Monday, May 28, 2012

LIVERPOOL HOUSE


We believe that our enthusiasm for our recent visit to Liverpool House in celebration of one of our birthdays can be amply summed up in the following way: after an outstanding evening there we returned the following Saturday. So what's the big deal about returning to the same restaurant twice in two weeks you ask? Well first of all, a restaurant at this price-point twice in a month, let alone twice in 2 weeks wreaks havoc on our budget; but this would also be the first time since foodiedatenight.com started 16 months ago that we returned to the same restaurant on two consecutive Saturday nights, forsaking a perfectly good opportunity to try another restaurant on our never-ending "to-eat" list. Everything about our visit left such an exceptional impression on us that it seemed almost illogical to spend our time or money anywhere else. For lack of a better way to express the way we felt about it, we were smitten by Liverpool House's undeniable charm and felt compelled to return in haste.

Liverpool House is the sister restaurant of the extremely popular Joe Beef, one of Montreal's best restaurants that has recently received an avalanche of well-deserved praise following the success of their book release. Amidst all of the exposure though, a bit of a quandary has ensued. While securing a reservation on short notice at Joe Beef was never really a walk in the park, the increased demand and attention from culinary tourists and previously unfamiliar locals alike has rendered seats even more difficult to come by than they previously were. Liverpool House however, has somehow managed to fly narrowly below the radar maintaining and accommodating the faithful local crowd that are finding it increasingly difficult to score a table next door at Joe Beef. That being said, the degree of ease with which you may or may not be able to secure a table at Liverpool House is relative, reservations are mandatory and consider yourself lucky if you can lock one up the week-of.

We find the character of Liverpool House to be just as uniquely Morin-McMillan'esque as Joe Beef, the food to be nearly identical in style, and the level of quality and creativity to be virtually indistinguishable from one another. The restaurant is split into two rooms, you enter from the street on the bar side, but the majority of the seating capacity is in the adjacent room where the wine list and menu are listed on large mural-sized blackboards. There's something about the place that feels a little country cottage French, maybe it's design elements like the wainscoting on the walls or the big white hutch in the entrance. But as other items catch your eye like framed photos of trucks and a guy holding a Nike shoebox full of cash you get a nudge that intentionally grounds you. You're brought back to the reality that while the price-point might be a little upper-crust, the demeanor and fundamental character of the place is intended to be more of a blue-collar special occasion spot with loud music and boisterous conversation than a yuppie joint full of egos, suits, and ties.

Shishito Peppers, Pine Nuts, Bacon, Mimolette - 12$

With the exception of a few restaurants, we rarely mind sitting at the bar; Liverpool House happens to be on the short-list of restaurants where we actually prefer the atmosphere at the bar to a table. Our evening began with a couple of cocktails and what will from here on be known as the best bar snack ever. A bowl of shishito peppers were roasted whole until they became tender and blistered on the surface, then covered in a mixture of salty bacon, buttery pine nuts and grated mild Mimolette cheese. Eating shishitos is a little like playing Russian roulette, 9 out of 10 will be tolerably hot but every so often you get one that makes you wonder if you would've been better off licking a curling iron. They were just as fun to eat as they were delicious and nothing short of perfect accompanied by a cocktail or better yet, a beer.

As our meal and our thirst progressed, we decided to remain seated and defer to the gentleman behind the bar rather than stand in the dining room and read from the blackboard. We requested that he suggest a bottle of red, we let him know we were comfortable in the 60$ price range and that we love to drink Morgons. He didn't have any Morgon on hand (or maybe just not in our price range) but he really came through selecting a Jura cuvĂ©e Chanson Pinot Noir. We enjoyed it a lot and appreciated that he respected our budget and didn't try to up-sell us on something more expensive than our price limit.

Sweetbreads "Chinatown" - 16$

His appetizer suggestions were just as on-point as the wine. The first, sweetbreads "Chinatown" was like bistro meets banh mi. Bite-sized nuggets of sweetbreads crisp on the outside, and creamy soft on the inside were dressed in a sweet & sour sauce and garnished with brightly flavored cilantro, toasty sesame seeds, and julienned pickled carrots. Our second appetizer was classic baked oysters Rockefeller executed with a pair of enormous, not-so-classic oysters from the Pacific ocean off the coast of British Columbia. Prior to this we had only ever seen these oysters before in Chinatown, if you're unfamiliar with the variety of oysters we're speaking of consider that they're about the size of your hand and in the picture below they're on a full-sized dinner plate, not an appetizer or bread plate. 

Oysters Rockefeller - 18$

Our mains, halibut with a clam chowder sauce and scallops with pulled pork were equally delightful. The halibut had a wildly hard sear on it that gave way to an ideally cooked interior, fresh sugar snap peas added a little color, freshness, and sweetness to the dish. The clam chowder sauce was full of plump bits of clam, but a little on the salty side; enough so that it was noticeable but certainly not enough to complain about, the dish was garnished with a little bit of crispy fried shallots. The scallops and pulled pork, a clever sort of surf and turf is a Liverpool House/Joe Beef classic. Five large scallops are seared to perfection and each adorned with a little mound of meltingly tender pulled pork that they prepare in their smoker behind the restaurant, then topped with a bit of pickled shallots. As if that isn't enough to make you want to lick the screen of your computer right now, they finish the whole thing with an unctuous and slightly runny hollandaise that amalgamates on your dish with the smokey sweet run-off of the BBQ sauce the pulled pork is smothered in. The sharp vinegary tang of the pickled shallots cuts through the richness of the fatty pork and hollandaise like a hot knife through butter. This dish is all kinds of awesome, it's no wonder it has a nearly permanent spot on a menu that's always changing. 

Halibut, Clam Chowder, Sugar Snap Peas - 36$
Scallops, Pulled Pork, Hollandaise - 38$

By the end of our meal the gentleman behind the bar had caught on that we were celebrating a birthday. He was super generous, surprising us with a complementary dessert. Miniature maple donuts with smoked cheddar cheese were certainly original and a perfect balance of salty and sweet. Since they were complimentary, and the photo we took didn't really do them justice since we had been drinking rather liberally - to put it lightly, we decided to leave it out. 

Music, like food has the power to bring about vivid recollections of a particular time or place in your life. Sometimes, that place can be a restaurant, with a soundtrack that embodies its essence or tone. The unique personality at Liverpool House can be felt in the unorthodox playlist that becomes the soundtrack to your evening. We drank cocktails and indulged in fantastic appetizers to the hip hop of our adolescence like Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest as we talked with one another and watched a sea of oysters get shucked with precision behind the bar. As the night progressed and hit its full stride the music became more spirited, emerging into Biggie tracks and dancehall reggae like Buju Banton. Then, as the kitchen closed and the dining room began to slowly empty out, the music appropriately began to wind down. Mellow, feel-good, 1990's alternative tunes like No Rain by Blind Melon and Drinking in L.A by Bran Van 3000 began to play as regulars enjoyed a drink and a conversation with the easygoing but professional staff around the bar. The music was as classic and simultaneously eclectic as the atmosphere and the food were; constantly evolving and always managing to compliment the mood of the room and pace of the evening but never led astray from the unpretentious vibe of the restaurant's character. This seemingly effortless coupling of fun music with sensational food serves to accomplish an unrivaled atmosphere - first class dining in a place that doesn't leave you impatiently waiting for the opportunity to loosen your tie. Save the muzak for elevators, the "dinner" music for uptight tasting menus and the electro music for a bar full of mustaches on the Plateau. We'll take four star food in jeans and a t-shirt while we listen to Juicy every time. Liverpool House is a true original and certainly an individual in a sea of imitators.


Liverpool House
2501 Notre Dame West
Montreal, QC
514-313-6049
www.joebeef.ca

Liverpool House on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. I somehow had the misconcieved idea to try my luck and get a walk-in table for 4 with no reservation on Saturday night, lol (Burgundy Lion next door told us it would be 30 minutes for a table, so I thought what the heck).

    It's only a matter of time before I come back (this time with a reservation).

    Nice review.

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  2. we are soooo going!!!...this review makes me hungry...thank you both!!!

    ReplyDelete