Thursday, January 12, 2006

After "Clair de Lune" it is now the turn of "Cafe Henry Burger" to shut its doors

I just read this article about to closure of one of the best restaurant in Ottawa. This happens just weeks after another famed local restaurant, Clair de Lune, was also shut down after many years in the business. Both restaurants attracted the rich, famous and powerful as well as young lovers on first dates or local foodies in search of culinary excitements. In both cases, business was not what it used to be and the owner of Cafe Henry Burger even blames the recent "greater scrutiny of public servants' expense accounts". The food of these two restaurants was excellent but for what I have seen it was also a little bit on the traditional side; lets say that they were more into the French Laundry's classicality then El Bulli's experimentations.

But lets be frank here, Ottawa is not and I don't even believe that it once was a great city to dine out. When we move here from Toronto, one of the first things Fufu realized was that there were almost more outdoor sports shops then restaurants in the city. Well it is not totally true but the amounts of outdoor sports shops here is quite spectacular when compared with that of restaurants. Ottawa seem to be a place to play outside but not a place to socialize and eat. We are still slowly discovering the city but so far our list of interesting places (budget-wise or gastronomically-wise) is quite short. It seems there is neither offer nor demand for cheap AND good restaurants in the area... and now we just lost two of the good restaurants in this city.


Michel Lafleur said...

Having lived in Ottawa until last May, it took me leaving the city to realize and miss some of it's unique culinary offerings.

I am now living in Japan, where by and large the food selection is rather bland and "ethnic" foods are practically nonexistent unless I hop a 2 hour train ride to Tokyo.

Here are some suggestions for you:

At 825 Bank street in the Glebe sits Infusion Bistro, which has served me well in the past. I recommend their signature Bruschetta as a starter and if there's a steak on the menu, jump on it. Make reservations and request one of the two tables in small alcoves by the window for a more intimate dinner.

If you're interested in what may be THE best authentic Chinese in Ottawa, you should check out Pe Nan Wok at the corner of Bank street and Sunnyside. It is a tiny little hole in the wall place and serves up probably the best spring rolls I've ever had (this includes my time in Japan AND China) and the General Tao's Chicken is fantastic. Good place for lunch, they're pretty quick. We used to go there on a biweekly basis when I worked at the General Hospital.

La Ferme Rouge is another spot you should look into if you're interested in some great seafood and a good night out. Kind of a dinner theater affair, en francais of course, located out in the Masson\Buckingham area... not too far out.

The Wakefield Mill Inn also has fantabulous table fare if you're up for a drive through the countryside.

I also had a good experience when I visited Capone's Italian Restaurant. They have one location on Carling ave. near Lincoln Fields and another on Industrial in the West End. I only ate there once, but the veal capellini was to die for.

Now of course, Ottawa has a shorteage of high-end restaurants when compared to Montreal, Toronto or Quebec cities (3 places I've gone wild on business trips with unlimited meal allowances!)... but if you're persistent, you can find a few gems to sustain your need for gastronomic enlightenment right there in Ottawa.

MagicTofu said...

Wow! thanks for all the suggestions Michel.

It is true that we are often blind to the merrits of the city we live in and only realize it when we no longer live there. I guess the problem with me is that I was spoiled when living in Toronto. In Ottawa, we have often been quite disapointed by our few experiences and we might have got prematured ideas about this city's restaurant scene.

I am very surprised that you found the food selection to be so poor in Japan. When I was there 2 years ago I was just struck by all that was available to us. I especially liked the japanese pub food and the noodles. Of course, we stayed in major centers and smaller cities are probably less attractive.

mintyfresh said...

I would tend to disagree....there are tons of amazing little (and not that expensive restuarants) in Ottawa - they just don't sit on the side of the road basking in neon "look at me" lights. The Light of India, Fairouz, the Black Cat, breakfast at the Wild Oat, Infusion, Carribean Flavours, Pho Bo, Shanghai...the list goes on and on. A good starting place if you're not familiar with the city is the "Cheap Eats Guide". It's packed full of cheap yet delicious places to check out. I wouldn't recommend all of them, but there are a number that I would happily frequent more than once a week.

I suppose, one could argue, that if you're looking for something mainstream, there's not necessarily a lot of gems in town. But I could spend hours listing places and dishes in town that are spectacular. The trouble with food, of course, is that it's an intensely personal thing - no one is going to feel quite the same way about the same place. Finding great places to eat is one part luck and three parts trial and error.

MagicTofu said...

I am glad that you disagree with me mintyfresh. I certainly don't expect everyone to feel that Ottawa is restaurant poor. I know many of the restaurants you mentioned and do enjoy some of them. The problem is that the good and cheap restaurants are few in this city compared to the bad ones. Although my post referred to fairly expensive restaurants, my main concern relates to the more affordable side of the restaurant business.

Cheap food usually means ‘ethnic’ restaurants but even those are not what I would normally expect. My partner, for instance, and who is herself Chinese, just hates the 'Asian' restaurants in this city. Its all dim sum and slimy starchy dish often cooked with smelly old oil... On the other hand, most pubs have decent menus and we can sometimes find a pearl hidden in a small neighbourhood somewhere in the city.

Many of my friends share the same belief that Ottawa is on the boring side when talking about food. I still haven't found a good bakery yet and I tried about 20 of them. I don't feel that I am a food snob nor an Ottawa hater but I have been quite disappointed by the local restaurant scene here. This is one of the many reasons that pushed me into home cooking which later translated into food blogging.

I don’t understand your comments about the ‘mainstream’ side of the restaurant business. Ottawa is full of restaurant chains offering pretty much what I would call ‘mainstream’ food but you might be talking about something else.

But don’t get me wrong. Ottawa is a very nice city. It is rare to see a city so green where most of us can enjoy the outdoors so easily. We also have among the best museums of Canada and a national park in our own backyard! It is one of the very few true bilingual cities of the world… but good and cheap restaurants are few… at least that is the preliminary conclusion I have reached so far… I would be pleased to be proven wrong on this.