Newly Opened Kathā Elevates the Indian Dining Experience in the Capital
When you think of Indian food in Canada, what do you think of? It’s the beautifully smelling walk-up spots where you order takeout to bring home: butter chicken, tikka masala, and the most amazing garlic naan. However, Indian food around the world is so much more, and now, in Ottawa, it is too.
Kathā is a beautiful new restaurant on Preston Street that has been open for one month. The concept is an eight-course, seasonal, Indian blind-tasting menu curated by a multitude of chefs and inspired by the stories of their personal experiences with Indian cuisine.
When you enter the building, you’re greeted by a charming post-modern look with touches of classic Indian art. The ambiance is best described as a comfortable fine dining experience. My partner and I were greeted by our server, and host for the evening, who informed us that we had a table reserved but that we may also sit at the white marble bar to experience the open kitchen and watch as our food is prepared. This seemed like a great opportunity to get a feel for what this restaurant represents.
As we sat down, the restaurant concept was explained in further detail. We would enjoy eight courses with wine pairings (for $150 per person, $100 per person without the wine). Our host explained that the word Kathā means “story” in Sanskrit, and we were informed that with each dish, we’d be given a story by the chef who curated it. Each course would be a chapter in the story they were aiming to tell, which joins classic Indian culinary traditions with modern techniques and insights that the whole back-of-house staff has learned over their careers. In broader terms, this was a modern tasting menu take on a classic cuisine experience.
I will attempt to highlight the experience we had at Kathā and not give too much away, as the story, the surprise of each dish, and the way the staff so eloquently represents it are just as crucial to the meal as the food is. All in all, across the eight courses, we were given ten bites of food, including two dishes in the first course, a palate cleanser, and two very unique desserts, along with seven glasses of wine; the final glass was paired with both desserts. Unlike a classic tasting menu experience, the portions were generous, and we left incredibly full, with no need for a post-dinner dollar menu run.
I am going to highlight what I believe to be three of the standout dishes across this season’s menu to allow each of you reading this to book a reservation and experience the exceptional menu for yourselves. Keep in mind that this seasonal menu will only be available until February.
The menu is divided into three: three appetizer courses, three main courses (separated from the appetizers by a palate cleanser), and two dessert courses.
ABOVE: Kathā’s take on beef tartare was a textural delight.
One of the appetizers was a beef tartare. It was explained to us that in 99.9 percent of India, beef is forbidden to be consumed; however, in one specific region, it is the main form of protein. The chefs wanted to highlight this region with beef in its purest form, as a tartare. Traditionally, tartare is very bright and acidic, using capers, shallots, lemon juice, and other things to make it very punchy, but at Kathā they found a way to lean into the Indian flavour profile using curry leaves, coconut, a warm but noticeable spice on the back of the palate, umami mushrooms, and a cooling cauliflower purée, all served on a traditional street food-style papadam. The beef was smooth, almost like a paté, and was piled high to an almost inch-and-a-half thick disc. The spice was noticeable but didn’t overtake the dish. It was a textural delight to eat.
ABOVE: One of the three main courses was a dish called Sothi.
The three main courses all stood out for various reasons, but the one I continue to think about is called “Sothi,” a piece of sea bass was pan-fried to crispy skin perfection and laid in an earthy broth of what I believed to be a type of lentil. The broth was then cut with three kinds of oils: A chili oil for heat, coriander oil for freshness, and curry leaf oil for a tinge of citrus. The fish was then topped with roe to provide a textural contrast in the dish.
This dish was impressive as it felt like a pick-your-own adventure — eat each bite as you choose, with whichever mix of the broth and oils you prefer. You can drag your spoon through just the coriander oil on your first bite, maybe mix the curry leaf and chili on the second, a combination of flavours that worked in a multitude of ways, changing the experience with each bite.
The desserts were vastly different from one another. Both played on classic Indian treats; one leaned heavily sweet, and one was a mix of sweet, savoury, and earthy.
Generally, I prefer the savoury — you can tell by the “needs salt” tattoo on my neck — however, in this instance, the heavily sweet dessert blew me away in flavour and in the intelligence of its composition.
It was explained to us that in India, a popular treat is a sweetened fried bread, and the chefs wanted to take this idea and create a tasting menu-worthy dish.
ABOVE: The delicious deserts at Kathā.
At the base of the dish was a sweetened milk flavoured with pistachio and rose petals, which I can only describe as the best-tasting cereal milk. The chefs then fried two rings of bread that resembled onion rings. The first was placed in the milk to sog and sop up all that beautiful milk. On top of this was a cream also made from pistachio and rose petals, used to separate the wet bottom ring from a top bread ring that would be kept crispy to provide a textural contrast that elevated the dessert to new heights. The words I write in this article can not do justice to how incredible this dessert was. It was my bite of the night and was truly special. The mix of inspiration, innovation, and cultivation is the truest representation of what makes Kathā so special.
Ottawa has slowly clawed its way out of the reputation that we are only a government city. It’s proven that the art, entertainment, and, of course, the food scene here is one of the best-kept secrets in Canada. Slowly, we’ve seen cuisines that are typical takeout style places, such as Thai, Chinese, and Indian, pop up with sit-down restaurants where you can casually enjoy a great meal; however, Kathā has opened the gateway between these cuisines and the fine dining world.
Kathā has created a precedent in this city that demonstrates we can enjoy our favourites on an elevated level. They have taken the first steps in bringing a Michelin star to the country’s capital, and I, for one, will continue supporting this journey.
RUN to your phones and book your reservations because this is an experience that will leave a lasting impression! It’s your turn to hear the story of how takeout became a tasting menu.
Find Kathā at 225 Preston St., Unit 3, near Gladstone and online at kathaottawa.com