The Gist: http://murraystreet.ca/
The Why: …the comparisons to APdC, the fact that they are open on Sundays when the rest of Ottawa seems to button up, a strong focus on Canadian comfort foods, and an ethos focusing on local produce, cheese, meats…and a charcuterie program raved by pretty much everyone who has been there.
The Reservation: Opentable. No issues. The restaurant was ~1/3 full throughout our visit.
The Space: Think “Pub,” like the sort with a bar up front but add a lot of reclaimed wood, comfortable leather seats, exposed brick, and a decidedly porcine theme plus maple leaves and wicker taxidermy. Moody but not dark, heavy but whimsical, and rustic with a few industrial touches I liked the feel of Murray Street Kitchen a lot (though I will say the heavily inebriated party of three to the right of us left something to be desired.)
The Service: Hip but helpful, friendly and efficient…I’m pretty sure the bartender was the only server on duty that day and although plates came slow from the kitchen delivery was always precise with a great description of the dish including notes about sourcing and preparation as necessary. As a bonus, perhaps because he gathered we were Americans, our choice of the charcuterie board led to a few gifts from the kitchen to highlight the ‘best of what we didn’t order.’
The Food: 2 Drinks, House Bread and Local Butter, Charcuterie Board, 3 Apps, 1 Main, 3 Desserts.
House Bread and Butter: Served in a burlap bag and much like Petite Bills and Atelier a slightly spongy baguette with a good crumb and whipped butter, though I admittedly prefer more crunch to my baguette.
Charcuterie Plate: Opting for the 4 choice board we were instead served a half dozen items including Hunter’s Salami with Venison/Boar/Elk, Aged Niagara Prosciutto, Duck Liver Mousse, Elk Terrine, and Tomme de Haute plus Souer Angele. Paired nicely with the bread but also with Cornichons, Pickled Carrots and Cauliflower, Apple Compote, Blackberry Preserves, Red Pepper Marmalade, and Spicy Mustard all of the meats aside from the ham were made or aged in house and while both of the creamy Quebec cheeses were excellent neither could hold a candle to the rich mousse or the gamy terrine in my opinion while my mother and aunt raved the prosciutto – and much to my surprise the blood tinged salami.
“Ptit Dejeuner”: With my aunt an unabashed picky eater claiming ‘nothing’ on the menu sounded good she eventually settled on this appetizer and…well…as good as everything was that night at Murray Street this thing stole the show. Featuring pillow-soft potato pancakes topped with smoked confit pork belly and ashton harvest brown ale on top of “xo cheddar fondue” and garlic-infused maple syrup this au pied de cochon inspired concoction was sweet and savory, crispy atop creamy, and entirely over the top. A riff on breakfast both in name and concept with flavor to spare this was the sort of dish I’d expected when I made the reservation at Murray Street and for those not wanting to make the trip to Quebec I’ll simply say it was ALMOST as good as the best of what Picard is doing at APdC.
“Hearts and Bones”: Our second appetizer, my choice, was funky – almost too funky. Offalcentric to say the least and featuring pan-crisped gnocchi, roast bone marrow butter, capers, parsley, Elk heart, and Glengarry’s 22-month aged Lankaster Gouda (complete with rind) this was not a dish about balancing flavors but rather one about pungency in varying degrees using the three dumplings as a sort of anchor to keep the various elements from overwhelming one another and the diner – a goal only partially accomplished largely due to the oomph of the lactate emanating from the cheese. A good dish, particularly with regard to the crunchy-gives-way-to-creamy gnocchi and the smoky sapor of the elk heart the capers were simply too much and had to be left behind.
“Poutine”: At this point expecting nothing to be quite as it seemed this pasta dish arrived with fresh hand cut spatzle, shredded duck leg confit, ‘beast’ gravy, and Glengarry “Fen Squeaks” cheese curds…more mac n’ cheese than poutine, but I don’t think anyone complained one bit because from the buttery noodles and briny curds to the crispy meat and funky gravy this was decadent and delicious even despite the false advertising.
“Ian’s Pork”: The only item from the mains that we opted to try and although good, the weakest dish of the evening in my opinion. Beginning with a glazed and roasted shoulder of Mariposa Borreal Suckling Pig along with cured pork and Lugtread kielbassa I had no complaints about the quality of the proteins and was actually impressed how each came through with its own characteristic notes – what did not work for me was the accoutrements; a one-too-many-flavors amalgam of house made Hall’s Apple Jelly, yellow mustard, scalloped potatoes, smoked trotter broth, and Brussels sprouts. Understanding that the chef wanted to the flavors to pop and generally not one to favor mustard I really wish I could pinpoint this as what did not work, but really it was the whole thing – a fructose sweetness at first quickly muffled by brine and leaving behind a sort of acrid taste on the palate (though for the record I was the only one who noted this, and as the dish was ordered by my mother I was glad she enjoyed it and left me the sprouts.)
“‘Smores”: Our server had me at ‘kind of like a budino’ and true to his word this composition of Dark Chocolate Espresso Pudding, Graham Cookies, and Murray Street Toasted Marshmallow topping was lovely. Rich and thick enough to nearly resemble a cake in the chocolate layer and lightening up to an airy whip at the top each flavor including a bit of char came through with aplomb while the grainy notes of the graham layer – a sort of bread pudding – reminded me favorably of the budino at Vetri’s Osteria (high praise indeed.)
“Hall’s Apple”: As good as the budino was it did not stand a chance against this – a dessert that may have been the best of our trip through Canada. Featuring what was described as an Apple Pecan butter tart at its base this dense bread pudding was rife with both apples and butter plus loads of cinnamon and pecans and delicious even before someone decided to top it with Mike’s Caramel Ice Cream, Apple Cider Reduction, and Smoked Bacon. Generally easily sold on most things apple and anything bread pudding but not so much on the nonchalant use of bacon I will simply say that this was a case where the bacon worked – adding smoke, salt, and crunch to tame the otherwise intense sweetness.
“Carrot Cake”: Dense, moist, and seemingly flourless with equal parts nuts, carrots, and butter plus Cream Cheese Icing and Caramel sauce this was – well – really good carrot cake, no more and no less. Good, but certainly not as memorable as the other two desserts.
The Verdict: A great space with a great vibe and service befitting places far more fancy (and pricy) I would absolutely recommend checking out Murray Street Kitchen to anyone visiting Ottawa with a few words of advice: First – order the charcuterie and save room for dessert. Second – if a dish sounds too complicated or has too many ingredients perhaps think twice and order something else. Third – if the Ptit Dejeuner is on the menu, get it. And fourth, if you’re doing APdC and Joe Beef on the same trip make sure you go to Murray Street Kitchen first – otherwise I feel it might become a touch derivative even if, on the whole, it is still quite good.