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The New "Lop-Sided Pea" Restaurant

Posted by Amie / November 3, 2011

Le Pois Penche Seafood PlatterLe Pois Penché (the restaurant on de Maisonneuve at Drummond - the one whose terrasse has a sidewalk right down the middle) has been re-vamped Parisian brasserie-style. Wait, wasn't it already French? Platters of seafood and oysters with a glass of champagne and all that jazz? Yeah, those are still there, but the red jackets are gone, black cocktail dresses are in, and the new chalkboard menu puts mini-burgers and boeuf bourguignon next to its steak-frites and tartars. Throw in some buzzwords like local and sustainable, add a fancy wine fridge full of bottles from small, mostly French producers, and we've got ourselves a brasserie.

The goods:

  • $15 bar menu, so for $20 all-in you can leave pretty well fed. Adding a $10 glass of wine pumps up the bill, but you don't have to buy an entire bottle thanks to the 50 by-the-glass options and a fancy Italian wine fridge.

  • $25 prix-fixe lunch that's maybe a better bet. $35 for dinner. That's high, but for organic beef it's probably almost reasonable, especially in the area.

I headed to the restaurant-relaunch party to sample the new menu and meet Imad Nabwani, the new owner and the man behind the branding of the Montreal steakhouse Queue du Cheval and the MBCo. The new Pois Penché is not just gourmet sandwiches and pastries for lunch (though you can get that here), and it's not just giant hunks of meat on a giant testosterone-fueled grill (though you can get a slightly more appropriately-portioned serving of meat intended for all genders). It's a little bit of both, but it's all comfort food, whether that means a salad or a bowl of risotto.

It was a restaurant re-opening, so who was the big-name Chef? No stars here, it turns out. The kitchen staff is a mix of old experience and youthful gumption. And the kitchen's pretty happy lately, apparently, because of recent environmental improvements (happy kitchen = happy food). As the restaurant industry is notoriously not-green it's good to hear from Nabwani that Le Pois Penché has a new recycling program and is trying to lower its carbon footprint. This despite the fact that they just opened a catering operation which is definitely one of the more wasteful parts of the hospitality industry.

Still, I'd definitely attend a Pois Penché-catered oyster bar party as long as that upstanding shucking gentleman from my recent visit was responsible for making sure the oysters were handled and transported well. The $20 per dozen price tag during happy hours Monday to Friday from 5pm-8pm isn't exactly as tempting as an open oyster bar, but not a bad deal.

Le Pois PencheMini Salade Nicoise

There wouldn't be any waste at any oyster party that I attend at least. Give me those slurp-able little delicacies over the environmental disasters that are jumbo imported shrimp any day. The ones in the photo above may look so good you'd think they're painted, but that's about how they taste, and after one bite you realize that you've got a lot of chewing cut out for you. It would be more bearable if (to pass the conversation-free dinner time imposed by all that chewing) you could think about how much more sustainable and tasty Quebec's own tiny Crevettes de Matane are. Bigger is not always better. Skip the unsustainable, farmed Atlantic salmon tartar while you're at it. And the tuna salade nicoise. The red meat is definitely where it's at.

Le Pois Penche BarThe swanky bar with the fancy Italian wine fridge

Best bet - the steak-frites or beef tartar. While Nabwani says they're going for light-ish food, that's not what the reformed dobs of butter in the caramelized onions that accompanied the charcuterie were saying to me. He says there's a balance in the menu, so if you want it light, you can have it light, but if you want your French butter sauces or are craving profiteroles for dessert, you can have those too.

Le Pois Penché has also jumped on the local, sustainable bandwagon during the re-vamp. Partnering up with the mysteriously ungoogle-able "Fashion Food Group" of local farmers working with restaurants in the city, Nabwani says they're slowly integrating more local products into their menu, and that's definitely more obvious in the meats. Preservative-free pork in the charcuterie made by Le Cochon Rond. And when organic produce is available, they'll use it, says Nabwani.

For dessert, I'd happily take the delicious, local raw-milk goat cheese, Le Chèvre des Neiges, in Le Pois Penché's cheese course options over the French toast. That's what brunch is for, not dessert, unless you're Léméac and you can get away with that kind of delicious tomfoolery. On an affordable late-night menu no less. The idea of having French toast at 11pm and then again the next morning at their brunch is pretty tempting, though...

Speaking of which, Le Pois Penché's also working on a $20 after 10pm menu, but it hasn't happened yet. So at least for now you'll have to fight it out for a reservation at Léméac should you find yourself a little higher up the mountain.

Le Pois Penché

Where: 1230 Maisonneuve West
When: Mon-Fri 11am-midnight, Sat 10am-midnight, Sun 10am-10:30pm
How Much: $20 to a lot ($45 prix fixe dinner including tax and tip, without wine, but you could get away with maybe $25 without wine for just a main. Brunch around $20)

Photos courtesy of Russ Cooper.



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