For a variety of reasons, this past weekend was one of many indulgences. Years ago, when we lived in Toronto, held higher paying film-industry jobs, and didn’t worry about what we put into our bodies, we spent many a night out on the town, eating and drinking to our hearts’ content. When we moved to Montreal, we embraced the starving artist approach to dining out, which in truth is simply dining in, but at somebody else’s house. All it costs you is a bottle of wine, and a reciprocal dinner some time down the road: a pretty sweet deal. But every once in awhile a miraculous confluence of special events, out-of-town guests, and surprise pay cheques creates an opportunity to go out and dig the culinary scene, which in a city like Montreal is full of some pretty spectacular players.
Things started out on Friday night with a late Valentine’s Day dinner at Le Club Chasse & Pêche. According to the website, the restaurant – whose English name translates as The Hunting and Fishing Club – has been around since the 1950’s, though it was only a few years ago that it made a resurgence on the culinary scene. It’s a funny little hole-in-the-wall on a small side street leading down to the Old Port. The decor is somewhere between Dwell and dungeon-chic, with cheeky faux brick and wood, the kind of glassware that you might have found at a suburban key party in 1976, and some of the worst picture frames I have ever laid eyes on. In the end, however, none of this matters, because in addition to being an extremely comfortable and down-to-earth place to spend a few hours, the food is exceptionally good.
The wait staff was also good enough to treat us like human beings, even when we ordered our wine by the glass and decided to share a main course.
We started with aperitifs – an Evan Williams bourbon for him, a glass of Muscadet, name unknown, for me – and six oysters on the half-shell. They were amazing – especially the one that was covered with a miniature dice of potatoes, leeks, chorizo and aged-cheddar and then broiled before being brought to the table. Incredible. Though I am no oyster expert, they were by far the freshest oysters I have ever eaten. For the main course, we ordered a couple of glasses of something red, and three plates: a vegetable dish, an entree of barbary duck, and a plate of piglet risotto with foie gras and a curlicue of pork rind – yikes.
For a restaurant that specializes in meat and fish, they really know their way around the garden. Like everything we ate, the presentation of the vegetables was very of the moment without being pretentious: there was a sort of scalloped potato cake with potato chips, a creamy green pea mush with lardons, a saute of shiitake and bok-choy, and a green salad with pears, pecans and blue cheese. The barbary duck was – to steal a descriptor from the Mirror‘s Mark Slutsky – “beyond delicious”… perfectly cooked and served with a chestnut puree, a giant gizard ravioli, and some candied chestnuts for good measure. But the star of the show – my apologies to any vegetarian readers – was the risotto. It’s hard not to fall into cliché when describing this dish for it really was slow-cooked to perfection. The risotto was toothy to a T, and the large smattering of fois gras melting over top provided an extremely satisfying resolution.
We finished the evening off with a couple of glasses of Calvados and a roasted medjool date and coconut cake and ice cream concoction that was – need I say it? – delicious. Sated and happy, we strolled up to Cinema du Parc to see Martin Scorese’s new film, Shutter Island– which starts as a gorgeous pastiche of film noir and classic Hollywood cinema, and ends as something which is, well… pretty good. Wish I could say more, but: Leo still looks too much like a little boy to be convincing in this type of role; for a member of the “Lost” generation, the film was one twist short of two-thumbs up; and to quote a fella overheard on the escalator afterward, “someone needs to tell Scorsese that his films are all 30 minutes too long.”