This past weekend I was lucky enough to get an all-expenses-paid (unless you are a foodie with awesome foodie friends) trip to Ottawa, Canadia’s lovely capitol, to hang out with a bunch of other college students who are odd enough to be doing a study abroad in our upstairs neighbor country. I somehow finagled myself a nice little fellowship from the Killam/Fulbright people to come hang out in Vancouver and “foster international understanding” along with a bunch of other students shuffling across the border to Montreal and Los Angeles and all over the place, and this was our orientation. Sadly, as it once and for all confirms my ultimate nerdiness, going to an academic conference was shockingly fun. It’s actually is pretty fascinating to compare the States to Canada, and living in a place that’s so similar to home while being so different at the same time (it’s a whole ‘nother country, as it turns out) makes you notice the differences all the more. Like… the Queen is still in charge of this place, technically. And… they call their money “Loonies” and “Toonies.” Anyways, so here I am in Ottawa. Long-time readers might remember Jackie-Bari-Chelsie, the Canadian trio I met in Bali, where we kinda built a house and ate some very good and some very bad food. We sadly sadly sadly parted ways in Bali, hoping to see each other again somewhere, sometime in the great big world. And somehow, we have! We’ve all ran into each other, in New York, in Miami, all over. And luckily enough, Jackie lives right there in Ottawa and Bari only a train ride away! And the best part of all: these two lovely, much-missed girls are huge foodies. Though they fed us at the conference (surprisingly good food too, thanks Fulbright folk) I held off at most of the dinners because I had a much better dinner coming my way each night. Friday night was Whalesbone Oyster Bar, the most popular little seafood restaurant in Ottawa right this second.

Tucked into a long long skinny little space, the restaurant was jam packed with Ottawa-ites, chowing down on oysters. Seated right next to the open kitchen, our mouths kind of might have started watering right away. Then they brought us the best bread ever with (get this) brown butter. A big ol’ serving of nutty, caramely, brown butter. This may have rivaled the Campagnolo bread experience last week. This butter…. this butter. I can’t say anything else. If there is heaven, it is made out of brown butter. We finally narrowed down our order and got: chefs choice of 4 oysters, octopus, calamari, and sea bass. First the oysters, two simply raw and simply perfect, two poached in butter, nestled in a big hot pan of corn and prosciutto and… butter. Goodness.

Then the octopus, grilled with big hunks of melon and prosciutto. I’m a sucker for octopus (get it? ha. ha.) so I loved it. Cause I love everything. But good, and especially good with the sweet-salty melon-ham classic alongside. Then the calamari, old-school crispy with tart marinated zucchini and a crazy-good curry sauce. Mmm. And lastly the bass, with a big ol’ buttery braised leek, a pile of sweet corn, and a handful of salty chantrelles. My god, I love Ottawa. Eating really good food rocks. Eating really good food and talking about really good food while you’re eating the really good food? Aw yeah. So full and happy, we all made our way home, Bari anxious to get online and scope us out another restaurant.

The next day: Play, a rad little small-plates spot right next to Jackie’s apartment. After a painful deliberation process, we finally settled on the arctic char gravalax, bean and potato salad, zucchini gratin, rainbow trout, and meatball sub. Gravalax goodness, especially with the kickin’ little apple-ginger slaw and wasabi dressing. Purple potatoes and snappy beans plus bacon equals warmth and delight and yum. The zucchini tomato gratin, as simple as it was, might have been my favorite. I’m a major zucchini fan, and it was pretty perfect. (And served in a tiny little American Girl doll-sized cast iron pan…!!) The rainbow trout… I have a weird relationship with trout, post-trout-murdering. It was good, for being trout, but the caramelized carrots along with it were the stars. Meatball sub, mmm. Bread, eggplant, meatballs, barbecue chip bits. Then to top it all off: gelato. Ginger, raspberry, and oreo gelato. Delicious, heavenly, creamy gelato.

The next day, if you can believe it, we managed to squeeze in one more: Benny’s Bistro, touted as Ottawa’s best brunch. You walk in through a beautiful, aromatic little French bakery and your stomach instantly starts growling. Another good thing about Jackie and Bari: they are share-ers. I hate eating just my own dish. I am plagued with the worst order envy on earth. Sharing means: not having to decide on one dish, not coveting thy neighbor, and being able to all gush about how good every single little thing is. And: it lets you get french toast annnnd salmon for breakfast. French bread, French restaurant, all signs pointed toward The Best French Toast Ever. True. Topped with a little cinnamony cream, peach compote, and tiny little blueberries. Alongside our other bfast: fingerling potato salad, arugula, salmon gravlax, sunnyside-up egg. Sweet joy, salty joy. Then we walked it off in the the Byway Market (Ottawa’s less nuthouse-y Pike Place) and kept right on talking about food.

There was one more food experience of note (yes, really.) Another perk of the smart-kids-go-to-Canada deal: cocktail party at the American ambassador’s (gigantic) house. We all dressed ourselves up and went out to the fancy diplomat ‘hood. Everyone filed in and shook Mr. Jacobson’s (that’s Mr. Ambassador to you) hand, and I think I might have gotten a tiny bit nervous and thus a tiny bit ultra perky and said something like “Potato state!”

(Of course I saved my invite, I’m treasuring it forever.) Aside from the interesting conversation and awesome house gawking, there were some stellar hors d’oeuveres. (I definitely just had to google that spelling….) A few other ultra-clever girls and I camped out all nonchalantly beside the kitchen doors, assuring our first pick of the snick snacks. One of the best: Jack Daniels shrimp. Sounds so weird, was so good. Spicy, sweet, roasty, creamy shrimp. Probably the Americans’ signature thang for all the cool Ambassador shin-digs I’m sure they have. “Invite the Americans, they always bring those awesome shrimp.” Also: salmon atop petite little purple potatoes, crab cakes perched on cucumber rounds with tiny basil leaf hats, surprising salt and pepper tofu, and perfect little steak cubes wedged between bright onion. The perks of nerdiness. Ottawa: A plus all-round.

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