Address: 380 Elgin St, Ottawa
Hours: 5pm – 2am (Mon); 5pm – 11pm (Tue – Thu); 5pm – 12am (Fri – Sat)
***During current coronavirus limitations, Datsun is only open for takeout from 4-8pm, Fri-Sun, with pre-ordering on their website.
Last winter, I wanted to check out Elgin Street after it had re-opened to traffic and was no longer a zig-zag maze for pedestrians. So, I put together a few stops on this food and entertainment corridor for my wife and I to try for the first time. Our dinner would be at Datsun, a sister restaurant to Ottawa-famous neighbour El Camino. Their owners are doing for pan-Asian fare what they did to tacos at El Camino – elevating familiar, shareable dishes which are guided, but not bound by, tradition.
Reservations were easy to come by for the day before Valentine’s, although when we showed up it was still 90% full. I feel like walk-ins might have a little more trouble on a regular Thursday though.
The aesthetic could be that of any trendy, casual restaurant/bar of the past decade, with concrete floors, light wooden tables, and plenty of black. I’m a cynic, I know. Seating is mainly at two-person high tops, with a few communal tables at the back and front. Datsun’s long, narrow kitchen is wide open to viewing, with bar seating along it for prime food prep peeping.
We were seen to quickly and given a quick rundown of the menu (most things are shareable, and two dishes per person is standard). The menu is separated into “Buns”, “Noodles”, and “Not buns or noodles”, with a handful of options in each of the first two categories, and a dozen in the latter. There’s a broad range of options – seafood, meat, and several vegetarian/vegan options as well.
To start things off, we got a round of cocktails – the Sake Sour for me ($12), and the Gimlet Grenade ($13) for my wife. Datsun’s take on the classic whisky cocktail is made with sake, a ginger and cognac liqueur, lemon, “palm whites”, and Sichuan pepper. It was a lightly tangy, and not-too-sweet drink, and whatever the process is for making palm whites, the froth was thicker and longer lasting than traditional egg whites. A fantastic cocktail. My wife’s Gimlet Grenade wasn’t to my liking since I’m not a gin fan, but the freshness from the cucumber and mint paired well with the pungent spirit, and pomegranate seeds added fruity bursts of flavour.
For food, we went with two bao, the pork belly and crispy chicken ($6.70 each, one per order), the dandan noodles ($15.50), and the green papaya salad ($16).
Even with the large crowd, our steamed buns and salad came out quite quickly. The green papaya salad was light and fresh, with plenty of crunch from the easily-chopsticked shredded fruit and veg.
Although the bao buns aren’t made in house, they were still light and airy, but did lack the pleasant chewiness of a fresh bao. While both the pork belly and crispy chicken were a hit, we preferred the flavour profile of the chicken – ranch dressing and furikake, a Japanese seasoning of dried seaweed, sesame seeds, fish, and other flavourings.
Don’t expect a massive bowl of dandan noodles like you’d get at a typical noodle house, but there was definitely a generous pork-to-noodles ratio, and the neon-orange sauce had a rich flavour, with a light amount of heat.
We weren’t quite full at this point, so we tacked on an order of the kabocha squash dumplings ($15.50). The delicate steamed dumplings came in a delicious coconut dill sauce. We evenly portioned out the ten dumplings so that no fights would break out over these tasty little bundles.
Datsun is a fun spot, with extremely well-executed dishes, and a deep enough menu that makes you want to go back for more, as I surely will.
PS. There’s a Mortal Kombat arcade machine at the back for your retro gaming needs!