Foodie

Dining Out: In and beyond Kanata Centrum, Aperitivo’s small plates and hospitality stand out

Aperitivo
655 Kanata Ave., Unit L2 (Kanata Centrum in the pedestrian zone near he Landmark Cinemas), 613-592-0004, aperitivo.ca
Open: Sunday and Monday 4 to 11 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Prices: small plates/salads $10 to $16, large plates $18 to $26
Accessibility: no stairs at entrance or to washroom

It’s hard to know which superlative best describes Aperitivo, one restaurant among many in the massive Kanata Centrum shopping complex. Here are a few choices: best restaurant in the mall, best restaurant in Kanata, best gluten-free restaurant in Ottawa.

After two meals at Aperitivo this month, I think all three could apply. Still, with their qualifications, they don’t quite do justice to the restaurant, which may well be underestimated by Ottawa foodies at large because it’s not part of the downtown / Hintonburg / Wellington West dining scene.

Aperitivo is five years old. I reviewed it quite positively in December 2012 and recently thought a follow-up was due. But more impressive than its longevity, which the restaurant will mark with a party this Sunday, is the stability among its ranks. While staff turnover at restaurants in Ottawa’s core can be a near-constant churn, Aperitivo’s manager and co-owner Erica Fillipoff, chef Steven MacDonald, sous-chef Luca DeMarinis and several cooks have been there since day one.

“It’s a rare thing,” MacDonald, 41, told me this week. Asked for an explanation, he offered that his team is less hierarchical and its cooks have a lot of freedom to stretch out. “I rely on staff to come up with menu items and experiment,” he said. “They feel a sense of themselves in the restaurant.”

The cooking team’s good vibes are in full view at Aperitivo, as its kitchen is small and open. The restaurant, which years before had been a coffee shop, is quirkily wedge-shaped, seating almost 30 in a cosy space while 10 more can sit at the attractive bar beside the kitchen. The dining area is sandwiched between the bar and a just-for-show fireplace between orange and white accent walls. For longer stays, the grey banquettes are more comfortable than the chairs.

Another constant since Aperitivo opened is its all-day menu’s focus on smaller, shareable, seasonal plates that often reflect influences from the slew of countries that border on the Mediterranean Sea. Like many Ottawa restaurants with higher aspirations, Aperitivo buys from local producers such as Acorn Creek Garden Farm and Mariposa Farm.

For pre- and post-movie nibblers, there are cheeses, charcuterie (both made-in-house and brought-in) and preserved seafood (octopus, squid, sardines and mussels) from northwestern Spain. The latter offerings speak to Aperitivo’s au courant foodie cred, and they did tempt us. But we’ve passed on those imports in favour of kitchen creations, and have been consistently pleased by the craft, imagination and big flavours on display. Indeed, my fellow diners and I each time enjoyed the range of dishes we’ve sampled, but also disagreed on our favourites — that can only be a good sign.

There are appealing choices here for vegetarians, and two of my preferred dishes were meat-free (all $10). While too many mediocre beet salads over the years have left me blasé about them, Aperitivo’s rendition — which paired beets with oranges, goat cheese and lamb’s lettuce on a bed of thick roasted carrot and fennel vinaigrette — was not only a beaut to look at, but was also packed with equally vivid flavours. Roasted local heirloom carrots were elevated by a spice rub that included espresso and a bracing, concentrated green onion pesto.

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