I moved to Ottawa under false pretences as I was lead to believe that I was moving to an idyllic small town. Instead I have had to endure a town with a crazy bus system, an O-train that goes nowhere, and a bunch of cyclists that love to look fast and go slow. There are many things I will not miss about this town but Ottawa has some amazing culinary experiences to offer.
The Clocktower Brew Pub: 575 Bank Street www.clocktower.ca
The Clocktower was the first bar I wandered into upon moving to Ottawa and it immediately became a fixture in my life. I have spent many happy hours at the various locations around Ottawa but the Bank location was my first, and will always remain my favourite. I recommend sitting directly at the bar as this offers plenty of face time with the bartender, quick service, and interaction with the regulars. The Westboro (418 Richmond Road) location is the most aesthetically pleasing due primarily to the large framed posters of the Clocktower beer labels. I am ashamed to admit that it took me two years to realize that the Cyrillic on the Clocktower Red label was simply 'tower' spelt backwards. I will crave the Pumpkin Ale (available in October) for many years to come but my 'regular' order at Clocktower was always the Cask Brown and a Black and Blue Burger.
Atelier: 540 Rochester Street http://www.atelierrestaurant.ca/
Atelier is a splurge at $95 per person with an additional $65 for the wine pairing but the food and the experience are worth every penny. The first course was set before us, and the waiter sets forth a stream of words with very little independent meaning but I understood his language. Sous vide. Anti-griddle. Dust. Dirt. As I picked apart the first few courses... This dish finishes too strong. The mouth feel is off on this one... my husband queries me, concerned, is this real complaining? or fun complaining? I was having fun. A lot of fun.
The courses were interesting, complex, and fun to eat. The servers were friendly and invested in our experience and pleasure. Their love for food and for the experience translated into our experience of the restaurant. They readily accommodated my vegetarianism and my husband's dislike of fish. The 12 courses took us over four hours to complete so we were there until 1:30am. We were the last customers in the restaurant and the wait staff offered us coffee, and a tour of the kitchen. It was the perfect way to complete a fabulous meal and to celebrate completing my masters degree.
Cafe my House: 1729 Bank Street www.cafemyhouse.com
As a vegetarian in a long term bi-culinary relationship, I appreciate this restaurant for its diversity. I have a plethora of delicious vegan food to choose from as does my husband. The location is difficult as there is very little parking. However, for a brunch location that serves everyone's need while gently introducing meat eaters to alternative choices, it can't be beat. Try the Coconut-Banana French Toast with a Cocoa Latte.
Sweetgrass: (now closed)
Ottawa lost one of it's most unique restaurants when Sweetgrass closed. This restaurant served traditional Native American foods so instead of the bread plate the tables held bowls of popcorn. This was a unique and entertaining touch. As someone who enjoys cooking, I am overly critical of meals prepared by restaurants but Sweetgrass served me the best vegan meal that I have ever had in a restaurant. Sweetgrass was an amazing affordable restaurant with impeccable service. It's closure is a lost to the food community of Ottawa.
Isobel's Cupcakes: 1018 Wellington Street West www.isobels.com/
To many cupcakes are nothing more than a frosting delivery system. I used to be that disenchanted and disillusioned. That is until I stepped into the confectionery sugar palace that is Isobel's. The icing is sweet, fluffy, and magical with none of the shortening aftertaste common with cupcakes. The cake itself is moist and crumbly but not overly dry. As an added bonus, Isobel's is close to a very causal Bridgehead and one of the Clocktower locations.