Wine lovers rejoiced in July when the Joe Beef / Liverpool House team scooped up another address on their charming Little Burgundy block to open Le Vin Papillon. At long last, David McMillan and Fred Morin had seized the dream of a wine bar. A place where all their favorite side dishes and snackable elements of the brawny food they're celebrated for would be committed to stand unescorted in the spotlight. A place where customers would be free to wander in off the street sans-reservation to discover a glass of a conceivably unfamiliar variety of wine accompanied by a light meal.
As businesses bloom, there's always that most fundamental of components that money can't buy: reliable, cultivated personnel. Enter Vanya Filipovic, an incomparable hostess and wine savant that's been an element as vital to the proliferation of Joe Beef's prominence as any other individual you might nominate. One of us having previously been her coworker, we can tell you we weren't anonymous during our visit to Le Vin Papillon but can also attest first hand as to how much of an essential piece of the puzzle she's been at Joe Beef since day 1. Her enthusiasm is infectious, her polished ability to work the floor inimitable and her expertise enviable, but she's not alone in this endeavor.
Joe Beef chef de cuisine Marc-Olivier Frappier is entrusted to bring the menu to life each week. A mind keen to create dishes that won't outshine, but enhance the wine. Small vegetable-centric but not necessarily vegetarian dishes in line with the concept are amplified by modest infusions of smoked fish, cured meat and ripe cheese. Like Vanya, Marc-Olivier still spends service jaunting up and down the block between restaurants, in his absence Leigh Roper is charged with holding the reins.
Only the essentials top the bar that's book-ended with large wooden barrels. A posh meat slicer, a large metal bowl chilling an impressive selection of wine and champagne offered by the glass, and a tantalizing selection of pungent French cheese. Opposite the bar, the blackboard menu, an appropriately substantial wine list and weathered mirrors alternate on a brick wall painted white. Generously speaking, there are about 30 seats that occupy the majority of the modestly lit, narrow space.
Mamaganoush - 9$
Jellied Egg, Girolles, Foie Gras - 9$
Confidently seasoned and sparingly bitter kale was delightful, mounded generously atop thick-cut pieces of toasted country bread with creamy ricotta cheese. So too was the subtlety of roasted new potatoes served with popping pearls of salmon roe, soft boiled eggs, briny capers and aromatic feathers of dill, a portrait of Jewish breakfast in a three-piece suit.
Potatoes & Eggs - 10$
Clusters of dark meat and pleasantly puckered skin fell effortlessly from a leg of guinea hen served with the claw still appended. A liberal amount of creative license was taken with a sticky-sweet version of an Albufera sauce wherein the sweetness of roasted red pepper prevailed over the muted inclusion of foie gras, it's texture more akin to a barbecue sauce than a classically creamy velouté.
Guinea Hen Albufera - 14$
Dessert was a curriculum in restraint and class. The course's focus on fruit, save for a single chocolate option on the night's menu, seamlessly carried the light-natured theme of the meal though to it's fruition. Ripe wedges of vibrant orange persimon tasted of summer cantaloupe, wading in a puddle of pitch perfect crème anglaise. A calculated crunch of mildly sweet streusel and shaved walnut completed the dish texturally. A lovely looking pear and almond paste tart had a crust as tender as a lover's caress and as flaky as your unreliable college roommate, but like choosing apples to make pie, the variety of pear selected for this task is crucial. We found the pears to be better suited for retaining their shape than their sweetness during cooking, the result was a pretty looking almond paste tart that tasted too modestly of pear.
Persimon, Creme Anglaise, Walnut, Crumble - 8$
Pear & Almond Tarte - 8$
Plump stewed prunes and Armagnac cream sang accompanied by a complimentary round of Ratafia, a revelatory spirit with which they paired beautifully. Not unlike an eau de vie, it was savage on the front end with a subtle cherry finish. Vanya's intuition to give your meal that little push, taking it from delightful to enlightening without ever crossing the delicate line that tumbles into ostentation was showing it's true colors. One of us was understandably less enchanted by the Ratafia's polarizing intensity than the other but the flavor pairing couldn't be denied and the generosity was well received.
Stewed Prunes, Armagnac Cream - 5$
Well within our comfort zone selecting a bottle we'll be pleased with, we've gathered a healthy education on wine over the years but ultimately refrain from in depth analysis in our posts because we don't feel our adequate grasp on the subject entitles us to write about it the same way we do food. The truth is, our wine knowledge (and proclivity for Beaujolais) can in large part be attributed to the cast and crew of Joe Beef & Liverpool House past and present, in who's hands we've felt abundantly comfortable over the years. To our sensibility, a wine bar in this group's future was always the next logical step.
Le Vin Papillon doesn't only excite us because more people will learn what we and countless others have know for a long time about this team's proficiency, but for the discoveries we'll continue to make ourselves thanks to a staff that keeps getting smarter, and ambitious private imports that keep getting more interesting. To our recollection, Montreal has never before been as open and ready to sit, eat and meander outside of their comfort zone as they are presently with their wine selections. The faculty to respond intuitively to what people want and wrap it in such an approachable parcel continue to be Dave McMillan and Fred Morin's gift. Keeping in line with that principle, Le Vin Papillon offers food that's sharp but affordable, a concept that's refined but accessible, and a space that's sophisticated but congenial. Do yourself a favor, keep an open mind, trust the staff and order your wine by the glass - you won't be disappointed.
Le Vin Papillon
2519 Rue Notre Dame Ouest