There’s a specific reason I wanted to visit Ottawa this time and here she is. Little Bella Gracia — beauty and grace in the making — is the product of Shawna and Aires Inc. She’s pretty darn sharp, hilarious and super well-dressed. All that at only 14 months old. Watch out, world!

Every time I see Shawna, we go out for a nice dinner and catch up. We usually end up at the Black Cat Cafe, but this time decided to try something new.

I pried myself away from her much-too-adorable offspring and we headed to Wellington Street West, a revitalized area of Ottawa that used to boast pawn shops and dusty storefronts, and is now home to condos, restaurants and the Irving Greenburg Theatre Centre, the new base for the stelllar Great Canadian Theatre Company.

Among this new life blooms the Wellington Gastropub, which opened in the fall of 2006 following the British gastropub trend of high-quality food in a relaxed pub atmosphere.

Wellington Gastropub, OttawaWellington Gastropub, Ottawa

I instantly loved the exposed brick walls, warm lighting, and cozy welcome as we emerged from the stairs to the second-floor dining area. The beers are primarily from microbreweries and there’s a well-chosen wine list. The menu changes daily.

I was having such a good time chatting, and looking over the menu, and chewing fresh bread from Art-Is-In Bakery, and picking wine that it’s only now I noticed I can’t really decipher what I scribbled down, so my apologies.

Shawna had an amazing potato swiss chard bacon soup with truffled sour cream and chives ($7), while I had the seared fish cake with spicy caper remoulade and pickled fennel ($10).

To me, fish cakes are either good or bad. And this one was definitely the former. But Shawna’s soup really kicked, and I started to worry I would covet her side of the table all night.

Wellington Gastropub, Ottawa

Well, I was right. For her main, Shawna ordered the scallops and Israeli couscous ($24). In a lesser kitchen, these would be rubbery and scarce on top of gummy, flavourless mush. Here, the scallops (six, count ’em!) were meaty and perfectly seared.

But the couscous, oh my god, the couscous. Yes, the carnivore is raving about couscous. It was fluffy and light and moist and completely changed my thinking about the wee grains. Of course, I could tell you about the flavour if I could figure out what “bacon shiitake spinach s d tom basil sauce” means.

Wellington Gastropub, OttawaMy crispy duck confit ($23) was nicely done, served with crushed potatoes with “botand,” yellow beans and “whiskey chay jus.” Damn notes.

This is one of those warm-up-your-belly dishes, and I like that they didn’t screw around with it, leaving it to its true salty tenderness.

Wellington Gastropub has an in-house pastry chef (Pascale Berthiaume) so we had to try some of her concoctions. I got the chocolate-orange fondant with fruit, but really, the only thing we should focus on is Pascale’s daily homemade ice cream.

Wellington Gastropub, OttawaIn a bowl came three scoops of that day’s special: raspberry-passionfruit, milk chocolate-hazelnut, and banana caramel brownie. Regardless of your favourite flavours, this was some kickass, creamy, delicious ice cream.

The restaurant has plans to turn their front patio into an ice cream stand this summer. A capital idea, I say!

And what of the service? Co-owner chef Chris Deraiche came out to chat to us for a few minutes. And our server Nick and Shawna were sharing pictures of their kids by the end of the night.

Wellington Gastropub, 1325 Wellington St., Ottawa, (613) 729-1315.
Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30-10 p.m. Closed Sundays. Website here.