My wife and I went for our anniversary mostly because my wife want to go—and badly. She’s our resident chef and food/wine lover and expert, and is fascinated by el Bulli and molecular gastronomy. Restaurant reviews indicated that Atelier was the closest thing we have in Ottawa to that fabled place so how could I say no?
We decided to go not knowing exactly what to expect other than excellent but strange food (based on written reviews and the owner's reputation). We also decided to have the paired wines, to avoid pangs of having cheaped-out on what might be the finest meal of our lives.
Since we weren’t sure how we’d take to driving after multiple mini-glasses of wine, we even splurged on a taxi. Our very friendly Bangladeshi taxi driver (I always like talking to taxi drivers with accents--a great way to hear about other parts of the world) had a bit of a time finding the place, even with ourselves as anxious lookouts. We had read why Atelier didn't have a sign but would it really hurt? Just use the name without any "Restaurant" suffix and the average sod wouldn't know the place was a restaurant. Given its location on one of the most unattractive streets in Ottawa, few would dare enter and disturb the exotic experimentation within.
The décor is pleasant but surprisingly modest given how much effort the staff put into their duties. No complaints here but there’s little room for wear and tear before the place just won’t be in the same league as the food.
The waiters were excellent and it was impressive how they could rhyme off the twenty-something bits of stuff on our plate (or in a test tube) for every course. The sommelier was equally keen and thorough, telling us every detail about each wine—not a word of which we could remember for more than a minute afterwards, of course.
The best part of the evening was the overall gastronomic experience. It was very different at times, from things that were powdered which were never meant to be (or were they???) to many delicate bits that came together as a delicious and very unique combination. There is also no way anyone could duplicate one of the courses, much less than the entire meal, because of the very unusual cooking/freezing/molecular transformations involved, and the very numerous small bits of things that went into each course. This made the evening’s meal very special.
And for those that don’t like very, or even mildly, exotic food: don’t worry; I can’t think of anything served that would upset a meat-and-potatoes kind of eater or you couldn’t avoid by giving the waiter a heads-up about something you really can’t eat. They’ll serve you something else instead, as they did for me when it came time for a seafood course.
The worst part was really the price, which I found hard to swallow (ouch!) and being charged extra for coffee. Come on, the meal and wine with taxes and tip for two came to about $450 and we get charged for two coffee??? I don’t care how good it is or how long it took to make; it’s simply outrageous to charge for it.
The second worst thing was we were actually still a bit hungry when we got home so ten minutes later, after the most expensive meal of our lives, we’re microwaving some of Orville’s best. Sheesh!
Overall, my wife and I both had a very nice night—I think she enjoyed it more than me—but I just wouldn’t go back because of the price. At some point, the bang-for-buck has to be considered and I would much sooner eat two $225 meals--or better still, four $100 meals at the Siam Bistro--than spend another $450 for one at Atelier.
By the way, that lofty sum didn’t include the taxi. That added another $100+ to the night’s entertainment. Ouch.
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