296 Elgin St., 613-695-8696, townlovesyou.ca
This might be the happiest place in town. Don’t believe me? Just look at the front of the menu. It’s written there: Town loves you and wants you to be happy. It’s not a marketing gimmick; this room actually hums with fuzzy, feel-good vibes. It’s so palpable, you’ll wish you could bottle it and sprinkle it around. The food is big-hearted and generous too. And the service? Charming and attentive in a way that puts customers totally at ease. Rumour has it that the couple who own the place, Marc Doiron, a pastry chef, and his wife, Lori Wojcik, a former art gallery manager, scrimped for years — even living with their parents — to help save money to realize this dream. It’s the old story that if you work really hard and pay your dues, the reward is so much sweeter than if someone handed it to you on a silver platter. When I chatted with Wojcik one night after stuffing myself silly with rich ricotta gnudi (think naked ravioli) and a decadent combo of cod fritters and smoked pork ragout, I learned that the decor is a reflection of the things the couple love to be surrounded by at home. Ah-ha! Another lesson in how to create cozy atmosphere. The couple’s wisest move was to convince chef Steve Wall, formerly of The Whalesbone, not to flee to New York but, instead, stay and feed us. We need him so much more than Manhattan does. What is so lovely about chef Wall’s style of cooking is the way it manages to be controlled without feeling repressed and delicate while somehow beckoning us into the world of decadence. Every dish has hits of pleasure — zingy lemon confit; tons of bright, fresh herbs; really good balsamic; or toasted baby pine nuts — select flavours and textural elements that layer and combine to make a dish sing. The ability to keep things simple to dramatic effect is a skill that cannot be underestimated. Ditto for the fact that Town happens to be a really great place to hang out.