3635 St Denis St./ rue Cherrier
Telephone: (514) 843-4308
Cost: $ 65.33 (Cocktails, Wine, Tax & Tip included)
Chef Hats: 3
Café Cherrier is one of those quaint little French Bistros that has forever painted Montreal’s Dining Landscape. Opened in 1983 by Jacques Boisseau, it was in its heyday, the go to place popular among Quebec politicians, artists, TV and Sports personalities. Their photographs line the Café walls like a piece of time frozen in history. With its illustrious past, one can just imagine the discussions that ensued between these walls. Camille Laurin the father of Bill 101 was a regular here, seen many times walking along St Denis to and fro from his office to for lunch with Mr. Levesque.
The Café always intrigued me with its wrap around terrasse and plethora of people sitting on the terrasse in the sunshine nursing their drinks. Over the years so many new trendy places took precedence over Café Cherrier and it sat on the back burner, until this year. Recently, I was looking for a place to dine that showcased Montreal classic dining spots, I placed Café Cherrier on the roster along with so many other landmark restaurants that merit a visit soon.
Since last year, I have had this incredible urge to visit Paris, but life continuously throws curveballs and with time constraints, travel abroad was not possible. I have instead enjoyed local activities on this side of the Atlantic, in my own city which feels to me like my own little Paris in North America.
Where one can find similarities between Paris and Montreal, is definitely in the cafes and bistros that line both cities. Both share resemblances in regards to food, décor, and culture. Many of Montreal’s landmark restaurants emulate the Paris dining scene both of past and present. With Montreal’s long list of French restaurants, one could experience a little slice of Paris on a daily basis. We are more like our French counterparts than we know and sometimes wish to admit.
Enter Café Cherrier with its typical classic French menu and décor. It resembles any typical bistro with its long-mirrored bar and series of wooden bistro tables, chairs, banquettes and lamps reminiscent of “les vieux temps”. Café Cherrier hold all the characteristics of a Parisian Café. The décor may be a little démodé for my taste with its vaulted amber red ceilings and tasseled lamps and golden half robed goddesses that line the bar. The room is a definite throwback to the past. But I do not have to live here, I am here only for a couple of hours to sample the food and get a feel of Montreal’s old school bistros.
After being shown my table at the end of the restaurant and spotting one of my dining companion; I make my way through the restaurant, past the long banquette filled with chatty diners. A quick glimpse around confirms that in fact the place holds a lot of history and I’ve stepped back into a time warp.
Adamant at being objective and somewhat indifferent to the décor, I decide to go with the flow and try to enjoy the whole experience.
My companion is already sipping a Kir Royal -St Maurice. I opt for the same drink which was a popular drink from the 80’s and which rarely makes an appearance on cocktail lists these days. The cost $ 9.25. The times have changed, in the past the cocktails of choice for the ladies were either Baume de Venice or Pineau de Charentes, along with the Kir Royale, they were light, fruity and inexpensive.
These days the popular cocktails are still Martinis (which are slowly on the way out) and cocktails mixed by a mixologist with a degree in horticulture or Plant Biology. This Kir Royale was not quite like I had remembered, it was flat and bitter, but nonetheless positivity will prevail and an any old cocktail was in order to celebrate the good old days.
As we waited for our other dinners to arrive, we perused the menu and chatted about the photographs that lined the walls. The staff was surprisingly very friendly, polite, accommodating and very patient while waiting for all our guests. Once we were all settled in, we ordered from the Table d’Hôte and Bistronimique Menu. For the wine, we ordered mainly by the glass and had a mix of Beaujolais, Bordeaux and Pinot Grigio across the table, which paired well with the dark meats, pasta and fish. All wines were reasonably priced at $ 8.25 to $ 10.00 by the glass. Half bottle service starting at $32.00 to full bottles at decent price ranges.
Mr. R., who sat next to me, started with an entrée of the Salade Tiede au Volaille, basically a semi warm salad with chicken topped with a spring mix salad, slivers of red onions in a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with feta cheese for $ 14.00. The salad was not big but a good size portion as an entree. With a glass of wine and plenty of baguette and butter, this makes for a good lunch on the terrasse for the ladies on a hot summer day.
Two of our friends had the Soupe de Poisson et sa Rouille, for $ 10.75. A thick fish soup, in a creamy velvety tomato base with a sprinkle of tarragon. It came served with two baguette crisps and a side of Sour cream or grated Swiss cheese. This soup came highly recommended and I understand why, it was a good start and a crowd pleaser for everyone who sampled it.
I spotted my favorite on the menu Tartare aux Deux Saumon with Frites and Salad for $ 26.50. This is one of my proverbial favorites as most of my readers know by now, it is my go to dish for all Bistros.I also ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio $ 8.25, to accompany the tartare. A forkful of my salmon revealed a rather bland taste or lack of thereof. The fish wash fresh but the tartare as a whole was tasteless. It lacked salt, spice and condiments. I squeezed the juice from a lemon wedge to add flavor, but it was fruitless. The drizzle of herbed citrus sauce that sat at the bottom of the dish, also did nothing to amp up the flavor and left the dish lifeless and dead in the water. A disappointment to say the least, its accoutrements of fries and salad did some justice but not enough to carry the dish forward. The fries were generic and the salad just plain. There was something wrong with the side order of mayonnaise, after dipping my fries, it noticed it was rock solid and I stopped dipping. The rest of the evening and night was difficult, I did not feel well. The toilet became my best friend for the next 24hrs that ensued.
Aside my experience, which I lightly dismiss as the rest of the dinners did not report anything and all was well. Annie, who decided to go with a dish she usually does not cook at home, opted for the Rabbit. The dish contained two pieces of rabbit legs in a thick wine sauce infused with herbs, whole boiled potatoes, sautéed root vegetables and green string beans. When asked about her dish she shrugged, which I gather meant she was not impressed. Knowing Annie, she has had better.
Mona had the Boudin aux Pommes for $ 21.50. Pieces of blood sausages infused with hints of apple. Also served with green beans and root vegetables. She liked her dish and found it comparable to others she has sampled.
Mrs. L. had from the table d’hôte a generous portion of lamb chops with Rosemary that came served with green beans and root vegetables and potatoes. The lamb was flavorful and tender and more than plenty enough for her. She was pleased with her choice.
Danny had the Spaghetti Amatriciana, a dish of pasta made with tomato sauce, garlic, pancetta and red pepper flakes. It lacked a generous portion of tomato sauce that makes this dish so good. It was not spicy and completely lacked the kick of fiery red peppers. He ate half and took the rest home. Maybe just not quite the dish to order here. The Ravioli avec sauce au Fond de Veau would have been a better option when it is listed on their menu.
Mr. R. had the Pave Saumon Atlantique, which he loved. It came served in a light citrus orange sauce, plenty of green beans and two rice patties. A good and safe bet, the fish was not overcooked and pleasantly light.
For Dessert we sampled the Ile Flottante with crème anglaise and caramel, it was rich and creamy, not the nicest presentation but good. The Tarte Tatin with caramelized apples, was fine but not impressionable.
Aside my not feeling well, I can’t completely write off Café Cherrier. It is a hit or miss with some dishes.This Foodie thought the dishes and food lacked quality, freshness and taste. They were inconsistent, generic and typical of an old-style bistro that compromises on flavor. The side orders were carbon copies of each other and lacked innovation and originality. The food was decent and prices reasonable, but not exceptional. Call me a food snob, but this is not what this foodie looks for and this is why I look for new trending places to sample the finest this city has to offer.
The redeeming quality of Café Cherrier aside its old-world charm is its long-standing years of good service and decent food. As a local restaurant for a simple inexpensive dinner among friends or just drinks on the on the terrasse it hits all the marks. Count it on your list of landmark places to dine in Montreal, before it disappears. Life is better with no regrets.