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Graffiti’s: Did We Misjudge the Italian Eatery? No

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On Monday, February 1, 2010, a new set of Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) awards were handed out. Deserving winners in my mind included ZenKitchen (634 Somerset Street West) for Ottawa’s New Restaurant of the Year, Social Restaurant and Lounge (537 Sussex Drive) for Best Restaurant Design, Play Food and Wine (1 York Street) for Favorite Fine Dining Restaurant (our reccomendation for small plates in Ottawa), and the Works for Favorite Casual Dining Restaurant.

What surprised me was Chef Neil Mather’s win. He, the Chef of Graffiti’s Italian Eatery at Holiday Inn & Suites Kanata, beat out the likes of fellow finalists Chefs Marc Lepine (Atelier), Steve Mitton (Murray Street), Michael Moffat (Play Food and Wine and Beckta Dining and Wine) and John Taylor (Domus Café) . Everyone, save for Chef Mather are recognizable to anyone familiar to the food scene in Ottawa as either Chefs or Chef/Owners of higher end fine dining restaurants. Chefs Lepine, Moffat, and Taylor have even been fierce competitors or winners in past years’ Gold Medal Plates, a national culinary competition that raises funds for Canadian high performing athletes, future Olympians.

Confused, I checked with the ORHMA website to determine how nominees were selected, how finalists were chosen, and how finalists won. Accordingly

Ottawa chefs are judged by an independent panel including previous winners, culinary media and educators. The panel uses both objective and subjective criteria made up of: education and training, industry participation, awards received, work practices, artistry, creativity and ingenuity. Three finalists from ORHMA member establishments [were] announced

Finalists are then voted for via ballot to determine a winner.

When Jenn and I started dating, we visited Grafitti’s twice. Twice we deemed the restaurant about as authentic Italian as chicken balls and egg rolls are authentic Chinese. Essentially, the restaurant met, but did not surpass, my expectations for an in-house Holiday Inn & Suites restaurant. We found the food, on par with sit-down fast-food restaurants like Denny’s, Kelsey’s, or the former Olive Garden.

Curious that Chef Mather had had a positive effect on the restaurant during his tenure, we made reservations with Paola (@cestboncooking) and a pair of fellow local food bloggers, Shari (@whisk_food_blog) of Whisk and Rachelle of Rachelle Eats Food. I had high hopes Chef Mather had reworked the entire menu, offering more authentic Italian fare. What was I looking for? Food that is conservative on technique, but employs extremely fresh ingredients, including seafood.

What did we encounter when we returned? In the 6 years since Jenn and I set foot in Graffiti’s, the restaurant has not changed ostensibly.

Interior

Interior

The same yellowish beige stucco walls line the dining room and bar area (called a saloon on its website). The same floor to ceiling columns, encased in dark stained wood panels, stand between booths and tables. The restaurant still sports the same green patterned carpets.

The menu was a throwback to earlier days too. In it, we found a “1999 Sample Table D’hote” menu for $19.99 that included classic Caesar salad (yet it included no coddled eggs), linguine salsiccia, and tiramisu.

Menu

Menu

But, for a restaurant that boasts “modern Italian cuisine – complemented by Mediterranean influences”, I found the options rather pedestrian. Soups included a vegetarian option, a minestrone ($5.99). Appetizers included tomato bruschetta ($7.99), cheese crostini ($8.99), garlic mussels ($8.99) and calamari ($9.99). Pasta entrees included a pesto pasta, a spaghetti with meatballs (suspiciously described as “Bigga” Meatballs) ($14.99), cheese stuffed pasta, and potato gnocchi. Mains included a veal scaloppini ($24.99), a tusacani portfolio ($24.99), a focaccia burger ($13.99), chicken parmesan ($21.99), and an ossobuccu milanaise ($27.99). Also, the menu includes clay-oven-fired, not wood-oven fired, 12″ personal pizzas, topped with “Italian mozzarella cheese.”

What did we order? To start, the salad special of the day, a “classic” casesar salad, the minestrone, and the bruschetta.

Specials Menu

Specials Menu

While the Chef signed menu stated that the salad special included julienne capicola ham, my salad included what looked like processed lunch meat ham.

Insalata Cucina with Julienne Lunch Meat Ham

Insalata Cucina with Julienne Lunch Meat Ham

My fellow diner enjoyed her bruschetta with various toppings. My better half found the minestrone heavily flavoured with wine and another unidentified strong flavoured.

Disappointing Minestrone

Disappointing Minestrone

Graffit’s was also stingy with ingredients, the entire bowl having 9 pasta shells.

For mains, the tuscani portfolio, the ossobuco milanaise, the spaghetti (substituting “bigga” meatballs for chicken), the seafood linguine with pesto, and chicken parmesan. The tusacani portfolio did not come in a pastry crust as our waitress explained. The chicken supreme was tender. The accompanying starch, a baked potato the menu said would come with sour cream and chives, came dry. The osso bucco was braised tender. The truffle risotto that accompanied it was devoid of any truffle or truffle flavour, again contrary to what the menu described. The rice was also under cooked. The spaghetti was overcooked and tasted as if it had been washed prior to plating, having absolutely no starch coat.

Overcooked Spaghetti

Overcooked Spaghetti

The accompanying chicken was dry and bland. My seafood linguine was over-seasoned and oily, leaving a significant pool of olive oil on the plate.

Oily Pesto Linguine

Oily Pesto Linguine

The scallops were slightly overdone, just bordering on tough. The pasta, however, was toothsome.

For dessert, we split an apple pouch ($8), cooked apple in crisp filo, served with store bought vanilla ice cream (it melted very quickly). The filo was somewhat singed at the edges, but the dish was enjoyable.

What was the best part of our meal? The cheese stuffed bread that was served to us before any of the dishes.

Cheese Stuffed Bread

Cheese Stuffed Bread

It came with a nutty hummus and salted eggplant.

With cliche Italian dishes, sauces and soups that taste like they came canned, dishes that do not adhere to the menu half of the time, badly made starches, and overcooked proteins, I was left to wonder how the restaurant’s chef won his award. His cooks made mediocre dishes.

Did I mention our waitress hovered impatiently over us throughout the meal, hurrying us through the courses, impatiently busing our table and repeatedly reminding us new dishes were ready? No? Well I guess there are a number of reasons to find another Italian restaurant in Ottawa to visit.

Particulars:
Graffiti’s Italian Eatery & Saloon
101 Kanata Avenue
Kanata, ON K2T 1E6
(613) 271-0921

Graffiti's Italian Eatery & Saloon on Urbanspoon

ZenKitchen
634 Somerset Street West
(613) 233-6404

Social Restaurant and Lounge
537 Sussex Drive
(613) 789-7355

Play food & wine
1 York Street
(613) 667-9207

The Works
Various Locations

Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.

Comments

Hillary B

I totally disagree with the above comments!!!! Chef Neil is amazing and I have never had a bad experience there at all. I have been going there with my boyfriend on our anniversaries, dates and other special occasions because we LOVE the atmosphere. The food is always amazing and te staff are great. I am surprised people have much to say that is negative toward the restaurant. We love it and can't wait to come check out the new dining room! Haven't visited during reservation but I hope the menu doesn't change!

Patrick de Vries

My Personal Experiences at graffiti's Have always been positive. with a relaxed atmosphere and very enjoyable Dinning experience. The Management has always been very quick to correct problems and insure My self and family where Happy when we left. To me that is the most important requirement of a restaurant (the want and willingness to make sure my family is happy) That is something you do not see much these days. I will be returning with my family as I know what to expect from Graffiti's ( A Good experience)

In Response to Comments of Chef Neil Mather and Chef of the year tittle
Chef Neil's Work with both his own staff and Students from Various Culinary Schools in the area is incredible. He has apprenticed many Up coming and current Chefs in the area and continues to work with Algonquin college on many levels. He is a Mentor and Role model to Many Young Chefs and most definitely deserves the credit he has received. I Thank Chef Neil for his outstanding community service.
Keep up the Great Work Chef!

neil mather

My sincere apologies to you all for any below standard dishes you may have found... we strive to create an excellent experience for all our guests at Graffiti's... kindly call me directly for your next reservation at 271-2391 so we can address your concerns individually....

regards,

Neil Mather
Executive Chef
Holiday Inn and Suites

jenn

In addition to what Don has written, I would also like to mention the bread that was served has not changed in years. In fact, I feel that the current menu (not just the table d'hote) is similar to the menu from 10 years ago.

When Graffiti's first opened in 1999, it was quite a popular destination in Kanata for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, within a couple of years, prices increased and the food became rather mediocre.

That evening's dinner was my first visit since 2003 and I found it rather disappointing. When I go to an Italian eatery and order a spaghetti, I have high expectations as it is perhaps one of the simplest pasta dishes to make.

It is likely I will go to Graffiti's again sometime, but not in the near future.

Rachelle

Very well put! A very disappointing experience indeed.

yannick

The chef must be really good friends with the judges.

I hate it when restaurants/waiters busy us around, we're here because we chose this place over all the other ones to have a relaxing and enjoyable dinner, if we're in a rush we'll let you know.

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