Beckta Dining and Wine – Ottawa, ON

Beckta Dining and Wine
226 Nepean Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0B8
(613) 238-7063

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.

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5 thoughts on “Beckta Dining and Wine – Ottawa, ON

  1. Good review of an excellent restaurant. I just returned from a short trip to Ottawa where unfortunately time did not permit a return trip to Beckta.

    I have been several times over the past couple of years while there and have thoroughly enjoyed myself for many of the reasons you described. I noted the first picture below their sign which looks to be their “butcher block” table in the lounge where I customarily sit since I have always been there solo.

    Your description of the service is “spot on”…professional but always friendly. The owner Stephen Beckta does know his wine and enjoys chatting as he goes from table to table.

    From him I received a recommendation and he phoned to arrange for me to go to the Wellington Gastropub and my server/bartender suggested I try out Whalebone’s where at the time Stephen Vardy was cooking after having left Beckta and another spot in Gatineau…where is he now? Nfld or NB?

    The only thing you did not mention was their bread….love the stuff from Art-Is-In Bakery…that fennel, brown sugar bread is outstanding.

    Next visit I’ll have to go to Beckta again.

  2. Vardy has moved onto Nfld. He didnt stay at Whalebone’s very long – did you get a chance to try it while he was still there? Wellington Gastropub is also high recommended, but I have not had a chance to try it. Hopefully next trip. What were your thoughts on it?

    And yes – BM is correct that i missed mention of their bread. Which was, like everything else, excellent 🙂 Im not the biggest fan of bread, so it often slips my mind. Other than the occasional hot loaf ouf of the oven with cultured butter, I usually don’t eat it much. Thanks for the additional details though!

  3. Vardy had the nite off when I was there but I enjoyed my meal sitting up at the bar as my server…who turns out to have been the owner…changed the albums on the turntable.

    I had a nice relaxed meal and particularly enjoyed the oysters…I commented on the absence of certain of my favourite east coast varietals and he responded, “It might have something to do with the ice”…duh!!!!! Touche.

    I have nothing but complementary things to say about Wellington…top notch in all areas…good wine…good local beer…good service…good food

    Shane and Paul both apparently worked at 18 before setting up their own shop…Shane does a great job working the front of the house and Paul is very good in the kitchen…his amuses and the occasional “surprise” between courses are terrific…great place to sit up at the bar and drink a varied selection of good wine and enjoy good food…I would recommend it without reservation.

    I am told that a “Wellington alumnus” has opened Canvas a few blocks away and it too is supposed to be good.

    I was only in Ottawa during this last trip for a day so only managed to get to Stella in the Market for some good wine and an Italian salad and then later to Murray Street for some more good wine and some meats and cheeses

  4. Wow. Thanks for the additional details Bob. Much appreciated. Since you clearly have hit each location for some wine, do any of them carry an especially interesting, eclectic, or just plain extensive menu of by the glass?

    For those wondering what Bob is referring to, here’s the details:

    430 Bank Street, Ottawa, 231-8569

    1325 Wellington Street West
    Ottawa, ON K1Y 3B6
    (613) 729-1315

    110 Murray Street
    Ottawa, Ontario

    81B Clarence Street
    Ottawa, ON K1N 5P5
    (613) 241-2200

  5. Wellington certainly has an interesting and fairly wide variety of “by-the-glass” offerings which I expect…as with their beer…changes fairly frequently. Once you have expressed an interest they are keen to make suggestions.

    Whalesbone was like the restaurant itself a little more casual but they had a number of bottles that they were pouring. Cannot recollect off hand just how many.

    Stella had about a dozen, perhaps more on their wine list. I had a glass of Lailly riesling and a chianti with an excellent rustic Italian salad. Pretty basic green salad, simply dressed but perfect on a warm afternoon.

    Murray Street had a fair number as well. They also feature a winery on what I think is a monthly basis. My first visit they too were featuring Laily and I think this month it may have been Cave Spring. I was drinking cab franc from the first and on the recommendation of my server/bartender the gamay from the latter.

    I would rank them Wellington, Murray Street, Whalesbone and Stella. The latter “suffers” only because it is a more formal…perhaps the wrong term, traditional without being a “red sauce” spot … Italian influenced restaurant with a wine list that complements the food.

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