It's a Tuesday night and the dining room is filled to the rafters with young professionals. From what we gather, mostly women between the ages of 30 and 40. A great playlist of classic rock provided a relaxing soundtrack as we unwound from our workday and watched the sunset while sipping on a crisp bottle of La Soeur Cadette, a terrific and affordable chardonnay from Burgundy. It had been served a touch cold for our preference but certainly nothing a few minutes at room temperature wouldn't solve. Before long the music was drowned amidst the buzzing conversations and laughter of the crowd. Our waitress takes a moment to let us know what the specials and selection of oysters are for the night. From the illustration provided you might assume we're 5à7'ing at a chic bistro in Old Montreal, but you'd be mistaken. We're at Tuck Shop in St. Henri, a neighborhood restaurant with a dedicated following that's been left to linger on our list of places to try for far too long.
There's no lack of support for this restaurant and it's owners, a group of industry veterans who's devoted audience gladly followed to what is literally speaking, the other side of the tracks from their old digs at The Monkland Tavern in NDG. There was a time not too long ago, when St. Henri was a corner of the city seldom visited by those who didn't live there. Now, with several young visionary entrepreneurs scooping up real estate for coffee shops, clothing stores, bakeries and barbershops as fast as they hit the market, a gentrification has begun and the increasing number of Mercedes Benz's and Bentley's parked on Notre-Dame hasn't gone unnoticed by the neighbors.
The menu at Tuck Shop transforms frequently with what's available at the nearby Atwater market, but judging by the menus published daily on their Twitter account, one item appears to have earned a permanent spot. A generous portion of fork-tender, befittingly fatty pork belly was seared to perfection. Served over an aged gouda mornay sauce enhanced with the subtle earthiness of sautéed oyster mushrooms the dish was absolutely sensational at an outstanding price. A pinch of radish slaw studded with mustard seed provided a desirable acidity to an otherwise intensely rich dish. The bread on our table made certain that not a single drop of sauce would remain on the plate when it was collected by our waitress.
Pork Belly, Aged Gouda, Oyster Mushrooms - 12$
A caesar salad with fried oysters, asparagus and peas was nice and relatively light, but slightly confused as to what it wanted to be. Due to the lack of anchovy flavor in the predominantly lemony dressing, the dish was to a degree a victim of the lettuce, that besides the crisp bacon was the only tie that bonded it to the concept. The oysters were briny, plump and perfectly fried but not an adequate substitution for the anchovy you desire in a caesar salad. Though enjoyable nonetheless, we agreed that the same ingredients prepared exactly the same way with the same dressing, minus the lettuce and the label of "Caesar" would take this salad from good to great.
Caesar Salad, Fried Oysters, Asparagus, Peas, Bacon, Parmesan - 14$
A supreme of guinea hen served with kale, green beans and morel mushroom gravy over creamy mashed red potatoes was the epitome of upscale comfort food. If mom's rendition of chicken and potatoes with gravy tasted this good growing up, our kitchen tables would've never seen a pizza box. The guinea hen was well seasoned and the nod to the classics having been butchered in a supreme didn't go unnoticed, though it did teeter on the limit of desired doneness. The attention to detail on the preparation of the bitter kale and sweet green beans it was served with was absolutely flawless. All things considered, it would be dishonest of us to ignore the narrowly steep price tag on this cozy dish.
Guinea Hen, Red Grelot Potatoes, Kale, Green Beans, Morel Mushroom Gravy - 27$
Cobia, Pissaladière, Zucchini Flower, Cherry Tomato, Asparagus, Red Pepper & Caper Salsa - 28$
For dessert we opted for the cheese plate, a choice we couldn't recommend strongly enough and feel many overlook far too often. Offered in your choice of 2 (60g) or 4 (120g) varieties, we went with a selection of 2 Quebecois cheeses. A soft triple cream Riopelle and a nutty, semi-firm Gré Des Champs. The accompanying salad of crisp, tart green apple, chopped almonds and chives in a light vinaigrette was without question the best accoutrement we've ever had the pleasure of eating alongside a cheese plate; there's no question we'll be borrowing that idea next time we have company in our home.
Quebec Cheese Plate (60g) - 9$
We left Tuck Shop with a very pleasant impression. The room was charming, the mood was casual, staff was professional, and the value was surprising. A debatable misnomer on the salad and a few dollars strong on the guinea hen wasn't nearly enough to spoil an all around impressive meal. Any time we leave a restaurant having eaten market-driven cooking of this calibre, including dessert and a bottle of wine in the 150$ range is a triumphant tally in our books. A substantial portion of that value can certainly be attributed to what appears to be a very reasonable markup on their wine list. St. Henri should be proud to have such a talented kitchen in their neighborhood. Don't forget to call ahead for reservations because seats are notoriously hard to come by on short notice.
4662 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest