Wednesday, January 11, 2006

After "Clair de Lune" it is now the turn of "Cafe Henry Burger" to shuts its doors

I just read this article about to closure of one of the best restaurant in Ottawa. This happens just weeks after another famed local restaurant, Clair de Lune, was also shut down after many years in the business. Both restaurants attracted the rich, famous and powerful as well as young lovers on first dates or local foodies in search of culinary excitements. In both cases, business was not what it used to be and the owner of Cafe Henry Burger even blames the recent "greater scrutiny of public servants' expense accounts". The food of these two restaurants was excellent but for what I have seen it was also a little bit on the traditional side; lets say that they were more into the French Laundry's classicality then El Bulli's experimentations.

But lets be frank here, Ottawa is not and I don't even believe that it once was a great city to dine out. When we move here from Toronto, one of the first things Fufu realized was that there were almost more outdoor sports shops then restaurants in the city. Well it is not totally true but the amounts of outdoor sports shops here is quite spectacular when compared with that of restaurants. Ottawa seem to be a place to play outside but not a place to socialize and eat. We are still slowly discovering the city but so far our list of interesting places (budget-wise or gastronomically-wise) is quite short. It seems there is neither offer nor demand for cheap AND good restaurants in the area... and now we just lost two of the good restaurants in this city.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lapointe's Seafood Grill

Category: Bistro/pub fish dishes.Location: In the “Galerie de Hull” mall :320, boul. St-Joseph (near Montclair).


Tel: (819) 770-6221

Price: 35$ for one of the daily specials and a glass of wine after taxes and service.

Ambiance: Annex to a fish monger store. Bistro style restaurant awkwardly situated near the mall food court. Open kitchen. Plastic table cloth. Kitsch fishing and seascape decor. The only washrooms available are those of the mall but they are located nearby. This place is loaded with office workers at diner time.

Menu: This is a restaurant where fish takes center stage. If you don’t like fish and seafood, you will hate this restaurant. Otherwise, the choices are quite diverse: pasta, various fish dishes and even fish and chips for the less adventurous. You can get wine by the glass but the choice is quite limited but not as much as it is for bottled wines which is nonetheless a bit narrow.

Service: Courteous and efficient.

Food sampled: Halibut filet with a crab and shrimp mousse. This was one of the daily specials and at 20$ before taxes and service, it was the most expensive one. The plate looked appetizing and was served with a good variety of vegetables which were all delicious although a bit oily at times. My fish and especially the mousse that covered it were a bit overcooked to my taste but I tend to prefer my fishes slightly undercooked.

Overall satisfaction: If it wasn’t for the mall location, this restaurant could be a very nice neighbourhood restaurant with far from perfect food but still a very decent offering for the price, especially in this city. There are other branches of this restaurant in the city, including one in the market area; I might want to give them a try some day. If you come from Toronto or Montreal however, you might be disappointed by the quality and price of the food in this restaurant but Ottawa is not really a culinary destination, especially when you can’t afford the best establishments of the capital.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Amber Garden

Category: Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian and Russian cuisine.

Location: 1385 Wellington St. West (near Island Park)

Tel: (613) 725-2757

Price: Over a 100$ after taxes and tip for two appetizers, two entree and three glasses of wine.

Ambiance: Family style restaurant. A bit tacky but tolerable. Clean. (link)

Menu: Although fairly traditional, the menu offers a good variety of options including fish dishes, vegetarian entrees and a surprising array of game meat. There is enough variety to satisfy the finicky eater as well as the more adventurous one. (link)

Service: Friendly, family style... the way it should be in such a restaurant. Perfect!

Food sampled: Appetizers: preserved vegetables soup and perogies; both were simple and good. The perogies were soft and creamy and were served with the usual sour cream. The soup's main flavour was created by the addition of sausage which, to a certain point, took more space then the vegetables. Main course: Wild boar roast and rabbit peasant style. The wild boar roast was quite bland and the accompanying sauce did not help. It has been obviously frozen for a long time before cooking or was simply badly frozen in the first place. It was a truly disappointing dish. The rabbit on the other hand was simple and delicious; nothing fancy here but well executed. The two dishes were served with mashed potatoes or spaetzles which were both OK (I would suggest that there was too much flour in the spaetzel batter but that is a very personal opinion) and a portion of cooked frozen vegetables.

Overall satisfaction: For the price we paid, I believe we should expect more then what was offered to us. Some dishes were at more reasonable prices but even those cheaper options should not be served with frozen vegetables. I have nothing against family style restaurant, on the contrary, these are places where everyone can feel at ease and eat good food at a reasonable price. I believe, however, that the otherwise very nice people at the Amber Garden failed at making their restaurant a true family restaurant. Maybe their goal was to offer a more refined dining experience but then they should avoid shortcuts (e.g. frozen vegetables), perfect their dishes (e.g. the wild boar) and improve on the visual both on the plate and in the dining room. If the food was disappointing, the people who served us were extremely friendly and helpful: always smiling, a nice and short introduction to some dishes, discreet... At the end, both my partner and I felt that a simple revision of the menu and kitchen practices would help tremendously; a tasting menu or a 'table d'hôte' option would also be more then welcome. We saw an unexploited potential for a great neighbourhood restaurant.