Dishcrawl Ottawa, take two

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. 

Eating a four-course dinner was not how I expected to be spending my Monday evening. 

Unlike the lead-up to my last Dishcrawl experience, for which anticipation had been building for weeks on end, I found out I was attending last night’s 7 p.m. event at around 5:15 p.m.  I like to cut things close, apparently.

Hungry dishcrawlers

For those who did not read my previous Dishcrawl post and are now sitting here with furrowed brow, wondering what in the world I’m talking about, let me give you a brief run-through.  Dishcrawls are like the pub crawls of the food world.  Troves of people (in last night’s case there were more than 30 of us) are led through the streets of a particular neighbourhood.  By the end of the night, the group will have gotten to sample four plates from four different restaurants, the location of which are kept under wraps until it is time to eat.

Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, let me continue.

Caitlin and Tracy at Basmati

Monday’s Dishcrawl was planned to correspond with the arrival of a very special guest.  Tracy Lee is the founder and CEO of the entire Dishcrawl she-bang, which started out in San Francisco a few years back.  Tracy travelled all the way from California, and stopped in Ottawa before heading over to Montreal for a few of their Dishcrawls and the International Startup Festival.

As soon as I heard Tracy would be coming to an Ottawa Dishcrawl, I knew I wanted to meet her.  With this goal in mind, I semi-hopefully sent out a tweet yesterday afternoon, practically begging to be included in the night’s events.  One long distance Skype phone call later, I was in!  The last ticket.  Once again, the foodie fates smiled down on me.  I’m so happy I got to meet Tracy, and hope to get more involved in the Dishcrawl project in the future!

But onto the Dishcrawl itself…

Centretown was the neighbourhood around which last night’s crawl was planned. 

Our Dishcrawl started off at Basmati, the mosaic-speckled Indian cuisine restaurant on the corner of Bank and Somerset.  At my table, I discovered all but one of my fellow restaurateurs were Dishcrawl virgins.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Kerry Duffy and her husband, Roman.  Kerry is the owner of the Old Ottawa South bakery Life of Pie.   We found out that we were practically neighbours – small world, right?

In what was possibly the best or worst thing that could have happened to my evening, Basmati’s food was set out in buffet style, meaning that I could take as little, or as much food as I wanted.  A pile of butter chicken, chana masala, salad and two pieces of freshly baked naan bread later, I was thinking I probably should have paced myself.  But I was really craving Indian food and was really hungry.  Everything was delicious, and my naan bread often became the victim of some less-than-ladylike scooping and mouth-shoving. 

My plate as Basmati

It was probably a saving grace that we had to walk a few blocks to our next stop.

At 13-years-old, Café Paradiso is the longest standing jazz club in Ottawa.  Tonight, the stage was empty, however, and the tables in the dining room were arranged for us Dishcrawlers.  On our protein-heavy plates, there were three pairings – two spicy dishes and one mild one.  First, I tried the scallop serving.  Even though this was the first time I’ve ever actually tried scallops, I consider myself a bit of an expert.  Have I not absorbed-through-osmosis their cooking technique from watching episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, where the seafood dish is a specialty?  I joke, I joke.  They were yummy. 

My plate as Cafe Paradiso

Next was the slice of pork sausage that tasted a lot like kielbasa and was served on a polenta base.  Finally, there was the spiced lamb, served in a monstrous phyllo basket.  All in all, this last dish was my favourite, and the complex flavours of the pulled lamb really worked for me.  I also have a bit of a soft spot for anything involving phyllo.

The third stop on the crawl was the cleverly named A’roma Meze, the Greek tapas and wine bar hidden away on Nepean Street.  In a sampling that was very representative of their traditional cuisine, we were served a variety of marinated olives, some Greek sausage with orange and fennel and a sesame seed encrusted feta cheese tartar that was pan-seared and topped with honey.  

My plate at A'rome Meze

Now, you must realize that any disenchantment I have with olives comes not from any wrongdoing by A’roma Meze, but rather from a deep and complicated past relationship with the oily beasts.  This being said, I didn’t like the olives.  The rest, however, was great, and I loved the Greek sausage and general portion size of the cheese.  A’roma also had a special wine deal – 2 ounce pours for $3.  Inexpensive, good quality wine – I couldn’t resist.  At this point, you can imagine I was getting a little full…

…But never too full for dessert, of course.

And what a dessert it was.  The fourth and final stop on Ottawa’s second Dishcrawl was the lounge at ARC The.Hotel.  I had been to the swanky location once before when I was a talent wrangler for the Genie Awards.  It was nice to be back for pleasure rather than work.  Inside the lounge, tea lights flickered on the tables as we were presented with our final course – a spicy chocolate cheesecake with bourbon caramel and grapefruit marmalade (*drool*). 

Spicy chocolate cheesecake with bourbon caramel and grapefruit marmalade

I’m a huge chocoholic/dessertaholic, so this was made for me.  The cheesecake was so light that it was practically a mousse.  To die for

And on that satisfying note, my second Dishcrawl experience came to a close.  The next Dishcrawl event is Tuesday, July 26 and has a theme of “Desserts for Dinner,” so attendees can get more of a sugar fix than ever before.  As of today, there were only 14 tickets left, so those with sweet teeth, hop to!

Thanks again to Caitlin for organizing!  We can’t wait to attend another Dishcrawl. What do you think of the idea of Dishcrawls?