Since a fire tore through its kitchen this summer, the Courtyard Restaurant has been busy finishing reservations and making preparations to open their doors to Ottawa again. A new kitchen had to be built, along with repairing the floor of the McArthur Room, which is located on the second floor directly over the kitchen. In addition to the repairs, every stone in the restaurant had to be washed of the lingering scent of smoke. Meanwhile, Chef Michael Hay, his chefs, and his cooks spent the unexpected downtime, working in field kitchens to meet event commitments. They designed a new kitchen and put together a new menu.
Finally, after several delays, Courtyard Restaurant threw open its doors open on October 26th with a soiree, inviting friends of the restaurant, media, and Ottawa’s Deputy Fire Chief Gordon Mills. Don and I were among the lucky guests who had the pleasure of attending this highly anticipated evening. With a profound sense of humour that would permeate the event, the soiree was called “Fire It Up!” It included a live auction to raise money for the Ottawa Firefighter’s Community Foundation Memorial. Guests were treated to an unforgettable five-course dinner.
The evening began with a cocktail reception. Invitees were greeted with glasses of champagne and Jackson Triggs white Chardonnay. Servers mingled with guests as they brought out trays of delectable morsels to enjoy.
My eyes lit up as one server approached. On her tray were crispy golden ling cod fish cakes topped with bacon hollandaise. Each bite was sinfully delicious.
Guests were also treated to teaspoons of beef tartar. Don described his as savoury and good textured. It fell apart in his mouth.
Unfortunately, my tardy arrival that evening meant I was unable to sample the strawberries topped with quinoa and mint or the tofu broccoli and caramel sudachi hors d’oeuvre.
The reception ended with an outdoor show. The night’s host, general manager Genevieve Rochon announced a special fire show had been planned. Intrigued, guests quickly made their way outside and gathered under the canopy in Clarendon Court.
To appease the Fire Gods or perhaps tempt fate, Sophie Latreille of Fire Weavers delighted the crowd. Graceful, hypnotic, and acrobatic, each dazzling move brought cheers and applause. It was an incredible performance!
Back inside, guests were directed upstairs to the McArthur Room. Under soft lights and beautifully decorated tables, we were greeted with an enticing amuse-bouche: tuna tartar with foie gras torchon (frozen and smashed) and passionfruit.
It tasted as beautifully as it was presented. Soft and silky, the tuna melted in my mouth. The sweetness of the fruit and crunchy texture of the seeds was a lovely contrast while the foie gras torchon added some fatty savouriness. It would be the start of a menu that reflects Courtyard’s new tenacious approach to food and service.
Next up, an elegant presentation of beets. Normally, I am not a fan of beets, but the dish I was served compelled me to try it.
A plate of roasted beets with goat cheese coulis, frosted walnuts, pickled golden beets and lime fluid gel.
The roasted beets were sweet. The pickled beets, sweetly sour. The goat cheese, sharp and rich. The walnuts added a nuttiness and crunchy texture.
For the third course, an appetizer of crispy pork roulade with celeriac remoulade, sriracha gel, and raw watercress was served next.
The roulade was made from braising a pig’s head and then formed into a cake before frying. It was soft, flavourful, rich, and crispy. The celeriac was shaved into strips, resembling pasta. It was bathed in a rich remoulade sauce. It made a great pairing for the savouriness of the pork. It was a favourite among the guests sitting at my table.
Just when the evening couldn’t get any better, the room darkened, leaving flickering candles as the only sources of light. Then in a clear voice, Melannie Eldridge, the Ottawa tour manager of Haunted Walks, set the mood with a re-telling of the history of this magnificent grey stoned building including some details of two previous fires. A gripping story, we learned a Mrs. Evan (formerly a guest at the McArthur hotel) was unable to escape the flames of the first fire and perished. To this day, her spirit continues to roam parts of what is now Courtyard Restaurant and has been spotted on numerous occasions, peering sadly out the window.
After hearing the chilling story, host Genevieve Rochon had the lights back on and announced the evening’s main course.
This was the most stunning braised beef short ribs I have ever eaten and easily the best dish of the night.
Braised for an amazing 48 hours (sous vide at 56C) in kecap manis, seared “hard”, and spritzed with clarified butter, it was accompanied with a buttery cauliflower coulis, seared king oyster mushrooms, broccoli, arugula, and coffee spaetzle. The beef was savoury with a punctuated sweetness.
Chef Hay had developed a technique that softened a normally tough cut of beef, bringing it to tenderness, but stopped before the individual fibers separated or hardened. Don and I have eaten a lot of sous vide beef ribs. It was a unique texture. It was paired with velvety coulis, crisp vegetables, and soft spaetzle. Every bite was heavenly.
By this time, I was incredibly full, yet somehow, I still had some room left for dessert. As the menu had been provided at the start of dinner, I knew a “creamsicle” would be served. My mind raced with what would be served.
The first word that came to mind? Wow! Created by Pastry Chef Quinn Davis, this was his whimsical take on a childhood favourite of many. In fact, my sisters and I used to squabble over the last creamsicle in the box. Chef Davis’ orange creamsicle was complemented with pistachio-fennel cake, licorice namelaka, vanilla macerated orange segments, orange blossom, and molasses. By the time I had licked my spoon clean, Don and I were grinning at each other as though we had just shared the most delicious secret.
The evening was a huge success. If every dish sampled was simply a peek of the new menu, I can only imagine what the remaining creations will be like.
To cap off the event, a live auction in support of the Ottawa Firefighter’s Community Foundation Memorial was also conducted. Up for grabs was a “Guest Chef” and Dinner for 4. Diners would bid on a chance to be invited into the Courtyard kitchen to work with Chef Michael Hay, prepare dishes, and enjoy a five-course dinner for four with complimentary wines. The night would then end with overnight accommodation in two suites at the Novotel Hotel with complimentary breakfast. The donation of the two suites was a surprise addition, offered by the owner of Novotel during the flurry of bidding. The winning bid, $2000.
A big thank you goes out to Chef Hay and his team, and Genevieve Rochon and her staff for creating a memorable soiree. Our best wishes to everyone for a successful 30th year and many more to come.
Don and I will definitely be back for more!
Update: Here are the photos we took in Flickr slideshow format, including shots of Courtyard’s new kitchen.
21 George Street