Tuesday, December 9, 2008

M:brgr, 2025 Drummond

To begin, let’s get a few beefs (ahem) out of the way:

1. I dislike the current trend to spell phonetically and to dispense with vowels
2. I dislike, and frankly don’t understand, supper clubs

Montreal’s new burger bar M:brgr achieves both of these things. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s list a few of the positives: 1) M:brgr exists as a much-needed casual contribution to the downtown dining scene. While there are many high-end restaurants, in addition to many greasy spoons, there are very few middle-of-the-road restaurants. Point two: most people love a good hamburger and generally speaking, M:brgr’s hamburgers are quite delicious and the variety of toppings, from pedestrian to haute-cuisine, are an interesting touch (although I can’t really see myself ordering a plain $20 kobe beef burger and piling on another $30 worth of high-end toppings, but I digress…). Point three: the sides that we sampled (Moishe’s Coleslaw, Moishe’s dill pickles, sweet potato fries and a vegetarian-friendly poutine) were all very tasty.

Some downsides: 1) I was forced to check my coat; I don’t mind doing this in a busy club or a high-end restaurant, but at a casual eatery, I find it kind of unnecessary (at least it was free). Point two: the spelling (or lack there of) of M:brgr should have served as an indication as to their clientele. On a recent Friday night, around 7:30 p.m., the place was swarming with tweens and teens munching on designer hamburgers and sipping bottles of Coke – I felt like I was crashing someone’s bar mitzvah, or a sweet-sixteen party. Point three: whether it was the gaggle of teenagers, or the size of the room, the noise level was pretty high and this was only compounded by the loud and incessant dance music that accompanied our meal. The music made any conversation rather difficult and produced a strange, pulsing vibration in my stomach while I was eating (see point two from introductory sentence). Lastly, the wine list was rather expensive for a burger bar. Most bottles began in the $50 range and while that might have been ok with my $60 kobe beef burger, it didn’t quite mesh with their $12 burger and fries special. Perhaps the above-average liquor prices were to discourage their over-18 diners, but the well-stocked, back-lit bar which runs the length of a wall and serves as one of the focal points of the restaurant, would suggest otherwise (not to mention the abundance of designer cocktails).

Anyways, all of this put together made me feel like I was frequenting a supper club aimed at the Miley Cyrus generation. Had we stayed later than 10:30 p.m., we might have witnessed a Much Music dance party. Bah Humbug! And it’s a shame, because the food was actually quite good and without the distracting club atmosphere, I would have definitely returned.

Mains: $20-$30


Monday, December 8, 2008

Buvette Chez Simone, 4869 Parc Avenue

It should first be noted, that with only an approximate address to go on, this small wine bar/resto was very difficult to find. Without much signage out front, and tucked into a nondescript space on a sleepy part of Parc Avenue between Villeneuve and St-Joseph, this bar can be easily missed. This being said, my first visit on a recent Saturday night demonstrated that the somewhat hidden location doesn’t prevent people from piling in. Seeing as though they don’t take reservations, my dining companions and I decided to get an early-ish start to our evening and arrived at the bar around 7:15pm and it is a good thing we did, by 8pm, there was not a spot to be found. On my second visit, I arrived just shortly after 5 and by 5:30pm, it was packed.

As far as wine bars go, I find Buvette Chez Simone to be like Pullman’s more casual cousin. The d├ęcor is less polished than Pullman, featuring a lot of raw wood and exposed orange industrial electrical cords. Surprisingly enough, it all works (in fact, I think BCS has already won some kind of Quebec design award). As for wines, they have a wide selection of very affordable varieties from all over the world; even better, is the fact that many of these wines are served by the glass. And although I have yet to try them, BCS also features two house wines, at a very affordable $5.50 (or so) a glass.

As for the food, I have nothing but good things to say… While most of the items on the menu are of the appetizer sort (i.e. olives, cheeses, charcuterie, small salads, etc.), there were a number of more “meal-oriented” dishes, such as a jarret d’agneau, a chicken sandwich and the full, half or quarter rotisserie chicken. On my first visit, my companions and I shared a rotisserie chicken and accompanying vegetables, a bowl of Greek salad and some olives. The perfectly-roasted chicken arrived, in its entirety, on a large wooden cutting board, with some roasted potatoes, onions and perhaps some carrots. The Greek salad was certainly better than average and served as a good match for the chicken. On a subsequent outing, my friend and I ordered a number of appetizers, which included an Italian cheese (served with bread, fruit and nuts), some rosette de Lyon, a few slices of cured beef which were not unlike beef jerky (and very tasty) and finally two little slices of toasted baguette, topped with an excellent slice of chorizo and a fried quail’s egg. All of the snacks were delicious, but the chorizo and quail egg was surprisingly excellent in their simplicity. While no one was interested in dessert, BCS does offer brownies, made with love and a lot of chocolate, from Cocoa Locale down the street.

Overall, my two excursions to Buvette Chez Simone were most enjoyable. The wines were very affordable and very pleasant, as was the food, and there was also great variety. While I would definitely recommend this little wine bar, I have to say that my dining companions did have one complaint: bad lighting. They found the industrial lighting to be a little lacking and had troubles reading their menus. As someone with a penchant for dark restaurants (as a young adult I thought that the lower the lighting, the fancier the restaurant), I had no problems with the muted atmosphere and in fact I felt it added to the coziness of the bar.

So to conclude: if you go, go early, or late and don’t be put-off by its somewhat hermetic location. Oh, and expect to spot a few Montreal vedettes tucked into its dark recesses.

Light meal and a few glasses of wine: $30