The area on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton between 108 and 109 Street is quickly becoming an interesting dining destination. Ousia, a Mediterranean inspired chic little joint joins a Vietnamese pho place, a Cuban café and a couple of Lebanese restaurants all in the span of one block. Ousia though, is the most chic of the bunch and although the word, Ousia, is Greek for essence, the menu is far from any other Greek menu you’ve probably seen.
First impressions were very good on entering Ousia: warm, dark, intimate and classy. The owners took their time and money on designing a very inviting spot.
The menu too was impressive – not for length, for simplicity. Sometimes less options are better. Cocktails are creative; the tamarind Margarita, although a bit sweet after a while was refreshingly different and delicious.
House made breads and a Turkish dip are placed on the table to nibble while deciding on what to have. A nice touch.
We started with the ouzo cured gravlax and the patatas bravas. If you’ve been to Spain, you’ll have seen and tasted your fair share of the latter and these at Ousia rival any I had in Spain. Hot, crispy on the outside, perfectly cooked and served with a sundried tomato puree and spicy chili aioli. You’ll be tempted to order a second helping.
If you like ouzo, you’ll like the gravlax; the liqueur is definitely front and centre in this dish but that could also be its downfall overshadowing the delicate flavour of the salmon. The plating was artistic and the lemon gelee was a great touch. Not sure about the beets though; their flavour, like the ouzo was a bit aggressive.
The shrimp ceviche was a hit. At first we thought four taro chips wouldn’t be enough to scoop the shrimp, lime and avocado mixture, but it worked just fine and the chips were the perfect vehicle to bring those tasty morsels to mouth.
We were off to a good start. The appetizers, overall, were nicely done. On to the mains:
The special of the night was pan-seared duck breast with kumquat cherry compote. All the flavours were there but the duck breast was chewy. Presentation-wise, it wasn’t sitting too pretty on the plate either. We eat with our eyes first, right?
Braised lamb shank: Served in a big bowl was one heck of a big shank. For $32 I got a lot of bone and a little meat that was hard to get at in such a deep bowl, but the meat that was there was braised nicely and the chorizo tomato stew surrounding the perfectly cooked polenta square was delicious.
The most soulful of the lot was the wild mushroom, truffle-drizzled mascarpone risotto. A hearty risotto that was ultra creamy, this would be a great dish for two people to share as a side being that the entrees are protein-focused and light on the accompaniments.
Two dishes that failed completely: the veal afelia — over-peppered small thin slices of veal had this dish returning to the kitchen after two bites. It was replaced with an over-salted, over-cooked chicken kebab dish that also went back. The server took the charge off our bill and apologized profusely saying that the chef agreed with our concerns. It takes a lot for me to return a dish.
The desserts, thankfully, brought us back into a happy place. The flourless espresso chocolate cake was spectacular. Fudgy, smooth and dense…this would be perfect with a glass of port. And the mascarpone cheesecake with brandy cherry compote held just the right combination of creaminess and tartness. Ousia’s desserts were a hit.
Service was very good, if a little fast at first and despite the server having to run to the kitchen to ask what certain words meant and what ingredients were. She certainly had enthusiasm and put the effort in.
Overall, Ousia holds promise. The ambiance scores high, as do the appetizers and desserts. The entrees were disappointing but those issues should be easily fixed and with that in mind, this restaurant will be a nice addition to the Edmonton dining scene.
My CBC restaurant review of Ousia can be heard here