The Place: Open for just seven months, Zest is the latest small home-based catering company to take the leap into a retail location. Situated on the main commercial drag in Old Hull that was last occupied by another catering café (Delish) Zest aims to tantalize the lunch crowd while workshopping new recipes for the other side of the biz. The space is fresh and inviting — painted that irresistible lemon-lime colour that seems to whet the appetite. The (presumed) owner says he hopes the nicer weather will draw more government workers out of their office towers at noon. Business must not be as busy as he’d hoped. Which is a shame. After my first visit to Zest, I can already tell I’d be a regular if I worked nearby.
The Dish: The salad of the day, one of three specials on the chalkboard menu, might as well have been named “spring on a plate”. It feels a bit premature to be enjoying asparagus while still sporting gloves and scarves, but this kind of culinary optimism is just what the doctor ordered. I, for one, have had my fill of mashed, braised, and puréed veggies and am craving crunch and snap in the worst way. I found it in this handsome salad: a harmonious haystack of just blanched green and white beans, spears of asparagus, nutty arugula, shards of cabbage and fresh fennel, wedges of crunchy cucumber, and the unexpected zip of sliced granny smith apple. I enjoyed the sweetness of the maple Dijon vinaigrette; my only quibble is the unfortunate choice of what I’m guessing was raspberry vinegar: a squeeze of lemon would’ve been ideal, both to echo the brightness and snap of the salad as well as the strict colour theme.
You’ll have to take my word for it (there’s no photographic evidence) the tuna melt was superb —a symbol of genuine creativity at play in this kitchen. Served on thick slices of Art-is-in buttermilk bread with melted nutty Gruyère, this simple sandwich gained its alluring edge from the addition of charred rosemary aioli. Rather than having the full flavour of the herb throughout — which can be overwhelming in any dish — it tasted more as if the ghost of rosemary had visited the sandwich before disappearing and leaving behind the beguiling aroma of a walk through the woods in the springtime.
The Cost: Spring salad $5.95; tuna melt $7.95. That aioli? Priceless.
Zest, 45 rue Laval, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-771-3456. http://zestcreates.ca
Hours: Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.