Sunday, October 08, 2006

Feasting in the East 2- Ottawa

The highest rated restaurant I could find in Ottawa on the internet was Beckta, which sounds like the Irish playwrite in a parallel universe where Godot finally does show up, bringing drinks. I call for a reservation as soon as I arrive at my hotel in the capitol, the only city in the east where I had once lived, although too long ago to carry much memory. I thought, considering its ratings, Beckta would be hard to get into but I'm pleasently surprised that I could get in this evening. The cab driver seems to have some difficulty finding it, but it is found and I enter what seems more like a house than restaurant. Immediate vibes are Lumiere, Vancouver's highest rated restaurant, although Lumiere is much bigger and less inviting.
I'm welcomed with a fruity cocktail, topped with a gooseberry or whatever the berry that wears its own paper coat is called. Mango seems to be the prevalent taste. It is made more amusing by the amuse bouche, a halibut and cucumber concoction pictured above. Fishy on its own, but perfect with the merry berry drink.
I'm also offered several types of bread and two kinds of butter. I try the carmelized butter on a small piece of bread and am reminded of butterscotch-marshmallow candies I'd enjoyed as a kid. Not what I'm expecting with butter!
I spend some time admiring the decor. Had really enjoyed the decor exhibit at the ROM I'd seen the other day, and this made me think that some of this furniture seems purloined from a modern interiors museum. Many faces in the crowded restaurant appear familiar. A man nearby has a forehead bigger than some Canadian provinces. Must be parliamentarians I'd seen on TV. Perhaps new legislation was being discussed at the next table, between intricate appetisers.
I had studied the menu online before coming here and had decided on the tuna appetiser with the citrus oil. Whenever I see the word "citrus" I'm likely to order whatever its applied to. The servers are very attentive and informative when I ask for a wine pairing for the tuna as well as the striped bass I order as an entree. Mr. Beckta, the man whose name is on the restaurant, walks by and concurs with the wine paring offered. He asks where I'm from and I tell him Vancouver. He says he's just returned from there and dined well at West. I mention my cousin David Wolowidnyk invents cocktails for them, and Mr B tells me the cocktails he's had at West were the best he's ever tasted. I'll have to tell David.
The citrussy tuna speaks of a very high calibre restaurant, such as West and few others in Vancouver I can think of. The last sip of my mango cocktail goes magnifcently with it, as does the perfectly paired wine, a Cape Spring Chenin Blanc 2001 which has a very clean, clear finish and no aftertaste. I debate entrees with myself before going with the striped bass. I asked the server what's the difference between striped bass and sea bass. She tells me the striped bass is more subtle. Indeed, the only good sea bass I've ever eaten in a restaurant was at the restaurant Caruso in Sorrento, Italy where the local lemons and tomatoes have a flavour you really can't get anywhere else.
My striped bass arrives. It is accompanied by a rose from the Niagara penninsula. I'm back in 1001 nights territory again, as my palate becomes a magic carpet. There is an odd smokiness to the fish I'm not expecting, an intensity that fights against the subtle pleasures of the rose. Then I discover I've eaten the sea bass skin! I have always avoided skins of fish and meat and do so from the moment I discover what it is. The fish becomes immeasurably better. I thought the tuna couldn't be beat, but the striped bass actually beats it, once I subtract the skin. A genie couldnt' have prepared tastier food. I try and eat it as slowly as possible to savour each molecule before it gets cold. Servers keep asking me if I want more bread. No, a few grams of bread at the beginning, to introduce me to the carmelized butter- fine but I'll fill up on this wonderfood, not bread, thank you. This is nouvelle cuisine paradise. Small portions, perfectly prepared, presented and paired. They really know what to do with sprouts in Beckta as both tuna and bass are magnified by their sprouty companions. Sadly, the aftertaste of my first mistaken biteful of skin remains after I finish an otherwise perfect meal. Hasn't the paleolithic era ended yet? I inquire if Beckta has its own coffee and am told there doesnt' appear to be a market for one yet. I take her suggestion and order a Monte Cristo, which arrives in a cup so hot I need to hold it in my napkin to drink it. It does happily dispense with the echoes of fish skin in my mouth and I'm able to enjoy the accompanying pear tart as much as it deserves. I try and drink the coffee with a spoon, but this seems ludicrous. When it does cool down enough to enjoy, it, like everything at Beckta, it is superb. The raspberries on top of the pear tart manage to cancel out the sodden pastry shell. It reminds me of peche cardinal, a desert I learned to make hanging out with foody friends in jr. high.
As I'm awaiting my cab, I'm presented with another treat, a tiny sake cup full of some perfect citrussy beverage. I spend the cab ride back to my hotel wondering exactly what it was, and resolve to call the restaurant and ask tomorrow. But I forget, as new taste empires open up.


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