EAT: Pelican Grill @ Ottawa

I wrote this back in October… and promptly forgot to publish it…. sorry…

One of my most favourite memories as a child is eating at seaside restaurants on some island back home in Hong Kong. Fisherman would bring in the catch in the morning, and the restaurants would display their catch in giant tanks. Our extended family would point at our choices, and minutes later we would have a pretty awesome meal with some seafood that was just in culinary purgatory moments ago.

Being nowhere close to the sea, Ottawa oddly has certainly got its fair share of restaurants cum fish markets. There are a few I can think of: Merivale Fish Market is one great example, with a fresh fish section attached to a family restaurant. The Whalesbone on Bank doesn’t have a fish market on site, but its supply location close by on Kent so it certainly qualifies in the category. I’ve been to the Pelican Grill several times, and it’s become my favourite fish joint in the city.

Our first visit was done almost on a whim, playing “Urbanspoon Roulette” and landing at the Pelican entirely by chance. What struck me about the Pelican (over time) is its consistent execution of its product time and time again, but it never seems to get old. The Pelican is a pretty casual joint, with the waiters always as cheery as its open and bright dining room. The fish always tastes fresh (as it should, since the fish market is literally on the other side of the dining room partition), and the execution is pretty quality time and time again. Oh, and there’s consistently a crowd, so same-day reservations are few and far between.

Our visits always start with a basket of warm multi-grain rolls, which tends to be a bad thing not because the bread isn’t delicious enough, but because they will refill the basket if you ask, and that’s just asking for trouble.

The ceviche (Pictured. Yay!), if available, is a great lighter option to their regular appetizer menu. The variant I had was made with snapper, and tossed with tomatoes, pea sprouts, cilantro, red onions, and a healthy portion of lemon juice. It’s fresh, light, and is delicious with their homemade chips. Their forte, however, is more skewed in favour of the “fryalator arts”, with their fried smelts as my personal favourite appy on the menu (Not pictured. Sorry). The smelts are lightly battered and flash fried to gain a crispy outer layer and sweet-and-tender texture on the inside. The tiny little fishies are a great sharable plate and a non-threatening introduction into tiny fish consumption. Just give the fish a dunk in the accompanying spicy mayo and consume from head to tail.

The fish and chips is consistently great, and at $16 for the haddock (and $19 for the halibut), is priced right for its execution. Continuing their strengths in the the fryalator department, the exterior of the fish is crispy without being overly oily, and the haddock (pictured) is steamy and flakey. They even keep the fries separate from the fish in its own separate container, which prevents either from becoming a soggy mess upon arrival.

Shifting from foods that came out of the deep fryer, my companion decided to choose the lighter special of the evening and got the a bowl of mussels and shrimps with vermicelli. It was a simple dish, with a clean consomme, and it was a good example of seafood done right that doesn’t require hot oil to produce.

With The Pelican being a full time fish monger as well as a full time restaurant, the place can get packed with people during the early dinner rush, so don’t be shy to push through the crowds at the fish shop to get to the restaurant.

The Pelican
Cusine: Seafood
1500 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario
(613) 526-5229
Pelican Fishery & Grill on Urbanspoon

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