Food and Wine

Top Ten Restaurants 2010

Is fine dining dead? The city’s most buzzed-about restaurants are serving up a convivial atmosphere and refined dishes that take local and seasonal cooking to new heights.

THE TOP TEN PLACES TO EAT 2010

In 2007, Frenchman Yannick Anton took over the reins as executive chef of Le Cordon Bleu’s restaurant, Signatures. That same year the CAA/AAA recognized it as a five-diamond restaurant — the highest and most coveted symbol of excellence for fine dining in North America. Just one year later the Sandy Hill crown jewel shut down for what was billed as a mini-facelift. And, like the secretive French woman who returns from her weekend getaway looking decades younger, the acclaimed culinary classroom emerged with little fanfare in November 2009 with new radiance, a new attitude and, judging by the new clientele, fewer wrinkles. It had a newfangled name as well: Le Cordon Bleu Bistro @ Signatures. With its sunny yellow walls, contemporary tableware sans tablecloth, and servers empowered to make wine suggestions as well as small talk, Signatures bid adieu to its seven-course marathon meal; its dark, sombre dining room; its sommelier and 40-page wine list; and the decadent white-glove and silver-bell service. Gone is the $45 main course, and in its place, there’s a three-course prix fixe lunch menu for $25.

Le Cordon Bleu’s decision to forgo five-diamond status in favour of a bistro concept reflects something more powerful and enduring than an economic trend. The fine-dining finishing school isn’t alone in recognizing a growing appetite for upscale food experiences that can be sated with more regularity, with less stuffiness, and at more palatable prices. The death knell for haute cuisine has been sounded around the world, most famously in France, where it was documented in Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France by American journalist Michael Steinberger. On a recent trip to Paris, I noticed that the most buzzed-about restaurants were no longer temples of gastronomy, but postage-stamp casual spots with simple menus that changed according to the chef’s whims. Among the hottest reservations in town was the 20-seat Le Comptoir, a bustling, casual brasserie by day that offers an ultra-gastronomic 50-euro ($67) bargain of a fixed menu by night. There, famed chef Yves Camdeborde treats customers to food worthy of Michelin stars — but at a fraction of the price. Next door he now also runs L’Avant Comptoir, a blissfully inexpensive takeout crepe and sandwich counter with a tiny standing-room-only tapas bar tucked behind it. I stood shoulder to shoulder at the zinc bar chatting with my neighbours while dipping steamed Camus artichokes in olive oil, popping back addictive croquettes filled with Ibaïona ham, and passing the communal bread basket, a slab of fine French butter, and jars of pickles. It was the most fun I’ve had eating fabulous food in a long time. And it was there that I began to reflect on Ottawa’s restaurants, the ones that are working to close the gap between good eating and feeling good. If I had to sum up the gustatory zeitgeist, I’d say we’re seeking culinary excitement in the form of emotional connection.

In a way, chef Anton is our equivalent of chef Camdeborde, a man who famously rejected Michelin-star mania in 1992 in order to run what is being called a “gastro bistro” or “bistronomique” — a place where cuisine remains haute, but no one need sport a tie or fear speaking above a whisper. This may not be Paris — and Canada’s capital has had a more modest platform from which to fall (rest in peace, Café Henry Burger) — but Anton can now count himself among those chefs in Ottawa who are pioneering a brave new wave of fine dining.

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  • Aunt Carolyn

    My favourite restaurant!

  • Buds

    Overrated. Was invited for a birthday dinner and was highly Disapointed. My boyfriend ate his steak bavette with a butter knife, for lack of ability to get our servers attention. My risotto lacked flavor and cooking time. The grains stuck to my teeth they were so undercooked. And again where was the waiter? And when finally we politely expressed our disappointment, nothing was done other than giving us our $150 addition. Our entree of beef tartar was excellent, but with only 2 croutons, and a busy waiter, it wasn’t as excellent.

    Ambiance: that of a gastropub. A bunch of random antiques put in a room decorated like The Works burger joint and very echo loft like dining rooms made the ambiance short of desirable.

    Not recommended. I don’t care if my waiter can point to the part of his body where the beef is from. It’s a restaurant, not a biology class.

  • Thomas McVeigh

    As the comments are the same following every page of the top ten, if you are commenting, it would be helpful to mention which restaurant the comment refers to, otherwise there are ten restaurants that are trying to figure out who they pleased/displeased.
    Cheers!

  • Skye

    I agree that Bistro St-Jacques deserves a spot on that list. The food was incredible, the atmosphere was charming, and the staff extremely attentive.

  • Taylor’s leaves a bad taste

    Couldn’t agree more with your review on Taylor’s Genuine. Their treatment of that incident will keep me and others away for good. What a shame. It wasn’t amazing but it had great potential.

  • wee

    err… this article seems to be focused to much on.. expensive and probably not very filling food. I guess everyone has their own option on wats best from the high/low price, or people who cares to much about the look of their cuisine. 

  • pops

    Will have to try Play, Food and Wine. Last trip to Beckta’s was thoroughly disappointing. Was there with a couple from the eastern US. For a group of four, no alcohol (no one drinks) was close to $400 with tip. Can only comment on my meal but honestly, I can cook a way better salmon for way less the price. Everyone commented on cold food. Too bad. Have been to Beckta’s many times,..perhaps an off night or new cook.

    Next time better shine or I will not return

  • Nancim_726

    I dropped in at Fraser Cafe for lunch with a friend and the food was delicious! We will definitely be back for more.

  • Bilalshaikh

     taylor you should try Evening Away From Home In Ottawa.They have best food, desert and everything. i have visited there and i loved the way they show cased the products while I was
    getting my 3 course meal and robotic massage. It was a royal treatment,
    the wife and I really enjoyed it.

  • eater

    Fraser Cafe was disappointing. We chose to sit at the bar instead of our reserved table, wedged between 2 parties (6 and 8) for our special night.  As the bar is usually a great seat and in my experience better service, we were surprised at the lack of charm, or of any attempt to entertain on our server’s behalf.  We were also annoyed that we had to flag down our bartender, who had all of 6 seats at the small bar to take care of, for refills on drinks (wine that is, not free ones).  Food was ok, but not great.  Beef entree was not seasoned and accompaniments were blah.  Delicate scallops, albeit being perfectly cooked, were served with a pungent parmesan, kalamata, and tomato linguine and topped with a massive fried oyster with chive crème fraiche … a terrible combo in my opinion. I only ate the scallops which were great.  The charcuterie plate to start was exceptional, and the highlight of the meal.  Perhaps the experience would have been more enjoyable had the entrees not taken – no exaggeration – an hour from the time we finished our charcuterie.  With that much time to anticipate, I guess our restless taste buds became pejorative.

  • not for sale

    meh. not overly impressed with this list, I think you could’ve dug a little deeper. while the places listed are definitely amon some of the “hipper” restaurants, diners should expect to encounter the usual atmosphere that goes along with this sort of too-big-for-my-beaches professionalism