We went out to eat dinner at La Salle à Manger in the Plateau neighborhood on saturday night because only one of the two of us had been there before and it was time to level the playing field. The restaurant is 100+ seats featuring a nice long bar, really classic and beautiful bistro style tile floors, all wooden furniture, and they've even managed to make the exposed plumbing complement their design somehow.
The restaurant offers a wide variety of well selected wines by the glass and also seems to put a lot of emphasis on their aperitif and digestif menu, all of which are displayed on chalk board walls along with their specials of the day meant for sharing. A little something interesting was that the regular menu had been divided in a bit of an unconventional sense. Rather than being presented with appetizers, mains and desserts the menu at La Salle à Manger is split into sections called raw & marinated, fresh, warm, vegetarian, meat, or fish. The menu looks really good so we decide to go with a few items off of there.
We begin ordering and then, the unexpected happens. A power failure hits mid-order, and the staff goes into a slight panic. Our waitress tells us everything will be fine in a moment and leaves us in the dark with no bread and a promise she will return shortly. Soon after a bus boy arrived with candles for all the tables, the power came back on in 10 minutes, but it would be 15 minutes before our waitress came back with bread and butter and took our order.
We started with a house charcuterie plate and a "mixed seafood antipasto" both of which came served on wooden chopping blocks. The "seafood antipasto" was really more of a smoked fish plate than a seafood platter: salmon gravlax with a thick greek style yogurt flavored with espelette pepper, smoked mackerel with fingerling potatoes and chipotle mayonnaise, warm cod brandade, and a purée of minted chickpeas. The charcuterie plate had pork rillettes, pâté en croûte, head cheese, and thinly sliced chorizo and coppa. Both platters were served with cornichons, pickled onions, beets, croutons, whole grain and dijon mustards.
First, the "seafood antipasto", the salmon gravlax had been prepared very well and not too thinly cut so that you were still able to appreciate the nice pellicule that had formed on the surface giving it great texture. The greek yogurt was a nice alternative to cream cheese and the espelette pepper was delicate, not overpowering. The cod brandade was served slightly warm in a small cast iron cocotte; it was comforting, well seasoned, and its warm temperature was a nice contrast to the rest of the platter. The mackerel was extraordinary, certainly the standout item on the entire meal. It was firm and fresh tasting, not at all oily or fishy, and laid on top of bite size pieces of fingerling potatoes and chipotle mayonnaise. We regret to say it, but we agreed that the minted chickpea purée was sort of a throw away, it was bland and nearly unidentifiable, it probably should have been left off of this otherwise fantastic assortment of really nice fish.
"Seafood Antipasto" - 18$
The charcuterie plate was the tasty celebration of deliciously fatty pig parts we want when we order one. Charcuterie plates only need to be one thing: fresh (in a relative sense of course since some of the items in question are cured). This is because ultimately it is a dish that relies heavily on the sum of its assorted parts. To be top notch, it all has to be prepared properly and served generously and often so there are minimal leftovers. There's nothing worse than ordering a charcuterie plate and getting sliced up end-pieces of whatever is kicking around the fridge. This was a really fresh and flavorful assortment, and at 12$ for a half platter, represented excellent value. The head cheese was really spectacular, gelatinous in a great way with pieces of cheek, tongue and diced carrot studded throughout, it tasted of tarragon but not too strongly licorice the way tarragon can be when its used with a heavy hand. The rillettes still had nice chunks in it, it hadn't been pulled too much or overly manipulated and it was appropriately salty. The pâté en croûte was a well made pork pâté de campagne which had been encased in a puff pastry almost like a beef wellington, where the pâté is the focus instead of the beef minus the mushroom duxelle and foie gras. We regret to admit this was the first time we have had pâté en croûte and are now strong supporters. The coppa was nice and fatty, giving it a great melting mouth feel and the chorizo had the paprika punch and nice chunks of red tinted fat you look for in a good quality link.
1/2 Charcuterie Plate - 12$
Next, for our mains we ordered deer tartare and sweetbreads served with jerusalem artichoke milk and apple salad. We'll begin with the sweetbreads, we are very big fans of sweetbreads and when we see them on a menu in virtually any form we feel compelled to try yet another chefs rendition on this wonderfully succulent glandular delicacy. First of all, the doneness was spot on, we will not fault them on that, but it lacked the nice hard crispy contrasting sear you want on a sweetbread. The jerusalem artichoke milk was thankfully not some ill conceived drink to be served in a shot glass along side the food but a frothy foam that did in fact taste strongly of jerusalem artichoke and surprisingly may have been the strongest component of the dish. The apple salad was a bit of a fail consisting of slivers of undercooked jerusalem artichoke and raw carrot mixed with under-sautéed fennel and battonets of apple. We also found that at 19$ the portion could have been slightly larger, the only thing that really saved this dish is that we love sweetbreads so much we would almost eat them out of a boot.
Sweetbreads, Jerusalem Artichoke Milk, Apple Salad - 19$
Our deer tartare was really very satisfying. The meat had not been chopped into microscopic pieces of nothing lacking any texture. It was very tender and cut just right in chunks that were large enough to remain distinct from one another and maintain the flavor integrity of the meat itself without having to go too lightly on the capers and shallot which hadn't been chopped too small either. Often people argue that tartares are too aggressively seasoned drowning out the taste of the meat. The deer tartare we had last night proves that a tartare can be seasoned confidently while still tasting of raw meat if the meat is cut in an appropriately large dice. The tartare was served along side a nice simple salad, croutons and some home made potato chips and mayonnaise. The chips were really oily and dipping them in the mayonnaise made the situation a bit worse.
Deer Tartare - 25$
For dessert we had a "Black Forest" chocolate verrine which was chunks of chocolate brownies and cookie crumbles layered in a small mason jar with vanilla whipped cream, topped with a morello (a.k.a kirsch) cherry sorbet completing the "Black Forest" theme of the dish. It was a really well conceived and well balanced dessert, we enjoyed it a lot.
The dinner had its highs and lows but we would say that overall we did have a very nice time at La Salle à Manger and the food was good. The appetizer platters we ordered were fantastic, by far the highlights of the evening and although the sweetbreads were a bit of a miss, the deer tartare and the dessert really stepped up to the plate and saved the overall meal experience.
"Black Forest" Chocolate Verrine - 8$
Restaurant La Salle à Manger
1302 Av. du Mont-Royal E, near Chambord