Montréal does food well. There is a reason Anthony Bourdain has a love affair with this city and its chefs, and poutine is the fast food darling du jour. My American relatives wax on about flying in to eat foie gras, nevermind dropping by Toronto to see my dad. And yes, I agree that the gourmet experience is excellent here despite my common complaints that Asian food in Montréal generally sucks and how difficult it can be to find vegetarian food.
But of course, I get to eat the best baguettes my heart desires, and am spoiled with various boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pastry shops) in my francophone neighbourhood. All I have to do is walk around the corner to get to the neighbourhood fromagerie (cheese shop), and a charcuterie (preserved meat shop) is just on the other side of the street. Not to mention a poutine spot at my disposal that features the aptly named poutine, Le Vladmir (after the Russian President Vladimi Putin — get it?).
With all these great food spots to choose from, it may seem difficult for me to choose one restaurant that I absolutely love in the city, but it is not. My favourite restaurant in Montréal is a wine bar, Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins, which I have visited a few times and most recently dropped by in the spring. And it took me this long to finally post a write-up of my last drop in, but alas, here it is.
Why do I love this restaurant? First, I will talk about the experience. The restaurant is not large, but spacey enough to fit in large groups and cozy enough to feel like you aren’t part of a mass feeding production. You can even sit at its large bar, or counter — comptoir in French, as per its name — a vestige from the space’s past life as a lab, and watch the chef and sous chef work their magic. I have sat at the bar for each visit, and I am convinced that these are the best seats in the house. Also, despite the casual atmosphere the food and service is consistently excellent, alongside a smart interior design that doesn’t scream trendy. Hence, you can walk in with your hipster beard or your distinguished 50 year old self, and everyone will fit right in.
Second, let’s talk about the food. As per the restaurant’s title, this Mile End spot specializes in charcuteries and wine. In case you are not familiar with charcuterie — which is very popular here in Montréal — it is a branch of cooking in which various meats are preserved to bring out their flavours. Therefore, you can order yourself or the table the charcuterie platter to start, as well as main course plates such as the current offering of cotechino, an Italian sausage. But even if you are not a big lover of charcuterie, or meat for that matter, the restaurant often offers less carnivorous dishes such as their long-standing roasted beet salad with goat cheese to start, as well as a braised cauliflower dish last year and bread pudding with caramelized apples as main dishes this past spring. The menu changes frequently, however, with their current offerings found on their website online.
Then, of course is their wine list. The restaurant specializes mainly in organic wines from small vineyards, currently priced at about $7.50 CDN a glass for an Italian white or Beaujolais, and up to $12.00 CDN for a glass of California red from the heralded Clos Saron. Bottles are available as well, of course, from $29.00 CDN for a bubbly from J. Frémont, and up to $360.00 CDN for a reserve from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Roasted beet salad with goat cheese and argan oil
The food menu is also well priced, with dinner appetizers and main courses at approximately $9 to $19 CDN. So, if there are two of you ordering an appetizer and main course each, as well as a glass of wine, you can get away with paying about $100 CDN with tip for an amazing dinner for two, which to me is quite a deal for the quality of food and service you are getting. Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins also serves Sunday brunch, and is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesdays to Saturdays. I actually was not aware that they served brunch, albeit on Sundays only, and since I love brunching on weekends, this place is now on my list of places to visit.
Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins was named one of the top restaurants in Canada in 2011 by En Route Magazine for a reason. And I would like to say I think the restaurant deserves top nods from us here, humbly on this blog, as a definite favourite. This place is so good, I remember why I love living in Montréal and it is almost enough to make me shut up about the quality of Asian food in the city.
Lobster tart with tomato confit, arugula and crème fraîche
Bread pudding with caramalized apple purée and Chicharrón