Food and Wine

Top Ten Restaurants 2010

Atelier

540 Rochester St., 613-321-3537, atelierrestaurant.ca

The dish: Beet, orange, and walnut salad with lemon verbena sauce

Oh, the long-lingering multi-course meal! Didn’t we just say those days are over? Sitting in the comfort of the comically massive dining chairs, it’s hard to know where the irony begins and the formal French dining backlash ends. The 12-course gastronomic experience features a familiar dose of the trendy small-plates dining concept with a presentation style worthy of Broadway — or at least a high school theatre performance. With all that drama and wonderful, flattering lighting in one room, I half expect the makeup crew to sweep in between courses to powder my nose. We are, after all, a part of the show. The diner’s engagement is paramount, and I believe that’s why this restaurant resonates with so many of us. We’ve all heard by now about the innovative young chef-owner Marc Lepine, who masterminds elaborate dishes through the brain-bending concepts gleaned from Spain’s culinary avant-garde: molecular gastronomy, which I can insufficiently sum up as the application of science to culinary practices. Whether it be inspiration from Lepine’s favourite movie, The Matrix, or the use of dry ice or a smouldering cinnamon stick, I don’t doubt that this kitchen aims to push boundaries. However, what I find interesting is that, for the most part, Atelier serves what amounts to familiar food that just happens, in many cases, to be more delicious than similar dishes served elsewhere. The crispy walleye and duck confit were standouts for me. Charm and charisma are on the plate and in the service in equal measure, but it all treads a fine line and risks feeling staged. No matter. An evening spent at Atelier invites diners to be more engaged with dinner and taps into the need for a little more whimsy in the way we eat today.

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