DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Che Chartrand takes Muse Restaurant at Wakefield Mill Inn to the next level

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

King mackerel sashimi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Scoring a table at the Muse Restaurant in the Wakefield Mill Inn this summer had proven tricky. And sure enough, when one was found (“we could seat you at 6 or 8:45”) we arrived to a packed room, both on the more sought-after solarium side of the restaurant, the bit that juts out over the MacLaren Falls, and in the dining room proper. Every table was filled, staff was scrambling.

“We have a new chef,” our server explained to justify the full house. “He used to own Chez Eric and he had many fans. They’re coming here now.”  She was referring to the wee village restaurant on Wakefield’s Valley Drive.

Two years ago, Che Chartrand left Chez Eric and landed the job of chef de cuisine at the new Gezellig Restaurant in Westboro. But last February he moved back home, accepting the top job at The Wakefield Mill Inn and reducing his commute to three minutes. Six months later, Chartrand’s mark on the menu eats very well indeed.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Fresh pea and watercress soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Beginning with the bold amuse of garlic scape kimchi paired with a cool square of pickerel mousse, dribbled with herb oil and scattered with micro-greens. And then a marvellous summer soup — fresh pea and watercress, the bullying bitterness of the cress tempered with rich nuggets of local chèvre.

A salad of “jeunes pousses” proved to be a highlight. The greens seemed more days old than weeks, and yet had such grand flavour, caught in a ribbon of cucumber, scattered with crunchy wisps of shallot and dressed smartly in a classic honey-mustard vinaigrette sweet with raisins.  The “ Chef’s choice of sashimi” was King Mackerel – a bold choice, though its oily fishy flavour was cleverly tempered with creamy elements (an avocado mousse) with a rousing wakame salad and with dobs of a sweet carrot purée.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Rosie’s Southern Kitchen & Raw Bar

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

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Scallop ceviche salad: raw scallops served in fat juicy disks and plopped on a bed of superior greens, with rings of jalapeño and radish, and carefully sectioned lime Photo: Anne DesBrisay

After what seemed to me to be a rocky start, culinarily speaking, Rosie’s Southern Kitchen and Raw Bar, which opened in December 2013, appears to have settled comfortably in the southern bit of the Glebe.

The restaurant (its sister is the Big Easy on Preston) has positioned itself, pretty cleverly, just north of the massive Lansdowne Park development in the former home of the original Mexicali Rosa’s (from 1979). Where there used to be parking, is now a likeable outdoor patio, complete with a come-hither fireplace, thoughtful wind blocks, funky vintage-y fans, and great lights. It’s a great place to be on a fine night. Inside, the room is dominated with wood, tables are both high and low top, while most of the visual drama takes place above our heads, with chandeliers of clustered jars stuffed with Edison bulbs. The oyster/booze bar is zinc-topped, leggy, and lovely. During my visits, the room was loud and full, and while there are TV screens, they didn’t dominate.

When it opened, and upon my first visits back then, the food was largely unimpressive. Didn’t seem right to complain about a fun new neighbourhood place with southern comfort cooking, but the dishes I tackled — with the exception of the raw oysters and fried calamari — were decidedly mediocre. I gave it a few months and returned.

Quel difference! The menu has shrunk considerably, and the food has risen a considerable notch. Dishes were more daringly plated and southern flavours decidedly more pronounced.

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Crab cake: beautifully seasoned, lightly fried, and served with a powerfully green chimichurri featuring cilantro. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Diners should be aware there’s some serious heat in the scallop ceviche salad. Here the raw scallops are served in fat juicy disks rather than the usual thin slices, and plopped on a bed of superior greens, with rings of jalapeño and radish, and carefully sectioned lime. The crab cake was a terrific rendition, the meat untainted with iodine, left in large, lightly-packed chunks, beautifully seasoned, lightly fried, and served with a powerfully green chimichurri featuring cilantro. Full marks.

A small salad of heirloom tomatoes and cucumber dressed well and served with a likeable guacamole felt a tad overpriced at $12 bucks, but still, it was pretty on the plate and lovely to eat, and if the quantity were bumped up a bit, the salad would make a fine lunch.

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Blackened catfish properly spicy and cooked, topped with juicy disks of chorizo, a few unseasoned shrimp, and served with well seasoned Mexican rice Photo: By Anne DesBrisay

Ribs were tender and meaty; the blackened catfish properly spicy and cooked, topped with juicy disks of chorizo, a few unseasoned shrimp, and served with well seasoned Mexican rice.

The only real disappointment was with the pork chop. It arrived overcooked, grimly grey, though supported with a fine Bourbon apple sauce, chunky and perfumed with thyme and cinnamon. We loved the fried potato dumplings, though the pile of vegetables — heirloom carrots, green beans, braised radish, baby kale — looked more promising than they ate, injured by a heavy hand with (what I suspect is jarred) garlic.

The chocolate pecan pie was perfect, though the whipped cream was icky sweet… but so what. At Rosie’s, there’s much more right than wrong now.

Mains, $20 to $43. Open for lunch, brunch, and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. 895 Bank Street, 613-234-7674 www.rosiesonbank.ca

DESBRISAY DINES: Elegant salads and splendid mains at new Preston Street resto Salt

By ANNE DESBRISAY
Salt's pierrogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Salt’s pierogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This big corner space of Preston Square has had two fairly short-lived restaurant tenants. The latest is called Salt, and I rather hope it’s third time’s the charm for this one.
Salt is a tall, dark, mod space, divided into bar, dining room, and patio. The design is generically industrial, though the  chandeliers and custom iron work lend lustre. One wall is all windows framed with dark drapes. It overlooks a corner patio with  fire pit, lounge furniture, and a nicely tended vegetable/herb garden in full swing. Another wall introduces a built-in of backlit spirits around a slick electric fireplace. The lounge at the front has a marble bar-top curved around a baby grand piano. The dining room proper is very dark, the walls and ceiling painted black. (Or possibly navy to match the drapes; hard to tell.) Outside the kitchen pass is a handsome shelving unit, loaded with carefully considered bits of culinary nostalgia (an old Joy of Cooking, a few ‘we love the whole pig’ cookbooks, many jarred preserves). It all looks designer-great.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two problems marred my initial enjoyment of the place. One, was the pong of bleach, or some sort of industrial cleaning solution. (Not an unusual whiff at bars and restaurants these days, but a regrettable one: doesn’t whet the appetite.) And two, it was freezing cold. And quite dark. It was a welcome that had me bracing for a middling meal and a final bill that looked like it would be hefty.
The cold was dealt with by a gracious server. The smell faded (or we got used to it). The bill was indeed sizeable, but the food, as it happened, was disconcertingly delicious.
That may have to do with the fact that Salt, which is open 18 hours, seven days a week, has three chefs: Aaron Wong, most recently at Play; Jessica Hendren from Town; and Ryan Edwards, formerly of Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar. Three great restaurants.
The dinner menu is divided into small and large plates, and steaks. The pricing is a bit confusing. Small plates range from $12 to $39; large plates start at $16 and climb to $32.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We began at the bottom, with an elegant salad starring house cured and smoked salmon. On a long plate were three moist piles of the fish on a bed of pea shoots, dill fronds, carrot tops, and spinach, topped with pickled pearl onion, fennel, and jalapeño, injecting a bit of heat. Piped blobs of a luscious avocado mousse lent richness, and oiled caraway toast, crumbled overtop, gave crunch.
And then a dish so rich and good I ordered it again for lunch. (Partly so I could see it enough to photograph.) Billed as ‘pierogi gnocchi,’ these were big, bronzed pillows of gooey smoked potato, seasoned with a whiff of garlic, the soft texture within offset by the crisp out. On top were scattered hunks of blue cheese and strings of caramelized onion, some young arugula leaves, while creme fraiche perked up with pink peppercorns was the moisture beneath.
We loved the dish called “Kraken vs Halibut” and though the name suggests the fish would arrive wrapped in the octopus tentacles, the two elements were kept apart. I’ve had lousy halibut of late. Dry and dull. But this was a splendid finger of the fish, with a powerful sear and soft, moist petals of flesh set on a carpet of minted summer peas. Other successes included the salt brick chicken infused with lemon and bathed in brown butter, and a dry aged 20 ounce striploin for two with choice of sides and sauce.
Salt has a climate-controlled, dry-aging room — the only restaurant in the city with one of those, our server tells us — and their cuts are reported to hang for at least 45 days. This was a very fine steak, the meat musky, grilled to rare, sweet in places, and with a pronounced flavour of ripe cheese.
The one dud came at lunch with a so-whatish bolognese, the fresh pasta overcooked, the basil puree served as a streak on the plate, rather than mixed in where it would have done more good.
The wine list offers lots of bubbles by the glass, which is very good of them, and a generous, well chosen list of reds and whites in two pours. There’s a good craft beer list and though I can’t vouch for the ‘craft cocktails’ the young women chatting up the bartender appeared to be happy with them.
Salt’s a fine addition to an ever more interesting Preston Street.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Large Plates, $16 to $32
345 Preston Street, 613-693-0333 saltottawa.ca

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Introducing Fiazza Fresh Fired

By  ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

A few weeks back I had come to the ByWard Market with my son to pay our respects to Domus Café. He had celebrated a thirteenth birthday there, along with another family feast to mark a university graduation. We noted the massive ‘For Lease’ sign, and we shook our heads and we sighed. We cupped our hands around our eyes and peered through the windows into the empty space. Then we smelled pizza — and I spied a face that was familiar to me, delivering the pizza to an outdoor table. So we crossed the street.

The last time I saw Luigi he was handing me a rabbit. A very nice stew, as I recall. I still have the 2003 review of the dish. That was at (the late) Zibibbo Restaurant on Somerset Street, owned by Luigi Meliambro.

I liked the short-lived Zibibbo; I liked its second floor lounge (TheCamarilloBrilloUpstairs) but the place closed ten years ago, and Luigi moved on. To Kanata, I believe. And then across the river. Friends in Chelsea and Wakefield were Friday night regulars at his pizza joint, Cheezy Luigi’s, though I’d never had the pleasure.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meliambro has moved back to Ottawa now, and has a new venture. Pizza, fired in one of those crazy-hot ovens in something like 140 seconds. The pies are created to order, assembly line style (a la Subway) while you wait. Fiazza Fresh Fired is found on Murray Street in the spot where Pecco’s bike shop used to be.

It works like this: you queue up, read a lot, and hem and haw while the kids in their Fiazza Fresh Fired T’s and food service gloves wait patiently for instructions. You may order one of the dozen suggested combinations, or you create your own based on a lengthy list of toppings. There are two bases — regular and gluten free. The sauce, we are told, is made with (the lionized) San Marzano tomatoes. There are seven cheese options, including blue, feta, goat cheese, fior di latte, or the house blend. All cheeses, we are told, are locally sourced. Toppings come in two categories — the traditional (mostly vegetable, at $1.25 each) and specialty (mostly meat, along with organic mushrooms). The “After Fired” options — fresh basil, chilli flakes, oregano, evoo drizzle — are on the house. Once you’ve placed your order, you can watch them load it on and fire it up, or sit down and have it delivered.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Mamma Teresa in Chelsea

By ANNE DESBRISAY

 

The original Mamma Teresa on Somerset Street West may not be the power ristorante it once was, but the walls tell a tale. Framed, signed portraits of the movers and shakers who supped here still guard the vestibule and line the stairs — the ones that lead to the private dining rooms where, legend has it, much of the nation’s business was once conducted.

Pickled peppers to start. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pickled peppers to start. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

When owner Guiliano Boselli retired, he sold Mamma Teresa to two long-serving employees who had worked their way up the ranks. And now Frank Schimizzi and Walter Moreschi have opened a second Mamma Teresa — out of province. On the former home of another long serving restaurant, L’Agaric, they’ve constructed a handsome wood- planked-chalet sort of place, green-roofed and red-trimmed, and they’ve brought Mamma’s portrait and stuck her in the front lawn.

If you are a Mamma Teresa Ottawa regular, you will know well the wide-ranging menu. Nothing trendy on it; black olives and pickled peppers to start; warm buns; a crisp and ample Caesar salad with a gutsy dressing. There was a soup du jour with an admirable broth and al dente vegetables, and we ordered a serving of calamari so generous is fed four, crisp and tender and not the least bit greasy.

Linguine pescatore. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The presentation of the house carpaccio could use some refinement, and we’d have preferred the parmesan come in shards, rather than the pile of gratings we received. The dish was also missing an anointment of some sort — a drizzle of oil, a bit of aioli or a lemon wedge would have been welcomed — but the beef itself was clearly sliced to order, the meat rich and red and good, strewn with capers and bits of pickled onion.

Veal was disappointingly tough, though the clam linguine that came with it was perfectly judged. Indeed, pasta might be the way to go here. The linguine pescatore featured al dente noodles and lightly cooked seafood united in a rich creamy sauce. And the gnocchi were pillowy pleasures, bathed in a fragrant tomato-basil sauce. Portions invite doggy bags.

I have always had a soft spot for Mamma’s cake, so we ordered that, along with the tiramisu. Again, a no nonsense presentation, but fresh, tasty desserts.

The service we received was top notch.

Pasta/mains, $21 to $39. Open daily, lunch through dinner.  

254 Ch. Old Chelsea, 819-827-3020, mammateresa.com

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DESBRISAY DINES: Café My House

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The banh mi tacos topped the list of Café My House offerings for Anne DesBrisay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

 

 

A few months ago, the vegan/vegetarian/raw food restaurant Café My House packed up all its grating/grinding/whirring machines and moved from suburban south Bank  to the happening Hintonburg neighbourhood.

The new place looks nothing like the old. I remember a green and white space, with a bright and cheery homespun look.  The new Café My House is none of that. A long, narrow room, it’s quite dark — black really — inside and out, which you either find edgy and contemporary or somewhat gloomy and oppressive. I must say I was in the latter camp. Worried, too, that if the feeling was a bit bleak in June, how would it seem in December?

For now, the back patio is open and quite sweet, and that’s where we found ourselves at a second visit. At our first, we sat as close to the front windows as we could.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Summer lasagna. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The menu begins with a page of CMH Mixology — cocktails ‘without processed ingredients’ — and I gave the one called ‘Japan’ a go, intrigued by the description (anise pickled beets, dry sake, pear bitters, ginger beer). It was pretty, I’ll give it that, but the flavour was underpowered. Too much ice, perhaps, melting too quickly in the heat…

But underpowered pretty much sums up my feeling about the food as well. It certainly looks striking. Dishes arrive layered, multi-coloured, fussed over, very pretty. But with a few notable exceptions, the flavours were wan and the texture at times flabby, at other times unrelentingly crunchy.  And some dishes suffered from a general temperature trouble — sauces served only tepid when they should have been hot, for example. 

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DESBRISAY DINES: The Rex is now open for dinner

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne Desbrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Former Urban Pear sous chef, back when Ben Baird was in charge, Cody Starr named his new place in honour of his grandfather and has created in a former pizzeria on Adeline Street, an intimate, old world space with homespun charm.

I took the Rex for a lunch time spin six months ago, when it was pretty brand new. That was back when the noon crowd — Rex is close to the Rochester office towers — was the focus of the kitchen. Evening-opening was in the thinking-through process. And now the dinner gong sounds, but only on Friday and Saturday nights.

On our Friday night, the place was packed.

Rex offers a limited dinner menu, which is always a pleasure for those of us decisioned-out by end of week. There is some choice — between two starters on our night (Cobb salad or crab cakes) and two mains (trout or brisket) for the set price of $35.

Nothing rocked our world, but it was all pretty solid. If I had a quibble, it would have less to do with the quality of the food or the mix of flavours and more about portion and presentation. The Rex dinners seem to be trying on a simple, family style, come-as-ye-be sort of vibe. So modern, composed plates don’t feel quite right.

The Rex Fish Cakes. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Crab Cakes at The Rex. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Cobb salad featured eggs, still soft at their yellow core, crisp lardons, a bit of Boston lettuce, avocado, tomato, and a sharp dressing, but the poster child for composed salads could have had a few more elements and been a bit more generous. The crab cakes were meaty, well seasoned, served on a few greens with a dill remoulade and pickled red onion.

Other than the odd choice of plate and fork (rather than bowl and spoon) to serve the fish and clam chowder, this was a lovely dish. It was just a bit tricky to eat.

The cooking of the trout was well judged and the chowder starred three meaty Quahogs, steamed to just-open, with traditional mates of corn, carrots, celery, and soft leek and with crispy rings of leek for pleasing chew, in a rich cream sauce perfumed with clam juice, fresh thyme and anointed with leek oil.

The second main was the ultimate Sunday supper comfort food — brined spiced brisket, slow braised to fork tender, with a sturdy caramelized edge, served with roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, and with horseradish spiked mashed potatoes. A whole grain mustard sauce finished things with an extra little zing.

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

For dessert, the Johnny Cakes combined a cornmeal pancake with ice cream and rhubarb-maple compote and the Boston cream pie — dark shiny chocolate sauce, solid cake, well flavoured pastry cream, bittersweet caramel sauce — gets full marks.

Three course table d’hôte, $35 on our night.

Open Monday to Friday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner.

40 Adeline St., 613-695-9739, therexottawa.com

DESBRISAY DINES: Gy Resto offers meaty mains with a French approach in new home

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Fiddlehead salad with parmesan crisp. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Fiddlehead salad with parmesan crisp. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

There are times when only a real belt of French nostalgia will do and Gy Resto — since February 5th in new digs — delivers on that front. Formerly found on rue Laval in a compact upstairs room, Gy has moved to rue St-Jacques in the space where Bistro St-Jacques used to be. It’s a bigger home for the Gatineau restaurant, and a more visible one from the street.

Upon entry, the first thing that grabs your attention is the pillar. It’s wrapped in chef’s whites — a collection of coats from all the kitchens Gyno Lefrançois used to work in, stapled down in a white jumble the length of the pole.  The rest of the room is less cute: blue walls, yellow flowers, white napery, tiled floor, and an elevated patio that will seat 25 when it opens in early June.

Gy’s opening gifts on our nights were tasty, seedy house buns the size of ping pong balls, a pot of hummus impaled with sweet potato crisps, a pile of cumin-studded poppadum, and neat triangles of a luscious game terrine.

From there, it was a minefield of rich French food and we embraced it lustily, particularly the starters, which tended to please more than the mains. Beginning with foie gras, it was ordered for the promised asparagus ice cream — a dish that ate better than it read. On toasted brioche (a bit soggy from too generous a puddle of demi glace) were poised two lovely lobes of liver, seared and rare, lightly fragrant of truffle oil, and with a thawing ball of the pale green ice cream. The deluge of sauce notwithstanding, I liked the cool of the glace and the hot of the liver, and how the two creamy elements worked so well together.

Foie gras with asparagus ice cream. Photo by Anne Desbrisay.

Foie gras with asparagus ice cream. Photo by Anne Desbrisay.

I was less convinced of the marriage of cranberry ice cream with a puck of steak tartare, though the tartare (served with toasties and sunchoke chips) was gorgeous.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

A trio of scallops came next, curry-stained and caramelized, plopped on a pillow of soft leeks with a thatch of fried leeks. And then some green relief: tête de violon — the first of this year’s fiddleheads — steamed crisp and served as a cool salad ringed with a berry vinaigrette, and paired with the sharp, crunchy notes of a parmesan tuile.

Emphasis on the main menu and on the chalkboard that rolls around the room is toward steak — beef, venison, bison — and the approach is French (well seasoned, the meat grilled to rare, covered in shallots, served with potatoes, and fussed over seasonal veg). The steak we stabbed into was well executed and came with a generous serving of roasted fingerlings.

There were noodles both nights: ravioli of lobster, the pasta rolled thin and admirably delicate, the soft pink meat scented seductively with tarragon, and with fresh and snappy shrimp paddling about in a pink sauce. This dish might have secured top marks had there been a whole lot less salt in the sauce. One week later I’m still thirsty.

Another night, cannelloni with the same impressive dough, but stuffed with shredded beef cheeks braised for hours and hours, and perfumed with coriander seed and a judicious amount of truffle oil — very rich (quite the theme of this place) and well executed. Main plates came with side plates of vegetables, a maçedoine of turnip, a wedge of roasted beet, a purée of parsnips, some julienned snap peas.

Precious few non-meat choices on this menu. No doubt the kitchen could whip-up something, but vegetarians should probably head elsewhere.

Sweeties included a chèvre cheesecake with strawberry coulis and a banana cake topped with a milk chocolate mousse sandwiched with a layer of dulce de leche. Both hit the spot.

Service warmed a bit as the evenings progressed, but I did find Gy failed to meet the gracious service standard one would hope for in a fine French restaurant. Still, these are early days in a new home, and perhaps what I see as a certain aloofness is more an anxiety with a bigger space and numbers. Still, I think service has been an issue at Gy since day one, and I do hope the restaurant works on the welcoming factor, especially when so much else is going right.

Mains, $16 to $35; Open for lunch, Tuesday to Friday; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday.

Gy Resto: 51 rue St-Jacques, Gatineau (Hull sector) 819-776-0867, www.gyresto.com.

DESBRISAY DINES: L’Aubergiste shows promise

Laubergiste-Gatineau

Sliders at L’Aubergiste in Aylmer, one of the feature main dishes that show promise (Photo: Anne DesBrisay)

Not many restaurants of note have cropped up in Aylmer over the years. I used to like a little place called Bistro Marin and, in its early days, was a fan of L’Echelle de Jacob — both now disparus.

Recently, however, rue Principale in Vieux Aylmer has had something of a gastro-renaissance. New cafés, bakeries, boulangeries, and restaurants have been cropping up, including L’Aubergiste housed in the old Maison Ephram Guimond. It’s named in honour of its early (circa 1870) auberge-keeping past, when it was known as Hotel Symmes. The age of the building is apparent: walk through the door to find an interior cleverly uncovered to expose the thick pine logs and wide plank floors, and modernized with coats of gleam and smart black details.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Chef James Bratsberg proves his skill at MēNa

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Mena-Ottawa

MēNa delivers on its sensibly short menu with such dishes as this sunchoke salad (Photo: Anne DesBrisay)

The last time I saw James Bratsberg, he was handing me a puck of salmon tartare and a platter of citrus dusted B.C. oysters. That was sometime in early 2013, when Bratsberg was the chef in charge of the raw bar at Restaurant E18hteen. He looked about 12. But the kid could clearly plate some fetching uncooked food. So it was nice to see him resurface at MēNa, a new spot on Preston Street place, to learn that he can work with fire as well as the fridge.

MēNa opened in January without much hooplah. It’s one of a number of newish non-Italian places on the Preston Street strip, done up in cool tones with warm lights. White-washed barn boards brighten the grey and black, while dozens of hanging filament bulbs and mod chandelier give the L-shaped room and long bar a lovely glow. Fresh flowers in glass jars and starched white serviettes on shiny black tables make it feel loved.

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DesBrisay Dines