18 York St. Ottawa – 613-244-1188 – Website
Date of Visit: December 3, 2012
I must have passed by E18teen countless times without noticing it. The understated signage outside, and the rather imposing, yet featureless appearance of the building doesn’t really suggest a restaurant at all. I had taken a quick look at their web-site before deciding to visit, of course, but what I saw in those pages along with the ‘trendiness’ of the name, made be think it might be a bit of a ‘gimicky’ sort of place, with more emphasis on the ‘nouvelle’ rather than the ‘cuisine’. As it happened, I was far more impressed than I expected to be…
Ambience and Service
The interior of E18teen is every bit as imposing as the outside, but definitely not featureless. It is quite ornately decorated, divided nicely into different seating areas, and artfully placed candles and reflective surfaces give a warm glow to the pristine tablecloths and gleaming glassware. It was, I have to say, a sight that almost made me turn back on first entering as I was really not dressed for the occasion given that I had originally not expected to eat there until later in the week and had only stopped in on a whim when other dining plans fell through. Upon seeing the sumptuousness of the dining area, I half expected that my jeans would get me turned away but, instead, I was greeted as warmly and politely as if I had been in the most formal of clothing.
The rest of the service that evening was as pleasant and accommodating is it was at the beginning. As in most high-end establishments, I was attended to by several persons; a main server who took all my orders, another who brought me my selections, and a third who served me incidentals, such as the very nice multigrain complimentary bread, and also cleared the table after successive courses. Everything was handled smoothly and efficiently, and never did the attentiveness become obtrusive.
I first should say that the menu at E18teen is not a large one but it is very nicely balanced and has some interesting selections, particularly from the appetizer section. The wine list is very comprehensive, with some very expensive vintages, but, unless you really indulge yourself in this regard, a meal here is not outrageously costly. Indeed, I was very surprised, given the surroundings and service, how very reasonable the food prices were.
Complimentary Amuse-Bouche – After the service of complimentary bread and butter, I was surprised to receive a lovely little unordered treat that my waiter described, as best as I can recall, as Dungeness crab with miso mayonnaise, radish and a section of mandarin orange. It was a tiny little thing, all too brief on the lips, but it was really delightful, with a lovely balancing of the sweet, salty and umami flavors.
Rodney Prince Oysters (PEI) – I ordered 6 of these as an appetizer and they were served, alongside the usual lemon and horseradish, with a house mignonette. I don’t generally adulterate fresh oysters with anything, not even lemon juice, but I tasted the mignonette and found that, while a pleasant lend of balsamic and fresh thyme flavors, and probably lovely in other applications, it would be too much for the delicate taste of raw oysters. The oysters themselves were excellent and, while St. Simone’s from New Brunswick, currently rate as my favorite, these would have to come a close second. I love the typical Malpeque oyster, PEI’s most widely known export, but the sharp spikiness of the brine highlights in that variety were much softer here and rounded out some lovely sweet cucumber notes. They were delightfully succulent and I gave them an Oyster Rating of 5/5.
BC Spot Prawn Pasta – The prawns were described as being served with Papardelle, Parmesan and a lemon-butter sauce but some lovely, barely cooked tiny diced tomatoes were added as well. The sauce was not quite as lemony as I expected but it was still very delicious and the tomato added some nice acid notes that the faint lemony background did not. The shrimp were very well selected and cooked to a tender, succulent perfection. I gave this a Rating of 4/5.
Char Grilled Alberta Black Angus Rib-eye – This was served with a roasted shallot jus and the menu allowed for a selection of two sides. I chose the brown butter and dill potatoes along with Le Coprin Farm mushrooms and ordered my steak medium-rare and nicely charred.
The steak, I can honestly say, is one of the best I have ever had. It was cooked exactly the way I ordered and was so tender that it virtually cut like butter. The jus was very rich, with just a little sweetness and went very well with both the steak and the mushrooms. The potatoes were also excellent and nicely seasoned with just the right amount of dill. My only complaint was that I couldn’t quite finish it all. I gave it a well-deserved steak rating of 5 out of 5.
E18teen was a nice surprise for me. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal with excellent service in very comfortable and pleasant surroundings. I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone looking for a really fine dining experience without breaking the bank.