“The Ottawa Restaurant Bucket List project – sometimes, I get so caught up planning my next adventure that I forget that there are so many great experiences to be had right here at home too! Ottawa has so much amazing talent in the kitchen – it was time to make a priority of all the riches of the Ottawa foodie scene.
Through social media, I asked around to get suggestions on places to try here in Ottawa. I got some wonderful suggestions including some great Ottawa restaurants that I have already had the privilege to try. Canvas in Westboro comes to mind, as does the Wellington GastroPub. I love their food and there is a reason why these restaurants are so successful – they really have it together! They are consistently on the where to dine lists! For spicy food, I can’t go past Ceylonta and I know I will go back again and again for their amazing curries and my favourite Devil Chicken! I wanted to make this project an opportunity to expand my horizons, taking in new restaurants or places I have been meaning to go to for years!
According to In A Nutshell “2012 was the year that Ottawa exploded in restaurants of all different shapes and sizes and has also had the distinction of welcoming a potpourri of new, trendy eateries that have followed in that sans white table cloth sentiment.”
The Ottawa Restaurant Bucket List, in no particular order, include:
- Izakaya Asian Kitchen Bar
- Union Local 613
- Oz Kafe
- The Tea Party Cafe
- Art is In Boulangerie (Bakery) Reviewed Mar 6: Art Is In Bakery, Ottawa
- Smoque Shack Reviewed July 10: North is the new South at Ottawa’s SmoQue Shack BBQ Restaurant
- Murray Street
- Domus Cafe
- +1: I have to make mention of Zen Kitchen…while it doesn’t qualify for my bucket list as I have eaten there dozens of times, they make amazing vegetarian and vegan dishes and are completely bucket list worthy!!
I’ll update with restaurant reviews and photos throughout the year as I eat my way around Ottawa!
For more information on each restaurant in The Ottawa Restaurant Bucket List:
Izakaya – Asian Kitchen Bar on Elgin St. I met a girlfriend here for drinks this summer, but couldn’t stay for dinner. The dishes walking past the bar looked incredible and I regretted missing out! This restaurant has been on my Ottawa wish list for 6 months already. Can’t wait to try it. As described on their website: “Izakaya’s great kitchen team led by Chef Radford delivers unique and dynamic twists on Asian fare. Sommelier Neil Gowe has created an extensive wine and cocktail list to pair with the wonderful flavours that come from the kitchen.” Interesting factoid: in Japan, izakayas are watering holes where businessmen wash away their cares with sake, beer and spirits, while chowing down on snacks, bar food and heartier fare. This reminds me of the tapas and pintxos bars of Spain, with the obvious Asian flare thrown into the equation! Given how much I loved the Pintxos in San Sebastian…I am sure this restaurant will be perfect for me! Oh yes…ladies…Thursday is Ladies Night – 1/2 price oysters and feature cocktails for $6! The Thai One On with gin, cucumber water and lemongrass infused simple syrup has a sophisticated flavour that is as refreshing as it is tasty!
Gezellig in Westboro Village is a name that kept cropping up in my social media search. As another restaurant experience created by Stephen Beckta, I am sure I will be for a treat. I have had the privilege of dining at Beckta’s (Stephen Beckta’s flagship restaurant) many time in the past. It was a favoured restaurant with my work clients and always drew a crowd with amazing food and a great wine list. Gezellig has been touted as the new gem to enter the Westboro scene and completes Beckta’s trifecta of quality restaurants here in Ottawa.
Gezellig is Dutch for convivial and cozy. According to their website, the menu draws inspiration from around the world, presenting itself as comfort food with a local focus. Good news for the wine buffs: they have a large selection of wines from around the world available by the taste, glass, as well as 1/2 litre and bottle. For those not familiar with this part of town, Westboro is a little bit of foodie heaven, with interesting restaurants and fantastic flavours. Johanna Read’s food blog Travel Eater suggests a cozy conviviality to the third Beckta enterprise – I am sure Gezellig will be a huge success.
While reading through Johanna’s blog, I came across another gem to add to my bucket list:
Union! Another interesting Ottawa destination, Johanna describes Union! as a tribute to southern food, drink and hospitality! See her review here: Union Local 613. I love the fact that this restaurant, while offering fine dining options, is also giving back to the community with the Ottawa Food Bank as their benefactor. The concept that Union is a “brotherhood of growers, cookers, eaters and drinkers” is awesome. They are really living the brotherhood concept with predominantly communal seating, locally sourced ingredients and welcoming attitude within the industry. Communal seating with upmarket food – what a great way to meet people. Come for the food, stay for the hospitality.
Oz Kafe – another Elgin Street bistro with high scores for cozy atmosphere and food that never disappoints. This hipster restaurant was recommended to me by Local Tourist Ottawa. With live guest DJ’s on Sunday and local artist showcases, Oz Kafe seems to have something for an eclectic array of tastes and interests.
Shawna Wagman of the Ottawa Magazine top 10 for 2012 suggests “the real magic of Oz is that its tiny closet of a kitchen has the best karma in town. It’s where cooks go to get unhooked, preparing prix fixe dinners for their own kind at monthly industry nights.”
The menu is vibrant with loads of locally sourced ingredients, making Oz Kafe high on my bucket list of places to try. While their dinner menu looks amazing, I have to admit, they may have to do double duty – a quick peek at their brunch menu made me think about what I was doing Sunday morning!
Navarra – open since 2008 in the Byward Market, Navarra and Chef Rodriguez have been receiving rave reviews for years. Originally Basque inspired, Chef Rodriguez has reportedly been moving more towards his Mexican roots, providing his Cocina de Autor with flair and passion for food in a casual yet contemporary setting.
Navarra’s Dinner Menu, or “Cocina de Autor” refers to the Chef’s belief in art as a true representation of his roots, travels and philosophy. Where years of technical, compositional and artistic expertise merge with vision and time to create and recreate memories, flavors and expressions of life with food.
His menu reflects his heritage and his travels, blending past and future in an extraordinary menu. I am sure I will have to act quickly to taste his Oaxacan Black Mole dish – currently listed on the menu as Flavours of Oaxaca 2012. The description alone has my mouth watering!
The Tea Party Cafe – found in the Byward Market, is a tea and coffee house that looks like it would fuel my imagination! I love that they have taken a turn of the century house and transformed it into such a homey place to relax with a steamy cup of your favourite drink. For me, a non coffee drinker, that means a great selection of teas (over 150 choices), including herbals, specialty and black teas. For the coffee loves out there, The Tea Party Cafe sells fair trade and organic coffees, as well as specialty coffees. Coffees are roasted fresh weekly. With Winterlude just around the corner, what a perfect place to come in out of the cold! While it would be great to travel to London for a proper British Afternoon Tea – high tea is served daily from 12 – 5. They also have a delicious vegetarian lunch menu that is sure to please with curries, sandwiches, soups and salads. Assorted baked goods, including scones with cream and jam, are baked daily!
There is just one catch – my research has provided such mixed reviews – polar in their opinions! I found an older review from 2011 by Ottawa Restaurant Reviews that suggests the cafe ranks 5 out of 5 for the author, however a more recent comment on her review suggests dissatisfaction along the lines of other negative reviews I have found! Perhaps I would be better off at the Chateau Laurier – a pricier option in a fantastic setting!
Bambu – on Riverside Drive. Another restaurant choice taking me away from what I consider to be the traditional foodie centres. I stumbled upon this review by Rachelle Eats Food that caught my eye – her food photos looked so fresh and tasty – it looks like an amazing lunch time destination.
Their website suggests that your palate will take a journey along the lush banks of the Mekong River, through the Gobi desert to the height of Mount Fuji. While I am not exactly certain as to what this means…(perhaps a reference to the fusion of Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes and flavours)…I can’t wait to give it a go.
Art Is In Boulangerie – I never would have thought to add a bakery to my restaurant bucket list, but once again, the Ottawa Magazine provided me with the inspiration to try something new. I have long been a fan of brunch, and with a quote like this taken from such a trusted source: “Luxurious brunch dishes like breakfast gnocchi, straight from the Mathieson imagination, demonstrate a penchant for culinary decadence” – who am I to argue? Clearly, I will have to set aside another Sunday morning for brunch at Art Is In! Also of note: they have a wonderful array of baked goods to satisfy the sweet tooth in me. How could I go past their “Killer Cookies” – it just keeps getting better and better!
SmoQue Shack in the Byward Market will challenge you on what you thought you knew about BBQ. They are talking about sauce dripping flavours, meat sliding right off the bone and taste so good you can hardly believe you are still in Canada and licking the plate clean! The SmoQue Shack is suggesting that North is the New South! Their philosphy – direct from their website to you: “When it comes to ingredients, we choose quality over quantity and we’ll take Canadian over organic. We make absolutely everything we can from scratch. You’ll find Ontario craft brews in our taps. Montreal smoked-meat spices in our Texas-style brisket. Quebec maple and Ontario applewood in the smoker. We know enough not to mess with a good thing. From Jamaican jerk to Tennessee chicken, we pay delicious homage to BBQ’s roots. Nothing satisfies the soul like great BBQ.”
If that doesn’t have your mouth watering….I don’t know what will! Thanks to HeatherGoesWest on twitter for this recommendation – I am sure I one visit will not be enough!
Allium – I have driven past Allium a thousand times, and each time I look into their window I say to myself…”one of these days”! Well, there is no longer any excuse. Allium is another of the fantastic bistro style restaurants in Westboro that has been going strong since (shock horror – has it really been that long!!!) 2004. While the menu changes on the first Thursday of every month, the eclectic blend of playful Canadian cuisine and classic French techniques keep people coming back for more. They even have a tapas menu Monday nights. A report in the Ottawa Citizen suggests that their tapas night has become so popular, reservations may be required! Good to know.
Murray Street Kitchen/Wine/Charcuterie in the Byward Market – Murray Street came highly recommended to me by a number of reputable sources. When I checked them out on line, I knew they had to be in the bucket list. Taken directly from their website: “We epitomize ‘Canadian Comfort’ in all it’s maple soaked, curd topped, wood smoked glory.” They had me at “We are Canada”. I love the fact that they are Canada proud and more importantly, Ottawa proud, representing the local food movement and proudly showcasing Canadian classics like tourtiere, rich game dishes and their mouthwatering charcuterie menu. Mouth watering? Mine too…can’t wait to give it a go!
Domus Cafe – another food institution in the Byward Market, owner John Taylor was and is a trend setter – the first to put focus on seasonal, local ingredients. His restaurant has been going strong for years and reservations are highly recommended to avoid the disappointment of being turned away. Domus Cafe has the reputation of being a food destination here in Ottawa with fabulous window seating where you can watch the world go by. It is a case of see and been seen.
Atelier – Located in Little Italy on Rochester St, Atelier offers a modernist cuisine tasting menu that is completely over the top. Welcome to Molecular Gastronomy with Marc Lepine – he has put Ottawa on the culinary map, ranking #5 in Vacay.ca’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. They offer a 12 course tasting menu with wine pairing that is sure to make you feel like royalty as taste buds are challenged into overdrive. Atelier is more than food – it is an experience.
People in the know come to Atelier. While much has been written about the culinary techniques and technology behind the Atelier experience, there is little advertising. The restaurant doesn’t even have a sign. But then, this is in line with the menu at Atelier – it is blinded in a cloak and daggers kind of way. Skim through the online tasting menu and you will find dishes such as Black and Green, Welcome to the Jungle and Gatineau Park. Reservations are required and they recommend a 3 hour seating for dinner – from all accounts – it is worth every second! (Check out their press releases!)
It is unlikely you will experience a dining experience anything like this anywhere else in Canada. I just hope that I will get the chance to experience it! The tasting menu is set at $110 and if you would like your night enhanced by recommended wine pairing, add another $60 to the equation. This allows for 9 or 10 wines, beautifully matched with your meal, totalling a little over 3 standard glasses. I am sure this would be an unforgettable night! Thanks to DudeCook for reminding me of this gem just a stones throw from home!
- I am still waiting to see what is on the 2013 list. Check out their 2012 roundup of Ottawa restaurants. Ottawa Magazine – Best Restaurants in 2012
- Looks like a new crop of restaurants are soon set to open…I see Ottawa Restaurant Bucket List #2 in here! Ottawa Citizen – A sizzling start to 2013
Note: As I have yet to visit any of these restaurants, all photos come from their respective sites.