North & Navy
Address: 226 Nepean St, Ottawa
Hours: 5pm – 10pm (Mon – Sat); 4:30pm – 9:30pm (Sun)
It took over a year for my wife and I to make it back to North & Navy to try out their regular menu, after enjoying a delicious, relaxed Sunday Gravy At NoNa’s in the winter of 2018. When you’re new to a city and continuously exploring the food scene, it’s tough to return to restaurants you’ve previously enjoyed!
By the time I made our reservation, the only seating left was at the bar and the kitchen, so it seemed like an obvious choice to take in the show of the kitchen staff doing their thing.
North & Navy’s menu is pretty tight, with just a handful each of antipasti, pasta dishes, and mains. We decided to share everything, and started off with the formaggio di Capra with watercress, and the grilled asparagus with lardo and rhubarb. Those antipasti were to be followed up with the dandelion pesto pappardelle, and the impressive-sounding Toscana sausage-stuffed quail with polenta.
Our salad ($17) was a light but flavourful start to the meal with conservatively dressed watercress topped with incredibly fresh goat cheese and raisins. The tangy goat cheese was a nice departure from burrata and fresh mozzarella which is becoming ubiquitous.
Despite seeming quite simple, the grilled asparagus ($15) knocked it out of the park. The perfectly cooked asparagus – tender but still maintaining some snap – had a great flavour from the grill. This was complemented nicely by the salty and rich strips of lardo that melted into the asparagus spears, while the sweet and tart bits of rhubarb brought balance to it all. This was a wonderful dish, and the best of our meal.
Next up was the dandelion pesto pappardelle ($19). This was a spring pasta if there ever was one, with the bright, verdant flavour of the pesto, whose mild tartness was levelled out by a hint of honey and the sage in the fresh pappardelle. A poached egg was hidden under a nest of airy wisps of parmigiano, which added a burst of umami-rich goodness, and toasted pine nuts brought a complementary nuttiness and texture.
The Toscano sausage-stuffed quail ($33) was an impressive sight, with the full bird on a bed of kale and polenta, and topped with a mustard seed and sea buckthorn sauce. The sausage had an herby punch, although it didn’t overpower the quail itself. The tiny ground bird was deboned except for the legs, and the skin was fantastically crisp.
I loved the bursts of citrus-like flavour from the sea buckthorn berries, and the kale was tender without being mushy. The polenta seemed to be mostly butter, but that isn’t exactly a complaint.
Our server was friendly and knowledgeable, and I would swear that it was the same person that we had on our first visit last year.
Sitting by the kitchen was a fun experience! We were able to see ours and other dishes get prepared – including a portion of a special wine tasting that was taking place upstairs. I may or may not have pondered an Oceans 11-esque scheme to obtain their gold leaf. It was great entertainment and provided a lot of insight into how a kitchen of this calibre operates. PS. The secret to a great pasta sauce is apparently a stick of butter per serving.
The regular menu at North & Navy easily lived up to my expectations, and the while the kitchen bar may not be appropriate for all dining circumstances, if you’re a small group, it’s a very cool way to stay entertained between courses.