Let’s face it, there’s nowhere in Baltimore to eat Munch. If you want Munch, you’re going to have to get in the car and do a day’s driving to Le Café in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. Hey, I did! They serve lunch, dinner, brunch and a late-night menu called “Munch”. The café is in a modern theater complex right in the heart of the city. So many late night options are in questionable neighborhoods or other places you wouldn’t feel comfortable going all dressed up or if you’re of “a certain age”. Or, as I say, “a place you can go after the show and not feel like you have to have a bone through your nose.” Dinner is served at the café until 9 and the Munch menu is until 11 pm. The Munch menu has inventive things, too, so people don’t feel like they’re getting yesterday’s fare. I’m glad I got to try their offerings!
Le Café serves regional and international products, reflecting the diversity of Canada’s capitol. Classic jazz plays in the background. It has a modern, chic black and white décor, like piano keys. Olive bread is offered with the bread course. As an ongoing commitment to being green, they serve their own filtered water. They offer many local wines, including some from Pelee Island, which you can read more about HERE.
The courses have theatrical names, like “openers” and “closers”. You can order one, two or three. For an opener, I tried the B. A. Beef tartare, with jasmine and shiso rice bomb, ume plum paint. It had fresh onion mixed in and was tender, meaty-lean. It was garnished with fresh herbs.
Another opener was the hickory smoked salmon with fennel pear slaw, cherry scone and whipped Chevrai crème (goat cheese). The salmon was mild and excellent. It was smoky, but still natural. It wasn’t slimy like many salmons can be. It was also garnished with an olive tapenade.
Canada seems to have gotten comfortable more quickly — or always has been so – than the U.S. with the nose to tail food movement. They proudly serve real fois gras! I know, a couple of places in Baltimore offer it on their menus, but not many and not enough. Le Café serves Quebec foie gras cuit sous vide with stone fruit preserve, Ontario peanuts and toasted brioche. The traditional touch of sweetness garnish fois gras is made totally modern with a deconstructed PB & J. It’s got a nice bit of salt, and marvelous contrast of crunch and creamy.
Another offering in the “Continue” category was Crab and duck confit Arancini, corn pulse and tomato basil pistou. It also had Asian seasoned pulled duck. There was creamy tenderness with the corn and crab cake inside, crunchy outside. It was sprinkled with powdered wasabi. The dish was rich, but Le Café serves just the right portion for things. This is a dish that would definitely be appreciated by people on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
For a “Closer”, I tried Qualicum Bay sea scallops with tender baby spinach, shiitake soy truffle emulsion coddled quail egg. The scallops were sweet and meaty, with a buttery sauce. The quail eggs were little hard boiled eggs with fresh black pepper. The soy was creamy and rich: a non starchy starch, if you will. The dish had nice grill flavors and was beautifully presented. The spinach was lightly fried.
Another Closer I tasted was Queen Charlotte Island halibut with white bean, sweet corn, sea asparagus and smoked ham hock. This was a dish with a Southern flavor! The halibut was perfectly cooked and delicately seasoned. The corn was crisp.
One of their very interesting desserts was the “Trifecta of sweet”: miniature apple ice wine baba, sweet mouth pop and Tahitian vanilla crème brulee’. It’s a dessert that will satisfy any sweet craving you may have and it’s perfect to share.
Their after dinner coffees are served with a piece of Valrhona chocolate.