And without further ado, the remaining 7 course from last week’s dinner at Atelier.
The first five have their own blog post elsewhere on foodiePrints.
Sixth Course: Choose Your Weapon (strawberry and rhubarb)
This course was just plain fun. First, our host came to our table with a tray of “implements”, asking us to choose between them and eating with our bare hands.
On the tray were spoons, forks, and plastic bendy straws. With four people at my table, we each chose something different.
Me, I chose bare hands. Mine was by far the most spectacular to watch. It came with a table-side demonstration, involving a galvanized steel bucket of liquid nitrogen and a plastic encased tube of strawberry and rhubarb puree.
What amounted to a seasonal “nitro”-freezee pop (freezee) was frozen right before my eyes. Unfortunately, the liquid nitrogen worked too well, causing the freezee to harden into a long block of ice. Its flavour was exquisitely spring, but only after my better half melted it enough for me to eat.
At first I thought adding a liqueur to the puree mixture would improve the freezee’s texture the same way alcohol does sorbets. Then, I realized that everything and anything freezes in liquid nitrogen.
My better half chose spoon.
She was served a lovely bowl of warm custard with liquid nitrogen frozen strawberry and rhubarb noodles. Her spoon was equipped with a cork stoppered test tube, containing ground pistachio. To eat, she emptied her spoon’s contents onto the custard and dug in. She told me the juxtaposition of textures and temperatures was great. She thoroughly enjoyed her dish.
My dear friend Yannick chose straw.
Yannick was served a strawberry and rhubarb soda with a star anise froth. He happily drank his with the straw, smiling at the whimsy.
His better half, Alex, chose fork.
He was served sliced strawberries, rhubarb compote, and a raw milk cheese from Quebec, called La Sauvagine. La Sauvagine happens to be Chef/Owner Marc Lepine’s favourite cheese. Alex enjoyed his dish, pairing fruit and cheese with every bite.
As a fan of raw milk cheeses and pairing them with fruit, were I to choose again, fork would be my weapon of choice. It looked delicious.
Seventh Course: Pork Belly
The pork belly was my favourite dish of the evening. I also sent pictures of it onto Twitter along with the tuna sashimi. Chef Allen wasn’t kidding two weeks ago when she tweeted “It’s all about the pork belly.”
It was cooked sous vide at 82Ã‚Â°C for 9 hours. Then it was marinated in a caramel sauce and sauteed. Each piece was served with a raw apple relish with jalapeno, snow peas, a piece of textured puree of snow peas, and a cube of purple potato.
The pork belly was impossibly tender.
Sauteeing it on high heat seemed to make the caramel even more complex. Topping it off with a few large grains of kosher or sea salt made it perfect. The accompaniments complemented the pork belly well: sweet and fruity salsa with a very light bite; green flavours from the snow peas; and a perfectly cooked piece of potato. There was only a minor textural exception with the partially overcooked snow peas.
Here is my perfect bite:
Eighth Course: Muskox
Two reasons I will always be excited to go to Atelier involve my having absolutely no clue what will be served and, for the most part, my having no idea how each dish is made. I very much enjoy not being able to have preconceived ideas. For instance, when I walked into the restaurant with a dripping umbrella to greet assembled guests, I had no idea the evening’s menu would take me to Nunavut!
The eighth course was wild arctic muskox, prepared sashimi style and marinated in tamari. Tamari is an very richly flavored Japanese soy sauce that is made from soybeans. Whereas, shoyu, which you are normally served in a sushi restaurant, is made from a mixture of soy beans and wheat.
Before our host explained to us what was served, I thought I had a plate of kobe or wagyu placed in front of me. Sliced thinly against the grain, the muskox was well marbled and dark. I am unsure if the colour was due to the tamari or if it were the meat’s natural colour. Red meat darkens when treated with soy.
Whatever the case, those of us at my table who were used to soy, just loved it. Those of us who have cut out soy sauce from our diets, found the marinade strong. The texture, on the other hand, was enjoyed by all. It reflected the incredible ratio of meat to fat, literally falling apart in the mouth.
The muskox sashimi was served with sauteed shiitake mushrooms, dehydrated onion, caramelize onion leather, and a few pieces of lamb’s quarter (chenopodium album).
For reference, this is what muskox look like in the wild:
Source: “The best of readers’ Canada Day photo submissions”, Globe and Mail
Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth courses follow after the jump…
Ninth Course: Ostrich
To those who go to fine restaurants just to eat steak, I implore you to try other things. However, this course should satiate you!
Jenn and I have encountered ostrich before. We know it is red meat. However, this is the first time we were served a tenderloin-resembling “steak” from the fan or thigh portion. Cooked sous vide and then pan seared to develop what our host aptly called “maillard flavours”, the steak was served with mashed potatoes, pineapple carrots, and beet root that was cooked and then marinated.
Tender, flavorful, and plated with fresh and bright vegetation, this was a favourite of several diners. It was my third favourite of the evening.
Here is Jenn’s portion, showing the luscious, smooth, and buttery mashed potatoes.
As with any steak course, we were furnished with steak knives beforehand.
These resembled open switchblades, with serrated edges. Oddly, they were stamped “France” on one side, and “made in China” on the other.
Intermission: Nitro Napkins
Before Chef Holland’s highly anticipated desserts took the stage, we were treated to nitro napkins.
Dipped in liquid nitrogen, the napkins were wonderfully refreshing.
Interestingly, all the guys put the napkins directly to their faces. The gals just wiped their hands and forearms.
Aside: Before we begin with the dessert courses, I need to point out how good Atelier was with making allowances for food allergies, both providing options and confirming them with us. Substitutions to specific dishes were made for those of us with nut allergies. For others, white chocolate was substituted for dark. As someone who carries antihistamine with me each and every time I go out to eat, I greatly appreciate the efforts made. I have yet to see the like elsewhere. In fact, I have a list of disingenuous eateries I recommend people with peanut sensitivities not visit. Atelier is NOT on that list.
Tenth Course: CSI, “Death of a Strawberry”
Hailed as a genius dessert on Twitter, and well deserving, this dish was a sensory feast. It was meant to resemble a crime scene, complete with body and police tape.
While the white chocolate CSI is more authentic with a white sheet covering the “body”, the dark chocolate version has a body outline in the bloody splatters. CSI’s components: strawberry coulis, chocolate outline (dark chocolate), chocolate blanket (white or dark chocolate), yellow cornbread gel tape, chocolate streusel, cornbread streusel, and sour cream ice cream.
Oh it was wonderful wandering the crime scene and…um…eating it. Quality chocolate and strawberry is such a great combination, rich, bitter, sweet, bright, yum! The savory cornbread pieces punctuated the dish and were also enjoyable. Just look at the textures: crisp, soft, crunchy, almost melting…
And for the morbidly inclined…
Under the sheet was a piece of sponge cake dipped in something strawberry. Yummy to the last!
Eleventh Course: At the Movies
The eleventh course dish, “At the Movies”, deserves a once over and then a two pic breakdown. It’s that good!
High level view…
Now, let’s zoom in…
Pictured (right to left) is salted butter cream, popcorn, popcorn streusel, popcorn cake (no idea how this is made), coke suds (foam), salted caramel, chocolate streusel, and coke meringue.
Pictured (right to left) is salted caramel, red licorice noodle, coke meringue, popcorn, chocolate streusel, and dark chocolate milk duds. The milk duds contained whipped caramel and were coated in dark chocolate.
The White Chocolate Version, came with white chocolate streusel and white chocolate coated milk duds
For me, this dish effectively captured the key elements of an outing to the movies in the 80s. That is, save for the sticky floor and large bald guy obscuring the screen. All of the textures and flavours were authentic, down to the cola fizz!
Twelfth Course: The Elvis Truffle
Last, but certainly not least, we encountered the King himself. Rumour has it that one of Chef Holland’s former patrons has a picture of the Elvis Truffle, enlarged and framed in his home. Here’s why…
Consisting of a peanut (or almond) butter and banana ganache core, a white chocolate coating, and sprinkled with candied bacon, the Elvis truffle is an incredibly rich treat, proving that size isn’t everything in the dessert world. Several people at our tables actually couldn’t finish theirs, which is a further testament to the truffle’s authenticity as a dessert fit for Elvis.
Many thanks to Chef Holland for making an almond butter version for me to try and supplying another for my better half at late notice. Even lacking peanut flavour, it was great! And yes, I know almond butter takes away from the truffle’s realism…Still, full bodied, salty, sweet, nutty, banana-y, and rich, I loved it!
Signed copies of the menu were presented to us after we finished the last course.
Then, we got to meet the chefs who made our spectacular meal. Happy and full of energy, they greeted everyone warmly.
Honestly, many of us never noticed the time going by. By the time we filed into Atelier’s tiny kitchen, its chefs had been putting together culinary masterpieces for a little over 3 hours. Yet, they took the time to chat with us briefly.
Dinner at Atelier is well worth the cost. Without a wine pairing, 2 tasting menus ran me $169.00 including taxes, but before tip. While the price point may seem high compared to other restaurants in Ottawa, please consider that patrons are served what amounts to multiple entrees. Further, for comparison, the “blind” tasting at Chef Matthew Carmichael’s E18teen restaurant is $85.00 (before taxes or tip) per person for 5 courses. And, a 12 course avant-garde tasting menu at Chicago’s Alinea’s is approximately $168.33 ($145 USD before taxes or tip) per person.
Determination: Domestic North American – Avant-Garde: -$$$, ****1/2
I have come to the conclusion that every local foodie, gastronome, gourmet and adventurous eater has to dine at Atelier. It is an experience that needs to be shared.
Chef/Owner Marc Lepine wrote to me before the dinner, saying he hoped dining at Atelier will meet my expectations. Chef, you and your staff have exceeded them! Jenn and I will return.
Update: It seems that a national fashion magazine also thinks that Atelier is a must dine destination.
In its latest issue, Elle publishes a guide to great places to visit in 6 of Canada’s “coolest cities” that are more than likely only known to locals. Not only was Ottawa chosen as a cool city (along with Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnepeg and Toffino), but Atelier was one of the two restaurants listed. The other, Murray Street Bistro. Congrats!
And yes, by the pictures, many of you have probably deduced that I purchased a copy of the magazine. Why does a male foodie spend what amounts to his coffee budget for the day on a women’s fashion magazine? Simple! To encourage more magazines to write about the developing restaurant scene in Ottawa!
540 Rochester Street