Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) 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. She has officially wrapped her LTOttawa series on the hunt for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake, but is continuing on as one of LTO’s top Local Tourists. She is guest editing LTO this week.
Summer in the ByWard Market is practically synonymous with patio dining.
In fact, the only thing more plentiful than restaurant patios are the hundreds of tourists that pile onto them, making the area a hub of outdoor activity and experiential eating during the warm months.
Since I am neither a tourist nor a miraculously wealthy student who is particularly prone to dining at such locations, I was excited when Local Tourist Ottawa got the invitation to go experience the food and patio atmosphere at two of the Market’s restaurants: Kinki Sushi and Mambo.
I had been to the restaurants once prior when I participated in Ottawa’s first Dishcrawl at the beginning of June, but was eager to go back and sample more of what each had to offer.
I met Claira, the promotions manager for both restaurants, at Kinki – an Asian fusion restaurant on York Street. If the name is a little alarming for you conservative types, fret not. The restaurant was actually named after the Kinki region in Japan, a festive area abundant with places to eat, drink and share.
We went to sit out on the side patio, a large space to the left of the main restaurant building. According to Claira, the side patio was created five years ago and has since become a main feature of the decade-old restaurant.
The patio itself is really is quite stunning. Tall tables stand in the middle area, surrounded by equally tall wicker chairs. In the back, three large sitting areas would be the perfect meet-up location for a close group of friends. In front of them, bright orange chiffon curtains hang, ready to be closed for those more intimate of dining sessions. Overhead, large black umbrellas create a canopy, ready to block out any of nature’s obstacles, be it the blazing sun or a sudden summer downpour.
As for the meal at Kinki, Claira wanted me to have the full experience. This experience just so happened to contain two of the restaurant’s most popular cocktails – the China Doll and the Wild Orchid.
In the first, a blend of Absolut mandarin, mango liquor, pineapple juice and tonic. It tasted exactly like fuzzy peaches, but I didn’t want to say that out loud since it made me feel like a seven-year-old. The Wild Orchid was more of a dessert cocktail, with vodka and lychee liquor/juice.
Oh, you want to know about the food? Okay, well Claira had a chef’s platter prepared for us – basically we were served whatever the chef chose. Our platter was a mixture of the traditional rolls (ours had cucumber and roasted red pepper with a salmon top), nigiri sushi topped with neta (what they call the raw fish), and a cocktail glass filled with thinly cut slices of scallops, salmon, red tuna and butter fish. There was also octopus in the middle, but I just couldn’t muster up the bravery needed to try it out.
Looking at the plate, it’s clear that presentation and artistry is a fundamental part of the meal. Claira says chefs are encouraged to make their own creations, and what often comes out of the kitchen is something that isn’t even on the menu. She says the ingredients are also top notch, with the best quality fish being shipped fresh (as fresh as you can get after a 20-hour-long plane ride, that is) from Australia.
We finished off our meal with warm Dragonberry sake, my first time ever trying the traditional Japanese drink.
Keep walking deeper into the Market and you’ll eventually stumble on Mambo. In fact, you’ll stumble on a whole lot more than that – Mambo is located on Clarence Street, the centre of all patio activity in the neighbourhood. Restaurant after restaurant lines the street, and patios sit like gated communities, luring in potential diners.
Mambo, along with its neighbouring venue Stella, are the only two restaurants in the Market that boast rooftop patios. This roof patio was where Claira and I would be sitting for our samplings. Unlike the patio at Kinki which was more laidback, Claira said Mambo’s patio is meant to romanticize the aspects of outdoor eating. I can see that. At rooftop level, you’re high enough that the hustle and bustle of street level tourist traffic is drowned out. Although we were seated while it was still light out, I can imagine the vibe created once the sun sets – the soft music humming in the background, twinkle lights dangling over the exposed grey stone and the buzz of good conversation. It all seems like the ideal romantic retreat (translation: if you’re looking for brownie points with the significant other, you might want to check Mambo out).
At Mambo I also sampled one of their signature drinks: the Mojito Clasico, with Havana Club light and spiced rum, sugar, mint, soda and fresh lime juice. On the plate were several different items. The first platter was predominantly seafood, with garlic shrimp and Callos Latinos (Claira says this is the Latin American term for tangy and unique) scallops. The second platter had two of my favourites from the night: pulled pork soft tacos toasted with cheese, onion and sautéed vegetables and the verano flatbread topped with (get this) a balsamic reduction, pesto, onion, jalapeno, tomato, cucumber, goat cheese (!!!!!), roasted almonds and strawberries. So many of my favourite things were combined into one dish. Needless to say I will be recreating this at home.
So are there any new restaurant plans in store for owner Marisol Simoes? Claira tells me she recently purchased a location on Elgin and has plans to open a new steakhouse next spring.
But until that happens, patio party away – balmy summer nights are waiting for you.
Thanks so much to Claira for giving us a fun patio experience! What is your favourite summer hangout in the ByWard Market?