We saw quite the year here at foodiePrints. We were interviewed. We were quoted in published articles. We were asked to participate in projects with recognizable brands like the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Courvoisier Cognac, and Motts.
Chief among 2012’s milestones were the founding members of the team getting married, the blog suffering through a rather painful face-lift and re-platforming, our breaking through the 1200 post threshold, and the blog being nominated for a “Ninjamatics’ Canadian Weblog Award.”
Now, we could do a retrospective, listing some of the significant happenings, especially during the hectic last four months of 2012. But, I already indulged this fall with my 35 for Thirty-five post.
We could do a “tastes of the year” round-up, following the lead of local newspapers and magazines; recycling photos and content; drawing generalized trends; and extrapolating sometimes wild predictions for 2013.
How about a quick listing of standouts, mostly from our archives?
Dim Sum at Hung Sum Restaurant (870 Somerset Street W.)
While they may not quite “touch your heart” (literal translation of dim sum), Hung Sum’s dishes pass muster, making it our go to for “yum cha” in Ottawa. Having eaten in Vancouver, Markham, Richmond Hill, and Toronto, where dim sum can also be ordered a la carte, Jenn and I are particular when it comes to what is essentially Cantonese brunch tapas. There are no push carts at Hung Sum. And, there are neither overcooked dumplings with mushy fillings nor greasy rice or noodles.
Chef’s Playground Tacos at the Tacolot (999 Wellington Street W.)
What started off as a way for owner John Reilley-Roe to incubate new taco concepts, while raising funds for local charitable causes like te Ottawa Food Bank, turned into a rivalry between members of the restaurant industry. Chefs started competing with one another to serve the best “signature” taco. The result? Some of the most innovative tacos this city has ever seen were served on Sunday afternoons when Reilley-Roe handed over the kitchen at his cinder-block-shack turned taqueria. Needless to say, good technique and creativity produced some really tasty tacos.
Brunch at Odile (47 rue Montclair, Gatineau)
Restaurateur and Chef Marysol Foucault opened Odile early in 2012, a sister restaurant to her wildly successful Edgar (60 Rue Bégin). While Odile serves dinner in the evenings and Edgar serves lunch on the weekdays, both serve exceptional brunch on the weekends.
You would be hard pressed to find better executed brunch in the National Capital Region. Sure, there is comparable, but you won’t find superior.
Brunch at Les Grillades (85 Holland Avenue)
One of Ottawa’s best kept secrets, Les Grillades prepares some of the best chicken in town. Chef/Owner Ali Chebbani and his wife Leila, serve theirs spatchcocked, largely de-boned, and charcoal grilled. Either whole or half portions, chicken comes with hummus, garlic sauce, and romaine salad dressed with sumac and an olive oil vinaigrette.
Besides chicken, Les Grillades serves Middle Eastern standards like soujouk sausage, lamb kafta, and shish taouk. Its kebbe, deep fried bulgur and ground beef balls, stands out.
Even lesser known, Chebbani prepares traditional Middle Eastern breakfast fare on Sunday mornings. Families crowd Les Grillades to tuck into soul satisfying foul (pronounced “fool”) and fatteh. If you are tired of eggs and toast, do check Les Grillades out on Sundays.
Sandwiches at Pressed (750 Gladstone Avenue)
Owner Jeff Stewart wanted to open an urban sandwich bar that catered to foodies, installing his own smoker and learning the art of smoking food. During the day, he and his staff handcraft sandwich fare that rivals Edgar’s celebrated paninis in Gatineau.
Because Pressed is situated too close to Kevin Mathieson’s Art Is In Bakery (250 City Centre Avenue #112), Mathieson will not supply Stewart with his artisan bread. Instead, Stewart employs Toronto’s Ace Bakery bread, filling buns and rolls with all sorts of goodness from smoked meat (including decent pulled pork) to smoked fish, smoked tomatoes (which is also made into salsa), tempura eggplant, falafel, and Korean-marinated steak. Sides include in-house pickles, soups, salads, and cheese curd mac ‘n cheese.
During the evenings, Pressed becomes a music venue, hosting a myriad of local performing talent, singers and songwriters.
On the weekends, Pressed serves brunch. Think smoked meat on house-made waffles! Yes, please!
Pressed’s fare is so good, it attracted John Catucci within its first year of operation. It will be featured in an episode of the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here.
Dinner at Chef Matt Carmichael’s Pop Up at Mellos (290 Dalhousie Street)
When Matt Carmichael left his position as Executive Chef for Caroline Gosselin’s restaurants E18hteen, Social, and Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen, many wondered if Ottawa had lost yet another culinary talent to a larger city. Carmichael had just decided he needed another challenge, so, with Social’s Chef Jordon Holley, he tried his hand at a “popup”-style venture at venerable Mellos diner.
In a way, Carmichael precipitated the popup deluge in Ottawa. Afterward, local chefs organized additional supper clubs. There were “popup” patios along the Rideau canal, beer-garden style open air dining areas setup alongside parked food trucks. When notable chefs like Martin Picard visited Ottawa, taking over an existing eateries or event venues, their events were also dubbed popups.
At Mellos, Carmichael juxtaposed his signature worldly cuisine, employing high quality ingredients, on an authentic 70s diner that hailed from the 40s. Think “vintage” setting meets “modern” food.
And, it worked so well that, after Carmichael left to pursue opening his highly anticipated restaurant on Elgin Street, Mellos’ owner Martin Fremeth hired Toronto-expat Mike Franks to re-establish a similar evening service, sometimes called Mellos After Dark.
Grains-to-Beer Fare at Brothers Beer Bistro (366 Dalhousie Street)
2012 was a quite the year for beer in the National Capital Region. New craft micro-breweries like Beyond the Pale Brewing opened. Several brewpubs opened, including Mill Street (a Toronto-originating chain), another Clock Tower (a local chain), and Big Rig Brew. The inaugural National Capital Craft Beer Festival attracted hundreds of people.
Finally, good friends Darren Flowers, Patrick Asselin, and Nick Ringuette opened Brothers Beer Bistro.
While brewpubs concentrate on making and serving great beer, the accompanying pub-style food can be very ornery. Chef Flowers’ food at Brothers isn’t ornery. A veteran of the Ottawa food scene, he serves a creative menu of dishes that adheres to a “grains-to-beer” philosophy. That is, every plate is made up of components that employ anything from malt to the beer it produces and even the spent grains. Expertly paired with craft beer from around the world, Brothers is Ottawa’s answer to Toronto’s Beer Bistro.
Latin-Inspired Dishes at Navarra (93 Murray Street)
Shifting a bit from the Basque theme, award winning Chef Rene Rodriguez now serves more Mexican-inspired dishes at his 30-seat eatery in Ottawa’s gastro alley of Murray Street.
Expect lively fare at Navarra that features Mexican flavours but incorporates Italian and Spanish influences.
Classically French-trained, Rodruigez has operated Navarra for almost 5 years now, consistently producing dishes that have impressed restaurant critics be they local or visitors from other cities.
It is a wonder Navarra isn’t listed on more top ten restaurant lists for the National Capital Region.
In the interest of being concise, dishes that stood out for 2012 were also served at Murray Street Kitchen (110 Murray Street), during the inaugural Knives Out dinner; and Union Local 613 (315 Somerset Street W.), during the inaugural Clam Jam dinner (post to follow).
Here are three of my personal favourite bites this year!
Finally, the foodiePrints team seems to have adopted a new favourite Ottawa restaurant, Back Lane Cafe (1087 Wellington Street W.). It is our wine blogger and her fiance’s date place. Dinner at Back Lane was my chosen last meal as a bachelor. Newlyweds, Jenn and I celebrated the end of 2012 with yet another meal of Mediterranean-inspired plates from the kitchen of Chef Michael Hay just days ago.
Did we ever eat well this year!
Do I dare draw conclusions? I dare point out our food scene is constantly growing and developing. But, we are still laggards, catching up with food trends in larger metropolitan cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Those cities, in turn, follow food trends set by North American cities with mature dining out cultures like Chicago or New York City (NYC).
However, I don’t dare borrow labels from overseas to describe or classify the changing face of dining in the National Capital Region. Multi-faceted, there is no “young cuisine” movement here. France, particularly Paris, may be undergoing a revolt by young culinary disciplinarians, wanting to break free of longstanding traditions in classical French cuisine. But, these chefs, some of whom having staged in Chicago or NYC, aspire to integrate familiar characteristics of new world fine dining: smaller plate mains that change daily to accommodate available local produce; dishes that feature ingredients crafted in-house; entirely blind tasting menus. Think convivial dining atmospheres, accessible food, flexible meals, and technique that may not fit in the French pantheon of cooking. In 2010, Anthony Bourdain pointed to Joel Robochon as the godfather of this movement, the celebrated and classically-trained French chef having pioneered “anti-Michelin-star dining” with his L’Atelier years ago. But, I digress.
Our food scene is changing because of the tireless and oftentimes heroic efforts of fearless entrepreneurs who are trying to grow and develop our palates. They exploit locally-grown produce as Ottawa has several thousand farmers within its city limits. They look at mature dining cultures and ask, “Why Not Here?”
Is the National Capital Region a food destination? Not yet, but as Chef Hay points out, “Ottawa is a culinary powder keg.”
We at foodiePrints eagerly look forward to what 2013 has to bring!
Tags: absinthe cafe, Brothers Beer Bistro, Chef's Playground, dim sum, featured, Les Grillades, Mellos, Navarra, Odile, Pressed, roundup, tartare, The Flatbread Pizza Company