A few Fridays ago, the King and I ended up at the Canal Ritz for dinner. We had just left an event and we were hungry. We pretty much stumbled on it by surprise, driving by on our way to Elgin Street (one of the cool foodie streets in Ottawa). It just appeared and so heck, why not?
The special of the day is featured in the picture: 3 cheese ravioli with creamy basil pesto. Looks and sounds good right? Sometimes appearances are deceiving… It is not that it was «bad». It just wasn’t exactly restaurant caliber either: frozen, thick & gummy raviolis. Three cheese? I always wondered why they even say that when talking about a cheese sauce or garnish. As if anyone can pick out a cheese over the other, especially when blended together in a sauce or a paste. Please! Next item is creamy basil pesto: garlic and parsley in a blender do not Pesto make! So the meal arrived freshly made and piping hot, I guess that made it palatable.
His majesty took the burger: big huge dense frozen burger patty. You know the type: those thick pucks that have that compressed yet spongy meat texture? Again, not bad but nothing I would ever want to order outside a cafeteria. Meat letdown apart, the burger was also served piping hot on a super nice bun and fresh crisp veggie toppings.
We had shared bruschetta as an appy: if bruschetta is the correct word to use for dinner rolls topped with diced tasteless winter tomatoes (grape tomatoes would have be a better choice) and way too much garlic. The garlic was so intense, it actually overpowered everything. It even made the wine taste off. And I am pretty sure it was that pre-minced stuff that comes in a jar (or a bucket). If I remember correctly, the pasta was $22 (yeah, no kidding) and the burger was $16. We took a ½ litre of run of the mill Chianti at $32 (yup, no kidding again!) and I can’t remember how much exactly the appetizer was, maybe $9? The King had a beer to start. The entire meal before tip was $97 and some change…
Maybe back in the 80’s, when The Ritz Dynasty owned the Urban-Italian restaurant revival scene in Ottawa, was the restaurant able to get away with pseudo Italian dishes while calling them «authentic» or «nouveau Italian». I think Ottawa had 4 or 5 Ritz location back then. The Ritz was the place to go and to be seen! In those days, we all thought pesto was the most exotic Italian pasta topping we had ever heard of. The Ottawa population sure has evolved in the last 30 years: no longer is this city a sad place to have a restaurant meal. Sure, we do not have the huge selection Montreal and Toronto have but geez; we don’t have the population here either… Anyhow, it was really sad to be there. The decor is also totally 80’s and not by choice! Old, tired, still featuring those little lights nestled in a clear plastic tube from the disco era. The tables are draped in white with a navy blue overlay, arranged in a diamond shape. The bread comes in little faux wicker baskets and from my seat; I could see the plastic bus pans in the service station. Looking at dirty dishes is never an appetizing site, no matter if the view on the other side is the Rideau Canal.
During the entire meal, I talked my poor King’s ears off on what I could do to this place and how fabulous it could be. Before the end of dinner, I had transformed The Canal Ritz into a s.p.e.c.t.a.c.u.l.a.r. urban-industrial-rustic-Tuscan fusion eatery. The menu was a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll: you know, a twist on some good old faithful Italian favourites! Yup, by the time we paid our bill, my personal rendition of the Ritz Canal was the talk of the Town LOL!!!
Anyhow, unless you have a soft spot for generic Italian food or nostalgically miss the restaurants of the 80s, then save your money and go elsewhere. Or… Wait for the beautiful weather and drop in for a few drinks and a basket of fries. These are at least fresh hand cut fries: by far the best item on the menu. I also need to mention that the service was above average too: I think we stayed because the staff was so pleasant. And the Canal Ritz location is probably one of the most beautiful in town. What a shame the food is so, hmmm, humdrum?