I was surprised that I am the first to review this restaurant given the many kudos it's received, including its ranking as the No 4 restaurant in Canada by en Route magazine.
We ate there on October 22 on the advice of Ottawa TA expert Wine -4 -2 (thank you). We were not disappointed.
The restaurant offers food of the culinary vernacular known as molecular gastronomy. If you've watched the Food Network, its most well known North American practitioner is Grant Achetz of Alinea in Chicago.
Due to the nature of the food preparation, there are no walk-ins allowed. Additionally, there are few tables: The restaurant is small, seating a maximum of 22 people. Reservations are a must.
The kitchen offers a 12 course fixed price menu but including the special bread, amuse bouche, and end-of-meal confection, it is in reality 15 course. The price is extraordinarily reasonable, just $85.00.
We reviewed a sample menu on the website and noted that the chef is willing to try and accommodate allergies and food restrictions. We avoid bovine organ meats and those that might contain nerve materials due to concerns about BSE, and so emailed the chef several days before our reservation. We received a favourable response from the chef within the hour. Then, hours later, we received another call from the restaurant confirming the change to the menu.
The building in which the restaurant is housed is unassuming. There’s not even a sign that marks it. Interior decor is very simple, inexpensive, and understated, yet tasteful. We were greeted by Steve who as it turns out wears many hats. He was not only our maitre d but also our server and sommelier. He performs all of these duties expertly.
Although there is a wine list, we chose the wine pairing, an incredible value of 8 wines for $55.00 pp. The pours are allegedly 2 ounces, but we found them to be more generous. Some truly lovely and unusual selections that married very well with the food.
We began with a BBQ bread and powdered butter. Next, Fruit Cocktail, which was a chilled fruit soup that included vodka gelee, blueberries, honey dew melon, cantaloupe, a frozen fruit strip, aloe vera, lemon grass gelee, hibiscus foam, and a puree of watermelon delivered in a test tube spoon that was poured by us into our glasses. Then, Californication, a seared tuna loin with crispy bacon, avocado, freeze dried wasabi peas, and cucumber spheres. Chow Chow Char is arctic char prepared sous vide with “sheets” of black olive, pea shoots, chow chow, and orange foam. Nitro Noodle Soup – a fabulous carrot soup with a nitrogen frozen crème fraiche noodle and garam masala. Caesar salad is deconstructed. Romaine leaves and “lines” of crushed cheese, croutons, and dehydrated anchovies presented on a mirror and scooped up with a credit card. Naughty! Catch 22 is a scallop with freeze dried sesame oil and beautiful nori seaweed salad. Fire and Ice consists of ice-cream, dehydrated maple syrup, cinnamon custard eaten with a clipped spoon to which is attached a smouldering piece of cinnamon. Carmel apple boar is a terrific pork belly. Shades of beige, a duck confit puree of Jerusalem artichoke. Corned Beef a perfectly cooked piece of filet, again prepared sous vide, served with corn juice and blue mash potatoes. Pumpkin Pie (Dessert No. 1), a deconstructed pumpkin pie, crust and filling prepared separately with cranberries, streusel brittle, and a cinnamon heart sauce. The Shining (think Redrum) - another dessert, this time a brownie. And finally Cereal Killer, a puffed wild rice covered treat with jellied milk in the interior. Squirts!
Following our meal, we were invited into the kitchen to meet the staff and see the operation. Those unfamiliar with molecular gastronomy techniques will be surprised.
All of the dishes were good and almost all were extremely novel. Some were outstanding. This is clever well thought-out food, all beautifully composed with much attention to detail. And the portions are generous; this is no tasting menu with microscopic portions.
Our dinner took approximately 3 ½ hours. Steve’s descriptions of each dish’s components and preparation are comprehensive, and if you have the wine pairings, Steve may speak knowledgably about them as well. All this takes time. This is an experience which is about food and theatre. In some cases, you are involved in the dishes' final preparation.
Assuming I lived in Ottawa, I can’t see myself doing this meal more than 3 or 4 times a year. But it’s a not to be missed experience if in Ottawa. Well done, Chef Lepine, Steven, and staff.
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