Where to Eat Now

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Restau­rant Eighteen 18 York St., 613-244-1188

Surf and turf? Rather an­ti­quated, I’d say! The stuffed potato, the spinach (creamed, of course), the Man­hat­tan ... didn’t we toss all that out 30 years ago? Wait a sec.

At Restau­rant Eighteen, re­sus­ci­ta­tion is in full force, cour­tesy of ex­ec­u­tive chef David God­soe.

In his 1957 book Mytholo­gies, French lit­er­ary the­o­rist Roland Barthes talked about the prim­i­tive act of eat­ing steak: “The heart of the meat, it is meat in its pure state, and who­ever par­takes of it as­sim­i­lates a bull-like strength.” We still crave such for­ti­tude, such mas­culin­ity. Mean­while, the paler seafood serves as help­mate to this red-blooded slab. Such a union: the power, the glory!

God­soe serves our nos­tal­gia well while car­ry­ing the torch for­ward. Some sauces are tra­di­tional: the deep-tast­ing demi-glace for the beef ten­der­loin, con­cocted by early-20th-cen­tury chef Au­guste Es­coffier; the creamy sauce améri­caine for the lob­ster (Eighteen’s shell­fish is lus­ciously sweet), in­vented by Parisian chef Pierre Fraysse upon re­turn­ing from Chicago. But God­soe of­fers new twists too. A duck duo presents roasted breast with sweet-sour ju­niper agrodolce and a sen­su­ous ril­lette frit­ter, crispy shell giv­ing way to ten­der in­te­rior. And you don’t have to be ve­gan to en­joy Eighteen’s meaty dish of tagli­atelle and roasted king oys­ter mush­rooms en­riched with nu­tri­tional yeast and cashew but­ter.

The 150-year-old ByWard Mar­ket build­ing that houses Eighteen is a fit­ting back­drop for tra­di­tional menu items, with its ex­posed lime­stone walls and a gar­gan­tuan fire­place. Servers are po­lite and at­ten­tive. (Rather quaintly, one hand is held be­hind the back when serv­ing.) Knowl­edge, even about the lengthy 15-or-so-page wine list, is their busi­ness. Yet all are per­son­able: in­tel­li­gent, en­ter­tain­ing con­ver­sa­tion is quite likely to en­sue. Speak­ing of wine, a red that packs a punch with­out be­ing overblown — the Paulo Lau­re­ano Vin­has Vel­has from Por­tu­gal — has an earth­i­ness, a spici­ness nicely brought out by a steak’s ro­bust­ness. Mean­while, Do­maine de Mau­perthuis Ch­ablis from France is ripe and round, its nut­ti­ness per­fect with, say, lob­ster.

Back to food and the de­tails of din­ner. An oc­to­pus ap­pe­tizer is pro­posed two ways: as a ter­rine and grilled (this most ten­derly). The for­mer does get rather lost un­der­neath the lat­ter (all those arms), but rich, spicy may­on­naise works a treat. Eighteen’s ver­sion of Cae­sar salad in­cludes lovely chewy cubes of ba­con and crunchy crou­tons. How­ever, the red sail and other soft let­tuces can­not hold their own against the thick dress­ing. There’s good rea­son to use ro­bust ro­maine. Melt-in-the-mouth pink beef carpac­cio, though, is per­fect with pick­led shal­lots and deep-fried ca­pers. You could eat only that and be con­tent if there weren’t so much else on of­fer.

A lav­ish sup­per, in­deed, but don’t hold back on dessert. Crème brûlée could be dis­missed as con­ven­tional if it weren’t for this one’s un­mit­i­gated or­angey creami­ness and the ex­cel­lent crunch of caramelized crust. Steak, seafood, let’s have it! Mains $31–$55. Open daily 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Than­jai 108 Third Ave., 613-695-1969

Than­jai Ot­tawa is the baby sis­ter of Than­jai Mon­treal, which has been serv­ing South In­dian food for six years. Three chefs from the Mon­treal branch reg­u­larly ro­tate through the Ot­tawa restau­rant; all three are from the same area of South In­dia, and two have worked in res­tau­rants in the Mid­dle East.

We start with an onion bhaji to keep the hunger pangs at bay while we work our way through the menu, which is an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of South­ern In­dian food. With wisps of crispy-thin deep-fried onions loosely tan­gled in a disc, it’s more latke than the bhaji balls I’m ac­cus­tomed to.

We can’t re­sist that most tra­di­tional of south­ern foods, the dosa. At Than­jai, the Ghee Pa­per Masala Dosa, com­plete with mildly spicy potato masala, stretches off the plate and is both del­i­cate and fill­ing. And be­cause we are in a shar­ing mood, we choose a lunch thali: a tra­di­tional South In­dian meal with lots of small bowls that in­clude fish, soup, lentils, a green veg­etable that we never man­age to iden­tify, and a dessert, as well as rice, naan bread, and a cha­p­atti. Flavours are lively, not overly spicy, and var­ied.

Dur­ing a sub­se­quent visit, we be­gin with a chili idly, cu­ri­ous to see if the dou­ble chili sign on the menu will bring wa­ter to our eyes. A large pile of dis­turbingly red chunks of idly ar­rives. The soft, pil­lowy cubes of rice and len­til flour, rolled in rice flour and deep-fried for a chewy crust, are dot­ted with green pep­pers and flecks of chili pep­per in a sticky chili sauce. Within sec­onds, my guest is sweat­ing be­neath the eyes and I’m gulp­ing glasses of wa­ter. As our mouths get ac­cus­tomed to the heat, we make a good dent in a gen­er­ous serv­ing.

We move on to a Chet­ti­nad chicken curry and lamb biryani. The men­tion of “bone­less” else­where on the menu should have been a giveaway, but we were both sur­prised to find fairly large chunks of bone in our food. No doubt au­then­tic, it wasn’t the kind of sur­prise we were look­ing for. The Chet­ti­nad curry came with a gen­er­ous sauce, lay­ered with the flavours of spices from the Chet­ti­nad re­gion, while a huge mound of biryani in a beau­ti­ful beaten-cop­per bowl of­fered small pieces of sweet lamb and a whole hard-boiled egg hid­den in rice flecked with tomato, with hints of cin­na­mon, car­damom, and cloves. Open daily for lunch and din­ner; closed Tues­days. Mains $8–$16

The Soca Kitchen 93 Hol­land Ave., 613-695-9190

Soca is a hus­band-and-wife ven­ture with Daniela Man­rique in the kitchen and her part­ner, Gus­tavo Belis­ario, work­ing at front of house. Both are orig­i­nally from Venezuela. They opened the restau­rant on Hol­land in 2014.

Ta­pas fans ex­pect­ing bread to come right away and at no cost will be dis­ap­pointed. Bread must be or­dered (and paid for) but will be ap­pre­ci­ated — a chewy sour­dough with a gen­er­ous smear of flavour­ful tomato-and-gar­lic purée (called pan tomaca). It’s not baked in-house. With a ca­sual shrug, Belis­ario ex­plains that at Soca, they leave the bread to “the ex­perts.”

Corn tor­tillas loaded up with shred­ded pork of­fer juicy mouth­fuls, thanks to a spicy pineap­ple salsa and an or­ange mari­nade; a gar­nish of pink pick­led onions and shred­ded let­tuce adds a lovely acidic note, while cilantro crema lends colour and fresh­ness. The stuffed piquillo pep­pers with al­monds are a big hit. The gar­net pep­pers are roasted to a sweet soft­ness and stuffed with Que­bec goat cheese. Candied sliv­ers of al­monds adorn the top.

Less suc­cess­ful are the lamb meat­balls. They are a bit tough and dry although still tasty thanks to a crust of cin­na­mon and cumin. An egg is served on the side that is very runny, adding gooey­ness.

But it’s the seafood where Soca shines. Grilled cala­mari are ten­der, ly­ing on a bed of thick yo­gurt, al­most a lab­neh, adorned with drops of a lime-in­fused oil. The squid are topped with a chimichurri and then covered with a mass of crispy onions.

Also de­li­cious — and beau­ti­ful — is the ce­viche. Tuna and shrimp ar­rive in a bowl with hominy, avo­cado, and a crispy wafer — the flavours soak­ing up the gar­lic in the lime-and-cu­cum­ber mari­nade.

Sour­dough and pan tomaca make a reap­pear­ance, this time topped with pick­led mus­sels. But the combo falls short: the mus­sels sink too eas­ily into the soft bread and the flavours are too acidic when com­bined.

For dessert, we choose a caramelized mango, which is as you ex­pect: slices of mango sprin­kled with cin­na­mon and sugar glazed un­der the sala­man­der. Fine, but not mem­o­rable.

The wine list is short, but a lovely Span­ish Tem­pranillo is a good part­ner for the dishes.

The ser­vice is ca­sual. On one visit, whether by co­in­ci­dence or in­ten­tion, ev­ery dish came out at the same time, crowd­ing the ta­ble. At a sec­ond visit, the tim­ing of dishes was on point. In­con­sis­ten­cies aside, the ad­ven­ture­some menu and wel­com­ing at­mos­phere mean that there will be a third visit.

Open for din­ner Tues­day to Sun­day and brunch on Sun­day. Ta­pas: $11–$24

Jab­ber­wocky 315 Som­er­set St. W., 613-231-1010

Since 2011, Ot­tawa din­ers have been go­ing to Union Lo­cal 613 on Som­er­set Street for great south­ern cui­sine. Whether for brunch, lunch, or din­ner, chef Dar­ren Flow­ers gets creative with clas­sics and fear­less with the un­usual — pick­led fid­dle­heads, smoked duck hearts — you get the idea.

This con­trasts sharply with what’s been tak­ing place up­stairs since last spring. To em­pha­size how very dif­fer­ent Jab­ber­wocky is from Union 613, the name, from Lewis Car­roll’s Through the Look­ing Glass, was cho­sen as a way to re­mind guests that they are en­ter­ing a very dif­fer­ent space.

While Union Lo­cal 613 is road­house cool, with its shared ta­bles, mis­matched plates, Ma­son jars, and rau­cous playlist, at Jab­ber­wocky, you feel as though you are in an aerie of light, un­der the eaves. Film noir is pro­jected on the bar walls, adding an oth­er­worldly el­e­ment.

Jab­ber­wocky also im­presses with its re­strained aes­thetic, fab­u­lous cock­tails, and very tasty vege­tar­ian/ ve­gan plates de­signed by chef con­sul­tant Mike Frank (Mel­los, Cit­i­zen’s meat­less Mon­days) and served up by chef An­drew Fraser.

Like Alice who went through the look­ing glass, there are mes­sages here, too, to guide you: a black­board says, “Go out­side if you must use your phone”; “Don’t be Sh*tty”; and, im­por­tantly, “Cash only”.

“Laven­der makes ev­ery­thing so great!” my slightly-tipsy friend ex­claims. “I’m so sad this drink is gone!” She’s talk­ing about the last sip of her BBees Knees, a golden con­coc­tion of gin, with burnt and spiced honey in­fused with sage, laven­der, and lemon. This cock­tail is one of sev­eral “bril­lig” re­makes of clas­sics with a creative use of aro­matic herbs.

Her buzz may also be ex­plained by ex­cite­ment about the tasty small plates we’re shar­ing. We dive into fluffy pil­lows of fried tofu on a bed of roasted Brus­sels sprouts topped with pepi­tas and green onions. A dust­ing of an “all-dressed” pow­der (ketchup and spice) punches up the earthy flavours.

Po­ta­toes ar­rive look­ing like dev­iled eggs. They’ve been steamed, hol­lowed out, and re­filled with a mus­tard, dill, lemon, and gar­lic dress­ing with a hint of co­conut oil. The top is heaped with a gen­er­ous hand­ful of fried onions.

An­other un­der-the-ground ba­sic, cel­ery root, is trans­formed on a bed of chili paste, bol­stered with a tahini gar­lic sauce. Puffy bits of rice cracker add tex­ture, as do the gar­lic chips on top.

Staff are help­ful in ex­plain­ing the drinks and food menus and at­ten­tive in ser­vice.

Open Wed­nes­day to Satur­day 7 p.m.to 2 a.m. Small plates $12

An­ti­quated? Any­thing but! Housed in­side a 150-year-old build­ing, Eighteen’s menu serves nos­tal­gia well, while still be­ing creative with clas­sics

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