Every so often a restaurant surfaces that, right from the get-go, seems exactly in the swing of its time and place. Such is Town.
Just a few weeks old, it runs as though it’s had a year to find its stride. Part of the smooth functioning begins with a menu of manageable length. This one focuses on small plates of Italian comfort food, plus a smattering of main dishes priced in the $20s.
Town also has pulled together a staff — men and women in black Town T-shirts — who can speak with intelligence about the food and drink.
They also appear to enjoy their jobs and each other, which makes this crew a significant source of the good feeling that pervades the new Town.
You enter a narrow space. The garage doors are open to the life on Elgin Street. On the left is a chalkboard wall on which is written the menu. Beyond that, a stainless-steel bar with half a dozen stools. On the right, above a long, brown bench and running the length of a white wall is a glass shelf. Spread along it are votive candles and glass vases of different shapes and heights, each holding a flower, a stem, some lemons. Modish brown tiles cover the floor and two precision rows of reproduction light bulbs hang from the ceiling.
In the open kitchen are co-owner and pastry chef Marc Doiron, formerly at the Rideau Club, along with chef Steve Wall, most recently at the Rideau Club (where he worked with Marc) and, before that, chef at The Whalesbone Oyster House, which is where I knew his food. Marc’s wife, Lori Wojcik, who manages Wall Space Gallery in Westboro, is the woman about Town. Her knack for what should go on walls is plain.
The food is very good. If I had a quibble, it would be with its weightiness, particularly at the noon hour when the menu seems designed exclusively by-and-for hungry young men with fully functioning gallbladders.
I found myself on a hot summer day, staring down a short lunch menu of rich, heavy food, longing for lightness, for summer freshness. A cold soup, perhaps a bright salad. But here we have gnudi (delicious) with pesto, cod fritters (fantastic) and a big starter of toasted bread, oiled, topped with chicken liver parfait, rhubarb jam, and a jumble of bacon. It was utterly delicious in a killing sort of way.
Second course — all sandwiches, on big, yummy buns — old-fashioned chicken salad with lots of mayonnaise, sweetened with cranberries, a matchstick of green apples, loaded with arugula, and topped with strips of bacon. Fantastic bacon.
Another sandwich, tuna — again with ample mayonnaise, and with preserved lemon that made a statement.
Sandwiches come with a side salad perked with a zippy vinaigrette, laced with chives. Much was brought home to hungry young men.
More rich, brown food on the dinner menu. Order meatballs as starter (also available as a main) and you get two big ones, fashioned of veal and pork and ricotta cheese, enveloped in a ripe tomato sauce, plopped on soft polenta and topped with chives. Altogether very satisfying.
Gnudi is like gnocchi, but with cheese in place of potato. Some describe it as ricotta ravioli without the pasta wrapper. In any event, these are soft cheese balls that boast an air-dried “crust.” They paddle about in brown butter, drenched with a nubbly basil pesto and crowned with freshly grated parmigiano, like white snowflakes on green grass.
Cod fritters are browned and crackling, soft and milky, on a stew of smoked pork, drizzled with a sharp sauce that tastes lusciously like a hot lemon sorbet.
The steak (flat iron) arrives in thick, juicy slabs, the flesh rare as requested beneath its brown-striped crust. The meat is delicious, well seasoned and served with exactly what you want steak to come with. Roast potatoes (fingerling), onions (caramelized cipollini), tomatoes (oven dried, and of deep flavour), mushrooms (grilled king eryngii), and greens (a tangy salsa verde that flavours everything you want it to).
Simple and very good food, fairly priced ($24) and portioned. There is pasta, thick strands mingled with soft nuggets of duck, the two in a rich, buttery broth that is vigorously seasoned, filled in with herbs and vegetables. And there is flattened, brick-roasted chicken, served in parts, the skin crisp, the meat cooked through but still moist, fragrant with lemon.
Chef Wall’s pickerel has a fantastic crusty skin, yet the fish flesh is pale and soft, its subtle flavour intact. It arrives on a bed of Italian butter beans, topped with pink grapefruit, surrounded by small, sweet mussels and chunks of sharp chorizo. Circling fish and fruit and legumes is a light fish broth enriched with parmesan. This is a splendid dish.
Spoon-desserts arrive in mason jars. A chocolate budino (Italian pudding) tastes of quality cocoa. Rice pudding is scented with cinnamon and cardamom and topped with a pistachio brittle and sun-dried cherries, while the buttermilk panna cotta with its pink glaze of strawberry wine is a luscious summer dessert.
Kichesippi, Beau’s and St. Ambroise are the brews on tap. The wine list isn’t long, but there’s a fair selection available by the glass, and the reds I’ve sampled have been served at the correct temperature. The blackboard lists a daily $8 cocktail.
Town was buzzing at each of my visits. With good reason