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.
Ottawa summers are short and options for dining outside – though many – aren’t all splendid. For every geranium-trimmed terrace, there’s a cafe with al fresco tables next to rubbish bins. The gentle season is far too precious to waste our evenings on shabby patios.
La Terrasse at the Chateau is one of the good ones. Sure, if you’re looking for action, head to Clarence Street, but for peaceful dining, on above average food, with a very fine outlook, it really can’t be beat. Sheltered from the busy-ness of the capital, it affords truly lovely views of it – and of the sun lowering over the Gatineau Hills.
It’s not perfect. There are no bookings; it’s first come first served. And you’re paying hotel prices for booze – and perhaps a hefty evening parking fee if you aren’t up for further-afield parking options.
But the menu comes from the Wilfrid’s kitchen and it’s a thoughtful, family friendly, summery assembly of dishes, starting with a grazing section of Ontario and Quebec cheeses and charcuterie (some house made, most from artisanal producers like Seed to Sausage and Niagara Foods). The balance of the menu offers a strong selection of fish and seafood dishes, meal-sized salads, and fun stuff like gourmet sliders and Chateau ice creams.
A first course Caesar boasted a lemony dressing, a fine anchovy flavour, delicious bacon, and benefitted from a light grilling, such that the tips of the romaine wedge had begun to wilt, but the core remained crunchy. A main course Lobster Cobb salad with avocado, hard cooked egg, bacon lardon and grilled corn came together just fine with hunks of Bleu Ermite cheese and a dill flecked dressing crunchy with mustard seed.
The crab cakes were slightly on the salty side, but lightly packed and fish-dense, moistened with a caper-lemon-dill aioli. A trio of sliders seemed a good deal at 20 bucks. We chose the elk burger with pickled red onion and Glengarry’s Celtic Blue Reserve, the cod burger (battered, crunchy-soft fish, very nice) with an apple fennel slaw and a caper mayo, and the curried lobster and shrimp salad slider, which had no shortage of flavour. The buns were soft, sweet, and fresh. The spicy tuna tartar arrived missing the promised salmon roe, but not missing the promised spicy-heat, served with herbed crostini.
A flaccid skin is my only complaint with an otherwise splendid plate of pickerel, the fish very fresh tasting, moist and well-seasoned, served atop a Panzanella (bread) salad, which turned out to be something of a reworked Salade Nicoise, with crisp haricots verts, semi-dried tomatoes (to concentrate flavour) caramelized onion and the umami pleasure of black olives and anchovies. The bread bit was focaccia, grilled squares of day old, infused deliciously with garlicked oil. This plate was the star of the mains. Seared trout suffered from an onslaught of surface salt, while the peas in the overcooked risotto were cooked to grey mush.
We liked very much the panna cotta with July berries, tart with buttermilk in the mix, the light pudding enhanced with an ice wine glaze above and a grape gelée below. Full marks.
For a more kid-pleasing dessert, look to the strawberry shortcake with house made strawberry ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries tucked in and around a scone.
Part of La Terrasse is fully shaded beneath a canopy, and the other part, closest to the stone railing, is exposed to the sun and wind. Hold on to your hats… and to your fifty-dollar bills. (We felt your pain, dear neighbours, as your money went sailing out over the Rideau locks.)
We stayed to watch the sun set, it was a good one.
Mains, $19 to $42
Open daily, July and August only from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting.
Fairmont Chateau Laurier, 1 Rideau Street,