Fishy Goodness at Comptoir 21
Call me Ishmael... Fish and Chips evokes childhood memories of frozen store-bought filets heated in the oven until the breading was soggy. Or, at least, it used to until I grew up and tried real fish and chips. When I was in New York, I was a huge fan of A Salt & Battery, crispy, delicious pollock (cod is a bad option since it's been in short supply due to overfishing) and crisp golden fries. Fish and chips would really hit the spot on a rainy day. Back in Montreal, I had made peace with the fact that I was no Ahab and that I would never find a similar fish. When I heard about Comptoir 21 I knew I had to check it out. I was not disappointed.
Comptoir is small but the wraparound counter, along with the rustic wooden wall and the two-tone countertop really makes the room warm and inviting. Already before ordering I was impressed by the menu, $5 hamburgers, $5 fish sandwich (grilled or fried) and $10 for a standard fish + chips meal? This place looked great! I wanted to try the Calmari as an appetizer ($5.95 a plate - though i've been wary about Calmari lately...), but decided to be kind to my arteries and stuck to the fish and chips meal this time. The waitress was friendly and fast without being pushy. From ordering to receiving our food it took about 5 minutes. The little wooden boxes with the blue-checkered napkins in which they served the food were very quaint. The real star, though, was the fish. Big pieces of crispy breading, no oil or grease running off of them along with a delicious and intoxicatingly good smell. The morsels looked so tempting that for a second, I was worried they had accidentally served me fried mermaid. My meal wasn't singing though, so I breathed a sigh of relief, I could avoid tying myself to the mast and give in to temptation.
My first bite was a little piece of heaven. Hearing the crunch of the batter as it broke and then watching with amazement as big flaky pieces of juicy pollock fell under the slightest pressure from my fork.... this looked incredible. It tasted as good as it seemed.The batter had a satisfyingly sweet and buttery crunch while the fish was tender and juicy. This was better than any other fish and chips I'd ever had. Not only was it less oily and less greasy, they also don't salt the fish or the fries before serving. (I'm one of those weird people who enjoys having things unsalted and adding my own salt afterwards). The fries would have been ruined with a heavy salting hand anyway. They were crispy and golden brown with that slight hint of sweetness we've all come to know and love in Quebecois and Belgian fries. I stared longingly at the poutine that had been ordered by the group across from us at the counter. "Next time," I thought, as I picked up another morsel of fish.
Now that I had tried the product naked, it was time to try the signature sauces they serve. With the meal you can choose the standard homemade tartare sauce, a thai sauce, curry, paprika, etc... I ordered the herb sauce while my fiancee got the Thai. To be honest, mine was a bit of a letdown; some pureed herbs suspended in olive oil, but no garlic... somewhat like the chimichurri that wasn't. The thai sauce was much more flavourful. I couldn't quite place the spice in there, was it galangal, thai curry? It certainly wasn't thai basil. I had to try the homemade tartar sauce too. It was quite good; though, It could have used a little more lemon juice since it lacked tanginess. On the other hand, the underwhelming sauces might be intentional. The point of Comptoir is not the dressing, but the fish and chips. A more flavourful sauce would have killed whatever subtle flavours were in the crispy pieces of deliciousness I had in front of me. The coleslaw served on the side rounded out the meal nicely. Very simple but well done without being too vinegar-y. In fact, I would suggest skipping the sauces altogether. Comptoir has little spray bottles of malt and white vinegar available, and the fish was at its best with a few squirts of malt vinegar and some added salt.
I don't know exactly how they fry their food, but one of the nicest parts of the meal was getting up and feeling full, but not disgusting (as a fish-and-chips, or other fast food binge can sometimes leave you afterwards). The fact that this place delivers means that it will now be on my shortlist of comfort foods after a long and frustrating day, when it's really cold or raining/snowing/hailing/apocalypse. I can't wait to go back and to try their Clam Chowder, Calmari, Grilled fish sandwiches and all the other maritime bounty they have to offer.
Best of all, no harpoon required.
21 St.-Viateur Ouest (right off St. Laurent)
Monday-Friday 1130 am -11 pm
Saturday-Sunday Noon -11 pm