Review: Harmony Restaurant

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.

The Dishes

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.

Overall

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…

Harmony Restaurant on Urbanspoon

18 thoughts on “Review: Harmony Restaurant”

  1. Good to know that Ottawa also has good Chinese food. It seems that you know what to order too. 白肉is always fatty. Just don’t order. I believe this is not Cantonese food. What did they say about the cuisine? Looked pretty ok in a small restaurant.

    1. The restaurnt didn’t make any specific claim about the type of cuisine but you are right, it’s not Cantonese. The menu is a bit elcelctic, and they include Sichuan specialties, but I would say it is more Northern in overall character.

  2. Excellent review. I love chinese food. Because you also like to cook, you may want to check out The Art of Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo. I bought the book when it came out ages ago and I believe it is now out of print but well worth the purchase and bother. We are talking REAL chinese cooking, techniques, and ingredients. I think you would appreciate. I gave you a shout out on my blog for your “Champ” recipe as an example of good mashed potatoes to use for the Tater Cakes recipe. Hope you received some responses or queries about it.

    1. Hi … I googled the book reference and got ‘The Key to Chinese Cooking’ by Iren Kuo. It has good reviews at Amazon so I ordered a copy…. Thanx for the tip (I assume it is the same book).

      Thanx for the shout too … although I should note that Champ is really local to N. Ireland where my family comes from. Here in Canada, only a few with similar roots will recognize it. I’ll try the Tater cakes.

  3. I love the variety of tastes we all enjoy. It fascinates me! I don’t think I could manage the pig’s ears, but I’m not at all adventurous with food! I still enjoy hearing what you enjoy and think it is just great that you make the most of each dining experience! Fun review! After you posted your temperatures the other day, I may not be making a visit, but I’ll enjoy a vicarious adventure! Debra

  4. Sort of of a boring breakfast place next… but a couple of good indian restaurants and two other pretty decent Chinese places shortly thereafter. Glad you enjoyed the post… I really enjoyed the meal 🙂

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