It’s only natural to pay attention to new restaurants. I suppose that’s because novelty is such good fun — unless, of course, yours is the kind of novelty that doesn’t quite catch on. As I flip through thick binders of reviews of the past 18 years, it seems every other flip reveals a once new restaurant, now dead. But what of those restaurants that were quietly doing things right way back in 1999? Already established, going strong, giving us pleasure. With the new decade now upon us, it seemed to me good fun to cherry-pick some senior restaurants whose days of newness are long gone but have gone on to perform an even neater trick in the brutal restaurant business. They’ve survived. More than that, they’ve given us consistent satisfaction. Some came into their own during the last decade, some had managed that before the decade had begun. But all, thankfully, are still going at it, day after day, year after year, decade to decade. So cheers to them!
Bella’s Bistro, 1445 Wellington St. W., 613-724-6439, bellas.ca
There are restaurants you look to for cutting-edge cuisine. And then there’s Bella’s. More a restaurant that sustains and satisfies, Bella’s Italian mainstays have been going strong for 15 years. Classic pasta-pollo-pesce cuisine, romantic ambience, friendly service, a solid selection of Italian wines, and winning desserts tend to keep Bella’s seats filled.
Black Cat Bistro, 428 Preston St., 613-569-9998, blackcatbistro.ca
If you walked into this restaurant 10 years ago, the sign would have read ‘Black Cat Wine and Noodle Bar,’ and you have found it on Murray Street. Candice Butler — now resident chef at The Urban Element — would have been in the kitchen. In 1999, the Cat food was mostly Asian noodle dishes and mostly came in shallow bowls. Ever more changes — new chefs, new directions, a few tweaks to the surname, and after 10 years in the Byward Market (and more before that on Echo Drive) now in its third home. In 2010, we find the Black Cat Bistro on Preston Street. Steve Vardy is in its kitchen. It was good then. It’s better now.
Domus Café, 87 Murray St., 613-241-6007, domuscafe.ca
Years before eco-eating turned mainstream, Domus Café introduced us to the goodness of local ingredients on a restaurant menu, gave credit to farms and foragers and producers from the region, and with their product in hand, crafted masterful dishes. A decade on Murray Street and the cooking is as accomplished as it’s ever been.
El Meson, 94 Beechwood Ave., 613-744-8484, elmeson.ca
Change swirls in New Edinburgh — Zingaro, Geraldo’s, Baco, Ambiente, Fratelli, The Works have all come and gone. For 22 years, the Alves family has been serving the nostalgic dishes of Spain and Portugal, washed down with Iberian wines from a bountiful cellar, still in a turn-of-the-last-century house on Beechwood Avenue.
Juniper, 245 Richmond Rd., 613-728-0220, juniperdining.ca
In 2000, the then four-year-old Juniper was at 1293 Wellington St. Three years ago, it moved further west into a car dealership’s showroom, and it’s been tweaking and improving the unusual space ever since. Ten years ago, founding chef Richard Nigro was cooking with co-owner Michael Sobcov. Today, he’s partnered with Norm Aitken, and the team has taken the food to new heights, while reaching out to the neighbourhood through clever ideas like duelling chefs on traditionally slow nights, with proceeds going to local charities.
Le Baccara, 1 Casino Blvd., 819-772-6210, casino-du-lac-leamy.com
Can it possibly be 10 years since I first ventured down the glittering driveway of lights, walked the corridor above the sea of slot machines, and spilled into this grand temple of French gastronomy? Le Baccara, in Le Casino du Lac Leamy, was the place for subdued celebrations in 1999. A decade later, it remains a go-to restaurant for an utterly civilized meal.
Les Fougères, 783 Route 105, Chelsea, 819-827-8942, fougeres.ca
It has been a good decade for the Parts of Les Fougères. Their pine walls boast a bounty of new awards — for the cooking, the wine list, the sommelier, the chef, their 2008 cookbook — and the new store does brisk business, particularly around tourtière time. Charles Part and Jennifer Warren-Part created a gem in a rural setting over a decade ago, and Les Fougères seems to me better every year.
L’Orée du Bois, 15 Kingsmere Rd., Chelsea, 819-827-0332, oreeduboisrestaurant.com
For something crazy — like 32 years if I’ve got it right — L’Orée du Bois’ black-and-white frocked wait-staff has been serving chef Guy Blain’s old-school French classics (escargots, duck confit, pot-au-feu, mousse au chocolat) from its 100-year-old bunker-style farmhouse in Chelsea, a dozen minutes from downtown Ottawa.
Savana Café, 431 Gilmour St., 613-233-9159
Now in its third decade, the Savana Café has never seemed better. With new chef Michael Radford shaking things up, a menu that takes Caribbean cuisine to a new level, and prices still within easy reach, Savana sizzles.
The Manx, 370 Elgin St., 613-231-2070
You could argue this was Ottawa’s first gastropub. The food at the underground Manx has always been considered more than just a sop for the excellent brews. It was my favourite pub a decade ago and it remains right up there today.
A moment of silence, please, for the decade’s dearly departed.
Like people, all restaurants must leave us sometime and all leave us for their own reasons. These departed during the last 10 years, and whether they were part of the landscape for generations, or just a year or two, I liked them and I miss them.
RIP: L’Agaric, Ambiente, Baco Restaurant and Wine Bar, Belair sur la Rivière, Bistro 115, Café Henry Burger, Clair de Lune, Echo Café, Laurier sur Montcalm, Le Jardin, Le Verlan, Luna Bar and Kitchen, The Ironwood Café, Trattoria Zingaro, Zibbibo. (No doubt I’ve missed some worthy of mourning. Share your list with me .)