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Ottawa - ISO nice, but not formal

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We'll be in Ottawa in early May for the Tulip Festival and my sweetie's birthday. We're trying to travel as light as possible, so I'd like to avoid bringing a suit, tie, and different shoes just for a single night's formal dining. Given that, can you suggest good food in restaurants where we won't feel out of place in "business casual" rather than a coat and tie? I have been scouring archives on the board and have a pretty good feel for what generally seem to be the top contenders: Domus, Navarre, Black Cat, Wellington, and so on.

While we enjoy all ethnicities and different types/flavors of foods, for this meal I don't want to go with Indian or Italian (I see that there are many fine restaurants of both types in the city). A more North American or European basis would be preferable in this instance.

I would also prefer someplace more on the quiet side rather than a family-oriented chain where we will face crying babies and antsy kids. We're staying at the Westin, so extra points for things closer to the Canal area. But I'm perfectly willing to taxi cross-town if justified. Please nothing in other cities!

Thanks for your help, and cross your fingers that the tulips actually bloom in conjunction with the festival dates!

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  1. I really liked my last meal at Domus. It's on the quiet side, and the food is delicious, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. It's centrally located, in the Byward Market, so it won't be too far from your hotel.

    I haven't tried the other restaurants you mentioned.

    -----
    Domus
    85 Murray St, Ottawa, ON K1N5M5, CA

    1. Next door to Domus, if you are inclined to a Spanish meal:
      http://www.navarrarestaurant.com

      I ate there recently, it was one of the best meals I've had in Ottawa. Wellington Gastropub is also great.

      1 Reply
      1. re: h2o

        Heard great things about Wellington Gastropub but they have a small menu that changes daily (I believe). I had a lunch meeting there a few weeks ago, but due to dietary restrictions, my associate actually couldn't eat anything on the menu and we ended up going somewhere else.

      2. Wellington GastroPub will necessitate a cab ride but it rarely disappoints. Black Cat used to be in the Byward Market but have now relocated to Preston Street (another cab ride).

        In the Market area, I agree with Domus and Navarra and would add Sweetgrass and PLAY (new, small plates and run by the people who own Beckta - the high end restaurant in Ottawa).

        7 Replies
        1. re: ceebee1

          Btw, you can go to Beckta in business casual and it won't be a problem. You'll still get good service and food.

          If you're not adverse to spending $$$$, might I also suggest Atelier. They do 12 course tasting menus using interesting techniques.

          1. re: Blueicus

            Thanks to everyone for the great tips. I am surprised to hear that Beckta would be acceptable without suit and tie! From the pictures, food, reputation,and prices it looked like a place where I would feel underdressed. But if you lead a more casual lifestyle, more points to you Ottawans! I'll probably go for that, but all the others sound interesting. (I was very interested in trying Le Panache, but it will close before we arrive. Sigh.)

            1. re: klmonline

              Well, I've been to Splendido wearing pretty casual fare (black jeans, black top), though I also saw a teenager there wearing what looked like a jogging suit so perhaps that says more about me.

              1. re: klmonline

                We're back from Ottawa, where the city came through with tulips blooming right on time for my sweetie's birthday, but also had the unfriendly aspect of cold and wet weather :)

                Beckta was a dining high point of this or many other trips. The service could not have been any more pleasant, welcoming, professional, or knowledgeable. Things came and went without that overbearing fanfare that interrupts your conversation. The waiter knew his foods and wines, and made suggestions where appropriate without seeming overbearing. We opted for the five-course chef's tasting menu. I mentioned that I'm not a big mushroom fan, but I'd just eat around them if they were right for the dish, since my S.O. likes them. In every dish, they gave her mushrooms and gave me an appropriate substitution. Very nice and appreciated touch.

                I love the fact that they offer a variety of wines at 3 ounce pours at a lower price. This lets you assemble your own flight of wine tastings. I took full advantage. Even with these small pours, the waiter gave me a quick sip first and one of them didn't suit my tastes (Not a turned wine... Just not to my liking). He immediately whisked it away and brought me a different one.

                Our menu started with a complimentary amuse bouche of shrimp and cream cheese on a radish slice. An innovative salad included wild asparagus (very thin stems and compact heads), shaved asparagus, sliced fennel, and sliced pears for me / morels for her.

                Next was a sesame cracker with a slice of fois gras torchon and grilled eel on top. It was served with a grapefruit coulis to cut the richness of the creamy textures.

                Following was my personal favorite of the night... Crispy fried soft shell crab served on a chewy risotto with bits of ramp mixed in (no pungency at all!). It was garnished with a lemon foam "meringue". Absolutely scrumptious. Hers included some oyster mushrooms.

                They threw in a palate cleanser of a sorbet with a fascinating combination of apple, citrus, and chamomile. Very refreshing!

                The main was a rare sliced duck breast served with tender fingerling potatoes and fiddleheads. I really liked the slightly crunchy, slightly spicy seasoning on the fiddleheads, which were a first for me. The duck was prepared just right.

                I asked them to feature chocolate for her birthday dessert, and they brought out a Beckta special... A slab of chocolate that was so rich and decadent that neither of us could finish ours! It was like eating pure chocolate essence.

                As we were paying, they threw in another complimentary dessert finisher, which proved to be the only disappointment of the evening. Little poppy seed cookies were too dry and cakey, and simply gummed up my mouth.

                Thanks for the suggestions, and I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to try more of the good places. I left the schedule open for walking around and looking at places to eat and we couldn't get in to Domus, Navarre, or Sweetgrass. Our other meals were major disappointments compared to what we got at Beckta. Worst of the trip honors goes without hesitation to the sit down restaurant in the Museum of Civilization, which featured a dry, disgusting lamb "strudel" (more like an egg roll or lumpia, but an insult to both) and some not very fresh seafood ravioli.

                1. re: klmonline

                  Curious... where else did you go to?

                  1. re: Blueicus

                    No other fine dining places, unfortunately. When we got in the first evening, we strolled around Byward Market and ended up at Coasters for some truly forgettable fish and a glass of completely flat beer (they did replace it).

                    Sunday lunch was acceptable food but nothing to write about at Sweet Art. Sunday night we tried Metropolitain. She liked the decor. I liked the creme brulee. Everything else was acceptable quality, but overpriced for what you got. I will give them points for a very hot waitress though! ;>

                    1. re: klmonline

                      Oh man, friends don't let friends eat at Coasters.

          2. Absinthe is wonderful. Fantastic food, great atmoshere, no problem wearing business casual.
            I agree with previous posters and would heartily recommend Domus and Wellington Gastropub.
            If you want a great view of the city you could try Merlot. It's a revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriot. Wonderful special occasion place with very attentive and discreet service.
            Also, here's a great link to another site that has extensive info on the ottawa foodie scene. http://ottawafoodies.com/
            Enjoy your visit!

            -----
            Absinthe
            1208 Wellington St W, Ottawa, ON K1Y2Z7, CA

            Merlot
            100 Kent St, Ottawa, ON K1P, CA

            1 Reply
            1. re: caseykckc1

              How is the food at Merlot? Or is the experience more about the atmosphere and service?