Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro

Lee and I don't go out to eat a lot and when we do we usually head out for Thai. (I've been on a big Thai kick for oh, the last three years and we have not yet been able to make very good Thai food at home. We'll keep trying.) So when we were thinking of places for our anniversary we first thought of going out for a good steak, but then I found Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro. I'm not sure exactly how I found it but I think I was probably playing about on the Ottawa Foodies site.

A quick peak at the menu left me with a happy feeling. It reminded me of what is probably our favourite restaurant, La Palette in Toronto. (It is probably a good thing that we don't live in Toronto. We'd eat there so much we'd be poor. And have to join a gym.) The two restaurants have different philosophies but there's a certain symmetry in their menus. I sent the link off to Lee and he was sold once he saw the dish called "Duck, Duck, Goose" on the menu. (Lee first tried duck on our trip to Paris. It was a life-changing experience for him.)

So we promptly made reservations. We ended up in the Byward Market about an hour earlier than we need to be so we wandered about. No stop in the market for us is complete without a stop at La Bottega, where I strong-armed Lee into buying a bottle of Campo di Torri premium organic extra virgin olive oil. (Yum. Even if Lee is afraid to use it.) (Plus considering that was all that we bought we really got away light.)

Finally it was time for us to get our butts over to the restaurant. Again, much like La Palette it is like sitting in someone's house (though it's much bigger than La Palette). It's got a nice cozy atmosphere and great art (for sale!) on the walls.

We frequently and happily fall for the daily specials but we decided to stick with the menu this time. For our first course Lee ordered the Mexican Mushroom Soup (mushroom soup with ham, Mexican dried chilies and spices) and I went for the Mixed Green Salad (farm greens with Inuit crowberry tea and lemon vinaigrette with tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots). Lee's soup with lovely and spicy (but not too spicy). My salad was perfect. Yes, salad wasn't the most exciting dish to try but I knew we'd be having several courses and didn't want to get full too fast.

The first course was also served with freshly made bannock. I freaking love bannock. I believe it was the first time that Lee had ever had it. They also had added herbs to the butter on the table (parsley and um something else...). Yum.

For the in between course Lee had the Wasbush (rabbit) Dumplings (rabbit filled dumplings with avocado salad and honey mustard aioli). I was stunned by how large the both the dumplings and the serving was. I was expecting, for a course called the "in betweens," a much smaller portion size. I had a good sampling of his dish and if the portion size had been smaller I might have wished that I had ordered it. But my own course was pretty tasty too. I went for the Bison Bone Marrow (chili rubbed adobe bread, mushrooms, garlic and onion puree and of course, bison marrow). Lee was smitten with the mushrooms (they were quite tasty and I'm going to remind him of this when the Ottawa Farmer's Market opens and we'll pick up some local mushrooms).  I was impressed with the sweetness of the onion puree). Very good, though I'd have liked a wee bit more coarse salt. (Blame the French way of serving marrow. I'm used to it. I like it the coarse salt, both for flavour and texture.)

Then for the mains. I had a hard time deciding on my main but eventually opted for the Elk Two Ways (braised and grilled with celery root puree and horseradish puree and bordelaise sauce). Again, portion much bigger than I expected. I had four pieces of elk (I was expecting only two), two of each braised and grilled. I wasn't crazy about the grilled elk but the braised elk was fantastic. Falling apart tender and melted in your mouth.

Lee, of course, got the Duck, Duck, Goose (a roasted Goose breast, crispy duck leg, duck giblet, mushroom, wild rice and parsnip ragout). Really there never was a doubt that this is what he'd order, unless maybe there happened to be a duck special on the menu that night (there wasn't). The duck was really good but well, I've never been particularly fond of goose. It was well prepared but still goose. It was Lee's first time having goose and I don't think he's a huge fan of it either. He really, really liked the duck.

While we were waiting for the dessert menu the table next to us got served their bison steaks. Again, big portions and I'm pretty happy that I didn't order that because there was no way I'd have made it through even a quarter of it. Sometime I'd like to go back and just get a starter and a main and I'd be tempted to get that. Or the deer shank. Oh and the beet in between (which I almost ordered before seeing the marrow). But I suspect they'll be into their summer menu before we manage to go back.

By this point I was absolutely stuffed (Lee actually finished off my elk for me) but well, you can't eat three courses and then not eat dessert can you? No, of course not. I'm a creature of habit and promptly ordered the creme brulee (rosemary creme brulee with raspberry compote) because there's always room for creme brulee. Personally I think I would have preferred it without the compote and maybe with just a few raspberries on top but I really gain personal satisfaction from cracking the top of creme brulee. Tap, tap, tap, break. It's just not the same when you are pushing through a compote to do that. The compote was good though.

Lee is equally predictable in his dessert choice and it took him 0.2 seconds to decide on the banana toffee cake (served warm with crunchy peanut butter gelato). It tasted...banana-y. (I am not really fond of bananas.) I didn't try the gelato but Lee said it was interesting. I think he liked his cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee better though. (Lee is very fond of coffee and the cup last night might have convinced him to buy some the next time we are at Everyday Gourmet in Toronto. Yes, we probably could find it in Ottawa but it's one of those splurges that you justify due to the fact that you are on vacation.)

We rolled out of Sweetgrass Bistro full and happy. Really full. It's more than 12 hours later and I'm still full. Definitely one of the better meals we've had in Ottawa.