It might appear to be a mundane Monday in March, but for me it is anything but; my excitement has been quietly building all day. Simmering…just under the surface.
It started from the moment I woke up. Lying in bed, I realized that today we would meet again…finally. It’s been months; I’ve been waiting…longing. I can almost taste it already.
I was on fire at the gym this morning, putting in my best effort; I wanted to be in top form for tonight. Add another kilometre on the treadmill…and hills. Lots of hills. C’mon, Sonia…work for it.
I showered and did my hair and make-up, taking more care than usual. I needed to look good for this. At long last, it’s time for me to escape the kids and suburbia. My husband can read the anticipation in my eyes. “Must be nice,” he mutters, but smiles and wishes me a great night as I walk out the door.
Oh, a great night is a given…for I’m dining at Allium tonight. It’s far and above my favourite restaurant in Ottawa, especially on Monday – tapas night.
As usual, the reservation is for three. Two of my best friends – and seasoned Allium diners – will be keeping me company this evening. This threesome has been meeting periodically for several years now; I think Cathy and I have to credit Bob for initially introducing us to this culinary wonderland. (God bless you, Bob.)
The beautiful thing about tapas – for an indecisive person like myself – is that you don’t have to make choices. At least, you need to make far fewer meal choices – particularly if you’re sharing food with two other ravenous eaters. By sharing – which is how tapas is intended to be enjoyed – you get to taste a wide variety of different dishes. This is definitely the way to go at Allium, where literally everything tastes divine.
Allium typically offers about two dozen choices on their evening tapas menu, as well as several dessert options. The price of each menu item ranges from $4 to about $15 for specialty items (think foie gras or lamb chops). If you arrive hungry and allow the masterminds at Allium to fulfill your every whimsy – including a couple of alcoholic beverages, dessert and coffee – you should expect to spend about $70 per person (a tad steep, but so very worth it).
After some initial small talk and ordering drinks, we get down to business and peruse the menu. Not unlike Pavlov’s dog, I am literally salivating while I read tonight’s options. Some dishes are familiar or a twist on the familiar – Allium has a repertoire, though it can and does change from week to week.
Cathy, Bob and I decide to start with the Mushrooms on Toast. (Spoiler alert: This is by far one of the best items on the tapas menu. So good, in fact, that we end up ordering another one later in the meal.) We also test out the Shrimp Lollipops and the Crispy Calamari. The calamari does not disappoint – it is very modestly battered and cooked to perfection.
Every time the waiter returns to our table, we each select another dish. After three delectable rotations – when we are all fast-approaching our gorging thresholds – it’s time to move on to dessert.
My friend Cathy is a dessert guru – she is trained in Pastry Arts and a professional cake designer – so there’s no way that we would ever pass on the sweet stuff. Nor do you want to at Allium; while some restaurants excel at preparing main courses and then fall short with dessert, Allium shines brightly right through to the end of the meal.
We order all three of the dessert offerings: a ‘Banoffee’ pie, a lemon tart and a piece of flourless chocolate cake. The Banoffee pie is a tried-and-true favourite, especially for Cathy, and it doesn’t let us down. The lemon tart is new to us, and offers a surprisingly intense flavour (especially after sampling the sweeter desserts). For me, the unabashed chocolate addict, the flourless chocolate cake – which has the consistency of a truffle – totally hits the mark.
By the time we emerge, over two hours have slipped by. We joke – as we often do – that it feels like we should be ending the night with a cigarette, so happily satiated as we are. But since we are all long-distance runners and non-smokers, we settle instead for warm hugs before bidding each other goodnight – knowing it won’t be long before we do it all over again.