Vegan eats in Ottawa

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have read my complaints about having to spend this past weekend at a work conference in Ottawa. There’s not much to be said about sitting in a poorly-lit hotel conference room taking copious notes and photographs for two days straight, but I was grateful when I was freed from work at 4 p.m. on Saturday, giving me the opportunity to visit with friends and explore the city’s vegan community.

Saturday night’s dinner was spent at Cafe My House, a contemporary cafe-style restaurant on a busy street lined with strip malls. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw the sign—I could spot the word “vegan” a mile away!

Luckily, we made it in time for their dinner-hour opening. The menu was quite impressive. Clearly, it’s designed to meet the needs of health-conscious diners, and included raw, vegan and gluten-free options as well as two non-vegan dishes. The description of each dish focused on whole foods, nourishing ingredients and unique but appealing flavours combinations. The cafe’s goal is to “make vegan food appealing, approachable and available to vegans and non-vegans alike,” and I think they hit it spot on.

My husband ordered the tofu mushroom “steak” that included tofu marinated with spicy ginger sauce, juicy mushrooms, roasted kale, grilled veggies, lemon-tahini pesto and rice. The presentation was beautiful, and the flavours of the tofu marinate and pesto were amazing.

I ordered the raw zucchini pasta salad with dried cranberries, spring mix and a fantastic pine nut-dill pesto. This was absolutely superb. The creamy pesto had the perfect flavour balance and kept calling me back for another bite. This is a dish I would love to recreate at home.

We were also offered samples of their cilantro-mango juice, which included a combination of cucumber, cilantro, pineapple and mango. It was sweet and refreshing, with a wonderful cilantro scent.

The next morning, we hit up Zen Kitchen for brunch with our friends Dave and Kristina. I was particularly excited to try this place after watching The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline & Dave, a 13 episode TV series that followed their path to opening the restaurant in June 2009. It was Caroline who inspired me to attend the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Vegan Baking Bootcamp Intensive last summer.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is just as I had imagined: clean and colourful, with a gorgeous custom bar for Dave’s impressive wine selection. The brunch menu was short but the selections were enticing.

I swayed from my usual fruit-based breakfasts and ordered a dish that included cinnamon-covered apple fritters, fresh fruit, and homemade pepita and goji berry granola with vanilla bean cream. It was essentially like a granola-yogourt bowl with doughnuts! The granola was very similar to what I make at home, but it was a little too sweet for my tastebuds.

My husband ordered the breakfast burrito with scrambled tofu, Mornay sauce, tomatillo salsa, guacamole and spicy rice. He devoured it!

For our friends Dave and Kristina, this was the first introduction to a vegan meal. Kristina ordered the buckwheat pancakes, tempeh bacon and fresh fruit. She seemed very happy, and she encouraged us to share bites from each others’ plates so we could take advantage of the whole experience (I think she had a hidden agenda to get at one of my fritters).

Unfortunately, Dave has an allergy to soy, so his choices were even more limited. He decided to play it safe and ordered the gourmet salad and a side of French fries. He couldn’t stop raving about the maple lemon dressing though!

With meals like this to look forward to when visiting Canada’s capital city, I will gladly return for another work conference any time. Both restaurants were a welcomed change to Toronto’s vegan options, and I actually can’t wait to visit again next month! If you are visiting the city yourself, I strongly encourage you to plan your meals at Cafe My House and Zen Kitchen.



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