Without a doubt, two of my favourite restaurants in Ottawa are El Camino and Datsun. Not only do both have delicious, interesting food (Asian Fusion at Datsun and Mexican at El Camino), but they both have an awesome atmosphere. When I read that Matthew Carmichael and Jordan Holley, the same people behind El Camino and Datsun, were opening up a third restaurant, Riviera, I was counting down the days until it opened. (Ok, maybe not counting down the days, but I was routinely tweeting asking for updates.) While El Camino and Datsun are both on Elgin Street, an area known to be quite lively, Riviera is located on Sparks Street, a pedestrian street in the heart of downtown that seems to struggle to stay busy during the evenings and weekends.
Earlier this week, Byron and I headed to Riviera for our 7:45 dinner reservation. Riviera is in the old CIBC bank building and I love that they really embraced the architecture of the old bank. The restaurant is beautiful, with gorgeous soaring ceilings, an eye-catching bar that spans nearly the entire length of the restaurant and many other amazing art deco touches. The restaurant was quite busy for a weeknight and Byron said he suspects it will become a popular destination for business meals downtown as it definitely has that high-end feel.
Similar to Datsun and El Camino, Riviera has an awesome cocktail list and it’s quite extensive. I was looking for something on the sweeter side and our server suggested The Big Easy, which did not disappoint. It was a lovely combination of Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin, lemon, simple syrup, lavender bitters and topped with a lovely flower garnish.
Byron was looking for something not so sweet and decided on the Dillion’s (Squared) Vesper which is made with Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22, Dillon’s Method 95, Lillet Blanc, Scrappy’s Black Lemon Bitters and garnished with a beautiful twist of lemon peel.
The menu is fairly concise and has a bit of an Italian flare with extruded pastas, but also includes favourites such as steak frites and a beef short rib. The price point certainly isn’t low, so we set our expectations fairly high, while keeping in mind Riviera would still probably be working out some kinks, as it has only been open for a couple of weeks.
We started with a delicious Spot Prawn, Scallop, Corn and Crisp Bacon Chowder which was incredibly luxurious and rich. I was hesitant to order a chowder, as it was about 37 degrees with the humidex in Ottawa that night, however our server affirmed our choice so we decided to go with it. The chowder was so flavourful and just had the most velvety texture (I’m willing to bet due to some lovely full-fat cream). I would certainly order it again, whatever the weather.
We then shared two entrees, the Lobster Pappardelle and a Braised Beef Short Rib with Soft White Polenta, Horseradish and Smokey Jus.
The Lobster Pappardelle was delicious; the noodles were the perfect texture, with just the right amount of bite and the lobster was cooked perfectly. I found the sauce really tasty and quite different from a lot of lobster pastas where the lobster is often overpowered by a heavy cream sauce. This sauce was rich, but still had a nice lightness to it. We thought we detected some lemon, tarragon and chives.
The Beef Short Rib was good, but not quite as tender as we were hoping it would be. With no shortage of short rib dishes out there these days, this one didn’t just didn’t stand out. It was good and had a nice flavour, but it just seemed to be lacking.
Although we were already fairly full we decided to split a dessert. We decided on the House Made Peanut Butter Pie which essentially was like a giant homemade peanut butter cup pie. The dessert was delicious, but very rich, I couldn’t imagine eating the whole piece on my own. I also really loved the addition of the caramel corn as a garnish, it added a fun, whimsical element.
Overall we really enjoyed our meal at Riviera. The food was tasty and the restaurant itself is stunning, but what I think I missed at Riviera was that element of uniqueness that I really enjoy about Datsun and El Camino. There aren’t a lot of other restaurants in Ottawa that are producing food like those places, whereas I feel like there are a handful of other wonderful restaurants in Ottawa that are producing food similar to Riviera. All in all though, we had a lovely meal and I am certain we will be back with friends and family and I can’t wait to try the steak frites.