Mezzanotte Bistro

I have always been intrigued by the corner restaurant at the edge of the market, cornered off by a semi-closed patio. The front entrance took me through the byward mall and into a very open concept (fairly large) Italian restaurant. I was greeted to my table very quickly and shortly after greeted with a glass of chilled water and lemon. Walking the market had worn me out so I gulped down the water and opened the menu. Not even 30sec later I peered over the menu to notice my water had already been refilled.

In all fairness I had been here before but during a much later time in the night. I wanted to revisit for the dinner crowd. To begin with the decor, both indoor and outdoor are very clean and unpretentious. In fact during the summer, patio and inside almost feel like one. Inside seating is beautifully and comfortably outfitted with grandeur cushion chairs and sofa-light banquets. The generous sized bar off to the side is a welcoming gesture to visitors looking to have something other than wine with their traditional Italian dinner. And might I add… as a side note that cannot be ignored…the wait staff is beautiful!

Food… I was destined to have some pasta that night, unlike the two kinds of veal I ordered the last time and were pleasantly surprised by the flavor and tenderness. Mezzanotte is not shy with their strong cheeses and prominent sauces. The waiter offered me his suggestion of the most ordered meal (within seconds of me asking) so I decided to go with that popular. Looking around, three others had already ordered the same dish. The dish comprised of penne noodles, red bell peppers, porcini mushrooms and garlic in a garlic-tomato cream sauce – Divine! Short of making the pasta in house, the dish was ‘itialian’ portion size and hearty. It looked the same way for the other appetizers and mains.

A wine selection to boot, and handsomely dressed owner make this place one I would recommend. Beware however, that if you do plan on heading there later in the night on a weekend, you may feel a little bit like you are in Vegas. Nothing to do with the young crowd but more to do with the caliber of dress up.

Café Mezzanotte on Urbanspoon

Savannah Cafe

Savannah Cafe is situated in the heart of downtown (not the market) where the locals can walk conveniently into an old house reoutfitted into a Caribbean style restaurant. Busers and drivers alike will also have no problem getting to this restaurant any time of the day, however, beware as the house is usually packed – either for the food or the music.

Anytime I have been in Savannah Cafe the house is rocking with an eclectic mix of diners. Both old(er) and young; formal or casual, you will have a hard time not loving the overall experience of Savannah Cafe. Chef Michael Radford took over the kitchen not too long ago and revamped the menu with each plate oozing with different flavors and combinations. Frequenters from the past will still remain familiar with a few dishes, but for the most part Radford has creatively mixed the traditional dishes with his own flare – with the perfect balance of exotic and modern. Dishes are not too spicy for those who are frightened by the Caribbean eats.

The combination of Radford in the kitchen and Cathy Dewar in the front explains why people keep coming back for more. If I lived closer, I would surely visit more often. The ambiance is fun and inspiring, while the prices are very reasonable. Try out the white wine sangria for a splash of summer. See Savannah Cafe at Bluesfest Ottawa http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/food/Feeding+Blues/3249076/story.html

Savana Café on Urbanspoon

Domus Cafe

Domus Cafe is situation on the far end of the market between a strip of not-so-familiar restaurants. At first glance the place looks like a cooking store – which it is – but hidden behind a cast iron door lies the most magical restaurant perhaps in all the city. The restaurant is owned by Chef John Taylor and his wife/sommelier Sylvia Taylor. If there is no other place that is rooting for Canada, John and Sylvia have it covered; with their local, seasonal regional (and mostly Organic when available) cafe and extensive offerings of Canada-distilled wines.

The restaurant has never been glitzed and glamoured like some of the other upscale restaurants in the top ten list, but the wait staff and the ambiance make up for that. Each server is well trained in the tastes of the food and can convey both wine and food to you. There is a wide range of options to choose from despite the menu is quite small (as it should be).  The restaurant and the owners are definitely about quality and honestly as opposed to making an impression they cannot live up to. The food is delicate and full of flavor.

Though some may claim the prices are quite high, its worth spending a pretty penny on this restaurant, bar none.

Domus Cafe on Urbanspoon

OZ Kafe

The OZ Kafe – A Must try! Owner Oz is doing fantastic things for the food industry in Ottawa. Her menu is comprised of fresh foods from local farmers – produce, meat and cheeses. OZ Kafe has a full menu of nontraditional spins on common dishes, each divine in taste and presentation. Though the menu itself changes quite infrequently, I could eat the OZ Poutine every night. Many vegetarian options also available. The restaurant itself is quite cozy – and very trendy – with seating for large or small groups. An additional seating area is also available outside on the cobblestone patio. If you stay in Ottawa long enough this place will be your ‘CHEERS’.

To add to OZ Kafe’s contribution to the city, local artists (of all genres) routinely display their art along the walls. Every weekend you will find a DJ (Jamie Stunt or Simon Bell) tucked in the corner usually spinning some funk and hiphop. In addition, OZ Kafe hosts the Chef Appreciation Night on the last Monday of every month. You can read more here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7896169819.

Oz Kafe on Urbanspoon

The Grand Pizzeria and Bar

This pizza parlor has many things going for it, however, it certainly is not my go-to place for mouthwatering pizza. Unlike Momma’s family kitchen this restaurant is much more modern and expensively outfitted. In fact The Grande shares owners with Metropolitain, Zak’s Diner and Empire Grill.

If you are in the mood for traditional Italian pizza you can certainly find a wide variety of options on their menu, and the ingredients are fresh, as well as their pasta. Do not be alarmed that your pizza has not been sliced, this is the traditional way of serving pizza – this I find to be very unique yet frustrating. It is rare to find a seat so you’ll have to wait a little bit before getting your table, and I recommend deciding what you’d like to eat before you get seated because you wont see your server again for another 20min. However if you are in the mood to lounge on the patio for a while, The Grande has got you covered for sunshine.

The Grand Pizzeria & Bar on Urbanspoon

Play on food

I chose Play as the first of my reviews since it is fairly new and people are buzzing about this particular spot.

In essence Play is the place to go to feel intimate with the company you are with. The menu is designed for sharing – charcuterie, cheeses, and tons of creative plates that change very frequently. Whether you bring along some friends or you sit at the bar, Play generates an atmosphere of warmth and welcoming. You will often be caught up in conversation for hours with your company, or the other frequenter sitting beside you.

A real treat – popcorn drizzled with truffle oil and sea salt. A great change from nuts!

There is definitely a generous list of wines on this menu. Sure, beers and alcohols are also served if desired. However, the wait staff are very familiar with the wines and are happy to offer some good choices depending on your palate.

We decided to taste the four main dishes that were recommended to us. The Pan seared scallops were perfectly cooked and topped with diced pickled onions. What a vibrant colour and flavor, in combination with the delicate avocado puree. I was blown away by the beef tartar. The morsels of meat were seemingly hand cut and mixed with spices to taste. No eggy-ness for those of you who are weary of the uncooked foods. For the second round we tried the lemon pasta – nothing to write home about – and the Ricotta gnudi. I had never had gnudi before so this was an interesting dish. Inspired by Indian spices this dish resembled a combination of gnocchi and pakoras.

Last year I visited the restaurant a few times and notices each time was different – including the staff and the menu. While they were in a ‘slump’ as I would call it, they have definitely come out of it. A very enjoyable experience!

Play on Urbanspoon

All things familiar

Indeed in eight years we have had a great deal of food at variety of restaurants in the city. When people ask me which places to go, my top 5 pick is generally (in no particular order)

  1. Sweetgrass – very healthy and interesting menu
  2. Savannah – a true ‘fusion’ restaurant with some gusto
  3. Wellington Gastropub – open concept, laid back and very warm/inviting. Also support the homemade pickling
  4. The Manx – interesting menu, quint spot, great variety of beer (and who doesn’t love board games tucked in the corner)
  5. Domus – local, seasonal, organic food… need I say more?

As you can see they fall in no single genre, but they all have tasty food and a different atmosphere.

However, to be fair, we need to revisit these restaurants to begin the blog with a clean slate. In my opinion these places will remain on the top if they maintain these qualities listed above.

For now, being the summer, we will be hitting up some unusual locations that get us into the Summer feel. Some fresh local vegetables, juicy fruits, and homemade ribs are what I’m feeling anyway.