239 Nepean St, Ottawa
Date of Visit: April, 2018 – Website
I have to begin by saying, right off the bat, that this place is a little gem of a find. I had it on my list of places to visit on four or five visits to Ottawa and never managed to make it until just recently. I am just sorry, now, that I didn’t get there earlier …
The restaurant is truly tiny, seating no more than 25. It occupies the front room of an old house and is rather plainly appointed but, when full (as it quickly became after my arrival) the lively chatter over a background of soft Greek music makes it a very pleasant and cozy place to be.
The menu is described at the website as being Meze and Tapas, suggesting both Greek and Spanish, but, in fact, the range is much more eclectic, featuring Indian, South-east Asian, and Arabic influences. There are no ‘main course’ dishes, rather everything is of the small plate variety, which suited me right down to the ground. The beverage list is quite extensive, and the only disappointment for me, in this area, is that there were only a couple of Greek wines available by the glass.
Throughout, the service was phenomenal, especially given that a single waiter managed the whole place himself during a very busy sitting and managed to keep everyone happy and well served. It was obvious that he took personal interest and pleasure in the things he was serving and he was quite happy to discuss the various aspects of each dish.
Saganaki – Now, I have seen ‘Saganaki’ on many Greek restaurant menus and I have to confess that, until now, I had always thought that it referred to a type of cheese (as this is usually the main ingredient in the dish). However, my waiter enlightened me to the fact that a ‘Saganaki’ can be any ingredient served on a hot metal plate (from which the name derives, I gather), and which is typically flambéed. In this case, the dish was cheese, more specifically the Greek variety known as ‘Kefalograviera’. It was lightly breaded and (I assume) quickly fried before being brought to the table. It arrived on a hot iron plate where my server poured over a glass of Metaxa brandy and ignited it ….
Well! The whole thing burst into a vertical flame almost two feet high with a great ‘Whoosh’. I tried to photograph it, but my camera wasn’t quick enough and I had to settle for the ‘after’ picture you see above. Anyway, lemon juice had been added beforehand, and, though I couldn’t detect any brandy in the end taste, the caramelized lemon juice was superb in the overall taste. As for the cheese (which I have never had before), it was extremely tasty, being a bit like a Buffalo Mozzarella with a bit of semi-sharp white cheddar. What made it extremely pleasant, though, was the delightful texture which was wonderfully (and REALLY) chewy. Although, simple, this dish will almost certainly count in the upper ranges of my culinary treats for the year… it really was that good. It gets a solid 5 out of 5.
Rosemary Scallops – These were, according to the menu, marinated in lemon juice before being grilled in garlic butter. They were served on grilled lemon slices (which added a very nice aromatic quality quite distinct from raw slices), and were topped with caper berries. The butter, in addition to garlic, also contained rosemary, which was visible, but so deftly added as to add just a mere hint of their presence. I didn’t notice, until looking at the picture after the fact, that the placement of the berries, over the grill marks, gave the dish a ‘smiley face’ appearance, whether this was intended or not.
As to the grilling … I imagine that others, upon having the dish cooked the same way as I had it, might be moved to be critical. These days, it is almost expected that scallops should be a bit crusty from the sear and almost still translucent in the center, and celebrity chef after celebrity chef have roundly denounced grilled scallops where this has not been achieved. That being said, this was not the case here but I still stand by my assessment that this dish was well executed… There was not a crusty sear, and the centers were opaque and ‘well-done’, but the effect was excellent, and I give a decent 4 out of 5.
Loukaniko – These were Greek char grilled beef and pork sausage (Loukaniko being the type of sausage) which is flavored with lemon and spices. In truth, I didn’t find these especially exciting and they reminded me of ham sausage with a slight herby quality rather than being spicy (or being particularly lemony, for that matter). At first bit, I found there to be a slightly odd sulfurous/rubber quality and it took me a minute to realize this came from the micro-greens beneath. Once I identified the source, I actually quite enjoyed the interplay of flavors, and, though I still didn’t find the overall dish to be particularly special, it was well prepared and worth a 4 out of 5.
Arancini … These were breaded, depp-fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella on a pool of what the menu calls ‘blush sauce’ (which turned out to be a slightly creamy tomato sauce with whole cloves and a chiffonade of fresh basil). The rice was delicately seasoned with herb and the mozzarella was of the super stretchy variety, yielding a result like the Italian ‘Suppli al Telefono’, except that these were a bit larger, requiring a knife and fork to eat. The only flaw here was that they were deep-fried just a minute or so longer than necessary, leaving the breading a bit overdone. Still, while I might have been very critical of that fact elsewhere, the excellence of everything else made this a minor detail and I still give the dish a 3 out of 5.
Overall – The few tiny flaws in the dishes I had here were more than made up for the excellent service and very pleasant time I had here over a nearly two hour visit. I heartily recommend this place and rate it at a solid 5 out of 5.