Eating & Drinking

City Bites Insider: Guest-chef pop-ups, Rangoon’s new space, and more food news

Chain Gang

Looks as if Ottawa has finally reached a critical mass of diners, attracting the attention of Canadian and foreign chain restaurants and bakeries eager to capitalize on our hunger for new taste experiences. Notable chains recently heading to the capital include Montreal bakery Mamie Clafoutis, which has brought beautiful baguettes, croissants, and cakes to Westboro, while rival bakery Les Moulins La Fayette has opted to showcase its wares in Hintonburg. (La Fayette is also a Montreal chain — known for breads and pastries, it also sells deli sandwiches, salads, and gourmet chocolates.) Meanwhile, Mississauga-based chain Paramount Fine Foods has opened a branch at Rideau Centre to lure Ottawans to its brand of Lebanese fare. Two other chains that entered the market in the past few years — Sansotei Ramen and Centrale Bergham — have already expanded.

Local Chain Gang

Ottawa’s foodies are also supporting ambitious local entrepreneurs who have set their sights on expanding to create their own mini-chains. Local chains-in-the-making are many (there seems to be a Morning Owl or Bridgehead on every corner). Most recently, Maverick’s opened a second doughnut store on the Market, Stella Luna launched a third gelato location in Merrickville, and Happy Goat is now up to four locations (plus, they bought hipster haven Arlington Five in April). And we hear that Oat Couture, which opened its first eatery in Old Ottawa South in April, is already scouting for a second central location.

Be My Guest

The guest-chef pop-up dinner is officially a thing, with the concept taking hold at restaurants small and large. Eateries such as chef Michael Blackie’s Next and Oz Balpinar’s Oz Kafe have been hosting regular guest-chef events for years, while others have jumped on the bandwagon with sporadic get-togethers that highlight unique cuisines their home chefs are playing around with. MeNa, for example, recently hosted Tokyo-based chef Jonathan Korecki (formerly of Restaurant Eighteen and Sidedoor) to play around with Japanese flavours; Coconut Lagoon periodically welcomes Vancouver’s Vikram Vij. These nights are fun for foodies, who get to see their local chef in a new light and sample fare from their chef idols. City Bites asked chef Blackie what’s in it for him and for Next diners. “For me, it’s a chance to hang with my mates and fill the restaurant on a Wednesday night,” says Blackie, who has a huge network of chef friends around the world. (He has even renovated his basement to host his buddies, putting in two bedrooms with ensuites.) When they’re not performing their magic for up to 150 guests at Next, visiting chefs kick back at his house. Blackie says these pop-ups also keep his staff engaged — they get to learn from multiple masters. Mark your calendars for November 14, when Blackie rubs shoulders with celebrity chefs Mathieu Cloutier of Montreal’s Kitchen Galerie and Clifton Holt of Little Savannah Restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. “These chefs are larger than life. They’re exciting to be around — everyone is going to have a riot,” promises Blackie.

Next Restaurant in Stittsville is hosting Mathieu Cloutier and Clifton Holt on November 14.

QUICK BITES

After shutting up its Gloucester Street location, Rangoon Restaurant has reappeared at 634 Somerset St. W., which had sat empty since the closing of Zen Kitchen almost four years ago. Indian Curry House has taken over the former Rangoon spot.

Good Eats fans will be relieved to hear that it has not closed but has merely moved down the street to 473 Albert St. The new owner is Karen Marcotte, who has taken over from original owner Mel Hein, who has retired from the biz.

Hot sauce makers Meow! That’s Hot have opened Meow! That’s Hot Kitchen + Bar at 519 Bank St. That section of Centretown is becoming a foodie hub, with Dolsot Café, Wilf & Ada’s, Moo Shu Ice Cream, Flora Hall Brewing, and 3 Tarts all within a 150-metre stroll.

Looks as if that spring retirement announcement from So Good Restaurant was a false alarm. The Chinatown stalwart is still serving up its famous pepper-salt tofu and Szechuan green beans.

Athena Gourmet Greek Imports has opened up a Centretown store at 368 Bank St. specializing in Mediterranean imports, including Greek olive oils, honeys, vinegars, and other fare. Excited to try raspberry and ouzo jam.

Congrats to Sarah Kaplan of Rainbow Foods and Shane Clark of Beyond the Pale Brewing Company. Both received 2018 Ottawa Chamber of Commerce “Forty Under 40” awards. The annual awards recognize rising business leaders under the age of 40.

Suzy Q fans in the Glebe will be happy to learn the Hintonburg doughnut shop has set up a counter at Little Victories (801 Bank St.).

Preston Street is becoming a go-to destination for veg heads. Pure Kitchen is scheduled to open its fourth space, a lunch counter, at 345-A Preston in late 2018 or early 2019. Plans are in the works for a patio with an outdoor pizza oven. The Pure Kitchen development joins Raw Pulp + Grind (440 Preston St.), with the Blended Berry food truck located at 298 Preston.

Snack alert! SolFarmers, local importer of gourmet Spanish goodies, now has chips for sale. Flavours include Iberian ham, caviar, chicken and lemon, and (believe it or not) fried egg. But will they be tastier than the all-Canadian ketchup? Buy them through the SolFarmers website or at Jacobsons (Beechwood), Kitchenalia (Richmond), Herb & Spice (Wellington), and Nicastro Fine Foods (Merivale).

Good news for fans of chef Jeff Bradfield (formerly of Social and Bar Lupulus). He’s now channelling his creativity into his new food truck, Fifth Dimension Snack Bar, located at Bank and Glebe. His chef-inspired street fare runs the gamut from poutine and burgers to pig-cheek pastrami on a bagel.

Tea lovers are thrilled that French tea brand Kusmi Tea Paris has opened a boutique on the third floor of the Rideau Centre. Kusmi Tea has been blending teas since 1867, when it was established by a Russian entrepreneur whose Bouquet de Fleurs blend was the tsar’s favourite (yes, it’s still in the Kusmi lineup).

Congratulations to wine writer Rod Phillips, who has been shortlisted for a Taste Canada award for his book 9,000 Years of Wine: A World History. Winners of the awards, which celebrate excellence in both book and food blog writing, are announced October 29.