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Located at 634 Somerset St W, ZenKitchen is a full-service gourmet vegan restaurant. They also offer cooking classes for small groups, as well as wine pairing and wine-maker events.

They use all-natural ingredients, with no genetically engineered foods, preservatives and chemical additives, and the freshest of ingredients that are as organic and locally sourced as possible.

Weekend Brunch at ZenKitchen
Foods from ZenKitchen

2009 Aug 16
My friend and I dropped in to get a feel for the place. All we ordered was the Black bean-chestnut salsa fennel-kohlrabi slaw and it was very very good. We also ordered the Edamame which was in line with all the other japanese restaurants.

We will definitely be going back to try out ALL the other dishes. Other customers had ordered the various dishes on the menu and everything looked divine.

2009 Aug 11
To follow on the favorable review handed up by one of OF's respected meatovores, some details on what our own party of 3 actually ate (largely omitted in my earlier post). Drawing from ZK's menu descriptions, our meal included:

* Land and sea vegetable salad with cucumbers, spiral daikon, sea vegetables, saifun noodles, yuzu vinaigrette: a simple, but excellent starter that can also work as a palate cleanser between nibbles from other plates. Excellent vinaigrette, nice presentation, loads you up w/ all those vitamins and minerals you're likely short on.

* Medallions of seitan in a lemon-caper sauce, with pearl couscous pilaf and seasonal vegetables: photo, dish on the right: not your mom's seitan, this one's a well crafted cutlet, mouthwatering on its own, but enhanced further by the sauce along w/ tasty in-season vegetables. Nutritionally dense, but more important, tasty / fun to eat.

* Zen salad rolls with spicy Thai peanut sauce, dengaku (miso glazed) age tofu skewars, pickles, togarashi potato chips: photo, dish on left: an excellent share plate, a bit of everything. Not sure anyone else does age tofu in town (maybe?), but definitely not on a plate flanked by Thai salad rolls and potato chips ... fushion-ie, but in the right sort of way.

* For "desert", we opted for the same Black bean-chestnut + salsa + fennel-kohlrabi slaw dish Chimi described: i can't add much (he being more expert than in this domain of salsas, etc.), but i'll note it wasn't the best plate to end up on mostly cuz we'd already had some potato chips and were beginning to fill up. I will say it'd be a good one to down w/ a bottle of Chambly or Beau's (both in the beer selection).

* Finally, we washed everything down w/ a bottle of Trumpour's Mill Assemblage Red VQA (one of the local PEC wines).

Total bill, with wine(!), rang in @ $104. Not an everyday pho-priced meal, but reasonable between 3.

2009 Aug 7
So, I decided to give Zen Kitchen a shot after months of curiosity and hearing good things, so I made up my mind and suggested we go there for dinner. My SO was quite hesitant, not really knowing what to expect after finding out that the menu was completely vegan. We decided on a liter of sangria to drink, which was studded with a TON of fresh strawberries. It was really, really tasty. I highly recommend their sangria.

For starters we decided on the potato & arugula gnocchi and the Caesar salad with roasted garlic polenta croutons & seitan (or maybe tempeh?) "bacon bits". Before we received our starters, we received a little amuse bouche of a cherry tomato with balsamic & some kind of nut butter and micro greens. It was delicious and definitely piqued our appetite. Along came the gnocchi and salad - and wow, we were both blown away. The salad was one of the best Caesar salads I've ever eaten - and this is huge since I normally find it to be pretty unspectacular. The polenta croutons were really good, the dressing was amazing, I wish I could duplicate this at home. Same goes with the gnocchi - they were delicious, along with some sauteed veg, similar to a ratatouille, with some olives in an herb infused oil. Amazing. The care for the ingredients and presentation was also really top-notch.

Then, onto our main, we shared a tapas plate for 2 - the black bean chestnut cakes with guacamole, salsa and "sour cream", corn chips and this zingy, super tasty fennel kohlrabi slaw. It was perfect to share between two people who had just eaten a starter dish per person. The bean cakes were awesome, everything was seasoned perfectly and I was happy to see that onion did not dominate the dish as it commonly does in some guacamoles & salsas.

We both decided on desserts as well, since our minds were pretty much blown at this point thinking that it couldn't be a failure given what we had already just eaten. So we got the Mexican chocolate cake and the lemon tart with wild blueberry coulis. The Mexican chocolate cake was really, really good, and a fair sized portion as well. It had some cinnamon and chili in there, and was topped with some sort of chocolate sauce and cherries. The lemon tart was good, but not what I would consider to be a lemon tart in a traditional sense. By this I mean, the flavours were good, but the texture was not familiar for me in my lemon-tart-world-view. I think they used agar-agar to achieve the lemon curd texture (to avoid using eggs, keeping it vegan). The blueberry coulis was delicious and brought the whole lemon-tart experience together for me. Overall, both desserts were tasty and I'd order off the dessert menu again!

Bottom line, the dining experience blew us away, it felt like we were dining out in Portland, Vancouver, or San Francisco or something... no pretense, really nice atmosphere, friendly (and helpful) service... just really appetizing, expertly prepared vegan food. As a meatavore, I highly recommend this place for people wanting to broaden their horizons. The meal was wholly satisfying and I will definitely be back! A welcome addition, and new favourite of mine in Ottawa.

2009 Jul 31
i'll swear there was a review for their new restaurant (sweet tooth??). In fact, said review influenced my decision not just to come but bring other people, including (gasp) one of those I'm from Vancouver i know good food snobs. (Not really a snob, but i was still a little nervous, haha...)

no divided jury in our party of three -- ZK is a welcome addition, filling several niches:

* its probably the veg'n place i'd feel most comfortable bringing those OF-ers who flag Juniper, WGP and similar as their favs. Attention to detail and nuances, both in service and food. Owners weave themselves among the washed masses, drop by your table, chat and listen, all that sort of stuff.

* its an izakaya-in-sheep's clothing. A third of the menu fall under "tapas", and the mains are easily shared as well, no questions asked. can't think of any other place serving Japanese-influenced pub food: eclectic, something for everyone, relatively healthy, yummy, fun.

* emphasis on local & organic, a theme reflected in a wine list that includes several PEC and organic wines from elsewhere.

* for those wary of the organic trope, a Hello Kitty cocktail awaits your next visit, miaow.

2008 Jul 16
The first course was exotic local mushrooms wrapped in wholewheat phyllo with a porcini wine reduction and truffle oil. Paired with a Modavi Coastal Pinot Noir from California. I'd never tried wholewheat phyllo before and was pleasantly surprised. Overall, the dish was very nice. I'm not keen on Mondavi wines, but my companions quite liked it.

Next was a salad -- greens with heirloom rainbow radishes, smoked tempeh bacon, spiced croutond and a garlic scape dressing. Paired with a Rabl "Vinum Optimal" Gruner Veltliner 2006 from Austria. None of us had tried an Austrian wine before so it was great to get exposed to a whole new country's vinescape.

Moving on, we had hand-cut agnolotti filled with mizuna pesto in an alfresco tomato sauce with seasonal local vegetables. Paired with Ruffino Chianti Classico RSV Ducale 2005 from Italy and Hope "Ripper" Shiraz 2005 from Australia. The agnolotti was lovely but the local vegetables were missing something...even just an extra squeeze of lemon or clove of garlic might have done the trick. The Chianti didn't do much for us, but the Shiraz was quite nice.

And lastly...the chocolate mousse torte with berry-orange coulis, vanilla cream and strawberries. Paired with Odysseus Banyuls Grand Cru 1996 from France. The torte was an absolute triumph, which I realize is a highly pretentious way of saying that we loved it. But it was such a creative and yummy dish, and one I'd love to be able to spring on the friends who mocked us (ever-so-gently, of course) for signing up for a gourmet vegan dinner in the first place.

Chef Caroline came out afterwards to talk about
the dishes and answer any questions. Her passion was clearly evident, and she was very generous with tips about where to get some of the ingredients she used. Was also really great that she was in no way "precious" about food but rather spoke in a really down-to-earth way.

All in all, a great experience and all of us said that we'd go again. The next dinners are on Sept 27, October 18, November 29 and December 20. You can check out the themes for these gourmet vegan dinners at the ZenKitchen website:

2008 Jul 16
A couple of friends and I went to the gourmet dinner at ZenKitchen on June 28. ZenKitchen has been written about here before -- for those who don't know, the company is owned by chef Caroline Ishii and focuses on vegan dishes made with organic and locally-sourced ingredients, as much as possible. The friends I was with are vegetarian and were delighted at the prospect of a dinner where they wouldn't have to question what went into worries about veggie food made with chicken broth here. I'm not a veggie, but I try to be thoughtful about what I consume so was pretty happy to check this out myself.

Before I get into the course-by-course account, I'd just say that I would definitely recommend ZenKitchen as a fun night out. We paid $45 for the dinner, plus $25 for the optional wine pairing -- superb value. Their prices are going up slightly in the Fall, but will still be more than worth it. Was also really fun to get a peek inside the Chelsea Club.

Subtlety seemed to be the overall flavour theme of the meal. Definitely a meal where the original taste of the ingredients was allowed to come through. To be really honest, every so often I might have wanted a stronger kick of something, anything -- maybe being raised South Asian has burned off the ability of my taste buds to appreciate more gentle flavours. But my companions thoroughly enjoyed their meals, and we all thought that this was a meal that set up the dessert, a chocolate mousse torte, beautifully. Now THAT was incredibly tasty, and the lightness of the preceding courses allowed one to do full justice to the dessert.

The wine pairing, but in some ways felt less like a "pairing" than a simultaneous wine tasting. Didn't necessarily feel like the wines and the food did much to enhance each other, but neither did they take away from one another. And the sommelier, Joe Hatz, was very keen to take questions and discuss the wines so added a really lovely component to the experience that way.

One last overall observation -- depending on the size of your party, you could be placed at a communal dining table. Which makes this a great event for people who are new to and/or alone in Ottawa to get out and meet people. I moved here 3 years ago and found Ottawa a tough town to crack at first. People are friendly but not necessarily welcoming. Esp for people coming from the west (or the east, I guess), Ottawa can feel very socially conservative. I'd recommend ZenKitchen as a great social foray for newbies.

So to begin...we had assorted hors d'oevres, followed by "Mediterranean Amuse" (olives, pickles, fresh bread, a carrot dip added at the last moment after some improvisation), paired with a Segura Viudas Brut NV from Spain. Two of us are keen on sparkling wine and enjoyed our glasses, but the other isn't and says this didn't necessarily convert her. Lovely way to start the meal.

2007 Nov 28
Hors d'oeuvres: Hot-smoked shoyu-maple almonds

2007 Nov 28
Sorry if this is inappropriate, but I don't know how to add more than one photo per post!

This is Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup.

2007 Nov 28
The ZenKitchen dinners, being held at the Chelsea Club, are a vegan's dream. The chef, Caroline Ishii, focuses on local, organic foods to create amazing dishes. My meat-eating partner loves these events as the food is so heavenly and creative.

My only complaint is that the Chelsea Club's dining area is a bit cramped: the waiting staff seem to have a difficult time navigating between the tables to serve the courses.

If you feel like a food adventure, visit the ZenKitchen website and sign up for an evening.

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2012 Aug 11
An extensive brunch menu (maybe 10+ options?) and by rights they are probably all delicious!

I opted for the Reuben sandwich, which involved moist dark rye with a lightly toasted exterior, meaty tempeh, and a wonderfully sauced cabbagy filling. Tasty and satisfying!

The soup of the day was corn chowder so I chose this as my side and was very glad I did! Without a doubt this was the best corn chowder I've ever encountered.

This dish was a reasonable $14. The coffee was a somewhat less reasonable $3, but it was good coffee and it was served with a cute creamer and sugar bin so I hold no grudge. ;-)

It was pretty empty on a Saturday. They are busier on Sunday, when they have live jazz.

Service was wonderful, friendly, and it involved generous refilling of water glasses.





2012 Aug 29
The vegan burger at ZenKitchen is delicious. Texture similar to meat, fixings beautiful, on a nice whole wheat bun. Vegan poutine was fab as well. Have eaten here several times for lunch and dinner, always have had a good experience.