The Empire Grill has been a staple in the Ottawa Market for years. It was arguably the first "Hipster" type place in the area that catered to the burgeoning Foodie and martini swilling "I work on the Hill" types.
I have enjoyed many a glass of red at the stylish bar that had undergone a renovation a few years ago in an attempt to freshen its look with the trendy scene giving birth to multiple competitors. One main advantage of the Empire is location and patio size. Located at 47 Clarence St. in the Market, the name Empire is fitting due to its dominance over most other smaller patios who do not enjoy the same southern exposure prolonging the enjoyment of the precious Ottawa summer sun.
A chilly afternoon of shopping and hungry for a better than diner lunch we opted for the Empire. Promptly and politely seated, the place was empty save a group of ten or so in the private room and one afternoon cocktail indulger at the bar. The restaurant is clean with white unfolded, unpressed table cloths and cloth napkins, which I like and the embossed cutlery adorned with the restaurants name proudly displayed on them were spotless. Our servers, polite and well groomed made sure that our water glasses were never empty and wine was offered appropriately not pushy.
As an app. both my guest and I opted for the wild mushroom broth, the soup of the day. It arrived lukewarm, not hot and the servers attention to not spilling it all over the sides needed some help. I like a clean plate and the food where it is supposed to be, in the plate or bowl. The "broth" was not a exactly a broth but also had a good amount of cremini mushroom pieces in it, clearly not "wild" even though they are available year round from BC, Europe and the States. The soup had three disadvantages as far as I am concerned, one it wasn't hot enough, two it was very salty and three I like mushroom flavour but not mushroom texture so the presence of the mushroom bits left me uninspired and did not enjoy it.
My main was the shaved steak sandwich on ciabatta with jus and fries. Again, cold and served sloppy without much concern for presentation (see below). My guest's salad with goat cheese and grilled chicken, I was told, was a standard salad with goat cheese and grilled chicken that you can get just about everywhere. Maybe because it was very quiet the attention to our plates did not get the same attention they would have coming from a frantic kitchen trying to keep up with a machine gun like spray of chits and the staff were focused on prep for the evening service?
Finally I have to say we were seated near the window close to the bridge into the large area in the back. This area is also where the kitchen's pass is and server's station. The conversation between the kitchen staff, servers and bartender must have been taken from the script of "How to constantly gripe and complain about your job, shifts and colleagues who don't pull their weight". Not the kind of discourse one wants to hear while dining, but the attitudes and demeanour clearly came through in the product's we received.
I will enjoy the Empire's patio in the upcoming summer with its ambiance, cocktails, pretty people and advantageous position in the market setting, but for now this experience has left me with a disappointed impression that only the taste of a good broth will be able to remove.