Friday, June 20, 2008
Not to sound cliché, but one thing, among many, that I love about Montreal is the abundance of BYOW/B restaurants. While I often take this aspect of Montreal dining for granted, a recent trip to New York reminded me of why this city rocks. While dining at a relatively expensive restaurant which encouraged you to “bring your own wine,” I was shocked by the corkage fee which was at least twice the cost of our bottle. All of that to uncork and pour a couple of glasses of wine? Needless to say we put the bottle back in our bag to enjoy at a later, more Canadian, date. Which brings me to the point of this post – while there are many BYOB restos in Montreal, I recently revisited an old favorite: Le P’tit Plateau.
Le P’tit Plateau is a small-ish restaurant tucked away on a residential corner. Before I continue, let me warn you that this restaurant can get very noisy, so if you are looking for a romantic evening, best to visit on a week-night. The last two times I dined there (both within the same week), I went with a group of six (we may have been the cause of some of the din) and then again with my dining companion and a cousin with whom I had not spoken in some time (again, we may have contributed to much of the noise). Let it also be known that this restaurant gets very, very warm in the summertime. All of this being said, you should not be deterred from trying this restaurant – everything about this restaurant exudes Montreal (hence why I took my out-of-town cousin).
The restaurant itself is light and airy with a hammered tin ceiling. The kitchen is relatively open and the menu is written on chalkboards above the opening to the kitchen. Diners may choose from the “a la carte” menu, or from a number of prix fixe dishes which include soup or salad, main course and tea or coffee. On both of my recent visits, I began my meal with the salad (given the early summer heat this seemed like a good choice). A fair size, filled with cherry tomatoes and tossed in a light vinaigrette, the salad was the perfect way to start the meal. My main consisted of the filet de cerf (red deer) which was topped with a mixture of mushrooms and a light reduction. The meat was perfectly cooked, flavourful and tender. The venison was accompanied by the ubiquitous, but no less tasty, scalloped potatoes and a phyllo cup filled with carrots and cream (surprisingly good). The dish was so good that I ordered it again the second time I visited. On both occasions, other dining companions sampled the lobster wonton ravioli (rave reviews), the magret de canard stuffed with foie gras (not for the faint of heart, but melting in its richness) and the souris d’agneau, which also garnered a positive report.
With our coffee and tea, we tried a number of the desserts, which included the profiteroles and the praline mousse/cake. While both were delicious, the winner had to be the profiteroles.
A note about the service: it is personable and efficient, but I was a little put out by the stern-faced proprietesse who kept hovering near our table. I wasn’t sure if she was perturbed by the noise we were generating or merely just keeping a watchful eye on her culinary domain. Either way, it didn’t hamper what was, both times, a terribly enjoyable dining experience. While this might not be the BEST meal you will ever eat, it will no doubt leave you full, content and just wakeful enough to stumble to the nearest watering hole for a nightcap.
Menu prix fixe: $27-37
Thursday, June 19, 2008
First there was Bistro Justine, and then Bistro Justine – Bistro a vin, now comes Terrace Justine. With his winning combination of small portions and small prices, the proprietor continues his mini-monopoly of small well-priced bistros in the Outremont/Mile End/Plateau area. While Bistro Justine seems a bit more intimate and romantic with its dark wood tables, warm lighting and cream walls, Terrace Justine is like its sunnier, less sophisticated partner. With its bright orange walls, white tiled floor, nautical mirrors and wall mosaics, it feels more like a day-glo evening at the beach, which I suppose was the intent.
The menu set-up at Terrace Justine is much the same as the Bistro, i.e. reasonably priced appetizers, mains and desserts. Having dined there on two occasions, I began both meals with the aubergine terrine - pieces of eggplant layered with goat cheese and served with a confit of onions (if memory serves). The terrine was absolutely delicious both times. I should also mention that dinner begins with a basket of fresh baguette and a lovely grassy olive oil in which to dip your bread. As for mains, most dishes are cooked “a la plancha” – lightly grilled on a metal plate. There are many seafood and fish options, as well as beef and fowl. For my first meal, I sampled the filet mignon served with a Bearnaise sauce. The beef was perfectly cooked to medium rare and the accompanying sauce was rich and tart. The beef was served with Bistro Justine’s trademark scalloped potato stack and a vol-au-vent shell filled with vegetables. My second meal at the Terrace consisted of the dinner-sized goat cheese salad, which consisted of no less than a large bowl of micro greens tossed in a lemony vinaigrette with a couple of rounds of toasted baguette and goat cheese. Good for lunch, or as a meal starter, but a little bland for a main course. As for dessert, Terrace Justine follows in the footsteps of the Bistro with a number of affordable delicious desserts. While we sampled a quite respectable crème brulee, the winner turned out to be a simple glass of ice cream, topped with a shot of espresso – simple and delicious.
A note about the wine list. The restaurant carries a number of very affordable private importations. On both occasions we ordered a bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone which suited our meat quite well.
Oh, and finally, this review wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the bathrooms. While I get the whole “Mediterranean beach-side” vibe of the resto, the bathroom looks like it was decorated by a hyper-active three year old with an Ikea corporate credit card. While I am all for imaginative interior decorating, shower curtains generally belong in showers and sponge flowers on the wall of said toddler’s bedroom.