Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Toast To My Hometown's Better Eateries - el Camino


It's been a very long while since I've written about Ottawa's restaurants, and it isn't because I haven't been to any, I just didn't feel like having to keep track of the experience. But recently I've been so damn impressed by a certain place lately that I have to sing a few of its praises. It's no secret that the world of food is trend-based, which has its pros and cons, but as trends go, the hot new sh** for the past couple of years or so is/are/has been tacos. I, for one, could not be more pleased. What's easier and more fun to eat than a taco? They're tasty, messy goodness and allow for all kinds of creativity.

The taco craze came around our fair city a few years ago with a little shack called Tacolot. I was excited and tried their fare, but it didn't wow me the way I expected (and hoped) it would. But luckily they didn't remain the only game in town. Soon after, Sidedoor opened in the Market to great fanfare. Again, though, while quite good, it didn't quite wow me (although from the reviews I've read, I'm in the minority).

Cue Spring of 2013. Located at the corner of Elgin St. and Gladstone Ave. is a complex of storefronts that have gone through more incarnations of hair salons, nightclubs and restaurants than I've had new socks. But one staple for over 20 years was a little shop called Marroush who pretty much were the kings of shawarma in Ottawa. Sadly, for reasons I don't know, it shut its doors last year. Happily, in stepped Chef Matthew Carmichael with a walk-up/take-out window selling tacos starting at 4 bucks a piece. I first gave it a shot back in October of last year. I chose the Ox Tongue and the Pork. I enjoyed both, but the ox-tongue had a bit too strong of a charred and bitter flavour to make it AMAZING, but definitely interesting. The pork, however, was dead on; good and spicy and rich!

Next to the window is the sit-down/eat-in restaurant which I got to check out this past June and it was that visit that inspired to bring back the "Toast To My Hometown" segment. I originally figured I was just going to grab a couple of tacos and eat them in the nearby park. But then I figured "why not?" and waited a few minutes for a seat at the bar. I knew I wanted a taco to get the show on the road, but there was more on the menu than just tacos and one item that drew my attention was the Chilaquiles, which I will describe later.

Quick rundown on the atmosphere: it was really cool and easygoing, with a shared bar so I wound up sitting next to a couple; luckily I'm good at minding my business, and the food was my main focus anyway. So let's get to the meal! 

I started with the Lamb Taco, mainly because I hadn't yet tried it and it was something new and different. All I can say is WOW! FREAKIN' WOW! SOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOD!!!!!! It was a beautiful marriage of salty and spicy and rich, with a light gaminess (not too "lamby") with great little pockets of fat (this is a very very good thing); the whole affair was topped with avocado, radish, pickled jalapeno, cilantro and a lime wedge which just completed the whole deal. Honestly, this is pretty much the best taco I can ever remember having (except maybe my Fried Chicken Taco).

Lamb Taco - 10 out of 10

Next up was Chilaquiles, which were basically nachos on steroids with a distinctly breakfast-y slant. It was served in a stainless steel bowl, invoking a "bachelor chic" vibe that I enjoyed; it suited the dish well. So what went into the Chilaquiles? It was a bonanza of tortilla chips loaded for bear with spicy pulled pork, salsa verde, pickled jalapenos, fried eggs and delicious queso (cheese), which really tied it all together, topped with a subtle herby bitterness from curry leaves.

Chilaquiles - 8 out of 10

All in all, the Chilaquiles were super-awesome, but it was really hard to follow that Lamb Taco. Mmmmmm... Lamb Taco...
So, that's just a sampling of some of the tasty tasty goodness on tap at el Camino. Go. Now.