Category Archives: Restaurant Experiences

We love eating out! We have some favourite places to dine in Ottawa, and many places yet to try.

We’re back

Okay, it’s been way too long since our last post and we’re committed to providing you with more of our food adventures moving forward.  Over the past six months or so we’ve revisited some of our favourite restaurants, uncovered some new ones, and had less than favourable experiences at others.  I won’t provide you with all the details, but will give you the low down on our visits.
Let’s get the bad out-of-the-way – one of our not so good experiences was at Farbs Kitchen & Wine Bar.  We’d consider the food and service to be mediocre, however, having done a food and wine pairing that evening, the wine was great :).
We visited Sidedoor for the first time, we tend to prefer smaller more quaint environments, but it’s sectioned off nicely and it’s got a good feel.  I was a little surprised to find out that it’s an Asian and Mexican influenced tapas restaurant, nothing would give this away (i.e. décor, theme, etc.), but it somehow seems to work. We really enjoyed the Bajan crispy fish tacos, grilled beef with butter leaf lettuce wrap and house pickles (we now make our own version at home, and love wrapping things in Boston lettuce), and of course the cinnamon sugar mini donuts.  Overall, a really enjoyable dinner, not too filling, just the right amount of food, I can understand why more restaurants are going to tapas menus.
At a Christmas dinner with friends I was pleased to discover a great new brewery while dining at Burnt Butter.  If you haven’t tried Barley Days be sure to try it next time.  Their dark ale is phenomenal and I ended up enjoying more than a few during our visit. We enjoyed a set menu this evening, our experience was good and I think we would go back to try something from their regular menu.
We rang in the new year at Hintonburg Public House with a large group of friends.  For this evening we enjoyed a family-style menu of braised beef short ribs, roasted vegetables and mash.  It was a cozy meal, perfect for sharing, warm and rich in flavours.  I could eat a bowl full of just the roasted vegetables they were so hearty.  We’re impressed by the food, although the ambience (very bright for a late night seating) need a little work.
We celebrated Winterlude at Zen Kitchen and Hidden Bench Winery.  A five-course dinner (including a papaya slaw with apple dumplings, mushroom tart, gnocchi, coconut cake, etc.) with wine pairing.  It was lovely and even educational evening (thank you to Marlize Beyers from Hidden Bench). We look forward to making brunch at Zen Kitchen soon.
We revisited Navarra and it wasn’t long before we remembered why we love this place.  The service was once again fantastic (thank you Jeffrey), and their new tapas menu (every night, not just reserved for Tuesdays) provided more options than our previous visit with new Mexican dishes.  Their tartar remains on the menu and for good reason….it’s incredible (this coming from someone who isn’t a big fan otherwise).
A great new addition new to the Ottawa restaurant scene is a great new gourmet sandwich shop called Pressed on Gladstone.  Expect to receive high quality, local ingredients in a variety of unique sandwiches, soups and salads at a reasonable price.  We really enjoyed the wild boar with apple slaw and a butternut squash soup that’s extremely hearty and tasted great.
We continue to visit one of our favourite local spots, the Pelican Grill.  When considering overall value, it’s a great visit.  We ventured to try the lobster poutine (quite a large portion for an appetizer), and although it doesn’t top our favourite go-to, the lobster bisque, it’s worth a try due to its uniqueness.
It took us way too long, but we finally made our way to Fraser Café and really enjoyed it.  The albacore tuna and pork belly appetizer was fantastic.  The service was just okay (we felt a little rushed), but the food was so good that despite this we’ll definitely pay a return visit.
So there it is, a quick update on our last six months.  Please stay tuned for more regular posts.~gL

Pelican Grill

On a Friday evening after a busy week at work, I can’t think of anywhere else Greg and I would rather go than the Pelican Grill.  Only minutes away from our place, the basic comfort of the newly painted dining room (including pictures of the staff on the wall), plus the regular staff including our server John, makes this south end neighbourhood eatery one of our favourites.
On this particular night, I couldn’t wait for a bowl of their lobster bisque.  Warm, creamy, large pieces of lobster.  It’s a treat, one I often stop by the restaurant for take-out when Greg’s travelling!
Greg opted for the soup of the day, chilled beet with orange soup, garnished with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.  It wasn’t the lobster bisque by any means, the orange was a little overpowering, and neither of us really tasted the smoked salmon.
As I sipped on a glass of Huff Estates Riesling and Greg a pint of Stemwhistle (the Pelican Grill only supports local breweries), it was nice to chat amongst the full dinning room, contributing to the perfect atmosphere.
It wasn’t hard to decide on our mains, I was in the mood for moules et frites (mussels steamed in creamy garlic sauce with fresh cut fries and aioli), and Greg the freshly steamed lobster with a side salad (bib included).  We were both happy with our meals.  My mussels were full of flavour, the fries amongst the best I’ve had.  Greg worked hard for his meal, not sure he would order it again.
It’s nice to have a place we can relax and unwind at come the end of the week.  Thank you to the Pelican Grill and our server John for being there when we need them. ~kM

Ballygiblin’s Restaurant & Pub: Sheldon Says It’s Worth the Drive

A few days ago, Mrs. Sheldon and I were heading to the cottage for a little R & R.  Being kid free (he was already at the cottage with the grand-parents), we decided to stop for some refreshment along the way.  We’d heard good things about this little pub in Carleton Place called Ballygiblin’s, and stopped to give it a try.
I’m really glad we did.  The restaurant succeeds at presenting a pub-like atmosphere, while staying true to higher-end dining that follows the 100 mile principle.  The menu changes weekly, as Chef Roger Weldon tours local farmers markets for ingredients and inspiration (Ballygiblin’s is a member of Savour Ottawa).  While technically not “100 mile”, the wine list features only Canadian producers, and the well stocked bar taps pour predominantly Ontario craft brews.
Presentations were also interesting.  Mrs. Sheldon ordered the pulled pork, which was a generous serving of local, organic pork doused in Ballygiblin’s own Dr. Dusty’s homemade barbecue sauce.  The sauce was delicious.  Sweet, with a touch of heat at the end.  What made the presentation unique was that all the pork itself was tucked inside a phyllo pastry, and rolled into the shape of a pork tenderloin.  Served with hand cut fries and house made ketchup, it made for quite a meal.
I chose the beef ribs braised in Beau’s seasonal brew, also served with the hand-cut fries and some grilled vegetables.  The meat was fall-of-the-bone tender, with excellent flavour; while the veg was crisp yet nicely caramelized.
What topped the experience off for me was the opportunity to try some Ontario craft brews that I’ve been meaning to sample for a while.  I started off with a Beau’s Beaver River, an interesting take on IPA.  I followed that with a Hop City Barking Squirrel , an amber coloured lager with a lightly hoppy finish.  Delicious!  Other offerings included Kichesippi Blond, St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Beau’s Lugtread Ale.
The overall experience reminded me of a night at the Wellington Gastropub.  Ballygiblin’s hasn’t quite duplicated the experience yet, but they’re getting close.  If you want to go a little out of your way, this is a gem in the Valley that’s worth the drive.~SS

Beast Restaurant

This past weekend, Kelly and I spent a great weekend in Toronto.  A little unfamiliar with its restaurant scene, we turned to our fellow foodies (thank you @foodieprints, @momwhoruns, @AMWATERS, @savvykathryn, @kirstenduke) for their recommendations on “the” spots to go.  Ultimately, we decided upon a place downtown called Beast Restaurantwho on this particular evening was celebrating its one year anniversary (and we enjoyed a few extra treats because of it).
The menu changes weekly and  includes a number of hot and cold small plates, as well as, some larger entrée dishes.  There are a few signature dishes, such as the poutine, that has a permanent home on the menu, but similar to many of our own Ottawa restaurants, the change allows the culinary team (Scott Vivian, Luca Gatti and Rachelle Cadwell) to celebrate local producers.  In addition, Beast had a limited, but impressive domestic wine and beer list, tonight’s pick was Dead Elephant brewed by The Railway City Brewery in St. Thomas, Ontario.  A full flavoured ale, with a little too much bitterness to it for my liking (however I did enjoy the 6.8% alcohol content).

Scott - this is his good side 🙂

On this particular evening it was hard to decide, so we opted and were excited for a selection of hot small plates including the diver scallops, lamb ribs, poutine and sweetbreads.  Unfortunately, we were a little underwhelmed by our choices.  The gnocchi poutine with water buffalo and cheese curds was rich, but a little too heavy, and the lamb ribs just didn’t have enough meat on them.
However despite our disappointment, the service was excellent, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, which made our evening anyways.  Beast is a quaint restaurant with a charming feel and a nice patio out front.  It was too chilly for us to sit outside, but we enjoyed the inside confines and dinner by candlelight. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but unfortunately the food just didn’t hit the mark.~gL

Play Food & Wine

We had been meaning to try Play Food & Wine for some time now.  I think it was because like many men, Greg had some reservations with the idea of small plates.  But on this rainy Saturday in May, Greg threw caution to the wind as we crossed York Street and headed over just as doors opened for lunch at noon.
With a seat beside the window, the simple décor, sky blue paint and hardwood floors, was cheery and bright on this dreary day.  However,  we both wondered what the ambiance would be like in the evening, would it be intimate and cozy?
Unfortunately for Greg, on this particular day there was no gas for the draughts, of which the list is disappointingly limited to only two (Beaus Lug Tread Lagered Ale and Steamwhistle Pilsner).  Our server suggested a bottled lager called Czechvar (I’m sure you can guess where it’s from), which Greg had never tried before and  described as “light, refreshing and tasty”.
At lunch you can order two plates for only $20, the tough part is choosing which ones from a menu that changes regularly.  I knew Greg would order the grilled  hanger steak with mushrooms, frites and garlic aioli, and he paired it with the roasted beets with goat cheese, pickled red onion and truffled leek.
I had a harder time deciding, everything was so tempting.  I started with the local mushrooms on toast with Beaus rarebit and thyme, and my second plate was beef tartar with dijon, bacon aioli and chips.
Greg enjoyed both his dishes tremendously.  The beets were firm and tangy, perfect beside the richness of the goat cheeses.  He was equally pleased with his second dish; the generous portion of frites were delicious you hardly needed the aioli for dipping, and the hanger steak was grilled to a medium-rare perfection.
I loved my first dish of local mushrooms on toast.  It doesn’t take much though, as I have a deep admiration for fungi, put mushrooms on anything and I’ll eat it.  I don’t eat beef tartar often, I’m definitely not an expert, so for an amateur I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it and I’m not sure why.  The look, the texture, the idea of eating raw meat didn’t bother me.  The only thing I could really taste was the dijon.
The idea of small plates can be a little deceiving, neither one of us felt hungry after our meals, but we also didn’t feel too full.  I think we would love the opportunity to come back and play, perhaps in the evening with friends. ~kM

Be sure to check out wine director and service manager at Play Food & Wine, Grayson McDiarmid’s Wine Blog.

Sheldon Says: Juniper has buzz…

My wife and I love to go out for dinner.  Our “go to” place is the Wellington Gastropub.  The food is outstanding, the service top-notch and the atmosphere is extremely casual.  A former colleague of mine who was very knowledgeable about all things restaurants once told me you need three things to make it:  great food, great service and buzz.  The term “buzz” was his way of combining decor, atmosphere and experience into one intangible quality.  In our humble opinions, the Welly has buzz to spare.
Unfortunately, business has been slow lately.  Really slow.  So slow in fact that we’ve had to limit where and when we’ve gone out to eat.  Our anniversary was last weekend, so we were really excited to have a night out.  Rather than opt for a usual suspect, we decided to try a place we’ve never been before.  Our choice:  Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.
First impressions:  Juniper has buzz.  You enter into a large dining room, featuring rich shades of brown, and soft lighting augmented by table candles.  The floor to ceiling windows (the location used to be a BMW dealership) are impressive, giving guests a wonderful view of a renewed Wellington Village.  (Not completely – the low budget motel and gas station across the road are a bit of an eyesore, but you can’t fault the restaurant for their neighbours.)  The dining room was full, adding to the atmosphere and the sense that we were in for a great experience.
Unfortunately,  the rest of the trifecta – great food and great service, was a little hit and miss on this night.  It was our anniversary, so we opted for a pre-dinner cocktail.  Our server ordered our drinks, and then returned to see if we had any questions on the menu.  A few minutes later, he returned to say that our drinks were on their way, and take orders for our food.  The kitchen then sent our amuse bouche (a plantain, ricotta and cashew fritter drizzled with balsamic reduction – delish), and then our drinks arrived.  Our appetizers appeared almost immediately after.  We would have preferred to relax with our cocktails for a few minutes, enjoying our time out and soaking in the atmosphere.
I was having trouble deciding whether to have the Quebec pork loin main and the beef tartar appetizer, or the pork belly appetizer and the Alberta beef tenderloin main.  The decision was made for me – pork belly wasn’t available that night.  My wife chose the apple cucumber curried salad with house made feta, along with Indian buttered chicken breast.  Both of my wife’s selections were absolutely delicious – with the perfect amount of curry.  The tartar was some of the best that I’ve ever had – topped with an olive tapenade to give the beef some additional flavour.  The maple pork loin tasted good, if a little dry.  The highlight of the plate was the sweet potato fritters – perfectly puréed on the inside and golden crispy on the outside.
Sommelier Eric Belchamber was extremely helpful navigating the extensive wine list and choosing an option that would suit both the curried butter chicken, and the sweeter maple pork.  After offering his advice and a taste of two options, we settled on a 2009 Domaine St Roch chardonnay.
Dessert consisted of a banana fritter in a sesame coconut batter served with homemade peanut ice cream (to quote my wife, “heaven on a plate”) and the lemon orange crème brulé (less than satisfying).
Overall, it was a good but not great experience.  Given the buzz that Juniper gets from numerous people whose opinions I value, I suspect that we caught the staff on an off night.  Will we be back?  Probably, after we knock a few more “must try’s” of our list.~SS

Baan Thai

We are both pretty loyal when it comes to our local Thai restaurant, Thailanna.  So when my sister, Sara, and my brother-in-law, Gary, invited us to their favourite spot, we were of course a little skeptical.
As we circled Centrepointe Drive in search of Baan Thai, we pulled up to a surprisingly busy parking lot.  I was pretty sure the dentist office wasn’t open, so when we walked in, past the curtains, and found that every table was occupied at 6:30 p.m. on this Saturday, I thought to myself “well it can’t be that bad”.
And it wasn’t.  The warm orange decor was welcoming and inviting, you never would have felt as though you were sitting inside a Nepean strip mall.  After a bit of a wait for drinks and finally deciding on the dinner for four, the evening was finally off to a great start.
The dinner for four consisted of:
– Tom Kha Gai – hot and sour chicken soup with mushrooms in coconut milk blended with freshly chopped lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves
– Po Pia Pak – spring rolls stuffed with an assortment of vegetables and bean thread noodles, served with plum dipping sauce
– Gaeng Garee Gai – yellow curry with chicken and potatoes
– Goong Pad Pak – sautéed shrimp with mixed vegetables in garlic sauce
– Pad Ga Prow – beef sautéed with onions, sweet pepper, fresh chillies and basil leaves in a spicy garlic sauce
– Pad Thai – Thai rice noodles stir-fried with chicken, egg, bean sprouts, green onions and peanuts.
– Steamed jasmine rice
– Lemongrass tea
There was more than enough food to share, good value considering all the above was only $85 (plus tax).  I loved the variety of our selection, getting to try new dishes and sharing it with everyone at the table.
We each received our own bowl of Tom Kha Gai, it was hearty with lots of mushroom and chicken and the spice was just perfect, enough to clear your sinuses but not enough to make your eyes water.  And who doesn’t enjoy a good spring roll? Crispy, hot and you get to dip it in a sweet and sticky plum sauce.  It’s no different at Baan Thai, plus the spring rolls seem to be larger than some I’ve seen at other restaurants, bonus!
Gaeng Garee Gai is one of my favourite Thai dishes, however, I found Baan’s version to be a little meak, and tasted a too much like coconut milk (better safe than sorry I guess).  The Pad Thai seemed to lack egg or chicken, however it was still the sticky goodness I expected and probably one of the best I’ve tasted.  And the Pad Ga Prow was VERY spicy, even for the diehards like Greg and Gary, thankfully for the boys there was plenty of Tsing Tsao beer.
Overall we had a very enjoyable evening, and I could see us all meeting at our center point again for another dinner for four. ~kM

Goin’ to town

On Saturday evening Kelly and I celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary at town on Elgin Street.  We’d heard many good things, so it had been on our radar for sometime, and we were really looking forward to our reservation. The restaurant is sophistically and minimalistically decorated, including bare bulb lights, a large painting of a woman’s hand holding octopus, unique touches such as the clipboard menu and the file folder receipt holder, all set it apart from other stock restaurants. 

town’s clipboard menu

Additionally our server, Kerri, was friendly and knowledgeable about our all our menu choices (describing in detail the short rib cooking process), which really enhanced our experience.  
We started off by sharing a couple of small plates, the ricotta stuffed meatballs and the chicken liver crostini with rhubarb and bacon. We each had our own main, Kelly had a half order of the tagliatelle with chicken meatballs, salt cured foie gras (pretty sure that’s why she ordered it) and pecorino romano; I had the cavatelli short rib ragu with pine nuts. We enjoyed each dish, but nothing seemed to stand out, the “wow” factor described to us by others seems to be missing.  We weren’t left hungry though, no room for dessert!
All in all, our experience was pleasant; we enjoyed the atmosphere and appreciated  the nuisances that give town character.  Perhaps we’ll wait until a summer menu comes out before we return. ~gL

Zen Kitchen

Sweet & Spicy GoodnessI have to admit, I was a little skeptical about going to a contemporary vegetarian restaurant. My skepticism was laid to rest within minutes of our reservation time at Zen Kitchenon Somerset. Feeling adventurous, we both opted for the Winterlude special…a four course chef’s choice meal.  Each course remained a mystery until delivered by Chef Caroline Ishii. It was a nice personal touch to have Chef Caroline serve our food and articulate her masterpieces. The highlight of our visit was the curried butternut squash soup accompanied by an apple fritter (yes dessert, before dessert). An interesting combination, yet somehow worked incredibly well together (spicy and sweet). Our visit was rounded out nicely with pleasant service. Overall, our experience was among the best we’ve had in Ottawa.  We had a great time, enjoyed great food and would highly recommend it to anyone. ~ gL