Some of Ottawa’s better chefs passed through the Arc Lounge and Restaurant kitchen in its first decade.
Let’s see, there was Steve Mitton (now at Murray Street), RenÃ© Rodriguez (Navarra), Paul Stewart (moved to B.C.), Jean-Pierre Bourghart (Sterling in Gatineau) and finally, since 2006, Jason Duffy. I guess he gets the medal for staying power.
My first review of Arc under Duffy, in 2007, was mixed. I found the food swung from good to overwrought to surprisingly pedestrian. But a soup and burger lunch last week was pretty perfect. The soup was a robust purÃ©e of sweet potato with a short glug of coconut milk, a crunch from roasted peanuts and a hit of smoky heat from espelette pepper powder. Then came a delicious burger, perfectly moist and tasting of quality cow, smothered with caramelized onion, ripe tomato, pickles, greenery, and a spiced-up cream cheese tucked inside a soft, homemade bun. It came with a tower of salad dressed in a fruity vinaigrette designed to let the superior greens speak mostly for themselves.
Dinner also began with soup. A consommÃ© of Le Coprin mushrooms with a swirl of pistachio oil was delicate but far from weak. A clever little nod to the soup-‘n’-sandwich deal was played out with a mini mushroom-scented gougere served alongside, stuffed with duck confit, Serrano ham and arugula. This could almost have made a light supper. Especially as we’d eaten an embarrassing amount of Art-is-in fennel-seed bread, mostly in order to scoop up the friendly side of red-wine-and-apple-infused butter.
But we pressed on. A filet of red deer, crusted with rosemary, was perched on a shiny bed of beluga lentils scented with juniper. The fruit-with-game card was cleverly executed with a flan of parsnip, covered with roasted grapes. Whisky in the maple jus saved the sauce from being too sweet. This was a lovely dish.
Good too, the Arctic char, bathed in brown butter and served with a purÃ©e of sweet potato lightened with mascarpone cheese and sweetened with vanilla.
And the beef tenderloin was gorgeous meat. It came with wonderful mushrooms and leeks. Which is just what you want gorgeous meat to come with. More of those Le Coprin mushrooms, a buttery bed of leek purÃ©e, plus green beans, heirloom carrots and fingerling potatoes, fashioned into a thyme-scented croquette.
Another dinner began with a superior take on that classic, beef carpaccio. The petals of raw filet had lovely flavour, came drizzled with leek oil, served with a beet-fig jam and, in place of the traditional Parmigiano, buttery slices of Upper Canada’s Niagara Gold cheese.
A few things didn’t work as well. A trio of oddly disconnected things in the seared tuna starter (rare fish, sandwiched with arugula served with roasted sweet potato logs and cloves of roasted garlic – two elements too indelicate for the tuna).
Between courses at one dinner, we were served a sorbet of what we were told was sour peach and maple. This was not an interesting failure.
But here’s something I hadn’t seen before (and with my new reading glasses, it virtually leaped off the page). “Prefer a wine by the glass from the master list? Ask your server to open – minimum two glasses required.”
How very civilized is that?
The wine list is much improved since 2007. The dinner music choice is not. We beg for the volume of the techno-thumpy stuff to be turned down, feeling a bit like old ladies.
The Arc Lounge and Restaurant is still a pretty sleek spot – though the red and black can feel a bit oppressive on a dreary evening. I wonder why the fire isn’t on to cheer the room?
It seems to work better at lunch, when the one window allows in a little daylight, and the tables – which are pretty empty at dinner – fill up with men, all men at my lunch, deep in powerful conversations, impossibly un-hushed, about Rahim Jaffer and Rhone wines.
Munching my burger, this old lady was pretty happy.