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(2011 - Spring/Summer Issue)


We started the day with french fries.

Not normally something I eat at 10 a.m., but they were really good, and a signature item on the menu at Métropolitain Brasserie. So we dipped them in the restaurant’s fabulous garlic mayo and never looked back.

A Capital Culinary Trail

The French bistro-inspired restaurant, with its red leather bankettes, was the first stop on our food tour of the ByWard Market with C’est Bon Cooking. Popular with political staffers from Parliament Hill just a couple of blocks away, Métropolitain Brasserie is also famous for its raw oyster bar.

Beyond its wonderful museums, galleries and political hijinks, Ottawa has become a food town chock-a-block with great restaurants and culinary training at locations such as Le Cordon Bleu and C’est Bon Cooking. And it’s home to the terrific ByWard Market.

Established by Lt. Col. John By in 1826 (who also built the Rideau Canal), the Market is now a trendy place in which to live, dine and shop. In summer, stands of fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, arts and crafts fill the Market, adding to the collection of food shops, greengrocers, bakeries and restaurants that draw people year-round.

Our tour guide, Paola St-Georges of C’est Bon Cooking, has a passion for food and her knowledge of the Market made for a tasty and informative adventure. We strolled for two-plus hours, stopping to chat with shopkeepers, chefs, bakers and butchers, sampling delicious treats along the way.

“People are so interested in food, but don’t know where to start,” she says, explaining why the ByWard Market tours are so popular. “Food shouldn’t be scary or complicated, it should be fun.” And it was—and so darn tasty.

St-Georges entertained us with both food facts and a bit of a history lesson—so easy to do among the historic buildings and courtyards. Off the main streets are a series of quiet courtyards each with their own character and charm, their old stone buildings now housing shops and restaurants that, in summer, spill out onto outdoor patios.

By Popular Demand

Considered to be the most romantic of all is Clarendon Courtyard, ringed by four popular restaurants: Mama Grazzi’s Kitchen, Social Restaurant & Lounge, The Black Tomato and Courtyard Restaurant, the next stop on our tour.

At Courtyard, chef Michael Hay prepared the most unusual and delicious cheesecake I had ever tasted. Hay is well-known for his molecular gastronomy-influenced cuisine, so while standing in his kitchen, he assembled dessert. The cheesecake had been previously cooked in a bag in a water bath (not baked in an oven), which he took and squeezed onto the plate, accompanied by sorbet, sugared hibiscus flowers and raspberry coulis.

Like many restaurants in the Market, Courtyard is a member of Savour Ottawa. There are 1,267 farms within a 100-kilometre radius of Ottawa, so there is tremendous access to local fresh products and ingredients. The green Savour Ottawa logo seen on restaurants, farmers’ markets, butcheries, grocery stores and others lets you know the establishment is using local food products or is a local producer.

Stop, Chat and Sample

After our morning dessert, we made a stop at the House of Cheese (34 ByWard Market Square) with its incredible selection of Québec cheeses such as Le Baluchon as well as imported cheeses such as Saint Agur, a blue cheese made in Auvergne, France.

Speaking with the shopkeepers is a highlight of the tour as they are so enthusiastic about what they do.

“I love food,” says Isaac Farbiasz, who, with his wife Miriam, runs ByWard Fruit Market (36 ByWard Market Square). “So I’m delighted to bring in specialty items from around the world to satisfy our customers, as well as the fabulous local organic fruit and vegetables. It is really a labour of love.”

All morning we continued to stroll, stop, chat and sample. There’s La Bottega Nicastro (64 George Street), a primo Italian grocer. The pastas, the cheese and deli counter, all those olive oils had us salivating. And the lineup at the sandwich counter proved that the $5 sandwich (your choice of bread, meat and toppings) is one of the most delicious and best buys around. Another Savour Ottawa member is Aubrey’s Meat Merchant (59 York Street), which offers products from local heritage cattle. And for delicious charcuterie, there’s Murray Street restaurant (110 Murray Street).

Tea lovers must stop in at the Tea Store (53 York Street) with more than 200 different teas from around the world. The helpful folks are happy to customize tea blends to suit your tastes.

We had to stop in at Le Moulin de Provence (55 ByWard Market Square) for an “Obama cookie,” the maple leaf-shortbread the U.S. president bought for his daughters during his 2009 visit to Ottawa. The bakery sells thousands of them.

Delighted to chat with executive chef Michael Moffatt at Play Food & Wine (1 York Street) about his focus on small plates and casual dining. It’s sort of like a tapas experience and really allows you to build your own tasting menu.

Many of the top-notch chefs now dominating the culinary scene in Ottawa have trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the only Canadian campus of the famed culinary school. However even casual weekend cooks can take advantage of the school’s short courses, available for various skill levels. One- to four-day courses are available in a range of topics including grilling techniques, patisserie, summer cooking for teens, chocolate techniques, fall flavours, knife skills, sauces and cooking with game.

Travel Planner

From May to October and during Winterlude in February, C’est Bon Cooking Food Tours (cestboncooking.ca) are offered for $45 per person. For more information, visit:

Ottawa Tourism: tourismottawa.ca

Savour Ottawa: savourottawa.ca

Courtyard Restaurant: courtyardrestaurant.com

Le Café at the National Arts Centre: lecafe.ca

Le Cordon Bleu: lcbottawa.com

Métropolitain Brasserie: metropolitainbrasserie.com

Play Food & Wine: playfood.ca

ZenKitchen: zenkitchen.ca

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