Le St Urbain
96 Fleury St. W. (near St-Urbain St.)
Chef Hats; 4
Cost: $ 224.78 ( 4 persons, excluding tip)
It is not a common practice to venture out to different neighborhoods to discover the local food scene; we tend to stick to what we know. So often, we need to break with tradition and venture out to discover things that are different from what we have in our own backyard. This will enlighten us, open our minds to change and make our lives a little more interesting. From our new found experiences we develop a new take on life. We recharge, revitalize our senses and change our thoughts.
I made a promise a few years back that I would not remain stagnant and would constantly educate myself by forcing change to my routine. I try to bring knowledge to my life by doing different things as well as revisiting places of the past to see how they have progressed. Upon hearing of something that peaks my interest, I set forth to discover new ideas on the subject through research, experimentation and education. With this method I have had some interesting outcomes and have managed to find a sort of new lease on life. I did just that after hearing about how Fleury Street in Ahuntsic (one of my old childhood haunts) had become very popular due to some great restos and speciality shops. The favorable media buzz further anchored and intrigued me, so that I planned a walking tour of Fleury St to witness its gentrification firsthand.
Ahuntsic was a neighborhood I often frequented when I was living close by in neighboring St Michel. I had many Italian friends that lived in the area and would often go visit during festival season or to hang out at the local fast food joints. Ahuntsic has changed lots since the days of Chez Ma Tante, Tommy’s Drive In and La Standa. Mind you, some of them still exist and have become landmarks; kudos for having survived all these years. But a little further down on Fleury Street you will find a whole new world that has somehow become very upscale with its high end boutiques, urban chic restos and renowned speciality shops.
Over the years I kept hearing about this little bakery that served great sour dough bread called La Bête à Pain, located at 114 Fleury st. It was opened in 2011 by Chef Marc-André Royal, who is also the owner and chef of Le St Urbain. It was the first place on my list to visit. I was surprised and ecstatic at how things had changed from the Fleury Street I had known back in the 70’s and 80’s. Long gone are the days of only Italian grocery stores, pastry shops and butchers. Replacing them is a plethora and mixed bag of shops and restaurants selling anything from gourmet French to Asian food, to high end speciality items, kitchen gadgets, designer clothing, chic and fancy hair and nail salons and day spas. I was even more pleased to discover that La Bête a Pain not only sells good bread, but doubles as a brunch spot and cafe and also serves prepared take-out meals that are similar in quality to what is being served at Le St Urbain. The quality of the food was so good that it was only befitting that the Foo Foodie try le Restaurant Le St-Urbain which has been open since 2009.
Le St-Urbain has become since then, a very popular branché local neighborhood restaurant in this sleepy district of Ahuntsic. The restaurant seats about thirty people and serves local market cuisine, showcasing seasonal local Quebec products. Their wine list boasts many private imports and there is a good choice of wine by the glass. The food is comforting, yet refined and of good quality. The decor is urban and hip but minimalistic, with its simple wooden tables and chairs and subdued colored walls it has a casual bistro feel. The place is packed to the brim on weekends and a reservation is a must. This evening the resto was noisy with the sound of voices reverberating against the chalkboard walls.
We started our evening by ordering wine by the glass in lieu of a bottle, two glasses of Vino Rosso di Montalcino, Sangiovese, at $11.50 per glass. This is a Tuscan wine from Italy, brother to the Brunello di Montalcino, minus the cost. It is a full bodied young wine, with hints of black cherry and wild-berry, spice and vanilla. It mixes well with any meat dishes on the menu. The third glass of wine was Montrose- Murcie, Jumilla Comoloco 2013 from Spain, for $ 8.50, a white muscatel grape like wine for a decent price, a little fruity for my liking but it went well with the risotto dish and my dining partner liked it.
We had to wait for a while to get service as our waiter was very busy. It was full house tonight and the atmosphere was manic, our waiter seemed none too happy . His demeanor was very cut and dry, and not at all friendly or bubbly. But I can live with that. It is very dark by nightfall and the lighting makes it very difficult to see the blackboard from where we were sitting. We were told about the $ 41.00 tasting menu this evening but with no further explanations to any of the dishes. The Tasting Menu consisted of 3 choices of appetizers and 3 choices for the Main meal. Third service, dessert had two choices on the menu a white cheese cake tourchon and a Chocolate ganache cake. Not an elaborate choice but we were happy to be here and nothing would spoil our mood. We could have also gone a la carte which would have been the better option tonight, but did not have the patience or chutzpah to ask the waiter to repeat the blackboard listings, so due to better price options we stuck to the tasting menu.
Three of us ordered the Chioggia beet salad, with watercress, Jerusalem artichokes, almonds and the fourth person ordered the cream of parsnip soup, with smoked sturgeon corn and cilantro. The salad was well presented and very different in flavors. A mix of cooked beets in light vinaigrette, the beets were not overcooked and still had a crunchiness about them, topped with watercress and slivers of Jerusalem artichoke that tasted like a cross between ginger and potato. Nutty in flavor this came topped with almonds which were a trick on the palate as Jerusalem artichoke also have nuttiness about them
The Parsnip soup was a thick starchy soup with a smoky flavors; the addition of corn and cilantro adding a Mexican twist on the dish with the sun packed flavors. Very appetizing and an ingenious creative idea.
For the mains, the Black truffle risotto, with duck confit and parmesan had a very natural woodsy flavor with ample amounts of duck meat making it a meal in itself. Satisfying and very filing.
Three of us, (yes not too original tonight) ordered the braised short ribs with Brussels sprouts poblano pepper and roasted shallots. The sauce was decadent. The ribs fall off the bone tender and not disappointing at all.
For dessert we ordered three White Cheese Cremeaux, a tourchon made with pistache nougat, raspberry basil meringue, this was the way to go, delicious and the perfect compliment and conclusion to a perfect meal that was finely executed.
The Palet d’or chocolate ganache with buffalo milk yogurt and caramelized almonds was very good if you are a big chocolate fan. You can tell that the desserts came from La Bête a Pain; these were the highlight of the evening. Their forte lies in this domain for sure. A third dessert was put on the menu as they ran out real fast of cheesecake. This is easy when your sister restaurant is a hop and a skip next door.
I enjoyed Le St Urbain, but not more than that. It is a quaint neighborhood restaurant and a gem for the locals. Amid all the fanfare, it is pricey, too busy and too noisy for my liking. The service left much to be desired and not worth my while for an eminent quick return. But then La Bête à Pain is a different story. It is one of the top bakeries in Montreal these days amongst a few notable mentions and a new one has opened in Griffintown as of late. They are definitely hitting all the marks in that respect.
Ahuntsic is not a total write off and it was an educational experience in many respects. I will revisit again another time as there are many other restos in the area that are worth trying, the only thing is that it must be more than just a little special to warrant a trek in an area for many people other than the locals.