Alice is a newly opened vegan restaurant in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood. This is just one of the most recent new openings in the area that’s making Little Italy the new foodie neighbourhood of Ottawa. Alice does an eight course blind tasting menu that changes seasonally. We visited a few weeks after they opened to try the inaugural menu. Alice was opened by head chef Briana Kim, winner of the Ottawa edition of the prestigious Gold Metal Plate competition in 2017. After deciding to close her Hintonburg restaurant, My House Cafe earlier this year she opened Alice in the spring. The restaurant has a lovely minimalist design and you can see current fermentation projects in the works on the display shelves in the space.
The menu is $95 per person and there is an optional $60 natural wine pairing that includes 6 wines or a $50 non-alcoholic drink pairing that includes 5 glasses. Before we get into the food I will say that this meal is really meant as an experience. I definitely didn’t leave hungry so I’d say it was a good amount of food. Even though the plates are small you get some amazing food do the price is justified. Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, even the grain for the bread was local and a lot of work goes into each dish. The drink pairings weren’t really worth it necessarily. For our first visit it was fun to try, especially the natural wines, which can be hard to find at the wine stores. But you could just share a bottle and it was be a better deal than the 2 oz pours. The alternative non-alcoholic pairing was fun to try and great for people who don’t drink but it wasn’t worth it for the price. The think that bugged me a little and it is probably my only real criticism is that they would bring a half carafe of liquid and only give me a 2 oz pour, leaving a bunch of liquid in the carafe. I feel like they could have given larger pours even though I understand it’s a tasting menu, $50 is a lot for a non alcoholic pairing even though they were very delicious and interesting.
Now onto the actual food! The menu has since changed but you’ll get an idea of the style of cuisine. Also you can check Alice’s Instagram and Chef Briana Kim’s for peaks at the menu if you’re unsure about the blind tasting aspect. Also they accommodate food restriction/allergies and strong dislikes. I hate mushrooms and they were able to alter one of the dishes for me. So make sure you make them aware of any allergies/restrictions or strong dislikes when booking. Also it is vegan but they do use honey in some dishes.
The first course was simple bread and butter but with a twist. The bread was made from locally sourced and milled grain, which was delicious and served warm. The butter was actually a fermented rice butter candle with a walnut wick, 100% edible. It came to the table lit and melted into the butter pot. It was delicious and a fun start to the meal. The really nice thing about Alice is that either the Chef Briana Kim or I’m assuming the sous-chef would come to the table and explain each course.
Next we got two “snacks”, a sunflower and anise butter tart with compressed green apple, jalapeño and tarragon and a celeriac yakitori skewer. Both were delicious!
After the snacks we were served seaweed marinated eggplant topped with puffed rice noodle, nori salt and nasturtium, was finished with a lightly chilled kombu dashi broth. Along with my non-alcoholic pairing a cinnamon stick was burned to add to the aroma.
Next we had fermented grape jelly, pine nut custard and sambuca compressed pear. This was my favourite course. The favours were so good and there was also an interesting addition of temperatures as each of the different parts were different temps from almost frozen to warm.
The next course consisted of a toasted sesame dome, charred asparagus, house made silken tofu with heritage soybeans, lemon and lavender purée, radish, shiso. For this dish you waited a bit for the dome to warm up as it was frozen and then you crack it up. As the sesame dome melts it becomes the dressing for the salad inside. This was definitely the most fun and inventive dish that was also very delicious.
Next up was a beautiful stuffed morels and smoked potato dish. This was the one I had altered since I really hate mushrooms. Both the mushroom and strictly potato versions were delicious and my boyfriend who had the mushroom one said it was his favourite dish of the night.
Then came the desserts – plural! First was a beautiful and delicious lacto fermented rhubarb pieces, rhubarb granita, lilac sugar, tonka and cashew cream. Then we had makgeolli ice cream. The Makgeolli, their take on Korean rice wine was made in house and paired with black walnut cake, orange whiskey sauce, orange tuile, candied walnuts and black locust flower. It’s impossible to say which I liked better since they were both fantastic.
With my second dessert I was served a delicious nutty and woody tea as part of my alternatives pairing. This was my favourite drink and I got the whole teapot which was nice since it was so good.
At the end of the meal they gave us a little chocolate to finish the meal and a copy of the menu for that evening to take home so we could see exactly what we actually ate. The whole experience was really lovely and I definitely see myself going back as the menu changes. The pacing between courses was also very good and the staff were all very friendly.
I think it’s great to have a place like Alice open that is elevating vegan food to fine dining. Alice is a great contrast to Marc Lepine’s Atelier that is just the next block up from Alice. Atelier does a blind 12 course tasting menu and although I’ve never been I know that the restaurant is much more masculine with the dark decor, meat/seafood heavy menu and male head chef. Whereas Alice by a female chef, is vegan and has a light and air design inside. The contrast between the two is interesting and it’s exciting to have a new vegan fine dining restaurant in Ottawa.
Alice has just been named the #1 best new restaurant in Ottawa by Ottawa Magazine so don’t just take my word that it’s amazing and you should go now!