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Wild boar rack over cabbage with cured crabapple at Gray Jay Hospitality. Photo: Alex Coon.

Gray Jay Hospitality: Embracing the season with a winter patio experience

By Elyse Van Herk on November 13, 2020

Preston Street’s Gray Jay Hospitality is inviting Ottawans to “embrace the flurries by the fire” and join them on their newly-opened winter patio.

The restaurant, which specializes in Canadian gastronomy, has welcomed the crisp weather and is taking sophisticated table service outside. They’re offering a blind 10-course tasting menu on their winter patio each weekend until the new year.

The result is a cozy soirée of delightful food and fire, led by chef-owner Dominique Dufour. It all takes place in the covered alley beside the restaurant, which has been transformed with dramatic lighting, fur-covered chairs, antlers, and fall leaves.

Deer heart tartare in a red rice cracker, served on reindeer moss. Photo: Alex Coon.

We could tell by the enthusiasm of Chef Dufour and team that this menu was a joy to create. They spoke passionately about the different dishes and the way they cooked each element. Each of the 10 courses is cooked using fire, and composed of completely Canadian ingredients – seasonal game, seafood, and vegetables from small producers.

The courses range from a deer heart tartare amuse bouche, whose generous few bites packed an intense punch of flavour, to a rich miso and caramelized pumpkin custard with meaty cured maitake mushrooms, served in a charred mini pumpkin.

Miso and caramelized pumpkin custard with cured maitake mushrooms. Photo: Alex Coon.

Even after deliberating for the entire walk home about which thoughtfully composed dish was our favourite, we were stuck with a six or seven-way tie for first place. But days later, I am still thinking of the charmingly presented duck egg yolk and sea buckthorn curd dessert, which tasted like a lemon meringue pie and had the most delicious caramelized yogurt crunch. It may have inched into the lead.

We also talked about how affordable the experience was. At $80 per person, it is an incredible deal given the amount of food, the creativity and effort put into each dish, and the unique setting.

The outdoor dining space at Gray Jay Hospitality. Photo: Alex Coon.

The night took about four hours, and the vibe was pretty casual (we appreciated the tunes, an eclectic mix of everything from Leonard Cohen to Chali Tuna). Even though the patio feels cozy, it does get pretty chilly, so make sure to bring a few layers. We dressed for the weather and kept our jackets on the whole time (I discovered that the beauty of eating on a winter patio is that you can wear your stretchy eating pants and no one will notice). Also, make sure you wear something easily washable… I’m still getting whiffs of delicious campfire smell from my jacket a few days later.

Duck egg yolk and sea buckthorn curd served with melilot sweet yogurt and caramelized yogurt crunch. Photo: Alex Coon.

Despite the recent changes to Ontario’s restrictions on indoor dining, Gray Jay will continue offering their outdoor concept until the end of the year. They’re already booking up fast, and plan to offer a new seasonal menu in December.

Bookings are available now for Gray Jay’s 10-course fire-cooked menu on their winter patio. They are offering a 6pm seating on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Cost is $80 per person + beverages, and they offer a curated wine pairing option for $65.


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