July 21, 2024

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Taste the Home & Environment

Dining Out: Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge

Dining Out: Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge

Anabella’s is an ambitious effort by co-owners Jason Anbara, an Ottawa mortgage broker, and chef Ozzie Osman. The question for them is whether there’s value for money at Anabella’s price point.

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Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge
268 Preston St., 613-618-0868, anabellaskitchen.com
Open: Wednesday and Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to midnight, closed Sunday to Tuesday
Prices: small plates $21 to $33, mains $29 to $75, cocktails $20
Access: steps to front door and to washrooms

“Nothing but the best is good enough for me,” Frank Sinatra sang in the background as we pondered what to order at Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge.

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When we visited this month, we hoped for, if not the best meals of our lives, a top-notch dinner. Anabella’s opened last fall on Preston Street, where two six ate, a funky haunt for hip small plates, had been for more than a decade until it closed last July. Anabella’s strives to offer, and I’m quoting its press release here, “an exquisite selection of dishes that showcase the essence of Mediterranean cuisine.”

Of course, exquisiteness don’t come cheap, and Anabella’s prices include small plates that surpass $30, mains mostly above $40 and even $50, and a range of cocktails, all $20. We felt some sticker shock while Ol’ Blue Eyes was crooning, although to be fair, Anabella’s prices are in line with those of other high-end Preston Street restaurants, not to mention the prices for fine dining downtown.

Anabella’s is an ambitious effort by co-owners Jason Anbara, an Ottawa mortgage broker, and chef Ozzie Osman, with Adam Deline as its head chef. The question for them is whether there’s value for money at Anabella’s price point. As we used to say a decade ago about main courses that cost $40 or close to it, Anabella’s $50 short rib or $46 Fogo Island cod had better be perfect.

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Before any mains arrived, we enjoyed complimentary bread by True Loaf Bread Company and then several solid small plates. The seared yellowfin tuna with a sesame crust and whipped chili ($27) was a pretty plate that impressed with pleasing flavours and textures. Grilled lamb pops ($30) were properly cooked but less flavourful than the tuna, despite being grappa-infused and pistachio- and rosemary-crusted. So far, so good.

Anabella's Kitchen and Lounge

Mind you, other starters here seemed a little more casual, including arancini stuffed with mushrooms and parmesan (three for $21), braised veal-and-beef meatballs (three for $21), sausage-stuffed chicken wings with Calabrian chili hot-honey sauce ($24) and zucchini crisps with labneh and zaatar ($19). They might well have been very tasty, but we wanted as much exquisiteness as we could afford, not fancy chicken wings or fried zucchini.

Grilled lamb pops
Grilled lamb pops at Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge on Preston Street Photo by Peter Hum /POSTMEDIA

We tried three main courses, of which the best was the chicken Anabella ($41), an attractive but old-fashioned dish with a tasty brandy cream sauce and fondant potatoes. Milder but still appealing was the Fogo Island cod ($46), which swam in a coconut beurre blanc and came with more fondant potatoes and braised leeks.

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Chicken Anabella at Anabella's Kitchen and Lounge
Chicken Anabella at Anabella’s Kitchen and Lounge on Preston Street Photo by Peter Hum /POSTMEDIA

Anabella’s woos beef-eaters with a menu blurb stating that its beef is P.E.I.-raised, grass-fed, AAA blue-dot reserve. But no credentials could make up for the braised short rib being a little drier than a $51 short rib should have been. Perhaps better would have been a seven-ounce filet mignon or 16-ounce ribeye cooked to order. But their respective prices, $69 and $75, were a bit rich for us.

“I like to eat lobster directly from Maine,” Sinatra sang. I took my cue, ordering the lobster roll ($31) from Anabella’s list of small plates for myself, even if this Maritime staple struck me as odd on a Mediterranean menu, with just some Calabrian chili oil as its ostensible foothold for inclusion.

Fortunately, I did enjoy this meaty seafood treat with bits of green apple added for sweet-tart crunch and a tarragon lemon aioli that held everything together.

The black truffle Belgian fries ($22) ordered to pair with my lobster roll were our dinner’s marked dud, largely because they arrived nowhere near piping hot. We sent them back. A second batch, hotter and fresher, was an improvement, even if I didn’t get the indulgent, beefy satisfaction I wanted from the bone marrow aioli and beef-fat frying.

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Belgian fries at Anabella's Kitchen and Lounge on Preston Street
Belgian fries Photo by Peter Hum /POSTMEDIA

Anabella’s other mains included two pastas — a vodka rosé pasta with tomato sauce, cream, guanciale and mushrooms for $34 and gnocchi with brown butter, cream, pine nuts and shallots for $31, which would work for vegetarians. They may have been fine, but we craved greater culinary excitement rather than simpler, familiar comforts.

The menu’s vegan main course starred portobello mushrooms with a peppercorn sauce, fondant potatoes and veg ($29). That’s a plate that my vegan foodie friends would likely call a little dull.

We were too full for the tiramisu or berry cake mentioned as desserts. If the options were more exciting, we might have forced ourselves.

A cocktail that blended mezcal with lychee liqueur, chartreuse, blue curacao and lemon juice, was good. Our server, who made the cocktail, was attentive and he set the right classy vibe when he interacted with us. The selection of wines by the glass was limited.

We did appreciate the makeover that transformed the more woody, working-class vibe of two six ate into the black-tableclothed dining area surrounded by updated walls and a snazzy ceiling. I didn’t investigate the renovated upstairs space, but general manager Edward Puertas told me it has a more lounge-y feel with banquettes and chaises, and that on weekends, DJs fill the space, which is also available for private parties, with chill music. Between them, the two floors hold almost 60 people.

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Several upscale Mediterranean-inspired restaurants launched last year in Ottawa, including not just Anabella’s but also Alora, which opened in the ByWard Market, and Med Supper Club, which opened last fall in Lansdowne Park. Of the three, Anabella’s is the cosiest and least lavish. Our visit left me thinking that it shows considerable promise, but also that it needs to be less uneven and more exquisite, given what it costs to eat there.

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