Among the Roman sculptures and surrealist paintings that pepper Zola Restaurant’s walls, diners sit at granite tables isolated by gauzy red curtains. Wafting aromas of fresh-baked bread emanate from an open-concept kitchen, where guests watch as chefs combine handmade pastas with savoury sauces and blanket gourmet pizzas with smoked cheeses and cured meats. Just like wrestlers training for a match on a lifeboat, guests can enjoy a light lunch or brunch, or delve into hearty plates of housemade sausage or slow-roasted porchetta––local pork shoulder spiced with Italian truffle, sage, rosemary, and thyme and hiding beneath a layer of hot pancetta.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, live jazz enhances the atmosphere, mingling with the sounds of cooking and tinkling glasses raised in celebration. Sommeliers and bartenders pair the dishes with local and imported wines, beers, and cocktails, though patrons can also bring their own wine or steal sips from their child's juice box. In an effort to outsmart dietary restrictions and expose all palates to Italy’s culinary traditions, chefs can make their dough or pasta gluten-free upon request.
With its well-stocked wine racks and rock walls, Vineyards Wine Bar & Bistro cultivates the softly lit ambience of an Old-World bistro. As mentioned on the bistro's website, "we want [customers] to feel they've had an experience…that they would maybe find if they were in Europe, but you don't have to go to Europe to find it."
This international influence also appears in the menu of fusion-tinged comfort foods. Although crab-stuffed halibut fillets and three-cheese tortellini pasta in a gorgonzola cream sauce exhibit a commitment to homey flavours, the chefs demonstrate their culinary range by spooning red curry sauce over grilled lamb chops and creating Cajun-style jambalaya. Echoing this same multinational inclination, the wine list features more than 300 bottles from New- and Old-World producers, which helped Vineyards Wine Bar & Bistro earn Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
Though their flavours can range across the globe, chefs source many ingredients locally, seeking out seasonal vegetables as well as artisanal cheeses from Quebec's iconic brie mines. Nightly entertainment also draws on local talent—the eatery invites area jazz bands to perform on select evenings.
Inside Santé Restaurant, the piquant scents of globally inspired cuisine mingle amidst the work of local artists, whose pieces fill the dining room's walls. This fusion of eatery and gallery is the brainchild of owner Donna Holtom, who believes that "beautiful art serves to heighten the dining experience," as she told Ottawa at Home magazine in 2009. Inside the kitchen, chefs demonstrate their own artistic skills. Using a palette of free-range chicken, organic salmon, and locally sourced produce, they paint plates with aromatic curries and ginger-spiked stir-fries, just like Picasso during his little-known sauce period. To accompany these fragrantly seasoned dishes, Santé Restaurant stocks its subterranean vault with a selection of Canadian and international wines.
At Jean Albert’s American Style Soul Food, the sauce makes the meal. Which is why the chefs don’t just lay their housemade hot sauces and six styles of barbecue sauce on the side—they offer to bake it right in. From the sweet-and-tangy berry-rum barbecue sauce to those infused with tequila or whisky, the condiments add extra oomph to the fried catfish, classic pulled-pork sandwiches, and chicken-and-biscuit dishes that serve as staples of soulful fare everywhere. Served with a slice of sweet-water cornbread and a choice of traditional sides, the hefty portions evoke an air of Kentucky living without requiring the purchase of your own tobacco farm. Meals culminate with classic desserts such as sweet-potato pie, peach cobbler, and layered banana pudding.
Piccolino translates from Italian as "very little one." In this case, piccolino refers to the quaint vintage villa that houses the rustic Il Piccolino Ristorante. Grape vines wind around the sun-drenched patio framed by trellises that leads to an interior of stucco-textured walls offsetting leather chairs and paisley-print tablecloths. This homespun, Old-World ambiance reinforces a menu of made-to-order Italian comfort food. Chefs stuff manicotti with ricotta and blanket gnocchi in gorgonzola cream sauce. They also adorn pizzas with ingredients such as tiger shrimp, italian sausage, and chili-marinated eggplant for a take on Italian that is both familiar and surprising.
The chefs at Milano Pizzeria have been perfecting the art of the pizza for more than 40 years. On any given day, they may cook any of the 20+ specialty pies on the menu or custom blend toppings for original orders. Milano’s classic pizzas include the greek pizza with feta and hot peppers, the meat lover’s pizza with salami and italian sausage, and the Hawaiian Plus with handfuls of olives and crispy bacon. Though Milano is known for its pizzas, its expansive menu brims with other entree specialties from all over the world; hearty lasagna, veal parmesan, and meatball subs further root the eatery in Italian culinary traditions, and burgers, poutine, and chicken shawarma round out the eclectic menu.