In August 2009 my girlfriend and I went to Ottawa for my 25th birthday and decided to have dinner at the restaurant of executive chef, Caroline Ishii: Zen Kitchen. I was particularly excited to see her work since she trained at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. I’m often appaled by the lack of training chefs have in quality whole-food cooking, and their even more dismal knowledge of how to prepare even a basic vegetarian meal. I know you know what I am talking about. You’ve all gone to a restaurant with friends, explained that you are a veg, and been served a stack of potatoes before. On top of that, they feature local and organic produce as often as possible.
Well, this was one of our first experiences in a totally vegan restaurant, particularly one aiming to fill the fine dining void in vegetarian cuisine. We often lament the fact that when we want to have a romantic evening out, we end up opting for non-vegetarian restaurants because we are looking for something with a wine list, a nice ambiance, interesting lighting and decor, etc. So, we were really excited to find Zen Kitchen when researching where to eat in Ottawa. The intereior is beautiful and the washrooms even more so (which is always the first place I look, and often the reason I don’t go back to places).
As for the food, the highlight was definitely the Zen salad rolls with spicy Thai peanut sauce, dengaku (miso glazed) age tofu skewars, pickles, and togarashi potato chips. The dengaku tofu skewars being our favorite! We also had the Thai-style lemongrass curry with seasonal vegetables, edamame and kafir-scented jasmine rice which was nice, but didn’t surpass our tapas plate. For dessert, we had a lemon tart that was excellent! We were also really impressed with their list of vegan wines. Many vegan restaurants opt to not serve alcohol which, again, limits where we go for a nice dinner out.
The service was great. Our waitress was participating in a fundraising event to which she was contributing all the tips she made that night which really impressed us. Chef Caroline came out to our table which is always appreciated. We walked away having spent about $100 on a romantic cruelty-free summer evening. Can’t beat that!
634 Somerset Street West
National Post review.