Gourmet vegan heaven: a visit to Ottawa’s Zen Kitchen

Zen Kitchen is located t 634 Somerset Street West in Ottawa (Photo courtesy of zenkitchen.ca)

Hillary Lutes is an inherently cheap vegetarian journalist-in-training at Carleton. She consumes copious amounts of coffee and chocolate to fuel her writing endeavors and public-transit trips across the city.

Zen Kitchen on Somerset Street West is nothing short of amazing. Hands down, it has been the best gastronomical experience I have had in this city.

We had a vibrant array of delicious, intricate and healthy dishes that were satisfying and a serious testament to vegan cooking.

A perfect spot on the patio with amuse bouche baguette and garlic truffle oil dip.

Of the many things I love in life, food and free stuff has to be near the top. Therefore, I was ecstatic when we were gifted with beautifully crafted amuse bouches, including a starter of fresh, multigrain baguette with a dipping sauce of creamy garlicky fabulousness that had truffle oil in it. I know it was introduced with a mouthwatering rendition of the ingredients, but sometimes it’s hard to listen when I’m hungry and food appears.

Beautifully presented, an endive leaf with chickpea and potato salad, sea vegetable caviar, and garnished with a fresh sprout

When the server brought out chickpea and potato salad on an endive leaf with sea vegetable caviar, I believe he said the complimentary vegan bites were because Chef Caroline was not in house. By the time a sampling of dehydrated kale chips, picked daikon, and kimchi, a vinegary combination of cabbage and other vegetables appeared, I was too busy stuffing my face to ask questions.

Fig and balsamic pizza with caramelized onions, with complimentary kale chips, daikon and kimchi in the back

For my official starter, I ordered a personal pizza. But far from being your ordinary pizza, this gluten-free flatbread (called a crostada rustic pasty) was spread with slightly gooey fig jam and balsamic reduction with a swirl of cashew-based ‘sour cream’.

There was a generous pile of caramelized onions, which tasted like candy, and an occasional smoky bite from tempeh. To top it off, there was a petit mountain of baby greens in the centre.

My main course was the ‘Indian-inspired coconut curry’ on a bed of basmati rice. My newly discovered favourite lentil, the French puy du style, was a dominant ingredient, blended with sweet potato, thin slices of carrot and cauliflower.

A mountain of curry with onion and tempeh ravioli in the back

The dish was garnished with picked red onions, which I decided against sampling, since I’d had enough vinegar with the daikon and kimchi. There was also a piece of chickpea pakora, which was the one thing I wasn’t keen on – I found it a bit too floury. Overall, the dish was a perfect balance: it wasn’t heavy on curry or coconut, but was a fresh blend of flavour.

I also had a bite of my date’s ravioli, a house-made pasta filled with a smoky tempeh and served with sautéed vegetables and tomato sauce.

One of the things I loved about Zen Kitchen was the absence of fake meat or processed soy products. I was awed by the chef’s ability to create mouth-watering dishes while staying true to the flavours most vegetarians and vegans want, which is generally not meat.

Photo courtesy of zenkitchen.ca

Since I had eaten so much for dinner, dessert was out of the question. That didn’t stop me from salivating over the menu of spicy chocolate cake with berry coulis, or a nut-crust lemon pie with whipped ‘cream’ made from coconut.

I did get a taste of chocolate to round out my palate when our bill came with mini chocolate-orange truffles. They were cold and soft and the most decadent blend of orange and cocoa.

My evening at Zen Kitchen was exactly what I needed after a hectic weekend at Westfest. If you were there, you probably saw me walking blindly down Richmond Street as one of the abnormally large-headed mascots from a CBC children’s show. You also know what kind of food I ate all weekend – pizza from Newport’s, veggie burger from the Works, gelato from Truffle Treasures – which is calling for a serious eating-habit overhaul this week.

I rolled out (almost literally: my food baby was the size of a basketball) of the restaurant ready to nap and head back at the next possible excuse.

Wow, thanks Hillary! Thanks for providing such a wonderful snapshot of Zen Kitchen! We look forward to your next adventures…

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