Sidedoor contemporary wine and food

Sidedoor is a modern take on Asian food; asian fusion. It is oddly hidden in the market at the basement of Restaurant Eighteen, with its main door facing the condos of the cobblestone courtyard and its patio married with the patios of Social and the Moscow Tea Room. The idea behind Sidedoor is a traditional family-style dinner served to share. The menu, all to similar to that of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, used to be categorized by protein but now is separated by plate size to make ordering much easier. It may be somewhat difficult to navigate the menu since it merely lists the ingredients of its contents and may require some assistance by your server.

The venue is part of a gorgeous heritage building and can be admired from all levels of the restaurant. Wall to wall windows on one side of the restaurant either fills the venue with tons of sunshine or provides the perfect seat to watch the rain or snow fall. Refurbished wood table tops and sleek leather couches make the venue very clean and modern. My favourite aspect is the empty bottle chandelier variation hanging from the high ceilings.

Empty bottle chandelier overlooking the side dining room

Empty bottle chandelier overlooking the side dining room

Sidedoor, although it opened its doors a handful of years ago, is still not a well known place. It is certainly not meant to be a fine dining location. In fact it can get quite loud during the weekends and is often occupied by weddings, business events or birthday parties. There are two back dining areas that serve as party rooms but are not overly formal. In fact the open kitchen creates a more casual setting.

The service at Sidedoor can be hit or miss. I strongly feel that its casual atmosphere inadvertently minimizes the need for formal service and can lag in some areas. But in most cases when you visit a venue like Sidedoor you aren’t looking for a hands-on server. You want to order food, keep your glass full, and enjoy your event. This is exactly what you will find here. For those of you who travel on business, the Sidedoor bar is the perfect seat (and great for people watching).

The menus doesn’t change very often unfortunately. It’s staple menu item is the taco; small and expensive but ever so tasty. Yes, tacos are Mexican not Asian, but there are Asian subtleties in each. There were sadly some delicious menu items that were permanently taken off the menu so aside from the tacos I am often unsure what to order, especially if it’s just me and the plates are quite large (as they are meant for sharing). I’d recommend the papaya salad, the scallops, tuna sashimi (J’s favourite) and the lobster curry with rice (although I sometimes ask for the lobster curry without the lobster since I’m sketched out by lobster shipped to Ontario). And of course, you must order the fresh donuts. I know, another non-Asian item, but soooo yummy.

Looking onto the bar from the side dining room

Looking onto the bar from the side dining room

Front windows looking onto the courtyard

Front windows looking onto the courtyard

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

MeltDown (MLTDWN) – the new comfort food

I had heard about this restaurant in Kingston that was going to be on You gotta eat here later this summer. Unfortunately for me I was with my dog the last time I was in Kingston so was unable to try it out. However, I had heard whisperings that that they were opening a new location in OTTAWA!!

About two weeks ago I was in the Rideau Center – hungry from shopping of course:) – and remembered that the new cafeteria had opened up. If you havent been in there yet, I truly recommend it; the whole thing is quite a site to see. There, in the midst of old and new dining choices, was Meltdown. I stood there honestly for a few minutes trying to decide which grilled cheese to have, as it has the traditional sandwich but many other deliciously creative options as well. The thing with Meltdown is that they take the meaning of comfort food and take it to the next level. Take a look at this menu. Mac’n Cheese? Lasagna? Chicken? Veggie option? Its all there, in a grilled cheese sandwich. Need a gluten free sandwich? They have that too. Not craving the typical diet coke…? Dont you worry they have a plethora of options from simple to wow. To make a full meal there is soup, salads, fries. And you would be insane not to try the cheese cake or s’mores sandwich. Yup, thats what I said. A sandwich.

Okay so I chose the lasagne sandwich as it was the one they showed on You gotta eat here. It was to die for! The sauce was tasty, the pasta perfectly cooked, the sandwich pressed in such a way that didnt allow for any dripping or falling. The bread was actually garlic bread which is a perk to ordering the lasagna sandwich.

Dont let the line up deter you. They are simply that good, and that intriguing but it goes fast. The whole process is done with perfection – rows of sandwich presses and freshly prepared ingredients from that day help to make the assembly line quick and easy. Each sandwich is made with care, and delivered on real plates with real cutlery.

Sure, its not so calorie-wise, but I beg you to remember this is comfort food. Its made to make you feel cozy, bring you back to your childhood, and just relax for a moment.

I’ll be bold enough to say it but I truly feel the tacos of tomorrow need to make room for the gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches of today. Try it for yourself.

MLT DWN on Urbanspoon

Los Tacos de Mauro

I keep getting a hankering for tacos, so after my haircut this evening I left my car and walked down to Los Tacos De Mauro. I almost walked past it (okay,… I did walk past it but realized one step too late that it must be where I was standing) and nonetheless was disappointed by the tiny stand outside directing traffic upstairs. Well, hopefully this means an extra delicious meal right? Hmm… walking in to an absolutely empty restaurant I truly wished I could do a pivot turn and sachet down the stairs again, but the waiter caught a glimpse of me and told me to choose my seat.

Being a taco joint, the menu had various other items on it other than tacos but when ‘taco’ is in the name you probably should order a taco. I admit, being the only one in a restaurant that barely looked like it was expecting any guests, I decided to order one delicious item and hightail it out of there. But to my dismay none of the tacos looked particularly ‘authentic’. I sat there on my smart phone doing a little quick history to see which fillings are most common in Mexico, and sure not potato and chorizo, but this is what I selected among the few taco options.

My dish came out with three heated taco shells filled with chunky potato-sausage puree, a few spoonfulls of refried beans and guacamole…soup? Burning my tongue along the way, I downed the three small tacos and waited for my server to hand me the bill….and then…my worst nightmare. ‘We only take cash”. grrr… he directed me to the cash machine that charged me two dollars, I left him a generous tip and scurried to my car.

Los Tacos de Mauro on Urbanspoon

SmoQue Shack

When Jonny and I had gone to San Francisco in October there was one reoccuring theme to the eating out experiences. Its that in San Fran you can get away with being a small restaurant serving exactly your niche of food and you are unapologetic for not having enough room for everyone. It was a really nice concept because you tend to find little nooks in the city where you can place yourself, open up something really special, be minimal in your decor or advertising… and you let the clients come to you. As a client, its really neat to see how many people want to eat at this nooks and it makes you want to eat there too. But the great thing is the city is filled with these places so you dont get frustrated if you dont find a seat, you go somewhere else and try to come back some other time.

I had known about the SmoQue shack for some time now but was waiting for a time my husband and I could both go – I knew he would enjoy is just as much as me. I had heard all kinds of rave reviews about the restaurant and it really did shock me when I went in that it was so hidden in the city. It was, to be perfectly honest, quite appealing.

Upon entering, it felt very much like the San Franciscan theme we had experienced not too long before – it is unapologetic for being busy and being small. We were very lucky to find a table and it was right smack in the middle of the restaurant. Cool by me. You know going into this that its not going to be quiet so who cares how many people are surrounding you.

The menu was nicely laid out. You pick your drinks, you pick your meat, you pick your sides. Our server approached us immediately and ordered our beers (you gotta have beer with this amount of meat). Jonny and I decided on the 1/2 pound jerk and the 1/2 pound brisket with slaw and fries on the side. Holy Molly now that was jerk. I’ve got moms of friends who make real jerk and this was bang on. You can’t really complain that the jerk was quite spicy either because… its jerk. The brisket melted in my mouth. Fries and slaw were just that, but I didnt need it to be anything else.

I tried to go back the week after but no room. Oh well, Im gonna have to go back and get some ribs on a less busy night!

The Smoque Shack on Urbanspoon

Navarra

What a perfect coincidence – literally I was seeking a new restaurant go to (to escape from the sheer silence in my house) when a friend called and said she was free to get together. It took me a matter of seconds to hop in the car and meet her downtown. I hadnt chosen a place yet but I was sure there was somewhere in the market I hadnt been to.

Sure enough from the suggestions I offered, we agreed upon Navarra. I was a little nervous and I cant fully explain why, but I think partly because Rene Rodriguez portrays himself as a big deal and partly because the sign on his restaurant seems almost art gallery-ish.

Nonetheless, I opened the door, stepped in, and was taken to a table only feet from where I was standing. I hadnt realized until that moment that the restaurant was only several feet long and wide. Immediately I noticed the single row of tables neatly filed close to one another quite like banquet style but with gaps between the tables to allow for intimate groups to dine without touching shoulders with strangers. What seemed like a cozy little cafe was splashed with sexy metallic sidings along the bar, accents of lipstick red, and slick black outfits on each staff member (which matched partly to the slick ponytails of some of the gentlemen). I was lucky to be seated first before a table of 3 squeezed in beside me. Normally this would be awkward having someone’s butt zoom past you, but oddly enough it made for a funny introduction (and permission to thereby eavesdrop on conversations and plates).

My friend showed up minutes later and we ordered a glass of pinot noir each from the detailed wine list of exclusively spanish wines; interesting to say the least. I was stuck on the food menu though. So many tasty sounding options, and all authentic to Rodriguez’s heritage. From what I could infer from my travels to Portugal the food would be simple and delicate but savoury.

Was I ever right.Along came the homemade bread with pineapple reduction in place of butter. A daring move but a pleasing change from the norm. Next came the amuse bouche in a pickling jar contained with olives and string beans in a marinade of citrus and chilies. I dare you to drink it straight from the glass. Powerful flavours indeed, and the jar was a very nice touch.

The beet salad was accompanied by pear, apricot and grapefruit; a unique twist that worked well with one another. The quesadilla was crunchy on the outside and bursting with flavour on the inside. But the real added touch was a burning twig of rosemary. I knew rosemary smelled nice, but the juxtaposition of odor and taste played tricks with what I could actually taste. Very interesting.

The “slow food” as it was called was a little bit of a blander taste. We ordered the corn tomatillo which naturally has a drier consistency but the dish lacked the balance it needed to overcome the bits of tomatillo stuck in my throat. The foie gras had a very different take: apples five ways. I was impressed by the overall presentation and the flavor capacity of the apple jelly but unfortunately the fois itself was intensely salty and hard to overcome.

Ahh the mains. Ahi tuna was done just right! lightly seared on the outside and rare on the inside accompanied by a pillow of sauted onions. Simple and delightful. I was expecting the hand rolled ricotta gnocchi to contain ricotta within the potato bites, but instead the ricotta was blended into the tomato sauce. Very nicely done but I was hoping for something a little bit more unique along with the other menu items.

It wouldnt have been a successful night without a hand shake from Rene himself. I introduced myself and thanked him for the wonderful meal. Would I go there again? To be honest its like a trip to Spain – absolutely worth doing, but repeating the trip would just ruin all the memories you have lasting in you head. Fantastic restaurant, I definitely recommend the experience.

Navarra on Urbanspoon

Lapointe’s Seafood Grill

I went to Lapointe’s one afternoon for lunch and was curious what all the hype was all about.

What I love about this place is that it is so simple and does well in what it sets out to do. You go to Lapointe’s for seafood, and you get tasty seafood. Done up in several cooking styles, several sauces, and sides to go with, Lapointe’s definitely satiates your seafood craving. I have been to several different seaports along the US and more recently in Europe. The Lapointe’s restaurants very much resemble the cantinas found along the cost offering daily fresh fish with very little preparation that would normally mask the flavours of the fish. I was unable to find where Lapointe’s has their fish shipped in from, but I do know that Lapointe’s fish market in Byward is used widely amoung restaurants due to their quality. Lapointe’s in Kanata utilizes the same fresh fish to offer dishes to patrons who would like to sit down and enjoy a good meal.

I visited the Byward location once, not too long ago, for some sushi. Alright, so I am kind of a whimp still when it comes to raw fish but I assure you that the company I was with knows good sushi and he just adores Lapointe’s.

Both locations are definitely worth trying out.

Lapointe's Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Lapointe Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Wasabi

A lot of new sushi restaurants have surfaced in the last year but I stay true to Wasabi. I had temporarily given up on some other spots but had a hankering for some good sushi one afternoon. So a friend of mine met me in the market and we decided on trying Wasabi. We both had distinct cravings; she for some fresh sashimi and I for some fancy rolls. We were actually so hungry that it seemed impossible to decided what to eat but finally she decided on the sashimi bento box and I on Tri-Maki. Goodness, they all tasted so fresh.

Unlike the slow service at Kinki, our server was on the ball and delivered the food to us readily. We did start with some miso soup just in case, and while I didnt regret it, the food was quick. My friend loved the bento box, though slightly small in servings. Nonetheless, Wasabi is a night quaint spot in the heart of the market and provides a tasty selection of sushi (not all you can eat). It is comparable in price to Kinki so you do end up paying a little bit more for the rolls, but the taste is there.

The second time I went, we went in a big group and sat in the main dining room as opposed to the patio outside. The server was very impressive with keeping up with our constant flow of orders, our supply of sake and other drinks, and delivered each one flawlessly on gorgeously assembled platters. I actually decided to have the rice wine that night – no different from any other wine, but it was rice! If you go in a big group the price is more than worth it and feels like all you can eat.

Wasabi on Urbanspoon

Vittoria Trattoria

I have been to Vittoria Trattoria twice; coincidently both times for my cousin’s birthday who loves it here. One time we went with a group of nearly 20 people for her surprise birthday party. Its always a risk going in a big group cus it usually means slow service. But I was pleasantly surprised by the attention and efficiency of our server.

Now I am not big on ordering pasta at a restaurant because it costs nearly $3 to make a good pasta dish at home, but its sort of hard to turn down the mouth watering selections on this menu.

Both times I have been I wasnt hungry enough to explore the salads or antipasti so straight to the pasta I went. The pasta is made in house, so right there it is hard to go wrong. The combinations of ingredients and flavours are wonderful, and the menu is big enough to tingle all taste buds. The thin crust pizzas are also very delicious. In fact I would go as far as saying if you do want a traditional pizza dont even think about going to The Grand, just come here.  A group of 20 of us, and every single one of us were absolutely pleased with the food and wines. I wasnt a big wine fan back then but now I can appreciate that they have a selection of 800 labels and if you take a look at the cellar pictures on the website you will be blown away.

Speaking of cellar, the restaurant is uniquely designed with different sizes of rooms all crafted from brick and cellar stone, almost mimicking an ancient wine cellar (of if you want to go there… it has a dungeon-esk feel but with much more light and glamour). The grand entrance of the restaurant has a long inviting bar, providing you with a sigh of calm that having to wait for your table may not be so bad. The main restaurant is very traditional Italian, with formal white table clothes, the sounds of barrel laughs and good cheer.

Okay okay so I like this place a lot. It tends to be infrequent that I come here simply because its a formal dining setting and does tend to tease you into antipesti, main and dessert plus wine, which can break the bank. But each time I have been, there is no hint of disappointment.

Vittoria Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Totoya

Not to be confused with Toyoto – Totoya does not make cars but exceptional Japanese cuisine. It had never donned on me to go in to Totoya but one day my husband and a friend called me to join them for lunch and they said I would thoroughly enjoy it. The restaurant is quite large, like a banquet hall, but often times the restaurant is full. The food is very authentic and the wait staff very delightful.

For once it is a Japanese restaurant that doesnt serve only sushi and the related items. In fact I would more or less categorize this place as ‘Asian’ rather than Japanese since the menu is full of authentic dishes, stirfry’s, dumplings, soups, etc.

I have not been there since but I would recommend it to someone looking to try a different place.

Totoya on Urbanspoon

Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro

This may seem like a mixed review but I will explain. We were treated one weekend by some old friends visiting from Toronto. The weather was perfect, the conversations flowing, and we all decided we’d restaurant hop for a few snacks throughout the day. One of the many stops was Sweetgrass. I hadnt been here before but had heard so many good things about this restaurant. I was delighted by the home made Italian Wedding soup; I even spoke with the cooks about their take on this soup. I also had a few bites here and there of everyone else’s food (not worth mentioning since the items change constantly). Overall, a great experience.

Since then I have stopped by to take a look at the menu several times but in my opinion the food is abundant and creative with wild animal. I am typically a wimp when it comes to game and different types of meat so now unfortunately I dont see myself enjoying a full meal unless they add some items that are a little bit ‘safer’.

I will agree that it is one of the best restaurants in the city with respect to creativity, flavour, freshness and and authenticity (all for a fair price) but it just doesnt seem to be the ideal place for me to go.

Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro on Urbanspoon