Monday, April 30, 2012


Michèle and I go out to dinner for different reasons at different times.  Sometimes we want comfort food.  Sometimes it's a place that’s quiet enough to carry on a conversation with friends.  Maybe we want something from a remote part of the world.  Or we want to experience the craft of a chef at the top of his game.  But the number one reason that we go out to dinner is to enjoy something that we know we could not do at home, something that no one else in town is doing, something that makes us say, “Wow, how do they do that?!”

In Ottawa, there are many places for comfort food.  We’re also blessed with many restaurants that offer food from every corner of the globe.  And the last 15 years have seen many very talented chefs develop their skills here.

But there’s one place in Ottawa that, right now, challenges, mystifies, thrills, and satisfies us more than any other:  Atelier.

Atelier offers only one choice:  a blind 12-course small plate menu.  Each course is a surprise; they disclose and explain the dish only as it arrives.  (They do ask beforehand if you have any allergies or dislikes.  A skinny woman at a nearby table inexplicably asked for no carbohydrates!  And no citrus because she was doing the colon cancer check.  Oh gawd, just stay home.)

This week marked our second trip to Atelier.  We first went soon after it opened late in 2008.  I won’t go into the “cooking” techniques used at Atelier, mainly because they’re so nontraditional that I’m sure that even if I tried to explain them, I’d come up way short.  But that’s the point.  We can’t do this at home.  It’s creative, it’s challenging, it’s amusing, and it’s superbly delicious.  We’re not alone in our opinion.  Atelier’s chef, Marc Lepine, won the Canadian Culinary Championship earlier this year.  The winning dish is on the menu.

What completes a wonder-ful experience is the matching wine pairing, a bargain at $60.  Much care obviously goes into selecting wines to match the dishes.  Kudos to the sommelier, Steve Robinson, who was in my sommelier class at Algonquin.  He’ll indulge your wine nerdiness if you want that, but he won’t bore you with details if you don’t.

Atelier is not inexpensive.  But compared to some other places in town and for the experience, we think it’s a bargain.  Save up if you have to.   But go.

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