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All photos by Roland Bast.

Foodie Friday: A walking tour for food and wine lovers

By Alison Larabie Chase on May 6, 2016

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I love going out for dinner, and Ottawa’s Byward Market is chock-full of awesome restaurants, pubs, tapas bars and cocktail lounges. Sometimes I try a place I’ve never been, but just as often I’ll return to an old favourite.

What if you didn’t have to choose just one place, though? What if you wanted to restaurant-hop, enjoying a drink and a small plate at several different restaurants in an evening? That’s the concept behind Ottawa Tasting Tours. The brainchild of entrepreneur Corey Henry, this year-old business partners with various restos in the Market to create a unique evening out.

Tours begin in the gorgeous, hidden-gem Jeanne d’Arc courtyard behind the Paper-Papier shop on Clarence near Sussex, where your host (one of several knowledgeable folk) will share a little bit of history of the area, the nearby buildings, and the city as a whole, before leading you to your first stop for a pre-dinner libation. I won’t give away the surprise that kicks off the night, but suffice it to say one of you might have to work a little for your wine.

Once you’ve had a sip of something delicious, you’ll wander over to your first restaurant of the four that will comprise your evening. At each place, your seats will be reserved for you, and a delicious small plate will be served, expertly paired with a 3-ounce glass of wine. Your host will tell you a little bit about the history and ownership of the restaurant, as well as some background about the food and wine you’ll be enjoying.

My tour began with a beet and goat cheese salad and California chardonnay at the gorgeous stone-walled Courtyard Restaurant. From there we progressed to Play Food and Wine, Stephen Beckta’s small-plates spot at Sussex and York, for pear and shallot strudel matched stunningly with a moscato d’asti, a brilliant low-alcohol sparkling sweet wine from Italy that’s usually paired with dessert, but was utter perfection with this dish.

Pear and shallot strudel at Play Food and Wine. Photo by Roland Bast.

Pear and shallot strudel at Play Food and Wine. Photo by Roland Bast.

Third stop was the cozy Must Kitchen and Wine Bar, owned by a former Brookstreet Hotel chef, where we enjoyed spinach and cheese ravioli with bruschetta sauce and asparagus, alongside a medium-bodied red wine from the Campagna region of Italy. Finally it was on to the recently renovated Brig Pub, a Market institution that I had somehow never been to. A glass of Beaujolais accompanied the best bread pudding I’ve ever had, made from cinnamon-raisin bread, studded with dried cranberries, sauced with salted caramel and topped off with house-made vanilla ice cream. The moderate (but very fair) portion sizes of the three preceding courses ensured plenty of room for dessert.

The company is still expanding, and plans to offer a Preston Street tour starting later this year. In the meantime, the Market Tour offers a delightful overview of the area’s terrific restaurants, with all planning and reservations handled on your behalf. Its a perfect night out with visiting friends who require an introduction to Ottawa’s dining scene, and would also make a great birthday (or Father’s Day) gift for food-loving friends and family members.

Even as someone familiar with much of what the Market has to offer, I was pleasantly surprised and got introduced to some new-to-me places that I’ll certainly be returning to. Why not enjoy a fun food adventure right in your own city?

Tours cost $109 per person ($90 without alcohol) or $399 for four people. There’s also a lunchtime tour with craft beer pairings for $45. Prices include all taxes and gratuities. Gift certificates are available. They also offer private tours for groups such as corporate events or bachelorettes.

Learn more and book tours online at www.ottawatastingtours.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.