Sunday, November 5, 2017

This is not a drill: Makita Kitchen & Bar

It rained most of last week here in Ottawa, and I spent most of that week cooped up in the house, so when Chris suggested we go out for dinner on Friday night, I was psyched. He asked me to choose the restaurant, and I went back in my mind through places we know and love, and didn't hit on anywhere I needed to go back to immediately. So I tried to think of places I'd been wanting to try, and suddenly Makita popped into my head. No, not the company that makes power tools. Makita Kitchen & Bar is a roughly year-old spot at the north end of the Glebe serving modern Asian food, and that sounded totally perfect for a casual Friday night out. I called, they had space, so off we went.

The first sign that it was going to be a great night happened even before we walked in, when we saw the free street parking spot literally right in front of the restaurant. We refer to that as "rock star parking," and it is never not awesome. We walked in and the amiable waiter offered us our choice of tables, as only two or three were currently occupied. We chose one in the middle of the room, from which I had a great view of the long bar and the ornate mirror above it.

The music playing as we settled in was our second indicator of a delightful night: "Gun" by CHVRCHES, one of our favourite electro-pop bands, and one of their best songs no less. As the night went on, the playlist went on to emulate Sirius XM's Alt Nation channel from about four years ago, and guessing what bands and songs we might hear next added a lot to our enjoyment. (I guessed three bands and two exact songs, by the way.) Music can make or break a social experience for me, and this was top-notch.

But you're here for the food, and trust me, so were we. It was extremely challenging to narrow down what to order from the amazing menu of small plates, steamed buns, noodle and rice bowls, and larger plates. Some were more traditional, like the sesame seared tuna or pork and shrimp spring rolls, while others, like the creamy miso kale salad or the udon noodle carbonara, offered a fusion twist on classic flavours. We wanted to try about 90 per cent of the items, but settled on a bun and a main each. I went classic with the pork belly and hoisin bun while Chris fusion-ed it up with the fried chicken one.

Both were impeccably presented in bamboo steamer baskets, nicely sized for an appetizer, and packed with flavour. My pork bun was crispy, chewy, soft, herby, sweet, salty, and spicy all at once. I didn't get to try Chris's, but it disappeared with many nonverbal expressions of delight. Top marks for nailing the texture of the buns perfectly, too.

I enjoyed a tequila old-fashioned from the short but interesting cocktail menu with my pork bun. Lots of them involve sake, and I actually don't know if I like it, so I stuck with something familiar, and it was boozy and delicious. Chris had a local IPA from their great beer list, which he loved.

Full speed ahead to mains, as each of us was presented with the plate we'd been unable to resist ordering. For me, it was the Korean spin on chicken and waffles, with three gorgeously crunchy boneless chicken thighs resting atop triangles of pale golden, soft-yet-crisp waffle, drizzled in maple-twisted hot sauce and covering a mound of perfect, funky, spicy kimchi. Yes, kimchi and waffles. I promise you, it worked brilliantly. It's a generous but not insane portion for the price and I enjoyed every mouthful. Huge kudos to the kitchen for the prep work on the chicken: not a shard of bone or cartilage marred my enjoyment, nor any unduly fatty bits, and as someone who has butchered chicken thighs myself, I know how hellishly hard that is. High fives. I had the inspired idea to pair it with a glass of sparkling wine, and I'm thrilled with my decision. The wine, from Prince Edward County's Hinterland winery, was dry and fruity and cut neatly through the richness of the food. Beautiful.

Chris, for his part, zeroed in early on the ramen risotto and was not disappointed. A generous bowl of soft, soupy-but-not-runny rice infused with pork broth, mushrooms, parmesan, and garlic topped with a soy-marinated soft-boiled egg, this dish had umami written all over it, and man, did it eat gorgeously. Warm and comforting and interesting all at once, this one's a big winner.

After all that, somehow we found room for dessert when our waiter told us they had a coffee butter tart. Presented with coconut whipped cream and candied cashews artfully arranged into a flower and its stem, this flaky pastry amused the senses by being not at all what you expect when you think of a butter tart, and yet it totally worked. Fun and very tasty. A round of properly strong decaf Americanos were the perfect match.

Service was warm and friendly throughout, just the way we like it. The room filled up about halfway as the night went on, and got a little louder, but never truly loud, another point in its favour. It was truly a delightful experience all around. As we drove home, listening to CBC Radio 2's new show Afterdark, the host mused about where in Canada his listeners might be as they tuned in. "Maybe you're in Ottawa," he said, "heading home after a delicious dinner in the Glebe." We stared at each other in utter amazement and then laughed our heads off. How on Earth did he know? Final proof, as if we needed it, that we were exactly where we were meant to be at that moment.

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