47 York Street, Ottawa, (613) 241-8805 – Website
Date of Visit: March 21, 2012
I had planned to visit Luxe Bistro on a trip to Ottawa in 2011 but was prevented from doing so by lack of time. On my most recent visit to the capital, I made this restaurant a priority and booked a table for 7pm on the first evening of my stay.
As luck would have it, I developed a bit of a nasty chest cold just before leaving home and I arrived in the city, a mere two hours before my booking, in a rather frazzled condition after an especially trying three hour flight seated behind a constantly crying baby. Admittedly, this is hardly the best frame of mind in which to do a restaurant review but, as it turned out, aside from a limited ability to properly savor the wine, I ended up enjoying a pretty decent dining experience…
Ambience and Service
When I arrived, I asked to be seated outside as it was a really warm night but all the tables on the patio were full. I got placed at a fairly nice table near the back of the restaurant where I could see everything but the arrangement was marred by a very noisy party at the table directly beside me. One individual in particular had a very loud braying laugh that he exercised every thirty seconds or so and, after a long flight and a trying day, I was really not in the mood to listen to him for the whole evening.
After ordering a beer to start, I asked my waiter if there might be a chance of table opening up outside. He looked doubtful and said it wasn’t that likely but about five minutes later he rushed over and said a small table had just been vacated. We had to be quick, he told me and he helped me gather all my belongings and dash outside. Thankfully, we made it out and secured the table just as a fresh crowd was arriving at the door.
Getting seated on the patio really made the evening look up. It was getting dark by this time and the air was cooling quite nicely with a pleasant light breeze. It was very nice to be able to watch the bustle of the night crowd and, after a little while, a pair of street performers played music on a little traffic island about fifty feet away from my seat.
I had a change of waiters after the move. The new one was a very pleasant young man who, though a little confused about the menu, otherwise provided excellent service throughout the evening. It was quite busy after I arrived and he was kept hopping most of the time but my orders came quickly and I never lacked for anything.
The menu at Luxe Bistro offers a regular ‘East & West Coast Oster’ appetizer, but that night, they also had a selection of three different oysters for $3 each. They had Sea Angels, from British Columbia, Wiannos from Cape Cod, and Raspberry Points from PEI. I have had Raspberry Point oysters many times before so I gave these a pass, but I did sample four each of the other two.
The oysters came with four different condiments that the menu describes as: Vodka Mignonette, Cocktail sauce, Horseradish and Tabasco. My poor waiter got a bit confused over what was what and, even after going inside to check, he returned to still get it wrong, identifying the Tabasco as the Mignonette. I didn’t care about this, however, as his service was otherwise excellent, and I don’t actually care to put condiments in my oysters in any event. I did taste the Mignonette, though, and it was really lovely. It had a light sweet garlic taste and would make a lovely dressing for a simple cucumber salad, I think.
Sea Angels Oysters – These oysters are very small, not much more than an inch and a half across, and they have a lovely delicately frilled shell. They started out with a strong salty taste but this was very smooth and not at all the sharp briny tang of most east coast varieties. The saltiness then quickly faded into a sweet, cucumber taste with highlights of melon and there was a pleasant grassy finish to them. There was not much liquor but they were still succulent and, to my surprise, they didn’t have the rich, buttery quality that can make some west coast oysters a bit cloying. I thought them the best I have ever had from BC and I gave them an oyster rating of 5 out of 5.
Wianno Oysters – These are a Cape Cod variety with a wider shell than some of their more northerly cousins, such as Malpeques. The ‘cup’ of the bottom shell is quite deep and they were very succulent with lots of sweet liquor. They were fairly briny at the start but only mildly tangy and with no metallic aftertaste. The middle was sweet and had a fresh cucumber taste with faint hints of new-mown hay. They were better than other Wiannos I have tried in the past and I gave them an oyster rating of 4 out of 5.
20oz Long Bone Rib Steak – I ordered this, as always, medium rare and well charred. It came with a choice of a side dish and complimentary sauce and I chose crispy onion rings and Smoked Shallot Butter.
The onion rings were a poor choice. I was rather expecting plain onion rings sliced paper thin and deep fried until crisp but these turned out to be the same thick, batter covered variety you can get at any diner.
The Smoked Shallot Butter was not a sauce but rather just two pats of a compound butter sitting atop the steak. It really tasted of nothing so much as bacon fat and, while it actually tasted interesting on the first bite or two, it quickly became overly rich and cloying and I didn’t bother with it again.
The steak was also a major disappointment. It looked lovely on arrival with nice charring and even the first bite tasted great. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there… The cut was not great and I came across quite a few pockets of soft, globular fat and a seam of gristle. More seriously, the cook, for some unaccountable reason, had managed to cook the steak so that all levels of ‘doneness’ from rare to well done were represented in this same small piece of meat. The medium-rare bits were all right, I suppose, but the rest naturally spoiled it for me. It was a very poor effort and I could only give it a Rib-steak rating of 2 stars out of 5.
My cold prevented me from properly appreciating the bouquet of wine that evening but I did sample a couple:
Echo Tawse Riesling from Niagara – This was fruity with a tart apple taste and highlights of pear and fennel. It was jauntily refreshing but a little too acidic at the finish. Rating 3 out of 5.
Matto Barolo from Piedmont – This was disappointing. I was expecting something hearty and full-bodied, being a Barolo, but it was flat and weak. A background of sour blackberry was dominated by a charcoal smokiness that was pungent and bitter. It did not compliment the steak. Rating 1 out of 5.
Luxe Bistro is a nicely appointed and comfortable place and, all in all, I had a very pleasant evening there. My steak was not very good, and the sides mediocre, but, given the excellent oysters and the top-notch service, I am inclined to put that down as just an unfortunate ‘accident’ and not reflective of the general quality of the establishment. I will go there again.