edible adventures from the centre of the universe

18 May 2006

Eating Ottawa

While Dave and my dad went fishing up North this past weekend, my mom and I headed to Canada's capital city to check out its main attractions: tulips, museums, and political bureaucracy. While each of these were in ample supply, I was pleased to discover that Ottawa also sports a great selection of quality restaurants. Not to mention a giant baby head (more on that later).

We arrived in Ottawa late Thursday night and quickly crashed in our beds. Waking up the next morning, we were greeted by pouring rain and strong winds outside. Fantastic! We armed ourselves with a raincoat (mom) and an umbrella (me), and braved the weather to walk to a nearby place that had been recommended to me for breakfast: The Scone Witch.

The Scone Witch (388 Albert St) is located inside of an old house in downtown Ottawa. Stepping inside, we were immediately hit with the delicious smell of fresh-baked scones. The space is not large, with only 5 tables or so, and its cosiness was enhanced by the blustery weather outside. We headed toward the back to have a look at the chalk-board menu.

Going beyond scones with butter or jam, the Scone Witch also serves a number of breakfast and lunch sandwiches ("sconewitches"), larger meals ("mealwitches"), and brunch on the weekends. All menu items are made on, or accompanied by, scones of course. I opted for a Cheezy Eggwitch on a herb 'n' onion scone, while my mom ordered an herb n' onion scone with cheese and bacon.

After seating ourselves near the large front window, our breakfasts arrived without delay. My Cheezy Eggwitch was presented beautifully, with the tall, flaky scone overflowing with fluffy scrambled eggs surrounded by some mixed greens and fresh fruit in a light honey-mustard dressing. My mom's dish, a halved scone smothered in white cheddar cheese and crisp slices of bacon, was also served with greens and fruit. We quickly attacked.

The Eggwitch was delicious - shredded white cheddar mixed in with light-as-air eggs, all grounded by the flavourful savoury scone. My mom similarly enjoyed her breakfast, and we both cleaned our plates. The Scone Witch was, by far, my favourite find in Ottawa - I highly recommend it.

With a warm breakfast in our bellies, my mom and I again set out into the rain and headed toward the parliament buildings. While the buildings are beautiful and all, my main motivation for checking out parliament hill was the "cat parliament" that Dave had told me about. In the 1970s, this miniature cat sanctuary was established by Irene Desormeaux to house and feed stray cats in the area. Unfortunately, the crappy weather kept the cats inside on the day that we visited, and the only wildlife to be seen was a couple of squirrels eating all of the cat food.

Feeling extra-soggy, we continued our walk toward Byward Market so that we could meet one of my mom's college friends for lunch. I was a little dissapointed in Byward Market - I was expecting something like Kensington but, in actuality, the market is extremely "yuppie." After exploring for a while, we headed into Wasabi for lunch.

The decor in Wasabi (41 Clarence St) is soothing, with a soft yellow on the walls and dim lighting. Our attentive and extremely friendly waitress quickly brought us some warm green tea, which really hit the spot on this rainy day. After my mom's friend Heather had joined us, we dove into the long menu.

Wasabi has an extensive selection of the usual Japanese offerings (sushi, maki, udon, etc.), and a nice array of well-priced lunch specials. I was craving maki, so I ordered a shrimp tempura roll and a couple of pieces of tamago (egg) sushi. My mom ordered an udon lunch special with tempura shrimp, and Heather a beef teriyaki bento box.

After a brief wait and a couple of tea refills, our food arrived. My inside-out roll was stuffed with tempura shrimp, avocado, very thinly julienned cucmber, and mayo. The tamago was presented as a generous slice of omelet on a small amount of rice. The maki was smaller and sliced more thinly than I'm used to, but tasted delicious. The tamago was sweet with a great texture. My only regret was that I hadn't ordered more maki, considering the small size of the roll.

My mom's soup came in a huge bowl (more than she could eat), with plenty of vegetables, udon, and fishcakes in a flavourful broth. The soup was served with shrimp tempura on the side, in a perfectly crispy and extremely light batter, as well as a small side salad in a sesame-ginger dressing that was one of the best I've had in a Japanese restaurant. Heather also raved about her beef teriyaki.

Although their rolls are on the small side, the service and food quality at Wasabi definitely makes up for it. This place is worth checking out.

Once we had finished lunch, we said goodbye to Heather and decided to hoof it to the National Art Gallery. I love art galleries, and this one did not dissapoint. It has a great selection of Canadian artists' works, as well as a large contemporary gallery that contains a lot of beautiful pieces. This is where we came across the giant baby head, which looked extremely realistic despite being over ten feet tall. Creepy.

Once we were finished at the gallery, we headed back into the market to grab some dinner and find a pub where we could watch the Oilers game. After some indecision and much walking, we settled on Indian food at Haveli for dinner.

Haveli (39 Clarence St) is decorated as most other higher-end Indian restaurants are, with a prevalance of fabrics and ornate woodwork. A unique element of this restaurant is the tandoor room, which is surrounded by glass so that you can watch things like naan be cooked in the tandoor while you eat. My mom and I were seated near to the tandoor, and it was fun to get this behind-the-scenes show.

After a quick perusal of the large menu, we decided on Jheenga Tandoori (tandoori garlic shrimp), Kabli Channa (chickpeas), basmati rice, naan, and raita to cool things down. We sipped on Kingfisher beer while we waited for our food.

The restaurant was quite packed, so I wasn't surprised that our food took a while to arrive. However, I was surprised that they completely forgot our naan. It took us nearly 15 minutes to flag down our waiter, who then only brought out one peice of naan for us (we had ordered two).

Despite this setback, the food was delicious. The shrimp had a tangy, garlicky flavour that was matched well with the charred taste from the tandoor. The channa was extremely flavourful and spiced nicely. The naan, once it arrived, was hot from the tanoor and perfectly crisp on the outside while fluffy on the inside. It was some of the best naan I've had.

The portions at Haveli are generous, and we could not finish all of our food. Once we were stuffed, we ran into yet another problem with the service as our waiter would not stop by to give us the bill (we had not seen him since he dropped off the naan - we had not had a water refill all night). I will never understand restaurants that will not give you your bill once you finish eating. Do they want you to move in? We noticed that the girls at the table next to us had a similar problem when they actually had to put on their jackets and stand beside the table before the waitress would bring them their bill. What the hell?

While the food at Haveli is great, the service is atrocious. I would not recommend this restaurant on this basis alone. I'm sure that Ottawa has other Indian restaurants that are just as tasty, but actually show some courtesy toward their customers.

After we had escaped Haveli, we ran down the block (it had begun raining hard again) to the Heart and Crown pub to watch the Oilers punch San Jose in the junk. Not surprisingly, the game was on with no sound and pints were overpriced. Even worse, an agressively mediocre nouveau-Celtic band (think Great Big Sea) started their set halfway through the second period. The only thing that kept me from leaving when they started to massacre "Ring of Fire" was Samsonov's beauty penalty box breakaway. GO OIL!

The next morning, we woke up to no rain and a lot of wind. After breakfast at the Scone Witch (this time, I picked up a half-dozen to take back to TO with me - yum!), we took a cab over the river to Hull so that we could check out the Museum of Civilization. This attraction dissapointed both of us, as it was not so much a museum of civilization as it was a museum of Canadian history. However, we both found the exhibition on Petra interesting.

Following the museum, we battled the wind on our way back over the bridge to Ottawa and headed up Rideau to one of my mom's old haunts, Nate's Delicatessen.

Nate's (316 Rideau St) specializes in smoked meat, and the first thing that you encounter when you enter the place is a large deli area where you can buy salads, smoked meat, and other prepared foods. If you head past the deli, you come upon a large seating area that is straight out of the '70s. We sat ourselves in a booth near the front window, and were promptly brought menus and drinks by our friendly waiter.

The menu at Nate's is surprisingly large, with a good selection of sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, smoked fish, and other deli fare. My mom ordered a smoked meat platter, and I went for the veggie dog platter with sauerkraut (our waiter: "What's sauerkraut?" - pause - "A pissed off nazi." *rimshot*).

Our food came quickly, and my hot dog was nicely charred on the outside (just the way I like it). It came with french fries, a pickle, and a curiously green coleslaw with a sweet vinegar dressing. The sauerkraut was served on the side, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been warmed up for me. My mom's smoked meat sandwich also came with coleslaw, a pickle, and fries.

After piling the sauerkraut on my dog and smothering it in mustard, I dug in. The hot dog was nicely cooked, and the bun had been toasted perfectly - yum! The fries were alright, if pretty standard, and the coleslaw was tasty. It was nice to be served coleslaw that wasn't 80% mayonnaise. My mom also deemed her smoked meat sandwich "delicious." Nate's was a great place to have lunch, and I would definitely go there again.

After Nate's, we headed back into Byward Market to catch the Lucky Ron show at Chateau Lafayette. Surrounded by Lucky Ron fans drinking out of giant bottles of beer, this show was another highlight of the trip. We had a blast.

After the show, we walked downtown to catch a movie at one of the few cinemas in Ottawa proper. We saw "Thank you for Smoking," which was hilarious, and then headed back to the hotel to order a pizza. We decided on Pavarazzi Pizza based on its "Best in Ottawa" stamp in the Yellow Pages.

The menu for Pavarazzi (491 Somerset West) features a selection of "gourmet" pizzas, as well as the usual traditional and "build your own" pizzas, pasta, salads, and panzerotti. The gourmet pizza selection has a lot of very tempting offerings, and we finally decided on a large "Love of Cheese" pizza (basil pesto, four cheeses, red onion, and chopped tomato) on a herb crust, with spicy sauce.

It took a while for the pizza to arrive (about an hour), and we watched the Sens buy the farm in the meantime. Fortunately, the pie was still piping hot when it arrived at our hotel room. Biting into my first slice, I found that the basil pesto mixed beautifully with the spicy tomato sauce (which did have some kick), and the crust was soft and delicious (nothing at all like Pizza Pizza). The cheese was plentiful and gooey, and the tomato and onion cut the richness nicely. This pizza was fantastic.

The prices are a little higher than your usual pizza place, but this is definitely a case where you are paying for higher quality. Despite the slow delivery, I would absolutely recommend Pavarazzi.

The next morning, Dave and my Dad picked us up at the hotel and we headed to Manx Pub for brunch. After a fifteen-minute wait in line, we were seated at one of the few tables in this small, cosy spot. The brunch menu at the Manx (370 Elgin St) is relatively small, but offers several unique dishes alongside eggs benedict and the usual eggs-and-bacon breakfast. After receiving our drinks (they serve fresh juice here - my mom ordered a strawberry, orange, banana mixture that was great), we ordered spicy curry tofu scramble for me, eggs benedict for my mom, goat cheese, artichoke, and roasted red pepper omelet for Dave, and eggs and bacon for my dad. Our food did not take too long to arrive, despite how busy the place was, and our server brought along some of the house hot sauce for us to try.

My curry tofu scramble was tucked inside of a grilled tortilla along with some fresh veggies (peppers, zucchini, tomato, and mushrooms), was covered in the house hot sauce (a green sauce that is not too spicy), and accompanied by a mound of lumpy mashed potatoes. The scramble was fantastic - lots of curry flavour - and the hot sauce added a nice touch of heat. The potatoes (which come with almost all brunch dishes) had a nice creamy-lumpy contrast going on, and were really tasty. Dave's omelet was absolutely stuffed with goat cheese - the Manx does not serve small portions. Dave, my dad, and my mom all thoroughly enjoyed their brunches as well, and we were full for nearly the entire trip back to TO.

Long story short: Ottawa is delicious.

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Anonymous Tania said...

How timely! I'm in the throes of planning a camping trip just outside Ottawa, with the hope of spending a few days poking around the city ... Your lovely post has certainly whetted my appetite about breakfasting, lunching, and dining there! I think I need to write down the names of some of these places (esp. The Scone Witch). Yum!

8:07 AM

Blogger Dave said...


That giant baby head... so cold, opressive, all knowing.

It wigs me out. Make it stop trying to eat my soul.

2:49 PM

Blogger sam said...

It sounds like you had a lovely time. Thanks for all the great suggestions in Ottawa.

2:56 PM

Blogger Alana said...

Tania - You should definitely head to the Scone Witch while you're in town! If you're going to be in Ottawa on a Saturday, I would also highly recommend heading to the Chateau Lafayette for a Lucky Ron Show (head there for 4pm or so to get a seat).

Sam - We did have a great time! Ottawa is more fun than I thought it would be.

3:18 PM

Anonymous MikeP said...

I love eating in Ottawa.

My wife and I went there last November, and also saw the giant baby's head.

I'm glad to know we're not the only ones freaked out by it.

I refused to look at it directly, even when walking through the room.


10:56 AM


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