Last night, I attended an event with some very forward thinking colleagues at the Arc Hotel Lounge (140 Slater Street). There, the conversation was inspiring. The drinks were pricey ($10/4 oz of wine, $3/half can of Coke). And, I ran into an old friend, Izzy (@spoonsie).
After chatting with Izzy and introducing her to the not so large world of public servants on twitter, I sat down with several other bloggers. I chanced at meeting the blogger behind a venerable Ottawa food blog that has been around much longer than foodiePrints. We had a interesting discussion about raising children to eat healthily, something very “en vogue” at the moment with Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution. Her advice: immerse your child in good food and expose him or her to good eating when he or she is very young.
When the event started dispersing, Izzy asked me if I were hungry. Having run 15 kilometers that day and skipping lunch, she was ravenous. Me, I was peckish. Since we started walking westward down Slater as we left, we decided to try out Whalesbone Oyster House (430 Bank Street).
This is one of the restaurants everyone recommends, chefs, line cooks, locals, out-of-towners, other food bloggers, other bloggers. This is one of the restaurants, when you walk in for the first time, you wonder aloud why you have never visited before. This is one of the restaurants in which you are sad when you finish your entree because it is done. This is one of the restaurants that has you re-evaluate what makes a good fish course and what makes a good seafood restaurant.
For Whalesbone it’s an open kitchen where the young chef cooks in jean cut-offs. It’s consistently gorgeous plates that have you wondering why you don’t eat sustainable seafood (Ocean-Wise certified) more often. It’s an eclectic collection of stuff that seem randomly assembled, but somehow go together. Take for instance the genuine whale vertebrae affixed to the wall and Elvis memorabilia next to it. It’s no more than 20 seats that saw 3 patrons each when Izzy and I finished at the bar. This, on a Wednesday night. It’s staff that shuck oysters effortlessly and masterfully with bare hands. It’s staff that visually inspect and smell every shucked oyster, discarding them if they are even the slightest bit odd. It’s staff that pour a proper glass of pinot noire, letting you try it first. It’s vinyl records and a record player, playing the Eurythmics with one of the people behind the bar, singing along to “Here Comes the Rain Again.” It’s one of those restaurants that deserves its reputation.
Not bad for a restaurant that saw two turnovers in head chefs (including Chef Steve Vardy who also opened Beckta and Black Cat) before firmly asserting itself as a culinary force with Chefs Charlotte Langley and Jenna Durling. I believe Chef Durling was cooking that evening.
Whalesbone saw two of my firsts that night: my first time eating there and my first time eating oysters on the half shell. That’s right folks, the foodie, who has eaten many things raw from fin fish to squid, octopus, lobster, scallops, and geoduck (when last I was in Vancouver), never slurped an oyster.
To rectify this, Izzy ordered us the shucker’s special to start ($45), an iced platter with 18-20 shucked-to-order oysters accompanied with a condiment rack. Ours came with oysters from coast to coast. Some were firmer than others. Some were saltier than others. Everything, fresh, clean, and delicious. Izzy’s epiphany that evening, oysters drizzled with single malt scotch. Mine, a little shredded horse radish and Tabasco.
Izzy then ordered the halibut ($28) with a slice of bacon pie (mashed potatoes and cheese curds, wrapped in a bacon crust), in-house barbecue sauce, sweet corn hash, and bitter greens. Me, I ordered the Newfoundland wild mackerel ($27). The plate came schmeered with an almost smokey tomato coulis. It was sprinkled with bits of double smoked bacon. Under the perfectly seared fish, soft yet slightly chewy tomato and potato gnocchi. It was so good I took my bread and sopped up the leftover coulis and oils, literally cleaning my plate.
For dessert, Izzy ordered the the “Snickers” ($10). Her brownie was speckled with peanuts. It came with a side of Pascale’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream, sprinkled with chunks of sponge toffee. Her plate was sauced with a dark chocolate ganache. Me, I ordered the “Whisky Sour” ($10). My plate was dolloped with lemon curd. Off to one-side was a tower that appealed to my love of tart desserts. Its base: a round of lemon sponge. Atop that: a round of frozen lime mousse, a round of frozen lemon mousse, and Pascale’s Whiskey Ice Cream. To garnish: one cranberry and some cranberry coulis. When last I was at Piggy Market, Pascale of Pascale’s ice cream had me sample the whiskey ice cream. I had thought it too strong. Pair it with tart citrus mousse, sweet cake, and some lemon curd and it works!
With the dining room so small, Izzy and I could tell when our orders were being made. The aromas were as enticing as the food. The food was a feast for the eyes and palate.
I actually apologized to Twitter that I did not go to Whalesbone with a camera. In fact, the lady we sat beside, a waiter at the Heart and Crown, told us “Take a picture! Stick it on FaceBook.” Next time!
Total: $163.20 (including taxes and two glasses of wine)
The Whalesbone Oyster House
430 Bank Street