Opened in October on Wellington Street West east of Island Park Drive, this new restaurant revels in sophisticated, precise creations.
Published on: November 15, 2017 | Last Updated: November 15, 2017 11:36 AM EST
1356 Wellington St. W., 613-722-6555, stofarestaurant.com
Open: Tuesday to Saturday: 5:30 to 9:45 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday
Prices: starters $13 to $20, mains $25 to $35
Access: steps to front door, washrooms upstairs
At Stofa, which opened in early October on Wellington Street West, the name is Nordic, even if the food is markedly less so.
That’s a discrepancy that can be easily overlooked, though, given the refined pleasures of chef-owner Jason Sawision’s best dishes. He can roam all over the culinary map as much as he wants if it means we get to indulge in Stofa’s sublime seafood tower with Korean accents, or its pork loin main course that unites spaetzle, jalapeño and tamarind, or its impeccable passionfruit soufflé.
With the food at Stofa, what stands out are the finesse and imagination that the kitchen brings to its eclectic embrace of ingredients and influences. The levels here of craft and thoughtfulness are high, and that’s as you would expect from Sawision, given that he worked for six years at Atelier, the cutting-edge Rochester Street restaurant that’s as avant-garde and acclaimed as any other in Ottawa.
The starters, mains and desserts on Sawision’s concise menu are not quite as provocative or groundbreaking as the esoteric creations on Atelier chef Marc Lepine’s 12-course tasting menus. But even if Sawision’s restaurant is more conventional, there are still fresh, technical flourishes, luxuries and, above all, quality, to set it apart from the pack and justify the splurging that can be involved.
When I ate at Stofa last weekend, after our exemplary complimentary bread with artichoke dip quickly disappeared, we checked our wallets and then began with the two-tier seafood tower ($84). Packed with pristine raw and faultlessly prepared items, it was generous enough to serve as an grand appetizer for four of us. Among the tried and true (oysters with mignonette, plump just-cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce, tiny battered calamari with gochujang mayo) and somewhat less common (roe-topped potted trout, lightly pickled mussels escabeche, tuna gravlax, mellow scallop ceviche with passionfruit and wee lobster sliders), it was impossible to pick a favourite. In between the sophisticated bites, edamame-topped kimchi, spicy rice-cracker ribbons and pickled daikon reset our palates nicely.
Much more minimalist, but still potent, was Stofa’s elegant foie gras appetizer ($20), a pretty composition that presented slabs of seared and en torchon liver with crisp waffles for scooping, some chicory crumble and the precise tang of sour cherries and kumquat confit
Of four mains, I liked most the meatiest and most accessorized ones. Deeply flavoured, juicy chunks of bison hanger steak ($32) came with a well-calibrated gin jus, an oblong of bread pudding, sunchokes and, just in case a diner felt more protein was in order, a cabbage roll stuffed with braised beef.
Moist pork loin ($29) came on a multicultural plate fully loaded with cheddar spaetzle, sharp, pickled jalapeños, corn purée and droplets of tamarind gel. A surprising, unadvertised deep-fried component turned out to be a croquette of confit pork that was one of the plate’s best items.
A more straightforward dish, but still very satisfying, was a bowl of sizeable, toothsome duck confit and buffalo ricotta ravioli ($26) served over beluga lentils with smoked duck breast and sauced with a rich porcini sauce.
The only main that left me with questions featured halibut ($35) that had been cooked sous-vide in seasoned coconut milk. I was certainly fine with the dish’s flavours, and with its lemongrass broth poured table-side and its buckwheat porridge. But I think I have a bias for the old-school texture of pan-seared, flaky halibut over the softer example that Stofa serves.
For dessert, there was that show-stopping passionfruit soufflé ($14), cooked to order and therefore ordered along with our mains, served with mysterious tonka bean ice cream and caramelized white chocolate on the side. Sour cream cake ($12) didn’t wow on its own, but eaten in concert with delicious poached pineapple, soft, salty meringue, tart apricot-licorice sorbet and brown butter powder, it made complete sense and a much bigger impression.
The dining room here, which seats about 50, has received a crisp makeover from the days when an Afro-Caribbean restaurant last called the address home. Now, the long brick wall is off-white and the comfy seats and banquettes are vibrant blue or black. Along the back wall is a cosy bar and a large window onto the kitchen. Decorated sparsely with a few paintings, and populated with efficient, black-clad servers, the room has a very neutral, essentialist vibe. It was the hubbub of a full room’s conversation that helped the restaurant live up to its name (Stofa is old Norse for “hearth” and is meant to symbolize a comfortable gathering place.)
When Sawision spoke to the Citizen last month, he referred to his cooking as “my own little cuisine.” The food at Stofa is already a bigger deal than that, and it should be an ongoing pleasure to see how the 35-year-old chef further develops his vision under his own roof.