Les Cavistes combines restaurant and boutique. They offer a full dining room and terrasse as well as a small boutique where you can buy privately imported wine, foods and other products to take home with you. The restaurant is situated on the busy touristy section of St-Denis street amongst plenty of restaurants, lively bars, shopping and upscale chocolate and ice-cream shops. Montrealers are sometimes wary of this portion of St-Denis as well as other parts of various neighborhoods in the city, often referring to businesses in such areas as tourist traps where we've all had one too many over-priced underwhelming experiences. But as the old saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover and we had heard good things about Les Cavistes so this weekend we got around to eating there.
Being that a lot of focus at Les Cavistes is put on wine, they offer a very large selection by the glass and knowledgeable staff are happy to help with pairings. The decor is very classy, but slightly stark. You enter through the terrasse which has about 20 seats available on a first-come first-serve basis. The boutique is on your immediate right through the front door opposite the dining room. A long wall is covered in wood paneling which mimics the bar and table tops. Tile floors, tasteful lighting and a really cool, full length leather banquet seat with split back and seating portions finish the space with a very modern but inviting look.
We begin our meal with appetizers of braised octopus and a charcuterie plate. The octopus was a full tentacle braised until very tender served over a bright red tomato, red onion and red pepper based sauce. Along side was a "hash" of sorts made of brunoise pieces of octopus and chorizo sausage, the salty meaty flavor of the sausage added a good balance to the dish and its smokey paprika flavor played well off of the red pepper flavor that came through strongly in the sauce. The brunoise octopus mixed in with the chorizo kept the octopus the star of the dish. The charcuterie plate was very generous and particularly well diversified. The dish came with thick cut smoked duck breast, Serrano ham, an excellent veal liver pate, Rosette de Lyon which is a dry cured and very prized french salami, blood sausage removed from its casing and served on croutons, and a pork belly preparation we had never had nor heard of before which was terrific. It was cold fatty batonets of pork belly simply dressed with chopped pistachio nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper, they were terrific - real eaters food. The charcuterie plate was garnished with olives, dijon mustard, cornichons, pickled red onion and julienned quick-pickled carrot.
Charcuterie Plate - 16$
Octopus, Chorizo, Tomato, Red Pepper, Red Onion - 12$
For our mains we ordered the bison bavette and the blood sausage. The blood sausage had wonderful soft texture and deep flavor with a lightly crisp outer coating, it didn't taste overwhelmingly of clove, it was spectacular. We were so impressed we asked how it had been prepared, the answer: it had been steamed then removed from its casing, formed in a circular mold and finished under the broiler. The sausage was served on top of a potato latke or pancake, which was not at all greasy and provided crispy texture contrast. It was served with halved brussels sprouts, a quenelle of caramelized onion (which also spent some time under the broiler), and baked apples with calvados which added a sweet component to the dish in order to balance the inherently light mineral iron flavor of the blood in the sausage. The bison bavette was very tender and cooked perfectly to our requested doneness, but as is often the case when eating bison, it could have easily been beef. The taste difference isn't as large as one might expect which depending on a person's preference, might be a positive or negative point of eating bison; it somehow lacks its own flavor identity. In any case the meat is very lean, healthy, tastes great and is certainly palatable for people beginning to stretch their legs beyond the big 3 proteins on the grocery store shelf. The bavette was topped with a really well made and vibrant green chimichurri sauce that was slightly twisted with a welcome addition of finely chopped walnut. It was served with a side of grilled vegetables, and delicious polenta fries (polenta that had been cooked, cooled, and cut into large sticks and crisped up in the fryer) which were crispy on the outside and smooth and soft on the inside.
Bison Bavette, Grilled Vegetables, Polenta Fries, Chimichurri - 25$
Blood Sausage, Potato Latke, Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Onion, Apple - 21$
For dessert we ordered a mignardises plate, it was a well executed selection of bite sized desserts. Clockwise in photo below - Lemon curd tart, meringue with homemade "marmalade", dark chocolate truffle with a hard chocolate shell, coconut milk and lychee cake, chocolate and pecan cookie, orange biscotti. Although dishes with many components often fall victim to one item lowering the overall experience of the dish, this however was an all around success. There was no weak link in this chain.
Mignardises Plate - 9$
We had a great time and a great dinner at Les Cavistes. Everything we ate looked and tasted great, the service was excellent, the price was extremely reasonable and the portions were generous - so much so that we ended up sharing one dessert between the two of us. Thank you to the staff for the meal, the service and answering all of our questions - we were particularly curious on this night. The food was so good that it ended up dominating the topic of our conversation and we had questions we couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask. Great food, large wine selection by the glass and bottle, a terrasse, and a boutique; what more can you ask for? Les Cavistes - A certain standout on an already very busy stretch of St-Denis.
Les Cavistes Restaurant & Boutique