By Gloria Song and Robert Mayne. Gloria is a lawyer and a writer based in Ottawa. Rob is a chef trained at the Cordon Bleu, also based in Ottawa.
Few restaurant openings have been anticipated this year as much as Gezellig. Roughly translated as “cozy” in Dutch, Gezellig is Stephen Beckta’s newest restaurant located in the heart of Westboro, away from his other restaurants Play in the Byward Market and Beckta in Centretown.
We checked out Gezellig on its opening night. The restaurant was not as full as we expected, perhaps because its opening night fell on a Monday or because we were dining at 8 in the evening. However the staff was friendly and seated us at what they called the Mafia Table – near the bar in the back, where we could have our backs to the wall and eye on the door. It was also where the old vault used to be located; before Gezellig moved in, this building used to be a bank. You can’t help but feel powerful when you’re seated at the Mafia Table in an old bank.
For starters, we ordered the romaine salad, malfatti pasta, which featured a very tender braised pork in a rosemary cream sauce, and beef tartare, because, really, whenever there’s beef tartare on the menu, you’ve got to try it. It did not disappoint. Remember that Mr Bean episode where he accidentally orders beef tartare at a restaurant and spends the rest of the episode trying to figure out where to hide it so it looks like he ate it? It wasn’t like that. We scraped the plate clean.
For our main course, we ordered the whole Noah’s Ark of meat dishes. We were delightfully surprised at the first bite of our pork chop, which was possibly the best pork chop we’ve tasted in the city. Cooked in a creamy polenta and roasted pepper slaw, the pork chop was not your usual dry cut of meat, but juicy and full of flavour. We were distracted from fully enjoying the duck pozole stew because the combination of hominy and cumin seemed to take away somewhat from the taste of the duck. However, the meat was quite tender and the stew had just the right level of spice. We also tried the pink salmon, served on a bed of quinoa and bok choy. Quinoa is featured in many restaurants these days as the new trendy supergrain, but not all of these restaurants know how to prepare the grain properly. Gezellig, however, managed to achieve a good balance with the quinoa, which complemented the salmon well. The winner of the night, however, was the Wellington Country short rib steak, featuring a miso butter sauce which was just the right amount of salty and sweet flavour that managed to get all the way through the meat.
For dessert, we tried the “butter finger”, a slice of peanut butter and chocolate served with a peanut butter and jelly flavoured gelato, a flavour of gelato that we’ve never seen before.
Overall, the staff was attentive, enthusiastic, and helpful, promoting the very atmosphere suggested by the restaurant’s name. Menu items were generally several dollars cheaper compared to Beckta, but still offered a creative range of dishes, including a vegetarian squash risotto. I also liked the feature of offering small plates rather than appetizers. This means that you can opt to graze on small plates all night, which Gezellig’s menu was particularly well suited for. The restaurant will work well in a foodie neighbourhood like Westboro, and it’s definitely worth checking out. We’ll certainly be going back soon.