Ottawa is a gold mine of top-notch restaurants that serve seasonal comfort food in a relaxed atmosphere. I could rhyme off 20 in 10 seconds flat. At the other end, we have a smattering of destination restaurants — places you cross town for — where the dining experiences are completely guided by the kitchen and dishes are designed to knock your socks off.
Jason Sawision could do either model well. He may look 19, but his CV is deep and eclectic. For the past six years, he’s been “Atelier’s secret weapon” according to his former boss, chef Marc Lepine. Sawision was also sous-chef for Lepine when he won double gold medals at both the regional and national Gold Medal Plates competitions.
Last year, Sawision left Atelier to scout a location for his own restaurant. He found it on Wellington West and opened Stofa in early October. The word means “hearth,” in Old Norse — the place where folks gather for warmth and kinship.
The best bits of the 40-seat room are the large peeking window into the kitchen (where you see not one but two Atelier alumni — Sawision and sous-chef Imrun Texeira) and the white marble bar. The rest is clean-lined and sparsely adorned; it requires people to create the warmth suggested in the name. A lack of people doesn’t seem to be a problem: Stofa has been packed since it opened. And with good reason — it delivers the casual-caring dining out we seek in a neighbourhood restaurant, with food that’s innovative, delicious, and infused with some sensory drama.
You find that drama in the tower of seafood served with fun treats, in the duo of foie gras paired with a confit of kumquat and curling waffle crackers, in the celery root soup poured tableside over a foamed fennel cream, and certainly in the passion fruit soufflé with tonka bean ice cream and caramelized white chocolate crumble.
Of the mains, the ravioli of buffalo milk mozzarella with smoked and confit duck, lentils, watercress, and a rich and airy porcini mushroom sauce was as good as it gets. Or so we thought until the next dish landed: sea scallops with an almond pudding anointed with a glossy lobster jus. There’s a good steak, which comes with a spiced-beef cabbage roll and the added pleasure of a rich gin-spiked jus. Order with it the Pont Neuf potatoes and the grilled broccoli and Brussels carpeted in superior feta. Vegetarians are well served with a sweet potato pavé paired with a slow-poached egg, their mild flavours matched with a romesco sauce, dabs of chipotle mayo, briny olives, and pickled artichoke hearts. A cannoli of potato strings lends some oily crunch. The passion fruit soufflé was a tart and airy mousse — hot, delicate, delightful. We loved as well the kitchen’s take on (right-side-up) pineapple cake with salted meringue.
The front-of-house team, led by sommelier/manager Emily Rack, is strong and kind and knows its way around the food and drinks list. Stofa is a most welcome addition to our city’s ever more vibrant restaurant scene.
Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner