I had my first shrimp toast in 1972. It was in the Bali Hai dining room at the (long gone) Ports of Call restaurant in Toronto. Those oil-saturated slices of crustless white bread spread with a paste of seasoned shrimp and water chestnuts fried to a crunchy brown blew my little girl mind, and I’ve been a sap for that pseudo-Chinese dim sum/party snack ever since.
So the third item on the Makita menu was a natural first thing to order. I soaked up that shrimp toast starter with a fine Sloe gin Kir Royale from a cocktail list more interesting than the wines on offer.
Makita bakes its own baguette and it forms the tasty base for the schmear of chopped shrimp seasoned with betel leaf, scallions, ginger, garlic, soy, and sesame, the construct then dipped in egg and deep-fried. You can feel your arteries harden with every crunch. But it makes a super wintery comfort snack. You can follow it with a slimming green papaya salad, with peanuts, cilantro and mint, which Makita also does very well.
To find the place you’ll need to look for the round ‘M’ above the door. It is the only marker. (If Makita were a ranch, it would be The Circle-M.) The new Asian-fusion restaurant, found in the northern end of the Glebe, moved into the space vacated by the long-running New Nupur late last fall.
Other than the bar, every vestige of its Indian predecessor is gone. The Makita team, led by chefs Elliott Gosselin (lately of the Manx Pub) and Caroline Murphy (formerly of Town) have taken the walls down to the old brick and ripped up the rug. The old stucco ceiling has been raised high, replaced with wood panelling laid in a herringbone pattern to match the new floor. Running the length of the middle space is a communal high top table, interrupted with pillars. Over the marble bar is a big fancy mirror in a gilded frame, and over large tracts of the brick walls is a lovely mural by Ottawa artist Dan Metcalfe — pastoral and maritime landscapes based on Chinese narrative scrolls. At my first visit, I sit beside the fisherman in his sampan, with the mountains behind him, his dog beside him, where I enjoy my shrimp toast.
The food at Makita plays fast and loose with the culinary traditions of much of Asia — from Thai salads to Chinese steamed buns, Vietnamese banh mi to Japanese ramen. And in the new fashion of ‘anything goes’ menues, there’s fried Southern-fried chicken and waffles (with soy in the buttermilk and kimchi on the side), steak-frites (with kimchi and nori-dusted fries), and a Lebanese chickpea falafel with pickled turnip and garlic sauce tucked into a Chinese bao.
There are some yummy dishes here, in particular those steamed buns. Soft and sweet, they are well-balanced pleasures, including the surprisingly good falafel one. The more traditional pork belly filler is crisp and compelling, with enough green and pickled content to make the package a treat. Are the steamed buns as good as Datsun’s? Or Belmont’s? Return visits are in order to make that call.
There was a deliciously messy pork and shrimp burger on offer for lunch last week, loaded with cilantro, charred scallion, and an oozy soy-mayo. I followed the burger with a butter tart — the custard infused with Vietnamese-style sweet coffee, the pastry impeccable.
It wasn’t all swell. An avocado tuna tartare with taro root chips was marred with a too-sweet coating, and there was a faint musty smell about the avocado mash that suggested the fruit was a bit off. We liked the broth in the ramen (the pork base lightened with chicken stock), but the noodles were forgettable and the presentation a bit messy. My first Rice Bowl with salt and pepper tofu was pretty meh, its flavour absent. I tried a second taste, a month later, with a Glebe friend who insisted it had improved. And indeed it had, helped by the addition of marinated egg, more forcefully seasoned tofu, more herbs and vegetables in the rice. (And a pile of cabbage kimchi, which seems to come with many things – including the steak frites, on which it has no business. I’d ask for it on the side next time.)
Other than that terrific butter tart, for dessert I can recommend the spiced up togarashi brownie served with green tea ice cream. The wine list at Makita is short and assembled to match the food. There’s a sake list and a longer beer and cocktail list.
Over three visits, I’ve found Makita a pretty happy-making place, a fine addition to the north end of the Glebe, a stretch served very well by Erling’s Variety, but otherwise slim pickings. No more.