Washington Post like Ottawa's Food Scene [General]

2010 Jul 10

And there's a buzzing food scene that turned out to be the weekend's big reveal. Larger cities get the glory, but Ottawa's kitchens might be some of North America's best-kept secrets. Locavore-fueled creativity here arguably rivals that of San Francisco or Chicago, albeit with less ego, zero attitude and gentler prices.

2010 Jul 10
Good to know that they've noticed we're here (although I note that the article's author is Canadian), particularly as ma famille is about to head to DC for three years!

2010 Jul 11
Thanks for the link Zym, good article. A few of my friends have started making regular trips out to Ottawa from TO and Montreal lately. There's something to be said for a place where you can get a reservation for the best restaurants in town on the same day, where nobody cares what you wear to dinner, and where you're rarely made to feel rotten for spending too little. It's a nice thing we've got going here!

2010 Jul 12
It’s good to see Ottawa is finally coming out of it’s shell, more and more people I know come visit Ottawa and end up loving the entire city, food, markets, everything. The author mentions the term “locavore” a lot and it got me thinking, Ottawa is perfectly situated to take advantage of this “buy local, eat gourmet” craze that’s going about.
Think about it, A metro population of reasonably affluent people from all over the world, gives farmers, cheese makers, etc. a r4eason to bring their goods into the city and sell locally. South is the Ottawa Valley (Some of the best farmland in the country) north is the Gatineau hills, orchards, maple syrup, and Quebec cheese. And although it may not seem like much, the east coast seafood is shipped here faster, fresher and in greater quantity (per capita) than Toronto. (A friend of mine recently quit his chef job in Ottawa and moved to T.O., he complains all the time tat the lobster is smaller, fish less fresh and so on.)

2010 Jul 12
Speaking of lobster, I picked up 2 fresh ones from Whalesbone Supply the other day and cooked them on the weekend, got some beautiful lobster roe out of one of them. Reasonably priced as well (equal price to what the grocery stores were charging).

Yes, Ottawa is perfectly situated for great local/regionally produced food. We have some amazing cheese being produced all around us, great beer, produce, heritage breed livestock (the heritage pork being produced around here is amazing), etc. It's good to see that restaurants are tapping into this more and more, taking risks and bonding with producers to offer the consumer some amazing consumables (Savour Ottawa is a good example).

Now that I've given high praise to Ottawa & the "scene", I'm going to be the inevitable "turd in the punchbowl"... The only thing we have lacking is retail organization by the producers - if they would follow the model of the Kitchener Market and get a permanent location that's capable of being year-round, I think we would be on a higher level. This city has too many splintered local markets, tossing ridiculous barbs at one another about which one is better and why, resulting in inconsistent/dishonest pricing practices which ultimately do not benefit the consumer (in fact, it p!sses me off that I have to drive around to various markets to find the best quality:price balance). Case in point - while on a drive this weekend, a roadside berry farmer had their raspberries for sale for $5.50, at Lansdowne you'd have paid $8 for the same quantity & quality. I understand there's overhead, but still...

In case you have forgotten so quickly: Competition Bureau serves notice to Ottawa Farmers' Market - communities.canada.com

2010 Jul 14
From the article: "Locavore-fueled creativity here arguably rivals that of San Francisco or Chicago, albeit with less ego, zero attitude and gentler prices."

Uh, I don't know about Chicago, but this guy clearly has never visited SF (or he had a mind-bogglingly singular tourist-zone experience there), a city where everything is more local, cheaper, more creative, and about 2 decades ahead of Ottawa on the sophistication of both cooks and clients. And they're way more casual about it than Ottawa, where you're still mispronouncing things and delighting guests with special import beer. Ottawa's great and all that, but deceiving ourselves about the shortcomings of the place just breeds complacency.

2010 Jul 14
On Monday evening I watched a documentary on Chef Anne Desjardins. Impressive lady who has done great things on the Quebec food scene. Who is Ottawa's 'Chef Anne Desjardins'? She has a strong focus on regional, seasonal cuisine with high quality preparation. Are the critics here in Ottawa saying that this would be boring? Not creative enough? I am wondering what specifically would make us 1st tier.

Also I am curious to know if anyone has made it to The French Laundry.

2010 Jul 14
Ottawa really is on the cusp of culinary adventure. That much I've just written about, to appear in upcoming glossy Style mag. as stuffer in Ottawa Citizen on or about Sept. 11. We can all talk about fresh, local, organic etc. Seems trite. Where I go with this story is to explore the camaraderie, enthusiasm that makes Ottawa cuisine so superlative, and so noticed nation-wide and abroad. This city is exploding with culinary talent. Not conceited chefs, but those who have a visceral love of their craft. Talented chefs in Ottawa are free and expressive spirits. We are all enriched.

2010 Jul 15
The French Laundry is sublime. I have never eaten anything that equals Keller's Oysters and Pearls. Beg, borrow or steal, but please go and take me with you.

2010 Jul 19
Certainly the local scene has improved dramatically in the past 5 years, but I agree with le david [above] that the favourable San Francisco comparison is a stretch. But I do like the more relaxed atmosphere here.

Funny story: I had a work dinner for about 10 people in a moderately-priced place in San Francisco in April. Selection of wines was delegated to me (a common event). The sommelier in jeans (!) came by with one of those "You couldn't possibly know what to order off of my exquisite wine list" looks on her face and offered to "help." I declined and just placed an order for 5 nice bottles I had already selected, and once she recovered her composure over my not asking for her help, she asked me how I would like them sequenced. Since this was a small plates place and I didn't know who had ordered what much less how the kitchen might sequence them, I just said "Oh, just bring them all at once and we will figure it out." You should have seen the horrified look on her face!

Counterpoint from Ottawa: At a well-reputed restaurant I ordered a chocolate torte with caramel sauce. The hostess brought it by, and the following exchange ensued:

ME: "Oh, it looks like they forgot to put on the caramel sauce."

HOSTESS: "It doesn't come with sauce."

ME: "I am pretty sure the menu said it came with caramel sauce."

HOSTESS: "Are you sure?"

ME: "Yes. I love caramel. That's why I ordered it." [dining companion corroborates all of this]

HOSTESS: "Are you sure there isn't any sauce?"

ME [peering at the plate, perplexed]: "I'm pretty sure there is no caramel sauce on this."

HOSTESS: "Maybe they put it inside."

ME [looking to make sure there was not a layer of caramel lurking in the torte somewhere]: "I am quite sure there is no caramel sauce in this."

HOSTESS: "Well, why don't you taste it and see?"

ME: "?????????????"

At this point the server came by and rescued the poor hostess who appeared to never have seen or tasted caramel before.

My point is that there are some pros and cons about our relaxed scene!

What I notice most about Ottawa as opposed to better known culinary destinations is the lack of *consistent professionalism* in the restaurant business, be it with waiters or with line cooks. The chefs in the better places are top-notch in terms of concept, philosophy, and creativity, but that can only go so far. Too often the execution is great one night and mediocre the next. Same complaint with wait staff. Certainly we see comments along these lines on this forum for most of the better places in town... My hypothesis is that the Washington Post writer lucked out and happened to hit every place on a great night. Same restaurants on another night might have been disappointing.

Am I off-base here? If not, why do you think that this is an issue here in Ottawa?

2010 Jul 19
I just spent 2 extended weekends doing "staycations" in Ottawa. Some might think we are crazy since we live on the water in Constance Bay--but he doesn't have any vacation this summer. We took Bluesfest passes and spent the Thursday-Saturday of each weekend in downtown hotels (special at Sheraton for $109/night-40% off reg price for the whole summer!) rather than driving, parking, etc. with BluesFest. Of course BF alone was enough but we went and experienced the change of the guard, the pop art exhibit at the National Gallery, some awesome shopping in the Byward Marketsussex St., the revived Museum of Nature (last time I was there was an overnite with my daughter's girlguide group about 15 years ago). We also enjoyed some lovely resto experiences which I will review later. ..But on this W.P. topic--we really enjoyed Ottawa as "tourists". This city can up the ante and is a great destination for sites (museums), dining experiences and our beautiful scenery/hikes/Gatineau, etc. Between the 2 of us we have travelled extensively and this 6 days in our lovely nation's capital made us realize we really do not have to go far to have a great experience. Hats off to a Washington Post review. And our food experiences were pretty good.