No. 4: Joe Beef
2491 RUE NOTRE-DAME WEST, MONTREAL, QUEBEC
The humble 30-seat back-to-basics culinary outpost that chefs David McMillan and Fred Morin opened on a sketchy stretch of NotreDame West in 2005 has, over the intervening years, doubled its size and seating, added a proper bar and patio, acquired its own onsite smokehouse, trout pond and vegetable garden, spawned two neighbouring restaurants, a muchadmired cookbook and a retail spice line.
Even more unlikely than Joe Beef’s evolution to culinary institution is the fact that it made the transition with its original ideals intact. Actually, they seem more sharply focused now than ever. The guiding idea is resolutely contemporary—but in every application it has one foot firmly and proudly planted in the past. The ostensible bric-à-brac of its décor is, in fact, quality stuff, a nod to the antique shops that for decades lined the local street. The waitstaff are convivial, tattooed and casually familiar, but behind all that there lurks an impressive well of knowledge and professionalism.
And while the kitchen is averse to l’art culinaire’s pretention and fuss, the bag of tricks it applies to its top-quality ingredients is invariably French and oldschool. Picture a big wedge of pâté en croûte, luxuriously studded with moist chunks of rabbit or Dover sole, doused in celeriac cream and blanketed with Périgord truffle, and sweetbreads, poached and seared to a perfect state of succulence, wrapped in crisp bacon and dressed with lobster sauce.
The wine list features innumerable quality pairings for everything. And the sum of those parts is not just a good meal, but a great time.
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RESTAURANT PHOTOS: CARLOS GUERRA, DAVID HAWKSWORTH / CHERISH BRYCK