The steakhouse - a quintessential part of every big city's restaurant scene. It's the gold standard of birthdays, graduations and family celebrations and the first recommendation you'll get when you ask a hotel employee in a city you're visiting for a "nice place to eat". In Montreal, as is the case in many other cities, we have quite a few steakhouses to choose from, some better than others. In the eyes of most people in our city, Gibby's will inevitably and consistently come up in conversation as being one of the top three steakhouse choices, if not the first choice. We say top three because choosing the best steakhouse in Montreal is as subjective as where to find the best smoked meat or best bagel in town, everyone's got an opinion and rightfully so, the steakhouse genre in this city's got some formidable competitors.
Over the weekend we were a little north of Montreal, in Saint-Sauveur, a ski town in the Laurentians. Gibby's has a second location there that we have always enjoyed visiting every bit as much as the Montreal location if not more, we decided to stop in for dinner. The ceilings are low with large wooden beams exposed, and the worn carpeted floors and wood furniture are somewhat out-of-date but perfectly suited to their intentionally rustic decor. We were seated in the front dining room near the large fireplace with the copper cover, which was great because it was a cold and rainy night. Our waiter, a very nice elderly gentleman, arrived with warm fresh bread, butter and kosher style pickles; we ordered a bottle of wine and requested a moment to look over the menu.
We began our meal at Gibby's as we always do, with an order of our favorite Oysters Rockefeller. This dish was invented in New Orleans over 100 years ago and the specifics of the original recipe remain ambiguous, but many restaurants (especially steakhouses) like to do their take on it. At Gibby's the classic American dish of oysters baked in a half shell are covered in a heaping mound of velvety mornay sauce, pernod, shallots, spinach, and bacon bits. They arrive at the table piping hot and golden brown, hissing and sizzling in a cast metal serving dish. We sip our wine while we wait for them to cool a little and then indulge. The texture of the rich, cheesy sauce, the saltiness of the bacon and subtly briny, plump oyster delivered in a warm package hits the spot every time.
Oysters Rockefeller - 19.50$
Prices of all main courses at Gibby's include your choice of either the Gibby's house salad, gazpacho, or marinated tomato & onions as a starter as well as your choice of rice pilaf, baked potato or the Monte Carlo baked potato as a side dish. We both chose the Gibby's salad with the optional anchovies. It's nothing extraordinary but it is however, a well dressed and very tasty simple salad. Fresh lettuce and tomatoes are lightly dressed with a fairly acidic vinaigrette (which by the way is bottled and sold in many grocery stores in Montreal) and topped with about six good quality, salty anchovy fillets and large crisp croutons. Bacon bits are left at your table in a small dish so that you can choose to add them to your salad, or anything else you want bacon bits on for that matter, as liberally as you wish.
Between your starter and main courses the waiter arrives with a complimentary dish of lime sorbet to cleanse your palate. It is a tradition at Gibby's to serve this course meant to eliminate lingering flavors from your appetizer before you have your next dish. Is it necessary? No, but your date certainly might appreciate your breath not smelling like garlic and anchovies.
Lime Sorbet (Palate Cleanser)
As is the case in many steakhouses, Gibby's also offers excellent fish and seafood menu options. We ordered the "Gibby's cut" rib steak with the Monte Carlo baked potato and an order of three broiled Canadian lobster tails with the rice pilaf. The rib steak here bears the name of the restaurant: "The Gibby's Cut" and appropriately so. An enormous rib steak was grilled perfectly rare, as we requested, topped with optional garlic and spices. Your waiter will ask if you want the garlic and spices when you order, don't make the mistake of saying no, they didn't name steak spice after our city for nothing. The steak was well trimmed, juicy and tender served with a few spears of asparagus, a little red pepper and our chosen side dish, the Monte Carlo potato. The Monte Carlo is a baked potato who's contents have been removed and mixed with cheese, chives, bacon and a few other usual suspects before being spooned back into the potato skin, garnished with a sprinkling of paprika and returned to the oven to bake a second time.
Gibby's Cut Rib Steak - 46.50$
Our second main, three broiled lobster tails were cooked superbly. The tail meat was succulent and sweet, not at all tough or overcooked, served with the same red pepper and asparagus spears as the steak, a small ramekin of garlic butter to dip the lobster in and our chosen side, the rice pilaf. The pilaf is a mix of white rice and long grain wild rice that has been cooked in a flavorful broth, it's good but not amazing. It's a fairly simple rice that makes a suitable accompaniment to fish and seafood items on the menu.
Broiled Canadian Lobster Tails (3) - 42.50$
Now, we will share the regrettable portion of the evening. After paying our bill at the table directly to our waiter we got up and left the restaurant. A few moments later we were sitting in our vehicle in the parking lot making a phone call when we noticed the manager standing on the front steps of the restaurant pointing at us as our waiter approached the driver's side window. We lowered the window to ask the waiter if everything was okay, once he recognized us he immediately began apologizing profusely and telling us to ignore his visit to our vehicle. As the waiter turned back towards the restaurant he shook his head "no" to the manager still standing on the stairs observing the situation. We sat in disbelief for a moment and realized very quickly what had just happened; the manager thought that we had tried to leave without paying our bill.
We were insulted to say the least and decided to go back into the restaurant to confront the manager and hostess about what we believed had just happened. The hostess looked at us in sheer embarrassment as we approached her. We proceeded to express what we were fairly certain had just taken place and she immediately began apologizing making no effort to deny the severely poor behavior they had just demonstrated. As it turned out, the manager didn't consult the waiter about whether or not the bill had been paid because he was concerned that if he did his due diligence we might have had enough time to flee. Apparently having passed by him on our way out without disturbing his conversation to say goodnight and simply being a young couple caused him to jump to the conclusion that we must have been trying to sneak out without paying the bill. In haste he alerted the waiter to hurry out and catch us. It was only once the waiter stood at the window of our vehicle, face to face with us that he realized the manager was mistaken, he stood there mortified.
Our suspicion had unfortunately been confirmed and we demanded an apology which we received immediately. We made it clear to the hostess, who at this point identified herself as being one of the owners how ashamed of themselves they should be for showing such poor judgement and tarnishing an otherwise wonderful evening. In fairness we cannot hold the entire establishment responsible for the deplorable behavior of one employee but it is still far from acceptable in our books and we certainly don't appreciate having our integrity called into question.
We were without a doubt upset by what happened but objectively the kitchen staff and waiter cannot and should not be faulted for the reprehensible conduct of the manager on duty. We should also mention that this type of behavior is not common practice here, we have visited Gibby's Sauveur before, severely underdressed in our after ski clothes and never been unreasonably stereotyped or treated with such disdain. We will return, because this was not indicative of our many previous experiences at Gibby's. We truly consider this unfavorable experience to have been an isolated incident and will treat it as such. This unfortunate circumstance aside, our meal itself at Gibby's delivered what we've come to expect from the establishment. That is to say, enormous portions, delicious food, and excellent service. It's true that dishes may be a little pricey here, but they are completely in line with the price range of their competitors and it's to be considered that there's quite a bit more than simply your main dish included in that price. So, will we say Gibby's is the best steakhouse in town? In Saint-Sauveur, certainly; but in Montreal, let's just say it's in our top 3.
414 Principale Street