To enter a restaurant is to enter the mind of the chef, to experience what he or she wished you to experience – and I’m not just talking about the food. The influence of the chef is seen in all aspects of their restaurants – it is the subtle elements of decor, music and atmosphere that make David McMillan and Fred Morin’s cool ode to rustic Quebec in Joe Beef work. Same goes for Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles and the hip coolness of Garde Manger and Bremner or the friendly neighbourhood British pub feel for Derek Dammmann’s Maison Publique. There are many examples across Montreal but the key is that the restaurants feel as though they are uniquely from the chefs that run them. We are spoiled in Montreal to have so many wonderful and unique chefs. The challenge is simply to experience all of them!
For the occasion of our anniversary, I decided to bring my girlfriend to Plaza St-Hubert of all places to visit a restaurant that seemed to have the right level of finesse with that wonderful unique element that I love so much about Montreal…. in this case, from the mind of Charles-Antoine Crete, Montreal Plaza.
Started up by Crete and his partner Cheryl Johnson, Montreal Plaza is Crete’s first big project since he left Toque where he was Normand Laprise’s right-hand man. The restaurant, designed by Zébulon Perron, is quite the space. Equal combination fancy bistro and family chalet. You are wowed by the white-painted bean-board walls and ceiling, the frosted-glass lighting across the ceiling, the marble bars and the open kitchen but then you are amused by the old grandfather clock, the teddy bear, the upside down doll house and by-plane used on the ceiling fans, the greenhouse and the “workshop” space. The bathroom area has one of those light-up nature frames with nature sounds on the ceiling! The space is bemusing but wonderful all the same time. The music the whole night was 90s rap and hip-hop so my girlfriend and I spent the night singing along to Nelly, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and R Kelly. I can only imagine how weird that contrast could be some but for a couple of 20-somethings, it was a awesome element to our evening.
We must start with the drinks as the beer list had the Anna from Hill Farmstead brewery in Vermont. For those who known about beer, you understand how exciting that was…. and how great of a Honey Ale it was. I’d had been wanting to visit the brewery and try one of their beers for a while now. This was a very pleasant surprise to start our evening. For the rest of you, I encourage you to check them out if ever you have a chance.
Foodwise, we decided to start with something neither of us had tried before: sea urchin. In this case, grilled sea urchin served with lardon, green onions and fried shallots within its shell. Beautiful presentation and lovely taste. The urchin was firm at first but then melted in the mouth – rich and creamy sweetness. The addition of the lardon and the shallots added a hint of smokiness as well. A awesome first try at Uni.
Our second starter was salmon tartar + crispy – a lovely slightly creamy salmon topped with lettuce and puffed rice as the crunch to the dish. The fish texturally was beautiful and tender. The binder of the tartar provided some richness and a touch of bite to the dish. The use of the rice for some texture was creative and added some crunch.
We were feeling adventurous with our mains. Our first was blood sausage and apple – served with a jus de viande, lettuce, onion rings and some fresh cranberries. The sausage was wonderful – rich and savoury. The sweetness of the apple and the tartness of the cranberries paired very nicely. The onion rings were a weird add to the plate but the combination of their sweetness and their crunch made them a surprisingly perfect addition.
Our second main was equally as unique in its combinations – sliced deer heart and calamari served with red cabbage, red onion, hay and popcorn. The play between the gamey deer and the fishy tender calamari was pretty interesting although I wished they had been a bit more deer in the plate. The popcorn was another fun play for texture and some sweetness.
Once we got to dessert, my girlfriend wasn’t that hungry so she only ordered one of their Cannelés. Nice hint of vanilla and rum with a fluffy interior and nice crust on the outside. An excellent pastry. I, on the other hand, went with the glacé aux pommes cake – layers of frozen apple and cake sliced very thinly and served as almost a blooming flower. Beautiful to look at and very tasty as well.
Montreal Plaza was a perfect spot for our anniversary dinner and a lovely look into the minds of Chef Crete and his team. Great food, great atmosphere and wonderful service in a unique space. You don’t associate Plaza St-Hubert with fine dining but this becomes a worthwhile member of Montreal’s best.
514 903 6230