Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DOMINION SQUARE TAVERN


We had been looking forward to spending an evening at Dominion Square Tavern for a little while now and we're thrilled to let you know that not only did it live up to all of our expectations but it exceeded them. We called for a last minute reservation on the night of our visit and although not at the time we had initially requested, we nonetheless succeeded in securing a table. The restaurant is located on a shadowy, seldom travelled stretch of Metcalfe between Saint Catherine and René Lévesque. As we entered we were greeted by a well dressed gentleman standing behind a podium; he checked our name in the books and had us follow a waitress to our table near the back of the dining room where the kitchen is.

Looking around the restaurant as we followed our waitress we couldn't help but feel as though we had taken a step back in time. Surrounded by salvaged finishings that you don't need a very keen eye to tell are made of quality materials you're effortlessly transported to another era, it almost feels as though you've stepped into a speakeasy. While this look can be emulated, few restaurants achieve the genuine feeling successfully, it's the feeling of a space like this that embraces its history and heritage bones that cannot be conjured or artificially manufactured, it effectively evokes a feeling of authenticity. 

A beautiful bar runs nearly the entire length of the narrow dining room, behind it are worn and distressed mirrors that are intentionally left faded and rough around the edges. Wooden tables with a white inlay are topped with cutlery wrapped in dish towels rather than napkins. Sporadically there are tables that feature half circle almost couch-like seating in place of chairs, upholstered in brown leather these are not dime-a-dozen banquets built against the walls but rather classy looking pieces of antique furniture with legs. The floors reminded us of that style of almost mosaic colored flecked stone you often see in old office buildings. Ornate ceramic tile reaches up the walls about as high as the backs of the chairs, the walls above are adorned in wooden carvings baring the coats of arms of the Canadian provinces as well as the odd stained glass window surrounded by wooden moulding.

Our waiter, a formally dressed young lady in a tuxedo shirt arrived with menus and a wine list. She offered us cocktails and the available choices did look excellent, but we chose to go with a reasonably priced Morgon "Fou du Beaujo" - a bottle we were familiar with and fond of the last time we had it. The menu had an underlying feeling of French bistro but with menu components like traditional Ploughman's platters, scotch egg, mushy peas and a frequent use of cheddar it reads with a decidedly British vibe.

We started with two appetizers. Served in the vintage sort of red and white transferware you might expect to find in your grandmother's home, an order of fried clams were served with a side of curry mayonnaise. Crisp and hot, the clams hit the spot in the way only fried briny seafood can, the curry in the mayonnaise was a nice touch that elevated the dish beyond sea-side fried food with just a touch of English pub mixed in for good measure. Objectively speaking, the smaller bits of clam were slightly chewy but they were few and far between, not nearly enough to spoil our enjoyment of the dish. The crisp texture and warm temperature of the clams were a splendid contrast to the silky smooth texture and cool temperature of our second appetizer - a salmon gravlax.

Fried Clams, Curry Mayonnaise - 9$

Sliced thick and rolled into a rosette, the generous portion of cured salmon sat atop a blini the size of the small plate it was served on. The plate was classically garnished with a few capers, thinly sliced shallot, some mustard seed and a smear of sour cream that had been fortified with a confident punch of dill. Perhaps not so classical but certainly nice was the addition of a lightly sweetened blueberry compote. As we were finishing our appetizers we noticed a table nearby receive an order of deviled eggs. Nostalgic memories of parties at your aunt's house ensued and we decided to get our waitress' attention and order some for ourselves, at 4$ a portion it's not going to bust the budget. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, but done right. Bright yellow egg yolks whipped up with mayonnaise and a dash of dried-mustard were piped back into the halved hard boiled whites they were scooped from and garnished with a pinch of paprika and chopped chives.

Salmon Gravlax, Blini, Sour Cream - 11$
Deviled Egg - 4$

A dish meant to be shared between two people, for our main that evening we chose to go with the whole roasted cornish hen stuffed with goat's cheese, served over seasonal vegetables. Our waitress came to put a cork trivet on our table and move our glasses and cutlery aside to make a little room. She left for just a moment and returned with the roasted hen presented in the hot cast iron skillet it was prepared in over a bed of roasted fennel, leek, potato, parsnip, carrot, garlic, celery and shallot. The hen was superbly cooked, moist, and flavorful; it was well seasoned, juicy and tasted gently of fresh thyme. The cavity of the bird had been stuffed with a soft and smooth tangy goat's cheese that took a pretty modest preparation and made it a little special without ruining the simplicity that inherently made the dish so delightful to begin with. The vegetables beneath were lovely, especially the sweet fennel and garlic, the only thing we weren't crazy about was the cooked celery but there was plenty of everything else so that didn't matter in the least. The cooking juices in the bottom of the pan were a treat to soak up with the fantastic rye bread available on request. Prepared by Jeffrey Finkelstein, the extraordinary baker behind Hof Kelsten, this rye was superiorly moist to any other rye we've ever had the pleasure of eating, it's no wonder his bakery has rapidly become the bread supplier to Montreal's best restaurants. So, can we make a roast chicken and vegetables at home? Of course we can, and so can you, but that's not the point. It was truly romantic to sit in Dominion's beautiful dining room, carve our own roast bird and serve it to one another over a bottle of wine. No fancy anything required, it was executed well and really was the star of a spectacular meal and a wonderful night. No complicated dish of any sort could have hit the spot the way this did. Simple perfection is a strong attribute for a restaurant to display confidently. When you do dishes like this the margin for error is zero, it's that perfectly refined technique and the consistency with which a dish like this is executed on which its outstanding merit is based. We loved everything about it and will without question return for this dish, additionally we felt the portion was ample and it was very reasonably priced at less than 20$ per person for a main.

Roast Cornish Hen For 2, Goat Cheese, Roasted Vegetables - 38$

For dessert we shared the cheesecake, it came served with a dollop of black currant compote spooned over the top of it and garnished with a sprig of mint. The traditional graham cracker crust beneath was not too thick and the cheese was not too sweet. The texture was as light as we've ever experienced in a cheesecake which was thoroughly pleasing and far more refreshing after a substantial meal than the alternative, ultra-dense cheesecakes that we find to be far too common.

Cheesecake, Black Currant - 8$

Our evening at Dominion Square Tavern was unquestionably one of the best we've experienced in quite a while. Dishes like deviled eggs, cheesecake and roast cornish hen that many would consider to be relatively ordinary became extraordinary in the hands of a clearly skilled kitchen, and served by a polished front of house staff in a charming dining room. From start to finish there was nothing we ordered that was overly complex, but everything was on point and we've always been the type to hold the classics executed this proficiently in very high regard; nights like this precisely reinforce that feeling with authority. The dining room is the epitome of class, the atmosphere is romantic, and the service was excellent, we eagerly look forward to returning to try the rest of the menu. Please take note that Dominion Square Tavern is after all a tavern so only adults are permitted and stopping in for a classic cocktail at the bar is encouraged. Dominion is very popular with the business crowd open for lunch service Monday to Friday and open late 7 days a week, until midnight for dinner service. 


Dominion Square Tavern
1243 Metcalfe, near St Catherine
Montreal, QC
514-564-5056
www.dominiontavern.com

Taverne Square Dominion on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

  1. Nice! We just went for the first time last week and felt pretty much the same way. Loved it!

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  2. I went a little after the place opened, and really liked it. Thanks for the post. Now I want to go back!

    (although I remember the dishes looking prettier than in your pics. I guess the dim lighting does not help).

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  3. Goodness, everything is mouth watering! I wish you had photos of how the dining looks like, I love how a lot of books that I have read describe taverns: an intimate place where you can find peace with your coffee and pancakes. Well, obviously, you had a full meal of main course here.-Denise

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