Dining Out: Dhruvees offers welcome upscale spin on South Asian dishes – by Peter Hum
The Beechwood Avenue restaurant is the vision made real of Ottawa-based, India-born entrepreneur Donald Wingell, who worked for years as a manager at deluxe hotels in Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and Singapore.
18 Beechwood Ave., 613-744-7888, dhruvees.com
Open: Tuesday to Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Monday
Prices: main courses between $20 and $32
Access: steps and ramp to front door
There are two kinds of people in the world. First, there are those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty while ripping off the shells of cooked crustaceans so as to feast on their sweet, toothsome flesh, even if it means appearing embarrassingly primal in front of your sophisticated dining companions. Then there are those who would rather not.
Diners from both camps should be happy at Dhruvees, which opened in early February in New Edinburgh.
The curated selection of vibrant and well-crafted dishes that I’ve tried there proudly represent not just India from its north to its south, but also Indonesia and Sri Lanka, from which comes an intensely gravied, but potentially messy delicacy at Dhruvees called Sri Lankan pepper crab ($32).
It’s a dish that justifies wearing a bib. This week, our smiling, on-point server proactively handed out some disposable plastic shirt-shields, which, due to us being in Canada rather than Sri Lanka, had lobsters on them.
Two of us tied up our bibs, and two said no thanks to them and to the crab.
It was their loss. But it was well-mitigated by lamb rendang ($26), an Indonesian preparation in which fall-apart tender chunks of meat sat in their own brown and remarkable gravy that induced swooning with its play of spices and savoury depth, while prawn crackers, sambal and rice completed the offering.
That’s not to mention the milder pleasures of minced chicken sheekh kebabs ($24) and deep-fried Sri Lankan fish cutlets ($24), both accompanied by house-made condiments (mint and tamarind chutneys, fiery sambals) that by turns soothed or jolted our taste buds.
The only dish that I quibbled with was the salmon tikka ($24), which I thought had emerged from Dhruvees’s tandoor oven drier than I would have liked. But the salmon fan at our table had no complaints.
Dhruvees is the vision made real of Ottawa-based, India-born entrepreneur Donald Wingell, who worked for years as a manager at deluxe hotels in Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and Singapore.
Wingell’s background and postings explain the eclectic menu, the participation of chef Patrick Braggs, who has come to Ottawa from Mumbai, and the ambience of Dhruvees, which feels newer, brighter and more upscale than most Ottawa restaurants where similar dishes are served.
Indeed, Dhruvees inhabits what was formerly Jaspers Sports Bar, and the new tenant has banished the sports-bar vibe with a wealth of evocative, energetic abstract paintings that Wingell commissioned and a bar that now features teas from the Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, a Sri Lankan brand for which Dhruvees is the exclusive Canadian importer.
When I spoke to Wingell before his restaurant opened, he said Dhruvees would offer “casual dining with a very high-end product … Whatever I give has to be authentic, it has to be the real stuff.”
That would go especially for the Dilmah teas and also for the Sri Lankan Jaffna crabs that Wingell says he brings in from Sri Lanka, via Toronto. It may well be that crabs native to waters closer to Canada would be more meaty than their imported cousins. Still, there was no denying the heady deliciousness of crab juices sucked from the South Asian animal’s appendages or the next-day treat of the leftover crab gravy that I brought home.
Earlier this year, I made two solo trips at Dhruvees, when its introductory menu was in effect. During my first visit, I enjoyed lamb biryani ($26), a potently seasoned, but balanced and superior version of that sustaining rice dish, which came with a bowl of cooling raita and a bonus gravy. Lamb biryani is no longer on the menu, but goat, chicken and shrimp biryani are, as well as vegetable pulao rice.
Returning, I had chicken malai tikka ($24), another mellow-flavoured winner, which came, as do all of Dhruvees’s tandoor-cooked dishes, with wee roasted potatoes and a slaw-like salad. It left me enough room for a bowl of warm carrot halwa ($6) that provided a properly sweet, rich finish.
Dhruvees is licensed so that it can offer a few basic wines by the glass ($8-$12), by the bottle ($30-$46) and to go, as well as some beers on tap ($8.50 for 20 ounces) or in cans ($7-$9).
After speaking to Wingell this week, I think of Dhruvees as a work in progress moving in the right direction.
He told me his restaurant has introduced a kid’s menu with milder fare for younger palates. Cocktails and spirits are debuting this week, with a few high-end single malts on the list because “that is exactly what goes well with the cuisine,” Wingell says. He looks forward to launching weekend brunches, a lunch buffet and patio dining overlooking Beechwood Avenue.
In all, Wingell seems to have his eyes clearly focused on how some special dishes from the other side of the world can be prepared and hospitably served, maintaining their essential natures but for one notable exception that nods to Canadian proclivities.
“We don’t give bibs in Sri Lanka,” he says.