Recently I learned about a fantastic Italian Wine & Food Festival that's happening in Ottawa from September 14-20 -- it's called La Vendemmia which means "grape harvest" in Italian. This event is in its 13th year and it celebrates Italian wine and food with tastings, seminars, dinners, cooking demos and a charity grape stomp.So if you're looking for a post-labour day excuse to eat some scrumptious food and soak up some Italian culture, then head on down to Preston Street!
I was lucky enough to tag along with Sean Moher of Groovy Grapes who is organizing La Vendemmia. During my visit, I gained some valuable insight into the culinary scene on Preston Street and found out what some restaurants are planning for the festival.
If you haven't already noticed, Preston Street is undergoing a massive revitalization. It's a $30 million facelift that will totally transform both structural and cosmetic aspects of Ottawa's "Corso Italia". Complete with cobblestone piazzas, custom artwork and "greenification", this renovation is sure to breathe new life into one of Ottawa's most vital culinary areas.
While walking down the dusty, fence-framed street, I wondered if people would still come out to the festival during this renovation phase. Slowly but surely my fears were calmed as I noticed the friendly, welcoming nature of business owners and chefs in the area, who are all looking forward to seeing the crowds come out for La Vendemmia. Yes, they are still open, and not just for the festival. Little Italy is still alive and well.
We had lunch at Trattoria Caffe Italia . It seemed to me a typical Italian-American restaurant, complete with red and white checked table cloths, faux grapes hanging from the ceiling, and the complimentary offer of "Parmesan" cheese to garnish any dish. I had the "Pasta Salad of the Day" which wasn't actually too bad -- standard tri-colour rigatoni, but with lovely olive oil, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, olives and artichokes. The portion size was quite good and overall it was enjoyable, but nothing life-changing.
We then headed to Big Easy's Seafood and Steak House, where Sean got the goods on what Chef Darrin Bruck will be serving during La Vendemmia -- watch out for that on Youtube, there will be a series of interviews about the festival and what you can expect. I haven't yet had the opportunity to dine at Big Easy's, but if their Chef is as talented as he is charming, I'll definitely be making a reservation sometime soon.
So come on out and "mangia", get into the "vino" and get a taste of Ottawa's Little Italy. You'll be glad you braved the construction! Maybe I'll see you there!