I admit that I was nervous about my first visit to Caprese Ristorante Italiano. All of the rave reviews had me wondering if people with gluten sensitivities were just thrilled to finally have a 100 per cent gluten-free option in Ottawa. There was the occasional bad review, but those seemed to come from around the time Caprese opened, two years ago (in the space Rasputin’s used to occupy on Bronson). Based on my first meal there, I am ready to join the ranks of the believers. The bread really is that delicious, the pasta really is that tasty, and it’s not just “good for gluten-free”. It’s good. Period.
Caprese’s menu is not fussy or extravagant; there are two pages for drinks and two pages for food. There is a good selection of appetizers, pasta dishes, and entrees with chicken, veal, or salmon. Between the three of us at the table, we ordered bruschetta, Caesar salad, mussels, fettuccini pescatore, wine, cappuccinos and manicotti with spinach. And there was, of course, the complimentary loaf of home-made bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There was no disappointment on any of our plates. The dressing for the Caesar salad was obviously made from scratch, the texture of the pastas was perfect - not chewy or soggy - and nothing was bland. The chefs are not afraid of assertive and complex flavours.
The owners of Caprese are keeping the recipe for their bread secret, and I think that is a shrewd business choice on their part. They won’t tell you how to make it, but they’ll let you call in to order some and they’ll bake it up fresh for you to take home. They’ve managed to get a slightly springy texture (most g-free breads just crumble) with none of the tell-tale g-free aftertastes. The texture is somewhat similar to an airy corn bread, but it’s more complicated than that.
The prices are on par with a restaurant like Milestones. The level of specialization alone would ordinarily dictate a higher price for meals, but what’s impressive is that they can achieve such a high level of quality for the price they’re charging. The appetizers range from approximately $7-$12 and the entrees from $16-$27. The portions are very generous and the chefs clearly care about the food. All 3 of us at the table were too full for dessert (I had to bring some of my pasta home), and we all agreed that we’d happily eat there again. My two companions – neither of whom is gluten-sensitive – both said that if they hadn’t been told it was g-free food they wouldn’t have known. It was simply delicious, home-made food.
The one thing that I wasn’t a fan of was just how “cozy” things were in the restaurant. They have put seating for approximately 40 people into a very small space. The word “claustrophobic” was used a couple of times throughout our meal. We were a party of three with a reservation, seated at a table for two with the extra chair in the aisle. The owners do a good job of creating a warm and friendly environment, though, so it wasn't a deal-breaker.
If it weren't for my student budget, I would be at Caprese's at least once a week. In the meantime, it will be at the top of my list for special occasion meals.