Exercise first, eat later. It's the perfect recipe for guilt-free indulgence! What better way to whet your appetite than to enjoy a skate on the canal?
We cruised through Ottawa's Little Italy, just steps from the Rideau Canal Skateway at Dow's Lake, to check out the dining possibilities in this recently refurbished neighbourhood and found there was much to offer.
BLACK CAT BISTRO
Fans of a well-crafted menu featuring honest, unpretentious fare will appreciate Preston Street's Black Cat Bistro. Chef Patricia Larkin and her team present modern interpretations of classic French bistro food with a playful, personal touch. The chic décor is cozy, the service is polished and friendly, and the menu is full of delicious options. Check out the Black Cat's sharing table - the chef's choice of four different appetizers - as well as the delectable steak frites, or the house-made pastas for nourishment after a winter excursion. The old and new-world selection of wines pairs beautifully with the menu, which includes an impressive selection of cheeses and the timeless favourite of French lemon tart for dessert.
A stone's throw away sits Stoneface Dolly's, named after the legendary poker face of the original owner's mother. Described as serving home-style gourmet food with an international twist, Dolly's is known and loved for its daily brunch. Borrowing the best of many cultures, the dinner menu features Asian, Italian and South African dishes with a variety of meats and fish, alongside tasty vegetarian offerings. For a sweet finish, the bourbon pecan and peanut butter chocolate mousse pies are both fantastic. Before heading back into winter's chill, try the blueberry tea with Amaretto and Grand Marnier, or Dolly's favourite specialty coffee featuring Sambuca, Frangelico and Baileys Irish Cream liqueur.
BIG EASY'S SEAFOOD ?& STEAK HOUSE
Stroll a few blocks northward and you'll find Big Easy's Seafood & Steak House, which has a well-earned reputation for generous portions of satisfying, southern-inspired cuisine. With a funky New Orleans lounge vibe, Big Easy's offers the kind of environment that encourages you to settle in and unwind over drinks and dinner. It boasts an impressive cocktail menu featuring such specialties as Mardi Gras libations, carnival-style martinis and a collection of champagne cocktails. Great food choices include oysters in various forms, plus Creole-influenced creations such as crab cakes, blackened fish, jambalaya and dirty rice. As an added bonus - Big Easy's is open till midnight, Thursdays through Saturdays.
Little Italy's late-night scene
Full of energy after a skate and a bite to eat? No need to head home just yet, as there are a handful of late-night options available as well.
The Heart & Crown is one of the newer pubs in Little Italy. Like its four sisters around town, it has become well known for a friendly atmosphere, live music three times per week, and an appealing late-night menu featuring wings, nachos, poutine and deep-fried pickles.
To rub shoulders with the local crowd, check out The Prescott, one of Ottawa's two original licensed drinking establishments and a neighbourhood institution for almost 80 years. Famous for its unique square pizzas and supremely satisfying meatball sandwiches, it's almost guaranteed that you'll leave The Prescott with a smile on your face.
If your taste runs to something a little more refined, The Moonroom feels like an inviting living room with atmospheric lighting, great music and a décor that is quite stunning. Whether you're interested in wine, cocktails or tapas-style nibbles, there is much to like on the Moonroom's frequently updated menu.
Looking for something a little different? From traditional to innovative, Little Italy offers something for everyone.
Trattoria Caffé Italia has a following of locals who come for the homemade pastas, sauces and friendly atmosphere. Perfect for a family meal of gathering of friends.
Atelier is an inventive eatery run by Ottawa's recently minted Gold Medal Plates winner, Marc Lepine. He treats his kitchen as a something of a laboratory, dishing out what is arguably this city's most unusual, yet absolutely delectable, cuisine.
DiVino Wine Studio, run by the oh-so-charming Antonio Mauriello, functions as much more than a great Italian restaurant. It offers numerous special events including guided wine tastings, language classes, winemakers' dinners, cooking classes and more.