BY NICOLINA LEONE
Last year, six new restaurants joined an already burgeoning food scene, offering a tantalizing array of dining experiences: Northern Italian cichèti, gourmet ‘bar’ food, izakaya-themed Japanese, small plates, snacking plates, even the traditional meat-and-potatoes plates, but with a twist!
North and Navy
“Bacari are Italy’s answer to the pub, and cichèti are the Italian answer to Spanish tapas. Italians have an answer for everything” — so quips North and Navy, whose chef dishes up his Venetian heritage inside an unassuming red brick house in downtown Ottawa. Not your usual Italian fare, North and Navy serves mains inspired by similarities in ingredients between Eastern Ontario and Northern Italy in a modern setting (no heavy table clothes here!). The recess of the resto has been transformed into a bacaro, the Venetian equivalent of a casual space to enjoy a glass of wine, Prosecco, and cichèti (pronounced chi-ket-ee)— essentially small plates adorned with such simple edible pleasures as tortelletti, octopus —even an Italian version of liver and onions. Be sure and try their desserts, including the Giuseppe Luigi, a twist on the Jos Louis, a Quebec pastry consisting of red velvet cake and cream enrobed in a milk chocolate shell. 226 Nepean St., 613-232-6289, northandnavy.com
Small plates, shared plates, ‘bar’ snacks, and cocktails — this modern tavern serves food and drinks that are meant to be enjoyed with friends and over the course of a long evening, late into the night. Chef Phil Denny serves such Asian-inspired dishes as duck takaki, beef tartare, and pumpkin siu mai, along with beet salad, ‘cheese and crackers,’ and homemade beef jerky. Try the Tipperary, The Last Word, or the Lonesome Loser —fancifully-named cocktails deftly mixed with unique ingredients. A great place for brunch too, The Belmont glams up eggs n’ bacon fare with lemon poppy seed pancakes, oysters, and khoa tom (a very elaborate and hearty chicken soup). Located in an older part of the city, The Belmont creates a cozy, bustling space with modern, international flourishes. 1169 Bank St., 613-979-3663, belmontottawa.com
The Pomeroy House
Who doesn’t love classic a burger and fries? What if that burger was so generously replete with pimento cheese, it was poking out the side? And the brioche bun —fresh and tall and filled with red tomato slices and pickles. The fries crisp and crunchy, served with malt mayo. The Pomeroy makes the ordinary extraordinary, and the food plating superb –it really does taste as good as it looks. It’s certainly not just burgers either – duck gets rave reviews, and oysters, quail, and gnocchi are just some of the other items on the bill produced the Pomeroy prowess. The dinner menu features a section called “Mids,” which offer less expensive, slightly smaller plates. For dessert, Pastry chef Adrienne Courey creates classics with a twist that are almost too beautiful to eat. And with an in-house sommelier, rest assured you’ll find a glass to match every course. Grab a seat in the booth at the back of the restaurant where a chandelier casts an intimate glow and a large window gives a glimpse into the bustling kitchen. The room is classy but relaxed, and the servers are knowledgeable and friendly. 749 Bank St., 613-237-1658, thepomeroy.ca
Carben Food + Drink
The chefs at Carben know how to create food that is playful, yet delicious. Case in point: the exotic-sounding wood ear mushroom salad, which features baby bok choy, eryngii (also known as king trumpet mushroom), edamame beans, and shiso (an Asian culinary herb, part of the mint family). This forest-y food excursion is artfully decorated with dollops of miso glaze and turmeric aioli, deliberate and precise in their placing. A dish so delicious and satisfying that even the most tenacious of meat-lovers won’t feel without. Desserts are no less imaginative – Cinnamon Toast Crunch is paired with agar-jellied strawberry pebbles, almond milk, and chocolate, creating a throwback to your childhood cereal bowls, but so much more satiating.
Large windows make up the restaurant’s outer wall, letting in the light, while pictures, sculptures, maps, and cookbooks – which customers are welcome to peruse – modestly decorate the narrow interior.
The name Carben is a combination of two names: “Car” from pastry chef Caroline Ngo and “Ben” from chef Kevin Benes, but is also a play on the element, carbon, which is found in all things —a fitting moniker for chefs who draw inspiration for their dishes from the uniqueness of life. 1100 Wellington St West, Ottawa, 613-792-4000, carbenrestaurant.com
The feel is that of an izakaya, a mainstay of Japanese culinary life, which serves small plates of fresh and fried foods in a bar-like setting. Tomo’s sashimi platter provides a taste of fresh raw salmon, tuna, octopus, and crab; their roll is stuffed with tempura shrimp and beef slices; and the beef tartare comes with house-made potato chips. Though there’s only one option for dessert, the Moo Shu Ice Cream won’t have you wondering what you’re missing. These homemade ice cream truffles feature such Asian-inspired flavours as milk tea, mimosa, and sesame —a satisfying and complementary choice to the Asian fusion approach Tomo has taken. The interior brings together Japanese flair and contemporary touches: sake barrels are mounted on one wall, a mural of geishas painted on another. Blocky wooden chairs and tables, a concrete bar, and marine-grade rope hanging from the ceiling are modern additions, softened by the warm glow cast by a sea of twinkling tea lights on the walls. Tomo means “long-time friend” in Japanese, and with any luck, this ByWard Market restaurant will be around for a long time as well. 109 Clarence St, 613-241-0990, tomorestaurant.ca
As the name suggests, everything on the menu is made to share: soups, salads, mains, even cocktails —everything can be ordered for one or two (or more). And everything is priced as such, with a cost for “single” or for “sharing.” Of course, there are the traditional items to share, such as the charcuterie board, featuring duck prosciutto, bresaola (air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months), preserves, berries, and wonton chips. A varied menu offers bar snacks to full meals, all executed with a fine-dining flair. If the bison tartare happens to be on the menu when you visit, take our advice and order it. Ingredients are mostly locally sourced and fresh. Such desserts as beignets with blueberry preserves and peanut butter ice cream with French toast are adventurous and deliciously prepared. The beer list offers a plethora of local, craft brews and the cocktails are named after aspects of the neighbourhood: Wicked Wanda, for the adult emporium on Bank Street; Ward 14, the section of the city in which the restaurant is located.
Small and cozy, there are 38 seats inside, with an additional 17 on the patio in the summer. The interior glows – light reflects off dark wood tables and black-painted walls. 327 Somerset St. W., 613-680-4000, sharefreehouse.ca