Thursday, July 1, 2010

Her Majesty, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones Sent Us To The NAC's Le Café for Lunch

I am a big Oscar Peterson fan. I am also a big Oliver Jones fan. And when I heard that the public unveiling of the life-sized bronze statue of jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, would include a tribute piece by renowned jazz pianist, Oliver Jones, I knew I needed to be at this event. He played Peterson's "Hymn to Freedom”, of course! Enough to make you weep.

For the monarchy fans out there, be it our lucky day to have Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh come by just in time to pull the gold cord on the red velvet curtain for the big reveal. The weather was great, the mood was high and everything appeared to go without a hitch, despite Liz's tardy arrival. We filled our time listening to the very gifted Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir under the direction of Prof. Trevor W. Payne.

Renowned artist, Ruth Abernethy, has created a piece of art that speaks to her great sculpting talent as she has immortalized a notable Canadian in such a timeless and accessible way. I for one look forward to that moment this summer when I can return to the statue and slide in beside Oscar at his life-sized bronze grand piano, just taking in the quiet and humming a few tunes.

Yesterday, I did stop and smell the roses. I took the time to check out a small Canadian moment. I was there. It wasn't life altering but it was very Canadian and it did feel like something to savour. I am a big fan of doing things I have never done before and this was one of those times. Also, something not to be repeated. I knew I would never have Liz, Phil, Oscar, Oliver, me and my son in the same place ever again. And so it was with food that I thought we should celebrate. As the crowd dispersed some 45 minutes past 1 pm, my son eyed the sausage cart on Elgin across from the War Memorial. I eyed the sign for the NAC's Le Café!

We have yet to eat at Le Café since being taken over by award-winning Executive Chef, Michael Blackie. We quite enjoyed what he did at Perspectives at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, but running the kitchen for the NAC is a totally different challenge. And it seems the reviews have been mixed. The 'Oscar Peterson reception' was being held on the terrace and would have the full attention of the staff. Our hope was that we would receive equally high quality service in the dining room.

We started with a bowl of rolls, accompanied by a trio of roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato and garlic spread, salted butter and then pumpkin seed pesto. I had heard that the buns were not the same dense, multi-grain gems so famous in the Kurt Waldele days. I had to agree with the critics. The bun change up is not for the better. Like the comments I had heard, the buns are not the gold standard you would expect to lead a first-class meal at THE restaurant meant to showcase the nation's capital. A bit dry and too airy. I add my name to the list of those petitioning to have Kurt's buns back. Michael, I am sorry to say, I don't like your buns. The trio of bread spreads, however, were quite lovely!

From here things picked up. We decided to go for the lunch table d'hôte. Two lunch items for $18.

My starter salad was fantastic. The greens appeared to be primarily arugula and by now you know just how important it is to me to have fresh, fresh, fresh greens. They were perfect. The dressing was a light accompaniment to the garnishes of goat cheese, radishes, pear and lightly candied pecans.

I didn't think my son really liked black bean soup so imagine my surprise when that was his pick. His words "A+". I snuck a taste with a distracting "Hey, look over there!" I had to agree with him that it was tasty, though I would have been happy with a touch of fresh cilantro. But then I think cilantro should be a food group. I would also mention that the portion size was handsome. The salad and soup each rang in at $6.50.

I followed with the rainbow trout with jasmine rice. The trout was seared to perfection and the sauce was rich and creamy. I probably don't want to know just how rich and creamy. The rice was pretty plain but served well to help soak up every last drop of the 'not to be wasted' sauce. I liked my new spring carrots and sautéed rapini.

My son, the big eater, chose the beef shins. An osso bucco style dish with a crazy amount of meat served on yukon mashed potatoes - his favourite form of potatoes - well, next to poutine. It was the plate that just kept on giving. Lucky me to help with the finishing. The meat was flavourful and fall of the bone tender. A beef jus finished the dish and gave it a glisten. He too enjoyed carrots and rapini. The two mains rang in at $11.50 each.

The winner of the lunch was the salad, then closely followed by the soup, then trout. My son's comments were succinct. "It was a really lovely lunch but it didn't totally knock my sox off." My son is a Blackie fan too and I think he has set the bar high when it comes to his expectation of 'Blackie perfection'. I would take that as a compliment.

We had a special day together and it was nice to round it out with a pretty special lunch. I have my eye on returning to Le Café to try the Taste 5 menu.

There is complementary parking at Le Café at Sunday brunches as well as Monday through Friday for lunch. Just bring your parking voucher with you to the restaurant to get it validated.

The summer hours are varied, depending on if you are there for lunch, munch, brunch or dinner and also if there is a show on in Southam Hall. The website can help you best to sort out the comings and goings.

Le Café
National Art Centre

Le Cafe on Urbanspoon

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