I’m oblivious sometimes. Sure, I can navigate through a number of websites searching so what’s hot in the restaurant world but I often miss things right in front of my face. I was in Ottawa for a conference recently and needed a quick spot for dinner. As part of my search, I stumbled across DINR, a rather new app which revolves around last minute reservations at some of the most coveted restaurants in the country. Luckily, Ottawa is one of the featured cities so I managed to secure the chef’s table at North and Navy with a few hours notice. North and Navy is a relatively new restaurant which moved into the space left when Beckta switched locations. The concept plays on what the owners call similarities between the climates of Northern Italy and Eastern Ontario with a focus on local ingredients.
I was staying at a hotel down the road so it was nice walk to the Nepean street location. I noticed that the air was crisp indicating that fall was here. What I didn’t notice was that there were a number of black sedans outside the restaurant. We were quickly seated at the rail and waited for our last guest who arrived and immediately commented on the motorcade parked outside. I laughed and offered to look around the restaurant on the way to the washroom in case the beloved Justin Trudeau may be in the house. On the way back I made eye contact (well..maybe one way eye contact) which somebody who faintly resembled Sophie who was sitting with a man with flowing Pantene locks. I didn’t dare stop or make eye contact to confirm given I’m not sure of the Canadian rules around approaching a head of state in a dining establishment (although a shirtless selfie may have been in the cards), so I went back to my seat and mentioned I thought it was him. Another member of our party got up, walked past the table, did a 360 and quickly returned to confirm the sighting.
We were greeted by a pleasant employee who went through the description of the menu using the airplane safety speech that has become the norm for any shared plate eatery currently in existence. We were encouraged to try the cicheti (ie. Italian snack plate) which featured grissini, marinated anchovy, oyster, mackerel and a homemade meatball.It was served on a silver platter worthy of let’s say….a prime minister. We collectively destroyed the plate’s contents with good reviews.
There were four primi pasta courses on the menu and we ordered them all. The potato tortaletti with matching brodo was pleasantly plated with some pickled onions. The tender and unique pasta was spot on but the delicate but precisely seasoned broth stole the show. A bit more along the traditional path of Northern Italy, the bigoli con le vongole was another hit in its simplicity. Great pasta, great sauce and great seafood. I’m typically not a risotto fan but I thoroughly enjoyed the pancetta and corn offering. It provided cream corn comfort sprinkled with salty pieces of pancetta. The mint parpadelle with abundant mushrooms was an incredible concoction of earthy flavours. The mint leaves offered a unorthadox yet pleasant freshness. In the end, each primi choice offered textures and tastes that ranged from Harper conservative to flowing lock liberal.
As an intermezzo, we went for the raw zucchini with olives, mint and pecorino plus cured eggplant with house yoghurt. I love chef’s tables, especially when dishes involve meticulous construction. Both this dishes were assembled with a pinpoint precision which made then as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The zucchini cleansed the aftermath of the previous dishes while the eggplant foreshadowed what was to come.
Given the sizable amount of food we had already consumed, we decided on two of the available entrees; the trout with brussel sprouts and parsnip and the Quebec duck with fennel and pear. The fish was brilliant. Maybe it was my bias given the fact that I’m tired of every fish dish in a restaurant currently being served with some kind of tomato. Instead, crunchy sprouts and a rich and pleasantly pungent parsnip puree were the perfect compliment to the pristine pesce. The red cabbage and the pickled squash (which was addictive by itself) added colour and another dimension to the dish. Duck, especially Quebec canard, seems to be a staple in Ottawa and North and Navy was no exception. There is an emerging trend coupling fresh fruit with protein and in this case, it was sliced pear. It wasn’t my favorite dish of the night but still hit decent flavour and textural notes.
Since we were sitting at the chef’s table, we were able to get some great reflections and insights from the kitchen. Adam Vettorel, North and Navy’s head chef, stopped his meticulous plating to chat for a bit. He had a confident yet awkward personality which is seemingly quite characteristic among those with the role of chief cook. We were treated to a story about a recent competition in which he opted for successfully pickling of squash instead of cooking it, a tactic which was transferred with some regularity to his menu soon after.
Dessert was classic Italian which nicely reflected the general theme of North and Navy; traditional tiramisu and playful panna cotta. Like the rest of the meal, the fundamental execution was brilliant and combined old and new world ingredients and flavours.
Although I doubt Mr. Trudeau used nor needed the DINR app, it is a great tool for an unorganized, indecisive and whimsical food fan. I would personally argue that a culinary celebrity sighting if usually more exciting than a political one but dining with the prime minister (sort of) makes for a good story, especially when chatting with friends and colleagues who figurative bleed red or appreciate good hair. That said, North and Navy made its food, especially the pasta, worth throwing into the discussion as well. Adam Vettorel et al., unlike his famous guest,can effectively execute a plan. North and Navy’s campaign promised Northern Italy with local influence and they delivered. In the end, they get my vote even if I’m not a card carrying Liberal.