769 Gladstone Ave., Ottawa (613) 234-9379 Website
Date of Visit: July 24, 2012
I was really looking forward to visiting this place on my trip to Ottawa back in March of this year but, unfortunately, when I arrived in town, I discovered that the place was closed while the owners were away on vacation. This time, however, it was open for business and I was able to enjoy a very long, and very pleasant lunch…
Ambience and Service
Harmony is a very small place seating just 36 customers or so. It is not cramped, however, and is nicely light and airy with simple furnishings and an uncluttered décor. I was given a nice little table for two near the window where I could see everything. It was comfortable, but I was a little disappointed to learn, when I first sat down, that it has no liquor license. It was a brutally muggy day and a cold beer or two would have been very welcome.
I arrived at about 12:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon at the same time as a foursome of Asian customers. We were the only patrons in the place and it was clearly expected to be a slow day for the place as there was only one young lady on duty. She was very friendly and efficient and brought me a pot of complimentary tea right away. When she brought me the menu, she showed me that the first half was comprised of what she called ‘traditional’ Chinese dishes whilst the remainder was ‘Canadian Chinese’ and consisted of the typical ‘Sweet and Sour’ dishes that most non-Asians seem to prefer. I told her I would be ordering ‘traditional’ dishes only and I was very pleased when she made a point of telling me not to hesitate to ask if I had any questions about any of the items on offer.
Chinese Chive Cake
When ordered this, I was rather expecting something along the lines of the common green onion pancakes that I make at home quite often. This, however, while made with the same type of simple white flour dough, was a stuffed cake and contained scrambled eggs in addition to the chives. The chives were brilliantly green and very tasty and I though the egg complimented them very nicely. When they were brought to me, the waitress also gave me a shaker of black vinegar and told me that most patrons like to sprinkle it on the cakes. I tried it but, in all honesty, I thought they didn’t need any sort of condiment at all as they were quite delicious enough all by themselves. Rating: 4 out of 5.
Sweet Fermented Rice Soup
This dish represented firsts for me on two counts. Not only have I never tried fermented rice before, this is the first time I have ever sampled one of the sweet soups that are so popular in Chinese cuisine. On the whole I have to say that it was very good indeed. The white balls you see in the broth are made from rice flour and the garnish is black sesame seeds. The aroma was very much like a perfumed, aromatic tea and, unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with fermented rice to know if that was the dominant component of the bouquet. The taste was very sweet indeed and reminded me of either Lychee or apricot syrup diluted with a mild green tea. There were some orange fragments in the broth and when I asked about them, the waitress informed me that they were Goji berries. I enjoyed the taste and I also thought that the chewy texture of the rice flour balls was very pleasant as well. Rating: 4 out of 5.
Sliced Pork with Garlic
This dish, I have to say, while quite tasty, was a bit of a disappointment. The Chinese name on the menu is蒜泥白肉, which translates as ‘garlic mush white pork’. The sauce in this version was basically a lightly-sweetened soy with just a dash of vinegar served over very thinly sliced fatty pork slices atop a bed of slivered cucumber and scattered with chopped garlic. Traditionally, the garlic should be almost a puree (hence the ‘mush’ in the Chinese name), and it should be a very garlicky flavored dish indeed. This, however, was very bland and uninteresting with only a hint of garlic apparent here and there. The fattiness of the pork, while quite traditional, was a bit too greasy for my taste and, in a cold-dish, at least, I would prefer the cut to be quite a bit leaner. Rating: 2 out of 5.
Ears in Hot oil
Although neither the English nor the Chinese name on the menu fully describes this dish, it is actually shredded pigs ears served cold in Chili oil. This version included slivered cucumber and was very good indeed. The pig ears, although inconsistently cut, had a lovely texture and the chili oil used at this restaurant was top-notch and had a lovely nutty quality to it. The only thing I didn’t like about the dish was that it contained cilantro, a herb that I wish I liked but have been unable to ever enjoy. Still, I can hardly fault the restaurant for that and the execution of the dish was excellent. Rating: 5 out of 5.
Kelp with Garlic
For those unfamiliar with the name, ‘kelp’ is a variety of seaweed that is very commonly used in Japanese cuisine, where it is known as ‘Konbu’. In this dish, the kelp was finely shredded and served in a sauce along with finely sliced scallion, cucumber, and coarsely chopped raw garlic. The sauce was largely the same as the ‘Sliced Pork with Garlic’ and would have been quite nice except that, again, Cilantro was included. Over all, the dish wasn’t too bad but the kelp was very bland and could have been almost anything. I liked it well enough but it wasn’t terribly exciting. Rating 3 out of 5.
Although the service could have been a bit quicker given the emptiness of the place during my visit, it was otherwise very good. The young lady who was working alone was very friendly and pleasant and quite helpful in answering my questions. A couple of the dishes were not absolutely to my liking but, other than that, I had a really excellent meal. I recommend giving this place a try and I will be sure to bring my wife here the next time we manage to end up in Ottawa at the same time…