Dining out during a girls’ weekend in Ottawa

So, this was an interesting one. My two girlfriends and I met 15-16 years ago in 1998/9. (Whoa!) But we’ve lived in different cities since around 2003. We haven’t come altogether since 2007 and that was just for a day so it was a supreme treat – and proves it’s not impossible – to spend a weekend together!

And what was it like to have more than just one meal together when one of us it just passing through the other’s town? Here’s how it went.

Murray Street kwc

It was way too easy to get to Ottawa when you’re staying in Toronto just a stone’s throw from the airport in the city and the airline (Porter) is hassle-free. We also cabbed from the Ottawa airport to the hotel and while it looked closer on a map, it was still so easy. We found the Marriott Courtyard – the only hotel in Ottawa’s Byward Market – to be wonderfully central but then I had also planned our activities to kind of center in the Market.

My first plan was to hit up Murray Street kwc (kitchen | wine | charcuterie) which sounded really cool. The decor was dark and luxe like a gentleman’s club and on a Friday lunch, we were only the second table. There were a few items that caught our eye – amongst them a corned beef sandwich and pulled pork – and we both chose the flat iron steak sandwich. I was sold when the waitress aid the beef was smothered in cheese sauce.

When our food arrived, it looked way too modest. No sides listed, no sides came with it. But perhaps my eyes were hungrier than my stomach (which was hungry). The presentation of an open faced beef sandwich smothered in cheese was greatly improved with the mixed greens and purple sprout touch. We talked and strategized about the weekend and took delicate bites and it was the right size portion. The marinated beef was truly tender and delicious and the cheese sauce blended from artisanal varieties was so good I didn’t want to leave a drop. Even the toasted and buttered baguette beneath it all was deserving of praise.

Moulin De Provence Bakery

After our “light” lunch, we walked around Byward Market with no particular goal other than to explore. When we hit the end of the commercial area, we would turn around and start down the next street. Vinnie remembered a great bakery from her last visit and it wasn’t hard to locate Moulin De Provence in the large building that houses the market and other food stalls. In the winter, the bakery seals all of the windows; I heard in the summer, it is an open-air bakery.

The display was drool-worthy and I marveled at the savoury baked items topped with shredded cheese. I gather that when you order it, it gets heated in an oven that freshly melts the cheese on your roll, croissant, etc. Delicious! Again, I was torn between a slice of mousse cake, a couple other pastries and a chocolate danish. I must have had the unforgettable chocolate brioche I had in Paris in mind and it was good but no comparison.


Metropolitan Brasserie Restaurant

When my cousins and I couldn’t get into one pub on Friday night after work, we made a last minute reservation at Metropolitan. I only had a martini (French Riviera with strawberry vodka, melon, Chambord  and lime) that was lovely to sip. The art deco decorated restaurant was bustling yet the waiter was kind to us having essentially just drinks during early dinner hour. My cousin took advantage of the happy hour Hill Special of $1 oysters and shrimps. The shrimp looked great to me but I just ripped apart warm baguette and enjoyed it with butter.

Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience

When Vinnie likened Fat Tuesday’s to Margaritaville, I got worried. I believe I was in a Margaritaville in Vegas and I felt like our group was conspiciously uncomfortable with the kitsch. But it was a Fat Tuesday (no relation) in St. Kitts that was like Margaritaville. Whew! Fat Tuesday’s has been on our itinerary from the start. I rarely get to have “Southern” cuisine.

We started with a drink each and I ordered a nice and spicy Caesar, most excited to learn what a Louisiana skewer was. What a fun skewer with olive, green bean, sausage and jalapeno! We couldn’t easily decide between the fried chicken and the jambalaya and – what would you know – the three of us all ordered jambalaya! The girls ordered a fish taco each and it not sounding like a Southern specialty and I wanted to increase my “vegetables” order, I got the fried green tomatoes. In the panko crust, they looked like crab cakes that you can savour slowly and divvy into quarters each. The first thing the girls noticed was the rice in the jambalaya was undercooked – it wasn’t raw and crunchy but we could tell it wasn’t quite there yet. It didn’t seem entirely like it was made with love and care but it was still tasty and comforting, you know?

So, Fat Tuesday’s has the only duelling pianos show in Ottawa. The show takes place every Saturday but it was a special Friday show and I was happy to finally get to take in a show. We thought we might move away from our front row seat but it was quite fun to be front and center with no obstructions to the pianist and a great view of dancers and other characters. When I paid particular attention to the last song before their break (Benny and the Jets), I was sooo impressed by their rapport with each other and the audience, any and all improvisation, singing and their strong piano-pounding fingers. The pianist reminded me of a former co-worker I wouldn’t look at twice but he seemed more attractive due to his talent. Our positive experience at Fat Tuesday’s is tied up with the show and we’re so glad it was good because our second stop was a bust.

Mambo Nuevo Latino

During our walk around the Market the day before, Vinnie and I had spied Mambo’s signage that declared $15 lunch/brunch including a beverage. The semi-permanent banner was a little tacky but it got us to return for a no-fuss brunch the next morning. On a Saturday for brunch, we were the only customers and I gave them a pass – they probably have good business in the evening? They appear to offer a vibrant dinner and then turn into a lounge and dance club.

First off, the coffee was good, not your usual commercial brand taste. We had a great deal of choice between lunch selections and brunch selections. Given they weren’t busy, I want to order something foolproof. I wanted something “authentic”. And I wanted to avoid menu items with cilantro without having to ask them to change it. It was hard to satisfy all three! I ended up getting a wrap (wrap=less carbs) while the quesadilla Vinnie ordered did appeal to me (but not the mozzarella cheese used) and the El Cubano pulled pork sandwich Mona ordered (not usually a fan of pulled pork). I probably got the most American item! The chicken was tender and perfectly cubed and I just liked all of the ingredients in the wrap and the use of green spinach tortilla. The fries were average yet I still ate too many of them.

Bangkok Thai Garden Restaurant [Urbanspoon]

I had a couple of restaurant suggestions from doing my research but after a day out and including a skate on the canal skateway (after which I was frozen), I was down with getting something simple, local and comforting. We went with the Thai place advertising outside its door a $15 dinner combo with Thai-like decor over the its neighbour, a brightly-lit and spartan-looking kebab place. The kebab place had patrons who were Arabic and Bangkok Thai Garden had all Caucasian patrons. But we can’t expect so much in Ottawa, right?

From the dinner combination, we could each find a main that we wanted. Red curry for me, of course. The hot & sour soup to start with was very simple and the spring rolls were cute and small. The red curry was average tasting and all you could expect in a cheap dinner combo.


Club Caliente

Oh, Ottawa, where cover and coat check is only $8 and drinks are relatively cheap. From the outset of planning for the trip, Vinnie wanted to check out a Spanish club and conveniently there’s one in Byward Market and only half a block away from the hotel. The dance floor is upstairs and it’s small and it wasn’t packed. Still, it was sufficiently busy and people danced to every song that it wasn’t lame. I quickly concluded that a Spanish dance club is a place I’ll like – there is a (small) barrier to entry that is an appreciation and ability to dance to the music that will deter just anyone young and old to want to come. These days, we really don’t want to be with the youngin’s.

(It was a brilliant contrast to be in the hot – i.e., hot Latin music – club on the second floor and take a look outside to the Market and see the continuous snow fall blanketing everything outdoors.)

The music fell roughly into three types: salsa, merengue and bachata. I don’t know salsa from some other up-tempo music but you know because all of the people taking salsa lessons go on the dance floor and practice their moves. I don’t know merengue from salsa exactly but that’s when the dance floor thins out while salsa learners take a break. When Vinnie first told me about and raved about bachata, I thought it might be a really (really) sultry dance but it’s just a romantic dance. I loved the rumba when I learned it (another dance of love) but it’s woefully unpopular. Seems like bachata supplanted it – or maybe it was there all along. We left just before the club closed at 2 a.m. and went onto …

Dunn’s Famous Deli

I had pizza in mind while maybe the girls wanted shawarma (we were, afterall, in Ottawa) and we ended up being drawn in by the big Dunn’s sign and the 24-hour part of it of Dunn’s, across the street from the hotel. It was more comfortable seating than a tiny pizza or shawarma joint steaming up because of too many people breathing inside.

At 2:30 a.m., Dunn’s was hopping the influx of the clubbing crowd that had just let out. Okay, the smallest item at Dunn’s was more food than a slice (or two) of pizza or even a shawarma but we picked out some favourites – the menu did seem to indicate all were popular. The poutine had a delicious gravy and the chili on my chili cheese hot dog was nice and thick.

The Manx Pub

After a late and heavy meal, we didn’t want to budge from the hotel until the original check-out time. And the 25-minute walk down Elgin to Manx was a good way to gain an appetite. The Manx Pub is rated a very local place to have brunch and Mona had mentioned it, too. Below street level, it is divey to the hilt with stained upholstery with the previous customer’s crumbs and one annoying fruit fly that liked to hang around us. And the host/waiter was unnaturally mellow…

I wanted a traditional breakfast but I was actually a bit adverse to bacon or even sausage for once. I thought the sides of the breakfast (toast, potatoes) might kill me. So I went with a fried egg sandwich and wondered what a $10 sandwich with a cheap ingredient (egg) would be like.

It was our favourite meal of the trip – it was our last meal. The girls ordered traditional breakfasts and were disappointed to learn the yummy-sounding braised mushrooms were out (it was, afterall, 2 p.m. when we arrived). What they called “hashbrowns” on their menu was actually served as a garlicky mashed potato. That is so different and it was so good. I had no other sides than the “hashbrown” but my sandwich was thick with fresh and fragrant sourdough-like white bread and a stack of refreshing lettuce. The egg was cooked just right and the rich egg with melted cheese and creamy guacamole hit the spot in one sandwich. I was also glad to dine – if for just one meal – outside of Byward Market!

The Scone Witch [Facebook]

Their 150 Elgin location is not well advertised – in fact, the cafe needs their own website and not to rely on a Facebook page! – and it worked out so well since we were dining farther down Elgin at The Manx Pub. 150 Elgin is a new space for The Scone Witch, converted to a great, open cafe space with open bakery. Vinnie and hubby brought the cafe to my attention and what better Ottawa souvenir for NPY than a gift of food/scones? We each got assorted flavours – half dozen each – for me: vanilla/cream, orange/cranberry, lemon-poppyseed, strawberry & yogurt (special of the month), cheddar, and herb and onion! They are a thing of beauty in the box, so crusty and flaky looking. With a bit of butter and heated up again, they were so soft and maddeningly good!

On this day..