fairmont Château Laurier. By all means, you don’t have to do the whole recipe if you’d rather cut corners and just serve duck (but, oh, please try the Grand Marnier sauce).
Charcoal Grilled Mariposa Duck Breast with Fruit Jus will get you grilling after briefly rendering out the fat in a pan.
Finally, from Ottawa TV producer Chris Knight, wellknown about town as a man who loves his duck served on the rare side, we have Peking Style Spit-Roasted Duck that offers you oriental flavours without leaving the backyard.
Sure beats the heck out of a bucket of chicken.
Ottawa Citizen Article... (1182K)
A Festive time for Chinese
Gay Cook, Citizen Special
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Shrimp is one food that plays an important role in the Chinese New Year's Eve celebration on Jan. 28. In the Chinese language, shrimp means "the sound of laughing" and is interpreted to mean the coming year will be a happy one.
That is why the Luc family -- Dennis and Ruby, owners of Mekong Restaurant, and their daughters Samantha, Claudia and Faye -- enjoy a family dinner at home on New Year's Eve that always includes a shrimp dish.
On New Year's Day, parents in every home give their children a single red envelope with cash inside. The Lucs also give an envelope to each of their restaurant staff. The envelope is to symbolize wealth and health in the coming year.
In earlier days in China, shrimp was looked upon as a prestige food, an expensive item that was served only on special or celebration days. Today shrimp is more easily accessible and much cheaper.
Chinese New Year is a 15-day festival and holiday called Spring Festival that kicks off the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, at the second new moon after the start of winter solstice. It ends on the full moon 15 days later.
During the festival, Mekong Restaurant at 637 Somerset St. will offer six traditional New Year's dishes including Shrimp in Szechwan Sauce (recipe here).
Also featured is treasured duck stuffed with vegetables, lotus seeds and mushrooms; roast pork and steamed whole fish.
For more information, call 237-7717.
Ottawa Citizen Article...
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 26, 2010
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