Dining out: Supply And Demand
Supply And Demand
1335 Wellington St. W., 613-680-2949, supplyanddemandfoods.ca
Open: 5 to 10 p.m., nightly
Access: One step to entrance, washrooms in basement
Prices: Smaller plates from $7 to $19; mains from $23 to $38
I don’t know chef Steve Wall’s middle name, but my sneaking suspicion is that it’s “umami.”
That borrowed-from-the-Japanese word has been called “the fifth taste,” after salty, sweet, sour and bitter — four less mysterious adjectives on the tip of your tongue.
A better synonym for umami might be “meatiness” or “savouriness.” Whatever you call it, many dishes at Wall’s recently opened restaurant Supply and Demand brim with it.
There’s the anchovy juice and bacon elevating the brussels sprouts. There’s the caper vinaigrette, scattering of bacon, and pile of grated manchego cheese that make the kale salad mouth-watering. There’s the truffle oil anointing Wall’s signature tuna crudo. All provide the umami pop of natural glutamates, something which MSG delivers more artificially.
If that’s too analytical for you, simply rest assured that many dishes on Wall’s compact menu are almost addictively delicious, and others, while they wow a little less, are still satisfying.
Given the level of Supply and Demand’s food, its convivial atmosphere, and smart, knowledgeable service, I’ll put it this way — come for the umami, stay for everything else.
Wall and his wife Jennifer opened this bustling 60-seater on Wellington Street West about a month ago. Both are not yet 30. But for the last seven years, the young chef has starred at some of Ottawa’s leading restaurants, having cooked at Beckta Dining & Wine and run the kitchens of the Whalesbone Oyster House, Town and Luxe Bistro.
Now on his own, Wall is advancing a smart, timely concept that should resonate with contemporary tastes. Supply and Demand’s one-page menu is tweaked daily, but it always gives seafood, in particular in sophisticated raw preparations, pride of place. It spotlights small plates and shareable vegetable dishes. There are several mains and pasta dishes for those who want a substantial meal on a plate.
On first glance, we were a bit befuddled by this range. But after our server doled out all the information we needed about portion sizes and the heaviness of dishes, we ordered with confidence. Some of us went crazy on smaller plates, while others ate more traditionally with an appetizer and main course.
That bit of orientation was the first sign of Supply and Demand’s thoughtful service, overseen by Jennifer Wall, a former server at Town whose middle name might be “unpretentious-hospitality.”
Overall, we favoured some knockout, smaller, sub-$20 offerings just a bit more than the larger, over-$24 plates, although this really is the difference between “wow” and “quite good.”
We were immediately impressed by the complimentary, pillowy Parker House rolls served with some tricked-out butter, such that the usual on-the-house bread service was a fluffy, salty, sweet kick.
A tip: Ask for extra bread, which you will use to sop up the top-notch sauces, oils and the like on Wall’s dishes. That’s more polite than licking the plate.
After the rolls came a run of excellent dishes. The truffled, lemon-kissed tuna crudo ($14) featured luscious slabs of raw fish, with puffed wild rice adding crunch and young cilantro bringing mellow herbaceousness. Duck tartare ($14) was a mound of finely chopped, impeccably fresh duck breast, boosted by capers and mustard as beef tartare usually is, and then jazzed with the crunch of corn nuts. It was a huge hit at our table.
The bowl of kale salad ($7), magically devoid of bitterness and filled with concentrated flavour, riffed on caesar salad. The brussels sprouts ($5) were irresistible, thanks to the deeply flavoured “anchovy juice” sauce that should cure anyone of an anti-anchovy bias.
More simple was the plate of roasted and pickled beets served with goat cheese. While some restaurants go over the top with their beets-plus-chèvre salads, Wall to his credit has simplified the familiar flavour combo to let its essentials shine.
The pickled element, by the way, is one of Wall’s many vinegar-enhanced touches — see also his pickle juices with oysters, his pickled beef tongue, his pickled-then-fried cauliflower, his pickled onions that adorn a lobster and bacon tart. While I didn’t try these dishes, I can say that I approve of Wall’s embrace of tart acidity to add brightness, complexity and balance to his food.
More subtle and rarefied was the razor clam crudo ($13). Not an assertive crowd-pleaser like the tuna crudo, it featured a small amount of the delicate, slightly sweet clam meat dressed with fennel pollen, bits of pickled chilies, scallions and olive oil.
The tuna and prosciutto meatballs ($14) struck me as a bit dry, but still flavourful. They were nestled in a fine concoction of cranberry beans and soffrito — oh right, the concentrated tomatoes in the soffrito were rich in umami.
Tasty gemelli pasta came in a big helping, sauced with rosemary-tinged, shredded duck thighs and Fleurs Des Monts sheep’s milk cheese ($24). The person who ordered it took home at least half of the serving for his next day’s enjoyment.
We agreed on the rankings of the restaurant’s three mains.
Good was the sautéed white trout ($23) — while the fish by itself wasn’t a home run, the cured lemon, shaved fennel and apple slaw that adorned it were welcome additions.
Better was the Berkshire pork duo ($25), which offered a stubby cotechino sausage and a square of melting, sweetly glazed pork belly, along with creamy polenta made more sumptuous by the release of a coddled egg’s yolk.
The second signal of good service came with this dish. Given carte blanche, the server confidently paired with it a glass of Moroccan Brown Ale from Toronto’s Spearhead Brewery. On the whole, the compact beer and wine lists are populated with savvy, reasonably priced selections.
The best main was Wall’s butter-poached lobster, worth its $38 price tag thanks to the succulence of the shellfish and the swoon-inducing sauce.
One benefit of a small-plates dinner is that there’s usually room for dessert. We tried all three. Good was the bread pudding topped with cinnamon ice cream and sitting in a bourbon sauce ($6). Significantly better was the lemon pound cake, sponge toffee and Earl Grey cream in a jar ($8). Best by a nose was the big-enough-for-two, stewed-cherry-enhanced chocolate brownie with a big smear of salted peanut butter ($10).
With that dessert came the third example of thoughtful service. For a diner allergic to peanuts, the kitchen not only did away with the off-limits garnish, but it also substituted a good crème anglaise.
I’ve been food-centric in my review of Supply and Demand simply because Wall’s laudable fare calls for it. But a few words about the eatery’s ambience and atmosphere are in order. It’s a retro space with personality, evoking associations of brasseries and bistros with its tufted banquettes, Bentwood chairs and long bar. You notice touches like the sea horse wallpaper, the white, hexagon-tiled floor and the cosy chef’s bar, and think that the place departs nicely from the more common dark-wood, ductwork-overhead look that has become a cliché.
I have one warning. The place can quickly get very loud with the hubbub of happy diners and drinkers. If you don’t want to strain your hearing during conversations, go early.
But do go. The Walls supply exceptional, reasonably priced food in an appealing setting, and I only hope that they can keep up with the demand that’s sure to come.