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Paul Ross
Restaurant Reviews
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MONTREAL PLAZA: A Wild Chef/Fab Food

by Paul Ross
November 3, 2016
Montreal Plaza Restaurant
6841 Rue Saint-Hubert
Montreal, QC, Canada
(514) 903-6230
montrealplaza.com
Paul Ross is a Santa Fe-based photojournalist who covers travel and food.
After dining at the Montreal Plaza restaurant, I knew I had to add someone to my short list of mad geniuses: Nijinsky for dance, Wagner for music, Dali for painting, Kanye for self-proclaimed multi-tasking. The next place on the list goes to Charles-Antoine Crête, chef at the Montreal Plaza (in the city of the same name).

He built a loyal fan base when cooking at Toqué restaurant one of the highest rated restaurants in Canada. When Crête opened his own restaurant in 2015, fans followed and pretty soon it was hard to nab a table at the 80-seat eatery. True to his reputation as a pioneer, he chose a neighborhood –Rosemont-Petit Patrie– that was on the cusp of re-gentrification. His restaurant is moving the pace of that re-gentrification along quickly as foodies are flocking to the area. They are discovering the charm of iron balconies, stairs and railings, peeling plaster and faded signage with lettering so antique it’s back in fashion as retro.

Tucked into the middle of the block on a broad street, with outdoor seating under overhanging eaves, the Montreal Plaza has décor which echoes its locale: classic black and white tiled floor, old style wooden furniture (much of it hand-crafted by the chef’s father and shared from his own home), metal columns, and, inexplicably, a superbly handcrafted dollhouse –hanging upside down from the ceiling and revolving slowly.

But the food?––The first bite is often an indicator of what is to follow. This meal began with a masterful yellow tomato and melon soup. It was served cold and was a deceptively simple blend of golden tomato, red watermelon and orange cantaloupe melded with basil, olive oil and fresh mozzarella. Cascades of cool textures and flavors smoothed the way for a succession of creamy, smoky and sweet tastes.

Next came a salad with few ingredients and a multiplicity of taste sensations. The chef combined salmon nigiri, smoked sturgeon, apples, mizuna, and cherry tomatoes in a vegetable glaze. The fish was velvety and subtle, enhancing and being enhanced by its partners on the plate.

Cavatelli pasta then appeared dressed in duck confit along with peak of the season, forest-harvested lobster mushrooms. It was my early favorite and remained so as it presented both hearty peasant, and sophisticated, rich essences.

But then my favorite was challenged by the Yakitori. It wasn’t the frequently over-sweetened, charred-on-a-stick offering from a strip mall sushiteria, but a maestro’s orchestration of venison, pork, chicken and shrimp brought together with a drizzle of vegetable caramel and spiced shrimp powder. I tasted a bold barbecue flavor that wasn’t fussy and yet was complex enough that diners around me were trying to guess at its ingredients.

The chanterelle mushrooms, based in a herb oil of fennel and garlic flowers, were dusted with parmesan and sat delicately on a bed of toast. They were tender, with a slight chewy crunch, and had the satisfying savory heft of beef combined with the subtle umami quality of cheese.

The in-season chanterelles appeared again in the entrée, a duck breast with roasted potatoes and onions, kohlrabi and, surprisingly, strawberries rounded out the perfectly-plated and delicately-balanced dish.

As for desserts – who could refuse, even if it meant pausing to take a few deep breaths – a duo of chef-recommended delights. First, a goat yogurt dripping in sumac caramel and second, a squash ice cream which looked like sunshine and went down like the best frozen custard you never tasted as a child. Neither was too sweet and perfectly capped an inspired dining experience.

The friendly waitperson explained that the left hand side of the menu was reserved for the “classics,” while the right side changed with the seasons and also included bi-weekly specials that were based on what was best at the markets. The chef’s tasting menu, which is what I had, runs about $80 (Canadian).

The biggest surprise of the evening was saved for the end: meeting Chef Crête (half of the owning/creative team behind the Montreal Plaza).

He’s brash, bold, loud, loves to laugh and, even more, to shock. He salts his talk with tales of past adventures, celebrity clientele, trials and triumphs that really will have you LOLROTF. And he is not shy about using language without so much as a “pardon my French.” He’s shares his personal goals, some of which are as wild as his stories. “I’d love to have a restaurant that’s FREE. Where no one pays, he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because that would be less stressful,” he roared.

It’s no wonder that the Montreal Plaza has been named one of the year’s Ten Best by Air Canada’s en Route magazine. The prices are fair and the relaxed ambience and easy hospitality will have you feeling like one of the locals.

IF YOU GO:
Montreal Plaza Restaurant
(open for dinner only)
6841 Rue Saint-Hubert
Montreal, QC, Canada
(514) 903-6230
“Mad Genius” Chef Crête ¬¬––in a less manic moment–– writes out a recipe at his Montreal Plaza restaurant.

“Mad Genius” Chef Crête ¬¬––in a less manic moment–– writes out a recipe at his Montreal Plaza restaurant.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


In one corner of the Montreal Plaza restaurant, delighted diners enthusiastically enjoy the unique creations.

In one corner of the Montreal Plaza restaurant, delighted diners enthusiastically enjoy the unique creations.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Wine glasses, engraved with the rooster logo of the Montreal Plaza restaurant, await pourings.

Wine glasses, engraved with the rooster logo of the Montreal Plaza restaurant, await pourings.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Chef Crête’s superb yellow tomato soup is served.

Chef Crête’s superb yellow tomato soup is served.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Who isn’t delighted/embarrassed when a restaurant surprises them with a public birthday display …especially when it’s a sculpture on fire!?

Who isn’t delighted/embarrassed when a restaurant surprises them with a public birthday display …especially when it’s a sculpture on fire!?

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross

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