Atelier: A Modernist Gem in Ottawa

“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.”
 Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I had been super-frugal all week… so the Love of My Life (LOML) decided it was Atelier time. Atelier is reminiscent of Alinea (one of the top restaurants in the world), were Atelier owner and master chef Marc Lepine worked – but at a fraction of the price, and without the attitude.

Winner of the 2016 Canadian Culinary Championship, Lepine and his team have for the second time in less than five years wowed the Canadian culinary scene.

Reservations are generally a must on weekends. So is checking the address, as this restaurant, rather than being in a trendy restaurant neighbourhood like the Byward Market, inhabits a tiny non-descript renovated grey house with black iron grates over the windows and rocky landscaping, sandwiched between the untrendy edge of Ottawa’s Little Italy and decrepit mid-century industrial federal government buildings.

Atelier is so avant guard it does not even have a sign – you have to seek it out, it does not seek you. As they say in French, “à bon vin, point d’enseigne” – where the wine is good, there is no need for a sign. Dress code is whatever satisfies you… haute couture or jeans are equally welcome; all guests will experience exquisite elegance and luxury.

On entering, we were warmly greeted by Atelier’s charming Steve Robinson, two time winner of the Best Ontario Sommelier competition.

This minimalist chic restaurant is at once comfortable and intimate. It has recently been expanded from 22 seats to 50, but on separate floors, so you only see half at a time.

“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
• Coco Chanel

Simply  – owner and Chef Lepine creates magic.

Each plate of Lepine’s seasonally-driven blind tasting menu is simply superb cutting-edge avant-garde modernist works of art that if plasticized would set records at international art auctions.

Atelier can be described as an evening’s experience where food is transformed into high end performance art. A three hour hedonistic tour de force featuring a 12 course meal with a ten glass wine pairing.

Our meal began with a dish of spicy  Sriracha-infused focaccia  dusted with fleur de sel.

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This was followed by a selection of  three intricate works of edible art including:

Yellowfin tuna carpaccio served in a tuna vertebrae bone

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One Tequila, Tuna Tequila

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Asparaguses a breathtaking tour de force that included a long list of ephemeral visual and olfactory delights…

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which were perfectly paired with a chilled glass of  2012 Tantalus Riesling from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada whose intense citrus character is  underpinned by notes of cardamom, apple skin, roasted pineapple and quince.

Ostrich the Grouch made an entrance…

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paired with a 2011 Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Wachtberg 1er Lage, Krenstal, Austria with boasted hints of pear, slate and pepper.

Pronto

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was cleverly paired with NV Ontario Spring Water Sake Co. Telon Sakura, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Soup! There It Is 

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Curd Your Enthusiasm

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was paired with a citrus and stone fruit flavoured 2007 Stratus White from Niagara, Ontario, Canada.

Goodbye Spring, Aloe Summer

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was unified with a 2011 Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay, from Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada which boasted hints of toasted hazelnut, butterscotch and candied orange zest.

Quailed

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was sortied with a crisp citrusy 2011 Estate Argyros Assyritkio, Santorini, Greece.

Beef Rochester

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was perfectly matched with a big  2008 Oddero Borolo, Peidmont, Italy.

Pop Goes The Basil cleansed the pallet in preparation for

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Ladybug

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which was paired with a matchingly sweet 2013 Ca’ del Baio 101 Moscato d’Asti, Italy.

The finale Strawberry Sundae was accented by a  2010 Chateau Guiraud Sauterne.

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LOML and our dining companions, not being fans of dessert wines, asked for a non-sweet substitute and were awarded with a 12 year old McCallan – “A dram to be enjoyed with friends.”

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
• J.R.R. Tolkien

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