So, Andrea and I went out to try out a new-to-us restaurant last night here in Ottawa in honour of our friend’s birthday. The company was great, and we made great fun at the friend’s husband’s expense (umm, Pat, that’s mocha ice cream, not “bacon-flavoured”!), but the setup at Napo could use some improvements.
If anyone has noticed the weather recently in Ottawa, you know it’s cold — and the restaurant had virtually no heat. Bearing in mind that this is a higher-end style restaurant, and that we were there close to 3 hours, my toesies were definitely a bit numb by the end of the evening. I was afraid to ask the reason for the simple fact that whatever answer I got was going to drive me batty — I mean, come on, what answer would you accept from a business for why there was no heat and yet they’re still open for business? It wasn’t like they just blew out a furnace, had a wedding party set for the evening, didn’t want to cancel on them, and put emergency heaters everywhere to get them through the night. This was just a business staying open, and as far as any of us could tell, they had made no discernible effort to keep it warm. Who knows, maybe there were Herculean efforts going on somewhere…
I did get the impression they’d been closed for a few days, so perhaps they didn’t know there was no heat, but, umm, not sure that makes me feel any better. So, it’s probably better I don’t know whatever lame excuse they had (*Apparently my wife did get an explanation — they had burned something earlier and they had to open a window???? Yep, not knowing was better.). They did have an organic-flavour to their business, so if they wanted to tell us they were doing it deliberately as part of a “low carbon footprint” option, I could accept it as a valid approach (I’d think they were whackjobs, but at least it would be a valid excuse). But I digress.
The food options however looked amazing. I ordered sea scallops as my appetizer, and they sounded delicious. Three others in our group of 10 agreed. I have no idea if the scallops WERE delicious, because after about 10 minutes, they came back to tell us that they decided the scallops weren’t quite good enough to serve, and they threw them out (or, you could go with the alternate explanation given to another guest, they refused to accept them when they arrived because they were spoiled). Umm, caution is good, but not sure I wanted to know that some of their food was “off”.
The waitress recommended a vegetable soup that was minestrone-like over the onion soup, saying it was amazing. This seemed like a good second choice, as I always like good soup (I still have dreams of a tortellini en brodo I had at a restaurant on Preston Street and some amazing wonton soup at Ben Ben’s on Somerset). The minestrone / vegetable soup had a really strong tomato base to it, and the best I can say about it was that it was okay. Nothing to write home about, and quite frankly I would be hard pressed to swear it wasn’t some form of Campbell’s. Which would have been a lot cheaper than the $11 pricetag.
On to the main course. I like trying new foods, things you don’t see everyday at other restaurants. So the elk ravioli garnered some interest (the bacon ice cream guy ordered some and I begged a bite — decent option, but didn’t wow me). I passed on the “sustainable salmon” (umm, how sustainable was it for the fish itself?) but Andrea liked it “okay”. They were out of lamb shanks, but I probably would have passed anyway. Because I had ordered the sea scallops initially, I thought I would offset the unique flavours with a somewhat simpler pork tenderloin option with spiced red onion. I never saw the red onions, and there was some sort of mega-peppercorn underpinning which was just odd-looking. But the pork itself was really good. I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve ever had, but it was pretty solid. Definitely a “save” for the experience. The sautèed vegetables with it were good, but the extra beets were unwelcome. About $20 for the dish.
Others liked their dishes, but I didn’t hear anyone suggesting they would recommend it to friends. A semi-vegetarian friend ordered duck, and it arrived pretty rare. She was a little self-conscious, I think, and commented that she should have thought of it like steak and specified “well done”; my reaction, unstated at the time, was that she was pretty generous … if they intended to serve it so rare, it would have been good to flag it for the customer. Personally, I might have sent it back. Instead, her date swapped plates with her and they divvied up some gnocchi which got decent reviews from them and others. Overall, though, I wouldn’t go back.
The friend whose birthday it was suggested she’d like to try it again with a smaller group (they had trouble serving the couple of large tables they had, although the place is only big enough for about 30 or so in total anyway) and definitely in the summer. Might help, but not convinced. I liked my main course, and had a good evening despite the weak appetizers and the cold, but my enjoyment was more about the company than the ambience or food. On the positive side, we heard good reviews from others for (a) a great Italian hole-in-the-wall in Barrhaven called La Casa (?) and (b) the Wellington Gastro Pub which we’re going to on Friday for lunch with another friend.
Overall, I’ll give it two stars out of five.