[Review: Sidedoor]

Chef Jonathan Korecki of Sidedoor throws down on season two of Top Chef Canada on Monday nights.

He’s the one with the bandana and glasses. A former student of superstar Toronto chef Susur Lee, he came to Sidedoor from a sous chef position at Ottawa’s restaurant E18teen.

With his picture in mind, I head over to one-year-old Sidedoor, aptly named because it’s owned by the same people heading neighbouring Social and E18hteen.

Sidedoor’s menu incorporates spicy cuisines from around the world, but Asian fusion takes precedence.

However, I’m operating on my knowledge of Sidedoor’s lunch menu and fading memories of dinner there last fall when I arrive – the dinner menu on their website is perpetually down.

A barely audible hostess shows me to a table with a bird’s eye view and giant, squishy chairs. I’m where the DJ booth used to be when Sidedoor’s location was incarnated as restaurant come nightclub Foundation.

Here are the bones of Foundation, tastefully gussied up to suit the hip Asian fusion fare, à-la David Chang’s Momofuku, now occupying centre stage here at 20 York St.

By night the modern dining room is princess cut, sparkling with mirrors at all angles and sliced into descending layers of seating – restaurant, lounge and bar.

Mirrors are grounded by creamy, matte thatched wallpaper and simply bold accents. There are the three tremendous, bursting peonies in poppy red, orange and cream commanding an exposed stone wall. There are the chandeliers made of empty, long-necked transparent bottles with a fluid antique glass look to them.

Of course there aren’t any tablecloths. Roomy wooden tables are set with square white plates, shellacked black chopsticks, spotty forks and Asian condiments. Food arrives on tableware that’s mismatched in an haute sort of way.

The server takes his time bringing the menu.

Two ends of the earth pitch to one another on a single sheet of sharing plates. The Asian element of the menu is a rugged trek across Southeast Asia; however, there are no recognizably Indian flavours.

Nine dollar saucer-sized tacos get their own section. They come two per plate.

Chinkiang pork leaves nothing to be desired. The vehicle, a masa tortilla, shuns pastiness with a nice chew. Sweet, moist pulled pork and creamy avocado harmonize with the acid tang of pickled jalapeño and crunchy Acadian chow chow.

The smoky red chili in the Thai-style beef Pandaeng curry is attenuated. An aroma of roasted peanuts and palm sugar hangs over the three large chunks of perfectly braised beef shoulder draped in a red-flecked umber sauce smoothed with coconut milk.

The rounded caramel and butterscotch notes of palm sugar lap, but it’s earthy coriander root and turmeric that stay long on the palate. The nuanced flavour hints that the curry paste is hand-made in a mortar and pestle. I can’t help but wish for twice as much of this sauce as I plow through the generous portion of meat.

Next up is delightful Peking-style chicken, which may be the best chicken dish I have ever been served in a restaurant.

The knowledgeable server says it’s cooked at a very low temperature for three days, heavily basted and finally deep fried to get the skin so crispy it’s brittle.

The silky deboned leg is sliced for sharing and topped with a punchy blanched ginger and scallion gremolata.

The glassy, salty-sweet broken scallion vinaigrette pooled around the meat has just a suggestion of heat from a few slivers of Thai red chili and some ginger juice. The confetti of scallions and garlic chives adorning the vinaigrette throws back to the gremolata.

A side of sugar snap peas with miso and parmesan is a lovely accompaniment to the chicken. The sharpness of the parmesan is mellowed by a puree of sweet and salty light miso, butter and caramelized shallots.

From the seafood section of the menu comes the disappointing broiled black cod with bib lettuce and house pickles, meant to be eaten as a roll-up.

For $16 I’m served a tiny portion of tail scraps heavy on the soy sauce, a pile of lettuce, Thai basil, carrot, lemon, beet and ginger pickles and a horseradish-kicked mayo called Tasty Sauce that a server encourages me to use with abandon. The flavours just don’t work. Neither does the presentation, which appears to centre on the principle of plopping.

Cue the server with a coffee refill – done with an industrial-looking steel coffee pot from the kitchen!

With such sky high prices, I expect the finer points to be more polished.

A house specialty, dainty mini doughnuts are recommended for dessert.

The menu says the doughnut sharing platter comes with six fried-to-order treats, but it actually comes with seven. There are two cinnamon and sugar, two white chocolate and cranberry, two Olivia dark chocolate and one chef’s surprise.

Lucent, dredged cinnamon sugar leans toward the caramel notes of raw sugar more so than the aromatic zip of cinnamon.

Made-to-order warmth works well for winsome white chocolate and cranberry; the texture of the chocolate is extra milky and buttery. Tart crimson cranberries are the perfect complement.

Olivia dark chocolate is dipped in its namesake, a fruity local chocolate reminiscent of plums and cherries.

The chef’s doughnut is dipped in the same dark chocolate. Its key lime crème anglaise filling is smooth, but low seasoning mutes the complexities of the citrus. The streusel topping is unsuccessful, tasting mostly of raw flour.

All of the doughnuts are a bit too chewy, but on balance I like them.

I like most things about Sidedoor, except for the price.

Sidedoor
20 York St., Ottawa
613-562-9331
Small plates $9-$29

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