Author Archive

DESBRISAY DINES: Beckta Dining & Wine Bar

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

The new Beckta at 150 Elgin St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The new Beckta at 150 Elgin St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Unless you’ve just emerged from a cave you will know the most venerated fine dining restaurant in the capital has moved from a modest house on Nepean Street to a mansion on Elgin. The 140 year-old Grant House is where the 12-year-old Beckta Dining and Wine Bar has been reincarnated, in a space last occupied (for some 37 years) by Friday’s Roast Beef House.

The renovation is outstanding, done with elegance and deference. What hasn’t been remade, happily, is the comfort of the Beckta dining rooms, staffed by those who understand the art of running a welcoming restaurant.

When Stephen Beckta opened his first restaurant in 2003, it was notable for many things, good food and wine chief among them. But it also injected in our emerging restaurant scene a different way of doing the right thing. It delivered service that was as polished and professional as you’d find at any temple of haute French dining, but friendly and unpretentious.

That hasn’t changed. What is a bit different is the menu.

Sablefish. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sablefish on roasted spaghetti squash and shaved cauliflower. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

In the two dining rooms at the front of The Grant House, there are now two options for dinner: a mix-and-match, five-course tasting menu and a three-course prix-fixe. (If you want a more casual approach, you head to the blue and brick wine bar at the back, which has its own vibe and menu.)

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DESBRISAY DINES: Meat in the Middle

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Meat in the Middle's smoked meat on rye with potato salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle’s smoked meat on rye with potato salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

If you like your smoked meat piled high and served neat with ball park mustard on soft light rye, you shouldn’t look past item number one on the blackboard menu. If you like your potato salad not at all like Mom made it (that is, better), you’ll want to try Meat in the Middle’s skin-on red spuds rolling around in a great aioli with a gremolata topper. Put them together and you have quite a meal for $12.50. You can even wash it down with a Beau’s Lug Tread poured on tap.

But I was really taken with the slightly more complicated smoked pork sandwich. Thickish slabs of warm, fragrant, roast pork tucked into a ciabatta bun with a pile of arugula and superior lubricants — grainy honey mustard and more of that good aioli. I’d get rid of the wan January tomatoes in the wheatberry-kale-feta salad, and would love to eat it at room temperature, but these are minor moans.

Meat in the Middle pork sandwich with wheat berry salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Meat in the Middle pork sandwich with wheat berry salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Meat in the Middle. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle moved in when a Quiznos on Bank moved out. The principals — chefs Jeremy McDonald and Bruce Robitaille — clearly take the brining, spicing, smoking, and roasting of meat seriously, and the proof is between sliced bread. Plus, there are veggie options that don’t feel like an afterthought.

Sandwiches, $7.95 to $9.50. 

Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

311 Bank St., 613-422-6328

FOUND: The perfect job board? Hired Ottawa aims to ease the job hunt



Two local guys (with great jobs of their own at Shopify) have developed a sophisticated — and affordable — new website for job hunters. Hired Ottawa is catered to modern job hunters and seekers, who know they shouldn’t pay a bundle to survey the scene and understand that the search for a job is not what it used to be.

Dylan Hunt

Dylan Hunt

When I first checked out the site developed by Dylan Hunt and Nick Evans, I was taken aback by the fee structure.

On the plus side, it’s free: free for those looking for jobs, free for those looking for employees. (Did you know sites like Monster often charge over $600 per job posting? In chatting with Dylan, I learned that this has lead companies to use a type of “bait and switch” approach to Monster et al.)

Then I noticed the monthly and annual fees. Is the Canadian job market so bad that people are expecting to be on the hunt for a year?

No, says Dylan. The fact is, people are — or should be — tracking companies and industries that speak to their interests and careers paths. Companies, too, ought to sign up for their premium membership, which includes daily emails of jobs that match their keyword searches. So, for example, if I wanted to keep track of who is hiring journalists in the city (please don’t lure my cherished freelancers into stable day jobs!!), I would sign up for their premium package. This can also give employers insight into who is paying what and other key market info.

Here’s how it works:

Ottawa companies submit links to their job boards (did I mention, for free?). Job hunters visit the board and apply. It’s just that simple — instead of searching numerous job boards across the city, Hired brings them into one central site.

Pay a little extra — $8 per month, or $48 per year — to get jobs with your chosen key words sent to you by email. This extra fee also goes to direct online support, should there be a broken link or something.


Hired Ottawa is also available as an app

(Being techies, they have a system for flagging jobs that might have been filled. Being sensible entrepreneurs with full time day jobs, they aren’t promising every link leads to an open job, as they are but the middle men.)

Of course, it’s only as strong as its members, which is one of the reasons I decided to write this post. Unemployment sucks. I have a job I love. And, it turns out, that was the same thing that motivated Dylan and Nick.

When I asked Dylan why he chose to develop this website/app, he said simply: “To help job hunters and our friends.”

He also noted a recent influx of retail jobs from companies like Home Depot and Terra20 — jobs perfect for those suddenly unemployed Target employees.




GREAT SPACE: Creative couple seeks to retain ’80s vibe while modernizing the look

This article first appeared in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

For more photos of this project visit our Facebook page.


Photo by  Joel Bedford

Photo by Joel Bedford

Certain classic design eras provide continuing inspiration for home-owners and creators — think mid-century modern or Arts and Crafts. But how often do an architect and a designer get the chance to revisit the decade of showy excess known as the 1980s? Not often, says Serina Fraser of Clear Designs, who admits to being thrown for a loop when architect Jane Thompson put her in touch with a young couple wanting advice on modernizing their new buy — a 1980s-era house in New Edinburgh.

“They wanted to renovate and redecorate to preserve the vibe. I was thinking, ‘You want gold plumbing fixtures? What’s happening to my career?’ ” Fraser says with a laugh. Then she took a deep breath and thought about how much fun the project could be. The process began with a visual storyboard of the good and the bad of the decade — clothes, fashion, furniture, and wallpaper. “We took the cool colours and finishes and discarded the big puffiness of the era.”

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SHOP TALK: Escape to Paris this Valentine’s Day


Pont des arts. Photo by Kelsey Kromodimoelijo

Pont des arts. Photo by Kelsey Kromodimoeljo


Paris is known as the most romantic city in the world, with its lights, architecture, food (not to mention the ubiquitous PDA!). If you’re inspired by this famed French metropolitan and looking for a Valentine’s Day gift, then shop for some favourite Parisian must-haves here in Ottawa.


Repetto flat available at Wolf & Zed

Repetto flat available at Wolf & Zed

Les chaussures
It’s easy to spot the tourists in Paris, because strolling through the city in running shoes is a fashion faux pas for the locals. Parisians like to look effortlessly put together and favour a more classic and comfortable style — with an edge. Wolf & Zed in the Byward Market carries Repetto, a longstanding shoe brand that once crafted dance shoes for the Paris Opera Ballet and now famous for its everyday wear ballerines (ballet flats). The Cendrillon shoe has become a fashion staple and was made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the film And God Created Woman. Black is a good choice. Parisians love black. $170. Wolf & Zed, 519 Sussex Dr.


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DESBRISAY DINES: Navarra Tasting Menus

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Navarra Octopus. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Navarra Octopus. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

In the past Navarra’s tapas menus sometimes confused me: $9 olives next to $24 ‘Macaroni Carbonara’; $22 ‘Rioja Potatoes’ and $29 for a bigger portion of beef tartare. Granted, it was all pretty delicious stuff, but what to order, how much to order, and the unpredictable size of the final bill all made me nervous.

So may I just say how totally delighted I am about Navarra’s decision to ditch its small plates menu in favour of a tasting menu. Two menus, in fact. One is more Mexican, the other Spanish leaning. One is four course, the other five. Snacking at Navarra’s bar is still an option if you can’t commit to the whole enchilada. But I think you should commit.

Rene Rodriguez’ food has always been avant-garde, sophisticated and technique driven. It deserves the choreography a tasting menu offers. It allows for a parade of plates that have links, a meal that has an arc to it, that explores flavour and texture, and has a logical beginning, a few middles and an end.

That’s how tasting menus ought to work. The worst make you feel like the prisoner of a misunderstood genius who delivers plate after plate of exhaustingly show-offy dishes, more about the chef’s pleasure than yours.

This didn’t feel like that.

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CULTURE: The Birdman Chronicles explores success, obscurity, and passion (according to John Westhaver)



From time to time, Ottawa Magazine gets approached with projects that are so unique, or creatively challenging, or represent some interesting and important aspect of the city, that we can’t turn them away. So what if they don’t fit into a specific department of the magazine or website! This website can be a time-sucking beast, but it lets us have fun sometimes — like when Ottawa-based filmmaker Alex Griffith reached out about his short doc on  John Westhaver of Birdman Sound, host of CKCU “Morning Cartunes”, and drummer for The Band Whose Name is a Symbol (TBWNIAS).

Full disclosure: my husband is a big fan of this band. (Me? Seems I’m always stuck at home with our kid on concert nights.) Either way, at first glance I thought this film would simply be something for the two of us to enjoy.

But as I watched it, I realized it spoke to a question I have long asked about musicians: why join a band? Not being a musician myself I can see how this question might come off as completely ignorant, but really — when work, family, and other obligations start to clutter the schedule, what motivates musicians to come together and practice, fine-tune songs, plan concerts, the whole bit? Looks like a lot of work.

But The Birdman Chronicles gave me some insight. Whether or not you’re in a band, it’s worth checking out.

Below the vid, a Q&A with the filmmaker about his decision to focus on Westhaver and  what he learned by making film.

Ottawa Mag: How did you decide to create a doc that focused on John Westhaver?

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SPIES! Mark Bourrie on CSEC’s new digs, the history of intelligence gathering, and the modern spy fetish

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of Ottawa Magazine.

By Mark Bourrie 

People shopping at the strip mall at Blair and Ogilvie roads often wonder what’s going to be inside the big white building that has risen in the woods just across the road. It’s the size of a domed stadium. Could it be a zoo? Another museum? Will it be a new national library full of books and art?

No — but the correct answer nevertheless gives a thrill to children and adults alike. The building will be full of spies. Fairly soon, the neighbouring East Side Mario’s and Starbucks should be the scene of a lot of sotto voce conversations about things most of us would never understand. Because the spies at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) aren’t James Bond types ham-fistedly whacking bad guys; no, they’re the nerd army, some of Canada’s brightest minds hired because they’re brilliant at math and skilled at keeping secrets. They intercept phone calls, radio signals, and internet traffic to track down terrorists and foreign spies. They also break codes — and to do that in the 21st century, you need to be a computer genius or a math prodigy. CSEC works hard to recruit the best of the brightest of the country’s geeks, who are being rewarded with a brand spanking new building of epic proportions.

Illustration by Fred Sebastian

Illustration by Fred Sebastian

With the new CSEC headquarters, that corner of Ottawa is set to become the country’s ground zero of domestic and foreign spying, not to mention the focal point of the fantasy life of hundreds of paranoiacs. The move — CSEC is relocating from an old CBC headquarters at Bronson and Heron to a sparkling new palace — shows just how much Stephen Harper’s government values its spies.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Mark Bourrie’s Kill the Messengers “one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister”


It’s all about “the base,” that 30 per cent or so of voters who are on the right-leaning flank of the electorate, the people who can be counted on to support Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, as long as the prime minister continues to give them what they want. With that 30 per cent locked up, Harper only has to woo another 10 per cent of voters. In our multi-party, first-past-the-post system, winning 40 per cent of the vote at election time can be enough to form a majority.

The Mike Duffy Senate scandal was supposedly all about “the base,” according to the man at the centre of the expense controversy. Duffy told the Senate that he had a meeting with Harper and his then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, soon after news reports surfaced alleging the senator had fudged his expense accounts.

“I said that despite the smear in the papers I had not broken the rules,” Duffy claims he told Harper and Wright. “But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.”

Kill the Messengers hits bookstores Jan. 27

Kill the Messengers hits bookstores Jan. 27

In other words, the Conservative “base” would disapprove of Duffy living high on the hog at taxpayers’ expense, even if the senator had broken no rules. The verdict: Duffy had to go.

Now Duffy is hardly an unbiased person in this story. But his version of events plays into widespread attitudes about Stephen Harper — namely that, right or wrong, his main concern is to nurture that 30 per cent of the electorate.

Such sentiments are at the heart of Mark Bourrie’s tough, new book, Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. The book paints Harper as ruthlessly attacking and even silencing journalists, scientists, judges, environmentalists, and intellectuals in a drive to remake Canada, rewrite our history, and keep the Conservatives in power. It is one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Paint Nite brings rookie artists, friends, and couples to local pubs


Paint Nite at the Clocktower Pub in Westboro

Instructor Olga Climova talks participants through the process of recreating “Italy” at Paint Nite at the Clocktower Pub in Westboro

It’s a Monday night and the ClockTower Pubin Westboro has had a makeover. Instead of sports fans watching the Sens on mammoth screens, rows of 35 easels and canvases line the back room. It looks more like a kindergarten room than a pub.

At the head of the class, instructor Olga Climova is handing out aprons and paper plates covered with blobs of paint. Red, yellow, blue, black and white. That’s it. Those are all the colours these budding Picassos will need for tonight’s lesson/creation.

Their mission? To recreate a painting from Paint Nite’s (their spelling) gallery. Tonight’s painting is (not-so-creatively) called “Italy.” It’s a silhouette of a big-wheeled bicycle leaning against a sunny yellow brick wall. The budding artists — all but three are women, the average age is 30 — wield paint brushes, wine glasses, and a positive attitude to go with their lack of experience. Only one says she’s had formal training; the others are complete newbies.

Michelle Madill

Michelle Madill

In spite of its questionable spelling and boiler-plate painting designs (local artists such as Climova must choose a painting to teach from a gallery prescribed by Paint Nite), the Boston-headquartered company is now global. It’s been in Ottawa — operating out of bars and restaurants downtown and as far afield as Orleans and Kanata — for a year, but it also has chapters in China, Australia, Ghana, Hong Kong, South Africa, and the U.K. It’s in Canada’s largest cities and even some smaller spots in Ontario (think Peterborough.)

Michelle Madill, a nurse who’s having her first baby in a month, was there with her friends Kristan Wadden and Connie Tuttle, who was six days away from giving birth.

“We’re trying to get lots of girl time in before they deliver,” Wadden says with a laugh.

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