Town Restaurant: Ottawa's Prince Charming

Delicious smells in a warm room make you realize that you're already in your Happily Ever After … welcome to Town.

Once upon a time in castle-laden Ottawa, Canada, lived fair maiden Lori Wojcik and her charming prince chef of a husband, Marc Doiron.

"Darling, I've got a bun in the oven," Marc announced. She widened her pretty eyes and agreed, "Of course, honey. You're a baker."

"No -- I have a dream. I want to open a full restaurant where I create the most delightful food in all of our Canadian capital's land."

And so it began. . .  after ten years of saving ducats, nigh on three years ago, they flung open the doors of their Bistronomy demi-castle.

Chef Marc is the stuff of which legendary cooks are made.
Upon entering the dark, bustling room a handsome footman greeted me and swept away my coat. The light popping out from the warm, open kitchen crackled like a welcoming fireplace.

warm light coming from a kitchen door

I sat and dined at the bar. I love bartenders as waiters -- they know the food as well as the hooch and they're trapped back there, easy to find should I panic. He extended his tattooed arm and held the menu in his palm like an apple, daring me to snatch it. His friendly smile punched in along with his offer of a local lager made me trust him instantly.

a long shiny bar with glasses on top

The menu reads like Michael Buble sings -- each dish sounds lovely, skillfully executed and interesting. And, like Buble, local.

I started with the Tomato tart: Tuscan bean salad, whipped ricotta, macron almond pesto, soft-boiled egg, tabikko caviar, ($15). I'd happily allow this first dish to end my mealIt's nirvana-esque -- one of the most completely composed plates I've met. Not only fully thought out, but also a story cleverly told that reads from right to left.   

a savory pie, cheese, bean salad all seemed on a wooden plank

Perfection on a plank. Chef Marc gets down on bended knee and humbly offers a deconstructed tart. He places his perfect pastry -- surely honed from his baker days -- as a base to the fire-roasted tomatoes onto his extended hand to ask his diners to dance. 

Alas, Mother Nature as the Fairy Godmother *poofed* tomatoes away after that summer's night; in their stead, future eaters will find sprung-up mushrooms from the dark forest floor. Chef Marc forages the fungi, and their woodsy, pungent replacement joins the other elements on this same dish while summer sleeps.

I reached over and plucked a bit of the house-made ricotta on my fork and suavely dipped it into a bite of the pie. This cheese is no chubby wallflower; she's a downright tart tap-dancing expert. A lemon pop of Fosse on a fork.

I tasted each element, harmoniously completing his intended flavor profile -- and I stopped.

I needed to be alone with the cheese. I closed my eyes and stole a bite, escaping to a secret room in the castle. Magical. Chef Marc waved a wand over his ricotta and sprinkled lemon zest on it. That touch cast a spell that spread to the neighboring Tuscan bean salad. On top of that, some sous chef in the back shook a chicken so hard that she not only laid the egg, but it came out cooked perfectly soft. I twirled every element on the plate in a mad rhythm with every bite I took -- this dish danced divinely, was the belle of the ball, and amazed everyone. Marconi almonds already shine; here they make his pesto shimmer. Caviar as salt? Yes, please --  and as impossible as it may seem, elevate the dish, sire.

Mid-meal, a proclamation rang out: "Town's staff is the best-looking in all the land!" I was new in town and no one seemed to be the Proclamator so I stepped up. Prancing studs like princes at a ball put one hand behind their back and in the other held course after course of fantastic fare on a velvet pillow.

a packed dining room with a waiter taking an order

Dashing dishes are dispatched from the kitchen like my next course, Crispy lamb. lamb belly, Israeli couscous, cherry tomato, cucumber, red onion, yogurt, grilled scallion, chili oil, vincotto ($16).

crispy lamb on couscous

I quickly scanned the menu for something familiar; my first glance told me that Chef Marc had braised a batch o' ubiquitous pork belly. But once my eyes adjusted to the hipness, I looked closer to discover the hidden lamb belly. This entree is tediously created; his vincotto reduction sticks to each morsel of couscous like a beggar. Chef channels artist Jackson Pollack, splashing chili oil and a bright slash of white yogurt that provided a tasty, million-dollar canvas. The meat is slowly cooked sous-vide, then slapped onto the grill, giving it a crispy character. It's a sassy drag queen sidling up next to you at the bar, whispering, That's right, Mary, you had a little lamb.

Legend tells that his meatballs cook for three days and three nights. Meat balls. Ricotta, soft polenta, San Marzano tomatoes ($11). Dreams do come true. . . 

a baking dish filled with  sauce-covered meatballs

Yes, they had ricotta inside, but they were still too tender, too smooth -- they contained secrets. pulled Chef Marc close to me and slung a guess of the mysterious ingredients like I was solving a riddle that would keep me alive for 100 more years. 

Flamingo sausage? Newly hatched ducks? Veal? His eyes widened (possibly from my choke-hold) and he confessed, Chicken, beef, pork. I released him, jealous of his skill that turned humble fowl into luscious, velvety globes. He cooks them for days and slaps that lemony ricotta on everything in sight -- had he a daughter, her prom dress would be made of that cheese. It's really fantastic cheese.  

I tore bits of his incredible sourdough bread and wiped up every smidgen of the Italian heirloom tomato sauce. 

Our bartender leaned in to share a theory. See, the Chef thought of opening an all-meatball joint, and this was the main ball. But it takes a huge pair to serve only one dish and there were more types of food he wanted to offer. But should this dish ever disappear from their menu, mutiny would spread throughout the kingdom. Therefore, meatballs will always be served. 

I learned a chivalrous rule being raised in the South: You gotta dance with the one that brung ya. This lesson in loyalty is one I use to sleep well at night. I also carried it with me as a U.S. Marine. It's what keeps a good business in business. 

I came for the lamb, but stayed for the octopus. Grilled octopus. grilled fingerlings, red onion and cherry tomatoes, salsa verde, frisée, pig cheek vinaigrette, ($22). Deal with it -- it was a naughty pig that ended up in a delicious, lesson-teaching sauce.

frisee lettuce and grilled octopus
Chef Marc allowed me to see his brain working in this heavenly creature of an entree. His salsa verde foam sends his James Bondsian Octopussy rising up from the sea, angrily curled -- yet masterfully conquered. Every moment, every speck on the plate has purpose and destiny. A bite of uncooked tomato against the firm bounce of fish represents us losing our virginity. It's great to remember tender moments.

I could have dined at this Town ball all night. But I need to rest between each day's happinesses; it was nearing time to leave. However, I wouldn't dream of skipping sweets -- that'd be like leaving a party without making out in the coat closet.

Dessert at Town does everyone a flavor. Ice cream sundae: salted caramel ice cream, whipped cream, caramel popcorn and peanuts ($9). Some muscleman steps out of the gym and into the kitchen each night. He grabs a whisk and beats the cream, milked from a nearby cow, like a frenzied monkey obsessively pleasuring himself -- into whipped fluffiness.

ice cream in a cast iron skillet

The ice cream was the creamiest I've ever had, although I'm perfectly happy to keep searching the countryside for better. One of Cinderella's stepsisters must have found redemption and full-time work in Town's kitchen, crying into the ice cream vat, providing the perfect layer of saltiness. Chef tried to hide the melted, gooey dark chocolate against the bottom of the iron skillet, but scouring the countryside is nothing new to me --- I scraped it up and away. As I chewed the caramel corn, I prayed the toffee lingered in my teeth so long that my dentist would have to spank it off months later.

I felt more welcome at Town than at any other restaurant. 

In fact, the city of Ottawa itself held a small ceremony, tiny actually, and made me a First-Rate Citizen. Here's Mountie Lt. Ross Tyler, pinning me ceremoniously with the Canadian flag.  The last time I felt this proud about a promotion was in Marine Corps boot camp when they made me Private First Class, meritoriously. 

officer pinning medal on a man's chest

If you want the impossible accomplished, give it to a Marine. That's true, but if you want a sweet, passionate love story -- marry a chef. You'll fall in love over and over and over.

Every night Chef Marc gets down on one knee and glides on the culinary glass slipper -- and it fits perfectly.

glass of beer next to a menu on a bar

Town. 296 Elgin St, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 1M3, Canada (613) 695-8696

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting, indeed. The idea of souse-vide is one virtually never brought up, i have never had the pleasure and do not know of a restaurant that prepares it. I guess a trip to Ottawa is in order. The food is beautifully presented both visually and verbally.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...