I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. It seems like a good time to cross the river and visit Soif Bar à Vin once again. (Dare I say more than once.)
Soif is a wine bar: one never tires of all the wines that owner and sommelier Véronique Rivest introduces to our region. She travels the world so that we can enjoy, say, the electric citrus flavours of Palo Blanco from Envinate on the volcanic Tenerife. Or check out the earthy, fruity Ténébi Côtes-du-Rhône Sablet from Domaine de Piaugier in France. There’s also the tart Les Russet cider from Quebec’s Cidrerie Milton. At Soif, Rivest hosts wine-pairing throw-downs, wine tastings, beer tastings, even the odd film night. An event this past July offered over 80 different varieties. Indeed, the moment you walk into Soif’s sleek space, you are met with cork displays, maps of wine regions, and other decor that announces what this place is about.
With gentle lighting, the minimalist interior still manages warmth while the split-floor level and wall openings add interest. A combination of bars and tables induces conviviality. Then there’s the secluded patio, featuring a maple towering over one corner and, serving as dividers, planters filled with violas, marigolds, and salad greens — some you’ll find gracing your plate.
Speaking of plates, I’m famished. Over the new year, chef Jamie Stunt left Soif for Dish Catering. But don’t worry, Kris Kshonze, who’s worked under Stunt as sous-chef, is now steering. (Kshonze was just added to the Gold Medal Plates Ottawa lineup Oct. 11.)
Kshonze has imagination and an eye for detail. His new small plates menu includes a dish of grilled green beans and sea urchin butter with new potatoes; and lamb ragù with grilled zucchini, whipped feta, and basil. The addition of poached and halved apricots to a third dish of pork slices cooked in their own juices with red wine does little. The delicate wine sauce is simply overcome by the fruit (the case might be similar for any fruit).
Kshonze’s menu follows the seasons, but favourites such as bison tartare and raw oysters remain throughout the year. Highlights of this visit include a Boston lettuce salad overlaid with fine slices of dried duck breast and small, delicately deep-fried potato nuggets. Hidden underneath the leaves is a layer of ever-so-light chicken liver mousse. Then comes grilled toast with ricotta topped with oyster mushroom conserva, the latter cooked in oil and dressed with vinegar. Swiss chard in a mustard vinaigrette adds requisite bitterness. Breaded pork cutlet is deep-fried-crisp, tender inside, and scattered with a piquant cabbage salad. Slashed, smashed lengths of cucumber are dressed with buttermilk, horseradish, and dill-infused oil, marigold petals strewn on top. Accompanying all this, and providing spicy zing, is the nearly translucent, lightest red ever: a Bone-Jolly gamay noir from Edmunds St. John.
A lemon cream tart laid on with macerated strawberries and scattered with a few puckery blackcurrants makes a fine dessert. Give the weak, much-too-hot latte a pass. Instead, order the perfumed, effervescent Beezz rosé with raspberries from Ferme Apicole Desrochers D in Ferme-Neuve, Québec. The flavour: delicate yet steely, with a tinge of honey.
Small plates $7-$13. $18-$34. Open Monday and Tuesday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday to Friday from lunchtime through to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Soif Bar à Vin
88 Montcalm St., Gatineau (Hull sector)