Monday, 18 June 2012

Aahar, The Gastronomic Journey of Enlightenment

Arguably, Westboro/Hintonburg has become a prime destination for a quality and diversity of food offerings in the city that has become the envy of our Ottawa restaurant brethren.  The availability of just about any dish to satisfy your cravings can be found here in the form of wood oven pizza, fine dining, gastro pubs, taco's, gourmet donuts and countless coffee shops can be found within a stones throw and with predictably more to come.

However you may be a little hard pressed if asked where to go in the hood in the event of a craving for spicy, honest and traditional Indian fare.

Off the beaten gastro-path and I mean really off is a tiny place that serves just what you might be looking for.  Operating out of a renovated convenience store located at the decidedly non foody intersection of Churchill Ave. and Carling Ave., best known for its car dealerships and the Canadian Tire is Aahar.

Aahar, The Taste of India is a jewel.  No beating around the bush on this because it is just that good. 

The owner (who moonlights as the delivery person) is one of the most pleasant hosts you will ever encounter and the staff are equally friendly while being professionally attentive. The restaurant itself is spotless and traditionally appointed with soft zinthar music setting the mood.  

Indian food in Canada is primarily associated with Northern Indian ingredients and traditional methods of preparation I am told.  Aahar prepares all of its spices and ingredients in house daily.  Nothing cooked is ever stored for the following day and it is clear even without saying that once you've sampled the eastern symphonies of flavour and textures that the freshness is paramount. 

In my humble opinion Naan bread can be the single most important item you can have with your meal in an Indian restaurant (you can't imagine Sunday's roast beef dinner without yorkshire pudding can you?) and I firmly believe you can judge an Indian restaurant simply on the quality, texture, temperature and scent of this staple and let it be known that at Aahar they make each individual piece to order.  No sweatshop, microwaved, mass produced sponges for this place, no sir.  The bread is perfumed and elastic with a crispy well done surface area poised to lap up the fragrant elixirs on your plate that would be a sin to leave behind. But be patient, you'll have to wait in line when you order more but it is worth it.  

For those not familiar with and perhaps a bit trepidatious about trying Indian fare I'd suggest this, go to Aahar any lunch day of the week or for their weekend brunch.  They offer a fantastic buffet of diverse items with vegan to carnivore offerings that will give the inexperienced the opportunity to try multiple dishes while offering the experienced a more than satisfying selection of spicy to savory.  Supple meats such as lamb in the form of a korma with a creamy mild sauce, almonds and raisins or a madras with green and red chili curry leaves and coconut for the more spicy adventurous are staples.  There are taste bud tingling beef dishes like their Biryani made with cumin, onion and Indian spices and the traditional items of tandoor and butter chicken.  For vegetarians, Dal Makahni a creamy blend blend of lentils, (ghee) Indian butter, onion and garlic is outstanding or one of the many paneer (in house made cheese) dishes.  Like it spicy? Just ask, they'll pump up the heat to your liking.


Why ever it has taken me this long and after so many visits to write about this Indian gem can only be attributed to my own selfishness and wanting to keep it all to myself.  I am not alone and my fear is that once you experience the sensorial enlightenment of this hidden treasure you too will be selfishly joining me in a quest to keep this one all to yourself, but sadly that will not be the case for long.

Aahar, The Taste of India:
727 Churchill Avenue(N), Ottawa Ontario K1Z 5G7 Tel: 613.688.4444 Cell: 613.794.3444
Delivery available.

Friday, 1 June 2012


PIZZA WAR, that is exactly what is happening in our little yet ever growing enclave of Westboro, Hintonburg in one of Ottawa's newer foodie and overall desired destinations.

The good thing about food-gentrification is that the locals are often willing guinea pigs for trendy pop ups offering new and improved delicacies previously found only in the form of hidden gems discovered off the grid and only known to a protective and secretive few.  Now I'm wondering if that is a good thing, I'm not so sure? 

This phenomenon has hit this Ottawa hood with the fury of a tsunami in the form of wood oven baked dough and toppings perfuming the air of the streets with a scent of hickory and maple, far more welcome than the greasy stench of KFC.

This Friday night I decided upon Anthony's on Wellington. Anthony's on Wellington is just one of 4 new pizza-centric places to emerge in the past year or so in a relatively small geographic area and that is not Little Italy. The Back Lane Café, Tennessee Willems and the soon to open Pizza al Forno (not the confirmed name) by the Fratelli's restaurant group make up the contenders.

  The restaurant so named after its owner is a former pawn shop and with the exception of the removal of some security partitions, half empty glass display cases and the sickly smell of juvenile entrepreneurial spirit, not much has changed.  The restaurant is devoid of any interior design concept, paint scheme or ambiance.  The kitchen is open to the dining area, a giant TV sits on the bar, not turned on, walls are freshly painted and tables and chairs slightly above cafeteria comfort level.  The bar, where I sat to order my opted take out was uncleaned and sticky.  

The restaurant was quite busy, mostly with families as this is hardly a destination for a romantic date night or even a fun place to go hang with the guys or girls.  The staff seemed friendly but overwhelmed as during my 20 minutes or so waiting nobody addressed my actual presence focusing their efforts on the tables and getting the food out.

I ordered from the simple menu, yes really simple. The 14 or so pizza's had mostly two or three items and featured nothing that was boasting "fresh local, organic farmed" or otherwise trendy catch phrases and foodie type terms.

OK, so I am good with that. I am not as some might suspect a doofus, foodie douche only liking the newest, now-est and hippest. I like, no actually prefer the simple call it what it is straight up stuff.  After all it is just pizza.

Here's what I ordered on my pie, spicy soppressata, tomato sauce and fiore di latte.  Throw in the smoke and crisp crust on what the menu calls a Divola.

How was it?  Good, really good.  It is exactly what I expected from a simple unadorned place with a simple unadorned menu.  The sauce was sweet, non acidic, not over-powered with dried herbs and garlic, not watery or too dry.  The meat, spicy, fatty and not dried out by excessive oven heat and the cheese was the same, creamy, hot and runny.  Oh and the most important thing was the crust, it was perfectly charred on top and bottom, crunchy, not flabby or soggy, (official pizza crust terminology for those in the know). 

The verdict, this was a darn good pizza and I will go back and recommend Anthony's to anyone in the area looking for a good pizza.  However, I know that unless the overall in house dining experience is thought out my option will be for take away only.  But still, I'm OK with that.

Anthony's is located at 1218 Wellington St. 613 695 8669

Well done or as the menu says, "Done Well" crust and toppings, the pizza alone is the hi-light of Anthony's on Wellington.