438 Preston Street, Ottawa – Website
Date of Visit: January, 2016
Those who aren’t hard-core foodies may not recognize the ‘EVOO’ in the restaurant name as meaning ‘Extra Virgin Olive Oil’, although most will probably discern that Greek cuisine is very much on the menu. There are two Greek restaurants in Ottawa that I had been meaning to try for quite a while and when I finally made it to this one, set (a bit incongruously) in the heart of Little Italy, it turned out to be well worth the taxi-ride…
EVOO is a shotgun-narrow little place that probably seats around 60 or so. It appears to be a family concern and when I was first seated there was a very loud, but good-natured, discussion going on in Greek down at the bar end of the building. It was 11am when I arrived and the place was empty, but my the middle of the noon hour it was very nearly full and quite lively indeed.
I was seated near the windows right at the front of the restaurant and I discovered, on closer inspection, that the ‘windows’ were actually a glassed garage-style ‘door’ that can slide up to open out on to the patio they use in summertime. I also saw that there is another deck on the side of the building that is closed in with a plastic tent-like structure. There are heaters out there, suggesting cold-weather outdoor dining, but I guess that January is a bit too cold for that, as it was clearly not in use.
The website for this place specifically mentions ‘Meze’ (which you can almost think of as Greek Dim Sum’) and they have quite a few individual plates and combination platters of this sort. They also do Gyros and salads, and have a nice selection of grilled meats available. I would have loved to have tried the lamb had I not had my heart set on sampling their appetizers.
My waiter was a very friendly young man who was quite enthusiastic when it came to chatting about the menu. The place is fully licensed, with Sangria and Mimosas appearing as specials, and I was very pleased to see Retsina available. My waiter brought me some in the attractive bottle pictured above and said I could take the bottle with me. He suggested I could use it as a flower vase but I think it would do nicely as a carafe for herbed oil or vinegar.
Cypriot Halloumi – Halloumi is a cheese from Cyprus that, unlike most other varieties, does not melt during cooking. Here, at EVOO, it is grilled with and served with tomato and Kalamata olives in an olive oil and parsley dressing. Funnily enough, I had recently just bought some Halloumi cheese for the first time but the package is still unopened as of this writing and, accordingly, this was my first experience with it ever. I found it rather like a Feta, without the very sharp notes of that cheese, and I liked the smoother, slightly squeaky texture. The grill marks really added to the pleasing flavor and the dressing added a nice unctuousness. As for the olives, I have never been much of a fan in the past but these were a revelation and I enjoyed their very complex flavor. I thought this offering was superb and I gave it a 5 out of 5.
Grilled Octopus – This was served with Latholemono, a Greek oil and lemon dressing. I thought it very nicely presented and tasty but the texture wasn’t the best. The thick end was a little dry and the tip a bit mushy, but the middle portion was, happily, grilled just right. I liked the dressing and I found the tomatoes to be excellent. I commented on this to my waiter and he told me that they purchase them fresh from the market each day. I can’t say this was the best grilled octopus I have had but it was still enjoyable and I gave it a 3 out of 5.
Loukaniko – When it came to my final selection, I had a hard-time choosing between this Greek Sausage and the Keftede meatballs, which come served with Kefalotori cheese and mint. I mentioned this to my waiter and, without batting an eye, he unstintingly recommended the former and so I gave them a try. I found the sausage to be very tasty and a bit like a mild chorizo with a ham like flavor with hints of bacon. They were not spicy hot but had a faint herby taste with notes of cumin and possible fennel. My waiter suggested I try them with a squeeze of lemon on them and this turned out to be very nice indeed. I rated them at a 4 out of 5.
EVOO is a very nice place and I would happily return with friends sometime when I don’t have to worry about taking pictures of each dish or recording copious notes. The service was great and the food very enjoyable. I give it a decent 4 out of 5.