26 June 2013
I made my way to Montréal from Toronto and the change was dramatic…from horrible heat and humidity to breezy and comfortable (well, more comfortable). I had planned nothing for the first day, arriving in mid-afternoon. Today is being devoted to the return to one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Joe Beef.
To many in the food world, Joe Beef is an institution, a pure labour of love for food and drink and happiness. It’s like the Disneyland for foodies, the happiest place on the planet with amazing food and drink. Chefs from around the world descend on Montréal and make sure they experience Joe Beef. I had not eaten all day and was ready for a challenge…
For me being back in Montréal is both joyous and depressing. I love this town for all it offers, especially for the food and people. But I also dread being back here, being the town my ex-gf is from. There was no way not to think of her when I am here…and it really, really did not help when I saw a carbon copy of her in the Métro on an adjacent train…it may actually have been her. That threw me into a tizzy, a complete tizzy…
I got there upon opening and was seated at the shellfish bar on the other side of the restaurant, much like last year. Most of the staff remained the same, and they remembered me from my visit last year. It’s also like the Cheers of the food world, you just feel like home even before you sit down. How I needed that now after that utterly unneeded moment on the train… The pain I felt sitting last year here was erased, at least for a short while whilst enjoying the feast and company…I really need this now, again…
Enjoying a cocktail, I looked at the day’s menu. Though my “food French” isn’t bad, they nicely translated it all for me with detail:
I had a totally empty stomach since Shōtō in Toronto the night before, so was ready to feast. I started with two starters as I switched to wine.
First were some fresh razor clams. I love these things in every possible way, so this was a very nice treat to start. It was then that chef Dave McMillan came out to say hello. It was good to see the gentle bear again, and although he was busy finishing up the winebar they are opening the next week, he was in good form. I joked to him to “try to kill me” and he gave me an evil smile as he headed back…uh oh…
I had ordered the lobster sausage already and it arrived just as Dave headed back to find a way to “kill” me… Now this was dreamy…pork and lobster in a heavenly pairing within nature’s casing. The baby turnips are a very nice addition, as well as the loose lobster chunks. Now this is awesome…
At this point, with more wine, I left my fate to the kitchen… By now I’ve mentioned this to people on Twitter and have been warned that I’m about to get what I asked for! The first to arrive was the terrine with truffles.
I seem to be the only person in the food world that doesn’t like truffles (despite loving mushrooms of all sorts so much), so for me the parts I loved on this dish was the wild garlic from the garden in back. The terrine itself was delicious, with a rich fried egg shielding it from my eager appetite. So far a spot-on evening.
The next dish was the stuffed squash. I do apologise if the photos are getting darker, as the sunlight from outside was fading. A rich and fantastic dish based around the simple yellow squash, albeit stuffed full of excellent seafood. Very nice.
I must mention that the person sitting next to me is from Kentucky, came to Joe Beef almost by accident thinking it a steakhouse. He heard about it from his pastor (?!) and was blown away…and had a seafood dinner! Now that’s a great story to tell!
The next dish was one of my favourites, the tongue. Fantastic slices over a larger braised portion, with in-season watercress from the garden. I love tongue, and this dish brought out the best of the tongue. Mmm… Now compare this from the “pig head” dish from Shōtō last night and it’s the best representation of over-chef’ing compared to this clean and solid dish.
At this point I was slowing down a little, but still rallying. Along with copious amounts of drink and banter with fellow diners and crew, this was turning into an epic evening. But remembering what I told Dave, I was ready for more.
They now brought me out my “main” — the rabbit. Now this was a very, very meaty rabbit. Most of the time you get a rabbit that’s mostly bone, but this one had a lot of meat. I thought it was a bird when it first came out… Wow. I wish I had better, unedited pictures of this beast. Tender and flavourful, excellent. I do admit I was eating somewhat slowly at this stage…
Wow…I asked for wee break at this point and was granted. Kept on the drink and chat and it was a great evening. I was out of my funk from earlier, thank goodness. I think at this point actually Dave’s plans for me had concluded, and at my breaking point too! It was late, the bar was boistrous and happy, and so was I. I stayed and drank on.
Believe it or not, I may have eaten even more at this point on and off…a little too tipsy to note all of it! The only evidence I have photo-wise are oysters (too dark to post). I came in the minute they opened, I headed out when they were closing down for the night… Now this was an epic night. And to make it even more crazy, I took one of their infamous “Double-Down” — foie gras sandwich to go with me “as dessert” for when I got back to my hotel…
Wow…this was a hell of a feast. I’ve rarely eaten this much and this well in one sitting, and I’ve rarely enjoyed myself so much. The joy of Joe Beef is the mutual love of food and drink, and plenty of good people. The cooking is based on fresh ingredients, where Dave and crew brings the very best out of these ingredients. No over-chef’ing here, not needed. Nature is the best chef. This is why the chefs that constantly over-chef come here to Joe Beef to eat.
A fantastic evening, draining, one that will require days and days in the gym to balance. But once in awhile, you are treated to such an evening, and you really do enjoy it. It gave me the peace I wanted for a few hours before heading solo into the night again.
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest