Articles Tagged ‘anne desbrisay’

DESBRISAY DINES: Fauna

Anne DesBrisay has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years. She is the author of three bestselling books on dining out, is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine as well as a senior editor at Taste & Travel Magazine. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

So it’s happened. The highly anticipated new restaurant, Fauna, is finally feeding folk. It’s taken two years — and they don’t sound like pleasant ones — but enough ink has been spilt on Fauna’s struggles that I won’t bore you with a recap. Suffice to say, the window wit (‘Opening … Slowly’) is now down, the Bank Street doors are unlocked and we all want to discover if the interminable wait was worth it.

All of which must put considerable pressure on executive chef Jon Svazas. And perhaps on the restaurant critic as well. How can you kick a guy (if a kicking is required) who’s already been getting a licking for two years?

No need. The Bank Street former shoe shop has morphed into a solidly good place to eat. The room’s a beauty, taken back to its handsome brick bones and filled in with wood, metal, statement lighting, a zinc covered bar, and just enough visual drama such that the space seems confidently modern, rather than gimmicky. It’s a room with a great vibe and energy, packed on both our nights. Service was smooth, confident, and friendly.

The comfort Canadiana that Jon Svazas was dishing up at Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar is evident on the plates, though with various Asian inflections and modernist moments.  He’s chosen a small plates formula (nothing more than $19) of no particular culinary core. Sort of Nouveau Canadian cuisine with bits of this and that — French, Italian, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese — applied to quality local ingredients. Flavours are well-balanced and dishes are pretty on the plate.

Elk Carpaccio. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Elk Carpaccio. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

If I had a quibble, it would be with the chemistry — some of it was welcome, other bits felt contrived and irrelevant.

The opening menu had been tweaked a bit between visits, and I think I’ve worked my way through a good chunk of it. We begin with a winner of a pumpkin soup with warming Thai flavours. And then a dish of elk carpaccio, presented as a log might be found on the forest floor, with pickled mushrooms growing beside, the plate garnished with dots of a pungent black garlic aioli, and a sweet sticky miso reduction. More raw protein with the tuna plate, the cool and fatty-rich crudo left in log-like segments, set on a coconut-kaffir cream, and paired with sections of pink grapefruit dusted with black sesame seed. Also on the plate, a powdered chili oil — which added whimsy as well as heat — and a few wilted scallions and bitter greens.

Sablefish (Black cod) was the star of the second column. The filet had a strong flavour-charged black crust, while the white flesh fell in wet petals when poked, its cooking perfectly judged. It came propped up on a striking ‘hummus’ of black lentils. Roasted blue fingerlings came with the fish, along with a welcome tang of pickled elements (carrots and daikon).

Few places get quail right. These were succulent little bird bits, lightly bronzed but with lots of juicy meat to pick away at, set on a silky smooth puree of parsnip, which was perfumed fairly headily with vanilla. Pear added some sweet and some sour, Brussels sprout leaves a bitter crunch. Here, the piles of dehydrated bacon wasn’t a trick that worked, at least not for me. Give me chewy, salty lardons with these birds, any day.

We finished with the squash sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, caramel ice cream, apple compote, and gingerbread dust. Terribly good and refreshingly not icky-sweet.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Squash sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, caramel ice cream, apple compote, and gingerbread dust. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The wine list seemed to me well chosen, with decent choice by the glass. Local craft beer, of course, and a slew of expensive, fancy cocktails.

Some might find the noise at Fauna a bit troubling. There are sections — the northeast corner, say, and tip end of the bar — that are sheltered a bit from the centre of the action. Ask for those if volume bother you. Else come early. By about nine, Fauna is deservedly buzzing.

Small plates, $8 to $19

Open Monday to Friday for lunch, daily for dinner (till midnight, Thursday-Saturday).

425 Bank St., 613-563-2862, faunaottawa.ca

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Segue

By ANNE DESBRISAY

 

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Fried chicken. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

One of the best restaurants to open this year is one that’s slated to shut down (Can’t remember when exactly — sometime this winter) to renovate.

The name of this new place might tip you off that it’s an ephemeral affair. Segue, it’s called (written with the gimmick of braces around the word.) Its tagline is “a kitchen in transition.” Which might suggest a chef that’s still working things out. Not, I would offer, a good message to send the paying public. Nor, as it turns out, an accurate one.

Two meals at Segue confirm that both the front and back of house are very good at their jobs. Service has been strong and charming, and the food delicious. The wine list is well chosen to match the dishes, thanks likely to Beckta’s former service manager (and “Cheese Whiz”) Steve Whittaker. As for the look of the place, I imagine the Segue folk are keen to be rid of the Fratelli feel. This used to be the original Glebe location of the once five strong — now two, for now — Italian chain, but the place, as is, is fully functional, warm, and inviting.

The Segue principals all have strong bonafides. There’s former Beckta chef Rich Wilson, former Fraser Cafe server Lindsay Gordon, and restaurateur Ion Aimers, who used to own The Works, and now holds a chain of ZaZaZa pizza eateries, along with interests in Fraser Cafe, Table 40, and Wilf & Ada’s.

The menu is a nice, manageable length. The opening move could be oysters, served with grated horseradish, a lively mignonette, and a spicy-thick ketchup. An elegant salad of yellow tomatoes in perfect September condition arrive supported with knobs of creamy burrata cheese, dressed with olives and buried with a rough chop of parsley and arugula nicely dressed. A softball-sized serving of fried chicken is soft and moist within a thick, crisp coat, anchored to the plate with a buttery cauliflower puree and (presumably to trick us into believing the decadent dish was healthy), a pile of wilted kale.

The puck of steak tartare, though well seasoned and classically served with an egg yolk topper, would have benefitted from a finer chop — its chunkiness made for too much chew.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.to

A backyard smoker is put to good use. Pillows of gnocchi, baby beets, and lengths of pickled fennel bring an earthy, tart balance to a smoked mackerel, while the assertiveness of the fish is tamed with a vinaigrette enriched with beurre noisette. A salsa verde, based on house-smoked tomatillos is fine on a lovely piece of trout, propped up on a cake of kohlrabi. Another night, a loin of pork is the star, the meat luscious, well cooked to pink, sliced and fanned on a smooth puree of squash, with purple cauliflower, pink beets, beans and shiitakes, and, to remind us that winter is coming, a pile of pickled red cabbage. And full marks for the vegetarian entry: scored and roasted King Eryngii mushrooms with blobs of goat cheese melting beneath, plus pickled, smoked and grilled elements — zucchini, yellow beans, broccoli, tomatoes, and gingered kale — each contributing mightily. Roasted filberts lend a crunch.

Smoked mackerel. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Smoked mackerel. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Lined with a tart lime curd and a buttery-good shortcrust, the tart on offer was lovely, but for the raw, under-ripe peaches. Salted caramel ice cream on a chocolate stout cake is so good we order it twice.

Get yourself to Segue before they close. (Then go again when they reopen.)

Mains $25 to $32

Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

749 Bank St., 613-237-1658 segueottawa.com

DESBRISAY DINES: Mariposa Farm lunch required for local food devotees

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Terrine of chicken, served with pickled vegetables and crostini. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Some meals should be required eating: a learning lunch on a working farm, complete with a lesson on sustainable farming practices and a viewing of days old piglets.

Think that sounds too much like a school trip? To that i say, how many of those begin with foie gras and end with panna cotta?

This is the property that Ian Walker bought and built up when he was barely out of his teens. That was over 30 years ago. Today, Mariposa Farm co-owners Walker and his wife Suzanne Lavoie raise Barbarie ducks, Embden geese, and crossbred pigs on their pretty Plantagenet property. They keep chickens and a dairy cow, and have a thriving commercial vegetable garden. They used to raise wild boar, but quit that. They were, apparently, a “pain in the ass.”

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DESBRISAY DINES: Clover Food and Drink

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Clover's corn chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Clover’s corn chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

There’s a spartan look about Clover. High school chairs, bare benches, caged industrial lights, walls of open brick and plywood (sanded and varnished, but still plywood) are either indications of a work in progress, or the carefully considered props for the homespun look this new Bank Street restaurant seeks. It makes the warming touches — the pots of sage on the tables, the white linen napkins, the amber glassware — all the more appreciated. Come winter, the addition of some visual drama, some colour, (and certainly some padding, ahem), might help.

But the frugal decor and the bum-aching-bench whinging evaporate once the food starts to arrive. This restaurant is taking interesting culinary risks. And the pleasure of Clover is that the risks taste very good indeed.

Clover chef West de Castro — bee keeper, honey farmer, and most recently sous chef of Zen Kitchen — chose to work with smelts as her fish. Sourced from The Whalesbone, these were big (boned, floured, and fried) guys, and they were absolute champs. She set them on a warm salad of tomatoes, zucchini, shaved fennel, leeks, and cucumber, with black olives, fennel fronds, and a marvellous avocado aioli. A big hunk of grilled sourdough bread finished the plate.

After smelts we had a puffball. Have you ever seen puffball featured on an Ottawa menu? Neither had I. Paired with grilled broccoli and roasted fingerlings, the outer bits of the big white mushroom find had been cleaned and diced and fried up. These were meaty textured. The inner bits were surprisingly soft and creamy, almost custard like. Beneath the mushroom was a pea purée, and strewn overtop bacon, almonds, fresh sage.

Some dishes were less out there and no less pleasing. The corn chowder was gossamer, a great rendition of the classic late summer soup, with chewy lardons of smoked bacon bumping up the pleasure factor. A gazpacho was like slurping up the September-garden. It arrived properly chilled, with good acidic balance and well seasoned. Having drunk up an assertive marinade, bison flank steak was grilled to rare, sliced in thick chewy strips and set on wilted greens. It came with a hunk of very commendable corn bread.

Pea and lovage soup

Pea and lovage soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Lovage is an unloved herb. I can’t recall the last time I saw it on a menu, or tasted its distinct flavour. But there it was, featured in Clover’s daily soup at lunchtime: fresh pea and lovage. It was a regal green, with a pretty swirl of creme fraiche and a bump of snipped chives. The flavour of fresh peas was clear and bright, but so too was the parsley-like, celery-ish and slightly anise flavour of the herb. A panini that featured zucchini was more on the dull side, and though there were parts of the grilled romaine Caesar we enjoyed (the egg mimosa, say, and the terrific dressing), the unwieldy hunk of grilled baguette and the bitterness of the wilted lettuce meant this dish was less of a thrill.

But we were grinning again by dessert time. De Castro’s panna cotta infused with thyme and lemon, and topped with stewed peaches and rhubarb was simply gorgeous, with edible flowers, fresh raspberries, and chopped pistachio crowning the glistening custard.

At my visits the restaurant had been largely empty, but this will surely change.

Panna cotta. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Panna cotta. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Wines are all Ontario VQA (Niagara and PEC) and beer on tap is from Beau’s, Kichesippi, and Covered Bridge in Stittsville.

Clover is open weekday lunches but only Fridays and Saturdays for dinner.

Lunch mains, $8 to $15; dinner mains, $18 to $23

Open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

155 Bank Street, 613-680-8803, cloverottawa.ca

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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LUNCH PICK: Build a DiVino’s lunch — divine!

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

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Cauliflower and carrot soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

To celebrate their first year as new owners of DiVino Wine Studio, sommelier
Eric Diotte and chef Christian Lepore built a little sidewalk patio. The grand al fresco opening was Saturday. I stopped in for lunch on Friday, during the final flourish of construction mayhem, and got to witness the fun and the fretting while sipping an unoaked South Bay Chardonnay from Huff Estates.

I was here for the Build a DiVino Lunch! special — any antipasto and any primo for $22. I chose the cauliflower and carrot soup to start, sweetened with loop-de-loops of a sticky sweet balsamic reduction, and with a flash fried basil leaf — which limped up instantly when plunged into the pool. It was a fine bowl with good vegetable flavour, thickened with potato — creamless/flourless. Which meant I could splurge on a wildly rich second course.

House-made fettucine. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

House-made fettucine. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

This was a bowl of house-made fettuccine, perfectly cooked to al dente, swirled in a crisp bacon (lovely) and egg custard enriched with avocado, which turned the sauce khaki green and very creamy. It was a dish that startled at first —  the avocado, such a strong presence — and then one that grew on me. And though I remain unconvinced of the pleasures of hot avocado, of this dish — matched with the Huff chardonnay — I am quite convinced.

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Dessert wasn’t part of the deal, but I was told it was straight out of the salamander — a cool maple custard in a wee mug, with a rosemary infused meringue foam. A leaf of rosemary had been candied to crown the bruléed top. Very sweet to look at; very sweet to eat.

I trust the patio got finished and the launch party was a great success.

Congratulations to Diotte and Lepore on their first anniversary.

Cost: $22, plus $10 for dessert

DeVino’s 225 Preston Street, 613-221-9760

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

ANNE’S PICKS: Gianduja at A Thing for Chocolate

By ANNE DESBRISAY

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Chocolate-hazelnut spread, otherwise known as gianduja , is made from scratch at A Thing for Chocolate. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Chocolate is having its day. Dark is best, and pure is super-best and a square (or three) of the dark pure stuff every day means you’ll live long and prosper. Or at least you’ll live what you’ll live but you’ll live it much happier.

There’s a new — to me — chocolate shop on Wellington West. I popped in to A Thing for Chocolate (such a clever name) for breakfast the other day. Had the bacon and egg made-to-order crepe, which was really very nice, though I’d have preferred it be served with fruit than greens (drizzled with what tasted like bottled balsamic), it being morning and all. But what really turned my crank was the stuff on the end of the spoon I was handed.

“Try this,” the charmer holding the handle said. The first taste was of rich, clean, creamy chocolate. And then the hazelnut hit me and my spirits instantly dropped, only to be lifted again once the purity of flavour sank in.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of gianduja. Which does, I agree, make me a bit of a freak, but there you go. I like chocolate. I like hazelnuts, I just don’t like them together. Too many cheap gianduja fillings perhaps, with added sugar and emulsifiers and so forth, are to blame, but man oh man, I liked this stuff — really liked this stuff — which is, I believe, a tribute to its quality. It was so fresh, so pure, and so clean.

Chocolatier Omar Fares uses only quality organic hazelnuts and toasts them until they’re golden and fragrant. There’s a bit of cream in there, as well as chocolate and puréed nuts, so don’t forget to keep it in the fridge. Once mixed, the smooth brown goo is jarred with a fetching green rubber ringed lid. So you won’t get lost in the fridge. My jar has a small spoon imbedded in it. To facilitate the quest to live long and prosper.

Gianduja spread, $8.99; breakfast special $6.99

A Thing for Chocolate, 1626 Wellington St. W., 613-695-3533 

 

Looking for more ways to enjoy chocolate?

 

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Click here to learn more about pairing chocolate with beer!

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Learn about Dick’s triple-chocolate hand-dipped milkshake !

 

 

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Find more OTTAWA MAGAZINE  chocolate listings here 

 

ANNE’S PICK: Takeaway from Brampton Meats

Barbecued curried chicken from Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Barbecued curried chicken from Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

 

It’s called Brampton Meats because the two families that own this new business are recent transplants from the city of Brampton — wooed here by Ottawa friends, I was told, and to escape the glut of competition they felt from the suburban GTA.

I rather stumbled upon this place when gassing up. I was hungry, it was lunchtime, and as I was feeding the tank on the corner of Woodroffe and Meadowlands, I spied a red and white sign that that read Brampton Meats.  A new butcher shop? And then beneath that big sign, a second, smaller announcement that required closer inspection: Authentic Indian Takeout.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Chicken legs marinating at Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The takeout I sampled — a vegetarian thali and a ‘non-vegetarian’ thali — though generous, certainly affordable, and with the exception of a fabulous goat curry, turned out to be pretty average. But in the display case were a half dozen trays of marinating chicken legs of various hues. A visual feast. I asked for an explanation and was led through the options.

I chose the darkest two:  Bhatti da murg and the Bengali dish murg (chicken) “chingari.” I took home my legs, let them marinade a few more hours, and then grilled them over low heat on the ‘cue.

The Bhatti birds were robed in a ginger-garlic paste with no shortage of red chilli power, and were fragrant too with cloves, cardamom, coriander seed and with a vinegar tartness. The Chingari was darker, soothed a bit with coconut milk, and tasted as though cinnamon were in the mix of spices. Still, both marinades tasted complex and both had plenty of lip tingling pow.

There were gentler versions — a so-called lemon chicken, say, and something called ‘mild BBQ chicken’ — but we were after authentic heat and flavour and feel we were delivered of both in immensely satisfying fashion.

They fed a family of four and cost $12.33

Brampton Meats, 178 Meadowlands Dr. W., 613-695-9915, bramptonmeats.ca
Open daily from 10 a.m.

LUNCH PICK: Lunch At Oyster Bay

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Who knew a first-rate clam chowder could be had in a sushi joint on Merivale Road?

 
Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

I had come here for the (new-to-me) Oyster Bay Restaurant’s (new to them) lunch service.  My plan was to check out the sashimi/sushi combo platter at this Japanese replacement for the long running MHK Sushi and Asian Fusion Restaurant. But Oyster Bay’s menu’s has a funny mix of things, so along with the usual raw fish and rice snacks of various permutations, you find spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine with seafood sauce, Thai beef carpaccio, and clam chowder.

The lunch combo ordinarily came with miso soup. For three dollars more I had the option to upgrade to the clam chowder. So lunch at Oyster Bay turned out to be a classic, creamy clam chowder with a sushi/sashimi chaser.

I’ll have more to say about Oyster Bay in a few weeks once I’ve thoroughly mined its long and disparate menu. But for now, know that both the soup and the sushi were total winners. Possibly the shock of discovering a really good bowl of Boston style clam chowder in a Japanese restaurant added to the pleasure… still, here was a generous bowl of fat clams, firm potatoes, onion, celery, carrots and fresh herbs – cilantro, basil, thyme – in a thick, clean-flavoured broth enriched with cream. Full marks.

 

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

The sashimi, nigiri and maki were pretty on the plate and cool and clean in the mouth. The cold fish was generously draped over perfectly calibrated, slightly warm and loosely packed rice. Again, top marks.

Looking forward to dinner… and the extensive oyster bar.

My soup and sushi/sashimi lunch cost $20.

Oyster Bay, 1519 Merivale Road, 613-680-5555
Open for lunch 
Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
http://www.oysterbayottawa.com