By Samantha Everts
When you’re headed to the market for a night on the town chances are you’ll either end up at an overpriced bistro with too small portions, or you’ll gorge on greasy diner fare. If you’re looking for something different, fear not, The Collection has ambitiously taken on the challenge of providing a fun and relaxing place to enjoy delicious, locally sourced gourmet food at affordable prices – and it does so in a very cool atmosphere complete with changing art exhibits.
I spoke with head Chef Ivana Borojevic about her creative menu and the inspiration to use local sources. “Before we used to serve deep fried bar food, and given the clientele [and] that it is a martini lounge, [the food] just didn’t fit.” Borojevic honed her skills in community kitchens and by running a restaurant in a remote part of Alongonquin Park. Now she’s making expert use of fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables. ‘Keeping everything local was really important to us. I shop mainly within the market itself.”
Last week, my date and I decided to hit up the launch of their new Table D’Hote. I was immediately struck by the whimsical menu. Divided into four ‘characters’ – The Vegetarien- aka The Vegan, The Glutonie – aka The Hangover, The Sain – aka The Health Nut and The Carnassier – aka the Meat Eater – there really is something for everyone.
To start, we chose from offerings such as ‘Boba’s Chicken Noodle Soup’ and the blue cheese cob salad featuring free range eggs and local artisan cheese. My date, who normally detests eggs, loved their flavour in the salad and gleefully became a convert. Meanwhile, I speared candied soy – ginger pecans from a neighbouring spinach salad.
Having finished off our appetizers, we moved on to a selection of finger foods. “The second course is all about sharing,” says Borojevic. A dish of spicy pancetta wrapped asparagus was quickly gobbled up while I savoured my ‘Bonfire’ fries with house made ketchup.
The main course was the shining star of the evening. My date chose a charcuterie with smoked prosciutto, Mexican chorizo and two (local!) aged cheeses. Chef Borojevic explained that the meats were purchased within walking distance of the restaurant at the Sausage Kitchen. My date admitted to tasting the freshness of the meats and raved about the apple chutney and Dijon mustard (also house made).
One can tell that Borojevic is comfortable with vegetarian/vegan cuisine, something that often goes overlooked in Ottawa restaurants. She told me that all of the bases of the menu are deliberately made vegan so that the food is accessible to almost anyone with dietary restrictions or allergies.
For my main course, I had Borojevic’s creatively reinterpreted veggie burger. Made from sweet potato and mushroom, my burger was substantial and delicious. The burger was topped with home picked onions and vegan mayo, and accompanied by a Tamari fiddlehead salad; fiddleheads being one of the few vegetables growing in Ottawa at the time of our visit. The fiddleheads were light and crispy and the tamari sauce made for a wonderful complement to their flavour. My one complaint with the dish was that the burger was heavy and out of proportion to the rest of the meal. I was unable to finish it. Besides, the kid in me was screaming out for dessert.
For an extra $4 we were served chocolate dipped strawberries and a mini martini (mine was chocolate strawberry liquor). My date received a mini maple-apple pie and a rave-earning butternut scotch digestif.
We left full, a little bit buzzed, and genuinely impressed at how the menu highlighted so many local items. At only $24 plus tip and taxes we’re looking forward to visiting again later in the growing season to see what inspired new dishes await. Besides, we spied a baked miso – mushroom gravy poutine with fresh dill that is just begging to be tried…
The Collection is open for dinner 7:00-12 p.m. every weekday and is located at 56 Byward Market Square (below Mercury Lounge.) For reservations (not normally needed) call ahead at (613) 562-1120.