*** (three stars)
Address: 771 Rachel St. E (near St-Hubert St.)
Open: Tues.-Sun. 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Wheelchair access: one step at the door
Reservations: Essential (call well in advance)
Vegetarian friendly: Yes
Parking: On the street with meters (can be difficult on busy nights)
Price range: Starters: $12-$80 (caviar); main courses $26-$40; desserts $9. Five-course tasting menu, $65.
There are few things more depressing than seeing a boarded-up beloved restaurant of old.
I always divert my gaze when driving past the once-bustling Chez Gautier building on Park Ave., and the idea that the terrific Hôtel Herman will be closing at the end of this month — not because it is going under, but because the landlord won’t renew the lease — fills me with dread.
As encouraging as it is when empty locales are taken over by new restaurants, seeing a Burger de Ville in the place of the old Citrus — the restaurant that launched Quebec cuisine in the mid-1990s — is somewhat disheartening, even if Burger de Ville makes a pretty mean burger.
And yet, happily, some restaurant locales actually do better the second, third or whatever time around. I can think of the great new Le Plaza, the Brasserie Bernard, or the buzzy Kampai Garden in the Faubourg Ste-Catherine.
This week’s restaurant, Prince, is another success story.
I was concerned when I heard Prince had taken over the Rachel St. space that last housed Les Infidèles, an excellent BYOW restaurant. Good BYOW restaurants are as few and far between as great pastry shops in Montreal. The last thing we need is another mediocre Plateau eatery where patrons line up for lacklustre food because they can save on the cost of wine.
When I last dined at Les Infidèles, over a decade ago, the menu was Quebec-ingredient-centred, there was a water list (remember those?) and the room was swish with aubergine-coloured walls, cream banquettes and white linen on all tables.
Now? the room is even more swish, with battleship-grey chairs, white walls, all-too-rare tablecloths and a pretty tulip on every table.
A window behind the bar looks into the kitchen, where I can see two chefs busy at work. Our waiter is friendly and ever-present. It’s all extremely promising.
The owners of Prince are BYOB vedettes Marc-André Paradis and Georges Blais who, either with other partners or with each other, are behind some of the city’s top BYOW establishments, including Lannes & Pacifique, Les Héritiers, O’Thym, Wellington, Monsieur B, Le Smoking Vallée, Le Millen, and Les Canailles.
Blais and Paradis have the cool vibe/great food BYOW restaurant genre down pat, and their chef at Prince is Charles-Antoine Malenfant-Beaulieu, who worked at Salmigondis et Chez l’Épicier and has the fancy plating style to prove it.
I have reviewed the above restaurants, all highly recommendable, but Prince is a notch up. One glance at the menu and I was pleased that I brought some good wine because this food merits a fine bottle.
I dined at Prince on Super Bowl Sunday, which meant the restaurant was pretty empty, but as with all the good BYOW restaurants, that is rarely the case so I’d advise booking well in advance.
Now, before going any further, allow me a small rant regarding the reservation system, which entails that dreaded answering machine/message callback scenario.
On the Saturday I called, my call was never returned. I then called back at 6 p.m. to find out no tables were available that night, so booked a table for the next day. For a restaurant that’s been open for close to four months now, that kind of sloppiness doesn’t fly. Restaurants should opt for Open Table or any other online booking system to avoid having to keep customers waiting for news on table availability that often comes too late in the day to make alternate plans. OK, rant over.
To launch your meal at Prince, I highly recommend the blood pudding. “Boudin” is omnipresent on Montreal menus, and this one is excellent, with the requisite Devil’s Food Cake texture and not an overly spicy or bloody flavour. The garnish of marinated salmon, apple brunoise, hazelnuts and sour cream could have made a dish onto itself, and I’m not convinced blood pudding and salmon make for the best bedfellows. But every element on this plate was scrumptious.
The spring roll appetizer was an elaborate dish, starring a single square spring roll filled with puréed shrimp paired with a yuzu sauce, fish roe and popcorn shrimp. Though impressive-looking, this dish didn’t do it for me. Why purée shrimp when its texture is its great appeal? And everything tasted together, bogged down with that mayonnaise-like sauce, was cloying.
The beef tartare was more my thing. Flavoured with chorizo, jalapeño and caramelized squash, this tartare was less moist than most (as in not soaked in vinaigrette or mayonnaise) and offered about an equal amount of meat to vegetable, which gave it an expected lightness. Nice.
Main courses are boldly luxurious: Expect truffles, foie gras and a majority of meats.
The veal filet was as classic a French restaurant dish as they come, with two generous slices of tender veal paired with a truffle-enhanced mushroom sauce, aligot potatoes made with aged cheddar, and roasted root vegetables. A pretty straightforward dish, done flawlessly. I wish I’d had a fine pinot noir on hand to enjoy with that one.
Equally delicious was the braised short rib. Despite its popularity in high-end restaurants, short rib is really a cheap cut of meat. But here it is given the royal treatment — served on a bed of diced peppers (piperade) and surrounded by dauphinois potato croquettes. The melting beef was well matched with the peppers, and the croquettes were all silky potato and crunchy crust. Superb.
Outside the meat offerings came the halibut — a moist-n’-creamy filet paired with a watercress cream and lemon butter, and topped with a salad made with sea parsley, arugula and dill. I loved the meatiness and juiciness of this fish and the accompaniments were bang on, save for two gnarled chunks of roasted Jerusalem artichoke (served skin-on) that added an off-putting bitterness to it all. Ditch the chokes and this dish would be perfect.
Though not listed on the menu, a cheese course is an option for those looking to draw out the meal or polish off their wine. Our waiter looked surprised when I asked about cheese, but a plate was pulled together.
As for dessert, to my surprise, that was offered on-the-house to make up for the reservation snafu the day before. We were given three cream puffs drowned in milk chocolate sauce and topped with flecks of gold leaf, and a half dozen small doughnuts, served piping hot straight from the deep fryer. All good, but considering the sophisticated and savoury menu, the desserts — like the cheese course — could use a little TLC.
Despite a few weak spots, I was impressed with this ambitious new restaurant, no doubt a worthy successor to this space’s former inhabitant. I’m not ready to call it the king of the city’s BYOW restos, but without a doubt, this Prince is eager to ascend.
You can hear Lesley Chesterman on ICI Radio-Canada Première’s Médium Large (95.1 FM) Tuesdays at 10 a.m., and on CHOM (97.7 FM) Wednesdays at 7:10 a.m.