Category Archives: The Local Foodie

Dining at Beckta’s – A True Celebration!

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Penny Lane with Dragonsnap

The King and I kept promising to go one day… Beckta’s reputation has long been established as one of Ottawa’s finest dining establishment. Knowing we would want to indulge in the tasting menu with wine pairing, we kept pushing the visit for another time… When the water heater wouldn’t need replacing, when the cottage wouldn’t need some extra TLC, when the kids would not need a helping hand, when the car wouldn’t need major repairs… Basically, we were always pushing it away, waiting for that sudden extra bit of play money ready to be spent on one dinner, on one evening, on one of special day. Seems that moment had finally come, all wrapped-up in a beautiful bow called a birthday. My birthday. My darling man, knowing my penchant for gastronomy, truly gave me the best gift of all: a dinner event at Beckta’s! I must brag a bit about my King here because he is quite the guy, my true soul mate and best partner in life. He indulges me with my foodie obsessions! Although he rolls his eyes every time I whip out my phone to take «that great food shot», he is truly supportive of all the time I spend completely immersed in my blog and social network activities. He never, ever, ever questions my need to buy yet another cookbook… Then again he would be in a bad position to question these purchases: he is at the receiving end of my culinary experimentations! And lucky for me, not only can he appreciate a fine table and loves to go out to dinner, he has also become quite the amateur sommelier! I cook, he buys the wines (really, really good wines)… Many ask us the secret to our successful marriage: now you know 🙂  And now you know how much of a gift to both of us this evening at Beckta’s was: great food and great wines.

I was giddy with excitement when our dinner destination was revealed to me on Tuesday night. The King had been very secretive about the entire affair, shunning the list I had submitted to him earlier last week of restaurants I’ve had on my radar for special occcasions.I am pretty sure our waiter thought I was maybe a tad over the top excited? Maybe the few awkward moments gave it up? Like bumping into my chair, dropping silverware on the floor and using weird words that make no sense at all in the context… All that happening within 5 minutes of our arrival! Amazing what excitement can do!!! Yup, I get like that: take me to a fancy place and I lose complete control!Beckta Tasting Menu

I didn’t want the evening to start at all: starting meant it was going to end… Cocktails were ordered, which managed to stretch the moment a bit. I thoroughly enjoyed my Penny Lane, a concoction of mescal and hibiscus, amongst other things. That calmed me down enough to be able to grasp the meaning of the words written on the menu. While perusing the very minimalist tasting menu, it became clear that it would be impossible to mentally visualize each dish. Choosing the tasting menu meant giving up full control to the chef and his team. If at first I was a slightly unimpressed by the non-existent descriptive prose that normally entices the dinner to select a plate, I got to fully appreciate the mystery as each plate was served: not knowing meant not having pre-conceived expectations. The tasting menu offers 5 courses, 2 choices per course. We opted to take one of each deciding we would swap both wine and food half way through each course allowing us both to taste every single dish. And so the feast began…

In a nutshell, the entire meal was exquisite, each course thoughtfully planned and artistically executed. We had a bit of fun playing «Top Chef Judge» as we dove into each dish… We tried to find the correct words: texture, umami, balanced, well composed dish, unusual combination of flavours… We even dared a few critics although we felt maybe the palate required for such an analysis was out of our league. Then again, maybe not… The drop dead “there are no words to describe” winners of our 10 plate extravaganza (5 each) were these 3: Pork Belly & Octopus, Braised Oxtail Croquette and Caramel Sundae. At the other end of the scale, we both thought the Scallop Crudo was missing a little something like salt or acidity. And we even ventured far enough to say that maybe the radish overpowered the delicate taste of the scallop. I was slightly disappointed to see salmon on the menu, a bit of a humdrum fish when so many other options are available… Yet it was beautifully prepared and it will be difficult to eat salmon again without comparing it to this one. The King didn’t gel much (pun intended) with the rhubarb jelly served with the panna cotta yet I found it light and refreshing. The wines served with each course were off the wall in a good way; a thoughtfully curated list of beautiful wines which are sadly not available for purchase by the common mortal. I fell in love with a white wine from the Greek island of Santorini (yeah, who knew!!!) and we were both enchanted with another white from Niagara as well as a “port like” red from France.

This evening at Beckta’s was well worth the wait. To describe each dish in details here would be a disservice to you; Beckta is an experience that needs to be lived not read about. The venue is spectacular, the décor is gorgeous and the food is divine. I have never had the pleasure of dining in a Michelin Star restaurant and I wonder how much more spectacular it would be compared to Beckta’s… I bet you it is not that far a stretch…

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Spring Vegetables
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Rabbit Consommé
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Scallop Crudo
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Matane Shrimp
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Foie Gras Torchon

Final note: pictures were taken of each course. As the sun slowly disappeared and the room’s lights dimmed dramatically, it became difficult to take beautiful pictures. The last few shots didn’t turn out well enough to share. I hope you enjoy this tiny peek at the first half of our dinner…

Beckta
150 Elgin Street
Ottawa ON K2P 1L4
(613) 238-7063

 

In My Backyard: The Sandy Hill Lounge And Grill

This little neighborhood “Cheers like” spot sits smack bang in the middle of Sandy Hill, at the corner of Somerset East and Blackburn. Around the University of Ottawa campus, there aren’t too many decent eateries that are walking distance from our fairly densely populated area of town. Beyond the student crowd, Sandy Hill is a melting pot of young professionals, families, seniors, diplomats and city living.  Although most joints found alongside Laurier East near the University and the south side of King Edward service the needs of an ever-growing student population, The Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill seems to be the one establishment that continues to caters to a more diverse clientele.

We moved back to the area 3 years ago after a long, long haul in the burbs. We were excited to discover “The SHLAG” as it is lovingly called by the locals. A tiny little spot nestled on the first floor of a typical downtown brownstone apartment building. This place had a cool vibe complete with super affordable beer, really tasty & fresh food and awesome staff. It had been home to several other restaurants over the years but the current Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill has been a mainstay now for quite some time. We fell in love with it instantly and it quickly became our favourite and regular go to dining/watering hole. We brought friends, family and told everyone about SHLAG!!! It was a really happy place… SHLAG has always been super famous for its Molly Burger: a mammoth burger catering to extremely ravenous appetites, consisting of two patties stuffed with some wild combination of ingredients. Everyone loved the Molly Burger and its crazy attitude! And for the less adventurous, there was always the Super Fun Happy Bacon & Cheese Burger, a standard yet still pretty massive burger. If you wanted to sway off the beaten path, the Butter Chicken Poutine served on sweet potato fries had a cult following! And if that didn’t turn your crank, then the Cajun Marinated Chicken sandwich, the famous Tug Boat or the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf would sure satisfy. The appies were always top-notch, especially the deep-fried pickles and the crab cakes. Everything was served with pride with an accent on local and  homemade.

Then, something happened. I don’t really know when and why. The mood changed; it was barely perceptible at a first. From having to wait at the door for a seat on weekends to find ourselves «luckily» grabbing the last table at prime time to having our pick of where to sit, it seems the crowds were slowly receding. From being served really awesome food every single time, we started to notice some slips…  It started with a change of menu which sadly got rid of some big favourites such as the Butter Chicken poutine… The food was not always up to par and neither was the quality of the ingredients. In the past year alone, the menu has changed 3 times yet it is not inspiring, it is difficult to read and quite frankly, not really worth ordering from. Most appetizers are now your run of the mill commercially prepared product which arrive frozen and ready to be deep-fried. Zucchini sticks, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, mozza sticks for instance are pre-made junk… The daily specials are inconsistent and will disappoint more often than they will please. The owner insists on hosting a Cajun Friday yet neither he nor his cook seems to have any real knowledge of Cajun cooking. I have tried several of the Cajun offerings which can  not be compared with Louisiana cuisine.  Over the past year, the quality of the food has slipped so drastically that we have stopped going regularly. Sadly, the owner doesn’t seem very receptive to suggestion or criticism, even when the comments are made in a positive manner like «we love this place but…» As a matter of fact, I do take offence that he never, ever acknowledges us when we come in.

From 3-4 visits per month (it was our Friday night ritual), we have reduced our visits to once every 2 months or so. We only go when we do not feel like going far from home yet do not feel like ordering take out. Just this past Friday evening, having not visited a several weeks, we decided to chance it: we arrived around 7pm and were surprised to find the joint quite deserted… Then again, it is not hard to see why it would be empty: beyond the decline of the food, the place needs a major scrub and update. The entire restaurant is tired and the staff is no longer fully engaged… Anyhow, I was in the mood for a burger and to my delight, Friday evening’s Cajun specials offered sliders topped with Swiss cheese and jalapeno. Now beside the fact that I have no idea how sliders with Swiss cheese make the cut under the Cajun influenced menu, I was really happy to have the choice of ordering what seemed to be a more «girly girl» size burger! We were the only table to order food, just the King and I. Yet, it took about 30 minutes for our meals to arrive; The King had ordered the Super Fun Burger, so it is not quite clear what  caused the delay… Looking at my plate, I found it odd to see the Swiss cheese stick out of the buns as solid as if it had just been pulled out of the fridge. I lifted the bread up to investigate and to my surprise, not only was I staring at mini pre-made patties (from frozen) but still raw and cold to boot. There is no reasonable explanation for this miss from the kitchen seeing the lack of clientele in the restaurant. Sure, our server was apologetic (not his fault) and the meal was replaced. And we enjoyed and overall discount of 10%, which was very, very nice. Having said that, my hubby had completely finished his meal by the time my plate was delivered. I didn’t make a fuss and the meal was fine (the fresh-cut fries are always good) yet I just shake my head at this kind of poor delivery on the part of the cook. The King, who has a very sweet tooth, ordered the featured dessert;  a weird concoction of pies baked within cakes and stacked several layers high (featured picture) which was surprisingly good! But a good dessert doesn’t a meal make and honestly, we miss the old SHLAG when the food was all homemade and always delicious…  And we miss some of our former servers who made us feel welcome every single time and were absolutely awesome! Yet, we somehow faithfully return,  just not as often…  Our running gag is this Love/Hate relationship we have with SHLAG these days.  But as the King says: if you stick to the burger, fries and a jug of beer, you will have a fantastic evening :). As for me, quite frankly, I keep hoping to find the old SHLAG back, in all its former glory!

The Ottawa Food Scene: Well Seasoned with a Pinch of Salt…

Yes, yes, yes, I am on a restaurant review rampage these days! Of Ottawa restaurants that is! The King and I have eaten out more often than usual lately and I feel I should share the experiences. We have stumbled on a few “misses” which I was quick to write about, hoping to save any of you from wasting your precious money on subpar joints. But we have had the pleasure of eating at a fair number of really, really good restaurants in recent months. This city has enough to offer to keep many of us happy, there is no need to frequent less than stellar establishments! Ottawa may be not be the Mecca of gastronomy like New York or Montreal but per capita, it sure offers a wonderful array of great restaurants: good food is up for grabs in many categories, from “fast” food to pub grub to fine dining. We are so lucky because even if this is a small town it is BIG on culinary celebrations!!

So why have I not blogged more frequently about our weekly visits since we go out so frequently? Well, the reasons are either the lack of photos or if I actually remember to snap a few shots, they are often of very poor quality pictures. In our world of Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, an image is worth a thousand word: we feast with our eyes first isn’t that right? My photos lack proper luminosity and I apologize for that. As well, writing a full blown and engaging review is rather time consuming. It is not that I do not enjoy taking the time to write reviews, it is more an issue of lack of time!!! A good chunk of my writing  is devoted to recipes, which then leaves me short on time when it comes to write restaurant reviews. Having said that, I experience as much joy cooking in my kitchen as I do going out to dinner so how can I share both passions on my blog and still manage to have a conversation with the King from time to time? Ha! I think I have come up with a solution. Instead of writing a frou-frou text about my experiences, colourful in adjectives, superlatives and imagery, I have decided to simply get to the point! Ok, I do not promise to never, ever  write colourfully frou-frou texts anymore but I will try to make my restaurant reviews easier to digest quickly (ooooo, the pun!). Following the nouveau chefs’ trends of “deconstructing” recipes by presenting each component of a dish separately on a plate where each item is its own entity, easy to identify and plated in such a way that it not only shines on its own but marries well with the others. So my “deconstructed” restaurant reviews will mostly present themselves as list of  “ingredients” which make (or break) a dining out experience.

For you the reader, I am hoping you will be able to find the info you need quickly and efficiently without having to read a novel on the subject. If you enjoy this new format, if you find it useful, if you have an opinion, please let me know because ultimately, I hope to make your experience perusing through my blog as enjoyable as possible. Now on with the first deconstructed review!

Salt

345A Preston St. Ottawa, ON K1S 1V6
Sunday through Thursday  from 11am – 11 pm
Friday, Saturday  from 11am – 1 am
Parking: surrounding streets or free underground parking (please have restaurant validate parking voucher)

Ambiance and décor:

  • Deliciously urban chic: lots of bling, plush seating, soft lighting
  • Live entertainment in the lounge area on select evenings. On the night we attended, we thoroughly enjoyed a performance by Jeff Rodgers at the piano

Menu:

  • Eclectic Fusion? I am unsure how to describe the culinary style or movement which infuses dishes with International flavours, sometimes in very unusual yet successful combinations
  • Meats including game, fish, seafood and pasta

Food:

  • Overall: a home run! All our dishes were skillfully executed, presented in a timely fashion, fresh and at the correct temperature. You could taste the culinary team’s pride in their craft.
  • Highlights
    • Cocktails: yummy, yummy cocktails! Interesting selection thanks to the talent of the in-house mixologist
    • Appetizers: Seared B.C. Albacore Tuna won this round. Followed closely by the Salmon Sashimi and the Beef Tongue Rillettes.
    • Mains: Mariposa Duck Confit took the winnings in round 2 and two thumbs up for the Bacon Wrapped Quebec Arctic Char
    • Sides: Parmesan Truffle Frites!!! You MUST order these frites. We ordered twice!
    • Desserts: none were ordered BUT we splurged with after dinner drinks which should count as dessert. Especially the Lemon Meringue Martini: OMG!!! I had 2 helpings.
  •  A bit less enthusiasm was shared by all over the Roasted Bone Marrow (which we expected would crown this course). It was good however a bit salty and missing a touch of acid to cut through the richness of the marrow
  • The boys ordered steak (the girls yawned at their choice…) and they were done well, as they should have 🙂

Service:

Above average: attentive yet not over bearing, extremely knowledgeable of the menu and wine list and able to synchronize proper course timing. We liked a lot.

Prices:

Medium to high end: expect about $100 per person if you opt for the cocktail/wine/three course dinner

Final words: Friends have highly recommended although online reviews certainly had us wondering  if Salt would deliver. Our experience was really, really positive. I would definitely go to Salt again! We particularly enjoyed the opportunity to move to the lounge after dinner and listen to the entertainment. We thought the food was delicious and the dining venue more comfortable than most. One word of advice for women: you will need a sweater or a jacket to cover up as the ambient temperature is set to cool.

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Dinner at Salt from left to right, clockwise: Duck Confit, Aphrodite’s Abbey Signature Cocktail, Albacore Tuna, Arctic Char, Steak and Truffle Frites, Sashimi Salmon
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Dessert: Lemon Meringue Martini

 

Navarra on Murray: an Ottawa Culinary Destination

For our eldest Prince’s birthday, and upon his suggestion, we went to celebrate at Navarra’s on Murray. As a culinary school (and nearly graduate) student, it seemed befitting to give our first born carte blanche on his choice of a good Ottawa table.  For a girl who is always snooping the Ottawa foodies scene, I am almost embarrassed to admit I HAD NO idea that this place is what it is! Top Chef Canada Season 4 winner, Rene Rodriguez, is Navarra’s Executive Chef. Really? How did I not know that a Top Chef winner was actually operating a restaurant in my home town??? Shame on me LOL. I have not kept up with Top Chef because I don’t have a PVR and I normally go to bed at the gawd awful hour of 9:30pm… I know, I know, such a party animal!!!

Back to the subject under review here and enough about my old person’s sleeping habits. Navarra is a real, true and true, culinary experience. It is what you see on TV shows and hope to have the opportunity to someday «try something like that»… It is the type of restaurant you would expect to find in Montreal, Toronto, New York for instance… Yet, here it is, right in downtown good old Ottawa!!! Yes, dining at such a fine establishment is a real luxury and I am grateful life has me in a spot I can partake in such pleasures. Navarra is completely off the wall: intricate dish composition, unusual yet successful ingredient pairings, spectacular plate artistry and top shape service make this tiny little stop on the Byward market one of the most memorable culinary experience we have had in recent years. In recent months, we have discovered several really, really exquisite little gems of restaurants here in the Nation’s Capital (I have unfinished reviews of these spots still to come). But Navarra is one of those places, in my absolute humble opinion, that is in a league of its own… I am surprised not to see 5 star ratings across the board on online review sites. Maybe this type of cuisine doesn’t suit every palate? I am not saying this in a condescending way either: to enjoy the dishes of Navarra, I think you have to be an adventurous diner. If the simple thought of chomping on rabbit, octopus and pig’s cheek make you queasy, then for sure your experience will not end up being the same as mine. In order for a restaurant evening to be entirely successful, the guest must feel the meal met the palate’s preferences and expectations.

Now what about each particular dish we had the pleasure of dining on and nearly licking every single morsel of the plates? I could write colorful and vivid descriptions of each one but I think the fare at Navarra needs to be experienced, not described in a lengthy blog post… In a nutshell, it was all F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S.! We each ordered 2 sharing plates which were brought to us in a perfectly synchronized order. As I have already mentioned, the service was stellar: each dish delivered with a great description of what we were about to dive into.

The Prince’s birthday dinner menu:

  • Confit Rabbit Chilaquiles
  • Ceviche de Vieiras
  • Patatas a la Rioja
  • Carbonara Pasta
  • Deviled Pig “Buffalo Cheeks”
  • Pulpo Gallego
  • Dark Chocolate Coulant
  • Dulce de Leche Mousse

If the boys really had to pick their top faves, they would oscillate between the Pig Cheeks and the Carbonara but then would feel bad about leaving all the others out of the lead. As for me, I think my biggest crush competing fiercely with the Pig Cheeks was the Confit Rabbit. I found the Carbonara extremely tasty as well but a bit over the top “too rich”, which is what won the King and the Prince over. To each’s own!!! The order of delivery was fantastic as well: the ceviche was served in between 2 rich and bold flavoured plates and acted as a true palate cleanser. Although I thought I really couldn’t fit another bite in after such delectable tapas, dessert was offered and ordered…  I will tell you this: I usually decline partaking in sweet endings as savoury courses are more my thing but the Dulce de Leche Mousse, OMG!!! I will be craving this dessert sure. Like right now! Actually, as I am writing this, I am craving the entire dinner! It really was that good.

So go ahead and splurge here at Navarra, it is without a doubt 100% worth it! Standing ovation for chef Rene Rodriguez and his crew!

 

 

 

 

Das Lokal on Dalhousie – Das Ist Gut!!!

The King and I love to go out and explore restaurants in the surrounding Kingdom. My perfect week includes a lot of playtime in the kitchen AND gallivanting the Ottawa foodies scene. The King shows patience when I pull my phone out to take pictures but I can tell he finds this practice a touch amusing if not slightly annoying, especially when he is really hungry and just wants to dig in!  I therefore  often refrain myself from capturing plate art, but not always… Sadly, when I actually do decide to take pictures, they often do not turn out very well and poor light is often to blame. I find using a flash distorts the true colours of the food. Not having pictures to share is the main reason I have not posted more restaurant reviews on this blog. Since we visit restaurants regularly, I feel I should make a better effort at sharing our experiences. Ottawa has evolved drastically over the last 2 decades. Although the city still has more pubs than it really needs, there is emerging culinary talent that is not afraid to showcase bold gastronomy. Ottawa is reaching beyond the stuffy steakhouses and the limp nachos!

Das Lokal is exactly that: bold, big, creative flavours! It is not your typical German “Gastshaus” although the Germanic influence can be felt throughout  the menu. Hand crafted marinades, preserves, charcuteries and cheeses really shine here; the menu is big on meats. Young, hip and fresh, it offers an interesting “nouveau” twist on very traditional German cuisine. Even with some very liberal interpretations of traditional Deutschland fare, the King found it pretty darn cool and so did I! The charcuteries were outstanding. The Das Lokal Board is offered at $19 for 3 items but of course, you may add as many more as you wish. To calm our ravenous appetites, we opted for a complete smorgasbord of every type of meat and cheese they were offering that evening. I strongly encourage you do the same as it was the star of the meal. The meats, paired with well-balanced homemade jams and pickles, were extremely well executed, particularly the cured duck breast. Since the charcuterie board  was rather massive, we opted for two dishes from the appetizer menu as our main entrées. Hubby took the sausage board with warm sauerkraut and mustard tomato jam ($14) to which he added an order of butter and cheddar Spaetzle ($9): we both felt the sausages and the soft buttery dumplings were a home run. I ordered the Zwiebel Kuchen ($14), an caramelized onion and leek tart served with arugula salad. It reminded me of the famous Alsatian onion tart  I absolutely adore; although the tart was a fierce competitor to the beloved Rhine valley specialty, I felt the tomato sauce was a bit of a clash… But I am nit-picking here as the entire meal was spot on: delicious, served hot & fresh, abundant and satisfying. You can taste the pride of the craftsman in each dish. Only the sauerkraut left us a bit indifferent: coming from a family of sauerkraut makers, we have very strong opinions on what makes a great one! We both felt maybe the chef was trying too hard to make this dish his own at the expense of the true nature of salted fermented cabbage… Although it was good,  it lacked some of the “brininess” that make sauerkraut, well, sauerkraut!

The service was equally charming and efficient. As for the ambiance, well it is a tiny spot and the tables are crammed in close proximity to one another. Having said that, we found it tastefully decorated, cozy & inviting and although it seemed the next table was close enough to be part of our own little bubble, somehow we never felt that they were infringing in our space. Maybe the live piano entertainment had a role to play in muting conversations between tables, I can’t say… But we felt very intimate in our little space, enjoying each other’s company as much as the melodies offered by a very talented piano man.

We were slightly surprised at the very limited beer selection; I think beer is to Germany what wine is to Italy and France. Could be that lack of space at the bar might be the reason for the minimalist beer menu. Overall though, our visit at Das Lokal was more than enjoyable. We have recommended to many friends and we are looking forward to return in the very near future.

Das Lokal 2

House Sausages with potatoes, sauerkraut and buttery cheddar Spaetzle
House Sausages with potatoes, sauerkraut and buttery cheddar Spaetzle
Onion tart with arugula salad
Onion tart with arugula salad

 

Lunch at Grounded Coffee House

Why is it so hard to get food right? Short review for a restaurant that fell short on expectations 

 I dropped in today: have had this place on my radar for a while. Looks like a cool, hip, urban coffee house that is not a chain. Hugely disappointed. Uninviting service, unmemorable food at a high prices… I ordered a Niçoise salad which couldn’t have been further from it’s namesake other than a half a small boiled potato and 3 black olives. It comes without protein on the menu for $12.00 for what is supposed to be a generous portion. I added grilled chicken for an additional $7.00. Not fresh in house grilled chicken but a processed chicken breast. Add a small bottle of fizzy water for a grand total of $20.00 before tax and gratuity. Maybe I should have ordered a coffee but I will never know if their coffee is actually good…

All I wanted was a really good salad! I gave it 2 ⭐️ on Yelp. Why 2 stars instead of 1 or none at all? Because the vegetables were fresh, the egg cooked properly and the vinaigrette decent. Will I come back? Nope.

A visit to Lowertown Brewery on York

I was really, really hoping to rave about this locally owned place. Like really, really hoping I would love it. I am a huge fan of these type of eateries and totally biased when comes to small restaurants since I used to own a tiny little spot myself. I know how hard it is to make it in the food industry. I understand the long hours, the outpour of cash, the anxiety during low season and the stress of being on top of your game every single time… It’s not easy out there! Most industry people will tell you that it has to be a passion because the compensation does not reflect the time spent building and nurturing your business.

We were looking forward to our evening with much anticipation; The King and I had previously enjoyed some of their handcrafted brews and “appies” on the patio. This was our first official “dining” visit. We were also very excited to introduce this place to good friends since we are constantly praising the many locally owned restaurants here in Ottawa!  Anyhow, as mentioned above, I really wanted to love this place a lot. Sadly, our experience last Friday evening was like a first date (with THE one you have been dreaming) that goes really bad and keeps on going bad… From service to menu to food, it really pains me to give this Ottawa hot spot a fail. Yes, a fail… And here is why:

About the service:  quite frankly, the service was non-existent. We were greeted by a young man who looked slightly frazzled at having to find a table to accommodate us. The only table left was one near the entrance and we were not offered the choice of waiting at the bar until a better table opened up. It was pretty much «take it or leave it», so we took it. Sure, our server was pleasant and friendly but as it is typical these days in a lot of restaurants, she was completely clueless to what it means to provide service. As a former server myself, it blows my mind how little importance restaurant owners give to properly training their staff. If only they would recognize the value of great service instead of simply hiring because the person has the «looks». It was obvious this young person had very little experience yet she was expected to perform on her own on a busy night. Service went downhill from there. She couldn’t answer basic menu questions, didn’t know what the house specialty was and couldn’t describe most items on the menu. We ordered our drinks to start which took forever to arrive. It took even longer for our server to come  around again and take our food order. We ordered appetizers which never came: we ended up cancelling those when our mains arrived. There were no apologies either… The lack of service continued throughout the rest of the evening and we could never see our waitress near the tables. We noticed other tables around us that seemed to also be waiting for unusually long periods.

About the food:  Let me start by saying that the menu is humdrum boring. And viewing the menu is complicated because the lunch menu is also available during dinner service, so you have to look back and forth at two menus. Looking at 2 separate menus is not deal breaking, it is just annoying. And they didn’t have enough menus for each one of us so we were 4 sharing one lunch menu and one dinner menu. As far as what Lowertown has to offer, well nothing is unique, nothing is really cool other than a few signature items such as candied bacon strips, homemade pickled vegetables and beer brine chicken. As mentioned before, the appetizers were forgotten and when our mains arrived, they were lukewarm. It was obvious they had sat under the hot plate for some time. My friend had ordered salad instead of fries. And guess what, he got fries, no salad… Our other friend and I had upgraded our fries to poutine ($3 surcharge): how surprised we were to see that the size of our fries was considerably smaller than the portion of fries on the other two plates. To make matters worse, the gravy and cheese were cold and congealed on the plate. It was too bad because the fries were actually decent ones and the gravy was tasty. The chicken dinners were served on a metal plate lined with parchment paper. As the moisture from the chicken seeped onto the paper, it became mushy, wet and started to tear when cutting into the chicken. Since the paper is the same colour as the meat, it was not easy keeping the paper out of each mouthful. That was a very unpleasant affair. We could have returned our «cold» meals back, but by then, we were beyond frustrated and disappointed so we opted not say anything. Since we were all still hungry after our mains (the portions are not overly generous) we ordered dessert. This course was another disappointment: not only were they out of their two signature deserts (Murphy’s law, they were our first choices), the servings were really small too. Coffee had to be returned because it was served old and cold. Honestly, a negative experience from A to Z.

I understand this review is pretty harsh. It is doubly disappointing because this restaurant is situated in an amazing spot, one of the best on the Byward Market. The interior is hip and really cool: we love the vibe of the place. The King and I live nearby; we go out on the market a lot and we always favour local restaurants over chains. We have enjoyed Lowertown Brewery’s patio on several occasions for a few beers and appetizers since they opened in 2014. We were definitely looking forward to our first full dinner there. We may have been one of those «jinxed» table however, recent web reviews are starting to express experiences similar to ours… I have e-mailed Lowertown about our unfortunate visit and I have yet to hear from them. I suspect they are insulted which is too bad. Customers who take the time to relate their experience should be valued. If the restaurant did not deliver, it should make amends. Maybe this type of venue is not for us (although we love other local pubs),  but that does not excuse the ridiculously poor service and the lackluster fare… If anything, a simple apology would have been nice. It is possible that we may visit again for a few beers on the patio once summer rolls around just because of the location but as far as the eating there, well… Maybe not.

Canal Ritz – Don’t bother…

A few Fridays ago, the King and I ended up at the Canal Ritz for dinner. We had just left an event and we were hungry. We pretty much stumbled on it by surprise, driving by on our way to Elgin Street (one of the cool foodie streets in Ottawa). It just appeared and so heck, why not?

The special of the day is featured in the picture: 3 cheese ravioli with creamy basil pesto. Looks and sounds good right? Sometimes appearances are deceiving… It is not that it was «bad». It just wasn’t exactly restaurant caliber either: frozen, thick & gummy raviolis. Three cheese? I always wondered why they even say that when talking about a cheese sauce or garnish. As if anyone can pick out a cheese over the other, especially when blended together in a sauce or a paste. Please! Next item is creamy basil pesto: garlic and parsley in a blender do not Pesto make! So the meal arrived freshly made and piping hot, I guess that made it palatable.

His majesty took the burger: big huge dense frozen burger patty. You know the type: those thick pucks that have that compressed yet spongy meat texture? Again, not bad but nothing I would ever want to order outside a cafeteria.  Meat letdown apart, the burger was also served piping hot on a super nice bun and fresh crisp veggie toppings.

We had shared bruschetta as an appy: if bruschetta is the correct word to use for dinner rolls topped with diced tasteless winter tomatoes (grape tomatoes would have be a better choice) and way too much garlic. The garlic was so intense, it actually overpowered everything. It even made the wine taste off. And I am pretty sure it was that pre-minced stuff that comes in a jar (or a bucket). If I remember correctly, the pasta was $22 (yeah, no kidding) and the burger was $16. We took a ½ litre of run of the mill Chianti at $32 (yup, no kidding again!) and I can’t remember how much exactly the appetizer was, maybe $9? The King had a beer to start. The entire meal before tip was $97 and some change…

Maybe back in the 80’s, when The Ritz Dynasty owned the Urban-Italian restaurant revival scene in Ottawa, was the restaurant able to get away with pseudo Italian dishes while calling them «authentic» or «nouveau Italian». I think Ottawa had 4 or 5 Ritz location back then. The Ritz was the place to go and to be seen! In those days, we all thought pesto was the most exotic Italian pasta topping we had ever heard of. The Ottawa population sure has evolved in the last 30 years: no longer is this city a sad place to have a restaurant meal. Sure, we do not have the huge selection Montreal and Toronto have but geez; we don’t have the population here either… Anyhow, it was really sad to be there. The decor is also totally 80’s and not by choice! Old, tired, still featuring those little lights nestled in a clear plastic tube from the disco era. The tables are draped in white with a navy blue overlay, arranged in a diamond shape. The bread comes in little faux wicker baskets and from my seat; I could see the plastic bus pans in the service station. Looking at dirty dishes is never an appetizing site, no matter if the view on the other side is the Rideau Canal.

During the entire meal, I talked my poor King’s ears off on what I could do to this place and how fabulous it could be. Before the end of dinner,  I had transformed The Canal Ritz  into a s.p.e.c.t.a.c.u.l.a.r. urban-industrial-rustic-Tuscan fusion eatery. The menu was a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll: you know, a twist on some good old faithful Italian favourites! Yup, by the time we paid our bill, my personal rendition of the Ritz Canal was the talk of the Town LOL!!!

Anyhow, unless you have a soft spot for generic Italian food  or nostalgically miss the restaurants of the 80s, then save your money and go elsewhere. Or…  Wait for the beautiful weather and drop in for a few drinks and a basket of fries. These are at least fresh hand cut fries: by far the best item on the menu. I also need to mention that the service was above average too:  I think we stayed because the staff was so pleasant. And the Canal Ritz location is probably one of the most beautiful in town. What a shame the food is so, hmmm, humdrum?

Cheers

L’aubergiste

 

L’aubergiste – 58 Rue Principale (Aylmer) Gatineau, QC J9H 3L4 – (819) 557-3858

I visited l’Aubergiste for the first time on August 15, 2014 and was quite impressed overall. We were a party of 4 and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. L’Aubergiste is one of those little places that oozes charm in a “country meets urban” kind of a way. It is set in an old house on rue Principale in Aylmer. The owners, Pierre-louis Poulin and Simon Prud’Homme have definitely incapsulated their passion for great food in this tiny little gem. The menu offers unusual dishes which is quite refreshing: seems every where you go these days, the menu is relatively the same. Not so at l’Aubergiste! Granted, you will find popular favourites such as steak-frites, fish&chips and poutine but done in such a way that old seems new again.

The tone was set for success by the extremely pleasant and knowledgable young waitress. I LOVE it when the servers know the menu and can deliver the chef’s art to the guests before having even tasted one morsel. Service these days often falls flat where servers are often hired for their looks over their ability to provide the ultimate guest experience… We settled for some of the daily offerings and others that were on the regular menu. My sister and I shared 2 appetizers: a red tuna tartar served over a luscious fresh herb cream and accompanied by a cilantro snow ( like a salty granita) and a grilled octopus and citrus salad. While the components of the tuna tartare were spectacular, they unfortunately overpowered the delicate taste of the tuna. Nevertheless, the dish was quite exquisite and beautifully presented. The grilled octopus salad, in my opinion, did not quite deliver: the octopus was a bit chewy and compared to the tuna appetizer, it did not have quite the oomph neither in presentation nor in taste. I particularly enjoy grilled octopus but this one left me longing for a really good one. I think the dish dish was lacking a bit of acidity to round it up well. Our two other table companions skipped the appetizers.

As for the main dishes, our selection was a bit all over the map: fish & chips, steak frites from the regular menu and the evening’s version of surf and turf which featured a veal medallion and shrimps. I have one word for all the mains: spectacular! Presentation, taste, originality, temperature: everything met if not exceeded our expectations. The fish & chips featured cod with a homemade remoulade and perfect hand cut fries. The steak frites was served with an awesome deeply rich sauce and a just as good vinaigrette for the accompanying salad. However, I must say that the star of the evening was the surf and turf: it was soooo good! The veal medallion was served over a potato and parsnip puree that was divine and paired with a perfectly balanced and rich sauce au Porto. The garlic infused grilled shrimps came on a bed of sautéed vegetables beautifully paired with crisp salty pancetta and olive tapenade. If vegetables were always done that way, no one would have trouble eating their minimum daily dose!

We did not stay for dessert. Somehow, the offerings did not entice my dinner companions although I would have been happy to try the brownies with salted caramel. Seems I will have to return to l’Aubergiste to sample this one of these days. If our experience was overall fabulous, I will say that I am not fond of the style of furniture; at 5’2″, the popular style of high chairs and tables is difficult to access. Because the restaurant is tiny, the tables are also crammed closely together which is not the most comfortable. Will this keep me from returning to l’Aubergiste? Heck no!!! If anything, I will probably make sure to return in the near future. I think you should go!

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