I can amaze myself sometimes. No, wait, I know I amaze you all too sometimes but please hold your applause, let me finish what I’m saying. I can manage to do hour after hour of research on restaurants when I am visiting other cities. Need recommendations for somewhere to eat in NYC? I can rattle off 50 without even pausing. You want ideas for where to eat in Montreal? I can give you about 15 and then I need to sit and think. Then I need a nap. How can it be that my restaurant bloodhound skills are top notch everywhere but here? I guess it’s easy to get comfortable here and get used to going to the same spots when we head out. In a city like Montreal it’s understandable when you’re eating at some world class places.
But I’ve been craving new places, new flavors and, to be honest, I’m ashamed of the long list of hot spots in my hometown that I haven’t even driven by yet. Pete has been ever so persistent with his hey dude when the hell are you gonna get your head out of your ass and book us a spot at Maison Publique? Many other Phatsoes have been raving about it too. The buzz has gotten too loud for me to ignore it any further so we book a table for a Saturday night at 20h. We head into town a few hours early to scope out the neighborhood and warm up with a few pints and some 9 ball before dinner. How did the 9 ball go you ask? I don’t want to talk about it but I will say that I destroyed those pints. Heading up to the restaurant and I can see this really is set up like an almost secret, little neighborhood gem. It’s in a relatively quiet residential spot and as we walk up we utter in unison,”Man, this reminds me of The Spotted Pig”. The Pig being my favorite pub in NYC I am now ridiculously excited to get inside.
I immediately fall for the look and vibe of the place as we walk in. It’s quaint, I can’t imagine it seats more than 40 people, it’s got a low key simple, classic pub decor and I have detected zero traces of any la di da shee shee fru fru-ness so far. The music is great and at the perfect volume level. This feels like a food lover’s pub much more than a people watching out to be seen kind of place. With the way we eat that’s good too cause we’re good at what we do but it sure as hell ain’t pretty when we do it. Our friendly server lets us know as we sit down that dishes here are designed to be shared so it’s a good idea to get 5 or 6 plates. Our eyes go to the Del Monico steak to share and I see a slight trace of fear and awe in our server’s face as we mention that may interest us. He says then maybe just take 3 plates if you go for that. Uh oh, did we just bite off more than we can chew? As we ponder what else we’ll be ordering we get a round of bloody caesars and when I ask for mine spicy he tells me “Oh, it will be.” I like this dude already.
The kitchen philosophy, led by west coast originator Derek Dammann, is farm to table cooking and stays true to the classic high end pub style grub. There’s no permanent menu here and you simply look at what’s tacked up on the board a la Joe Beef style to see what’s available that day. Pete and I are both really in the mood for that Del Monico steak so that’s already cleared up. As a nice, fresh side to that we decide on the swiss chard. It’s a staple in my garden and possibly my favorite veg of all. There’s a crab leg tarte akin to a super sexy quiche on the menu and seeing as I almost never get crab because of its obscene price we go for that to start. That’s something I have to mention; this place won’t be breaking your bank account. Everything’s very reasonably priced and you get great value for the money you drop here. With the price of ingredients going up and up lately this is not something you find everywhere you go. We’re looking at getting one more plate and we’ve both been on a tartare kick these days so the spicy lamb tartare is a no-brainer.
Now time to get a wine order in. This can be a grueling chore and with the prices of wine in Quebec it can be a sad, upsetting task to peruse the prices of these bottles. The wine list is also pinned on the big menu board and as I’m scanning it seems to me that every single bottle is a Canadian wine! What the hell is going on here?!? A quick memory scan and I can confirm I’ve never seen this before. Aside from our ice wines Canada isn’t renowned for its wine. This move takes some serious balls. For that I commend the chef but I am skeptical. Most of my experiences with Canadian wines haven’t been great, but for the insanely affordable prices they’ve got listed they’ve got my attention and I am willing to give it a shot. We start with a Quebec wine that is incredibly light and fruity and almost as pale as a rosé. I’m impressed and for 25$(!!!) this is a steal.
The crab leg tarte shows up and I tear right into it because the aromas are making me drool uncontrollably. This is when Pete reminds me “Dude, take a picture before you stick your face in it.” Oh ya. I’m supposed to be working here! It’s a well composed plate with a generous share of fantastically fresh crab meat in there. The crust is buttery and stays crisp under the filling. Nice work, I dig this plate but I’d be lying if I said the back of my mind wasn’t already fantasizing about the lamb. When it gets to the table I’m getting a heavy whiff of mint. On the toast is something of a chimichurri paste. I’m wondering if maybe this mintiness combined with the promised spice might totally overpower the gamey flavor of the lamb meat that I love so much. Turns out I’m an idiot. No need to worry here. This plate was spicier than I was expecting which seemed to only enhance the gaminess of the meat. The mint only amped up the flavors whilst still cooling off the palette. Simply put this dish is brilliant. Pete enthusiastically agrees and we just destroy this plate in no time. I’m tempted to get another order of it but I remember what is coming next.
We see chef Dammann near the bar and offer our praise of the lamb dish to him. He asks us “Hey, you see the guy by the window with the bad haircut?” “Umm, yes, hahaha.” We respond. “Well, that’s my lamb guy.” And sure enough a few minutes later that guy is carrying in a whole lamb. We contemplate clubbing him and running off but at this point I already know I’d like to come back here and besides there is still steak to get eaten. As I take a sip from my glass I realize I’m drinking air. Time for another bottle I guess! We go for something a little more ballsy this time around to go with the steak. It’s also a Quebec wine and is also almost embarrassingly affordable at 42$. It’s got the flavor profile of something like a Bordeaux. Good stuff. I’m sold on the all Canadian wine list. I think this is something he can go ahead and brag about too cause I’m sure no one else has a wine list like this. Take a moment to think about this: when was the last time you went for a great dinner and got 2 bottles of wine that totalled 67$? Only time that’s ever happened to me was in France. We’re a long way from France though aren’t we? It’s refreshing to not feel like I’m being gouged when I order wine here.
The swiss chard arrives a moment before the meat and a quick taste has me a little underwhelmed. It’s got a bit too much of a bitter vinegar bite to it. Still pretty good but after that zazzy lamb it fell a little short for us. Now in my peripheral vision I see 6 dudes struggling with a giant platter and of course it is coming our way. Holy sweet merciful crap this cannot be the steak for two. Ok seriously, it was just our server bringing it over but most of the colour did drain from his face as he carried it to us. This looks like something that would fill up two lions. This cannot be for two humans. I am scared but they say it is in the moments when we are faced with adversity that heroes are born. I want to be a hero. I steel my will, loosen my pants and tuck in. Half way through I am losing it here. The meat sweats are winning out and I am about to tap out and call it a night. Then I think of how disappointed and ashamed my kids would be to see their dad, the steak lover, eating like a sissy. I resolve myself to do this…for the children. About 10 minutes later we are looking at nothing but the rib bone on the plate. That was some damn good meat. I nearly go to suck on the rib bone but a quick analysis of the number of Kardashian jokes vs. jokes at my expense has me reluctant to come out on the losing end of a beefy bone. The Kardashians have no such fear so I leave the bone on the plate. Dammann comes over to see if we’ve survived and we ask just how big that steak actually was. “Oh, about 50 ounces”. JEEEZUS! We just demolished 3 pounds of steak. Many emotions hit me at once: shame, pride, honor, dizziness, bloating, and most of all gas.
Just when I think we can’t eat another bite the chef sends us a butterscotch creme de pot. While not usually a fan of butterscotch since I find it to be too sweet, I naturally am going to give it a shot. I’m pleasantly surprised to find it has a salty kick that softens the sweetness nicely. Pete is less pleasantly surprised to find when he looks down again I’ve eaten it all. Can’t believe it took me so long to get here. What a night. As we’re leaving we ask the chef why he chose to open up shop in Montreal. He claims to have followed a French girl here. Well my friend, you aren’t the first and won’t be the last. Thanks for staying!