Sunday, March 20, 2011


About 2 months ago on our way to our favorite sushi restaurant "Tri Express" we noticed a packed restaurant on Papineau called "Les Cons Servent". The clever play on words got a little laugh out of us: in french the word "conserves" translates to the english "preserves" however splitting the word conserves into "cons" and "servent" skews the meaning, transforming it into a slightly more profane version of "the idiots are serving"; our curiosity had been aroused in a "Snakes on a Plane" sort of way. This Friday night we returned to eat at Les Cons Servent to see if there was a good meal to be had or if the name that caught our attention was just a clever but hollow marketing push someone came up with.

We are greeted upon arrival by friendly casually dressed front of house staff. The space seems relatively bare and borderline industrial with grey epoxy painted walls. There's a really nice wall behind the bar with compartmentalized wood shelving displaying their various jared preserved items, which they also offer for purchase to take home. We asked for a couple of pints and an order of tea-pickled quail eggs and pickled salsifis in maple vinegar to snack on while we decided on the rest of our meal. The tea didn't really come through very predominantly in the quail eggs but they were briny and really very good. In fact we thought the idea itself of pickling quail eggs was fantastic, their size makes them conducive to snacking and the experience convinced us that they are far more ideal for this particular purpose than chicken eggs.  The salsifis was also a success not overly sweet as the maple vinegar might imply, slightly sour and just the right amount of firm bite. So far, a promising beginning to our visit.

 Maple Vinegar Salsifis 3$ - Tea Pickled Quail Eggs 4$

Our appetizers were labeled as "Shrimp Bisque with Sweet Potato", and "Gnocchi à la Piémontaise with Squash and Nut Oil". The gnocchi were outstanding, really outstanding. Given that gnocchi are a potato based pasta they can often be very dense and heavy, it's a pasta that a lot of people have eaten prepared incorrectly, and as a result protest that they dislike it. If you or anyone you know are one of these people, this is a sterling example of gnocchi to change your mind. We have only eaten gnocchi in less than a handful of places where it was as perfect in texture as these but we won't name them in a review dedicated to Les Cons Servent; lets not go stealing their thunder for comparison purposes, okay? The ultra-soft pillowy gnocchi were tossed lightly in a pan with butter and finely chopped mushrooms. They were served over butternut squash prepared in the form of what they were calling a "bouillon" but in a true sense a bouillon is a broth. This was far thicker than a broth but not necessarily the thickness of a purée, it was seasoned well, brightly colored and flavored. The dish was finished with a drizzle of nut oil that played a good supporting role and a light dusting of grated cheese which our waiter insisted more than once was "ricotta fraîche". In our experience/moderate amount of cheese knowledge fresh ricotta can be crumbled,sort of, but can not be grated due to it's texture. We thought it was ricotta salata, and asked our waiter again but he insisted otherwise. Perhaps something was lost in translation but we just agreed to disagree on this technicality so we can get back to eating our fabulous gnocchi. Without question this dish was the best dish we ordered that night.

 Gnocchi à la Piémontaise, Squash, Nut Oil - 10$

The shrimp bisque with sweet potato seemed to be a victim of a poor menu description and a very loose use of the term "bisque". The menu was printed in such a way that in bold text the item is described as "Shrimp Bisque" with smaller subtext referring to sweet potato. Had it been labeled differently as a "sweet potato soup with shrimp" or "sweet potato bisque with shrimp" for example the dish would have been successful. But this soup was unequivocally not a "Shrimp Bisque" and suffered only due to the fact that it was labeled as such. It was a good sweet potato soup that was likely made with a shrimp stock, with a few properly cooked shrimp for garnish but the really deep crustacean flavor you want when you order a shellfish bisque was obviously absent.

 Shrimp, Sweet Potato Bisque - 7$

Les Cons Servent offer daily dining specials Monday through Saturday. Friday night is 15$ fish n' chips night. We felt that if they have determined it to be good enough of a product to give it it's own night that it would probably not disappoint. We ordered the plate along with an order of "deboned grilled quails" served over potato purée with long beans and a light sauce with peeled halved grapes. The fish n' chips were terrific, we are fans of fish n' chips both in the less refined over-battered diner/street food variety and its updated gastro-pub/nouveau-brasserie form. This was not the equal parts batter to fish variety, it was cooked spot on, flaky haddock fried in a very very light coating of batter with properly cooked french fries and a home made mayonnaise and tartar sauce. What more can you ask for in a plate of fish n' chips? We see why it got it's own night.

 Fish n' Chips - 15$ (Friday Only)

The quail dish was very good but unfortunately, once again the dish suffers ONLY as a result of a poor menu description. Quail is a lot like lobster in the following sense: It can at times be a lot more appealing when you know its been prepared in such a way that facilitates your eating experience. Sometimes cracking open a whole steamed lobster or eating whole or spatchcocked grilled quails can be exactly the kind of finger licking meal you're looking for. But depending on your surroundings, you don't always want to have to do the dirty work for your dinner or be pulling bits of bone out of your mouth. The quails were described on the menu as having been deboned but on our portion, they were not. Several bones were either left or forgotten in the otherwise perfectly cooked breast portions and the legs were left whole bone-in. We agree that removing meat from quail legs is a tedious job and that the meat certainly loses presentation appeal once plucked from the bone. But it can be done, and the leg meat can be prepared in a variety of excellent ways from ragouts to braised preparations to tarts, etc.. To be absolutely clear, we have NO problem whatsoever with bones in our quail, so long as you don't specifically print on your menu and describe them to have been deboned. Bones aside, the portion was generous. The 2 quails that came on the plate were cooked perfectly and tasted terrific, the potato purée was a well suited side and we wanted more. We loved the use of long beans, we were surprised because the menu labelled them as green beans but anyone who's spent sufficient time in Chinatown knows that there is a subtle textural difference and a not so subtle length difference between the two varieties and we loved the use of the long beans in this case. The jus had very deep well developed flavor with some halved and skinned white grapes in it for sweetness, a nice touch.

 Deboned Quail, Long Beans, Potato Purée, Grape Jus - 20$

We let our waiter suggest which dessert items we should order. He suggested a 66% mexican chocolate mousse dish with sweet caramelized banana. The mousse and the caramelized banana had been marbled together in a mason jar and the surface had a bit of a decadent ganache like texture that gave slight resistance to your spoon. It was topped with a quenelle of white chocolate mousse and white chocolate shavings. He also suggested pear beignets with bacon bits and a salted butter caramel. This is not the first time we have seen or tasted bacon in a dessert dish lately. The concept seems to be popular and is similar to better known flavor combinations like caramel and sea salt, salty & sweet. In a way, you can't help but order a dessert with bacon in it when you come across one "just incase!". Often, but not always, it fails to fulfill the hype and you end up with salty dessert to go with your coffee and it's not so fun. This time, it worked. The beignets were warm, crispy and studded with sweet pieces of pear. The light buttery caramel under the beignets had tiny crispy bacon bits in it and here's the test: we were rubbing our beignets in it without trying to avoid too much bacon on any given bite because it had been used with enough restraint that we didn't have to.

 Pear Beignets, Bacon, Salted Butter Caramel - 7$
66% Mexican Chocolate Mousse, Caramelized Banana, White Chocolate Garnish - 8$

Our meal at Les Cons Servent was really tasty. Their concept of offering various home made preserves is  a cool niche to cut out for themselves, and the front of house staff was really laid back and made us feel comfortable. Unfortunately some of their dishes, in our opinion, are inaccurately described on their menu but at the same time were not unpleasant by any means either. Certain items simply didn't match what we had expected. The fish n' chips were awesome and the gnocchi were terrific; we will certainly be returning for that dish, perhaps on a different day of the week so we can try a different one of their daily specials, and the desserts ended the meal on a very high note. Despite what the restaurant name may imply the people who work here do not deserve to be condemned to their self-imposed profane title. Prices are extremely reasonable and the environment is very inviting. We're happy to say that our experience at Les Cons Servent was not a case of style over substance.

Restaurant Les Cons Servent
5064 Avenue Papineau, near Laurier
Montreal, QC

Les Cons Servent on Urbanspoon

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