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Photo courtesy of Sharif Virani

Foodie Friday: Supply and Demand gets raw food right

By Sharif Virani on March 1, 2013

It’s been quite a few months since my last food post, and that’s definitely not due to a lack of memorable meals to write about or amazing people in the industry I’ve met. That said, I think it’s only fitting that I re-emerge with a post about one of Ottawa’s newest joints, one whose name has been on everyone’s lips recently: Supply and Demand.

For those who don’t know, 28-year-old chef Steve Wall – formerly of Luxe, Town, Whalesbone, and the list goes on – recently took a chance and ventured into the jungle that is restaurant ownership with his wife, Jen. And with Supply and Demand, located in West Wellington Village, he’s emerged a conquistador.

In most of my food reviews I tend to get caught up in food and atmosphere of the whole place and forget to take extensive notes and photos. And while I wasn’t as bad as I normally am this time, I was lucky that right there along side me was my fellow partner-in-crime for the night,  Ottawa Chef Matthew Carmichael. Ever since I interviewed Carmichael this summer about his Mello’s pop-up experiment, we’ve become pretty good buds. Even if most of our conversations consist of words like fish sauce, oysters, creativity, fresh, local and acidity, I like to think we have a pretty good time.

But back to Supply and Demand. Chef Wall’s menu consisted of 18 items – all fresh and primarily raw. “Let’s order all the raw stuff!” I said, and Carmichael quickly agreed. He also agreed to two dirty martinis, which were promptly placed in front of us.

Arriving first was a dozen east coast oysters — the larger ones from New Brunswick — garnished with fresh shaved horseradish. The horseradish and house dill sauces mixed with the salty flavor of the fresh oysters to give you that nice little fizziness you look for when slurping back a few zinc-filled slime rockets. Carmichael noted that the freshness of the oysters was really brought out by the fact Wall submerges them in ice – something I’ve never seen in Ottawa.  Apart from one or two of the larger oysters having a bit of bite to them, they were almost perfect — which explains why we ordered another round.

Chef Wall welcomed this idea with a smile as he shucked them away behind the bar in front of us. (Ask to sit at the chef’s bar for an amazing view of the kitchen’s inner workings.) Carmichael was really impressed by the kitchen’s design: it was so simple, with a linear movement from the back to the front. The dishwasher would pass plates across the counter to the cooks, then to the pass where they were checked by Wall and served to eager diners. Wall himself worked the raw bar at the kitchen’s front — understandable, since as Carmichael told me, a raw dish almost always takes more skill to perfect than a cooked one.

(Oh, wait: did I mention the bread and lobster butter? I could probably eat this all day; the pungent lobster flavour shines through into the slightly salted bun. It’s the broken-hearted foodie equivalent of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.)

Next up was albacore tuna sashimi: it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, punctuated with notes of acidity and finished off with the added texture of puffed rice grains. Not much more to say here because both I and Chef Carmichael were too busy eating to chat about it. We also tried the scallops with celery root and pomegranate — an interesting combination, but we both would have liked to see the scallops sliced a bit thicker. Though, if you like dishes with some acidity to them, then this is your ceviche-like jam.

Then, it was onto the razor clams. I’ve been dying to find a place that serves razor clams regularly in Ottawa. Razor clams have to be fresh, and these babies were fresh to death (I think they came from Montreal just that very day). Carmichael noted a hint of anise pollen in the sauce that finished it off, subtle but telling of the man behind it’s refined palette. I won’t reveal details but I am fairly certain one of us tipped the plate to drink the remaining liquid, despite how beautifully it was plated. That’s how good it was.

The duck tartare was an overall amazing dish with a smoky finish. The addition of corn nuts added great texture – I have no idea how he came up with this combination but it was stroke of genius. There’s nothing I can say about the purple mustard that came with it, other than that I am craving some now. We followed that with the beef tongue — a last minute addition, but we just had to have it. Paired with a bottle Beyond the Pale brew, we thought it was going to be the perfect way to finish off the night.

Or so we thought. Because then Chef Wall looked at us.

“You’re having the pasta, right?” he asked.

I look at Carmichael. He looks back at me.

“All right. Let’s do it. The squid ink? We have to, right? It’s made fresh. How could we not?”

And then the heavens opened up. Wall brought us some of the most amazing pasta dishes I have ever had in my life. And ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been to  Sfoglia in New York City so I’m no rookie when it comes to pasta.

Now, octopus might be some of the most intelligent creatures in the world, but Wall also turns them into some of the most tender things to eat in the world. And while good, the pasta wasn’t quite as amazing as the next dish he served us: the gemelli with duck. This was probably the best gemelli I’ve ever had, and Carmichael agreed, too. We might have been dining as friends before, but when this shared plate was put down in front of us, it was a battle to the death.

I left that night with a smile on my face, only to remember it was Wednesday. But that was okay, since this meal made the long snow-filled week that much better.