There is much merit to the nouveau-chic staycation concept - we've built our oases at home with pools, spas, outdoor kitchens and all the comforts that we might miss at some travel destinations. But if you are craving a little international flair with your made-in-Canada holiday, Ottawa is a cosmopolitan city that boasts a wealth of excellent world cuisine - so much so, that you can circle the globe while staying within city limits.
THE SOCA KITCHEN - ?A SPANISH GASTROPUB
South American cuisine is diverse and SOCA - named for the second harvest of the sugar cane crop in Venezuela - brings many satisfying tastes and textures to its West Wellington eatery. Owners Gustavo Belisario and Daniela Manrique are partners in every sense of the word and SOCA represents a labour of love, not only in its creation, but also its cuisine, says Daniela, who serves as chef.
Ceviche prepared using sustainable albacore tuna gets a kick of flavour thanks to aji amarillos (Peruvian chilies). Arepa, a corn dough flatbread, comes stuffed to the brim with meat, vegetables and pickles. A traditional congri made of bomba rice and black beans is livened up with pico de gallo, plantains and hearts of palm. Thanks to the nearby Parkdale Market, SOCA does a great job of constantly refreshing its menu throughout the growing season. The atmosphere is ultra-casual fine dining that includes seating at the central bar, to take in all the action.
After more than three decades as one of Ottawa's leading Indian restaurants and catering companies, the folks at Haveli can speak with certainty about our city's fondness for Indian food. Named for the gracious mansions with large, central open-air courtyards for which India is famous, a visit to Haveli in the ByWard Market gives many glimpses into the atmosphere and flavours that make India so unique. Familiar dishes such as butter chicken, tika masala and tandoori chicken dot the menu, along with some outstanding house specials such as shrimp Haveli, lamb Madras, and chicken Dilruba, also available in vegetarian and seafood versions.
Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options are plentiful, notes owner Ravi Narula, who adds that those wishing to sample a broad range of dishes may enjoy the reasonably-priced table d'hôte offerings. Between the delicious food, charming décor, authentic music and attentive service, a visit to Haveli might make you feel like you've been transported out of the country, if only for a few hours.
TOPKAPI TURKISH RESTAURANT
Fancy a trip to the intersection of Eastern and European cultures? Turkish food is not as well known as some other global cuisines, yet it's comforting, accessible fare that offers a lot of possibilities whether you're a daring or less adventuresome diner. Named for a lavish palace that was home for centuries to Ottoman sultans, Topkapi is a charming small spot in Little Italy whose kitchen produces stellar, authentic Turkish dishes.
Co-owner Chantal Erdogan declares that the meats are marinated and cooked to tender perfection, while vegetables are judiciously seasoned and plentiful. Some of the house specialties include the Centick Kebabi, a combination of shredded fried potatoes, yogurt and thinly sliced steak. The vegetarian Topkapi Sebze Tabagi is a generous portion of marinated and grilled vegetables served over rice and potatoes. Their Turkish coffee is thick, rich and sweet, and like the short but excellent dessert menu, it is not to be missed. Saturday nights at Topkapi include a special bonus: live bellydancing.
Eight years of success as a catering company and food purveyor in Gatineau led Jorge Bahamonde and his Peruvian team to open a tiny, cheerful eatery on Somerset West at Booth Street. Often identified as the standout cuisine of South America, thanks to its nuanced flavours and emphasis on freshness, Peruvian dishes - especially those at Petit Peru - are delightful and feature some exceptional sauces.
Peruvian-style Ceviche (seafood that is cured to the point of being cooked in tangy lime broth) is probably one of the standouts, but their menu is replete with other great options including empanadas (stuffed savoury pastries) and causas (potatoes seasoned with Peruvian spices then layered with fish or meat). Inventive and wildly popular kid-friendly dishes are there, along with authentic Peruvian desserts, including dulce de leche-filled churros on the weekend. While the venue is small, service is warm and friendly. Take out is also available.
No need to fly halfway around the world to taste the nuanced flavours of Korea. Building on the success of its condiment stand at the Ottawa Farmers' Market and its popular downtown food cart, Raon Kitchen has launched a takeout venue near Hunt Club and Merivale. The centrepiece of the menu is the famous Korean dish called bibimbap, composed of rice, vegetables, meat or tofu, as well as delectable garnishes including sliced omelette, kimchi (fermented cabbage pickle) and flavourful sauces. Other sides include dumplings and jeon (Korean pancakes).
"People enjoy the opportunity to adjust the ingredients and heat to suit their tastes," explains owner and chef Hana Jung. "Our sauces and kimchi, which are also available for sale here, come in varying intensities and all are very flavourful." Hana adds that Raon is looking forward to expanding its menu this year, driven by customer demand as diners become better acquainted with the authentic, delicious taste of Korean cuisine.
ăN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
West-end residents rejoiced when a new restaurant opened in Stittsville a few months ago. Offering a menu that emphasizes Vietnamese fare along with influences of Thai, Chinese and Japanese, ăn is a lovely spot with gracious service and a quiet ambiance. Fresh salad or summer rolls as well as spring rolls are among their best sellers, as are the fun roll-your-own rice wraps, known as Bánh hoi in Vietnam. Naturally, pho, broth soups garnished with meat, noodles, vegetables and fresh herbs are also in hot demand.
"As people become more familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, they are definitely becoming more adventuresome," says Kim Lu, who owns the restaurant with her chef husband Cuong Tran. "Ours is a very healthy menu, offering many vegetarian and gluten-free possibilities. Because most dishes are made fresh when ordered, we can easily customize them." Whether you eat in or take out their food, she insists you should try their delicious, sweet iced Vietnamese coffee, the perfect finish to a meal at ăn.