From döner to tacos, your guide to the newest restaurants in Ottawa
With the year not even at the halfway point, there’s already been a flurry of notable restaurant openings in Ottawa. This week’s column, then, will be less of a review and more of a recap, so that foodies who delight in trying new spots can make their reservations.
The big opening of the spring is the arrival in mid-May of THRU (540 Rochester St., thru.tickit.ca), as long as the opening of a six-seat restaurant can be called big. THRU is a private dining room in Atelier, chef Marc Lepine’s much-celebrated and cutting-edge restaurant. Whereas Atelier serves a 12-course tasting menu with optional wines, THRU pushes the notion of small plates even further to serve an eclectic and surprise-filled parade of 50 savoury and then sweet items (bites, mouthfuls and cocktails, you might say). Ostrich tartare, grill-it-yourself A5 (top-quality) Wagyu beef, snail caviar, freeze-dried “astronaut-style” cardamom ice cream and more are testaments to Lepine’s creativity, technique and generosity. Having eaten at THRU on its opening night at Lepine’s invitation, I can tell you that the experience is deeply immersive, unique and highly enjoyable if food’s your thing. Snagging that reservation, however, is not easy. At the beginning of each month, tickets for THRU, priced at $400, including fees and tip, become available online. It’s a bit of a hoop to jump through, but it’s worth it.
Erin Anderson and Alex Anderson sample their food in the small dining room called THRU, which seats only six customers and is located upstairs and at the back of Atelier Restaurant on Rochester Street. Customers are encouraged to bring their cell phones so they can scan QR codes on the tables and learn about what it is they are eating. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia
A few blocks north of Atelier/THRU, Farinella(492 Rochester St., farinellaeats.com) also opened in May. Behind this much-anticipated pizzeria/gelateria and bar is the Ottawa-raised brother-and-sister team of Cesare and Nina Agostini, who have the restaurant business in their blood and who in addition to much experience in Ottawa have worked and learned in Italy. I only know what I do about Farinella through its website and Instagram page, but I have my fingers crossed for some exemplary Roman-style pizza and ricotta honey gelato.
Little Italy and Chinatown have each seen commendable taco eateries open this year. San Jose Mexican Foods (640 Somerset St. W., sanjosemexicanfoods.com) is a tiny shop opened in February by Mexican expats, and its traditional tacos (the chicken mole taco was a standout) and daily specials make this hole-in-the-wall worth a visit. The more trendy Eldorado Taco (170 Preston St., facebook.com/eldoradotacoottawa), which opened in early April, serves well-designed and well-made tacos (I prefer the short rib and crispy fish examples), while award-winning mixologist, Quintana Taylor, helms its bar.
Chicken and pulled pork tacos at Eldorado Taco Postmedia
Chicken mole tacos at San Jose Mexican Foods Postmedia
In the category of tiny yet ambitious and distinctive neighbourhood eateries, Corner Peach (802 Somerset St. W., cornerpeach.com) is a cozy, welcoming place that opened in January in Chinatown. Here, elevated comfort food and irresistible baked goods reign.
Caroline Murphy, left, and Emma Campbell at the counter of their restaurant, Corner Peach, in Chinatown. Jean Levac / Postmedia
In Mechanicsville, the memorably named Grunt(173 Hinchey St., gruntottawa.com) opened in late April. I’ve yet to visit Grunt, but its chef, Jason McLelland, and his frequently changing menus, which can feature porchetta sandwiches, ash-dusted chicken sandwiches, baked Alaska and more, are equally intriguing.
The blue cheese gnocchi, with pickled celery, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and apples, at the restaurant Grunt in Mechanicsville. Alison Mah / jpg
In Westboro, TheNewboro (295 Richmond Rd., facebook.com/thenewboro), a small plates and cocktails place, officially opened in mid-May. Further east, on Wellington Street West’s epicurean row, Pubblico (1331 Wellington St W., pubblico1331.com) replaced the Agave Grill when it opened in late February. This narrow venue bills itself as “Brooklyn Italian dive bar in Ottawa,” and feels like a small sports bar with a focused menu offering pizza, chicken and veal parm sandwiches, calamari and more. At our lunch visit, the chicken parm and fried calamari were bland and fried chicken (a boneless breast) was overcooked. Best was the swordfish special.
Fried chicken at Pubblico Postmedia
New places are popping up on the Centretown stretch of Bank Street. Among them, Wolf Down (380 Bank St., wolfdown.com), which opened in mid-May, is a fast food place specializing in döner, the Turkish iteration of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and a relative of Lebanese shawarma and Greek gyros, as it’s commonly served in Germany. The massive servings of shaved beef, chicken and tofu (tofu?) are supported by lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and either a white or spicy sauce, surrounded by a crisp-chewy flatbread. My döners have been tasty and certainly filling, but I did wish for more moisture in the meat.
The beef dôner, left, and chicken doner at restaurant Wolf Down on Bank Street. Alison Mah / Postmedia
Tamis Cafe (374 Bank St., tamiscafe.ca), one of Ottawa’s few Filipino eateries, moved from the Glebe to Centretown and its grand opening was in late May. Following the closure this spring of Clover Food and Drink, a second location of GoGiYa (155 Bank St., gogiyabbq.com) moved in, specializing in Korean fried chicken at dinner and bowl-based lunch dishes.
The bibimbap (top) and spicy pork with rice and japchae at GoGiYa on Bank Street.Photo by Alison Mah Alison Mah / Postmedia
On Elgin Street, opening where Kat & Kraken had been, Happy Fish Raw Bar (330 Elgin St., happyfishrawbar.ca) which seems to be geared to not just seafood but also late-night partying with a DJ in action on weekends, had its grand opening in mid-April.
To the east, NH 44 Indian Bistro (2450 Lancaster Rd. unit 35, nh44ottawa.com) opened in February in an office park, serving a range of Indian street foods that are otherwise scarce in Ottawa as well as heaping and often potently spiced curry-based bowls. In the bistro’s contemporary setting, young chef-owner Teegaavarapu Sarath Mohan turns out an especially notable Hyderabadi chicken dum biryani at dinnertime.
Hyderabadi Chicken dum Biryani at NH 44 Indian Bistro in Ottawa on April 12, 2019. Errol McGihon/Postmedia Errol McGihon / Postmedia
Early May saw the opening of Cumin Indian Grill (373 Somerset St. W., cuminindiangrill.ca) a tiny restaurant in Centretown replacing Café Delish. Cumin’s Facebook page and Skip the Dishes listing tout Hakka (Indo-Chinese) dishes and some regional Indian dishes. Also in early May, Mehfil Indian Cuisine (790 Somerset St. W., mehfilcuisine.com) opened in Chinatown, offering an extensive menu of mostly well-known North Indian dishes as well as a lunch buffet.
Several Ottawa restaurants have gone forth and multiplied or will soon do so. Among them, OCCO Kitchen (occokitchen.com) in Orléans opened a second location downtown, at 160 Bay St. on the bottom of the Albert At Bay Suite Hotel, in February. Until June 19 at the Bay Street location, Occo stresses lobster dishes during its dinner service, offering lobster rolls, lobster tacos, lobster mac and cheese, lobster grilled cheese sandwiches and lobster poutine.
Zak’s Diner in the ByWard Market will open a location on Elgin Street in September, where Dunn’s Famous Delicatessen had been.
Vegans (and omnivores) have two restaurant openings to look forward to. Chef Briana Kim, who won Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates competition in 2017, says she aims to open her restaurant Alice (40 Adeline St., instagram.com/alice.restaurant) as soon as next week. A follow-up to Kim’s acclaimed and vegetable-focused Café My House in Hintonburg, Alice in Little Italy is to feature a vegetable-inspired eight-course tasting menu, along with a natural wine list and modern cocktails.
And in a symbolic triumph for meat-abstainers, a business called TheWitches Thicket and Vegan Cafe (1066 Somerset St. W., thewitchesthicket.com) is to open in July where Hintonburger had been.
The space on Elgin Street where Oz Kafe had been prior to its move to the ByWard Market is to become the French restaurant Gitanes, says Nader Salib, the co-owner of Common Eatery on Elgin Street. Salib hopes that Gitanes will be open by mid-July,
Elgin Street is also looking forward to the arrival of an Uncle Tetsu Japanese cheesecake store. A franchise of the fetishized dessert business is to open this summer, according to its Facebook page, replacing the veteran local business Boko Bakery at 280 Elgin St.
Lovers of sweets are also keenly anticipating the June 15 party to celebrate the new take-out window at Pascale’s Ice Cream (571 Gladstone Ave., pascalesicecream.com), as well as the premium dessert purveyor’s 10th anniversary.