Mar 10, 2011

Chefs Patrice Demers and Marc André Jetté open a pop-up cabane à sucre

Yep, there I was, on opening night, sugar-shacking it at the Old Port in Montreal at La Cabane. Not sure if you guys know what a sugar shack is, but it usually entails wolfing down industrial amounts of beans, maple syrup, pork, lard and pies at a shack somewhere in the countryside. But not here, nananina. There was no sign of a lumberjack-type menu at La Cabane, which struck me as definitely more of an urban-hip-and-way-too-cool-for-meat-pie sorta shack.

If the food looks and tastes fancier than the usual sugar shack fare, that's to be expected when you've got the chef-partners Marc-André Jetté and Patrice Demers of Les 400 Coups restaurant behind it. Last night - the official opening - they were both there, working the stoves and the crowd - but in all truth, I doubt they'll be able to be so present the rest of the time. After all, Les 400 Coups is still in its infancy, and a "baby" that requires much tlc...

In any case, it was great to see both chefs go at it for the big opening. The amuses were the lower point of a five-course feast that hit many highs. The chicken-liver in a glass was apropriately silky and benefitted from the blanket of maple jelly on top but the game-terrine-on-a-stick was too fatty, too coarse, and with the chunk of marinated beet on top, too big for one bite. I much preferred the devilled eggs which came with an ever-so-subtle dusting of maple crunchies...

The smoked pumpkin soup that followed was so thick it reminded me of spiced-up baby food - but hey, I actually love the stuff. In the center, just to remind us that this is indeed a sugar shack, a piece of salmon confit in duck fat and cipollinis in maple syrup.

Rather than going classic and serving some sort of meat pie or pork dish as a main, the chefs created a nicely executed casserole of beans, carrots, turkey and fresh parsley where everything had its own very specific cuisson. The turkey, sous-vide (and therefore super tender and juicy); the beans, al dente; the parsley leaves, whole and fresh. Crowning the whole, a generous heap of oreilles de crisse, also prepared sous-vide (necessary?). A peasant dish and a humble combo refined by precise technique.

The main dessert was a trio of ultra-sweet treats. In a jar, chocolate ganache topped by cocoa crumbs and a maple and sea salt foam. Sophisticated, but a bit too déjà vu for me. There were a couple of maple-almond financiers (no fireworks there, either) and a predictably delicious maple-ly ice cream sandwich.

The more crowd-pleasing maple-meringue-poached-in-liquid-nitrogen post-dessert got way more attention, I thought (video to come shortly...).

But for me, the best sweet of the evening was the ice cider on snow, an elegant take on the traditional tire à l'érable. Nothing is added to the cider - it simply rolls up on snow the same way as maple, to create an amorphous and droopy lollipop that is incredibly delicious. Tart and sweet, unctuous and sticky, and oh-so-sugar-shacky.

Reignier Julien of Boutique Point G with his cidre de glace....

The man behind the golden nightcap-on-a-stick is Reignier Julien, co-owner of the pastry shop Boutique Point G. I was informed of this by the Montreal foodie Andrea Donida, who was literally aghast when I confessed I'd never heard of the diminutive pastry master from France, renowned for his macaroons... oops! Liv'n'learn...

Here, he prepares my very own "ice cider and snow lollipop":
Photo: Clarah Germain

La Cabane: until April 15th at the Old Port of Montreal, directly below the Jacques Cartier esplanade. 
Wednesday - Saturday, one seating at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, one seating at 11:30 a.m.
$ 55 per person, plus tax and service; $15 for children under 12
tel. (514) 444-4383

 And here's a video of my evening at La Cabane:

And here, just as a basis for comparison, are a couple of photos taken at a very traditional sugar shack in North Hatley, 1 hour from Montreal, as a crowd enjoyed their tire-sur-la-neige:

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