Victor happened to be in Ottawa, and what better way to commemorate his visit but with a nice dinner at one of the top chefs in the city (according to the recent Gold Plate awards_?
Zen Kitchen is owned and run by Caroline Ishii and her husband David. They have their own show on one of the local Ottawa food stations on the opening and running of Zen Kitchen. It is a vegan, organic locavore restaurant and what it excels at is bringing out plate after plate of refined cuisine that makes you completely forget that you aren’t eating anything meat.
We opted for the evening’s Tasting Menu, which was a 4 course blind tasting menu, two appetizers, the main dish and dessert for $45. The theme this evening was Quebecois cuisine, and as Victor and I both lived in Montreal, we were both curious to see just how she would do the traditionally fatty and meaty rich flavor of many Québécois dishes with just veggies.
The dinner opened up with a little opener, bread with a savory mustard butter nut squash dip.
Crusty white bread, nothing special about it, but the dip was punchy and just with a hint of graininess that made it a delightful chew. We both took turns trying to identify just what it was that gave it its uniquely strong flavor, but no cigar.
Next, another little something extra from the chef, tortilla chips with a peach salsa.
The chips were well made and just the right thickness. The salsa was a bit watery for me, and dripped onto my plate. As well it was a bit too sweet, but I appreciated the accompanying tartness of the peach.
First appetizer was the pea soup.
It was just a bit thick, sprinkled with sprouts and a few cracker/croutons. Not particularly memorable or special, and I felt like it was more of a filler dish to start off the diner with a fuller stomach in order to compensate for the small volume of the following dishes.
The second app was a candied apple salad
The candied apples were soft and just slightly crusted with a sugary glaze. They literally melted in your mouth. The salad was just mix of dark greens and basil leave. The vinaigrette though really gave the dish its character. Once again, the strong tart flavor was puzzling to us as we tried to figure out what exactly they used to make it. The various flavors were subtle, but when combined, it made an amazing flavor.
The main dish was Shepherd’s Pie, a traditional Quebecois dish that is typically composed of a layer of meat and veggies between layers of mashed potatoes.
Very beautifully presented, a cylindrical cake-like shepherd’s pie, or in this case as Victor liked to call it, Gardener’s Pie, with a smear of homemade ketchup and a little mound of roasted veggies.
Despite the unassuming appearance of the dish, the Shepherd’s pie tasted pretty darned close to its meaty counterpart. The mashed potatoes were light and fluffy, and the tempeh performed quite well as the meat substitute. In between were cubes of squash and beets. The ketchup was VERY strongly flavored with nutmeg, overpoweringly so and not in a good way, but paired with a forkful of the shepherd’s pie, it complemented it quite well. The vegetables were perfectly roasted and had a light savory flavoring to them. Overall, I was impressed at what the chef was able to translate this dish so well that it had its own character as well as keeping to the original flavors of shepherd’s pie.
Last but not least, the dessert, a caramel pie topped with whipped cream, a drizzle of maple syrup and a cranberry ice wine sauce.
This was my favorite dish of the evening, and not just because I love dessert.
I would think that the various sweet flavors would overwhelm the pie itself, but not in the least! The cranberry ice win sauce was superb, probably one of the better dessert sauces I have had, with a natural sweetness that rolled over the caramel pie. The topping was delicately crunchy and the filling was filled with a cardamom flavor.
This was followed by a choice of coffee or tea, Victor got a green tea and I got a chai. It was served with metal pots of hot water and Mighty Leaf tea bags.
When the bill came, we were presented with two cocoa powdered truffles! These things literallly melted in your mouth. The chocolate was malleable and disappeared just after you were able to get a taste of the sweet chocolate. It was a very delectable surprise.
Overall, it was a bit over priced for the amount and quality of food. We left just touching on full, and compared to something similar like Au Pied du Cochon that delivers quality and quantity for that same price and definitely a lot more satisfying, I wouldn’t order the Tasting Menu again. The other dishes that were being served at other tables that came from the regular menu did look very good and are a lot cheaper. If I were to visit again, I would just stick to the regular menu.
Again though, props to Chef Caroline for working wonders with vegan food and pulling it off with gusto.
634 Somerset Street West