Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beckta Dining & Wine: World Class Fare and Service

Beckta Dining & Wine

I don’t like to think that I’m very special or above anyone else in life.  It’s been a quirk of mine for a very long time.  When I became a team lead in high tech and subsequently a supervisor and then a manager in the government, I was very reluctant to have formal meetings with my direct reports often trying to favour a less formal approach to meeting with them.  I would very rarely speak in terms of “my employees” or “yes he/she works for me” favouring the idea of we were all colleagues rather than being in a superior / subordinate working dynamic.

This notion often transcends my day-to-day life, particularly when eating at restaurants.  I was never comfortable with the idea that I was being “served” by a waiter and even more so when I’m referred to as “Sir”.  Like at work, I am more attracted to a dining experience whereby the evening is an engaging and unpretentious experience among colleagues or better yet friends.
Dining at Beckta really is that idea incarnate.  Steve Whittaker, the restaurant’s manager as well as frommager (more commonly referred to a cheese sommelier) is Beckta’s front door.  Once a reservation is made, Steve will send an email or more often will call you personally to greet you and thank you for your reservation and ask if you have any special requests.  If you’ve elected to try the tasting menu, he will ask if there are any dining restrictions as well.
Over the years of dining at Beckta I’ve gotten to know several of the staff members, in particular, Tristan (who sadly no longer works there) and more recently CJ.  CJ is hands down the very best at what he does.  From the moment you sit down you feel like you’re reconnecting with an old friend you haven’t seen in years and he really does make you feel like you’re the only person in the room.  His broad smile, infectious friendly demeanour and last but not least his intimate knowledge of the evening’s menu and wine pairings are second to none.  CJ and Steve are the very embodiment of the experience I yearn for when going out for dinner.
Souvenir Menu

The décor at Beckta is minimalism at its best.  From the natural wood tones, and warm paint colors with sparse artwork to the simple place settings and white table linens with subdued background music, Executive Chef Michael Moffatt and his team’s creations can take front and center stage.  Dining at Beckta is intimate dining at its best regardless of how busy it is.  One never gets the sense of a crowded room full of boisterous conversations.

Dining Room
Out of the half dozen times I have had the pleasure of dining at Beckta, the most memorable visit was the 8-course tasting menu with wine pairing.  At $110 plus an additional $75 for the optional wine pairing per person, this meal really is a once in a lifetime even for the average diner.  As I write this I can practically hear the reader’s gasp in shock at the price however make no mistake; if you enjoy fine dining and want to sample the cooking of one of Canada’s top restaurants, it is well worth it.  I’ve eaten in more expensive New York City restaurants serving similar tasting menus for nearly double the price and it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable.  The tasting menu at Beckta is, as they say, pound for pound the best tasting menu dining experience for your money you will ever have.  If the idea of consuming eight courses of food is too arduous, Beckta also serves a 5-course tasting menus for $85 with an optional wine pairing for an additional $39.  Diners can also enjoy an optional cheese course for $16, where they will be treated to Steve’s impeccable taste and knowledge in cheese and will likely sample some special in-house enhanced or made chesses by Steve himself.  If a la carte dining is more to your liking, the average prices for appetizers are $17 and mains are $36.
The evening’s adventure began with hamachi sashimi with a nori vinaigrette and ponzu paired with Champagne Brut “Cuvé Saint Flavy” Georges Gardet, France N.V.   The hamachi (also known as Japanese Yellowtail or amberjack) simply melted in your mouth and the nori (edible seaweed) vinaigrette complimented the dish perfectly with the champagne capping off this delectable play on sushi.
Hamachi Sashimi with Nori Vinaigrette and Ponzu
Next up was a rabbit rillette with a ramp paint and homemade mustard paired with a 2008 German Riesling Kabinette by Daniel Vollenweider named “Wolfer Goldgrube.  The rillette was so light and fresh.  I’ve never tasted ramps before.  Ramps are a variety of wild leaks that have a pervasive garlic flavor and strong onion odour and in Canada are considered a rare delicacy as they are mostly found around South Carolina up through Canada.  The ramp pain really complimented the rabbit and combined with the mustard and the sweetness of the Riesling definitely left me wanting more of it.

Rabbit Rillette with Ramp Paint and Mustdard

Following the rabbit we were served BC spot prawns with hiyashi wakame and togarashi hollandaise paired with a Greek Assyrtico “Thalassitis” wine.  This was a really interesting dish as it paired Japanese cuisine with a Greek wine.  The flavour of the Japanese seaweed salad (hiyashi wakame) infused with the hint of heat from the togarashi (Japanese for chili peppers) hollandaise married perfectly with the dryness of the Assyrtico with a hint of sweetness.

BC Spot Prawns with Hiyashi Wakame and Togarashi Hollandaise
Our palates were then teased with a 7 grain risotto with snap peas, fresh goat cheese and camelina oil that was paired with an exquisite 2008 Pinot Noir from Voss Vineyards in Martinborough New Zealand.  The risotto was done to perfection and the creaminess of the home gave the risotto even more richness in flavor and texture.  The Pinot Noir was an excellent segue for our palates as we prepared for the next dish.

7 Grain Risotto with Snap Peas, Fresh Goat Cheese and Camelina Oil
Speaking of New Zealand, if one were to compare this expansive meal to a flight from Ottawa to Martinborough New Zealand, right now we’d be flying over Hawaii…
The second half of this journey began spatch-cockerel (young male rooster aged between 4 to 12 months) in a brandy cream jus with chanterelle mushrooms and white asparagus paired with a 2007 Cabernet Franc from one of my favourite vineyards, Stratus VQA from Niagara-on-the-Lake.  This was the first time I’ve ever tried rooster and I can honestly say I’ve never eaten a tenderer piece of foul in my life.  The mushrooms and asparagus were also cooked to perfection and definitely enhanced the smoky pepper aromas from the Cabernet Franc.
I have never really been a big fan of lamb, however I was blown away with Chef Moffatt’s “tagine” styled lamb in preserved lemon with grilled potatoes and truffle oil that was paired with a glass of Tuscan Petra Quercegobbe (an Italian Merlot) from 2006.  The lamb simply melted in your mouth.  The most interesting thing I noticed about this dish was the lack of the gamy bold flavor that has turned me off of lamb in the past.  This lamb was succulent and ate like a top notch cut of filet mignon.  The boldness of the Merlot was a welcomed surprise and enhanced the steak like properties of the lamb without the strong tannins that one would typically find in a robust tasting wine.

Lamb "Tagine" with Preserved Lemon, Grilled Potatoes and Truffle Oil
After such a savory assault on our senses, our palettes were “cleansed” with a trio of sorbets (buttermilk, ginger and avocado) that were accompanied with some homemade macaroons and yuzu (a strongly aromatic citrus fruit indigenous to East Asia, most akin to a grapefruit).

Buttermilk, Ginger and Avocado Sorbets
Last but not least our journey ended with a chocolate sour cherry brownie with cognac pudding and lavender “soil” that was paired with a medium bodied 2003 Tawny Port from Delaforce in Portugal.  The variety of aromas and flavors that were experienced from this desert were sheer joy.  There were even homemade marshmallows in the shape of mushrooms that really made the presentation of the dish pure art.  

Chocolate Sour Cherry Brownie with Cognac Pudding and Lavender Soil
I cannot say enough good things about my dining experiences at Beckta.  I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Stephen Beckta’s flagship restaurant several times and have enjoyed both the 5 and 8 course tasting menus along with items from his incredible a la carte menu.  My favourite is by far their Quebec Magret duck served with sun dried Cherry Gnocchi, Arugula, Summer Succotash, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Fresh Cherry Cumberland Sauce.
If you want to experience the very best in service, hospitality and fine dining that this city has to offer, I would give Steve Whittaker at Beckta a call and make your reservation today.  Make sure you ask for CJ and tell them I’ve sent you.  I promise you will be treated to a culinary adventure you won’t soon forget!

Beckta Dining & Wine
226 Nepean Street, Ottawa ON

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