Mar 11

Play: Food & Wine (1 York Street, Ottawa)

Play may just be Ottawa’s best restaurant. And that is saying a lot. Ottawa is home to many exquisite gastronomic options. Some of these include the oyster bar Whalesbone in Centretown, and the aboriginal bistro Sweetgrass in the Byward Market. Now, I know what you’re thinking: how can Ottawa, a government town, boast so many quality restaurants? Let me tell you: I do not know. Yet, as a Montreal native having much “going out for dinner” experience, I continue to be amazed by Ottawa’s restaurant scene. From Beckta creator, Stephen Beckta, Play serves up an ever-changing selection of tapas-style dishes. It is conveniently located in the Byward Market, a few steps away from Parliament Hill.

I was first introduced to Play when my boyfriend selected it for my 26th birthday celebration. He also gave me a very appropriate present: the foodie film par excellence Ratatouille (Bird, 2007) on Blu-ray. During that visit, I discovered my favourite white wine, the Alsatian Zinck (2008). Produced from Gewürztraminer grapes, it features crisp and refreshing tones of citrus, honeydew and lychee. Sadly, due to a constantly rotating cycle of interesting wine choices, Zinck is not currently available at Play. Customers are allowed to “bring their own wine,” however, and we made sure we had a bottle of Zinck with us when we returned last week for our friend Myriam’s birthday.

Our evening started with carefully chosen savoury dishes. The standout selections were: impeccably seasoned, blackened chunks of flaky catfish wrapped sturdily in warm homemade tortillas; seared-to-perfection Digby scallops anchored in a purée of creamed celeriac and sautéed shard, drizzled with the earthy tones of a wild mushroom sauce that contrasted the smooth taste of scallop and celeriac; and plump gnocchi, edamame and mushrooms folded and blended into flavourful, thyme-infused truffle cream.

Next was a selection of local and foreign cheeses, served with thin crostini. From mildest to strongest: the ash enveloped Grey Owl, lingering with a pillowy sweetness, from Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec; the crumbly Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (curiously wrapped in potato sack), with a sharp, rusty bite, from Prince Edward Island; and the barnyardy, transports-you-directly-to-the-farm-but-in-a-pleasant-sort-of-way Roblochon, from Savoie, France.

The best was yet to come: dessert. Again, we chose to consume the lightest selections before moving up to the heartier ones. First, our spoons crunched through crumbled amaretti cookies, melted through wispy coconut cream and into a thick foundation of banana panna cotta; next, the tanginess of a moist pineapple cake was coupled with the shock of cardamom infused within a date purée, all topped with a scoop of pineapple gelato; following that, a twist on the traditional crème brulée, made more sophisticated by the mild flavours of Earl Grey, further enhanced with the crunchy zest of a lemon-honey biscotti on the side; and, to top off the meal and desserts with a truly worthy finale, a luscious chocolate paté only just firm enough to prop up an angular shard of sponge toffee and drizzled with caramel salted with a tinge of miso. To accompany our final course, Myriam treated us to dessert wines that gave everything an even softer glow: light amber Madeira wine for me, Cabernet ice wine for him, and a rosy sherry for her.

If the descriptions above have not convinced you of this, I can attest that very few restaurants rival Play in its ability to surprise and delight in its unexpected combinations. Flavours go beyond simply complimenting one another: they playfully underscore, accentuate, contrast and offset. In fact, to say that Play’s kitchen is populated by chefs somewhat misrepresents the extent of their talent; they are more than mere chefs, they are artists whose medium is food. At Play, the concept of playfulness extends to more than just the food and extensive wine pairings: quite suitably, the restaurant features a colourful decor, and even manages to employ staff who discuss and serve the menu with an atmosphere of amusement and merrymaking. In all, when it comes to masterfully assembled dishes, and a leisurely evening of drowsy diversion, you can do no better than Play

Note: Click here for more information on the restaurant and its present menu.

One Comment

  1. Jerusha says:

    Yum! I’m now officially hungry and there’s nothing in my kitchen that even comes close to any of your descriptions! Yesterday we were at the grocery store and they had a Welsh cheddar (quite sharp) out for tasting. I wasn’t sure the kids would like it, but Audrey loved it. She’s becoming quite the cheese connoisseur.

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