Hanging out with Matt CharmichaelPublished on September 9, 2013

  • Photo by Mark Holleron

Matt Carmichael's new Elgin Street eatery, El Camino, represents the culmination of a dream for one of Ottawa's most celebrated chefs. "This is the first time I've had the opportunity to shape a restaurant from the ground up," enthused Matt. "I have always wanted to create the kind of place in which I'd like to hang out; an everyday, unpretentious spot with great food."

The décor is a stripped-down version of the popular industrial-chic look. Concrete floors and walls are offset with dark wood accents, including a long, irregularly-shaped bar with seats for 26 which occupies much of the eating area. Stools with steel bases are anchored to the floor, and a scattering of tables and elevated booths line the fringes of the room. An old-school pinball game winks merrily from one corner, and all the action in the gleaming stainless kitchen is visible through a large window. 

Matt paid special attention to the lighting as he helped shape El Camino's spare, sleek design. "Obviously you want soft lighting to help set the mood but, at the same time, it's really important to be able to see all the great colours on your plate. We've got adjustable barn-door shades on our pendants so we can focus the illumination exactly where it's needed without making the space too bright."

This attention to detail is typical of Matt; he takes the same care with his food. "I deliberately crafted a smaller menu so we can be very nimble with it," he explained. "There is enough variety to appeal to a broad range of diners, but the emphasis is on using the freshest ingredients we can find so it will change often." Thai curries, quesadillas and fish tacos are highlights, as are the raw bar offerings, which vary according to what's available and might include a scallop crudo or spot prawn tartare. Papaya salads and an authentic, delicious Caesar salad are sure to please. So are the light, but lovely, dessert selections. 

While El Camino is only open for dinner, the take-out window will feed the hungry lunchtime and possibly late-night crowds. Matt is well-known for his impressive exploits in the kitchens of Eighteen, Social and Sidedoor restaurants. What does he hope visitors to El Camino will say? "This is a fun spot. Let's come back again soon. 

El Camino is at 380 Elgin Street. 

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