Friday, July 20, 2007

Return to the Savana

One of the housewarming gifts we received last weekend was a gift certificate for Savana Cafe from our incredibly thoughtful friend N. She knew we hadn't been eating out much since buying the house, due to budgetary restrictions, and thought we could use a lovely meal out at one of our favourite places. She couldn't have been more right - we went tonight and had a fabulous dinner.

I think what I love most about Savana is its consistency. This tiny restaurant in an old house on Gilmour Street is celebrating its 20th year in business this year, and for a place that does Asian/Caribbean fusion, in a town as stuffy as Ottawa, that's pretty damn cool. Their menu is short, but everything on it is good (I should know, as between my friends and I we've tried everything on it). The service is always friendly and often sublime. The decor is fun and funky and cosy and welcoming. The vibe is chill and casual but in a classy way. If I had to pick one restaurant in Ottawa to eat at for the rest of my days, Savana would be right up there.

The problem with knowing the menu too well, though, is that one tends to decide ahead of time what one is having, and then one does not branch out or try other things. Fortunately, tonight the fish special convinced me to branch out. I was all set to order the curry chicken roti, a peppery West Indian curry studded with chunks of potato and yam, wrapped in the chewy roti and served with a scoop of coconut rice, some two-potato mash, collards braised in balsamic, and slices of fried plantain. It's a wonderful plateful, and I've eaten it several times and always enjoyed it.

But the fish special was seared tuna. Crusted with fresh herbs, topped with a mango-ginger reduction. With sauteed veggies and that amazing coconut rice. I was powerless to resist. I did stick to my guns on the appetizer we shared though (fresh spring rolls with chicken and herbs, apricot-black bean dipping sauce).

But the tuna. Oh my GOD the tuna was amazing. It arrived sliced into thick strips, having been beautifully seared so that about a quarter-inch of the outside (encrusted with shredded fresh basil, mint and coriander) was cooked fully but the centre was still perfectly rare. The mango-ginger reduction had small chunks of near-candied fruit in it, but there was just enough of it to complement, not drown, the fish. Beneath the fanned strips of tuna was a small pile of gorgeously sauteed fresh veggies - thin half-moons of carrot, sticks of yellow squash, fronds of Shanghai bok choy, half-rounds of pale purple Japanese eggplant - all perfectly cooked and delicious. The scoop of coconut rice on the side was a most delightful accompaniment.

Chris was unswayed by the promise of "specials" and went for the pad thai, as always. He is nothing if not loyal, and was, as always, rewarded for it with a delicious mound of noodles, chicken, shrimp, tofu, sprouts and peanuts in a sticky red sauce. It's fusion pad thai, not traditional, but it was the first version either of us ever ate and we both love it to pieces. He had a Carib beer with it, and enjoyed it muchly.

He was equally unwavering about dessert, insisting that the banana cheesecake with warm Belgian chocolate sauce should be the only thing on the dessert menu. I, the banana-hater, disagree of course, and always order the Italian cream, a thick and rich whipped meringue-y dessery studded with chopped almonds and lemon rind and drizzled with crushed raspberries. It sounds odd but is amazingly tasty. I also indulged in a glass of 20 Bees Late Harvest Vidal with my dessert, since a second gin and tonic seemed like a bad match for dessert.

After our leisurely meal we went for a short walk around the block to digest, and now we are vegging out on our new couches and I am wishing I had more of that amazing tuna.

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