Succulent seafood so fresh, I could hear the crash of waves …

As the winner of the Ottawa Fish Market Project Food Blog 2012 contest, I’m excited to share with you my first Blog entry of its three restaurants! I’ll be visiting the trio, including Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro, and Coasters Gourmet Grill. We start with The Fish Market!

BUT FIRST! Scroll down for a visual tour of the evening!


When you equate a crabcake to “une caresse au palais” –a caress to the palate– it can only mean one thing. Two things: you’re French. AND, you’re not sat at a bloody pub eating frisby-discs of flattened crushed-can crabmeat overpriced to compensate for the labour it takes to pack down and shape those things. (I know, because I’ve tried to make my own crabcakes at home and it takes longer than you’ll do to eat them).

It means you’re at a proper restaurant that knows seafood and takes care in preparing their food, starting with their appetizers. Like at The Fish Market in Ottawa…


I like to eat well. You probably do too. So why piss away your money at some place where you’re not comfortable? I like to feel good about my surroundings when I’m dining. That’s why it’s unfortunate that there is so much hoopla about what I call “tourist trap” restaurants—those glossy, chic places in the ByWard Market.

Tell me, would you be impressed with waiting too long to be acknowledged by a stylish waiter on a night they were none too busy? I wasn’t. Would you enjoy the lackluster face on the stacked waitress when you’re looking to enjoy a fun evening out with friends? I didn’t.

One of the reasons I entered the Fish Market, Coasters Gourmet Grill and Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro contest to become their Project Food Blogger 2012, aside from being a foodie, was because this long-running trio of restaurants excels where a couple of other popular ByWard Market restaurants failed me, in my opinion.

It’s obvious how Fish Market owner, Barbara Mireault, is deserving of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2011. Let’s put it this way: her dedication to service excellence shows among her attractive crew of managers and supervisor(s). And they serve superior seafood.

Here, it’s style and substance.


I’m sentimental about the Fish Market Restaurant. When my father used to come to town from Toronto to visit my sister and I, he’d take us here for seafood! At only eight years old, I knew my bream from my cod and my mollusks from my crustaceans. This was in part because of our frequent treks to the famous Lobster Trap in Toronto where people would line up around the street, waiting for a table.

I always chose crab. In my lifetime, it was second only to Crabby Bill’s at a roadside sit-down in Tampa Bay where my dad took us girls en route to Disneyworld. For $4.95, you sat with others at a picnic table across from the ocean and ate King Crab legs like Queens.

Being back at the Fish Market returned me to that home-like feel, which hasn’t changed a bit. It’s the wood. The nautical and marine theme, evidently. The candles. It’s that Barbara the Owner has been a part of the Fish Market when they had a location in Windsor! At 17, she started out as a waitress. Consistency, top-notch service and class in a relaxed setting, this Fish Market. It’s a perfect place for a long family dinner, a romantic meal, or flying solo as we saw one man seated next to us with a Corona, his meal and a Kindle. (I’m definitely going back to fly solo with some Cajun salmon, a Corona and a real book!)

For my purposes on a Tuesday night, it was a very welcome, cozy place to kick back with my manager, and my Ottawa and Montreal work colleagues. We work in communications (technology) for the federal government. We needed a place to regroup, relax and eat after relentless learning and networking at what was starting off as a week-long conference just down the road at the Convention Centre.


I wouldn’t be telling you about the service, ambience and how the positive memories endear me to the Fish Market if the food was rubbish. It was fresh. It was wonderful.

We started with bread baked especially for the restaurant with a humus spread and special oil dipping, seasoned with fennel and other herbs, which is Ms Barbara the Owner’s secret recipe. It works. With a glass of Pinot Grigio from California, recommended to us by André, the Supervisor, the night was off to a great start.

I was looking for something Californian because I had memories of San Francisco seafood on the brain, also. When I was there in September, I had ordered a wonderful fish dish for lunch at Boulette’s Larder at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and shared a full plate of crab on Pier 39 with some Ottawa friends. (Sorry Kate & Bob! It was delicious at the time, but you must try the Fish Market, on parallel with Toronto & Florida. You’ll have to come and see for yourselves!). So, how would the Fish Market in Ottawa compare?

Well, along with the wine and bread, we moved to a generous heap of Prince Edward Island mussels in a light-leek sauce and, of course—the famous crabcakes. The mussels were meaty, almost earthy tasting. As a mate suggested: “Might you have heard the crash of waves as you ate one, Sylvie?” Why yes: That fresh. I enjoyed a half-dozen PEI oysters, all by myself, and very much to my satisfaction. If you’re looking to enjoy fresh oysters in a more-relaxed setting than cramped, loud oyster bars, this is your place.

For the main, our team’s manager, Ms Kathryn, had one-dozen butterflied shrimp with fresh crabmeat stuffing full of fresh herbs and garlic bread crumbs. Ms Nancy took the shrimp and scallop entrée with red peppers, fine herbs and garlic butter. And, Ms Karen chose the Cajun salmon salad entrée for her main that was decorated in pear slices, dried cranberries and candied walnuts tossed in a house vinaigrette. I tried Nancy’s scallops, which were cooked beautifully, not a second too long in the pan. I found the coating on the breaded shrimp a bit fluffy, but then again, I take my shrimp cold or as nigiri. The ladies enjoyed their meals immensely, commenting on the freshness and the ideal size of portions. We felt our Atlantic-region colleague, a real Maritimer who was unable to make it down, would approve!

My main—surprise, surprise—was one and a half pounds of large Queen Crab Legs, steamed. The entrée came with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables glazed in a sweet sauce. My meal had much to live up to, given my expectations. When I cracked apart that crustacean, BEHOLD!—long, sweet, tender tubes of delicious, fresh crabmeat sprouted from broken legs ready to be pulled, and devoured, but only after a faint brush of drawn-butter dip. Mmmm! I was a half hour behind the rest of the ladies, cracking away, but I’m also known for taking forever at restaurants. No matter, more wine, and it all helped the girls make room for dessert!


By dessert time, we made room for the Dolce Vita Chocolate Cake, absolutely full of fudgy layers of dark chocolate and expresso mousse in a dark chocolate glaze. We also shared the wild raspberry cheesekcake where, true to the menu, pockets of blended raspberries really did peek—and seep—out of a creamy cheesecake, sitting on a two-tone crust. What I appreciated was the richness without the candy-bar sweetness you find in cheap desserts. Here, the chocolate icing reminded me very much of the artisan cakes I enjoyed at the roof-top café at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (If I’m not mistaken, there is a 2-for-1 offer for desserts on the Fish Market website. Indeed worth taking advantage of!)


Something funny happened the next night, after our meal. A treat for your mouth is how my Montreal colleague described the crabcakes. To her waiter at a hotel restaurant! Oh! Too tired to leave the hotel, but jonesing for Fish Market crabcakes, she decided to order some at the hotel restaurant. But this is kinda like going for a guy who kinda looks like your ex, thinking it’d kinda work, but it kinda doesn’t.

“How are your crabcakes, miss?” the waiter asked her. And so began my colleague’s polite, but wonderfully French-Canadian honest explanation and inevitable boasting of the delectable puffiness and lightly breaded bits of heaven we were treated to at the Fish Market. In short: “Don’t tell the chef!” she said.


Thank you to Barbara for making the time to stop by our table, and for André’s personable and professional service. I was also lucky to meet the very beautiful managers, Jaden and Ashley. Something tells me that you don’t need to be a contest winner to be treated like a prize here. Well worth the money for quality, and a very special night out.

Please join me here again at the end of November for Stop #2: Vineyards Wine Bar! On Friday, November 23rd, lead singer of punk rock band Fourstroke, will be my special dinner guest. We’ll be joined by local author, artist and musician Danniel Oickle and a few others! If you’re in the ByWard Market, why not drop in? Look for me and introduce yourself. I’d love that … along with a glass of Chilean red!

Fun Fact: when Platinum Blonde was in town recently, they chose to eat at the Fish Market then cozy on down to Vineyards for drinks. The restaurants are not unknown, I’m told, to celebrities!