It was a dark and stormy night…Alright, it was just an overcast Sunday morning in Ottawa when Jenn and I walked into the Courtyard Restaurant (21 George Street) in the Byward Market. There, we chose to dine on the patio, hoping the sky would clear. After helping a waitress connect two tables and re-arrange chairs, the rest of our newly formed brunch club arrived. Six in all, we were eager to sit down to brunch at a restaurant whose chef (Michael Hay) often bragged served the best in Ottawa.
Having followed Chef Hay (@michaelthehay) on Twitter for the past several weeks and seeing him plate up some delicious twitpic’ed dishes, I promised my friends a good meal.
Unfortunately, Chef Hay was not in the main kitchen that morning and what we were served did not meet expectations. Only 2 of us enjoyed our meals. Four now refuse to return. One is willing to risk dinner at the restaurant. I am disappointed and have requested other club members choose our next Sunday brunch destination for the next little while.
I should note, before we dive into our dishes, we saw only one other party walk into the restaurant during our stay. We were the only patrons on the patio. However, things were far from quiet. The restaurant was in the midst of preparing for an event. We watched what may have been two florists walk in. We saw a portable dance floor unpacked by a loading area and wheeled inside. A quick peek at the monitor in the lobby explained why. The Courtyard was hosting a wedding reception, a large one by the looks of it.
Even so, service at the Courtyard was not lacking. Both friendly and attentive, our two waitresses were organized, knowledgeable, and quick to provide assistance. Save for not producing enough appetizer pastries (freshly baked croissants, muffins, and chocolate pastries) for a table of 6, for which I’m not sure they were responsible, service was exemplary.
To begin, brunch at the Courtyard Restaurant is a multi-course affair, one that the menu suspiciously suggests start with an alcoholic beverage, bloody caesar, bloody mary, or a glass of wine, all extra! The brunch itself includes juice: cranberry, apple, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, tomato or a combination thereof. I ordered coffee. Later, I joined my friends at the other end of the table with a glass of half cranberry/half orange.
Freshly squeezed and chilled, my glass of juice was refreshing.
Along with drinks came appetizer pastries and a shot glass of house-made berry preserves. At first, one basket of pastries, containing a pair of croissants, a chocolate pastry, and one really small bran muffin, was placed on our table. Thinking we were being rationed pastries, we split most of them, each enjoying half of something.
When only crumbs remained, another basket was placed on the table. Clearly, two were intended for a group our size.
The pastries themselves were crowd pleasers, freshly baked, crisp, and delicious. Though, in search of a washroom when I arrived, I walked by dual ovens in the lobby, spotting a half sheet pan of freshly formed and egg-washed croissants being baked. Why we weren’t served at least enough croissants for the table was puzzling. In hindsight, this was a portent of what was to come…
Next, main courses. Two of us, myself included, ordered Eggs Benedict. Jenn, the blueberry pancakes. My friend’s fiance, the crepes. He, the tuna melt. And, my other friend ordered an interpretation of the classic steak and eggs.
Eggs Benedict ($22)
The plates of Eggs Benedict our table was served were identical. Here is mine:
As described in the menu, the dish consisted of poached eggs, hollandaise, and ham. Accompanying it, a potato apple hash and a side salad.
Unfortunately, the left poached egg was overcooked. The other, properly done, soft and runny. Contrary to the menu, the slice of ham did not look grilled. Moreover, the muffin halves had burnt edges as if they were tossed onto a griddle a little longer than they needed to toast.
Since both plates were identical (both left eggs overdone), I surmise that the eggs were poached in pairs. Finding two overcooked, the cooks seem to have knowingly plated one on each plate. On the bright side, the salad was very fresh and the apple and potato hash, novel (sort of a dry Asian potato salad). My better half actually ate most of mine.
Why? Well, to allow me to save face because I promised a good meal, she quietly choked down her pancakes with 6 cups of water. As she would tell me later, the only part of the brunch she enjoyed was the hash she picked at off my plate.
As per the menu, the stack of pancakes were served with fresh fruit, including one rather bruised strawberry. And, it was garnished with a pat of maple butter. Unfortunately, only the bottom pancake, the sole thin one, was truly edible. The others were a gooey mess.
The batter must have been so overloaded with previously frozen and thawed blueberries that the starch structures could not form when it was cooked. While the surface developed a skin and browned, the berries inside bled, causing the texture of the thicker pancakes to resemble library paste. My friend who ordered the steak found the pancakes disgusting.
Steak and Egg ($25)
He faired much better.
His dish consisted of a 4 oz grilled angus sirloin steak, a “sunny egg”, and Bearnase sauce. It was accompanied by a grilled tomato, crispy fried potato, and an apple hash. Accordingly, the steak was quite good. The rest, less than stellar.
While he flatly refuses to return to the Courtyard for brunch, he is willing to try its dinner menu and only steak dishes at that.
Tuna Melt ($19)
The tuna melt illicited no complaints.
According to the menu, it is made with a sweet gherkin mayonnaise and topped with aged cheddar. From my view, the dish seemed constructed on a hunk of Art Is In bread with the top sliced off and a mound of tuna salad layered on top. It reminded me of a Russian kubliaka, which is a puff pastry dish that substitutes salmon and pastry for the tuna and bread, but shares much of the other flavours.
Unfortunately, I have no picture of the crepes, but I am told they were good.
To end, with six of us and 3 desserts to choose from, we ordered two of each.
Of the two who ordered the the chocolate pate, one was somewhat put off by its salted caramel garnish, but he enjoyed his dessert. The other, a chocoholic, cleaned his plate.
Of the two who ordered the lemon tart with the pine nut crust, one was happy with it.
Me, I was critical the sheer number of cracks in the tart. What filled the pine nut crust was a lemon custard. Given its cool mouth feel and darkened skin on top, it was a chilled custard. To crack as it did, either someone was less than careful with the pie spatula (unlikely because the crust was intact) or we were served a day-old tart. As for taste, I judiciously rationed my strawberry sauce, eating a little with each bite. Else, it would have been simply too lemony, even for me. Ordinarily, I love lemon desserts.
Of the two who ordered the seasonal fruit with frozen yogurt, one had had enough. He gave his away. Jenn pushed her plate in front of me, half eaten, and asked me to try the frozen yogurt.
It was very icy and tasted very little of yogurt. It also melted quickly.
Total cost of one pancakes and one Eggs Benedict brunch: $47.46 (after taxes, before tip)
Were it not for the company of friends and my better half, this brunch would have been a rightful disaster. Three days later, I am still riddled with guilt over subjecting people to this pricey meal.
Update: For a look at what non-library paste blueberry pancakes should resemble, head over to another Ottawa food blogger’s site, RachelleEatsFood. Yesterday, Rachelle posted up both pics and a recipe for some great looking blueberry pancakes she had for dinner to top off a birthday weekend. Happy Birthday Rachelle!
Regarding poached eggs, I recently asked Chef Jonas Luster (@wildhunt) how to make them consistently. He graciously posted tips on his blog for not only how to poach eggs, but also to how fry them up over easy. The blog post is the first in a series of planned “Ask the Sous (Chef)” posts to raise funds for the Riley Center for Battered Women in San Francisco. For every culinary-related request he entertains, a donation will be made to the center. Some generous tweeps are even offering to match donations in their requests.
The Courtyard Restaurant
21 George Street
Tags: breakfast, Brunch Club, ByWard Market, Courtyard Restaurant, Michael Hay