18 May 2018 Posted By : Peter Hum

Satisfaction from Ottawa fast-casual restaurants that specialize in bowl-based dishes

The Bowl
83 Holland Ave., 613-729-5454, thebowlottawa.ca
Open: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. 7 p.m., Saturday noon to 7 p.m., closed Sunday

Mad Radish
859 Bank St. and 116 Albert St., madradish.com
Open: Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Bank Street); Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Saturday and Sunday (Albert Street)

Paradise Poké
134 Bank St., 613-518-4432, paradisepoke.ca
Open: Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday 

Raw Pulp + Grind
440 Preston St., 613-569-7291, rawpulpandgrind.com
307 Richmond Rd., 613-798-7292, rawpulpandgrind.com
Open: Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Preston Street) or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Richmond Road), Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

When I learned that a new restaurant in town was boasting on its website about serving just “one (really, really tasty) dish,” my first thought was, “Excellent! This will yield the shortest column I’ll ever write.”

Well, I’ve conquered my laziness and below is a recap of my visits to not one, but four, Ottawa fast casual restaurants that specialize in turning out quick, healthy, vegetable- and grain-forward bowl-based dishes for customers who are in a rush, but want something other than a burger or a shawarma to fill themselves up. 

It feels as if eateries such as The Bowl, Mad Radish, Raw Pulp + Grind and Paradise Poké are on the rise, even if they are at one end of the restaurant spectrum, opposed to the meatier or more luxurious, relax-and-stay-awhile places that get more press. By comparison, the bowl-based eateries definitely involve more assembling than cooking, but the flip-side of that there can also be much more customization of a bowl’s contents in keeping with a guest’s likes and dislikes. 

The above eateries mostly focus on feeding nearby workers at lunch time or selling them snacks before and after. Just one of the businesses, Mad Radish in the Glebe, is open beyond 7 p.m. In addition to stressing the healthfulness of their food, most of the businesses tout their eco-friendly bona fides with compostable bowls and the like.

At The Bowl, a tiny eatery on Holland Avenue, the business is built around a bowl of brown rice, beans, salsa, sour cream, cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, avocado, cilantro, topped with crispy chickpeas. The vegetarian dish can be made vegan if extra avocado is substituted for the cheese and sour cream. Holding the dish together is what The Bowl calls KiKi sauce, which is a spiced, citrus-y tahini-like sauce.

The bowl (brown rice, beans, salsa, sour cream, cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, avocado, cilantro, and topped with house roasted crispy chickpeas, with kiki sauce (lemon tahini) at The Bowl Postmedia

The Bowl’s bowl ($8.50) was surprisingly dense and filling, its rice and beans were pleasantly warm, its sauce did indeed liven up the other fine ingredients and the house-roasted chickpeas were a special crunchy treat. Also served at The Bowl are drinks including locally fermented Buchipop kombucha ($4), and a chocolate brownie ($3) that was made with avocado and black beans, but not make us believers in those substitutions.

At Ottawa’s two Raw Pulp + Grind locations, which also serve juices, smoothies, parfaits, coffees and teas and more, the “power” bowls ($11 each), are pre-made and kept cool for grab-and-go customers. Both a Thai Noodle bowl, which topped rice noodles with assorted crisp veg, cilantro and a peanut/miso dressing, and a bowl of quinoa enlivened by sweet potato sticks, black beans, edamame, beets, kale, and pumpkin seeds with a lemon tahini dressing, were enjoyable and fortifying, even if they were chilled rather than warm. 

Thai Noodle Bowl at Raw Pulp + Grind Postmedia

Quinoa power bowl at Raw Pulp + Grind Postmedia

On the sweeter side, Raw Pulp + Grind serves açai bowls that layer fruits, granola, nut milks and more over blended açai berry pulp, and has more of them listed on the wall than it does savoury choices. Having made their way to Ottawa via Brazil, Hawaii and other trendy, health-conscious locations, açai bowls combine the appeal of superfood-based nutrition with the feeling that you’re eating dessert. Given how much I liked Raw’s “Black Beauty” acai bowl ($11), whose most notable ingredient was activated charcoal, I’ll likely pop for açai-based treats as impulse purchases when I pass by the store in the future.  

“Black Beauty” acai bowl at Raw Pulp + Grind Postmedia

At Ottawa’s Mad Radish locations, both opened last summer, most of the menu consists of salads in bowls. However, we opted to try two of three warm and somewhat less leafy bowls. The forager ($13), in which toothsome marinated mushrooms were the star, appealed more than the the chicken-based bowl. While the latter’s meat had been sourced from the Quebec-based organic producer Ferme des Voltigeurs, it had been overcooked before it made from the assembly line into our bowl. Also, something about this bowl induced palate fatigue more quickly than the bowls I tried elsewhere.

Fired-up Chicken and Forager bowls at Mad Radish Postmedia

On the plus side, Mad Radish’s dark chocolate brownie ($2) delivered the indulgent goods that its counterpart at The Bowl lacked.

Finally, at Paradise Poké, the heavily Asian-influenced, savoury bowls (they also make two açai bowls) were well and quickly made.

In Hawaii, poké is more likely to be a salad heavy on the raw fish, assertively dressed and seasoned. In North America, the fish can get downplayed in what passes for poké, and at Paradise Poké, while there’s sufficient raw tuna or salmon in their bowls ($13.95), they also teem with foundations of warm sushi or brown rice, cucumbers, sesame seeds, edamame, purple cabbage, assorted house-made sauces, fried shallots, pickled daikon and more. 

Tuna poke bowl and hibiscus tea at Paradise Poke Postmedia

Chicken bowl at Paradise Poke Postmedia

Not a member of Team Raw Fish? There are both signature and custom-made bowls that feature chicken, tofu or beets. Given my chicken-based bowl at Mad Radish I had low hopes of something similar at Paradise Poké, but the chicken-based bowl was surprisingly good, blessed with meat that was moist and not merely dry, but sauced.

Another nice touch at Paradise Poké was the house-made hibiscus iced tea ($2.95) beside the cash. 

In my admittedly hardly definitive or exhaustive tour of Ottawa bowl’s eateries, it was Paradise Poké that most bowled me over.

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