Address: 2019 Bank St, Ottawa
Hours: 9am – 7pm (Sun – Thu); 9am – 8pm (Fri – Sat) (hours may change during/after the pandemic)
Website: Social media only, although not very active currently – Facebook and Instagram
Asli Dining recently became the second Somali restaurant I have ever patronized in Ottawa (read about my first here). It’s another small step as I continue to broaden the borders of my palette, and shine a light on places that fly under the radar of both professional restaurant reviews in the city, as well as the fickle hype-machine of food Instagrammers.
Located on the southern reaches of Bank Street, in an apartment building across from the Home Depot and LCBO distribution centre just before the rail cut, you can’t be blamed if Asli’s name didn’t ring any bells.
The restaurant is still closed to indoor dining, and has the vibe of an old-ish diner. Luckily for this car-free foodie, the weather was sunny and clear on both my visits, so eating al fresco was no problem.
Their menu is currently small, although they may offer more choices on the other side of the pandemic (if that ever comes). The mains include beef and chicken suqaar (in traditional stir fry-ish form, as well as in wraps), lamb shank or shoulder, and salmon. You can get either rice or pasta with your mains.
For my late lunch on my first time there, I went with the lamb shank and pasta ($14.99), as they were unfortunately out of rice, and I also tacked on a sambusa ($1.50).
After a short wait, I had my food in hand and since this isn’t exactly a pedestrian-friendly section of Bank, I sat in the grass of the Hydro One transmission corridor directly next to Asli Dining.
Right away, I was impressed by the lamb. It was very tender, but not overcooked – the meat pulled away from the bone easily, but didn’t just fall off the bone at the lightest touch. I enjoyed the earthy and rich seasoning which stood up well to, but didn’t overwhelm, the hearty lamb itself.
If you weren’t aware, the pasta that you get at Somali restaurants is straight up spaghetti with red sauce, a quirky culinary artifact of Italy’s time as a colonizer of eastern Africa. I preferred Asli Dining’s version over other iterations I’ve had, as they had some of their own seasonings in the sauce so that it had more depth of flavour than a bottle of Ragu. Also, there was a ton of it, and I had enough leftover pasta for lunch the next day!
The side salad portion of the meal was fresh and provided some much-needed vegetable content, although it certainly wasn’t particularly exciting.
My little sambusa had a wonderfully crisp wrapper, and was filled with a delicious, savoury mix of beef and onion.
For my second time darkening the door at Asli Dining, I came in the morning so that I could try their Somali breakfast, beer. You might be thinking, “I’ve had beer for breakfast plenty of times back in college”, but this beer is short for beerka, or in English, liver. I’ve never been so bold (or so old) as to try the liver and onions that are a staple at North American diners, but for the sake of culinary curiosity, I had to try Asli’s.
Whatever animal it was from, liver still seems to be quite cheap, as the dish was just $9.99. Many off-cuts of beef (hanger and skirt steaks, brisket) have exploded in popularity, and price, in recent years, but it seems that the more potent offal has yet to make the leap to popularity.
Once again, after a short wait, I was hunkered down at my favourite Hydro One picnic location.
The dish was comprised of strips of liver, stir-fried with julienned onions and bell peppers. The meat was expertly cooked – perfectly tender and not a hint of the rubberiness that the slightest bit of overcooking would cause. It also wasn’t as overtly metallic as I remember iron-heavy liver as being, but I’m not sure if that has more to do with my memory or the cook’s skills.
The onions and peppers were still lightly crisp, providing a textural contrast against the smooth liver, which doesn’t have the grain to it that more common cuts of meat have.
My beer also came with a beautiful piece of chapati, the-one-and-the-same flatbread that originated on the Indian subcontinent but spread to areas around the northern parts of the Indian Ocean.
The chapati was flaky, pleasantly pliable, and had good leopard-spotting from its bake. Combined with the hot sauce I had on the side, and scoops of beer, each bite was rich, spicy, and lightly buttery. In other words, as good of a breakfast as you could possibly want.
Asli Dining is the type of place I love to eat at and write about. They’ve got a skilled kitchen that’s putting out great food that is adding diversity to Ottawa’s restaurant scene, reflecting the city’s people and cultures. Head on over, and proudly have a breakfast beer!