Pelican Seafood Market and Grill
Address: 1500 Bank St, Ottawa
Hours: 10am – 8:30pm (Sun); 11:30am – 8:30pm (M–W); 11:30am – 9pm (Th-F); 10am – 9pm (Sat)
**Note that their menu has changed since my visit, and not all the above items are currently available or have changed, and hours are different during the coronavirus lockdown.
As a Nova Scotian, I’m always leery of the quality of seafood anywhere that isn’t close to the ocean – you’re often in for soggy, from-frozen disappointment. However, Pelican Seafood Market’s sterling reputation drew me down to their combination restaurant and fish market in Ottawa South.
I was dining solo since my wife isn’t a fish fan, and the open connection between the market side of the building and the restaurant makes for noticeable fish fragrances. However, this did help me get seated quickly during a busy dinner service.
While perusing their menu, I was given a couple buns with everything-bagel seasoning, which were a great start to the meal. There were a lot of options, and while I was tempted by the lobster roll, I couldn’t mentally get past the $25 price tag. I was pretty hungry, so I ended up going with multiple apps to make up my meal – escargot on toast and the harvest salad to start, followed by the fish tacos, and calamari.
Escargot ($10) may not be seafood, but Pelican did an incredible job. The snails were cooked perfectly, without a hint of rubberiness. Toppings of sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes and shallots were a big ol’ umami bomb. Since Pelican seems to have some kitchen skillz, I will be more nitpicky and say that they should have used a thicker/heartier toast to stand up to the aforementioned delicious, hot mess.
I ordered the harvest salad ($12) to assuage my guilt over ordering so much meat and carbs. Its massive size certainly helped tip the scales toward a healthier balance, as there was practically a day’s worth of veg in this dish alone! While a salad with goat’s cheese and beets isn’t exactly trailblazing cuisine, everything was fresh and played well off each other. Candied walnuts added crunchy bits of sweetness.
I appreciated that the fish tacos (two for $10) didn’t have an overwhelming amount of toppings – just enough to complement the fish. A charred jalapeno sauce, along with a simple pico, pickled onions, and a lime crema added layers of great, bright flavours.
The hunks of cod had a super crisp exterior, but I found the fish to be too mushy, instead of the supple flakes a good battered fish should have. On the upside, the tortillas – often an afterthought at any place that isn’t actually Latin American – were corn-based, not flour, and also held together well.
Pelican’s calamari ($14), was the standout dish of my meal. A very generous portion size, the lightly battered rings were just a shade heftier than a tempura. Like the escargot, the calamari’s doneness was spot on, and was some of the best I’ve ever had. I enjoyed the tender rings on their own, as well as with the tangy cocktail sauce that came on the side, whose flavour I preferred over the richer harissa aioli that was also provided.
Service was super friendly and professional, and everyone seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves while they worked.
On the whole, Pelican Seafood Market lived up the hype. The execution may not have been perfect, but they’re putting out some fantastic dishes that are destination worthy. Just make sure you leave your seafood-adverse partners at home.