Honestly, I thought I had seen it all last week. Jenn and I sat down at the bar of our favourite diner, Mellos in the ByWard Market (290 Dalhousie Street). We ate a rather late dinner, chatting with the amiable kitchen and laughing about many things food. At the end of a surprisingly thin service for a Friday evening, Mellos’ dishwasher asked for a plate of poutine and ate it with sliced white bread. He made poutine sandwiches.
Chef Mike Franks, who takes over the 70’s era diner at 2 pm, shook his head, but smiled.
“It is what it is. You’re in a diner, man. This ain’t no temple of gastronomy…” he exclaimed.
Mellos, which opened in 1942, serves great food that pays homage to its history. During the day, short order cooks sling classic diner fare: club sandwiches, griddled hamburgers and fries, whistle dogs, and fried egg breakfast plates. During the evening, Franks and his crew sling beef and broccoli noodle bowls, deep-fried mushroom dumplings, “trini doubles”, chicken “katsu” sandwiches, braised lamb wrapped in griddled paratha, and the best battered zucchini in the city. They cook with pork short rib, lamb, magret duck breast, and skirt steak.
No, Mellos may not be a “temple” of finer dining. Chef Marc Lepine’s Atelier (540 Rochester Street), which opened in 2008, is another matter, entirely. The restaurant and its modernist take on food (formerly misnomer-ed molecular gastronomy) were named amongst En Route’s Best New Restaurants in Canada for 2009. En Route is Air Canada’s in-flight magazine.
In 2012, Lepine, having won the Gold Medal Plates (GMP) competition for the national capital region with a Qualicum Beach Scallop dish (with potato, chorizo, celery, truffle, fennel, bacon, and lemon), competed nationally. GMP and the Canadian Culinary Championships held in Kelowna, British Columbia are fundraisers for the Canadian Olympic Foundation that showcase Canadian culinary talent. After a grueling three-days of competition, Lepine won.
Restauranteur Stephen Beckta points to Lepine’s restaurant as the last of its kind to open in recent memory. While sharing a table at a coffee shop, he explained the latest “wave” of restaurants in Ottawa may be chef-driven, but each demonstrates hospitality can be delivered along with casual fare. Be it a bistro, “tavern,” or public house, these independent restaurants provide a respite from the hectic world where “diners can expect to be cared for.”
Atelier, with its blind 12-course menu (now $110) and intimate 22-seats, is a special occasion restaurant. You’re not dropping by for a quick bite.
Atelier was once dubbed the Alinea of the north by Adrian Brijbassi of Vaycay.ca. Alinea, where Lepine staged for legendary Chef Grant Achatz, is so known for its elaborate blind tasting menus, a fellow Chicago restaurant decided to do a parody for Halloween 2013.
Lepine similarly seems to have decided to parody his own restaurant by offering takeout, one-time-only! He calls what is becoming his monthly Tuesday events, “temporary insanity.” For instance, during last month’s “reversal” dinner, he and his kitchen served. The servers cooked.
Originally, Lepine had spaces for 30 stops within a specific zone around the restaurant. He could accommodate no more than 40 pre-paid orders. We snagged one.
Sous Jason Sawision showed up at our door around 8 pm with a box and a smile. [Please remind me I owe you a tip!!!]
Some assembly required, here are the 5 courses delivered:
[Rabbit terrine with fave bean puree, puffed wild rice, and chive blossom; Puffed potato chip with house-cured whitefish roe, crème fraiche, and bronze fennel]
[w/maple-ponzu gel sheet, miso mayo, yuzu powder, pistachio, and watercress]
[w/braised red cabbage, double-smoked bacon, powdered bacon fat (yeah…take a moment to think about this!), poached apples, caraway dust, and dehydrated sauerkraut]
Course 3 (my favourite course!)
[w/crispy togarashi nori, meyer lemon emulsion, chestnut puree, powdered lobster oil, and pickled sea asparagus]
[w/smoked potato gnocchi, green and wild asparagus, carrots, cinnamon and blue foot mushrooms, artichoke puree, red wine sauce]
[w/Greek yogurt gel, puffed red quinoa, and Saskatoon berry sorbet]
This past winter was a cold one. My wife and I partook of many delivered meals.
Nothing delivered in the same recyclable take-out containers matches what Atelier delivered on Tuesday.
Now, I’ve seen it all!
540 Rochester Street