Lucille's Oyster Dive is one of three restaurants by the same group of restauranteurs who also own and operate Greasy Spoon on Laurier and Marché 27 Bar a Tartare on Prince Arthur. Lucille's is a seafood restaurant in the Monkland village with a strong focus on what else? Oysters. The vibe is casual and the mood is lively inside and out on their awning covered terrasse. A television and a large mounted novelty fish hang over the bar on a brick wall along side neon beer signs. A particularly nice design aspect was a large variety of fresh oysters on ice, complete with tiny little blackboards identifying them all as you might see in a fish mongers shop; they were displayed the length of the bar in front of the gentleman hard at work shucking fresh mollusks for happy customers all night long.
We went to try Lucille's looking to take advantage of enjoying cold briny oysters on one of the last warm summer weekend nights we might be seeing for a while. We arrived to find the restaurant full to capacity and the staff well dressed in white shirts and black ties hustling to keep up with the pace. We waited in the doorway like Jehovah's witnesses for about 5 minutes before anyone acknowledged us and asked if we had a reservation, which we did. The man who greeted us left, and it would be another 5 uncomfortable minutes standing in the threshold of a busy dining room before he would finally return to show us to our table which was clean, set and available the entire time.
After being shown to our table and left with menus it would be only seconds before our waiter arrived to introduce himself, offer us drinks and tell us the specials - a large improvement already. We order a couple of pints of Saporro, which they offer on tap and a dozen Malpeque oysters from P.E.I that we're told are on special for 1$ each because it's past 9PM. As he returns almost immediately with our beers, our waiter informs us that it can be a little wait for oysters at this time of night given the volume of work the shucker has due to the special. Despite his warning, the oysters arrive very quickly. They come served in a square metal tray on ice with the classics: mignonette, hot sauce and lemon wedges. The oysters were perfectly shucked, clean, fresh tasting, and ideally chilled with a minimal loss of the natural briny oyster liquor locked within them. This special enticed us to try the restaurant in the first place and after going so well we will definitely be back to indulge again.
Oysters - 12$/Dozen after 9PM
We continue our meal with two appetizers, an order of steamed clams in a creamy garlic sauce, and a grilled fish taco. The steamed clams were served in a dish covered by a metal tray that would be removed table-side by our waiter. The goal here, we assume, was to release a cloud of intoxicating seafood vapor that unfortunately just didn't happen. Despite the unnecessary vapor gimmick failing, the dish was excellent, and the lid ultimately proved to be a convenient receptacle for empty clam shells. The clams could not have been cooked to a more ideal degree of succulence; they were delicious, tender, plump and quite large. The dish was served with a few pieces of grilled bread that were great for dipping in the bowl and soaking up the sauce. We considered asking for more bread because we liked the sauce so much, even though it was a tad salty. Overall a solid dish.
Steamed Clams, Garlic Cream Sauce - 11.75$
The fish taco was fresh grilled turbot served in a warm grilled flour tortilla with avocado, a cucumber salsa, grilled onions and topped with a red cabbage slaw, served with an additional side of bright tasting fresh tomato salsa. Although it seems unreasonable to complain about something that tasted great and came in a very generous portion the dish was a borderline case of less is more. It's size made it far too large to be picked up and eaten like a taco is meant to be eaten, an issue that was only further compounded by the amount of oil and vinegar on the fillings which caused the tortilla to completely fall apart at the bottom. We ended up eating our taco with a fork and knife. The turbot was well cooked and had nice grilled flavor, and the acidic red cabbage slaw was crunchy and very good despite there being too much of it. To be honest, the grilled onions and cucumber salsa that were mentioned on the menu got lost and didn't really assert their flavor in the dish, although the avocado's texture was discernible and welcome. It occurred to us that virtually all of this delectable dish's logistical shortcomings could be easily solved by serving it as, and calling it an "open-faced taco" - just an idea.
Grilled Fish Taco - 13.50$
Our mains were fish & chips, and from the "house specialties" portion of the menu, the surf & turf. The fish & chips came served with lemon, minted mushy peas, and tartar sauce. The fish was cod, deep fried but not greasy in a crisp beer batter. The first, and smaller of the two pieces of fish was splendidly flaky and moist but the second, larger piece had a very peculiar and unappetizing texture in the center leading us to believe that the fish may have been frozen and improperly thawed before frying. We asked our waiter if it was frozen but he insisted that it was fresh. He offered the explanation that perhaps it was just overcooked but this didn't seem plausible. Assuming it was overcooked, the two thinner ends of this same piece of fish would have been the most overcooked when they were in fact, the best parts. The more likely scenario is that those thin ends were so perfect because they thawed properly whereas the thick center portion did not. Our waiter immediately offered to replace the portion with another but we were sufficiently full and thanked him but declined. The fries, tartar sauce and mushy peas were all good but the fish itself suffered as a result of this unfortunate circumstance, it wasn't the best we've had.
Fish & Chips - 16$
Lucille's house specialty surf & turf was terrific, served on a wooden chopping board with a potato salad and a very good hot and sweet BBQ sauce. We'll begin by saying that the turf portion of the dish, a few dry smoked baby back ribs, were a wonderful surprise. The notion of ribs this good at an oyster bar hadn't even crossed our minds and they turned out to be nothing short of spectacular. The ribs were juicy and tender, they pulled easily from the bone but left a bite mark when you bit into them, the hallmark of a perfectly cooked pork rib. They were easily better than ribs we've had in restaurants who's reputation lies on their ability to cook ribs. Not to be outdone by the ribs, the surf portion of the dish, a lobster roll, was equally impressive. Lobster rolls have become a bit of a trend lately being sold in restaurants all over the city but we have to say, first, it truly belongs on this menu and second, this is the best one we've yet to taste in Montreal. The size of the lobster roll was nice, the bun was warm and buttery, the chopped vegetables in the lobster salad were still identifiable and crunchy and the lobster wasn't too finely chopped or overdressed with too much mayo, it was just right. The potato salad was unfortunately a bit one-noted, it had pieces of bacon amongst other things mixed into it, it was okay, but that's about it. Everything in the salad seemed to be competing for assertiveness and ultimately it was just a muddled flavor that even the bacon couldn't save. Luckily this problem can be easily solved next time by choosing the available option of the same great french fries that came with the fish & chips instead of the potato salad - problem solved.
Surf & Turf (Ribs & Lobster Roll) - 26$
Our meal at Lucille's Oyster Dive turned out to be very pleasant. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the concept but we especially enjoyed the fresh, perfectly shucked oysters. There were a few stumbles in the meal but of greater importance, there were far more high points to be recognized. The ribs, clams and lobster roll were all fantastic and that 1$ oyster special after 9PM is tremendous. The Montreal Gazette recently ran a nice review of Lucille's Oyster Dive in the fine dining section, we don't necessarily agree with calling a self proclaimed "Dive" a fine dining establishment but that doesn't mean the food wasn't delightful. Perhaps it's the price point that puts Lucille's in that fine dining category in their eyes. Prices can be steep here, but they don't have to be, depending on what you order, not to mention the idea of "a cheap seafood restaurant" isn't the most appealing thing so take the price tag with a grain of salt. As coincidence would have it, the day we are making this post, September 6, 2011 happens to be the two year anniversary of Lucille's Oyster Dive. It's a shame it took us so long to come try the place but now that we're "in the know" we don't want it going anywhere! Here's to many more years to come for Lucille's Oyster Dive! Cheers!
Lucille's Oyster Dive