The year is young, so it’s somewhat brazen to declare the Heirloom CafÃ© the best meal of 2010. But it was good enough to guarantee our late-evening encounter with a Queensway-parking-lot of fan cars inching out of a Sens game did nothing to disturb the high spirits of well-fed women.
The Heirloom CafÃ© is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Kletnieks and Brandy Nieto, both graduates of Le Cordon Bleu in Sandy Hill. The duo furthered their education at the catering company, A Culinary Conspiracy, and, briefly, at Savana CafÃ©. But when Nick Diak and Brent Pattee, chef-owners since 2001 of Fitzgerald’s Restaurant in Almonte, announced they were moving on, Kletnieks and Nieto jumped at the restaurant space housed in the splendid Victoria Woolen Mill by the falls of the Mississippi River. They renovated a bit and reopened in October 2009 as the Heirloom CafÃ©.
So they are rookies at this restaurant ownership business and new to this Valley town, but they’re starting in a sensible way with a short, seasonal menu of likable dishes at levelheaded prices.
The house-made gravlax is worth the trip all on its own. Scented with cumin and dill and set on greens, the spices build and reveal themselves as you munch. A slaw of green apples and radish cuts the richness of the oily fish, and gives the dish a bright crunch.
There are scallops to start, and they come with beets and bacon, as well they should. The sweetness of the beet, the milky softness of the scallop and the chew of the bacon make for endearing eating. A smooth chicken patÃ© roofed with peppercorns is the highlight of the Heirloom charcuterie plate (built for two).
Foie gras comes with cranberry relish and gingersnaps. Sweetness with liver is always welcome, so long as it’s kept in check, and the choice of these spicy cookies, especially such delicate, wafery ones, is inspired.
The most seductive main dish turns out to be steak. The meat (from Kerr Farms, the menu reports) has a crisp crust, a supple texture and fine beefy flavour. It comes with soft shallots, sweet and pink from their slow roast in wine, and a dark jus sharpened with mustard.
Preserved lemon gives a fine zing to a butter-baked pickerel, while surrounding vegetables are all perfectly correct. Rabbit has less appeal. The dark meat is tender enough, paddling in a cream sauce with oyster mushrooms, but without much flavour beyond the cream. The long saddle is wrapped in proscuitto, sliced and served with a pesto of walnut and arugula. While the meat is moist, it isn’t dreamy.
Desserts, created by pastry chef Brandy, are uniformly good, none better than the spiced orange and sour cherry cheesecake with a snappy ginger crust. Though the pecan tart is wicked too.
If I had an itsy-bitsy criticism, it would be that the red wine is served either too warm or too cold.
Service is cheery. And so are we.