If you're thinking about a special night out on the town, let Ottawa at Home give you some free advice
We've scouted out scores of area restaurants and while there are gems to be found all across the region, some stand out as truly "worth the splurge." Whether it's the luxuriousness of the venue, an impressive wine list, talented servers or an inspired menu, these four establishments are sure to make you and your dining companions feel like your restaurant dollars have been well spent.
Casino Lac-Leamy, 1 Boulevard du Casino, Gatineau. 819-772-6210
Le Baccara truly offers one of our region's most extraordinary dining experiences, with valet parking, an elegant setting, sublime food and exceptional service. It's little wonder that Le Baccara holds the region's only prestigious AAA 5 Diamond designation.
A trip to Le Baccara begins with a walk above the frenetic action of the Casino Lac-Leamy, leading to an oasis of calm at the back of the building. Dark woods, crisp linens, plush carpeting and impossibly comfortable armchairs await. At every turn, the view is appealing, whether it's of the lake and Ottawa skyline visible through the floor to ceiling windows, the impressive artwork, the elegant décor or the liveliness of the open kitchen.
Le Baccara's à la carte menu features dishes prepared true to classic French methods, but with modern twists. Whether it's bison tartare, a rack of caribou or seared red tuna in a crisp roll, your meal will be a feast for all the senses. If you're having trouble choosing, consider the four-course gourmet table d'hôte menu. It's even more fun, however, to put yourself in the kitchen's capable hands and enjoy the surprises delivered via the Chef's Tasting Menu. This five-course meal is composed of the finest meats and seafood as well as the freshest produce, with the opportunity to enjoy a different wine paired with each course. Even more decadent is the seven-course Gastronomic Menu, which is not for the faint of heart or appetite, given the chef's generous portions and liberal use of rich, satisfying ingredients.
Le Baccara is no slouch in the beverage department either - from champagne cocktails to a well-stocked port trolley, the options are delightful. Their multiple award-winning cellar houses almost 500 different wines, including a collection of renowned Château Mouton Rothschild dating from 1945 to today.
540 Rochester Street, Ottawa. 613-321-3537
The name means ‘workshop' but the food is anything but assembly-line. Chef Marc Lepine and his able assistants treat their kitchen as a dynamic, inventive laboratory where they constantly play with structure, colour and texture, create unusual yet delightful treats. While Atelier delivers all the elements of a traditional multi-course meal, these arrive in untraditional yet thoroughly satisfying forms.
The comfortable chairs and banquettes encourage you to sit back and enjoy the fun; good thing, because it usually takes about three hours to work your way through dinner. The optional beverage pairing is an excellent way to enhance your experience at Atelier - and on a special occasion you might even be treated to a display of the sabreing of champagne by talented, engaging sommelier Steve Robinson. Atelier's intimate size, seating less than two dozen, makes it ideal for a private party. It's also a great option for New Year's Eve - two seatings will offer 8 and 16-course tasting menus on December 31.
You don't have to agonize over a menu replete with too many tempting possibilities - the only option is the chef's tasting menu, which changes frequently. It's typically at least a dozen courses and full of surprises with unexpected tastes and incredible visual appeal. Unique, often whimsical concoctions and sublime flavour combinations make a meal at Atelier the equivalent of dinner and a show. The dishes' names are usually playful but hint at the underlying ingredients: Tomatrix Reloaded, Caramel Apple Boar, Duck Choco-latte and the famous Elvis Truffle are but a few examples of what you might enjoy at Atelier, though you may have a little trouble explaining your meal accurately to friends afterwards. The best advice about dining at Atelier? Arrive hungry and with an open mind - you won't be disappointed.
Sterling Steakhouse + Seafood
835 Rue Jacques-Cartier, Gatineau. 819-568-8788
One of the region's most upscale steakhouses, Sterling is situated in a century-old home on the edge of the Gatineau River. Menu highlights include cold and warm appetizers such as beef tartare with truffle oil, fresh oysters, soups and pan-seared giant sea scallops. Canadian Sterling Silver meat is carefully aged by the in-house butcher, then prepared on a wood-fired grill, accompanied by sauces and sides that allow you to customize your plate. Sterling's fish and seafood menu is a perfect complement, as is the unique "create your own" surf and turf option - in appetizer or main course portions. The chef is proud to present two signature desserts: a maple crème brulée and a Cuban Grand Cru chocolate marquise.
In addition to the regular fare, Sterling's special winter menu boasts unusual combinations of exotic ingredients. The possibilities include rack of wild boar with elderberry red wine game jus or Lake Erie wild pickerel with Du Puy lentils (delicious dark green lentils from France), Aigo Boulido (a garlic bouillon) and lemon foamy sauce.
The service will certainly impress and oenophiles will appreciate Sterling's extensive wine list, with an inventory of over 400 different labels, including some rare vintages. The restaurant has been honoured for the past three years with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
All dressed up and no place to go? Sterling's diverse menu and multiple private dining spaces make it an ideal venue for a private party or corporate function. It's worth a visit just to check out the beautiful and extremely popular second-floor dining room called The Cellar, which showcases Sterling's wine collection in an environment replete with mahogany walls and a vaulted tin ceiling. On Friday and Saturday evenings, live musicians perform in The Cellar and, if you're lucky, you just might get a fireside table.
93 Murray Street, Ottawa. 613-241-5500
This hip Byward Market eatery is both cozy and welcoming, whether you choose to grab a table or snag a seat at the bar to watch the action in much-lauded Chef Rene Rodriguez' kitchen. You'll be in great hands with a knowledgeable server to walk you through the menu's many delights, explain the nuances of the Basque-inspired cuisine and recommend great wines - mostly Spanish. Spanish Cavas, or sparkling wines, are also available, as are Spanish-inspired cocktails, based on fresh-squeezed juices.
Offering fine dining in a casual environment, Navarra is the kind of place to drop in for a quick bite, or linger for the evening. The servers are unpretentious and friendly; their synchronicity with the kitchen team is part of the appeal. The menu meshes top quality local ingredients, including lamb and bison, with treasures from Spain including cheeses, chorizios, peppers and olive oils. Some of the imported goods sourced by Rodriguez are in such hot demand he is now selling them at the restaurant.
In addition to Monday's prix fixe menu and Tapas Tuesdays, other menu highlights include a nightly Chef's tasting menu. A popular à la carte item is the Streets of Navarra Salumeria, which is a deli plate unlike anything you've tasted before, featuring serrano ham, rioja chorizo, manchego cheese, pork terrina, ricotta stuffed piquillo pepper and quince confit. Equally impressive is the roasted lamb rack with goat cheese pudding, tomato jam, roasted baby vegetables, nigella seeds and serrano jus. Sweet finishes include a self-saucing dark chocolate fondant with mousse, berries, pear chutney and coconut sorbet as well as petit-fours composed of Spanish shortbreads with quince jam.
Chef Rodriguez enjoys stretching people's expectations. One visit to Navarra will help you discover why this restaurant has legions of regulars, all of whom have happily learned that there is a lot more to Spanish cuisine than just paella.
Navarra's Basque Ragout of Chorizo And Organic Canellini Beans
1 (250 ml) can organic canellini beans, cooked and drained*
8 oz naturally cured Rioja chorizo, thinly sliced*
1 small Spanish onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (sliced)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 tbsp pitted kalamata olives
4 oz of king eryngii mushrooms (chopped)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 fresh vine ripened tomatoes (pureed)
* available at La Bottega
In a medium-sized stainless steel pot, add the oil and garlic and fry gently for 1 minute. Add the onion and chorizo and cook for 3 minutes until chorizo renders most of its color. Add mushrooms and fry for a few more minutes, add beans, olives, tomato and paprika and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Season with a pinch of sea salt if needed, then ladle into small bowls and drizzle with good olive oil. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 4 as an appetizer.