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Soif bar à vin, Mati Crudo + Char­coal, and Orto Trat­to­ria

Soif Bar à vin, 88 Mont­calm St., Gatineau (Hull sec­tor), 819-600-7643 I’m hun­gry. I’m thirsty. It seems like a good time to cross the river, visit Soif once again. (Dare I say more than once.)

Soif is a wine bar: one never tires of all the wines that owner and som­me­lier Véronique Rivest in­tro­duces to our re­gion. She trav­els the world so that we can en­joy, say, the elec­tric citrus flavours of Palo Blanco from Envinate on the vol­canic Tener­ife. Or check out the earthy, dark, fruit-filled Ténébi Côtes-du-Rhône Sablet from Do­maine de Pi­augier in France. There’s also the tart Les Rus­set cider from Que­bec’s Cidrerie Mil­ton. At Soif, Rivest hosts wine-pair­ing throw­downs, wine tast­ings, beer tast­ings, even the odd film night. An event this past July of­fered over 80 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties. In­deed, the mo­ment you walk into the sleek space, you are met with cork dis­plays, maps of wine re­gions, and other decor that an­nounces this place is about wine.

With gen­tle light­ing, the min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior still man­ages warmth while the split-floor level and wall open­ings add in­ter­est. A com­bi­na­tion of bars and ta­bles in­duces con­vivi­al­ity. Then there’s the se­cluded pa­tio, fea­tur­ing a maple tow­er­ing over one cor­ner and, serv­ing as dividers, planters filled with vi­o­las, marigolds, and salad greens. Some you’ll find grac­ing your plate.

Speak­ing of plates, I’m fam­ished. Over the new year, chef Jamie Stunt left Soif for Dish Cater­ing. But don’t worry — Kris Kshonze, who’s worked un­der Stunt as sous-chef, is now steer­ing. Kshonze has imag­i­na­tion and an eye for de­tail. His new small plates menu in­cludes a dish of grilled green beans and sea urchin but­ter with new pota­toes, and lamb ragù with grilled zuc­chini, whipped feta, and basil. The ad­di­tion of poached and halved apri­cots to a third dish of pork slices cooked in their own juices with red wine does lit­tle. The del­i­cate wine sauce is sim­ply over­come by the fruit (the case might be sim­i­lar for any fruit).

Kshonze’s menu fol­lows the sea­sons, but favourites such as bi­son tartare and raw oys­ters re­main through­out the year.

High­lights of Kshonze’s of­fer­ings in­clude a Bos­ton let­tuce salad over­laid with fine slices of dried duck breast and small, del­i­cately deep-fried potato nuggets. Hid­den un­der­neath the leaves is a layer of ever-so-light chicken liver mousse. Then comes grilled toast with ri­cotta, and topped with oys­ter mush­room con­serva, the lat­ter cooked in oil and dressed with vine­gar. Swiss chard in a mus­tard vinai­grette adds req­ui­site bit­ter­ness. Breaded pork cut­let is deep-fried-crisp, ten­der in­side, and scat­tered with a pi­quant cab­bage salad. Slashed, smashed lengths of cu­cum­ber are dressed with but­ter­milk, horse­rad­ish, and dill-in­fused oil, marigold petals strewn on top. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing all this, and pro­vid­ing spicy zing, is the nearly translu­cent, light­est red ever: a Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir from Ed­munds St. John.

A lemon cream tart laid on with mac­er­ated straw­ber­ries and scat­tered with a few puck­ery black­cur­rants makes a fine dessert. Give the weak, much-too-hot latte a pass. In­stead, or­der the per­fumed, ef­fer­ves­cent Beezz rosé with rasp­ber­ries from Ferme Api­cole Desrochers D in Ferme-Neuve, Québec. The flavour: del­i­cate yet steely, with a tinge of honey.

Small plates $7–$13. Open Mon­day and Tues­day 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wed­nes­day to Fri­day from lunchtime through to 11 p.m., Satur­day and Sun­day 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Mati Crudo and Char­coal 428 Pre­ston St., 613-680-3860 This restau­rant toots the horn for crudo and char­coal and is heavy on Mediter­ranean flavours, with a nod to South Amer­ica. It’s been gar­ner­ing lots of buzz since it opened in 2017, not least for its sub­lime de­sign. But a sleek at­mos­phere won’t fill my growl­ing stom­ach. Only the food can do that.

First im­pres­sions are good. Our waiter greets us with an en­thu­si­asm that never wa­vers. We sit at the bar, and the drama be­gins with a cou­ple of pretty cock­tails. My guest chooses a gin con­coc­tion, which comes in a pewter mug with a cou­ple of slices of cu­cum­ber and a dried lemon; he de­clares it de­li­cious. My peachy Prosecco mix is less suc­cess­ful, with an over­tone of syrup rather than peach.

We move on to tuna tartare, arancini, and a Greek salad. All three are clas­sics of their tra­di­tions and can be bor­ing if ap­proached with­out flair. Not so here: the salad is a chunky mélange of aro­matic veg­eta­bles and cheese. Toma­toes have plenty of flavour, the cu­cum­bers smell di­vine, the feta is creamy and slightly sour, and the black olive tape­nade brings just the right touch of brine. Arancini pro­duce a moan of plea­sure. Coated with crunchy crumbs, they ooze friu­lano cheese and sit atop a spicy tomato sauce. And the yel­lowfin tuna tartare is a home run of crunchy diced cu­cum­ber, green onion, and tuna with a layer of avo­cado on top and curry aioli un­der­neath. The whole thing floats in a pool of maple soy sauce with crunchy taro chips at the side, cre­at­ing a per­fect bal­ance of spicy and sweet, crunchy and soft.

We or­dered the least ex­pen­sive steak to share — $54 for 14 ounces. “It’s the best steak you’ll eat out­side Ar­gentina,” says our waiter. Cooked over char­coal, it ar­rived beau­ti­fully charred and very rare (as re­quested), the Ar­gen­tinian chimichurri act­ing as a foil for the rich food.

A lunch visit pro­duced a bone-in charred chicken breast with a fen­nel, ap­ple, cel­ery, dill, Ital­ian pars­ley, and mus­tard coleslaw. This chicken was the juici­est and most flavour­ful I have eaten in years. Less suc­cess­ful was a Ruby Trout salad with fried capers and kale Cae­sar salad. While the trout was ten­der and not over­cooked, it was un­der­whelm­ing, and the Cae­sar lacked punch.

The menu of­fers plenty of choice, a wide va­ri­ety of fish and seafood (both crudo and cooked), and all the usual sus­pects for cook­ing over char­coal. The wine list is long and fea­tures only Euro­pean bot­tles, with a fair se­lec­tion avail­able by the glass. And while not in­ex­pen­sive, Mati de­serves to be­come more than a spe­cial-oc­ca­sion restau­rant. It has a great vibe and mostly achieves what it sets out to do. Ap­pe­tiz­ers at lunch $14–$17, at din­ner $14–21 Mains at lunch $16–$128, at din­ner $22–$128 Orto Trat­to­ria 151C Sec­ond Ave., 613-244-6786 This South­ern Ital­ian restau­rant opened with cel­e­brated chef René Ro­driguez as head hon­cho. But restau­rant in­sid­ers will know that he brought Raz­mon Pois­son, his right-hand man at Navarra, as well as pas­try chef Marie Ford, with him to the new Orto Trat­to­ria. Those in­sid­ers would also know that Ro­driguez doesn’t stay in one place long; in­deed, his name is now off the web­site, his menu of cucina povera, or peas­ant cook­ing, handed over to chef Pois­son.

Scan­ning that menu, one won­ders about the ob­scure ter­mi­nol­ogy — bring your Ital­ian-English dic­tionary for look­ing up such words as bot­targa, sof­fritto, and pan­gratatto. Upon tast­ing the dishes, this quib­ble be­comes fairly im­ma­te­rial.

Spring salad is a per­fect mix of greens, red en­dive, and grilled radic­chio, lightly dressed. Finely grated parmi­giano is on top, while two sur­prises await un­der­neath: coppa alla ro­mana — a sweet, ten­der, pro­sciutto-like cured meat — and a crispy parmi­giano-pine nut tu­ile.

An­other ap­pe­tizer con­sists of two deep-fried arancini balls. Atyp­i­cally, the rice for the shell is ground rather than left whole. En­crusted with pecorino cheese, the cen­tres ooz­ing with moz­zarella, these arancini are worth their weight in gold.

Breaded and fried veal scalop­pini on a bed of fen­nel purée is de­li­cious. A sim­ple tomato sauce napped over the meat is in turn cov­ered with melted bur­rata and, at the very top, a row of as­para­gus.

A but­ter­milk mari­nade ten­der­izes Orto’s silky pig cheek con­fit. Truf­fled dwarf peaches, part of the dish, are sim­i­lar in colour to the pork, so their crunchy tex­ture is a sur­prise. I couldn’t de­tect any truf­fle flavour in these lightly pick­led un­ripened peaches, but re­gard­less, the con­trast with the meat was re­fresh­ing.

For dessert, try chef Ford’s Romeo and Gi­uli­etta: a warm cho­co­late cake with cho­co­late sauce sits next to a pavlova nest filled with white cho­co­late mousse and sweetly dec­o­rated with fine slices of dried straw­ber­ries. Ex­quis­ite ro­mance.

Now, about the ser­vice — it’s mostly good. One evening, maître d’ Ian Martin asked, “What can I bring you?” What a civ­i­lized way to ask for our or­der. Martin is also quick to give wine ex­per­tise from Orto’s all-Ital­ian list. (I en­joyed a fra­grant white called Costa­molino Ver­mentino di Sardegna.) Un­for­tu­nately, though, at the end of an­other evening, a top-40 rock sta­tion came blast­ing through the din­ing room while my espresso, halffin­ished, was whisked away. It was 10:30, and we were not the only cus­tomers in the place. Mains, in­clud­ing pasta dishes, $21–$32. Open Mon­day to Satur­day for lunch and din­ner; closed Sun­days.

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