Town Loves You… Especially if you’re skinny.
Town is a highly acclaimed Elgin street Italian restaurant that has garnered quite the reputation since its opening about a year ago. Considering the sheer volume of reviews this place has received, most of which being overwhelmingly positive, many have neglected to mention that town is completely devoid of endomorphs. In all honesty, if you cannot comfortably sit in a standard airline seat, you will have a miserable experience. The tables are close together, people are everywhere, and the centre aisle running the entirety of the narrow restaurant was a foot and a half wide. As for me (weighing in at a cool 190), town delivered the single greatest meal I’ve had since arriving in Ottawa.
I have a rule of thumb to quickly differentiate fine-dining Italian restaurants from almost-fine-dining Italian restaurants: the presence of beef carpaccio on the menu. There are exceptions, of course, but I was absolutely thrilled to see it listed at town. Simply put, it was perfect: razor thin slices, excellent portion, and the most balanced garnish I could have asked for. Surprisingly, this was not even the best part of my meal. The use of chilled foie gras prepared cru-au-sel and grated onto my main course cavatelli was nothing short of brilliance, and can be best described as the only preferable substitute for cheese in the entire meat-eating world.
By the time we finished our meal and moved onto dessert, we were so relaxed and having a great time that I completely neglected to take a picture of the cheese plate until we were done. I really appreciated that it was served with both crackers and toast – a tribute to the fanatical attention to detail that goes into every facet of this little restaurant. Owner Marc Doiron may have set out to Elgin to showcase his talent and accomplish a dream, but his little restaurant has become the prime example of what many of us hope Elgin Street will become. Personally, I would love to see him use his influence to collaborate with other Elgin street businesses to fuel a sense of community that would rival Westboro, such as bread from one of the local bakeries or a featured pasta from Fettuccine's. Until then, Elgin will continue to be treated as Bywards little brother, subject to the ebbs and flows of university students and half-price drink specials.
Do you ever feel like you’re being served up a ‘fake’ dining experience? You see a restaurant, maybe it looks nice. Maybe the proprietors use fancy words on the menu, lure you in with the look and language of what they might call a ‘casual fine dining’ establishment. But when you finally commit, sit down and give them your attention and your palate, it’s a huge disappointment. This has been my plight over the past few years. Disillusioned by a string of unsatisfactory food experiences, I had come to expect that every restaurant offering ‘fine dining’ in Ottawa was over-promising. And then we went to town.
All we had heard about town was that it was a great new restaurant that was difficult to get into. So, expecting rejection, I called on a Friday afternoon only to find that they had a table for two at 9:30 – a pleasant surprise. I walked in to a very modern, chic, yet simple interior with its front sliding doors open to the Elgin street traffic. Raw light fixtures hung from the ceiling above each table, and a slender glass shelf held an assortment of dried flowers and candles. Every detail had been thought of; someone had even attached hooks to the side of each table for the purses that wouldn’t have fit anywhere else (it was a very narrow restaurant!).
Not only were the surroundings a pleasure – our server was also above expectations. She had a quick, knowledgeable answer to every food or wine-related question we asked, and was ready with wine pairings for every dish. This was someone who was invested in her job, and it showed. And then there was the food. I ordered the asparagus salad, which included a row of 6 asparagus spears on a Dijon and lemon drizzle, topped with a few seasonal greens, Niagara prosciutto, grana padano shavings and, the pièce de résistance, a fried poached egg with still-runny yolk. And what a beautiful flavour it added. I tried to include each aspect of the dish in every bite, because the flavour combination of each item complemented the asparagus perfectly. That’s a salad I would eat again. For my main, I ordered the ricotta stuffed meatballs, served with soft polenta on a san marzano sauce. I’ve never had a more tender meatball. And a nice detail that made me happy – when I cut into it, the meatball didn’t instantly dissolve into a melted-cheese-goo. It held its shape, which made it much easier to eat without using a spoon. The san marzano sauce had the acidity that I expected, and was a perfect fit with the more subtle and creamy taste of the ricotta in the meatballs. To go with all of this, I enjoyed a glass of Meritage from Lailey Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which took me back to my roots. Just the smell was enough to remind me of Niagara soil.
It’s definitely worth stopping by for a taste of town. From the overall décor and atmosphere right down to the dessert wine selection, this restaurant is run by people who know what they’re doing. It’s a perfect food oasis in a desert of counterfeits.
(Click to enlarge pictures)
The actual name of the restaurant is town., but for the ease of reading the paragraphs above, we droped the period
Also, it was a late reso, and given the dimly lit nature of the dining room, the pictures are a little dark. We did what we could in processing, but we prefer not to use a flash because we don`t want to disrupt the other diners during their meals.