If you are lucky, at least once in your life you have had one of those meals that is so outstanding that it stands as a landmark, showing what really great food can be. This article is the first in a series recounting some of my most Memorable Meals.
Signatures Restaurant, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Signatures Restaurant has received a Five Diamond rating from the Canadian/American Automobile Association (CAA/AAA). A Five Diamond rating is the highest honour bestowed upon restaurants by the CAA/AAA, and signifies world-class excellence. They have also received three stars (the highest possible ranking) from the prestigious Where to Eat in Canada, and have maintained this ranking as one of the top 22 restaurants across Canada. Le Cordon Bleu has been the recipient of two Ottawa Epicurean Awards, for “Best Service” and “Best Wine List Matched to the Menu”.
When I visited Signatures in 2001, I believe it was the only
restaurant associated with a Cordon Bleu cooking school in the world. I
was in Ottawa on business and went to Signatures alone. The following comes from an email titled "Heaven, I'm in Heaven!!!" which I sent my wife immediately after that meal.
To start, I had an apéritif of champagne, strawberry brandy and Cointreau. A delightfully refreshing start. Then, before the menu came a small amuse-bouche [literally a "mouth pleaser"] of warm, savory Sabayon with Foie Gras and Sun Dried Truffle. It was served in a small silver cup, little more than a thimble in size, but I will admit that this little taste did exactly what it was meant to do. It piqued my interest in the menu and made me look forward to the meal ahead. I recall deliberately making a decision to set aside budget and enjoy a once in a lifetime meal.
And that it was!
Next I had a Cold Lobster Souffle with Caviar and greens served with three different sauces - reduced balsamic, white cheese, and carrot. The flavor changed with each sauce. It was as if the chef was giving me a short course in the effect that sauces can have on a dish. I kept moving back and forth, tasting with one sauce and then another, sometimes with none at all, enjoying how each sauce brought forward a different character.
Following this, I ordered Oxtail Boullion, which came with beef marrow and a small puff pastry containing duck confit. I remember eating marrow as a kid, spooning it straight out of the roasted bone. It was probably one of the smoothest and richest foods I had ever eaten. This time, it was poached in the boullion. The taste of the confit was a perfect match to the hearty flavor of the broth.
For the main course, I had Loin and Tenderloin of Lamb with Rosemary, Eggplant Compote and Parmesan Gnocchi. Again, the balance of flavors was outstanding. The depth of the eggplant offset the slightly gamy taste of lamb and the solid taste of rosemary. The gnocchi completed a palate of rich, deep tastes. Regrettably, I can't remember the name of the wine I had with this meal, but recall that it was a hearty French red that suited the dish.
Dessert was a Apple Tart Tatin with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and a Thyme Caramel Sauce(!!!!) with coffee served in a French press. What a surprise to find the subtle hint of thyme in a dessert.
As if that wasn't enough, they brought a plate of Petit Fours ... a small Fruit Tart, an Almond Cream on Pate Brisée and a Chocolate Cake Square
The service was great, the waiter friendly and the atmosphere Victorian. The only downside was that the meal with tip cost $140 Canadian for just one person, but as I said at the outset, it was a once in a lifetime experience, one I am still reliving years later.
If you find yourself in Ottawa, make sure to visit
453 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6R4
Phone (613) 236-2499
Fax (613) 236-2460 or
Toll-free (888) 289-6302