The Ottawa dining scene has come a long way in the last few years. A lot of new quality restaurants have been popping up out of nowhere, and it's great to see Ottawa developing as a dining city.
One restaurant I've been eyeing since its opening back in November was Atelier. Molecular gastronomy is an emerging cuisine, and I must say that Ottawa is blessed to have a great 'molecular gastronomy' restaurant of our own. Marc Lepine and his talented team use cutting-edge techniques to create dishes that you don't see everyday.
Atelier only offers a 12-course tasting menu, and every dish introduces you to new flavors, textures, and ideas. Don't expect anything to be traditional, and be prepared to be stationed for at least 3 hours. If you have an open mind and a sense of culinary adventure, Atelier is well worth your money and time. Their menu changes often, so it's not necessarily a place you would just try once.
Here's a detailed tour of my dinner at Atelier this past weekend.
Our meal started off with BBQ bread served with a marshmallowy-textured butter. The bread was really good, and it tasted like BBQ chips in bread form.
Our first course was the caviar creamsicle. It was a Vodka creamsicle covered with sustainable caviar, and dusted with lime fuzz. The salty and fishy caviar combined with a cold neutral ice cream made for a very interesting dish.
Next came the tuna. Although good in taste, I didn't find it that interesting of a dish. It was Albacore tuna sashimi covered with lime cells (lime frozen, then shattered) served with a sweet watermelon and a mustard sauce. Radishes and water chestnut leaves were used for garnish.
The third course was a play on soup and crackers. The crackers were alternating slices of duck pâté, and honey crisp. A hot cream of cauliflower soup was poured over the crackers, and when the crackers melted, the flavours fused together, creating a wonderful taste. This was one of my favorite dishes. I don't normally care for sweetness in my dinner food, but the honey crisp added a very nice touch to the dish.
The fruit salad was a dish that enhanced both your sense of taste and smell. The spoon had a torched cinnamon stick pinned to it, and it provided a nice scent close to your nose when you ate the spoon sized course. It consisted of a wedge of blood orange, a dehydrated olive, and almond crumbles. This was a neat flavor combination, and the dehydrated olive was tasty and not too overpowering.
The scallop course may have looked plain, but there were a lot of interesting tastes and textures going on. It was a perfectly seared scallop with chive sauce, candied orange peel, Jerusalem artichoke brown butter puree, and a vanilla lemon sponge. The lemon sponge was delicious, and it tasted like candy in sponge form.
Next came the mashed potatoes, another one of my favorites. To set the mood for this dish, a mini torched rosemary tree was brought out for aroma. It smelt lovely, and served as a good conversation piece. The mashed potatoes came with three different garnishes: leek, caramelized onion ribbon, and black truffle. I was most excited for the truffle, but I actually liked the onion ribbon best. This dish was sprinkled with elk kielbasa bits.
The 7th course was a play on gin and juice. It served as a palate cleanser, and was absolutely delicious when mixed together. While each element was very interesting on its own, the ingredients needed to be mixed together for the dish to really come together. It consisted of tonic foam, gin jellies, a thick cranberry sauce, grapefruit cells, and grapefruit sorbet.
The spoon for this dish was multi-functional and the arm of the spoon was a test tube filled with orange juice. The intent was to uncork the spoon, and pour the orange juice into the dish.
Atelier's cutlery changed often throughout the night, and they were just as interesting as the food. This particular test tube spoon originated from Spain.
Another play on a traditional dish was the butter pheasant. It mimicked Indian butter chicken, and was a curried pheasant served with brussel sprout leaves, persimmon puree, toasted pine nuts, and caramelized turnip. The persimmon purée went extremely well with the pheasant.
Next was the beef carpaccio. On top of the beef carpaccio was an olive oil rock, mustard cream, parmesan foam, shaved parmesan cheese, and dehydrated onion. The olive oil rock was olive oil in powder form. While it was neat to try, I found it a little too big in size, making it too overpowering in this dish.
A huge trend right now is cooking sous vide or "under vacuum". It is a technique developed in the 70's that consists of food being cooked for a long period of time in an air tight plastic bag in low temperatures well below boiling point. We had the sous-vide bison that was cooked rare to medium rare. On the side were dehydrated beets, celeriac puree, blue potato, mushrooms, gooseberry mustard, and some sort of foam that didn't have a lot of taste to it (can't remember the flavor).
The bison was cooked perfectly, and melted in my mouth. This dish was my favorite of the night.
With St. Patty's day coming up, pastry chef Michael Holland created all the desserts with the Irish holiday in mind. A big kudos to him for creating such amazing desserts! Not only were the dishes fun, but they were memorable and delicious.
The first was lucky charms. CK and I laughed so hard when this dish came out because it is his favorite cereal. They don't carry Lucky Charms in Australia, so when he comes home, he loads up on this stuff. It drives me nuts because it is such a sugary cereal and I always bug him to eat a healthier cereal.
This dish was caramelized lucky charms cereal, with a cocoa butter shell filled with vanilla milk.
The next dessert was purely a Guinness treat. It was Guiness chocolate cake with Guinness ice cream, and Guinness foam. This was served with pear purée, tissue paper thin pear skin, caramelized pear, chocolate pudding, and cinnamon wafers. The Guinness ice cream was the best part.
The last course was an Irish Elvis truffle: a white chocolate dyed-green truffle with a peanut butter and banana cream filling, and bacon bits sprinkled on top. Both the idea and taste of this truffle was wild, and the salty bacon combined with the sweet filling produced a very exciting taste.
What added to the overall dining experience at Atelier was the surprise element. They prefer that you not look at the menu before your dinner so that you are eating with an open mind. We had no clue what dish was coming next, which made it all the more exciting. No worries about remembering what you ate, you are given an autographed menu at the end of the meal to take home.
We were invited to go back to the kitchen after our meal, and it was great meeting the Chefs and seeing them in action. Marc was a very humble chef, and Sarah and Michael were extremely friendly and were great to talk to. Michael was kind enough to show me a quick demonstration on how to create windy noodle using liquid nitrogen and thick fruit puree.
For anyone with eating restrictions, Atelier is very accommodating, and is vegetarian friendly. They also offer a wine pairing menu that focuses on Ontario wines.
Atelier is honestly a bargain compared to other restaurants of the same caliber. The good news is that I now don't have to kill myself trying to get reservations at restaurants like El Bulli, Alinea, or The Bazaar anymore (and figuring out plans on how the heck I'd get there).
540 Rochester Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada