Food and Wine

Top Ten Restaurants 2010

Castlegarth

90 Burnstown Rd., White Lake 613-623-3472, castlegarth.ca

Matthew and Jennifer Brearley | The dish: Donegal Farms pork chop with crackling. Served with swiss chard, grilled puffball, and sweet corn sauce

For me, everything you need to know about Castlegarth is in a bowl of its pappa al pomodoro. This classic Italian comfort dish is nothing more than simmered tomatoes and stale country bread with a healthy glug of extra-virgin olive oil and torn basil. It’s peasant food of the highest order. Nothing could more readily transport you to the hills of the Tuscan countryside. Chef-owner Matthew Brearley is almost embarrassed to describe the recipe, it’s so simple. What makes it so good? First of all, it’s the heirloom tomatoes grown in astonishing variety up the road on his family’s farm (all told, Castlegarth has 500 acres of gardens, grain fields, pastures, and woodlands), the source of the lion’s share of the restaurant’s ingredients. Still warm from the sun, those tomatoes never knew the inside of a refrigerator. Farm-fresh ingredients are one thing, but what Castlegarth offers is the increasingly rare opportunity to taste familiar ingredients as if for the first time. Perhaps that is what entices Ottawa diners to make the hour-long drive to White Lake to eat in a simple converted post office off the highway: there is nothing quite like it. Matt’s wife, Jennifer, a fellow Stratford-trained chef, runs the front of house with charm and genuine graciousness. The night of the life-affirming soup she later emerged from the kitchen with a basket brimful of funky fresh mushrooms — cauliflower, lobster, and puffballs — that Matt had foraged that afternoon. “It’s what you get from an only child who had the run of hundreds of acres during his childhood,” she remarks. Sautéed with a bit of cream and piled high on a thick wedge of grilled bread, the fungi flanked a Flintstonesque wild boar chop bursting with rich, meaty flavour teetering atop a mound of silky sweet roasted pumpkin (the very first of the season) and garlicky swiss chard. Matthew purrs when he talks about pork belly; he pores over books to learn the art of making prosciutto. He waxes poetic about the time he travelled to Tuscany and picked lemons from a tree, stuffing them inside a fresh chicken along with handfuls of rosemary that cascaded off the plant. This is what you can taste in a bowl of pappa al pomodoro at Castlegarth.

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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