Oct 6, 2012

Maison Publique: a new restaurant with an old soul

By Andrea Doucet Donida

Maison Publique open kitchen with Chef Derek Dammann at work

As I walked in Maison Publique, I felt immediately at home, or at ease, a sense of familiarity although the restaurant is so new it hasn't really opened its doors yet... Its probably because of the open kitchen and especially the vast bar that greets you right away, with its dark colors and aged look. The dark wood table and chairs as well as the old English patterned wallpaper and out of place memorabilia (like an animal skull placed in a corner) give the finishing touches of a place that has an old soul. It really feels like a neighborhood pub that has been there for years. The chef and co-owner, Derek Dammann is responsible for the decor and told me that it was exactly the look he was going for.  

You will find Alex Cruz behind the bar only on Saturdays, otherwise he is hard at work for Société l'Orignal...in the next room!

'' I wanted a place that fits the neighborhood '' he says, as he lives a few minutes walk away. It has a very different feel than DNA, the restaurant where he made his mark in Montreal (now closed). Derek wants people to come to Maison Publique to relax and have fun, you can watch a game on TV (maybe other than hockey if the lock-out goes on), just come for a bite and beer or a full flavored supper or brunch.

 I can't talk yet about the food in details because this morning's brunch was in fact a practice run, the first official brunch will be next Saturday Oct. 13th. and for supper, the first opening day will be Wed. Oct 10th. But I can show you what I tasted: a very meaty plate with a delectable bone marrow with rosemary and fleur de sel, one of the best blood puddings, sausages, some pork chops, eggs, bacon and toasts. Obviously this was delicious, Derek is very well known as a master of offal and meat plates. No veggies to be seen. But to be fair, there was a salad on the menu...which we didn't order!

Having a sweet tooth, and being at the table with my friend and also well known sugar bug Mayssam Samaha of Will Travel For Food, we also had to order pancakes, salty vanilla and Nutella soft ice cream and the Marathon Pudding which was first described to us as being a cake with dried fruit and ice cream, but turned out to be a sort of mi-cuit chocolate cake (with peanut butter?) and soft and salty ice cream. Derek later explained to me (through facebook) that this dessert is based on the defunct UK chocolate bar Marathon, aka Snikers. I'm putting this confusion on the fact that it was a practice run! And since everything was good, I'm not complaining. I'm looking forward to return for the supper menu, very soon since the resto is opening this coming Wednesday!

Derek and Alex are still a working couple, fun, passionate and hard at work. More than the decor, I bet it is their energy that permeates the restaurant and makes this place feel like home. 

 Alex and Derek, a super duo of Montreal gastronomy scene
 Mayssam and myself talking with Derek about the making of Maison Publique 

4720, rue Marquette (coin Gilford)
Montréal, QC, H2J 3Y6
Metro Laurier
Tel:  (514) 507-0555

Open for Supper from 6 pm to 10:30 pm Wednesday to Sunday
Open for Brunch from 10:30 am to 2 pm Saturday and Sunday

PS: To see Derek Dammann and Alex Cruz in action at the Omnivore World Tour talking about Maison Publique, click here for a fun video!

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Sep 28, 2012

Maclean's list of Canada's 50 best restaurants leaves out Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon

by Alexandra Forbes

I just can't let this one go. As a journalist and ex-magazine editor, I know exactly how much the print media loves their top 10 or top whatever lists - sells ads, keeps them alive.

And the oldest trick in the book is to preface such lists with a disclaimer saying all lists are subjective and controversial.

Yadda yadda yadda.

The fact is that's simply not true. The same way an overcooked risotto will always be a wrong risotto, a "50 best restaurants in Canada" list that includes the VERY unremarkable Dominion Square Tavern, and newcomer Maison Boulud but not Joe Beef or Au Pied de Cochon is simply wrong. Here's Maclean's list of top places in Montreal (the first seven are among my faves too, btw):

31. Toqué!
32. Olive + Gourmando
33. Bouillon Bilk
34. Ferreira Café
35. Les 400 Coups
36. Kazu
37. Le Club Chasse et Pêche
38. Maison Boulud
39. Dominion Square Tavern

Leaving l'Initiale out of the (short) list of Québec city restaurants is another mistake.

And... I haven't been to Toronto in a while, but I'm not so sure it's fair to claim that it has more excellent restaurants than Montreal.

I was glad to see that Montreal restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman let her opinion be known yesterday, before the list was even officially announced, on Twitter (username @lesleychestrman). She wrote:

"Just saw the Macleans 50 Best Restaurants in Canada list. Jacob Richler, you know nothing about Montreal restaurants. "

I'm sure she got the Maclean's people exactly what they wanted: controversy. Which sparks interest and pushes readership up. But really, whatever happened to responsible journalism?

Sep 23, 2012

Chef Antonio Park's Park restaurant: addressing readers' comments

by Alexandra Forbes

It seems a bit mind-boggling to me that the most obssessively-read post on this humble lil' blog is the one about Park restaurant. Enraged comments! Friends that read it, go try the restaurant and then complain to me! Drama!

I think it's about time that I address the issue.

First of all, I am unable, at this point, to write a fair and objective review of Park. Full-disclosure: chef-owner Antonio Park is a personal friend.

Having said that, I still do have a few opinions, of course. And I do sympathize with all those that write here and tell me personally that they hated the service.

The polished maître d' I wrote about in my original post is long gone. The staff is friendly but.... yeah, it could take close to half an hour to get a drink. I feel it.... It's happened to me.

And the person serving it might not know a heck of a lot about what's in the glass (though I've heard that they're getting, soon, a top-notch sommelier).

No matter: I still say this is by far the best place in town to get decent sushi.

Salmon belly niguiri, slightly torched

Which isn't too hard of an accomplishment, as there's really nowhere else serving sushi at this level. Buri - my favourite fish! - in two versions (from different-aged fish), for example, is dreamy.

Niguiri of oba iwashi (sardine family) with ginger and
a sauce made of Korean peppers, sake and yogurt

Uni so fresh you can't smell it, still whole, not briny or slimy in the least? An wrapped in crisp nori that is handed to you within 3 seconds, before it has a chance to absorb moisture and turn chewy? Mackerel niguiri so good you turn your eyes to the heavens, sighing? Buttery torched salmon belly?

And what's with that rice? Usually, only the Japanese can make that oh-so-tricky sushi rice, almost lukewarm but not quite, almost sweet but not quite, where the soft pillow of grains holds together just barely but falls apart immediately in the mouth.

The food, overall, is very good, from the bibimbap rice to the fall soup they've got on the menu now.

Buri, uni, shisso flowers

Desserts are reminiscent of something you'd have at Les 400 Coups: a panoply of overlapping textures, always highlighting fresh, bright flavours.

In short, solid cooking, first-rate ingredients. Here's chef Antonio Park showing off some of his kitchen's bounty:

Yes, granted, Park is expensive - but if that is an issue, go for lunch, when prices are lower.

Anyways... for those hungry for more dish descriptions, there's always Lesley Chesterman's glowing review in the Gazette. I've tried lots of stuff that I could talk about, but it's the niguiri that really blows me away: that oh-so-rare combination of the perfect rice and the best fish.

Niguri of Albacore tuna from B.C. with mujol caviar,
and niguiri of mackerel

In short, I love Park.

Yeah, granted, the service needs work. But you know what? I'm happy to see that Westmount - a previous gastronomic Sahara - actually has a top-notch restaurant for once (so nice that I can walk to it...). And if you care about good service and the details of what's on the plate, do as I do: sit at the counter right in front of the chef.

tel. (514) 750-7534
378 avenue Victoria

Sep 20, 2012

New restaurants in Montreal: Café Sardine, Hotel Herman, etc

L'Atelier d'Argentine

by Alexandra Forbes

Suddenly, I've noticed a flurry of restaurant openings in Montreal. There are so many new places, in fact, that I haven't been able to keep up and try every one. Here is a list of the more notable ones with, when applicable, my comments:

Café Sardine
I've heard enthusiastic raves from friends. And Lesley Chesterman liked a lot, too. Here, a link to her review.
 9 Fairmount Ave. E. (near St. Laurent Blvd.)
Tel: 514-802-8899

Grumman78 HQ
What Montrealer doesn't already know the fun Grumman78 taco truck, always holding court at major events in town? For quite a while, they'd do the occasional event at their HQ in St. Henri (the warehouse-cum-kitchen where they prep all their food). Always a party.
Now they've decided to open 3 nights a week (Wednesday through Friday), starting September 26, for dinner. At this one, I'll be a regular.... love their cooking, love their vibe, love the space.
630 De Courcelle St. St Henri
tel. (514) 290-5125

This is the second restaurant of restauratrice Helena Loureiro. I've got to say I was never a big fan of the first one, Portuscalle, on Boulevard St. Laurent. One terrible experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I never returned. But this new one... I sampled the food at the press opening and was quite impressed. Real Portuguese flavours, with a contemporary slant. Strong execution of the dishes. And the décor and the location, at this new one, are quite a bit nicer (large dining room in Old Montreal with high ceilings and open kitchen).
438 McGill St.
(514) 878-1555

Hotel Herman
This is the top one on my must-see list. Again, I'll link you to Lesley Chesterman's review. She liked it a lot...
5171 St. Laurent Blvd. (corner Fairmount St.)
Tel 514-278-7000

 L’Atelier d'Argentine
I had to go give this one a try: Argentina is close to home (I'm Brazilian) and I know my steaks... They took over the old DNA space and I couldn't see much difference in the glass-filled décor. Same dim lighting, same loud music (too loud). The steaks were quite good, served with a ho-hum chimichurri sauce. There's much room for improvement in the empanada and pão de queijo department. Favourite dishes were appetizers, especially the corn tamal topped with shredded braised short ribs, the fennel salad and the spinach buñuelos (fritters). Nice to see that the wine list, Argentina-heavy, goes with the overall theme. I didn't love it - still trying to figure out if it was good enough to warrant going back.
355 Marguerite D'Youville,Old Montreal
Tel: 514-287-3362

Cool little pizza place and enoteca in Old Montreal that, thankfully, looks and feels nothing like a stereotypical pizza joint. The look has a hint of futuristic theatre backstage, with funky sculpted chairs that reminded me of subway car seats. Great choice of premium mozzarellas (try the house-smoked buffala mozzarella and you won't want to touch that supermarket bocconcini stuff any time soon). Pizzas are baked in a proper wood-fired oven in the back and rolled out on a funky conveyor belt. Owner is Simple Plan guitarist Jeff Stinco, who knows more about food and wine than one might think.
105 St. Paul st West, Old Montreal, tel (514) 419-8380

Aug 20, 2012

Derek Dammann and Alex Cruz tongue & cheek moment about Maison Publique at Omnivore World Tour Montreal

By Andrea Doucet Donida

There are moments in life when you wish you had your video camera on…and this time, mine was! I had a feeling Derek Dammann and Alex Cruz would not disappoint with their mix of tongue and cheek humor and great passion for what they do.
So enjoy this moment of pure fun…something about whorehouse and great food. Yes, in Montreal, you can find it all! :-)

The video is both in English and French - in true Montreal spirit

Maison Publique will open by mid to end of September 2012 on 4720 Rue Marquette where the "bring your own wine" restaurant Yoyo used to be. Derek told me that he has gutted the place and is replacing everything with lots of wood, to give it a real pub feeling to it. There will also be a space for Société Orignal to showcase the best of what Quebec's farmers have to offer. It will for sure be the place to go for unique and delicious addition to Montreal culinary scene.

Omnivore World Tour was at SAT Food Lab from August 18th-20th 2012.

I was invited to Omnivore by Exeldor (100% Quebec).
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Aug 12, 2012

L’Atelier d'Argentine, a Montreal take on Buenos Aires hot spots

By Andrea Doucet Donida

You will not see anyone dancing the tango in this new Montreal restaurant, nor any tacky memorabilia. L’Atelier d'Argentine is not your usual ethnic restaurant, and I was the first one happy about that. When I heard that an Argentinean restaurant was going to open its doors instead of the beloved D.N.A. (chef Derek Dammann of D.N.A. is moving on to Maison Publique with little known chef Jamie Oliver as a partner – more on that soon), I wondered if they were going to make it a tourist trap or bring the real deal from such a beautiful country: authentic and simple food, refinement and a dash of melancoly.

I can say that for the décor, it is spot on. Serious in gray overtones, very masculine, the space has gained from this facelift an air of sophistication while inviting you to relax. With lots of creativity, one could imagine the space to be the Argentinean dark man inviting you for a romantic meal.
Ok, now I’m getting into tacky touristy descriptions… Back to l’Atelier d'Argtentine.

I wish I could say more about the food, but I haven’t really eaten there yet except for having some appetizers during the media launch. There were nice dense cheese balls, reminiscent of those I love from Brazil, Hanger steak with chimichurri of course, a fun and purple beet, raspberry, cucumber, tomato Gazpacho, and empanadas. I hope to go back soon to taste the main dishes they serve because talking to the Argentinean chef, Natalia Machado, they have truly tried to bring to the table typical food from all over Argentina.

 Cheese bread appetizers
Hanger Steak and chimichurri

Chef Machado lives in Buenos Aires, and is in charge of creating the menu for L’Atelier d'Argentine. She told me that last year she toured her country, as she is married to a musician, and took that opportunity to research more in depth all the flavors that Argentina had to offer. Natalia’s eyes were shining when she spoke of her trip around the vast lands of the country, and her love for food.  It is unfortunate that she will not remain here to oversee the restaurant, but I’m hoping that her passion and knowledge has been well communicated to the staff on hand, directed by Jean-Bernard Forgues. Only time will tell, or maybe one of you?

Here's a peek at the menu and the dessert menu (that I really want to try!!)

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Jul 28, 2012

The Souk – streetfood at the Just For Laughs Festival – is a hit!

By Andrea Doucet Donida 

Gaëlle Cerf, co-owner of Grumman 78 taco foodtruck must be smiling right now, and with good reason.

Her brain-child, the Food Souk, a celebration of streetfood at the Just for Laughs Festival, is a hit. Last March, when I spoke to Gaëlle at the Snow Village Streetfood event, she was already working on this summer Just for Laughs unique food concept in Montreal, pushing to get street food recognized as a valid alternative in Montreal. It is still within the “walls” of a Festival, but slowly we have seen the discussion surrounding street food make its way up the Municipal agenda. While we wait for this mouvement to finally take over the real streets of Montreal, don’t miss your chance to taste what is offered at the Souk: today is the last day! Ends July 28th at 11pm.
Grumman 78 is one of the leaders in Montreal's Street Food mouvement and organizer's of the Food Souk

I strongly recommend going in late afternoon since some of the street food trucks are closed at noon, especially all the sweet ones - don’t know why and as a fervent sweet tooth gal, I was very disappointed when I went for lunch!
Marius & Fanny was closed at noon - I was looking forward to their cannelés and macarons...check them out!

You can find your usual street food fare – but at a very high standard, like burgers, tacos, hot dogs and such. However, you also find original offerings, healthy and so delicious, like the veggie cones served up by Darren Bergeron at his Dada stand. He also adds some salmon, cheese or other toppings, in amazingly spiced up vinegrette with fresh and crunchy vegetables. Can you tell it was my favourite?
Chef Darren Bergeron preparing fresh mix of beautiful vegetables and spices, yum!

Another really good choice are the lobster rolls form Lucille’s stand, and the line-up is not too big since the service is ultra-fast.

Street food is also a place to innovate and have fun, like this unusual “glass” for very sweet raspberry lemonade! Makes you feel like a kid again.
Raspberry lemonade in a bag, makes you smile although too sweet to make it really refreshing

Which I guess is the point of this Food Souk at Just for Laughs, enjoy yourself, laugh and have a big foodie party!

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Jul 25, 2012

Omnivore food forum takes over the SAT August 17-20

Chef Peter Nilsson of La Gazzetta, in Paris
By Alexandra Forbes

Between August 17 and  20, as part of the Omnivore festival, foreign chefs like La Gazzetta’s Peter Nilsson will cook dinners alongside local chefs, and will also do presentations at the Societé des Arts Technologiques. Nilsson will be the guest chef at the hip little restaurant Lawrence on August 17 alongside chef-owner Marc Cohen, and do a presentation at the Societé des Arts Technologiques (SAT) the following morning. My full post with more details is online on The Montreal Buzz, click here to read.

The dinners can be booked by contacting the restaurants themselves, while day passes to attend the presentations can be purchased online.

Omnivore official website
Societé des Arts Technologiques, 1201 St-Laurent, (514) 844-2033