Domus is one of those restaurants in Ottawa that most people have at least heard of, even if they’ve never been there. Located in the popular (and somewhat touristy) Byward Market, it is attached to a kitchenwares store of the same name. We’ve shopped at the kitchenwares store for years, but hadn’t yet tried the cafe until my birthday this past December.
The place is obviously popular, at least on Friday and Saturday nights. We were only able to get a reservation for 6:30, a bit early for dinner but workable none-the-less. We arrived and were seated promptly. Unfortunately (?) it was only a few weeks until Christmas, so the decor and music were holiday-themed. I had hoped they might have a peaceful French-bistro-inspired decor, or at least something slightly funky, but alas, no such luck. We’ll have to return sometime when it isn’t the holidays to see what the interior is like.
Once we’d done a quick once-over of the interior, we turned our attentions to the menus. Like a few other restaurants in Ottawa, Domus tries to focus on local and Canadian cuisine. All of their ingredients are locally obtained, and if something isn’t available locally, then they at least go with Canadian selections. This is also true with their wine list, which features some wonderful bottles from all over Canada, focusing most on Ontario (and therefore the Niagara region).
I drooled over the first page of the list, which was rare/’last call’ bottles of various vintages. We might have been celebrating my birthday, but we also didn’t want to drop $70+ on a single bottle of wine, no matter how delicious it might be. Instead, we turned the page over to the local reds choices, and went with a Stonechurch Cabernet Franc. It was a balanced wine with flavours of blackberry and fresh pepper, and a hint of vanilla. Probably not the best choice for the food we ordered, but it was a lovely wine none-the-less.
I decided to order the barley and black truffle ‘risotto’ as my appetiser. It was creamy and rich and had just the right flavour balance between the earthy truffles and the salty richness of the risotto. Rich ordered foie gras as his starter, and was pleased with both the presentation and the flavour; Domus served their version as a ‘hot and cold’ selection, which let you experience the flavour and texture of foie gras more fully.
For main dishes, I ordered the salmon, which was served with a variety of mushrooms done in a tempura-style batter, and with more black truffle shavings on top. Clearly, I was on some sort of truffle kick that night. I enjoyed the salmon and liked the Asian inspiration for the dish. It had a very nice flavour and the salmon was cooked and presented beautifully. I did feel it needed a little something extra; just salmon and mushrooms with tempura seemed a bit boring. Rich ordered the duck as his main course, which did actually go nicely with our wine. He said it was well prepared and delicious.
Desserts here are made-to-order, as should be expected from a restaurant of this caliber. I ordered the vanilla creme brule, and my Rich ordered a cranberry and white chocolate tarte. My creme brule had the perfect amount of ‘crust’ on top, and had a nice, light flavour, exactly what I was craving. His tarte had a lovely, flaky crust. Both were beautifully presented. Add in a lovely cappuccino and we had a great finish to our evening.
Service was prompt but not as good as some of the restaurants in this class we’ve been to (for example, Juniper or The Urban Pear). This isn’t to say it was bad, just that it wasn’t as attentive to details or as chatty as we’re used to. Generally our server will tell us about the virtues of the local wines presented on the menu, or the chef’s inspiration for the side dishes of the evening, or whatever might be an appropriate topic based on what we’re ordering. It’s possible they were a bit swamped with holiday party preparations and that sort of thing, but I was expecting a bit more than we received, that’s all.
Overall we really did enjoy our meals and found the food and wine quality to be well worth the cost. We will most certainly return to Domus at some point, probably during the summer, when the insanity of the holiday season will not compete with the food and wine.
(87 Murray Street in the Byward Market; 613-241-6007. Dinner for two with wine, $150.)