It's very hard these days to go out in Ottawa, find a place to eat and actually want to LICK. YOUR. PLATE. clean, but sometimes you find a delightful surprise spot that does just that.
Of course, I have to confess, up front, that this spot was not an instant or accidental discovery - more like pre-meditated than anything else. And it delivered in spades. I think I wanted to lick all 13 of my plates clean, and that's no small feat.
The place I'm talking about is Atelier, a new Ottawa dining experience that is turning the standard pub and usual fusion fare of Centretown and little Italy on it's head. Out with the burger and fries, up with the pan seared watermelon, dessert nachos, and what might just be the world's best polenta.
To celebrate an absolutely grueling and huge week that I had known for a while was coming, I booked a table for four for this past Saturday night. I had high expectations, I hardly gave the other guests anything to have expectations about (and they didn't really do much research on what they were getting themselves into, which was fine by me - I like to surprise people), and Atelier delivered above and beyond.
So that YOU don't have to do research, the premise of Atelier is that there is no menu. At least none that you get to peruse while thinking "gnocchi? Ugh, oh, how I hate gnocchi!" or something similar (for the record I love gnocchi, but only if it's pan-fried with sea salt). Instead, there will be 12 (or sometimes 13) courses put in front of you over the course of the night. All explained magnificently by your 'clearly-loves-her-job' server, paired with wine selected by Atelier's sommelier.
The menu can vary wildly, and they create veg versions of all of their food which are as equal to, if not sometimes better, than their carnivorous counterparts (though I know that some people might disagree). Three of our four diners went veg for this meal.
Our menu last night included (veg in brackets)
- Caviar Creamsicle (Regular Creamsicle, sans caviar)
A vodka-infused whipped cream disc on a lollipop stick, flash frozen on an anti-griddle, dipped in orange juice and flash frozen again, then coated with whitefish caviar, for the meat-eaters.
- Tuna (Avocado)
Tuna (avocado) served with thinly sliced radish discs, lime bits, and a puree I can't remember because I was already in love with it.
- Soup & Crackers
Creamy cauliflower soup served atop "crackers" made of whipped honey that's been dehydrated until it's crisp and cracker-like. The carnivorous dish also included duck mousse dehydrated to a crackery-state as well.
- Fruit Salad
Hands down, my favourite dish of the night, both presentation and taste-wise. Imagine a PVC pipe, about 4" high, within which rests a silver spoon. On the spoons handle is a clip (like a clothespin), where you'll find a quietly singed cinnamon stick, which you might happily sit and smell forever. In the spoon itself is bloog orange, mint, finely chopped almonds, and a dehydrated olive. Delight in one mouthful. The only problem with this dish is that we would have sold our souls for another bite.
Real scallops for the carnivores (which looked very tasty) and seared watermelon rounds for the veggies, both served with a chai foam, candied lemon rind, lime puree, a single chive stem and the BEST vanilla lemonade mousse-foam I have ever contemplated.
- Mashed Potatoes
Yum. Yum and Yum. I don't even like mashed potatoes (UGH) and I loved this. Canelles of mashed potato, served with braised leek on one, pureed caramelized onion that has been dehydrated and then sliced again to look like onions on another, and black truffle on the third. Meat-eaters also enjoyed beef jus.
- Yellow Snow!
Two components to this dish. The first, a bowl full of frozen coconut droplets (sort of like ice cream, but more like droplets that have been frozen with fancy gases than in your freezer), accompanied by a spoon with a hollow handle containing pineapple puree. Drizzle pineapple puree, mix, eat. Playing with your food is so delightful.
A single ravioli stuffed with mushroom and blue cheese, topped with parmesan foam, some brussel sprout bits, and thin bacon slices (fake-bakon for we veggies).
- Bison (Polenta)
Sous-vide Bison, a purple potato round, beetroot rounds. Veggies got polenta (WOW), celeriac puree (best thing ever) insead of bison.
- Nacho Cheese!
I was so excited about this dish I forgot to even contemplate a photo. New York-style cheesecake, served with aged cheddar slivers on top. Next to that, a salsa meringue, an avocado puree, jalapeno dust (hot!) and a sour-cream ice cream on a bed of crumbled tortilla chips.Very weird, texture-wise, but fantastic in it's execution and match to the flavour it was supposed to bring out.
- Urban Legend
Coca-cola ice cream coated in chocolate and topped with pop rocks. Delicious, snappy, and totally unusual.
Pie, deconstructed. Pie crust shards, meringue shards, lemon shards, and grapefruit ice shards. Yummy.
- Elvis Truffle
A happy ending. Peanut butter ganache with a (caramelized?) banana slice, coated in white chocolate topped with bacon bits (fake for some of us).
Unlike some restaurants where they are itching to turn your table over to new diners almost as soon as you've laid first eyes on your dessert, here we had leisure to relax, chat, and really take our time to enjoy the food, and the wine. It's by no means a cheap eat, but it was worth every magnificent penny, and I'm already looking forward to going back again and again, for any special occasion I can manage to dream up.