FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Spotlight on small plates at two six {ate}
Eating & Drinking

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Spotlight on small plates at two six {ate}

By Anne DeBrisay

Chef Steve Harris, who comes to 268 Preston Street via Allium on Holland Avenue, teams up with his partner, Emily Ienzi, who brings front-of-house experience and access to the harvest from her family’s backyard garden. Doublespace Photography.

The sausages are exceptional. They burst in the mouth with juice and flavour and the weight of well-judged spices, not overwhelmed with salt. And there’s the thing of it. Sausages — even the ones handcrafted with loving attention and expertly grilled — are invariably too salty. Not a bit here.

And how inspired to serve them with roasted eggplant and homegrown tomato and radicchio. Oily richness blends with the smoke, the tart, and the bitter: the plate is an intelligent jumble of textures and flavours, while attention to the quality of ingredients lifts it to memorable status. This was my first taste of “two six {ate},” a new addition to the Preston Street restaurant strip and, I thought as I worked my way through about half its menu, a most welcome one.

Two six {ate} takes over from The Lindenhof (a moment of silence, please, for the long-running German restaurant). You will recognize the new look if you’ve been to, oh, any new restaurant in the past year: reclaimed lumber on walls, floors, bar, and benches; a bit of rough plasterwork; industrial lighting; scrappy art; bare windows and tables.

Warmth comes from squat candles and caring service. The menu reminds me a bit of Town on Elgin Street — small plates of modern-leaning Italian comfort food that make honourable use of artisanal producers. The principals are chef Steve Harris, who comes to 268 Preston Street via Allium on Holland Avenue, and his partner, Emily Ienzi, who brings front-of-house experience and, apparently, access to the harvest from her family’s backyard, which has been converted to a full garden a little under an acre in size.

Does one ever tire of beet salad? Not if they’re all like this one: colourful backyard beets paired with apple purée (made from Ienzi apples), soft chunks of ripe melon, house-smoked Canadian bacon, and oozy lumps of riopelle that lend a rich, buttery flavour. Bread-crumb-crusted fritters of eggplant stuffed with smoked mozzarella and accompanied by a tomato mayo are very fine. The confit chicken leg in the house poutine (good frites, cheese curds from Pine River, peppery gravy) elevates this fun dish. The cornmeal-battered shrimp pogos are superior for the quality of the seafood and the honey-chili gastrique that accompanies them.

The small plates/tapas menu starts with pork rinds for two bucks and creeps up to a cheese and meat board for $18 and suffers from the usual small plates/tapas troubles: a sausage dish costs $12 and is worth every cent; two ravioli stuffed with a duxelles of autumn mushrooms and fresh ricotta, topped with pancetta and green onion and paddling happily in a light butter sauce, may well be delicious but are wildly overpriced at $15. The portion size is tiny and the appetites are too eager.

A juvenile dessert (deep-fried PB&J) worries me a bit. Here’s hoping the cutesy dishes (like this one, like the chicken wings, the shrimp pogos, the chicken poutine), yummy as they are, don’t take over what is otherwise an    intelligent cuisine of flavourful, thoughtful, sophisticated dishes. We could use more of those in this town. Of poutine and pogo places, there is no dearth.

Clever cocktails (“figetaboutit” featuring bourbon and fig jam, cut with lemon), craft beers, and a mostly Ontario and Italian wine list complement the plates, and all this is available, or so I’m told, until 2 in the morning. A new place to satiate the midnight munchies. Hurrah!

Cost: Small plates $2-$18.

Hours: Open Wednesday to Monday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Two six {ate}, 268 Preston St., 613-695-8200.

This story appears in the Interiors edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands in February and March, or order your online edition.