I consider it another sign of synchronicity when I had a chance meeting with Top Chef competitor Jonathan Korecki on a random Ottawa street mere minutes before I went to his restaurant, Sidedoor. After convincing myself (and him) that I wasn’t a stalker, I took the opportunity to ask him the one thing on the menu I should try. His priceless answer was “One thing?” Good point.
When I arrived, no fewer than 4 employees greeted me and I was seated quickly and Cameron took over for the rest of the night. He reaffirmed my theory that in Ottawa, the service often matches the food. He spent at least 2 minutes explaining the ins and outs of the asian-influenced menu, notably the fact that in each section the dishes go from lightest to heaviest.
There is a good selection of cocktails and draught beer. I opted for the bourbon-based SIDEDOOR cocktail which was crisp and satisfying.
On Jonathan’s recommendation, I ordered the tuna sashimi which was one of the best dishes I’ve had in a while. The tuna was sliced thin and presented beautifully. The fragrant yuzu marmalade was delicate with a complexity which smacked my taste buds in all kinds of directions. I was tempted to lick the plate when the tuna was gone.
In a previous blog, I questioned hawker bar’s son-in-law eggs, particularly the prik nam pla sauce. Sidedoor’s version (another suggestion from Jonathan) blew my mind. Tearing into the soft yolk and watching it saturate the surrounding rice and salad made me feel like a MasterChef judge. The taste matched the visual appeal and the sauce was not overpowering.
I love pickles and I’m known to ask for a sample whenever they are homemade. I noticed a mention on the menu so I pitched the idea at Cameron. Instead of a small ramekin filled with 2 or 3 gherkins, he returned with a plate of pickled vegetables that surpassed all expectations. It contained pickled beets, jalapenos, carrots, daikon radish, Jerusalem artichoke, melon rind and sea asparagus adorned with mustard seed pickled in a bread and butter style .
Jonathan’s third suggestion was the donuts. In this case, who can turn down the chef’s creation, a peanut butter stuffed donut topped with a cocoa glaze and banana. Better yet, they were served warm. All I can say is…they taste how they look although a tad bit more filling would of been even better.
I tried the spicy beef and Bajan crispy fish tacos. They are a bit small for $9 but the shells were delicate and tasty. The spicy beef was hardly spicy but a bit of the homemade chili oil at the table helped. The Bajan tacos had a bit too much of the sauce which drown out the taste and texture of the fish a bit. I agree with their slogan, “Make Tacos, Not War” but can’t quite get to the state of “Make Tacos and then Make Love”.
I was looking forward to the “Peking style” chicken but I was a bit disappointed. Big in size but modest in flavour, the texture and interior pinkish colour almost made it look underdone. I found the surrounding broth a bit curious. The fish sauce was overwhelming which I didn’t think complemented the rest of the dish.
I wouldn’t hesitate to sneak in the sidedoor again. Bold flavours seem to lace every dish and there is enough diversity to visit a few times and get a very different experience. The tuna sashimi is a must and I can’t speak highly enough of the service. The staff is energetic, knowledgable and not phased by a large table of what seemed like the offspring of the “Real Housewives of Ottawa” partying it up a few tables down.
I was once told I should always listen to my mother and not talk to strangers. Based on this meal, I’ve learned I should always listen to chefs as well, even if I don’t know them.