Ottawa Bites: Movers and shakers in capital’s foodie scene
Ottawa’s own Top Chef René Rodriguez reports that his “gutsy” move to change his menu at Navarra from à-la-carte offerings to tasting menus has proven popular. As a safeguard, he kept a bar menu that has seven items on it, but most people opt for the five-course modern Mexican taster ($68) or the five-course Spanish version ($75). Both menus have optional wine pairings for $40. “When people used to come, they’d order two to three dishes so really, it costs the same, but now you get five courses.”
Meanwhile, Beckta Dining & Wine is enjoying success with its menu relaunch and new location, Stephen Beckta says. Business has “more than doubled,” which has to be an endorsement of the move to replace à-la-carte dining with a new prix fixe three-course menu, or the five-course tasting menu. (A la carte is available in the wine bar and at lunch.) “It’s been great,” Beckta noted. “Ninety-nine per cent of the restaurants in Ottawa are à la carte, so there are options for those who prefer that kind of dining.” He noted that hospitality is what drives his restaurant so if someone doesn’t feel like a starter, but is having the prix fixe, they’ll come up with a nice glass of wine or interesting cocktail instead. It’s not something they advertise, but they’ll do it, he said.
CARMICHAEL ON THE MOVE
Chef Matt Carmichael, one of the city’s hottest chefs and the man behind El Camino, is expanding his empire to a new venue on Sparks Street and at an address next to El Camino. Don’t worry — your Elgin Street tacos will remain right where they are, with a little less XO sauce. Carmichael plans to strip the Asian influences from
El Camino and export them to his new spot, next door, to be called Datsun. (Yes, the chef has a thing for old car models.) Datsun will feature dumplings, a few noodle dishes and an assortment of steamed buns. In Carmichael’s words: It will be a bar, serving good, Asian-inspired food. Datsun should open by July. El Camino, meanwhile, will convert to a strictly Mexican menu so expect to find more salsa verde and chipotles in your tacos.
Plans are underway at 62 Sparks St., where Carmichael will open Imperial, a casual-style restaurant in the old CIBC building, a 7,000-square-foot space that was most recently a stamp shop, a few doors west of the corner of Elgin Street. Imperial, a working name that will stick unless another car name comes along (Impala, maybe?) will open in the fall, likely October. Jordan Holley, chef de cuisine at El Camino, is Carmichael’s partner in both new ventures.
NATURAL FOOD PANTRY, TERRA20 TEAM UP
Two like-minded Ottawa companies have joined forces. Natural Food Pantry’s latest location is in the terra20 store at Pinecrest Shopping Centre. That means the store will now offer dried food goods, specialty items, baking, soups and supplements. Bill Stewart, CEO of terra20, said the two companies are locally run and share values. He said the grand opening on Easter weekend attracted many “guests” who’d never been to the store.
Butterfly Sky Farms Inc., purveyors of microgreens to specialty food shops in Ottawa, is now selling basil microgreens. The basil package is a combination of red, green and Thai basil. They sell in 100-gram bags for about $15 depending on the retailer or in living flats (special orders through the retailer) for $22. “This is new for us,” said Dawson Kelln. “It’s a really nice flavour — mostly you taste the Thai basil.”