Our Tasting Ottawa group had a delicious evening at one of Ottawa’s newest restaurants, Carben Food + Drink. Owned by Chef Kevin Benes and Dessert Chef Caroline Ngo, this restaurant is heading into its 5th successful month and we are positive there will be years to come! Focusing on local, seasonal ingredients and creating dishes with both national and international inspiration Kevin and Caroline create unbelievable, modern plates with a talent for layering flavours and textures that I have not seen in Ottawa before.

Our first dish was an amuse bouche, typically meant to be a one bite small dish to start off the meal. Our group was lucky….ours was a delicious pile of raw Ahi Tuna, marinated in Soya and other Japanese spices, nestled on a daikon, carrot and cucumber slaw, with an ouzo jelly for sweet to balance the salt, finished with a nori crisp and puffed rice. The dish was called a Tuna Poke which is culturally an Hawaiian dish. I was finished first (I love tuna tartare and this was similar) and my favourite part was the play on textures between the puffed rice and melt-in-your-mouth tuna.


For my appetizer, I shared the beef tartare (yes I love a good raw bar). If I see tartare on the menu, you can guarantee I am ordering it so I have had my fair share from around the world. This was hands down in the top three and had a great twist that I did not expect. Nestled inside the tartare was a portion of Kimchi, a Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, that gave it an amazing, almost sour punch that cut through the richness of the traditional tartare with a raw quail’s egg on top. An amazingly smooth sweet corn puree added the sweetness the dish craved. It was at this point I knew the layering of flavours and textures was going to be the highlight of the night!


Carole ordered the restaurant’s most popular appetizer, the Wood Ear Mushrooms. I had a tiny taste and it was luxurious. King Mushrooms cooked to perfection with Wood Ear Mushrooms to compliment, wilted baby bok choy and edamame for a different aspect of texture with a miso glaze that created the perfect umami flavour.


I had a tough time deciding on my main course but when I saw that the Striploin came with Chanterelle mushrooms my mind was made up. The steak was cooked medium rare and I am more of rare fan but it was still good but the compliments really made this dish for me. The mushrooms, crispy shallots, chard and jus created a very earthy flavour which was cut by the freshness of the parsley puree and small, diced apples. On the side was a perfectly cooked turnip pave that has to be the most well seasoned dish I have ever had. I could have had more of those!
Other dishes that were had by our group including the duck with a delicious vegetable quinoa, perfectly seared scallops with lamb merguez and chili oil. A fun highlight was a member of our group trying Skate  for the first time, which is essentially a stingray. Chef Kevin poaches this for four hours making it unbelievably tender.
Dessert was an easy decision for me with the title ofChocolate for Breakfast on the menu because where there is chocolate, that’s where I will be. However, the others sounded delicious too and our group ended up ordering a variety to be shared by all. Chocolate for Breakfastconsisted of a creamy, velvety smooth, rich chocolate ganache interrupted by shards of espresso and chocolate mousse. Warm pillows of brioche surrounded this dotted with a to-die-for Earl Gray gelee and a Welch’s Concord Grape gelee to bring a bit of freshness to the richness of the chocolate. There was also bacon dust, scattered over top, which was not my favourite item of the evening but others said they could be millionaires selling it! To each their own.

Not only was the food amazing but the service was great. Our waiter was knowledgeable, very enthusiastic and welcoming. Chef Kevin Benes visited our table to ensure all was well and to say thank you at the end of the evening which was so nice. If you’re looking for modern dishes with creative twists for affordable prices in a fun atmosphere this is the place! The interior is small without feeling cramped with a warm yet airy feel, prices were fantastic and the food was very good. I’m sure all in our group last night will return.

For more information on Carben Food + Drink visit their website here: http://www.carbenrestaurant.com/

– Barbara