Carben, Ottawa.


November, 2017

This is a wonderful little restaurant. Our hosts Bill and Linda know every meter of the city of Ottawa and whenever we visit they introduce us to something new and exciting. Carben definitely qualifies. One small problem: the kitchen is so nimble that what was on the menu yesterday probably isn’t today. It’s been over a week since we were there, and although I copied the menu the next day I find I only recognize a few of the dishes.

It’s a small modern room. Server is a brisk ginger-bearded young guy with lots to say about each of the 10 dishes, five starters and five mains. The emphasis here is on food, not necessarily on clubby or any other particular atmosphere, but the food is so good it could be served at McDonald’s and you wouldn’t notice anything but delicious flavour and classy presentation.

We were four, packing a bottle of Wrath pinot noir from central California which Bill and I had collected on a trip a couple of years ago. I had two of these tucked away but I see they are both gone and I made no notes. It was a rich new world pinot that, as that varietal usually does, went nicely with everything. I also don’t remember what the corkage here was but it wasn’t exorbitant. So we simply ordered four of the five starters and four of the five mains, telling our server only which ones to leave out.

Looking at the next day’s menu, the items I think I remember are cured salmon, wood ear mushrooms, and possibly beef carpaccio. And I’m embarrassed to say I’m not able to be especially specific about any of them. I just have a recollection of absolutely no disappointment and consistent satisfaction, scrambling to hide my enthusiasm for making sure I got my share of everything. The mains that looked familiar are pork loin and duck breast. Same comment. Quantities were small to medium, but we were all satisfied.

Not much of a detailed critical review eh? Sorry. It wasn’t just that I’d had a fair bit to drink (I had), more like there isn’t much of a paper trail to jog my memory. That said, I would absolutely for sure go back, and wish they would put a branch plant here in Vancouver to replace several recent mediocre local experiences we’ve had.

Food 9.5, service 9.1, ambience 8.8, value 8.9, peace and quiet 8.9.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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