Gourmet Gals Dine at Brut Cantina Sociale
Just across the river – and we mean just across – an enclave of deliciousness will surprise and entice the Ottawa foodie.
The Location: Brut Cantina Sociale http://www.brutresto.com/
The Occasion: Gourmet Gals out for their first official dinner
In the kitchen: Executive Chef Daniel Mongeon (of Sweetgrass Bistro) and Adam Bannerman (of Courtyard Restaurant)
Dim lights, chalkboard walls and flickering candles transform a long and narrow room into a cozy, comfortable space imbued with down-to-earth, elegant professionalism. One of the chalkboards carries a hand-drawn diagram indicating where the different ingredients served at Brut come from. Mason jars full of home-made pickles dot the walls. Our experience looked promising.
The service could not have been more conducive to a relaxing evening. Although we can rate this establishment as a top stop on the area’s gourmet circuit, the service was devoid of any pretense or snob appeal. Our server breezily answered our questions, without ever showing any signs of petulance or superiority. He knew the menu inside and out and had obviously tasted everything we asked about. His ease with the wine list was impressive and we were happy to hear his honest recommendations. Staff were relaxed and always around when we needed something, somehow managing not to hover around us.
Brut’s wine list, as it stands now, contains 14 reds, five choices for bubbles, nine whites and three dessert wines. We say “as it stands now” because the wine selection rotates on a seasonal basis. We have to wonder, however, if Brut is planning a cocktail menu. Although one is available on the website, none was offered or evident to us despite the well-stocked bar.
As for the food…
Dining at Brut Cantina Sociale is not a comfort-food, habitual, homey experience. It’s not a chain type “I know-exactly-what-I’m-having-because-it’s-tasted-the-same-for-10-years” kind of place. This is how it goes down:
Option 1: The Chalkboard Menu. The concept is simple. Earth (meat), Water (fish or seafood), Air (poultry, fowl) and Ground (vegetarian). The kitchen team prepares meals based on ingredients that are available at the time. They then take those ingredients and turbo charge them with iconic French technique (like au jus or demi-glace) and sometimes turn convention on its delicious head (for instance, steelhead trout served with an orange-fennel yogurt). Price varies according to availability and level of general insanity of the dish. For instance, a tofu-based dish will be priced at $18 compared to $65 for the shareable pheasant stuffed with duck prosciutto, red peppers and goat cheese, flanked by maple-glazed carrots, bacon and leak bread pudding, and an apple/cranberry fluid gel.
There is, indeed, something for everyone. Case in point:
Option 2. The tapas menu is broken down into six categories:
- Vegetables, featuring some surprising twists on home-made coleslaw
- Fried, featuring a blood sausage nugget
- Sliders, featuring the astonishing beef tongue pastrami slider
- Raw, featuring horse tartar
- In-house charcuteries, which we will dissect further down
- Cheeses, same as above
It is a solid, varied and delightful offering. And a plentiful one. If you want to take full advantage of the tapas menu (and you will!), bring a few friends along so you can taste everything.
- Dish 10/10 for everything we tasted
A selection of six oysters: Massachusetts (2), P.E.I. (2), B.C (2) – with a glass of Segura Viudas Cava (Sparkling). Alongside the oysters came a surprising variety of condiments from mignonette to scotch. Decidedly, the award goes to the unparalleled British Columbia oyster. It was a soft, briny, flavourful appetite-opener. The perfect amuse-bouche.
The charcuterie board was an orgiastic ode to luscious animal bits. Here’s what it contained: a hunking chunk of roasted bone marrow, duck prosciutto, pork terrine, duck rillettes, beef jerky, duck confit pogo, foie gras au torchon.
The duck prosciutto requires a dissertation of its own. Made onsite – in fact, you can see it drying in cabinets at the back of the restaurant – it speaks to a philosophy that preaches taking what nature offers, finding a way to make it taste amazingly good and making sure you can do it yourself again and again. Everything at Brut is made onsite, from the mustard to the beef tongue pastrami. It occurs to us that when you build a smoker into a small kitchen, you mean business and your intent is to please palates.
The salt cod fritter was a last-minute decision. It was a pleasant surprise and we would order it again.
The next item of devourable love was the beef tartar. And it wasn’t a boy-next-door kind of love. The first bite was surprising, as we were expecting the usual mustardy taste of a tartar. But no, that zing of pure yummy was brought on by the meat, which you could actually taste, and the subtle flavouring magic of cilantro.
Although we opted against the goat’s cheese this time (no, not in the name of moderation as that would have been laughable), the Trappe à Fromage deserves kudos. It was exactly what you would want out of a five-year-old cheddar.
The pork terrine is great and quite filling, therefore better shared by more than two people.
The Duck confit pogo? Picture moist, ground duck meat cooked into a crispy-on-the-outside, airy-on-the-inside dough. On a stick. Dipped in homemade mustard. Enough said.
The foie gras is made “au torchon”, meaning wrapped in a towel and cooked in a bain-marie, and will melt in your mouth the second it makes contact with it. It’s served with little beads of apple cider – a clever play on caviar.
A definite curveball on the menu is beef jerky. Our first reaction was: really? Who would order beef jerky when foie gras is available? All we’re going to say is at $4 an order, please, please go for it as it’s simply awesome.
Another duck dish that’s guaranteed to please is the rillette. The salty, fat-laced spread had a great texture and is served in a neat mini-mason-jar. It had us asking for more bread.
The dessert. Options change constantly, so the most accurate thing we can say to describe the Brut dessert experience is that it’s creative, delicious and worth trying at least once.
When we leave a restaurant with a list of the names of people we want to bring to it, it’s usually a safe assumption that it’s a good place to eat. And really, what’s not to love? Great food prepared onsite, sourced as locally as possible and served with elegance. We’ll return to Brut and once you’ve tried it, so will you.