aka: How to get treated like a food critic
I love food. It’s a big part of why I love travel. Every new city or town makes me feel like I’m on a treasure hunt to find the best food experience. Experience being key because when you are often eating alone, the “best food” in a stuffy, upscale restaurant doesn’t always make for the best experience.
I love the Byward Market and make a point of going there every time I’m in Ottawa. On my last trip to Ottawa, when I arrived at the Delta Downtown I was exhausted from the intense week of meetings, hotels and driving. The last thing I felt like doing was venturing into the damp, January night for dinner. Give me PJ’s and KD was more how I felt. I decided to go to the hotel’s restaurant, LIFT, instead. “Duck Confit Poutine” had caught my eye in the elevator, so it was worth a try.
Eating alone is something I’ve actually came to enjoy. If I’m feeling social, I’ll head to the bar, while other times I prefer to use the time alone to think and write. It’s likely no surprise I was feeling like the latter on this particular night.
I was seated at a table in what you might call the lounge, since the main restaurant was full – good sign! The menu was fantastically intriguing. I wanted everything on it. Chicken fried lobster, sausage and bannock, duck confit (either in a poutine or sans the heart attack), gnocchi. It was the most creative and most Canadian menu I’ve ever seen. After asking the server a thousand questions I went with arancini (fried rice balls) in a beet puree glaze, served with beets and chard. It arrived in a blaze of purple and was delicious. I ordered the chicken fried lobster for desert and enjoyed the potato and celery salad as much as the bitesize morsel of lobster.
I was tweeting and instragramming my dinner when the server approached. He explained to me the menu was only a week old and wondered if I had any feedback for the chef. I raved about my dinner and the menu. I thought it so refreshing, no exciting (I was excited!) to find a restaurant in a hotel serving such great, creative dishes! He thanked me, and I went back to my dinner, feeling like I’d lucked out with this spot.
Now, I should probably mention this whole time I was scribbling away furiously on a notepad, gathering my ideas for some upcoming speaking engagements. I had half a notepad by the time I was done, and as I sipped my beer (Beau’s Lugtread), I noticed the server and chef talking, while looking my way. Seconds later, the chef was at my table, introducing himself and asking about my dinner. I repeated what I’d told the server and praised the food and the concept, wished him good luck and thanked him for asking. This was like MasterChef, I thought! I’m telling everyone about this place!
The following day, I ate lunch again at LIFT before heading back home. My salad was a little disappointing and when I told them so, they offered to bring me two more tacos and gave me my coffee on the house. By this point, I was so impressed by their service it was starting to feel a little suspicious. The server, manager and again, the chef, all came by my table. Unfortunately, because I was so engrossed in a Tweetchat, I didn’t notice if they paid this type of attention to the other guests. Nonetheless, I certainly was not going to complain. Then it occurred to me. Do I look like a food writer? The notebook, dining alone, asking a thousand questions about the menu? I don’t know what a food critic does or how they go about their job reviewing restaurants but it would all make sense!
If that was the case, then I’m grateful for the fantastic experience and apologize to LIFT for unintentionally fooling you. In return though, I’ve written great reviews on TripAdvisor & YELP. If not, then I’m even more grateful. Good customer service is rare these days and for a weary traveler, it’s equivalent to the thrill of getting a first-class upgrade. Thank you and I can’t wait to return next time I’m in Ottawa!