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Ottawa’s Nominees Vying for EnRoute’s Best New Restaurants People’s Choice Award 2014

Mena Restaurant's Bar Mena Restaurant's Bar
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While San Pellegrino‘s “World’s 100 Best Restaurants” list has snubbed Canadian restaurants for four consecutive years, Air Canada’s in-flight magazine, EnRoute, continues to celebrate Canada’s developing culinary identity.

In 2010, San Pellegrino named Calgary, Alberta’s Rouge Restaurant to the 60th spot and Cambridge, Ontario’s Langdon Hall (now under Chef Jason Bangerter) to the 77th. Canadian restaurants have never broken the top-50.

Conversely, EnRoute prepares annual lists of “Best” new Canadian restaurants for the year, collecting nominations from a panel of local journalists and visiting various city’s nominations. In the end, the submitted restaurants are judged anonymously by food and wine writer Andrew Braithwaite.

Ottawa’s restaurants have made it onto the final list several times:

  • Stephen Beckta’s Beckta Dining and Wine (then kitchen lead by Steve Vardy) in 2003
  • Marc Lepine’s Atelier and Steve Mitton’s Murray Street Kitchen in 2009
  • Steve and Jennifer Wall’s Supply and Demand in 2013

Last year, before publishing its twelfth list, EnRoute launched a People’s Choice Award, which I feel provides much needed exposure to Canada’s shortlisted restaurants. Essentially, the thirty or so shortlisted are published and people vote for their favourites. The restaurant with the highest number of votes becomes the “people’s” choice. But, others feel polling regional favourites in an online contest for tickets and accommodations to attend EnRoute’s awards ceremony in Toronto, Ontario is but a marketing exercise.

These days, many decry the foodie’s penchant to dine at exclusive restaurants and then brag about having eaten at some of the world’s most prestigious ones. There is Noma in Denmark, Mugaritz in Spain, and Alinea in the United States, all list-worthy to San Pellegrino. Some point to the rise of what GQ’s Alan Richman calls “Egotarian Cuisine,” which more-often-than-not comes served in multiple course on either dishware salvaged from a tackier age or discarded building material gleaned from an abandoned construction site. Plates are self-indulgent, chefs opting to express themselves artfully using only the most bleeding edge techniques and obscure ingredients. Some of these ingredients may never have been considered edible before. While over-engineered, everything tells a story. This is the realm of incredible edibles that has also been dubbed “runway food

Quite frankly, I don’t feel Canadian restaurants serve egotarian cuisine, especially Ottawa’s. There are several reasons. Of the 13 recessions suffered by Canada since confederation, the most recent occurred 2008/09. It lasted 7 months. Poor protection against job loss and unemployment, low personal savings, and high levels of household debt contributed to markets remaining weak and income levels stagnating thereafter. In 2012, there was an economic slowdown, only incremental economic growth. So, while the country hasn’t technically been in recession during the past 7 years, Canadians have felt otherwise and spent accordingly. Restaurants, who ask diners to broach the value proposition during every meal, were forced to stay grounded.

Moreover, the dining out landscape in cities like Ottawa is maturing. We are beginning to realize our city will develop the food options we, as diners, actively support. In Paris, a reverence for fine food seems built into the culture. In Ottawa, potentially due to our humble beginnings as a farm and then lumber town, a reverence for road-house style pub grub seems built into ours.

Maturity-wise, something we seem to lack is pride in our respective regional cuisines. The way I see it, if we don’t take pride in our own restaurants, no one else will.

Two of Ottawa’s restaurants are presently shortlisted for EnRoute’s Best new Restaurants People’s Choice in 2014. Since August 5th, votes for Matt Carmichael’s El Camino (380 Elgin Street) and Bryan and Rick Livingston’s Mena Restaurant (276 Preston Street) have placed them in the top 10.

El Camino

El Camino, lead by former Social Restaurant chef, Jordan Holley, serves tacos, Asian contemporary fare, and some rather compelling daily specials. Since its opening May 2013, we have adored Carmichael’s restaurant, a rather about-face venture for someone whose fine dining resume includes Restaurant E18hteen, Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen, and former Domus.

Tacos and Mexican Corn

Tacos and Mexican Corn

Shrimp Dumplings

Shrimp Dumplings

Rolled Pork Belly

Rolled Pork Belly

Deep Fried Pig's Ear

Deep Fried Pig’s Ear

Chile rillenos w/poblano peppers - $10

Chile rillenos w/poblano peppers – $10

Churros w/caramel sauce - $5

Churros w/caramel sauce – $5

Coconut Cream Pie - $5

Coconut Cream Pie – $5

Mena

Mena, lead by former Restaurant E18hteen raw bar chef, James Bratsberg, has a short-and-sweet menu with thoughtful and carefully composed plates. At least such was my first impression during my eating there this past summer. My sister-in-law and I partook of the 5-course blind tasting menu (a steal at $65) that largely borrowed from dishes from the regular menu. The restaurant opened February 2013, garnering a positive review by Ottawa’s former restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay in April.

Mena's Menu

Mena’s Menu

Light Fixtures

Light Fixtures

House-made Rolls

House-made Rolls

Ottawa Lettuces w/whipped ricotta, white balsamic

Ottawa Lettuces w/whipped ricotta, white balsamic

Arctic Char w/pomme, béarnaise, courgette

Arctic Char w/pomme, béarnaise, courgette

Voting for EnRoute’s People’s Choice ends on September 30, 2014 at 11:59 pm (EST).

Let’s keep voting for our own.

Air Canada’s enRoute magazine seeks out new restaurants launched during the past year (approximately June 2013 to June 2014) that advance the Canadian culinary identity; they are places where the overall dining experience will have a lasting and significant impact on our restaurant culture. The panel’s list of 30 restaurants has been visited and judged anonymously by international food and wine writer, Andrew Braithwaite. Readers are invited to vote for their favourite restaurant among the nominees. They are also entered to win a trip, courtesy of Air Canada, to the Gala event celebrating the Top Ten this November in Toronto, along with the use of a Jaguar or Land Rover during their stay. Additional information about the criteria, food panel, nominated restaurants and contest rules may be found online.”

With the goal of showcasing the best and brightest of the past year, the magazine’s 30 nominees include:

Agave y Aguacate, Toronto; Ask for Luigi, Vancouver; Ayden, Saskatoon; Bar Buca, Toronto; Black Pig Bistro, Calgary; The Blacktail Florist, Vancouver; Byblos, Toronto; The Chase, Toronto; Cinara, Vancouver; Edna, Halifax; El Camino, Ottawa; Fat Pasha, Toronto; Farmer’s Apprentice, Vancouver; H4C, Montreal; Impasto, Montreal; Légende, Quebec City; Little Jumbo, Victoria; Luckee, Toronto; Mallard Cottage, St. John’s; MeNa, Ottawa; Mercuri, Montreal; My Shanti, Surrey; North 53, Edmonton; Patrice Pâtissier, Montreal; RGE RD, Edmonton; Rhum Corner, Toronto; Le Serpent, Montreal; Vin Papillon, Montreal; Wolf in the Fog, Tofino; Woodwork, Edmonton

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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.

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