Photo Credit: Le Saint-O website
Ottawa is full of fantastic restaurants. Granted, we do not have as many as Toronto or Montreal, we still do really well in our medium-sized city. There are names that are automatically associated with Ottawa - Beckta, Fraser, Play, Stella, Murray Street... the list goes on. One restaurant that stands out amongst these is not located downtown, nor is it located in an area that you would think it would do well in - the corner of St. Laurent and Hemlock near Manor Park (right opposite the Dairy Queen... yes you Ottawa people know which one I'm talking about!).
Specifying in traditional French cuisine, Le Saint-O has been around since 1990, and I've been going there with my family since around 2002. It has never failed to disappoint me and is one of the main reasons I am so interested in food and went to cooking school in the first place. It is run by Natasha and Phillipe, a husband and wife team - Natasha is the host and Phillipe the chef. Natasha always welcomes you with a smile and such genuine pleasure to have you at the restaurant that you know you will be treated well that evening.
The whole dining experience is as if I was transported to France for a fraction of the cost! The music, the ambiance, the French staff, the food, it's all perfectly put together. The decor isn't modern but it's cozy and intimate. As for the food? Don't expect any modern adaptations here. There are no fusions, no molecular gastronomy experiments, just straight forward, honest French cuisine. It's heightened versions of dishes I learned about in school, which of course involves cream cream cream, butter, more cream, reduced stocks and foie gras.
The last time I ate at Le Saint-O was for my 3rd anniversary with my honey, Ryan, on March 18. Before I go on, if you read the New Edinburgh News at all there is usually a coupon for 15% your meal on Tuesdays to Thursdays (I believe, check out the coupon to be sure). We both got the Table-D'Hote which, for between $34-40, you get either a soup or salad, main course, and dessert with tea or coffee. Pretty fantastic deal!
For the main course, while the salads are delicious, you must, and I say MUST go for the soup. It is their signature dish because it is two soups placed side-by-side. I wish I had a photo to share but alas at the time I didn't want to interrupt the other patron's meal with an obnoxious flash. I've had great combinations in the past, one in particular that stands out was the onion and raspberry soup. You would think that these two ingredients would not be a good pair, but my mind was changed as soon as I tried it! The soups that I had that evening were beet...... Mind blowing, as usual.
Ryan and I bought an extra appetizer of escargot with blue cheese, chardonnay, fig and honey crostini and chive oil bruschetta. Despite all the rich ingredients it did not leave us feeling heavy and regretting the meal to come. The blue cheese was subtle, and it gave the escargots a break from their typical garlic butter sauce. I could have use more of the fig and honey crostini, but I can be greedy! The chive oil bruschetta was light and fresh. The whole plate was devoured in 5 minutes.
Four our main course Ryan had their surf and turf which is a half leg of Mariposa Farm Duck Confit and Jumbo Black Tiger Prawn, with a Juniper Berry, Maple and Veal Stock sauce. We have both had duck confit in the past and are huge fans of this, but people, get thee to Saint-O immediately should you have a confit craving. It was the perfect level of both crispy outside, but juicy, fall of the bone meat on the inside. The shrimp was enormous and rich. Every dish comes accompanied with a veggie patty that seems to be mainly comprised of root vegetables, and it was just the right size so as not to be overwhelmed.
My dish (one of the specials) was cornish hen stuffed with veal and filled with... oh goodness, my memory is failing me! I remember it being scented with rosemary and thyme. This sounds rich, and it was, but there was just enough to feel comfortably full, not overwhelmingly so. The herbs were so fragant and didn't overpower the wonderful meat at all.
If you're going for the first time I highly recommend the sweetbreads. It is a signature appetizer and main course. Just make sure you don't load up on equally rich appetizers/mains as these little guys are very filling! I had to take some home in a doggy bag and instead of the regular styrofoam box I was presented with a tinfoil swan that contained the remainders of my meal.
For dessert I had their trio of creme brulees, again another signature of theirs. If I can remember correctly this time I had lychee, mango, and rum raisin. In past I have had basil and that one was fantastic. Never too sweet, perfect silky texture, and always a wonderfully thick burnt sugar topping that gives me great glee when I crack it with a spoon. Ryan had their house made ice cream, which had pistachio in it. There is nothing like home made ice cream!
This is a long and fan-girl like review, I realize. So let me break it down what you should have if you go to Le Saint-O for the first time:
Appetizer: The Soup Duo and, if you're a hungry hungry hippo, the sweetbreads as well
Main: Sweetbreads (if you haven't had them already as an appetizer), Surf 'n' Turf, or one of the Specials
Dessert: Trio of Creme Brulees
This is definitely a special occasion restaurant, even the lunches are indulgent with mains ranging from $11-$26. The wine selection is vast and if you have trouble picking just one, Natasha is full of knowledge and will point you in the right direction. Also, the bread basket is filled with warm rolls and to die for garlic bread - try not to eat the whole basket! As I've mentioned before, you need your hunger about you. I usually eat a very light lunch, or none at all, so that I can walk out without the feeling of having a food baby in my stomach.
The wait for food is well timed, the atmosphere cozy and unpretentious, and the service is consistently welcoming and knowledgeable. This is one of my favourite restaurants in Ottawa and I hope it could become one of your favourites as well.