Dining Out: Flavours of the Caribbean serves some of Ottawa’s most spicy — and tasty — fare
Flavours of the Caribbean
259 York St., 613-241-2888, flavoursofthecaribbean.com
Open: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.to 9 p.m., Saturday noon to 9 p.m., Sunday noon to 8 p.m.
Prices: rotis $8.95 to $10.95, mains $14.95 to $17.95
Access: steps to the front door
I vividly recall eating chef Frederick White’s food roughly a decade ago, when he served me jerk chicken that was so potently seasoned that it left me practically hallucinating. Sweat-inducing and mouth-searing, yet flat-out tasty, it was a remarkable, hurts-so-good meal that I and my deeply amused wife will remember for the rest of our lives.
We were eating at White’s restaurant Caribbean Flavours on Somerset Street West, which was open from 2002 until March 2007, when it burned down. Later that year, White re-opened on Carling Avenue, but only for a few years. After, White worked for about five years in the kitchens of two much more generic Ottawa restaurants. Happily, White recently returned to the helm of his own eatery, opening Flavours of the Caribbean in Lowertown East in late January.
“People, they were missing the food. I thought I’d give it a try,” White told me last week. He’s also training his sons to continue in the restaurant business, he said.
While I haven’t sought out the extreme heat that White can dole out, I’ve been very pleased by the richly flavoured and well-crafted food that I’ve sampled at his new place.
Reading Citizen reviews of his Somerset Street West restaurant from the 2000s, and connecting them to my experiences, I’m struck by White’s consistency in terms of his dishes and execution, even after his five-year layoff.
His new restaurant stands where Pixy’s Place, another Caribbean restaurant, used to be. Before that, the property was a corner store in a down-at-the-heels part of town. The eatery, which seats about 24, has a colourful, grassroots vibe, with various flags, basic wooden tables and loping reggae music evoking the Caribbean.
One thing that is missing is beer, although there are Caribbean soft drinks and two house-made beverages — a ginger beer and a refreshing, purple, sweet and clove-flavoured beverage made from hibiscus (called sorrel in the Caribbean and also at White’s restaurant). White says he hopes to have a liquor licence before too long.
Also missing is jerk pork, because White, a Montserrat native and a Rastafari, won’t eat or cook it according to his religion.
But what has been available from White’s compact, familiar and reasonably priced menu has more than compensated.
Two seafood starters — loose, fresh cod cakes and a gaggle of tender shrimp swimming in creole sauce — were delicious. With both, White’s punchy condiments and savoury sauces were bang-on, delivering the kind of bold, mouth-filling flavour enhancements that demand sopping up. With the shrimp, for example, came a house-made roti-skin flatbread that ensured as much as possible of the deeply flavoured creole sauce would be messily enjoyed.
Rotis, that South Asian gift to Caribbean cuisine, feature extensively on White’s menu, with flatbreads filled with spiced chickpeas and proteins ranging from goat to tofu, always imposingly portioned and, unless otherwise requested, assertively curried or jerked. Curried shrimp roti, medium spiced, packed a significant curry hit.
I think that jerk chicken here is a must-have — almost certainly the best in the city for the quality of the meat and the sauce. I’ve only tried chicken legs that were fall-apart tender and tasty, covered in a dark, complex, gravy. The jerk chicken could only be better if it had the smokiness imparted from a wood fire.
It and other dishes come in six gradations of heat — “baby mild,” mild, medium, hot, very hot and “atomic.” Older and wiser now, I’m fine with the pleasing heat of medium jerk.
My colleague Vito Pilieci, who relishes absolutely incendiary food, ordered the “atomic” jerk chicken — which cost a supplementary $6 for its extra heat. He gave it an 8/10 for heat and would order it again.
Boneless jerk goat, served with plenty of that luscious sauce, was tender and fine too.
However, the spice-averse can find much more mellow pleasures here too.
Pan-fried red snapper filet, one of several fish options, was cooked just so, and enhanced with tamed, roasted garlic, among other strewn items.
While visiting a resort in Jamaica last year, I had cod fish and ackee, one of the country’s national dishes. I didn’t like it. But I loved White’s more sophisticated rendition, which deftly combined the ackee — a mild-flavoured fruit that when cooked curiously resembles scrambled eggs — with salt cod, onions and spices.
All of White’s platters came with rice and beans, just-cooked green beans, a slab of sweet potato and slices of caramelized but ungreasy plaintain.
At White’s previous restaurants, guests could finish with a banana flambé, boosted with rum and crème anglaise. But so far, at his new place, I’ve had only ice cream — coconut and mango — which helped put out residual fires.
When we spoke, White mentioned that he has new dishes to debut, and that he has been doing a lot of catering to vegans, vegetarians and gluten-avoiders. But for now, it seems that Flavours of the Caribbean, with very good reason, is dedicated to White’s greatest hits.
“This is what people are asking for,” White said. Well, add me to the chorus of White’s fans who are very happy to eat his food again.