Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Celebrating in the Courtyard

For their 30th wedding anniversary, my parents opted to dine out instead of eating in, even though my sister and I were willing to cook another meal for them.  My sister, being a more connected foodie than I am, knew another food blogger who lives in Ottawa and had plenty of local connections and knowledge of good places to go to eat.  One of the places he suggested was Courtyard Restaurant, which is perchance celebrating its 30th anniversary as well.  Tucked away with its actual entrance from Clarendon Lane, I've seen that place a few times in the summer months when the courtyard, surrounded by stone buildings, was packed with diners enjoying their meals al fresco.  Until recently I was concerned that, being located in the tourist-heavy By Ward Market area, it was one of many tourist trap eateries in the area, but a suggestion from a foodie allayed my concern, and my sister and I agreed to give that place a try.

Amuse-bouche - Smoked salmon, crême fraîche and icewine grape.
As my family and I pored over the menu, we were each given an amuse-bouche of smoked salmon with crême fraîche and half an icewine grape.  The salmon was smoked what I'd call "West Coast" style; that is, the salmon's texture was similar to cooked fish, opposite to "East Coast" style.  The lightness of the crême fraîche and the mild sweetness of the icewine grape countered the salmon quite nicely.

Meanwhile, though a Chef's Tasting Menu was available, we decided not to chance it in case some of the dishes could not be altered sufficiently to cater to some of our fellow diners' dietary concerns.  It's not often that I'm indecisive between choosing several dishes, but on this occasion I couldn't decide between two appetizers and two main courses.  Fortunately my waiter was helpful in suggesting one of the main courses, which led me to choose as my appetizer...
Beef tartare with BBQ chips and honey mustard.
...the Beef tartare with homemade BBQ chips and honey mustard.  Garlic was evident in the beef, and there was a hint of cilantro as well.  The chips were light and crispy and countered the beef's flavour well.  Though this dish in my mind doesn't compare to the Wagyu beef carpaccio I had back in Melbourne, this thought must not be construed as an indictment against the chef, but more of my conclusion that I'm likely more of a fan of carpaccio instead of tartare.
Mandarin and carrot sorbet.
After the appetizer we were treated with a palate-cleansing mandarin-and-carrot sorbet.  The carrots were finely grated, and therefore the texture was barely detectable.  Unfortunately, I couldn't really taste the carrot either, just the mandarin.  At the risk of Chef Hay laughing at, or chastising, me, I'm guessing the carrot played more as a colouring agent for the sorbet.
Qualicum Bay scallops with Jerusalem artichoke, horseradish and double-smoked bacon.
For my main course, I had Qualicum Bay (Vancouver Island, British Columbia) scallops with Jerusalem artichoke, horseradish and double-smoked bacon.  The scallops were pan-seared to perfection, and the oyster mushrooms provided a complementary crispiness to the dish.  The bacon was tempered by the mild Brussels sprout leaves, and the puréed Jerusalem artichoke played a nice counterpoint both in terms of flavour and texture against the other items in this dish.
Chocolate, Beer and Snacks - Soft dark chocolate, Guiness ice cream, crushed peanuts and pretzels and toffee.
As for dessert, I opted for one of the restaurant's more playful dishes, Chocolate, Beer and Snacks.  The "chocolate" is dark chocolate crèmeux, molded into a bar and softly giving way to utensils.  The "beer" is Guiness ice cream, and the "snacks" were represented by crushed peanuts and pretzels and soft toffee.  I can now say that I tried a Guiness... and didn't get drunk from it!

Courtyard Restaurant provided my family and me a pleasant dinner and enjoyable service, and was a good recommendation by a fellow foodie.  My parents definitely enjoyed their meals, and my sister and I certainly didn't mind returning there the next day for lunch with that same food blogger who recommended this place.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad, 30 years and counting!

Name: Courtyard Restaurant
Address: 21 George St., Ottawa, ON
Cuisine: Canadian, Contemporary/Progressive
Price Range: Lunch $15-$40; Dinner $25-$85
Accessible: Yes (partially)

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