Zen Kitchen - The Venue
A sign of an excellent restaurant is when it doesn’t have any hyphenation. You’re not describing a good Italian restaurant or a good Chinese restaurant – it’s just good, good food.
This is absolutely the case with Zen Kitchen. It’s vegan, it does gluten free, raw, and healthy. But it’s just damn good food!
Zen Kitchen has a passion for local ingredients and working with local producers and, when the chef visited our table to chat, we learned that they even make their own preserves every summer. That’s dedicated!
The restaurant very kindly presented us with amuse bouche of braised celery filled with sunflower seed paste (delicious!), bread with hummus, and a Zen tapas plate for sharing. The rice paper spring rolls were bursting with fresh flavor and their peanut sauce was some of the best I’ve ever tried.
The skewers of grilled apple butter-miso tofu were indescribably delicious and without a doubt the most incredible tofu I’ve ever had. Even Ryan, a meat lover, thought they were great. The samples of homemade kimchee, mango pickles, and kale and potato chips rounded things off nicely. The bread was so fresh and soft that we kept asking for more.
We then moved on to the polenta fries. It was like having all the deliciousness of French fries with none of the guilt.
They were served hot, expertly cooked, and the homemade chipotle mayo was the perfect finishing touch.
For mains, I chose the Sope, which consisted of leavened corn tortilla, black beans, flambéed mixed mushrooms, and terrific homemade versions of the regular Mexican sides - salsa, guacamole, rice, and lime crème fresh. Ryan had the pecan crusted seitan, With chipotle-tomato relish, black rice cake, sautéed Swiss chard, parsnip purée, exotic mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. While they might have not been our everyday choices, we loved the creative combination of ingredients, and everything was perfectly cooked.
Give me Dessert!
We chose desserts based on the chef’s recommendation and had an off-menu sticky toffee pudding with a faux ice cream made with squash.
Squash “ice cream” doesn’t sound like much but I promise you it was amazing! I liked my dessert, but I think I prefer sticky toffee pudding make the more traditional way (probably with a ton of butter and less healthy!)
Care for a Drink?
The only downside of the Zen Kitchen menu was the drinks. There was a basic list of cocktails but nothing that supports their wildly creative and innovative food.
The wine list was much more extensive and would likely be a better investment.
Overall, I give Zen Kitchen 4 out of 5 stars. There’s nothing else like it in Ottawa and they are doing some amazing things with food.
Some vegetarian and health food friends have commented that it’s too expensive. I disagree. While it’s not in my everyday budget, I think the prices are reflective of the care that goes into each dish and the quality of the local ingredients.
It’s a shame that so many people think vegetarian food has to be a mix of raw tofu, sprouts, and beans sold by weight. Zen Kitchen is doing such innovative work that it will have the meat eaters convinced in no time!