Sunday, March 25, 2012

DEVILLE DINER BAR


When it comes to our eating habits, we like to think that we march to the beat of our own drum. But for the past few months the building amount of influence to go and try Deville Diner Bar has been lurking around every corner we turn. A testament perhaps to their marketing strategy, but with an increasing amount of people's opinions that we tend to hold in high regard jumping on the band wagon, we held out hope that there would be substance behind this in-your-face Deville Diner Bar blitz and that it wouldn't turn out to be another momentarily over-hyped catastrophe.

First came e-mails inviting food press and bloggers to sample the menu at the restaurant's launch party, followed by praising posts by some of our fellow food bloggers, featured visits on Dishcrawl and acquaintances getting jobs working in the kitchen. Before you knew it we felt like we were in high school at the bus stop being offered cigarettes - "c'mon man it's the coolest, everybody's doing it".

We finally gave in to the hype and called the restaurant last weekend for a reservation but were told on the phone that unless you're a large group they don't take reservations. Fortunately when we arrived there was plenty of tables available and we didn't have to wait. If you're thinking diner as in flat-top griddle and a dozen stools around a lunch counter with a friendly guy taking orders and cooking simultaneously, Deville will not fulfill those expectations. The restaurant bills itself as "the next evolutionary step in classic American diners" which honestly sounds ridiculous. The name is slightly on the misleading side but from what we can tell it's an indication of the eclectic, middle-American comfort food, diner-inspired menu choices and the decor's loose inspiration. The restaurant looks extremely modern, bordering on swanky supper club; consider what a diner might look like if you were Marty McFly and this was Back to the Future. There are hints of diner aesthetic like the stainless steel flashing on the sides of the table-tops, corrugated tin booth dividers and the black, white, and pink color scheme but other than that you'd be hard pressed to determine the correlation if not for the name. 

Once seated our waitress arrived quickly to bring us menus and offer us drinks. We ordered a couple of beers which were very reasonably priced in the $7 range for tap or bottles. We also found their beer selection to be great and worth mentioning with everything from Heineken to Creemore and even Red Stripe which is what we chose. As we looked over our menus we would be lying if we said we weren't surprised. We found prices on many items, like certain appetizers in the $15-$19 range and mains in the $28-$31 range to be steeper than we had anticipated they might be. To be frank, at that price point you can eat at nearly any restaurant you choose in the city, but to be fair there were an equal amount of less pricey items available as well. Ultimately there's never any reason to judge a book by it's cover and if the yet to be determined quality and portions of the food matched the price it may very well be no basis for concern.

Before we continue, one small complaint we have are the menus. We found them unnecessarily large and slightly annoying in the space we were seated. They were the long, bound, hardcover type that you might normally expect to find in a Baton Rouge for example, but in a "diner" environment, modern or not, they struck us as being out of place and at our small table they were a bit of a nuisance. 

Red Stripe - 7$

We began our meal with two appetizers, an order of fried pickles and the Ahi tuna tacos. We had been looking forward to trying the fried pickles, an item that many people declared a "must-try" at Deville. As it turns out they really were quite good, a truly great bar snack and a praiseworthy accompaniment to a few cold beers. The deep-fried, bite sized pickle coins were at once salty and sour with a crisp breaded exterior. They came served with two dipping sauces, a maple-dijon and a not-so-spicy spicy ketchup. Both sauces tasted fine, but we felt they actually detracted from our fried pickle experience rather than enhancing it, we chose to eat them as-is without the provided dipping sauces.

Fried Pickles - 9$

Our second appetizer, the Ahi tuna tacos were an item we spent a little bit of time deliberating over before finally deciding to order them. At $18 for three tacos they're not only one of the most expensive appetizers on Deville's menu but one of the most expensive appetizers on nearly any menu. An Asian inspired spin on the humble taco, the usual corn or flour tortilla was substituted with a light and crisp fried wonton shell. The base of each shell was filled with an "Asian slaw", followed by a few slices of Yellowfin tuna that had been cooked to an ideal doneness; it was left completely raw in the center with a barely seared exterior that was crusted in black and white sesame seeds. The tacos were garnished with micro greens that looked pretty but didn't really add any flavor. The portion and seasoning of the tuna were absolutely commendable but we found the slaw beneath it to be far too sweet. Once we added some of the lime & wasabi aioli that's served on the side the sharp kick of the wasabi balanced out the sweetness extremely well, elevating the dish to another level; we couldn't understand why it was served on the side rather than being implemented in the tacos themselves. While we understand that not everybody is keen on the strong flavor of wasabi, we found it to be a necessary component to the success of this dish that should have been implemented into the tacos themselves rather than served on the side. Without it they were a flop, with it they were a hit.

As far as our trepidation about the price of the dish is concerned, once we saw how much tuna was in each taco, the valuation became justified. We do however find the conception of the portion size to be flawed. You can't even make the argument that this appetizer is intended to be shared because there are an odd number of tacos served. Three tacos at 18$ straddles the fine line between an expensive appetizer and a sensible main. Serving it as a main would likely be regarded as offering better value, but as an appetizer it seems excessive - it's all a matter of perception. Adding a side and increasing the price to the 22$ mark as a main seems like a better spot for this dish, or a proportionally smaller version of 12$ for two tacos seems much more reasonable as an appetizer; at that price it remains 6$ per taco but would likely be perceived more favorably by the client.

Ahi Tuna Tacos - 18$

By the time we finished our appetizers the dining room had filled up to capacity and the restaurant seemed to have reached its full stride. Our first main was the Texas style BBQ brisket sandwich served with french fries. A generous pile of thick cut brisket was basted in a root beer BBQ sauce that we liked a lot, and neither of us even like root beer (does it taste like toothpaste to anyone else?) The menu claims that they slow roast the brisket for ten hours and we believe them because it was silly-tender. The meat is piled high between two slices of toasted, marble sourdough rye and smothered in copious amounts of oozing melted Swiss cheese, a house-made tangy Russian dressing and sauerkraut that does a great job of cutting through the richness of it all. Be warned this is not a sandwich for small appetites. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to get messy because this is the kind of sandwich that leaves juices running down your arm and that feeling that you need to plot a direct course between dinner and a shower. We thought the choice of bread was very well suited to the sandwich, our only criticism would be that it was a little small to contain it all. Perhaps the same bread baked in a larger sized loaf would solve this small hurdle in an otherwise very good sandwich. 

Please take a moment to hear us out on our impression of the fries. Although the golden arches are as good a place to eat nutritious, quality food as Keith Richards would make a good babysitter, you cannot deny that there are few things as guiltily delicious as a little red box of hot fresh french fries from that drive-thru window - just accept it. We couldn't believe how insanely close these fries came to tasting like Micky D's french fries, in the best possible sense. Cut from real potatoes, fried in peanut oil and served perfectly crisp and salted these fries fulfilled all of the glory minus all of the guilt of eating pseudo-fries made of sawdust and baby tears.

Texas Style BBQ Brisket Sandwich - 18$

Our second main was the Lobster BLTA. Thick cut smokey bacon, creamy avocado, romaine lettuce, tomato, and a good amount of chilled lobster salad were served on a sesame and poppy seed covered, buttery, brioche bun. The lobster held it's own in this sandwich, maintaining its integrity without being overwhelmed by its co-stars; it was chopped in recognizably large chunks and wasn't overdressed or weighed down in an abundance of mayonnaise. The bacon was crisp, salty and was probably the strongest individual component of the sandwich. Overall it was a pretty solid sandwich, the portion was generous and there was nothing wrong with it, but it wasn't exactly a candidate for groundbreaking originality either. Let's be honest, Deville isn't the first place to add lobster and avocado to a BLT but they do execute it well. At 23$ for a sandwich it doesn't exactly come at a bargain, but they're not cheap with the lobster and at the end of the day we felt as though we got what we payed for. It was served with a side of the same great fries as the previous sandwich.

Lobster BLTA - 23$

Unfortunately, our dessert was not a big hit. After the tremendous portions of our sandwiches we could only find the fortitude to share one dessert between the two of us, we chose the banana cream pie, and expected - a banana cream pie. Instead what we received was caramelized slices of banana folded into a mountain of whipped cream atop a banana custard and slices of banana in a chocolate cookie cup. We felt that despite the amount of banana elements used in this dessert we were very underwhelmed by its banana flavor, likely a result of having used under-ripened bananas. It's like when you make banana bread, to achieve the most banana punch you always use black and spotted bananas that have released their natural sugars and flavors, never the pretty looking yellow ones. Additionally, textures of various components missed the mark they were meant to achieve, most notably the custard. We were not big fans of the dish and did something we rarely do, we asked to return it. Our waitress seemed to take personal offense to our rejection of the dessert asserting that there is a pastry chef in-house and asking us for specific reasons we didn't like it - we obliged. A manager came to our table within moments to offer us a replacement dessert or have this dessert stricken from the bill. We chose to have the dessert stricken from the bill and appreciated the courteous and professional manner in which he handled the situation, he was pleasant and non confrontational. We guess the moral of the story is that sometimes you want an updated version of a classic and sometimes, you just want the classic - as the saying goes: if it aint' broke, don't fix it.

Banana Cream Pie

Deville is still by all accounts a new restaurant, but it's probably safe to say the longevity they require to recoup the obviously enormous investment will be secured by its desirable location and aggressive marketing strategy. We found the service to be rapid and attentive and the food to be admirable for the most part but we couldn't help but notice all the unnecessary extras that are inevitably factored into the price of your meal. Whether you consider it or not, the bottom line is while some might find the iPhone application they developed that allows you to control the jukebox from within the dining room or their over-the-top flash website to be cool, these are just a couple of the many things factored into the operating overhead which you are paying for in some part when your bill comes at the end of your meal. Forgoing gimmicks like these are missed opportunities to create investment savings that could have been passed along to the client - when the food is the number one priority iPhone apps aren't even a consideration. There's a stark contrast between the popular format of chef-owned and operated restaurants flourishing on the Montreal dining scene today compared side-by-side with Deville's almost corporate demeanor. Deville is the sort of place that with time will become a well-oiled money making machine, it's concept and menu offer the sort of mass-appeal that will likely lend themselves well to franchising opportunities and it's an avenue that we wouldn't be surprised to see them explore in their future. We had a mostly pleasant meal at Deville and achieved keeping our bill relatively low by both opting for sandwiches but it wouldn't be honest to overlook the fact that the price point of many of their other dishes put them in direct competition with some pretty big players on our city's restaurant scene. This is a consideration they might want to keep in mind, the last thing they want is people driving home, looking at the bill and saying "Yeah it was good, but for the same price we could've eaten at _______".


Deville Diner Bar
1425 Stanley, near St Catherine
Montreal, QC
514-281-6556
www.devilledinerbar.com 

Deville Dinerbar on Urbanspoon

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