The Magic of Mediterranean Hospitality

Bistro Ristoro in the ByWard Market quickly became one of my favourite Ottawa restaurants when I discovered it in 2022. I was delighted to return recently for a wine dinner featuring the latest vintage of several wines from Croatia.  During a leisurely evening, we enjoyed a fabulous meal of Mediterranean cuisine, with each course accompanied by Croatian wines presented by Apostolos Gerakinis. Apostolos is the highly knowledgeable Regional Account Manager for a major wine distributor. I also had the opportunity to try a couple of Croatian wine products I had not previously tasted.

There are two important reasons why I love Bistro Ristoro: 1) the mouth-watering food is meticulously prepared, so that every bite is delicious. 2) the warm hospitality.

This is the factor that will make or break a restaurant. There is a relaxed ambience that is comfortable and elegant, starting with a friendly welcome and continuing with gracious and knowledgeable service. The owner, Vlad, gives you such a warm welcome that you feel as if you are arriving at his home for dinner.

We started with a welcome cocktail, made with Badel Slivovica, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice.  It was very summery and refreshing; just perfect on a hot day.  Our first course was Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Kebab, served with arugula salad. I think the chef at Bistro Ristoro is psychic, because he always prepares shrimp exactly the way I like them; expertly grilled to tender, pink perfection. Our wine was Vesak Grasevina. It has apple, pear and citrus notes, with a light acidity, so it complemented the shrimp very well. If you’re not familiar with Grasevina, for comparison, it’s rather like a Riesling. We also sampled a Sauvignon Blanc from northern Croatia, near Slovenia. It was perfumed, herbal and a bit floral, with bright citrus notes. With stronger acidity than the Grasevina, it also suited the shrimp because it counter-balanced the richness of the seafood.

The next course was actually two dishes. First, a Tarte Flambeé, which was the size of a medium pizza. Tarte Flambeé is a rectangular Flat Bread with Crème Fraiche, Red Onion and Double Smoked Bacon. Baked in their wall oven, it was crisp and flavourful. We enjoyed Peljesac Plavac Mali with it, a fragrant, medium-bodied red wine with flavours of plums, dark berries, mocha, vanilla and Croatian herbs. Plavac Mali is an indigenous grape in Croatia and is known there as the “King of Red Wine.” There’s an interesting reason why the label shows a donkey on a hill; the vineyards in that region are located on extremely steep slopes, so sure-footed donkeys are used to carry the grapes to the wineries.

Then a Lamb Bread Pot platter arrived, with an impressive presentation. This was made from a hollowed out round loaf of bread, filled with juicy chunks of lamb in a rich, creamy mushroom sauce. That was pretty much a scrumptuous meal on its own, because it was served with salad and crispy fries. We enjoyed a spicy, full-bodied Korlat Syrah with that.

Next, we had a generous serving of Picanha Kebab, made with Top Sirloin Cap Cubes, which were extremely tender and succulent, served with a Majorcan tomato-onion-green pepper mixed salad.  Also on the platter was a tasty Macedonian cheese mixture, made with both feta and mascaparone, spiced with a little paprika, which made it very attractive and appetizing. With that, we drank Korlat Cabernet Sauvignon, a very flavourful Cab with those delicious blackcurrant notes and a slight herbal aspect. It was an excellent pairing with the Sirloin beef.

By then, we were happily stuffed and contented. Apostolos came by to offer a digestif and since we didn’t have to drive, we indulged in the Badel Orange Slivovica. He also offered Badels Pelinkovac Gorki, a Croatian cult status herbal liqueur. It has been enjoyed in the royal courts of Vienna and Paris since Napoleon the Third. This liqueur, made from a blend of Mediterranean herbs known for their curative properties, has been winning awards since the Paris World Fair in 1867.

Bistro Ristoro was recently rated one of Ottawa’s best pizza restaurants. Their pizzas are made using a “green” dough (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants-infused), thin crust and top quality ingredients. When you try it you will taste the difference. They also prepare the most tender, succulent lamb and beef dishes that I have eaten anywhere in Ottawa, so they clearly have an exceptional chef. Another highly recommended dish is their Chicken Marsala.

Whether you are planning a casual lunch, a leisurely meal with friends or family, or a romantic evening, there’s an extensive menu and wonderful service that will guarantee a happy dining experience at Bistro Ristoro.

Winelovers who are curious to taste these excellent wines, most available through private order, contact: Apostolos Gerakinis, Regional Account Manager

The Peljesac Plavac Mali is carried at the LCBO, product# 460873

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Photos: Jane Staples