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Foodie Friday: Chef Michael Blackie’s NEXT adventure takes him back west

By Pam Kapoor on June 7, 2013

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A favorite local culinary bad boy finally gets to do his own thing, his way.

Chef Michael Blackie – Gold Plates Ottawa star (gold 2006, silver 2009) and Food Network Canada celebrity – has just launched NEXT restaurant on Hazeldean Road in Stittsville.

While the clean, modern décor suggests upscale, the concept and atmosphere of NEXT is decidedly relaxed (billed as “casual neighbourhood dining”). In addition to a spacious, airy restaurant, NEXT offers takeout, catering, banquet, and meeting services.

Why Stittsville? I suspected the west end fans he cultivated as executive chef at Brookstreet Hotel (2003-09) were part of the lure. He confirmed that was the case. That, and the idea that Kanata-Stittsville is good and ready to appreciate what Blackie has to offer at NEXT: a refined-but-accessible menu featuring local products, served family style.

“It’s not a new vision. We’re all about sharing, and we’re not talking tapas. At a Chinese restaurant, you’ll get a bowl and the plates just keep coming. I love that concept.”

If someone doesn’t want to share, Blackie’s team is glad to accommodate. But he’s confident that the skeptics won’t be dubious for long.

“I think I’ve hit the nail on the head with this. I haven’t had one negative comment. People have said they weren’t thinking they’d enjoy the sharing component, but once more dishes came, they really got into it.”

The menu is 3-in-1: same list for lunch, dinner, and take-home (Blackie is encouraging the locals to call in an order from work and swing by for it on the way home.

Committed to featuring local producers on his menus, Blackie has several offerings that showcase artisanal products from Elk Ranch, Serious Cheese, and Seed to Sausage, to name a few. He plans on changing up the menu every six weeks to keep things fresh.

Be prepared for surprises based on the Chef’s whims. If a particularly fresh ingredient piques his imagination, he may whip up something that’s not on the menu and serve tasting portions to the diners at hand.

Blackie seems most proud of ‘The Board’, an idea he’s incubated for 10 years that just “wouldn’t have worked” at Brookstreet or Le Café at NAC (which he headed from 2009 until last fall). Serving planks he fashioned from maple wood are adorned with brunch items and placed in the middle of the table for two to share. At $32 per person, it’s a clever sit-down take on the buffet: pancakes, steak tartare, eggs three ways, bacon, knackwurst, mussels, green papaya salad, house kimchee, viennoisserie, delicately-portioned house desserts, and more.

So, my dinner companion and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening at NEXT.

Meal highlights included ‘Shank the Lamb’ (the cheesy polenta nesting the tender meat was to die for), the short rib (succulent after 4.5 hours in a molasses and honey braise), and those decadent but light cheesecake pops – breaded with panko and fried so the centers are oozily warm – served with a perfect strawberry basil pulse.

A frisé lettuce salad with crispy poached egg was a surprise. The egg is encased in a breadcrumb/herb crust and fried. The speck lardons served with it were simply divine.

Notable mentions: the flavourful eggplant jam on the charcuterie board and the mouth-watering duck fat mashed potatoes.

NEXT offers a modest selection of wines and a few select cocktails. I tasted the ‘Black & Stormy’, made with Gosling’s Rum and Harvey & Vern’s ginger beer – sharply refreshing. But my cocktail-loving socks were knocked right off by the Bloody Caesar: Stoli and Clamato fired up with sriracha and horseradish – so freaking delicious that I’ll be bringing a designated driver next time.

Also noteworthy: my friend and I found the service impeccable. From the warm greeting at reception to the knowledgeable, skilled attention of our server, it’s obvious that staff training ranks as high with Blackie as anything to do with the kitchen.

Shared plates at NEXT range from $5-26. Three ‘cold’ dishes, two ‘hot’, two desserts, plus a couple of drinks each brought our bill to $80.

How many urbanites will make their way out to experience Chef Blackie’s NEXT project remains to be seen. Meanwhile, he’s buoyed by the local response, reservations are climbing, and NEXT radiates Blackie’s own upbeat energy. Can’t ask for a better start.

PS: Upon cajoling, Blackie didn’t disclose any details but gave the distinct impression that another Food Network series is being cooked up. “You’ll definitely see me on TV again.”

NEXT is at 6400 Hazeldean Road in Stittsville.