Review: Café Orient
808 Somerset St. West, Ottawa – 613-563-2422
Date of Visit: July 28, 2012
I was hoping to visit this restaurant on a couple of past trips to Ottawa but time constraints always made it impossible. I was thus very glad to be able to finally give the place a try on my most recent culinary expedition to the capital as it has a very large menu with all sorts of interesting items not to be found in many run-of-the-mill places…
Ambience and Service
Café Orient appears as a pretty tiny little place when viewed from the outside but there is room inside to seat 60 customers or so. It was full almost to capacity when I arrived at noon and I noted that the customers at only one of the tables were non-Asian, which suggested that the dishes on offer were not likely to be unduly ‘westernized’. The décor is a little plain, shabby even, but the place is not uncomfortable.
There were three waitresses on duty for the noon meal and I was served promptly with a fairly decent pot of complimentary tea. After that, the service, though always polite and friendly, was not all that quick even though I lingered for some time after the place had largely emptied out. Still, it wasn’t terribly slow and I rather got the idea that the servers were also required to attend to tasks in the rear of the restaurant as well.
Steamed dry shrimp rice roll
This also appeared on the menu as蒸蝦米腸粉 (zhēng xiāmǐ chángfěn) and did indeed consist of sections of ‘Cheong Fun’ with tiny dried shrimp cooked into the batter from which the rolls were formed. It was served with a little oyster sauce, as is quite common, but this version was also drizzled with a thin peanut sauce that I wasn’t quite sure I liked. It didn’t taste bad, by any means, but the flavor was a little strong for the delicate shrimp flavor of the roll. It was interesting, I suppose, but I’m not sure I’d rush to have it again. I rated it at a 3 out of 5.
Spare rib in black bean sauce
This dish was a definite winner… I find this dish to be overcooked in many restaurants but these were steamed perfectly and were tender while still being nicely chewy. There were very few black beans in the sauce, along with just a little sliced garlic clove, but the flavor was excellent. These were definitely amongst the best I have had as a dim sum offering and I would be hard pressed to claim that better has come out of my own kitchen. They genuinely rated a full 5 out of 5.
Green onion pancake
I ordered this dish at the same time as I ordered the ribs but it was actually delivered some ten minutes before the ribs arrived, which I found a bit annoying. Sadly, this selection was not nearly as good as the ribs turned out to be as the pancakes were really quite doughy and greasy and had very little in the way of onion flavor. They weren’t horrible, but I have definitely had better elsewhere and I only rated them at a 2 out of 5.
Café Orient is not a place to go for the ambience, certainly, but it definitely won’t strain the pocketbook and is well worth a visit. Although two of the three dishes I tried were only mediocre, the third was excellent and I would love to go back a few times more and sample some of their other selections. The service was a bit slow, although not unreasonably so, but I very much enjoyed the experience.