Taylor’s calls itself a food and wine bar, but the first thing that caught my attention was a mojito. It was the featured drink, listed on the blackboard above the bar, and described with such affection by our server that I put down the wine list (temporarily) and ordered the thing. A cucumber mojito, with basil standing in for mint and a pink skewer of imbibed watermelon perched over the tall green concoction. Fantastic.
Taylor’s Genuine Food and Wine Bar is a second venture for the husband-and-wife team of John and Sylvia Taylor. Their first is the long-running Domus CafÃ© on Murray Street. This one is smaller, more breezy, with more affordable prices.
Housed in a converted coffee shop, Taylor’s tucks into the topography of Old Ottawa South and, as much of it was built by Taylor himself (plus some buddies), it feels like a personal space. Here the honesty of an open kitchen, here the shades of wine on walls, there a rack of antlers above our head. And as this is a Taylor restaurant, there is strong patriotic content on both the food and drinks menus.
The wine list is half Canadian, mostly Prince Edward County and Niagara bottles, with a decent selection by the glass. Wines are backed up with a menu of bar snacks – locally sourced charcuterie, housemade terrines and pÃ¢tÃ©s, artisanal cheeses in first-class condition, smoked and cured fish – along with soups that run hot and cold and a short field of main dishes that touch all the bases – steak, halibut, quail, pork, tofu. Chef Jon Svazas – who started at Domus, moved to Farbs on Beechwood and has returned to John Taylor – is in charge of the kitchen.
Your first decision is crucial. Do you focus on page one (sharing platters of meats, cheese, fish, with chutneys, fresh and toasted bread) or do you choose page two (soup, salad, mains)? If it were my neighbourhood wine bar, I’d come for soup (cold yellow bean with patty pan squash and basil, roasted eggplant and tomato bisque with sherry — both delicious) plus terrine and gravlax. And then perhaps a steak. And I’d come often. Taylor’s food is fresh, well cooked and well presented and if there were a lighter hand with the salt shaker I wouldn’t have a single tut-tut. (Not sure what went wrong with the red rice beneath the fabulous Berkshire pork chop, but it was wildly salty.) My other quibble is with the head-achingly sweet onion jam that came with the quail, leaching uncomfortably into its jus.
But that is the limit of my troubles here.
The first page is all terrific. Nirvana for carnivores. Beautifully crafted meats, terrines, cheeses and cool slabs of delicious fish. Items are well displayed on wooden boards, and garnished with house pickles, chutneys, and crostini (replenished when they notice the pile is low.)
From page two, the hanger steak was so good it halted all conversation. Halibut came on a jiggly bed of smoky polenta spiked with chorizo and roasted corn. Yellow chanterelle mushrooms and a corn and smoked tomato chutney garnished the thick hunk of Ontario Berkshire pork, perfectly pink. Vegetables are glorious on these plates.
For dessert, a tart filled with apricot curd and matching sorbet, and a goat cheese panna cotta infused with thyme, served with a blueberry compote and with Pascale’s magnificent blueberry ice cream chunked with cheesecake.
Service is friendly and charming rather than super-slick, but it’s pretty easy to prefer it that way.