Dining Out: For thrifty locavores, Café Cinq Sens serves tasty treats
Café Cinq Sens
417 Boul. Alexandre-Taché, Hull sector in Gatineau, 613-710-0325, senses5.ca
Open: Monday and Tuesday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday to Friday 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Prices: Nothing over $10
Access: no steps to front door or washrooms
It took me nearly three years of scouring Ottawa-area restaurants, but last week I finally found some pansit bihon, a comforting Filipino stir-fry of rice vermicelli, chicken, shrimp and assorted vegetables.
To my surprise, the dish turned up not in an Asian fusion restaurant but at the casual and cosy 28-seat eatery Café Cinq Sens in Hull, generously portioned and tasting of five spice, freshness and tender meats.
That little discovery is the first reason why I can recommend a meal at the Café Cinq Sens. But there are others.
The six-month-old restaurant, basically a two-person operation for chef-owner Jason Wagner and his wife Rosemarie, who is from the Philippines, stresses food made from scratch and bought from local producers and suppliers as much as possible. The cafe uses maple syrup from Ferme et Foret in Wakefield, organic meats from Alpenblick Farm in Ashton, bread from Art-Is-In Bakery and Bridgehead coffee.
What I’ve tasted has been made with care and attention to details. Dishes are not high-end fare, but I’ve had flawed high-end dishes that have impressed me less in terms of execution, design and value.
Principally boosting my enthusiasm is the fact that the café, which is lunch-centric but open on some nights until 8:30 p.m., is very easy on a wallet. Nothing is more than $10, and that noodle dish, which came with two meaty, just-made spring rolls and a soy-spiked dipping sauce, went for $8.
“I like to give good value,” said Wagner, who studied culinary arts at Algonquin College and has cooked at area golf courses, when we chatted this week. He noted his shoe-string staffing and his rent that is markedly lower than what a downtown Hull or Ottawa restaurant would pay. He added that he hopes to make regulars of residents of the nearby Val-Tetrault neighbourhood, where he and his wife also live.
Finally, the marble tables and red leather chairs in the café’s two small rooms are nicer than expected. There are also two tables outside the front of the restaurant, although eating al fresco here means coping with the noise and traffic of Taché Boulevard.
Dishes other than the pansit, made by Rosemarie, while not as exotic but were just as satisfying.
Gazpacho, $3.50 for an ample bowlful, hit all its notes for bright tomato flavour and smooth texture, while a drizzle of oil and a dollop of sour cream added richness.
Atlantic salmon filet, a steal at $9, was moist and succulent, topped with a lemony hollandaise sauce and served with rice and bok choy.
Three-egg omelettes were impressively fluffy, served with either a rich stuffing of goat cheese, tomato and arugula ($8, including salad or fries), or, better still, with a medium-spicy creole salsa and five plump, juicy and nicely seasoned shrimp ($9, including salad or fries).
At a brunch last weekend, I felt a little let down by the rum-spiked “bananas foster” French toast, wishing for more brioche-y and cinnamon-y goodness along with the pool of made-in-Wakefield maple syrup. But for $7, it still felt like a treat. Plus, I perked up with the add-on of Wagner’s so-called bacon confit, which involves him quite possibly making bacon better by cooking it with maple syrup, spices and even bits of chiles.
The jazzed-up bacon starred in the eatery’s ample club sandwich ($7), and it shows up at the café on its burger ($8, including salad or fries) or as a choice with its eggs Benedict ($10, including salad or fries), neither of which I tried.
Desserts came from the well-stocked showcase of homey pastries beside the cash. I tried a square of blueberry cheese cake ($2.50), which struck me as a little dense. When I said I wasn’t that keen on it, Wagner declined to charge me. On another visit, our table split some fine sticky buns — a gift from the kitchen — with no complaints at all.
You might wish that Café Cinq Sens was licensed, or that it had a larger menu or longer hours. But to stress its limitations would be to downplay the charms of this unassuming and very affordable eatery that does what it does do quite well.