Aperitivo: Ottawa’s best-kept gluten-free secret

I have to admit that Kanata’s Aperitivo has become my guilty pleasure, and where I stop for a quick bite or plan an evening outing to every chance I get. I happened upon this intimate and unassuming restaurant tucked away in the depths of the big box stores in Kanata Centrum, in the west end of Ottawa, after arriving early for a movie one rainy night,  shivering, dripping wet, and starving. The comfortable ambiance and warmth inside Aperitivo was like stepping into a warm bath, and the welcoming atmosphere was addictive.

For a Celiac, this restaurant is magical – so many gluten-free options, so much variety, and the opportunity to sample dishes you might never have tried before. When you’re used to having only one or two items to choose from on a menu, a visit to Aperitivo is like stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and not knowing what to try first.

I’m not an alcoholic (I swear!) but I like to try different kinds of booze and the selection here is wonderful. Multiple brands of bourbon (my fave) and anything else you might want to sample. I’m told they have some good beers on tap, but naturally I’ve never checked it out. 🙂

The interesting thing about this restaurant is that they don’t advertise that they’re gluten free – and while they do serve some wheat items, virtually everything on the menu is gluten-free (including the desserts!). The owner’s wife is gluten-free and so the Chef and staff are well-versed in the restrictions Celiacs face when eating out.

Be warned – this is not a restaurant for the faint-of-heart, or for someone who thinks being daring in the kitchen means trying gluten-free macaroni and cheese. If you’re dining at Aperitivo you need to check your inhibitions at the door and embrace the experience!

Specializing in tapas (small plates), a meal at Aperitivo is an exploration of the culinary arts, and the masterpieces created by its Chef in the open kitchen often feature unusual ingredients like ox-tail, rabbit, or pork belly. You literally never know what you’re going to find at Aperitivo; even though I’ve visited many times over the past year and a half, I’ve rarely eaten the same thing twice.

Not sure what I mean by unusual ingredients? Check out what I had on my last visit:

These are warmed dates, served with goat cheese, spec and roasted almonds, along with a balsamic reduction. I wasn’t so sure about the whole date thing, but I was happy to be pleasantly surprised by how yummy this was!
Even though these look like chicken wings, they’re not! These roasted cauliflower pieces are as close as I’ll get to a chicken wing in a restaurant – ever! They were delicious, and definitely something I wouldn’t have thought to try.

I haven’t tried the marrow and escargot, or tartare, but I’ve sampled pretty much everything else!

The menu is switched up regularly, and if there’s a favourite I’m looking for I might be disappointed if the menu has changed since my last visit, but will usually find something else I like even better. This forces me out of the rut we often fall into when eating gluten-free, of eating the same things day after day (guilty!).If you’re not sure what to expect from tapas, it’s similar to a regular meal except the dishes are smaller, intended to be shared with a partner or friends, and are priced accordingly so you can sample multiple dishes without feeling guilty about the expense.

This is the owner, Sean. I like Sean, he brings me wine, cocktails and gluten-free food. He’s even let me know when I ordered a Caesar that tabasco sauce isn’t always gluten-free, which I hadn’t known. Sean’s always got my gluten-free back.

My favourite dish is actually one I had on my first visit there, the pan-seared Halloumi (unripened cheese), smothered in fresh chorizo, honey and roasted cherry tomatoes (I know what you’re thinking – fried cheese? Don’t knock it until you try it!). At first I was skeptical about this dish, but that’s the beauty of tapas – you’re not afraid to order a small plate and give it a go – and I wasn’t disappointed. This dish is a must-try for anyone!

The seared halloumi with fresh chorizo. I can’t even describe how awesome this is.

Choose from other menu items like beef tartare with pickled shallots, fried caper mustard, and potato chips; moussaka; roasted pork belly with sauteed swiss chard and pickled stems; or expand your horizons and sample roasted bone marrow, escargot, parsley and shallot salad.

For dessert the Hazelnut Parfait is absolutely delicious, and you won’t believe it’s gluten-free it tastes so good (warning, this may not be a sharing dish if you’re like me you’ll want to eat the whole thing and stab someone in the hand with your fork if they get too close). The pecan pie with sweet potato whipped cream is a favourite, and if you’re stuffed from your meal but you still want to sample something sweet, try their signature dessert – a solitary and delectable homemade truffle.

So if you’re looking for something different than the run-of-the-mill restaurants and gluten-free menu choices, then Aperitivo is where you want to go. Be sure to make reservations in advance if you’re planning a visit on a Friday or Saturday night because I’m apparently not the only one who’s discovered what a gem this restaurant is, and the venue is typically full on the weekends. Tell your server you’re gluten-free and then sit back and enjoy the ride!









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