If there’s anything sweeter than a rare dinner date with your spouse without the kids in tow, it’s a dinner experience that’s virtually PERFECT.
Such was my experience at Sidedoor (sidedoorrestaurant.com), a trendy, new-ish restaurant (open 18 months) located in the heart of Ottawa’s Byward Market. Sidedoor is one of those rare gems that offer a bit of an escape hatch; it allows you to slip off and have an experience that leaves you feeling like Canada’s conservative capital city is just a tiny bit cooler than it really is. Located at 20 York Street, the entrance to Sidedoor is ever-so-slightly obscure, giving a hint of a ‘secret club’ type of vibe.
The interior of the restaurant is sleek and chic, with tables on multiple levels and an open-concept kitchen on the lower level. But continue through to the patio and, on a perfect July night like this one, it really feels slightly magical. Sharing a cobblestoned outdoor space with a public walk-through and several benches, a huge tree in the middle of the patio twinkles with tiny white lights. On this comfortably-warm-with-no-humidity Ottawa evening, it seems only appropriate to start the night off with a quality beverage. The ‘Blueberry Mojito’ catches my eye, and delivers with equally impressive quantities of fresh mint leaves and blueberries.
What you need to know up front about Sidedoor (pardon the pun) is that it serves ‘small plates,’ so if you’re looking to eat huge quantities of food at rock-bottom prices, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. But if you’re not on a tight schedule and want to sample a smattering of creative culinary flavours, sit back and enjoy. Ian and I started off with the calamari, a dish that is such a long-time favourite for us that we’ve had great, bad and everything in between. Sidedoor’s calamari was an instant hit – very fresh, ever-so-lightly battered and perfectly seasoned.
Our second selection was lamb tacos, which were tantalizingly small but worth every precious bite. Served with a “funky chili” they had the perfect hit of heat, offset by slices of fresh avocado. Our third and final dish was the evening’s featured menu item: Braised pork belly. Our quirky waiter explained that the braising process takes days, producing the tender, flavourful result. Always a rich dish, it was a surprisingly generous portion that was complimented with a fresh beet salad arranged on top.
Before we left, I couldn’t resist trying just one more funky cocktail off the list; this time I opted for ‘Shortcake.’ Fresh berries dancing with vodka and vanilla bean left me feeling like I had just drank a slice of liquified strawberry shortcake, and loved every sip.
We left feeling contentedly full and wondering when we might next get the chance to return.