It’s taken five extremely busy months for Dominique Dufour (opening chef at Norca, the restaurant in Le Germain Hotel) to transform a former Domino’s pizza location on Preston Street into a serene space for her own restaurant. Gray Jay opened July 2nd.
Dufour and her partner and co-chef Devon Bionda have done most of the work themselves, stripping the space to its studs and creating a pastel-hued dining room that seats 27.
“We want this to feel like a really welcoming place,” said Dufour. “The idea of this restaurant will be to bring you closer both to the person who prepares your food and to the food itself. I want guests to talk to the person who actually cooks their food. It’s the whole principle of breaking bread with others.”
As for the menu itself, it’s unconventional — divided into vegetables, proteins, charcuterie, cheeses, and desserts — and designed for sharing.
Abiding by that philosophy, three cooking stations line one side of the space, within easy talking distance of the tables nearby. Dufour has also chosen to include communal seating at a long table — made more cozy with a mid-century modern teal-blue sofa — found at the front of the restaurant that can either seat one large party of six or two parties of two. And to further foster the sense of conviviality, there will be no reservations. “There’s a 20 to 30 per cent no-show rate in restaurant bookings,” she explains. “We are a small restaurant and we just can’t afford that, so that’s why we have decided on a no-reservations policy.”
Dufour spent time in Sweden in 2018 and fell in love with the Nordic design she saw there. “I really enjoyed the colour palettes,” she says. “I loved the natural feeling of light wood tones, natural stains, water, pale greens.” The background colour at Gray Jay is pale grey and natural wood, with shots of dusky pink, teal blue, pale green, and accents of gold and copper. China is simple — grey and white. Subway tiles with grey grout line the wall behind the bar, while the bar and tabletops are made from concrete that she poured herself.
The walls are lined with pictures of the great outdoors and an old geological survey map of Canada, while the bathrooms are papered with recipes from books belonging to Dufour’s grandmother.
The kitchen boasts two statement appliances; the first is a 1952 Westinghouse fridge, which until recently belonged to a 90-year-old and had languished in her basement. Dufour had it serviced and repainted it the palest green. The second is a red hand-crank meat-slicing machine, the most expensive piece of equipment in the kitchen. Since charcuterie will play a central part in the menu, “I didn’t want the hum of a machine interrupting the ambiance,” she explained.
Much of the décor has been donated or recycled from other restaurants in Ottawa. Chairs that started life at Supply and Demand, then seated diners at Gongfu Bao, have started life again here at Gray Jay. They have been repainted and Dufour has added a brushed gold foot bar to play to her mid-century modern vibe. “The chef community here has been really generous and welcoming,” she says.
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 5.30 p.m. t0 11.30 p.m
Find it: 300 Preston St.