Beckta Dining and Wine
226 Nepean Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0B8
When I assess the quality of a restaurant, i generally take into account a multitude of factors. For the most part, restaurants focus on food, and really, that is all that matters to me. After all, without good food, there really is very little reason to visit a restaurant. There are some establishments that focus more on wine. The menu is little more than an excuse to showcase a Wine Spectator worthy list. To me, wine without great food is a waste. However, it is a rare place when you have a restaurant that seamlessly marries food and wine – to the point where it’s hard to imagine having one without the other. Beckta is one of those places.
Beckta first hit the Canadian consciousness when showcased on an episode of Food Network’s “Opening Soon”. The brainchild of sommelier Stephen Beckta, it’s the story of the homecoming of a local boy “done good”. A sommelier who worked in NYC at Cafe Boulud and Eleven Madison Park, returns home to up the local scene. With his extensive experience in building world class wine lists, he has not only put together a fantastic list of eclectic, quality wines, but has dedicated a large portion of his list to local, Canadian producers. A diverse selection of Ontario wines that showcases some of the best our country has to offer.
But as i mentioned, for me, it’s all about the food. The original menu was a Stephen Vardy creation, a young, up and coming chef when he first started at Beckta who has since moved onto a variety of different projects. Michael Moffat, his sous-chef, took over without any appreciable drop in quality. In fact, in my opinion, his experience over the relatively inexperienced Vardy has strengthened the marriage of wine and food.
The food emphasizes seasonal, local, organic, and sustainable, combined with top quality producers from around the country. While everything is available a la carte, the only way to dine at Beckta is through the chef’s tasting menu ($79), complete with wine pairings($35), and the optional cheese course ($15). The tasting menu is its own inspiration – and does not reuse standard menu items like so many places do these days. Each wine selection is carefully chosen, and when i did find some small fault with a pairing (mostly a matter of personal taste), a new pairing was selected that better fit my palate.
With all the publicity and press Beckta has gotten, I think deep down, I spent a lot of time looking for something not to like about the experience. I couldn’t fine one thing wrong. The atmosphere was classy, hip, yet comfortable. The service was impeccable – both food service, and wine service. In fact, similar to Chambar in Vancouver, this was some of the best service I’ve had in a very long time. Friendly, approachable, yet professional. Efficient without the snottiness.
As for the food? It did a great job of highlighting a lot of the strengths of Canadian food quality. From Alberta beef, to Nunavut char, to Quebec duck, to Nova Scotia scallops, everything was very well executed – perfectly seasoned, packed full of flavour, clear in purpose, creative, and most importantly, the dishes just worked.
When it’s all about the food, I find it’s about finding the right balance of flavours. Along with amuse and palate cleanser, I was dazzled with an array of flavours. Perhaps the my favorite course of the evening was a torchon of foie gras, along with a parmesan cornetto filled with epoisse and sweetbreads. While some might consider this to be too rich, cut with the acidity of the wine, the interplay of sweetbreads, with warmed epoisse and parmesan was perfect.
My last general concern when sizing up a restaurant is about portion size. I am occasionally a bit of a glutton. Tasting menus, in my experience, often leave me fairly dissatisfied. I need only point out experiences at Manresa (with a trip to In N Out afterwards) as an example where the portion size was disproportionate to the cost. With Beckta, there is no need to be concerned about the portion sizes. Everything comes in a good sized portion, allowing you time to savour and enjoy the flavours, without overwhelming you. After this meal, I was stuffed. And yet i still found some room to sample their extensive cheese course – filled with a great selection of high quality, small production cheeses. I did mention something about gluttony….
I generally try to bring a balanced approach to my reviews – after all, there is usually a balance of both positive and negative experiences when dining at any restaurant. However, try as I might, I really have nothing negative to say about Beckta at all. Great atmosphere, great food, great wine, great service. For me, this is *the* place to dine when in the Ottawa region. With a new restaurant opening in the next year, here’s hoping that they are able to maintain the same lofty standards they’ve already set. After all, they have a tough act to follow.