Bistro St- Jacques: “It’s like being in France without the cost of the flight.” – Shawna Wagman, Ottawa Magazine
On Thursday afternoon I read the newly released November issue of the Ottawa Magazine. Divine intervention would have me buying the very first copy as I made my purchase at Britton’s in the Glebe. Shawna Wagman’s article showcased her “Where To Eat Now” list of top ten restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau. I thought I was totally up-to-date on the ‘must try’ eateries in this region, so imagine my surprise when she tucked into her list a place I had never heard of before.
My curiousity was piqued by the inclusion of a lesser known bistro nestled onto a side street in Hull called Bistro St-Jacques. Come mid-November they will be celebrating their 2nd anniversary. Although a very new restaurant, they know their vision and they operate it with confidence. Co-owner and general manager, Vincent Denis has global experience and on the local front he was longtime co-owner and founder of Jean Sébastien, which is right across the street.
The secret weapon in their arsenal is professionally trained executive chef Christopher Mulder, who has been with them most of the 2 years. Chef Mulder delighted us with a visit table side at our Friday night dinner. I didn’t dare ask his age but his youthful presence seems a bit unbelievable when you hear about his extensive and intensive work opportunities in the industry thus far. Before coming to Bistro St-Jacques, he worked as sous chef to well-known teacher and chef, Gérard Fischer, owner of Le Tartuffe. The list goes on. He also worked for Robert Bourassa at Café Henry Burger. Not to mention time spent at ARC The.Hotel, Casino du Lac-Leamy’s Le Baccara and in Montreal for a stint. This place has a team with pedigree!
The tables in the main dining room seat 40 and are covered in white linens. They also have room downstairs for another 20.
Our meal started with an amuse-bouche, a delectable single bite-sized hors d’œuvre consisting primarily of duck confit.
Our warmed and toasted bread came with a caramelized vegetable butter.
I decided on three appetizers. My first was one of their evening’s specials. A salmon tartare with salmon gravlax and avocado. It was perfectly seasoned. This was my favourite dish.
I followed with their salad of tender leaves, fried shallots, marinated vegetables, maple & lime vinaigrette. I was so craving a salad, which is how I ended up at three dishes. I wanted fresh. I wanted light and I wanted simple. Again, a perfectly executed dish.
To finish, I had their risotto with asparagus, over-night tomatoes, coffee mushrooms, pancetta, chervil & vegetable consommé. You guessed it, I was still looking for fresh, light and simple. I am a fan of ‘traditional’ risotto but this time I was really appreciating that it wasn’t heavily laden in cheese and richness. I typically pass on dessert when I eat out so this was the perfect ending. (Though I half expected to see Berthillon ice cream on the dessert menu!)
While I worked away on my starter salmon, the mister was collapsing to the temptation of their ‘famous’ frites and aïoli. I hate to bring the church into this but that aïoli was sinful. And I am sure they weren’t telling a lie when they describe their frites as being ‘famous’.
The mister then went to work on his main – a cassoulet with a leg of duck confit, pork belly, toulouse sausage and sprinkled with toasted crumbs. He said the meats were really nicely done, though he prefers the skin on his duck crisped. The mister’s benchmark for cassoulet is a restaurant we frequented in Paris called Le Dauphin on Rue Saint-Honoré, near Palais-Royal. Those cassoulets seemed like they had been smoldering their flavours together for days and days into that fine mellow blend of sauce and beans. By contrast, the mister’s beans on Friday night were fine enough but still a bit ‘young’.
The mister sipped on a Griffon Red ale while I enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc. And here is one of the highlights of the night. Our bill came to a squeak under $80, before tax and tip.
The service was particularly warm, friendly and knowledgeable. Vincent’s life partner and co-owner spoiled us with attention throughout the evening. She tends to all the details in the front of the house, while Vincent labours over the responsibility of being general manager.
The dining room was not as busy on this Friday night as I would have expected, considering that the calibre of this restaurant earned them one of the top ten spots. But Chef Mulder did say they were full for Saturday night and they are continually packed for the lunch service through the week. There are restaurants much younger than Bistro St-Jacques on Ottawa Magazine’s Top Ten List that already have quite the buzz in the foodie community. This place is no less deserving. I look forward to their winter menu, which will be coming out in the very near future.
Shawna confesses that putting Bistro St-Jacques on her list is a sentimental pick. Having already experienced eight of the other restaurants, I can say confidently that her pick is a worthy, solid choice. She closes her vignette by saying “it’s like being in France without the cost of the flight”. Maybe just a wee bit too high praise, but we really did like it.
51, rue St-Jacques
Mon to Fri: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Mon to Sat: 5 pm – 10 pm