Friday, January 6, 2012

NOUVEAU PALAIS


One afternoon over the holidays we were in the downtown area doing some shopping when we got hit with a little midday hunger. We decided to take a short trip north to the corner of Parc and Bernard in Outremont for a hearty lunch in a down-to-earth diner we had been meaning to try. In the past year the diner in question, Nouveau Palais, has gained quite a bit of press and attention in large part due to their late-night partnership with Montreal's famous taco truck Grumman '78. The popular collaboration has recently run its course but Nouveau Palais continues to do their own thing during regular business hours, something that many people had unfortunately overlooked amidst the taco hype. We ourselves are guilty of this, only having visited once prior to this afternoon bite for you guessed it, late night tacos. 

To be honest, the first impression of the interior is grim. The diner's new owners purchased what was a defunct run-of-the-mill neighborhood eatery and have completely turned up the volume on the food but have done very little, if anything to update the look. The lighting is dim, torn leather banquets surround booth tables made of laminate covered plywood and faux wood paneling cover the walls. It appears that there have likely been zero aesthetic upgrades to match what we were about to find out was some pretty awesome food. We have a seat and we're greeted by a really friendly, super-casually dressed guy in a furry red and yellow sweater; he gives us a couple of menus, some water, lays down a few generic welcome/bienvenue paper place mats and tells us not to be shy if we have any questions. The lunch menu is mostly soups, salads and sandwiches with one or two dishes and an available special of the day. We choose a couple of matzo ball soups to be followed by sandwiches and french fries.

One of us grew up in a Jewish home that you could confidently say was no stranger to matzo ball soup, the other, a lover of this traditional Jewish soup most popular around passover and never shy to ask if there's any around when we visit the parents. To be impressed by a restaurant's matzo ball soup after having eaten the one at bubby's table would be unlikely but it was a cold day and if it were to even vaguely resemble what we've become used to it would be just the thing to hit the spot. Thankfully, bubby using the internet is as unlikely as her eating a plate full of bacon with a glass of milk because she might take offense to us saying this soup was so surprisingly terrific it could give her recipe a run for it's money. The broth was top notch, deep in both color and flavor and the matzo ball was tender and delicious. It was garnished with the traditional piece of carrot and sprig of dill. When our waiter asked how we liked it and we complimented it, he let us know the recipe is the chefs grandmother's - no surprise there. If you've never had matzo ball soup before we can assertively say that this soup is an excellent example of what it should be and certainly recommend you trying it here to experience the real mccoy. 

Matzo Ball Soup - 4.45$

Next we ordered the fried chicken sandwich and the pressed pork sandwich which was the sandwich of the day. Both came served with french fries and either creamy or regular coleslaw, one of us chose the creamy the other chose the regular so that we could try both. The fried chicken sandwich came served on a challah roll with spicy mayonnaise, watercress and thinly sliced cucumber. The chicken was actual chicken, not some reconstituted, frozen garbage chicken imposter deep fried patty. The chicken was lightly battered and fried crisp, it was juicy and well seasoned. The spicy mayo was tasty and the watercress was a nice alternative to boring lettuce, overused peppery arugula or even worse, generic mesclun mix. Believe it or not though, what really made the sandwich were the paper thin slices of cucumber. They provided a surprising but very welcome light and fresh taste to a sandwich who's main component had been fried, we loved it - big time.

Fried Chicken sandwich 6.95$ (+3$ for add. Fries & Coleslaw)

Our second sandwich was a special of the day, which is a shame because it was wicked-good. In our humble opinion they might want to consider making this winner a regular item. We're not exactly sure what cut of pork was in the sandwich but it was tender and moist, pressed hot in a poppy seed roll with melty-oozy orange cheddar and slices of vinegary, crunchy, sweet gherkins. The little pickles cut through the richness of the pork and cheese tremendously, making an otherwise good sandwich great the same way the cucumber did for the fried chicken sandwich. This leads us to believe that they really consider what goes into each sandwich making each one unique rather than just a generic formula with interchangeable protein options.
The fries were good and crisp, we asked for mayonnaise (yes we're mayonnaise on the french fries people) and were happy to see the mayonnaise was homemade, it's not rocket science but it shows care and effort while most places scoop it out of the Hellmann's jar or heaven-forbid the Miracle Whip jar *shudder*. Both versions of the coleslaw were good too, although we definitely had a preference for the creamy variety. Sometimes coleslaw can just be a throw-away side so to speak, but these ones were enjoyable.

Pressed Pork Sandwich 7.95$ (+3$ for add. Fries & Coleslaw)

We loved our lunch at Nouveau Palais. The decor might leave something to be desired but the staff more than make up for it with friendliness and warm charm. In any case, where good food is to be found the surroundings rarely, if ever make that big of a difference, the best food can often be found in the most unlikely of places. The sandwiches were creative, great tasting and extremely reasonably priced. The matzo ball soup was a big success and an even bigger surprise, we never thought we would have a bowl while listening to electro-music but there's always a first time for everything. We'll certainly return to try more of the sandwiches on their lunch menu and we're curious to see what's offered on the supper menu. Next time your looking for a quick, quality bite check out Nouveau Palais, you won't be disappointed, we certainly weren't. 


Nouveau Palais 
281 Bernard Ouest, near Parc
Montreal, QC
514-273-1180

Nouveau Palais on Urbanspoon

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