Issac’s former home was in a Kanata mini mall. As of last December, it is housed in a suburban mansion in a new Stittsville subdivision. Renamed Issac’s 64 Hundred, this impressive structure is more than just a restaurant.
The heart of the building is a state of the art commercial kitchen attached to an 80-seat dining room. Beyond this main room and a wall of glass doors, is a 60-seat screened in patio, with heated tile floors, retractable windows, and a fireplace. To the right of the soaring foyer is a wine bar. Beyond that are two large rooms suitable for meetings or receptions, complete with gas fireplaces and built in televisions and all the latest clever wiring. (Wine-dine-and-watch events on game nights are part of the Issac’s plan.) Down a circular staircase are more banquet facilities and a second kitchen. The ladies’ room has a stall designed just for the bride. At my last visit they were laying the work for the fountains and gardens.
The wild colours of the Kanata Issac’s are gone. The new Issac’s is beige, brown and cream, with chic leather, plush linens, Italian tile, big modern art and mirrors. Throughout these handsome rooms, pendulous crystal chandeliers hang from the crazy-high ceilings.
But here’s the goofy thing. In this modern, stylish place is the cooking of yesterday. It may still have its fans, but dishes like boneless breast of chicken smothered in a Bailey’s Irish cream sauce surrounded with season-be-damned vegetables, is a style of restaurant food we should have left behind us long ago. This is the bonelessly-banal, over-worked, over-stuffed, over-sauced, chemically-boosted, seasonally insignificant food of the seventies.
Of the 61 main dishes, 51 come with a cream sauce. The balance has demi-glace sauces or Hollandaise or pesto sauces all, by my palate, from a package or a bin. Two (the only vegetarian-suited dishes on the menu) have tomato sauces.
Over the course of four meals here, nothing passed muster. You can taste the MSG in the soups – even in the clam chowder – and in many of the sauces. The Caesar salad is advertised as having “simulated bacon bits.” Hummus is served with stale, hard pita. Issac’s escargots are coated with an acrid, salty sauce of what seems to be pesto and demi glace, tossed in a supermarket bun, untoasted.
Our server tells us that all the main dishes come with 10 to 13 vegetables, a signature of Issac’s. My meals at 64 Hundred have spanned from the beginning of March to the end of June, and it’s the same vegetables – woody carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tinned baby corn, red pepper, an asparagus spear, yellow zucchini, butternut squash, red cabbage – all of them unseasoned, tasting pre-cooked and re-warmed, and all of them on every dinner plate whether you order the lamb with pistachio demi glace or salmon with a raspberry brandy cream sauce.
The menu tells me the scallops have a “European” leek and lemon cream sauce on them; they advertise “wild” Portobello mushrooms in the chicken. I’m told the salmon is fresh, but is dry and juiceless, without the qualities of a fresh salmon. The rack of lamb is a good piece of meat, cooked to order, but debased with a salty demi glace sauce studded with pistachios. Same goes for Issac’s beef tenderloin (every steak is a tenderloin), coated with a bÃ©arnaise sauce that tastes like it came from a package. The skinless, boneless chicken breasts are dull and rubbery. The one stuffed with those portobellos is entirely flavourless and the sauce tastes of flour. Every chicken dish is in a cream sauce of some description – amaretto cream sauce, Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce, mango and Mediterranean molasses cream sauce. Shrimp lie innocent of all flavour in a ‘stir-fry’ on a bed of overcooked rice with the same roundup of vegetables you find on dinner plates, a very dull sauce poured over the lot.
This is banquet cooking. And it is expensive banquet cooking, with main dishes ranging from $29 to $48. The service, though pleasant, is hardly as upscale as the tab. On two evenings, our main dishes arrive while we are still working through our appetizers.
A new pastry chef (coming soon, we’re told) may soon deliver good desserts. For now, they are brought in and are more quantity than quality.
Twenty-five years ago, I do recall making a Bailey’s Irish cream sauce on chicken for my prom date. But in Ottawa in 2008, we surely know better. And for a new restaurant in a big chic space to be churning out such tired food is a darn shame.
May I suggest money and thought be focused more on the food than on the fountains.