Monday, March 17, 2008

Many Fish, All Delish

Last night, we went out for dinner to celebrate my grandma's birthday, and had an unexpectedly superior meal. I say unexpectedly not because I felt that the restaurant was a bad one - quite the contrary, as I very much enjoyed a lunch there before Christmas - but because the calibre of the meal far surpassed even the quality of that lunch. You know those nights when all of the pieces - ambiance, service, food, drink, appetite, company - all fall into place and the meal just hums along pleasantly? This was one of those.

We were seven for supper - Chris and I, my parents, my sister and D, and my grandma. The restaurant in question is only about two years old and is blessed with this slightly ungainly moniker of One Fish, Two Fish. It's cute, of course, but this is not a cute restaurant and I don't think the name fits. It is, however, accurate, as they are all about the sea creatures here (with a small selection of steaks for the landlubbers among us). In fact, they have a fish counter where you can buy your own pescatarian fare and bring it home to cook yourself. That occupies about a fifth of the space; the rest is given over to white linen-covered tables, comfy dark wood chairs with high backs, low lighting and oversized wineglasses like soap bubbles. The ceilings are high, which can make a restaurant noisy, but on a Sunday night the room was more than half empty and thus quiet. We had a long table in the back, tucked in the corner, which felt cosy despite the high ceilings.

Our waiter, though young and perhaps a tiny bit over-effusive, was friendly, polite, more than competent and knowledgeable about the menu - all good things. The restaurant offers a bring-your-own-wine policy with a $10 corkage fee, remarkably low for a province that hasn't widely embraced the concept. My father took advantage of this and brought along two bottles of a delicious, medium-bodied Savigny-les-Beaune (a red wine from Burgundy) which went gorgeously with all of the fish we ate.

And oh Neptune, did we eat fish. Chris and I shared their daily salad to start; called "salmon two ways", it consisted of a mound of lightly dressed mesclun in which sprigs of cilantro were cleverly hidden, with a mound of velvety pink salmon mousse and two perfect slices of smoked salmon resting in a radicchio leaf cup. All of it was delicious and beautifully restrained, but the cilantro leaves punched it up to a higher level of flavour. I'm not the world's biggest cilantro fan, though I have come to enjoy it more over the last few years, but in this application? Perfect.

Chris ordered a pecan-encrusted filet of tilapia as his main dish and was very pleased with it. He said it was subtle - the pecans didn't overwhelm the fish, which was cooked nicely, and that the nuts and herbs punched up the sometimes-bland flavour of that particular fish. I ordered the tuna "Alana", which came as two generous but not huge inch-thick triangles of gorgeously rare tuna, seared on one side, lightly glazed with a ginger/garlic/soy sauce and topped with a frizzle of crispy leek strings. The chef has a beautifully restrained hand with sauces, apparently - nothing was overpowering, the dish was in balance and the glaze didn't obscure the lovely buttery tuna flavour.

All of the main dishes come with seasonal vegetables (sliced carrot, sugar snap peas, and broccoli rabe, all perfectly al dente) and a choice of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, herb roasted fingerlings, seasoned rice, french fries or pan-cooked spinach. Chris had the fingerlings, which he declared to be the "best potatoes ever", while I low-carbed it and went with the spinach, a gorgeous green mound of it cooked with more leeks and some sliced button mushrooms. The plates were square with rounded edges that curve upwards; presentation was in a stack, but not obnoxiously high, and easy to deconstruct.

Some of the other notable dishes around the table included a divine Tuscan seafood soup with chinks of fish, squid, and lobster in a tomato-based, lobster-oil-infused broth with a citrus kick. My dad ordered that, and let me finish the last few bites. I'd go back just for that soup, but sadly it was a daily special, and a replacement at that - they ran out of halibut chowder. Speaking of chowder, my sister had a cup of their classic clam, and it was buttery and smooth. Her boy had a lovely-looking cioppino that I'll have to go back and try as well. Grandma had superlative fish and chips - even the fries were perfect, crisp and golden with fluffy insides. Not an afterthought at all.

Chris and I had talked about sharing dessert, as I remembered them being good, but I was too full and ordered an excellent decaf coffee (and was offered a refill). As always, Dad was sucked in by the creme brulee, whose flavouring changes daily according to chef's whim - that night it was kaffir lime and lemongrass, and holy moses, was it lovely. The bite I had reminded me of the lavender-scented one I had in Les Baux de Provence a couple of years ago. I found the sugar crust to be a tiny bit too thick, but the custard was right-on. Mom's caramel apple cheesecake made the rounds of the table (and it was round, appropriately) and I managed a couple of small, delicious bites of that. The creme brulee and tiramisu are made on site, but the rest of the desserts come from a bakery in New Edinburgh called Da Bomb. And they are.

The fun part about ordering dessert here is that the kitchen draws pictures with caramel, chocolate and raspberry sauces on the long, rectangular white plates they're served on. I took pictures with my grandma's 35mm camera but when I go back I will record this phenomenon digitally. And I will go back. Soon. Probably after they finish the upcoming renovations to put in a full bar and some chef's tables. I hope this means they'll be around for a very long time, because that dinner was one of the most pleasant I've had here in Ottawa in a long time.

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