You've heard all the hype and read all the articles about Maison Publique, chef Derek Dammann's new neighborhood restaurant with high-profile investor, celebrity-chef Jamie Oliver behind the scenes. But it's precisely that relationship with chef Dammann's former boss when he held position as chef de cuisine at Oliver's London restaurant, Fifteen that unfortunately continues to usurp the lion's share of attention away from Dammann who is 100% responsible for concept, menu, and operation. We've long since been fans of chef Dammann's cusine at his previous (now defunct) restaurant, DNA. But there was always a palpable amount of disconnect between the flashy old Montreal dining room full of glass walls, modern furniture and all-together odd, bordering on extraterrestrial (though surely expensive) light fixtures versus the down-to-earth, delicious food that came out of a kitchen that cut no corners. Can you name another restaurant, at least in Montreal, that brines their own capers, makes their own mustard, cures their own charcuterie and bakes their own bread - and does it well? The answer is likely, no. And if you can, please send us an email because we'd like to know what we're missing. This type of attention to detail is chef Dammann's fundamental approach to cooking and that's what deserves the attention and credit. It's that passion that will be the focus of this post; not Mr. Oliver, as good a bloke as he may or may not be.
French for public house, the name from which the ubiquitous term "pub" is derrived, Maison Publique sits on a corner in a primarily residential neighborhood. A large mural paying homage to Montreal's darling Molson brewery adorns the red brick exterior of the restaurant. On the inside, it's the details that set this casual spot apart. We can't speak for anyone else, but for us, it's got everything the restaurant we own and operate in our dreams has. A beautifully crafted bar that must have months worth of man hours that went into it's construction, staining and varnishing, tin tiled ceilings, rich textured wall paper and exactly zero pretentiousness. In the bathroom, hand and toilet paper hang on antlers secured to the walls and back in the dining room your cutlery can be found in a built-in, pull-out drawer on the underside of the table, rolled up in a cotton dish towel. The menu that changes regularly, and isn't on a chalkboard is Dammann's take on what he identifies as Canadian cuisine, even the beer and wine list is sourced from uniquely Canadian suppliers and producers. As Canadians and Quebecers, we've found the food to be an ideal mix of British colonial heritage and French influence that we'd be proud to identify with as a great example of our country's culinary identity. Throw into the mix Dammann's friend and former business partner Alex Cruz, who now operates the office of his food distribution company Societe Orignal out of the Maison Publique space and you've got a talented chef with direct access to some of the most uniquely Canadian ingredients around; high quality, limited availability ingredients sought after by some of the world's most discerning chefs.
Our budget doesn't always permit us to visit a restaurant multiple times before writing a review but in the case of Maison Publique we have, indeed visited several times prior to writing this post. Not necessarily because it's more affordable than anyplace else, although we've yet to see a menu item break the 30$ mark, but because we've genuinely enjoyed returning several times in a short period of time.
It's our fourth, and most recent visit for dinner though that will be the subject of this post. The habs season opener was playing on the TV over the bar, Johnny Cash was playing on the sound system and we shared nearly the entire menu with 4 dining companions. As usual, in the interest of full disclosure and transparency with our readers, it should be noted that while the meal was not comped by the restaurant, a member of our group (and family) graciously picked up the tab for the entire table that night. It should also be mentioned that we are no strangers to chef Dammann's dining rooms past or present. On this occasion having been greeted warmly and with familiarity by him on the way in, our suspicion that our anonymity in his restaurant is no longer viable was confirmed.
Your waitress will let you know that dishes will be delivered to the table as they're ready. Nothing sits under heat lamps on the pass getting frigid, but the whole table will not be getting their order simultaneously either. Plates are meant to be shared at Maison Publique, so staggering your order's arrival shouldn't be an issue so long as nobody gets greedy with the good stuff and you don't feel uncomfortable sharing with your dinner company. A few orders of foie gras toast were first to arrive, each piece of toasted bread generously smeared with a pâté made of the decadent, fatty goose liver, it's creamy texture on the verge of melting where it comes in direct contact with the warm toast. A small handful of gherkins work well to cut the fat. What's not to like?
Foie Gras Toast - 14$
Deviled Eggs - 6$
Winter Vegetables, Bagna Cauda - 14$
Baked Oyster - 10$
Pickled Herring - 12$
Humboldt Squid - 14$
A couple of orders of rigatoni bolognese were OK, but not great. A meat sauce made of ground pork, pancetta, and pork chop trimmings was brawny but lacked acidity and a touch of sweetness. All meat and little tomato made for a sauce that was missing fluidity, it managed to stain the pasta red but had difficulty adhering to the noodles leaving you with two elements in a dish that tasted good but never really came together as well as we would've liked them to.
Rigatoni Bolognese - 15$
Pork Chop - 25$
Quails, Foie Gras, Aioli - 24$
Treacle Tart - 10$
Eton Mess - 10$
Turning the page in one's professional life is never uncomplicated or done without apprehension, we know, we both did it transitioning from the restaurant business to our current respective careers. It's a time filled with angst and worry, throw entrepreneurship into the mix and you've got another level of anxiety to contend with. We can remember a discussion the two of us had when DNA closed, we were sad to hear the news but we had an underlying feeling that it would be in chef Dammann's best interest in the long run. They say when a door closes a window always open, but we feel that in this case a window closed when DNA did and a much bigger door was kicked open right off the hinges by chef Dammann. It has allowed his creative process to push beyond the kitchen, resulting in a business model and a creation much more befitting of the character we perceive him to have and the style his cooking demonstrates. Call us crazy but there was always something that didn't add up at DNA, donkey sausage was never meant to coexist with Arco floor lamps. Personally, we far prefer the mismatched china and the mounted deer head at Maison Publique. People cook best when they're happy and the food that comes out of chef Dammann's kitchen these days has never been better.
4720 Marquette, corner Gilford