A sizzling start to the new year
Forecast for the food scene in Ottawa in 2013: starting at a sizzle, then quickly building to a boil.
The year is starting with a flurry of restaurant openings and food finds: Steve Wall’s much-anticipated seafood-centric Supply and Demand, a Callebaut chocolate shop and an underground bar at Union 613 are all expected to open in the next few weeks.
In February, watch for Richard Nigro to open his Hintonburg Kitchen and warm up at a couple of outstanding Winterlude food events.
By March, the Elmdale House Tavern will have reopened with sustainable sustenance from The Whalesbone, while the Smoque Shack’s Warren Sutherland will open a new pizza place on Elgin, more or less across the street from star-chef Matthew Carmichael’s much-anticipated new digs, El Camino.
And by the time the tulips shoot up in May, as many as 20 new food trucks and carts will have rolled out on Ottawa streets, offering hot tastes as diverse as braised meat sandwiches and Thai tacos.
“The selection committee is pleased and amazed at the full range of applications,” Philip Powell, manager of licensing for the City of Ottawa, said Wednesday.
While 2012 saw Atelier’s Marc Lépine win the Canadian Culinary Championships and a bunch of great new restaurants and food trucks open their doors and windows, “absolutely, totally,” 2013 will be even better for eating in Ottawa, says Carmichael, the former executive chef at Social, E18hteen and Sidedoor.
“I think the depth of food that Ottawa is offering is getting a lot better and I think the chefs are just getting better and better.”
Here, in no particular order, are 13 top things to whet your appetite just in the first months of 2013.
1. Seafood and Demand
Steve Wall, 28, is one of Ottawa’s most celebrated young chefs, having cooked at Beckta with Stephen Vardy, The Whalesbone Oyster House, Town and Luxe. Now the East Coast lad is opening his own spot, Supply and Demand, on food-centric Wellington Street West (in the former bank that last housed Santorini.)
“It will be seafood-focused, with a large raw component — oysters, tuna crudo, razor clams and duck tartare,” Wall said. “We’ll also have a couple of pastas, small plates and vegetable composed plates. As opposed to just slapping a couple of vegetables onto plates, they’ll be more à la carte and prepared, like Brussels sprouts with bacon and anchovy.”
Seafood will come from everywhere from The Whalesbone in Ottawa to a fisherman’s co-operative on Vancouver Island and an oyster place Wall knows about in Nova Scotia. “We’ll go to the airport and pick it up ourselves if we have to,” says Wall.
The decor, by Shannon Smithers-Gay who also did Union 613 and who is doing the new Savoy to open in the old Newport Restaurant spot, “is a really classic look that’s comfortable,” says Wall.
“One wall has sea horse wallpaper, the floor has hexagon tile and there’s a chef’s bar with seating for about four.”
Wall hopes to have Supply and Demand open later this month.
Watch for: The old logo’d plates Wall picked up from the iconic Le Cafe Henry Burger.
2. A speakeasy on Somerset West
As if Union 613 isn’t already one of Ottawa’s hippest spots, it’s opening a space in its basement later this month that promises to increase its cool quotient even more.
“When I was in Manhattan I kept coming across these places that were employees only, please don’t tell, with no signage,” says owner Ivan Gedz. “We thought it would be kind of a cool thing to do.”
The 20-seat space doesn’t have a name yet, it won’t have a sign and you’ll enter through the side door, in the alley.
“We’ll have just one beer on tap, one red, one white and a minimal selection of alcohol,” says Gedz. “We haven’t decided what the food will be, but we’re going to serve just one thing, so it better be good.”
Watch for: Gedz is contemplating holding special nights when bartenders will converge in the speakeasy and come up with new cocktails.
3. The Elmdale, but with oysters
Hintonburg residents and would-be Hintonburgers are fiercely protective of the pickled-eggs-and-quarts ambience of the old Elmdale Tavern. But, really, what could be better than the gritty atmosphere plus good food?
The new owners of the business, Joshua Bishop and Pete McCallum from The Whalesbone, promise to keep the old Elmdale intact, with live music, likely some live theatre, more or less the same decor (or lack thereof) and even the pickled eggs, brined cheese and beer by quart. What they’re adding is a kitchen, which will turn out creations from their chef Chloe Berlanga, who will oversee both operations.
“We’re still hashing out the menu,” said Bishop last week, the day after he got the keys to the Elmdale. “What we’re looking at is lots of shared plates, platters of rustic food and family-style serving, things like pot roasts and iron skillets of food that will go right on the table. We want to do a respectful job of paying homage to the place.” With oysters, of course.
They hope to have a soft opening March 1, with a grand opening on St. Paddy’s Day (March 17).
Watch for: Bishop says they’re entertaining the idea of offering dinner theatre as well as opening the upstairs apartment for catered parties.
4. El Camino on Elgin
Keep your appetite keen until late March or early April when award-winning chef Matthew Carmichael, who has worked with top chefs such as Susur Lee, will start offering high-end food in a literally low-end (as in below street level) locale on Elgin at Gladstone.
His much-anticipated new resto is to be called El Camino (mostly as in the early ’70s car Carmichael loved as a kid, but also “The Way” in Spain) and will open complete with vintage style (but newly made) diner stools, a couple of booths, a pinball machine and a takeout window.
“Most chefs get a truck to pick up food,” says Carmichael. “If all goes right, we’ll see if we can get a ’71 or ’72 El Camino from down below the salt line and drive it back by spring to use as our go-round car.”
Food will include tacos made with sustainable seafood (“April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman just opened Salvation Taco in New York — it’s still going on,” says Carmichael), Thai curry, shrimp dumplings, papaya salad, Tijuana-style Caesar salads, charred pieces of O’Brien’s beef, a queso blanco (white cheese) dip, what he hopes will be the city’s best guacamole and raw seafood dishes such as spot prawns tartare and scallops ceviche.
“I think it’s important that everyone should have access to good-quality food, like good art or music,” says Carmichael. “It came to me that, as good as Social, E18hteen and Sidedoor are, they’re not the kind of places I’d go on my nights off. I want a place where anyone would feel comfortable.”
Watch for: You’ll be able to peer down from the sidewalk into the kitchen and see the machine, imported from the U.S., turning out fresh-made taco shells. You might also be able to spot the barrels where they’ll be aging bourbon and mescal.
5. A slice on Elgin
Warren Sutherland, the chef formerly at Sweetgrass and still behind the highly successful Smoque Shack and Piggy Market, is opening another new restaurant in February or March. It will be on Elgin, in the former premises of the Second Cup, across the street from Carmichael’s new spot, promising to make that section of Elgin — with the Manx pub and the Elgin Street Diner — a go-to gustatory destination.
Sutherland’s new spot is to be called Slice & Co. and feature pizza and sandwiches — with a difference.
“Pizzerias are a dime a dozen, but really good ones are not,” says Sutherland. “Now so many places are doing wood-burning pizza ovens, which is great, but it’s either that or poor-quality pizza. We want to step up the quality and offer four different kinds of pizza.”
Types will include Italian hand-tossed pizzas, Chicago deep-dish pizzas, Brooklyn-style pan pizzas and California thin-crust pizzas. Sandwiches are to include “ones you know and love,” says Sutherland, such as steak and cheese, as well as more unusual ones such as muffulettas and banh mi.
Sutherland says the atmosphere will be casual at the 40- to 50-seat restaurant.
“We’ll have communal tables. It will be a place to stop in and eat with a group of people.”
Watch for: Slice & Co. will start with dinner and late-night service, but come patio season, it will expand outside and start offering lunch as well.
6. Smothered in chocolate
When Céline Levo lived in Calgary, she worked for Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and came to love and respect the company’s high-quality, handcrafted chocolate. Fortunately for Ottawans, she moved east three years ago and has struck a deal to open Eastern Ontario’s first Bernard Callebaut outlet.
She’s planning a grand opening Feb. 1, in time for Valentine’s Day, but, if the equipment arrives in time, her shop at 256 Dalhousie St. may open in the weeks before.
The shop will become a go-to source for big chunks of baking chocolate, baking drops, filled chocolates and even hot chocolate.
“It will be everything chocolate, all about chocolate,” says Levo.
Watch for: Soft-serve cones of dark- and white-chocolate ice cream come summer.
7. Style and stylish food
At this Winterlude event, you will not only get to see a fashion show, featuring the creations of Toronto designer Lucian Matis, you’ll get to eat food that’s sure to be every bit as creative. Atelier chef Marc Lépine, who won the 2012 Canadian Culinary Championships, will be presenting a five-course menu at the American Express Winterlude Food and Fashion Evening, to be held at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
“It will be our food, but in larger portions,” says Lepine, whose regular menu, featuring molecular gastronomy, includes 12 small courses.
The Winterlude meal will be served in the ballroom with a panoramic view, with a catwalk running between the tables and fashions presented between courses as well as at the end of the meal. Dishes will include lightly cured pork belly that’s been cooked sous vide for 36 hours.
“It gets this awesome texture — everyone always exclaims on the first bite,” says Lepine. “The meat becomes so rich and delicious.”
The pork will be served surrounded with crispy shards of root vegetables and black truffles.
“It’s a fun way to eat root vegetables,” says Lepine.
The event is Friday, Feb. 1; tickets are $165, which includes the fashion show, five courses and wine. Call 613-599-3267 to reserve.
Watch for: Dessert will have an all-white snowstorm theme, with meringue crumbs, white edible rocks and a white spun sweet that’s the texture of cotton candy.
8. Lumberjacks and lardons
Another meal linked to Winterlude, this brunch promises to be beyond hearty: deep dish tourtière made with bison and pork belly, baked beans with Seed to Sausage bacon lardons, apple cinnamon waffles, and duck-fat roasted potatoes with curds and gravy are just some of the nearly dozen dishes on the menu for the Red Apron’s Lumberjack Brunch, Sunday, Feb. 3 at 11:30 a.m. at the Gladstone Avenue shop.
You know that if it’s made at the Red Apron it’s going to good, so the limited spaces ($35 per person) are likely to be snapped up quickly: go to redapron.ca to book.
Watch for: “We’re going to wear plaid, tuques and moustaches,” says co-owner Jennifer Heagle.
9. Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen
“Balls of the day,” are just one of many food offerings Richard Nigro plans for his new business to open in Hintonburg in early February.
“I’ll have a different kind of meatball every day,” says the chef who worked at Domus and was one of the founding chefs at Juniper. “They could be traditional Italian meatballs or North African lamb ones, with couscous, goat’s cheese and harissa-scented yogurt.”
He also plans to have a patty of the day — everything from Caribbean ones to samosas and Cornish pasties — aimed at the lunch crowd in a rush, as well as a “roaster of the day” — a roast chicken with side dishes, suitable to take home for a family dinner.
“I want to keep things fairly mixed up as far as the menu is concerned, so you won’t come in and see the same thing,” says Nigro. “There will be a lot of Asian influences and a number of Korean beef and pork dishes.”
Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, at 1200 Wellington St. (former home of the Emerald Pastry & Food Shop) will also feature his line of condiments and preserves and barbecue-ready products, such as smoked ribs that just need a final grilling with sauce. Feb. 4 is the planned opening day, but Nigro says “maybe I’ll do an early soft opening with platters and dinners for Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3.”
Watch for: Nigro plans to have the chef’s table in the kitchen for cooking classes and special dinners.
10. Provence in Westboro
This place, like the next one, actually opened in late 2012, but chances are, with the holiday rush, you haven’t had time yet to check it out.
Stepping into the new Chez François shop in Westboro feels like stepping into a food shop in the south of France. Behind the cash is a selection of breads and pastries baked fresh that day. In the fridges, you’ll find foie gras and what the staff say is the best cheese in the world: a brie with a slather of black truffle in the middle. On the shelves are custom-made pastas (such as one made with walnuts), 10 types of house-made vinegars and house-brand tapenades, mustards and jams.
This fully realized shop — complete with kitchen wares, Provençal fabrics and its own line of bath products — opened at 427 Richmond Rd. on Dec. 2, but the business came with a loyal following from its 20 years in St Jovite.
“We wanted to move into the city,” says owner Jean-François Maranda.
Watch for: This weekend, with the rush of opening and the holidays behind them, Maranda says they will begin to offer even more take-home foods, all made on the premises.
“We’re going to have quiches and salads and increase the number of our sauces and other foods in jars, such as beef bourguignon, from two to a 12.”
11. Oaxaca in Vanier
The small bright blue house stands out at the corner of Barrette and Loyer streets, luring you in with its vibrant colours and exotic aromas.
Mitla is primarily a catering business, devoted to the authentic foods of the Oaxacan region of Mexico, but it’s also a great place to pick up dinner to take home, or, as long as there’s room at the two tables in the tiny front room, to stop for a simple lunch.
“The idea that Mexican food is burritos and fajitas is pretty erroneous,” says Ana Collins, who opened Mitla Dec. 8, four years after moving back to Ottawa from Mexico.
In Mexico, she worked with a group devoted to preserving indigenous plants that are crucial to Oaxacan cuisine, such as dozens of types of non-GMO corn and chili peppers.
Now she’s bringing those authentic flavours to Ottawa. Each day at lunch, there is a soup of the day, memelas (corn tortillas topped with seasoned black bean sauce and fresh cheese) and a type of quesadilla. For dinner, you can take home whatever dish is being prepared, perhaps venison in a red mole or chili rellenos. And the Oaxacan hot chocolate — made with cocoa beans, cinnamon and almonds — is worth crossing town for.
“I think you can taste that the food is healthy,” says Collins. “It’s whole beans, grains, salsas made with specific chilies and whole ingredients.”
Watch for: Collins plans to expand her business in interesting ways.
“I want to be part of the neighbourhood: Vanier needs something a little bit funky. I’d like to bring in people to speak on Thursday nights or maybe be a place to stop for some music and coffee on Friday evenings.”
12. Art-Is-In all the time
Is there anything we don’t love about Art-Is-In Bakery? Oh, yes, right. It’s driving up on a Monday morning and finding it closed.
No more this year. The bakery in the industrial-hip City Centre has taken over the bay next door and is currently closed for renovations and expansion, moving all the baking equipment into the new space and expanding the eating and cooking area. And, salvation for those dependent on its dynamite loaves and sensational sweets, it will soon be open seven days a week.
The owners had hoped to reopen Jan. 12, but tweeted Wednesday that they will now reopen Tuesday, January 15.
Watch for: Even more savoury brunch and lunch options once the bread operation moves out of the original space.
13. Street food will roll out
Last Friday was the deadline for applications for 20 new spots for food carts and trucks, the first new City-sanctioned street food on Ottawa’s streets in 18 years.
“We had a great response,” says Philip Powell, the City of Ottawa’s manager of licensing, permits and markets. “We got 61 applications in total, 45 for trucks and 16 for carts.
“The range of the food is really quite amazing: Indian, Thai, Mexican, Greek, seafood, Vietnamese, Cuban and Cajun … and ice cream and frozen yogurt on carts. It’s the full range of everything you can imagine in street food and really quite exciting.”
We won’t know until February who is approved and for where, but one chef who has publicly declared his interest is the Urban Pear’s Ben Baird, who has already bought his truck, to be called Ottawa Streat Gourmet.
“I want to do international food with 100-mile ingredients,” says Baird. “I want to do tacos, shawarmas, Thai food and Indian food and I hope to be near Queen or Sparks street.”
Downtown Ottawa promises to get some much needed flavour.
Watch for: Powell says he expects most of the new trucks and carts to roll out in time for the May tulip festival.