FLAVOUR­FUL PLATES FOR THE BEER-LOV­ING CROWD

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - PETER HUM phum@post­media.com twit­ter.com/pe­ter­hum

Flavour­ful plates for beer-lovers

If you type “beer and” into Google, the auto-com­plete fea­ture of­fers a few sug­ges­tions. Tops are “wings,” “tomato juice,” and “ched­dar soup.”

Clearly, Google has never eaten at Bar Lupu­lus on Wellington Street West. At the nearly twom­onth-old gas­tropub, the fare runs to the fancier end of the spec­trum. Think scal­lop ce­viche, in which espresso fig­ures into the recipe, a slab of roast pork shoul­der with Parme­san-bol­stered pota­toes and even pasta made with pig’s blood.

The el­e­vated dishes are meant to pair well with a strik­ing range of con­nois­seur suds, in­clud­ing 20 On­tario and Quebec craft beers on tap, served in var­i­ous sizes and in high-end Teku glasses, plus scores of bot­tled choices, in­clud­ing such ex­ot­ica as dry­hopped sour ales, wild ales and grape ales. “The draught se­lec­tion is very im­pres­sive. Lots of in­ter­est­ing stuff there,” says this news­room’s res­i­dent beer buff, Vito Pilieci.

I wish I could tell you about the pre­cise in­ter­play be­tween beers and dishes, but that would have been too tax­ing on my bud­get, as well as my liver. In­stead, here’s my re­port on the 11 dishes (about two-thirds of the con­cise menu) that I sam­pled last week­end at Lupu­lus.

More of­ten than not, the from-scratch food from chef Jeff Brad­field’s open kitchen was at­trac­tively plated and brim­ming with well-melded flavours that be­lied the size of the plates that con­tained them. Brad­field, who pre­vi­ously cooked at So­cial in the ByWard Mar­ket and who com­peted last month in Ot­tawa’s Gold Medal Plates con­test, seems to be striv­ing for food that can match the pre­mium brews cho­sen by busi­ness part­ner, An­thony Spag­nolo, as far as com­plex­ity and oc­ca­sion­ally ar­cane ap­peal go.

Based on three raw-bar items that we tried, I’d be con­fi­dent in choos­ing from that sec­tion of Brad­field’s menu. Beef tartare ($14) melded finely-chopped meat with a cho­rus of umamirich in­gre­di­ents (an­chovy, Parme­san, a truf­fle-based condi­ment called tart­u­fata and cured egg yolk), but the dish had enough perk­i­ness and acid­ity so as not to be lop­sided. Scal­lop ce­viche ($16) down­played the usual acid­ity of those cit­rus-mar­i­nated raw seafood dishes, but suc­ceeded by gar­nish­ing its mel­low mol­lusk meat with salty hits of crisp pancetta and ser­rano ham and sweet, finely diced ap­ple. Smoked sal­mon was trans­formed into rich ril­lettes ($15) off­set by a sharp, fresh frisée salad that popped with pick­led mus­tard seeds.

While the pi­ad­ina that I’ve seen else­where have been flat­bread folded taco-style for a sin­gle diner’s easy han­dling, Lupu­lus’s pi­ad­ina ($15) was served open and un­folded, and its ar­ray of top­pings (sheep’s feta, toma­toes, onion and figs) made us not only share the tasti­ness, but also fight for slices.

The only dish of the night that didn’t work was a salad that con­sisted of a py­lon-shaped mound of pump­kin, root veg­eta­bles and Granny Smith ap­ples in a large pud­dle of oil and pump­kin seeds ($14). All of its good at­tributes were over­whelmed by a pu­n­ish­ing salti­ness. (Maybe I needed to neu­tral­ize it with a pun­ish­ingly bit­ter beer.)

Two pas­tas went their separate ways, but ad­mirably so. A dish built around capellini and clams ($16) was de­li­ciously savoury, en­riched by the punch of fer­mented egg­plant, sweet peas and the licorice hit of Pernod. Spicier and earth­ier was a bowl that com­bined slices of pa­prika-laced lin­guiça sausage with far­falle that had been spiked with pig’s blood ($16). A bright gre­mo­lata kept the dish from be­ing too blood-for­ward.

The smaller dishes here are suf­fi­ciently in­ter­est­ing that I could see es­chew­ing mains in favour of shar­ing other items. That said, the slab of roast pork at the cen­tre of one main course ($24), while fatty, was rich in flavour and nicely crisped, and its potato and slaw added even more heft and va­ri­ety. The fish dish that night saw a sal­mon filet, sub­sti­tuted for the branzino listed on the menu, and its fine veg­etable ac­com­pa­ni­ments (broc­col­ini, fin­ger­ling pota­toes, a cooked-down sofrito) prop­erly pre­pared.

Brad­field likes to throw a bit of a curve­ball when it comes to desserts ($10 each), but we didn’t ob­ject. His dark choco­late brownie also con­tained Gor­gonzola cheese, al­though if the menu didn’t tell you, you might sim­ply note an ex­tra layer of rich, funky flavour in a deluxe dessert al­ready en­riched by figs and bal­samic. His ap­ple-pie-like dessert was gar­nished with slices of fen­nel and beet, as well as salted caramel. Purists might flinch, but we wel­comed the ex­tras.

Formerly home to the Fly­ing Banzini sand­wich shop, the bar’s space has been stylishly ren­o­vated. It’s a much darker place, in which the bar’s mas­sive bank of taps en­joy pride of place along one wall. Un­der wheel-shaped light­ing, servers in heavy aprons

pa­trol the floor.

The last year has seen the ranks of the Ot­tawa area’s beer-based busi­nesses swell, with brew­eries of­fer­ing food on-site and other restau­rants ap­peal­ing to dis­cern­ing beer drinkers. I still have to make the rounds, but it won’t sur­prise me if Brad­field’s highly crafted, flavour-for­ward dishes put Lupu­lus at or very near to the top of the heap.

PHO­TOS: PETER HUM

From left: Scal­lop ce­viche; brownie with Gor­gonzola blue cheese; and the porchetta main course at Bar Lupu­lus, a gas­tropub that serves el­e­vated dishes.

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