Ottawa Magazine - - WELLINGTON WEST -

While din­ers can watch passersby on Welling­ton Street West from Carben’s win­dowed fa­cade, it’s more likely that their eyes will be drawn to the art­fully plated dishes placed in front of them.

Since the 2015 open­ing of Carben, chef Kevin Benes and pas­try chef Caro­line Ngo have im­pressed with their sense of imag­i­na­tion. In­ven­tive­ness is ev­i­dent in Benes’ menu: the five starters and five mains on of­fer in­clude such non-tra­di­tional el­e­ments as duck sausage and cut­tle­fish. The stun­ning plates ar­rive with colour­ful com­po­nents — smears of glazes, dots of gels, del­i­cate foams. But noth­ing is su­per­flu­ous. The kind of molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy that Benes and Ngo are serv­ing is ap­proach­able, the wait staff of­fer­ing ta­ble­side de­scrip­tions with­out pre­ten­sion.

One of their most pop­u­lar ap­pe­tiz­ers fea­tures wood ear and eryn­gii mush­rooms served on a miso glaze, with baby bok choy, edamame, shiso, and vi­brant dots of turmeric aïoli. Each mouth­ful is a de­li­cious umami bomb.

Per­fectly golden scal­lops come with pork belly as well as a bright car­rot-gin­ger purée and red pep­per­tomato cream; the vegeta­bles — con­fit fin­ger­lings, leeks — are cut into rounds em­u­lat­ing the shape of the scal­lops. I’m still dream­ing about it.

Ngo’s desserts are equally com­plex. The Morn­ing Fog fea­tures a honey and or­ange-blos­som cruller with lit­tle kisses of laven­der meringue, fra­grant Earl Grey ice cream, laven­der gel, and bee pollen. If you’re only look­ing for a sweet morsel to ac­com­pany your di­ges­tif, don’t miss the bon­bons in flavours such as dark choco­late and peanut but­ter ganache.

An in­ter­est­ing col­lec­tion of books and art cre­ates a space that is, like the food, daz­zling but also ap­proach­able.

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