Hilary Duff is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. When she’s not living the chaotically busy life of a Carleton journalism student, she also enjoys winter jogging and exploring the ins and outs of her Ottawa neighbourhood.
Lamb with funky chili tacos, gnocchi poutine, chorizo tostados, pulled beef spring rolls, maple cinnamon cupcakes.
Do I have your attention yet?
The dishes listed above (and many, many more) are currently sitting happily in my stomach, thanks to Ottawa’s first ever Dishcrawl event (or #dcott, as the Twitter universe knows it).
I know what you’re thinking – what the heck is a Dishcrawl?
Let me explain. As far as I see it, Dishcrawls are to food as pub crawls are to alcohol. Basically, a large group of people go from one restaurant location to the next, trying a sampling of food from each place. Socializing occurs. Friends are made. Yummy food is eaten. It’s a good time.
The Dishcrawl event is not unique to Ottawa. The concept began in the U.S. and has since expanded to Canadian cities like Ottawa and Montreal. The goal of the event is simple: to help people discover their local food neighbourhood and the hidden gems in their own backyard.
The “food neighbourhood” this Dishcrawl was set to explore was the ByWard Market – a logical first step considering the abundance of patio and outdoor eating locations. There were more than 60 of us on the crawl so, as you can imagine, we took up quite a bit of space, even after being divided into two groups.
At 6:30 p.m., my food partner-in-crime, Gord, my friend Alex (who was covering the event for the Citizen) and I convened in a Market courtyard. Here we were introduced to Caitlin and Michelle, the two organizers of the event.
Every Dishcrawl event is shrouded in mystery, in the sense that attendees never know which dining locations they will be visiting. Even the main meeting spot for the event was concealed until the last minute. As a Dishcrawl participant, all I knew was that we would be visiting five locations.
For my group, the first stop was Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar. At this point I was starving, and would have gobbled down anything they served me. Luckily the folks at Sidedoor decided to step it up a notch. We had our choice of taco fillings, ranging from the Chinese BBQ pork taco that I got, to the aforementioned lamb with funky chili taco that Gord ordered. The tacos were fresh and flavourful, and turned out to be my favourite dish of the night. As always, I made a huge mess of my plate, hands, napkin and table. Gord teased me shamelessly.
A quick walk brought us over to Clarence Street, where we went to Steak, a modern steakhouse lounge. Believe it or not, they didn’t serve us a plateful of their signature protein, but opted rather for smaller portions of varying items: a gnocchi poutine with braised short rib, tempura calamari and beef tartar (this last dish made me feel like I was on Top Chef Canada!). I was a little hesitant. A plate that include squid and raw meat? A tad scary. It was because of my irrational fear of trying new things that Gord coined the phrase of the evening: “just put it in your mouth.” So I did.
The third location on the Dishcrawl was Mambo. Even though the name suggests dance and movement,
I was already starting to get paralyzed by my food coma. The plate we got at Mambo had an assortment of items, ranging from the chorizo tostado with capers to skewered shrimp with a butter and lime sauce to a “rollos de pollo” which was seasoned shredded chicken inside a tortilla. The grouping was random, but paid off fairly well.
Our fourth stop was a surprising one – The Cupcake Lounge. I’m all for dessert before dinner, but at this point I just wanted to sit down and nap. I got a vanilla chocolate cupcake, and was gifted half a maple cinnamon cupcake from Don of FoodiePrints who also appeared to be a little full at this point. Despite the jumping-the-gun quality of the visit, it was an enjoyable experience (but lets be honest, can cupcakes ever be anything but enjoyable?).
My Dishcrawl experience ended at Kinki Sushi, where I half heartedly ate two pulled beef spring rolls and the Kinki signature sushi roll whose name was too complicated and said too quickly for me to write down. Pretty sure there was egg in it, though… The outdoor patio at Kinki was lovely and allowed us to fully embrace the perfect temperature of the late spring night.
So what’s my final verdict on the city’s first ever Dishcrawl?
Well, as a student, the Dishcrawl was a great way to try out restaurants that would normally be too pricy for me to afford. The grand total for the night’s five course meal was $45 – a steal considering some of these places can charge $20 a pop for a main course.
I also really enjoyed the social aspect of the evening. The night was facilitated in such a way that you could sit with new people at every restaurant. As well as seeing some old friends such as Don, Dayanti, my former editor at Ottawa Magazine (I can thank the magazine for informing me of the event), and Twitter friend Katy Watts, I also met some great new people.
Gord and I had a blast and we’ll definitely consider going to future events. Speaking of which, there will be Dishcrawl events held throughout the year (twice a month in the summer and less frequently as winter approaches) with the next one being held on Monday, July 4. Tickets are already sold out, but Caitlin tells me they may be releasing more in upcoming weeks.
In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled and your taste buds ready, Ottawa.
Thanks again to Caitlin and Michelle for organizing Dishcrawl Ottawa!