Mangia! Gen goes dishcrawling on Corso Italia

The latest Dishcrawl took place on Preston's Little Italy

Geneviève Brisson (Twitter) is a master’s student in communication at the University of Ottawa, working on a thesis on gastronomic tourism. An Ottawa native, she has an appetite for discovering everything the National Capital Region has to offer, especially its burgeoning food scene. 

Here at Local Tourist Ottawa, we love discovering our city’s food establishments. And so, naturally, we love our Dishcrawls.

Since June of this year, when the very first one was held in Ottawa, Dishcrawls have become so popular with foodies here that the latest one, in the Little Italy neighbourhood, sold out within a few hours. In fact, there was so much demand for this event that the organizers decided to do a repeat of it a week later.

I had jumped at the chance to crawl Preston Street, in part hoping to savour some gourmet pizza. Alas, there was none to be had that evening, but I was certainly not disappointed after having tasted the many other Italian-inspired dishes that were in store for us.

Our meeting spot, emailed to us a couple of days before the event, was Allegro Ristorante, a Corso Italia establishment for about 20 years. While Dishcrawl participants usually meet outdoors (so as not to spoil any surprises regarding locations to be visited), the organizers had us meet at the first restaurant due to the cooler temperatures. Good thinking, given that last Tuesday was a very chilly night. The cozy second-floor room of Allegro became packed shortly after my friend and I arrived, what with approximately 50 eager dishcrawlers squished in. Nevertheless, people were chatting away, eagerly awaiting the official start of the crawl.

After a brief introduction by the organizers, Allegro’s owner presented plates of his restaurant’s most popular hot and cold appetizers: fried calamari and zucchini; prosciutto, provolone and melon slices; marinated vegetables; and, sausage bites. The sausage, nicely spiced, was the standout for me. With the food served buffet style, we helped ourselves, and I made sure to leave enough room for the numerous plates I knew were still to come.

Appetizers at Allegro Ristorante

Dishcrawl participants then left in two cohorts, my group leaving with our enthusiastic guide Sarah.

In spite of the cold outside, the atmosphere on charming Preston Street felt festive and inviting, lined as it was with small tree decorated with white lights. It provided a nice backdrop as we explored this neighbourhood’s food.

As we headed north up Preston Street, my anticipation mounted until we reached DiVino Wine Studio. I was ecstatic, having wanted to try this place for a while! We entered the attractive space, passing a wine rack covering an entire wall to our right, and settled in a private room at the back of the establishment. The sommelier spoke to us about DiVino: more than just a restaurant, it also offers room rentals for events, cooking classes, seminars, and even culinary tours of Italy.

We were then taught how to taste our olive oil using a piece of bread before small plates arrived. First came a tuna tartare with greens, orange aioli and crostini, followed by gnocchi in a tomato sauce. The tuna was fresh and delicate, and the gnocchi – all pillowy goodness and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness – was like none other I had ever had before.

Tuna tartare at DiVino Wine Studio

Gnocchi at DiVino Wine Studio

We crossed path with the other group on our way to our third restaurant of the night: Il Primo. There, we were greeted warmly by the owner, and then served a single plate with multiple components: a Ceasar salad topped with a garlic crouton, bocconcini and fig wrapped in prosciutto, a piece of breaded chicken with a pesto-like sauce, and a roasted potato with rosemary. It was satisfying and hearty food.

Mixed plate at Il Primo

As we left for our last stop, I found myself almost wishing that it was far down the street, since I think we all could have used the walk to digest a bit at this point! We walked into La Roma for dessert. There we were given an olive oil and orange cake, accompanied by a scoop of olive oil ice cream with a balsamic drizzle. Innovative and delightful, it was a great way to finish the evening.

Dessert at La Roma

Upon leaving the restaurant and bidding adieu to our guide and our new friends, we were given a little surprise treat: macarons from the new Macarons et Madeleines. I had tried macarons a couple of times in the past, but absolutely nothing compared to these ones. I had a raspberry and a chocolate one, both filled with a mix of jam and buttercream. They were so fresh and soft – simply divine. I am still dreaming about them.

Treat from Macarons et Madeleines

The four restaurants, plus the French pastry shop, featured during this Dishcrawl of Little Italy Dishcrawl were all new discoveries for me. I will return soon, Preston Street. Ciao!

Dishcrawl Ottawa is hosted a SOLD-OUT repeat event on Preston Street tonight, but keep your eyes peeled for the next event — coming soon to a community near you!