Neighbourhood: River Heights
Address: 256 Stafford St
Stepping into Close Co. offers a distinct sense of familiarity, with friendly greetings and the smells of home cooking – a taste of the evening to come. With a mere 10 seats, this diminutive restaurant has the atmosphere of an intimate dinner party with friends, but with culinary artistry on the plate.
Co-owners and life partners Cam Chabot and Tammy Rocke transformed the small Stafford Street space (spy the visage of the previous tenant of 60 years, Steve the Barber, in the restaurant’s logo) in February 2016, and have built a following of adoring fans ever since. A cozy line of tables has 10 spots for guests, but windows and a high wooden ceiling keep the room from feeling cramped.
Two menus are on offer: a succinct selection of small plates for sharing, rotating bi-weekly, and a monthly tasting menu that displays the depths of chef Dustin Pajak’s skill in the kitchen.
Meals begin with warm, fluffy Parkerhouse rolls, ready to be torn and dipped into a bowl of whipped butter drenched in herbed olive oil and smoked sea salt. Around the room, collective groans of pleasure accompany this starter.
Gorgeous plates please the eye and the palate. Slices of torched yellowfin tuna bedded beneath crispy sunchoke chips (from the sunflower root) and sliced jalapeño peppers, provide an earthy crunch and kick of spice to the fatty fish. A simple salad of red and yellow cherry tomatoes becomes a work of art under elegant curls of cucumber and baby arugula greens. The creamy, slightly smoky baba ghanoush vinaigrette gives the salad a surprising twist of flavour.
In a cheffy version of Sunday dinner, pork tenderloin gets the royal treatment, served with crispy fried shreds of ham nested atop a dollop of sweet pear mustard, swimming in a pool of rich cognac jus. Potato-less Parisienne gnocchi and mushroom fricassee accompany the delectable entrée. The mix of crimini, oyster, chanterelle, and enoki mushrooms, lightly sautéed with white wine and ricotta, are an ode to French flavour with light and nutty curls of cave-aged Gruyère.
After the ensemble of bread, meat, and jus, a tangy lemon pound cake arrives to sugar coat the evening, topped with a perfect scoop of pistachio gelato and roasted strawberry jam.
Warm and courteous service, together with the intimate space and thoughtful menu presentations, show this is a small spot with big impact.