Gy is not Oy, as first I read the sign, and I’m sure that’s a very good thing. It was a Monday when I walked by, misreading the stylized two-letter word on the sidewalk sign “Oy Resto” which indicated the place was closed.
I first knew this second-floor restaurant space as the créperie L’Argoat, then as Le Café d’en Haut. In fact, I thought it still was Le Café d’en Haut when I stumbled upon the Oy poster. Excited, I Googled it: “Oy Restaurant, Gatineau.” Rien.
It was at lunch the next day I learned it was in fact Gy, short for Gyno. Which is a much finer name than Oyno. Gyno Lefrancois, together with his wife Nathalie, is chef-proprietor of this now one-year-old restaurant.
(Before I was set straight, it occurred to me I could have used the Yiddish exclamation “Oy vey” somewhere in the review if it had proved a dud. That would have been kinda fun. But as Gy turned out to be a nice little place, it’s just as well.)
Gatineau needs more nice French restaurants and this one, while not yet perfect, is absolutely on the right track.
Gyno LefranÃ§ois hails from Gaspésie. He comes to his own place in Gatineau via the wonderful Auberge Hatley, which was devastated by fire in 2006 and sent him to ArÃ´me and Le Baccara at the Casino du Lac Leamy.
Gy is a prettier restaurant than it was in L’Argoat’s days. They’ve smartened it up a bit with red accents, taupe walls and wainscotting. Red pads the black chairs, white linen the tables and young birch trunks decorate the corners. Daisies float in water baths and pepper mills grace every table. As in most restaurants, there are better tables than others. If you can snag one by the windows that look over the street, there’s light pouring in and good people watching to be had.
A large blackboard announces the featured dishes, which complement a one-page daily menu.
A lunch special struck me as a crackerjack deal. Green soup (a spinach purée, perfumed with lime leaves and piqued with paprika oil) or a cucumber salad, followed with impeccably fresh pickerel, the pan-fried fillet resting on a buttery bed of spiced orzo, crowned with a delicious mound of caramelized leeks and served with a nice little salad. This, for $11.95
Dinner began admirably well with a trio of raw things. A tartare of steak, salmon and scallops was lovely, the beast and fish hand-chopped, lightly seasoned, and polished with good green oil.
Shallots, Sambuca and cream elevate a big-hearted serving of fresh shrimp, and if you like shrimp in Sambuca and cream you will like this.
I have three things to say about the third starter (foie gras, seared, crusted, the flesh soft, pink, served with sautÃ©ed strawberries): It was far too generous a serving, it was something of a steal at $15, and we gobbled up all of it, grinning throughout.
Of the main dishes, the tuna, crusted, rare, served with a salad of oranges and capers was better than the duck, which was too lean, the fat removed, the meat a bit overcooked and dry. We liked better the stuff that surrounded it — a well-peppered polenta cake that boasted a gooey heart, a celery root purÃ©e, roasted carrots and asparagus, and a polished sauce sweetened with figs.
Chevre cheesecake was light and creamy, served with fresh raspberries, and creme brulée with strawberries suffered only from being bruleed a tad too long. But once the burnt bits of sugar were flicked off, the custard was luscious.
The wine list is short, with limited choice by the glass, and there would be room for improvement.
Chef Gy tours his dining room at dinner, introducing himself. His wife seems much more shy, almost uncomfortable with her guests. She appears to defer to her staff for table service and, fortunately, both servers who have cared for us have been delightful.