This afternoon my husband Yves and I attended ZenKitchen’s much-anticipated Sugar Shack brunch. Yves is French-Canadian and I go crazy over anything maple, so we both had high expectations. On the other hand, I will rarely submit myself to a blind menu, mostly on account of being a mushroom-hating vegan. However, both ZenKitchen owner David Loan and Chef Kyle had assured me via Twitter that I could count on a mushroom-free meal. They were correct; here’s the menu:
Overall, this meal is among the best meals I have ever eaten. I’m not a foodie’s foodie, but I have been vegan for a long time and have traveled to places like New York City, Montreal, Toronto and Washington DC just to eat those cities’ vegan fare, so I have a reference point! The meal started off well, and only continued to improve throughout. Each new dish that was served was better than the next! The good news is, if you’re reading this before Sunday morning, there are still spots available. It’s $30 per person plus tax and tip. Call 613-233-6404.
The meal began with an unlisted amuse bouche, consisting of teeny tiny buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup. Shortly thereafter, we were served the Sunflower Seed and Shallot Cretons, a plate which also held pickled beets and pearl onions (Yves got those), maple mustard, house made sourdough and maple butter.
I’ve never eaten cretons, but apparently it’s some sort of French Canadian pig dish. Yves says that it was quite reminiscent of cretons that he has consumed in the past, particularly the seasoning. Both the cretons and the maple butter spread nicely on the soft but perfectly chewy bread. The maple butter was not the maple butter I have come to expect from tubs at the grocery store or farmer’s market, but was rather light, airy and fatty, which just a hint of maple. The only part of the plate that did not enthral me was the mustard. It reminded me a bit of wasabi.
Next up was the Habitant Soup (above), which was nothing like the canned Habitant brand soup that I subsisted on as a child. Apparently they fished the mushrooms out of mine. 🙂 This split pea soup had subtle smoky layers from the smoked onions, and the split peas were tender. (Even when I cook the hell out of split peas, I can’t seem to get them that soft!)
The soup was followed up with the main dish, the tourtière (with ketchup), accompanied by celery root, apple and fennel ‘slaw with maple dijon vinaigrette. The only tourtière I can recall having prior to this was a rather bland boxed vegan one that was very same-y, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But for my husband, this was a fairly staple dish when he was growing up, so I knew it must be good when he started raving about it. The pastry was flaky and tender, and the filling included kale, potatoes and carrot. Every single bite was different, and enjoyable; it did not suffer from the same-y-ness of the boxed tourtière of my early vegan days. The ‘slaw was nicely complementary, adding some veggie power to the meal.
Dessert was sugar pie with pear cream and maple-walnut crumb. It was absolutely amazing. Perfection. I may even plead with David Loan to add it to the menu on a more regular basis. It was among the top five desserts I’ve ever had, and I have had a LOT of dessert. It was very sweet, but after a largely savoury meal, it was perfect.
But wait, there was one more thing for us!
Um, hellz yeah that’s maple taffy on a stick with SNOW! It was more granular than the stuff I see Yves spooning out of a tub, but I suspect that it doesn’t contain the sugar additive that the other stuff has. It was such a novel way to end the meal, just like when I was a kid visiting the sugar bush.
This Sugar Shack Brunch special isn’t part of their regular menu offering, but it is representative of the level of thought, care and detail that goes into everything that’s served at ZenKitchen. The detail that goes into each and every dish is incredible, and coupled with the always attentive service makes dining at ZenKitchen a memorable experience.
It’s worth nothing that while I was there, I overheard David tell another guest that “We (ZenKitchen) are 100% vegan. No exceptions.” It served as an important reminder of how lucky we are to have a vegan restaurant of this calibre in Ottawa. Let’s ensure that we treasure and support it so that it can thrive.