Today was what we call the “slow roll.” I had tentatively scheduled in McKiernan for brunch, but we opted to sleep in instead. So after a fairly full schedule of eats these past few days, all we had planned for this sunny Saturday was Joe Beef, one of a triumvirate of restaurants, along with McKiernan and Liverpool House. All three are owned by the same people and reside on the same street.
Having heard much buzz about this place online, I still didn’t know quite what to expect. Sitting at the bar in the back of the small dining room gave us the ability to peek into the kitchen, and this suited us just fine. We laid out our gear — consisting of camera and Gorillapod — and got ourselves settled in to our stools. Shortly thereafter, we had to get up again to check out the menu, written on a chalkboard near the entrance. After pondering our options, we decided to get the asparagus with duck egg, the local burrata with artichokes and the rabbit for two.
Getting right into the apps, the asparagus with duck egg was one of those simply constructed dishes that could have allowed for the ingredients to shine. While we appreciated the attempt, the ingredients didn’t happen to strike a chord on our palates, neither alone nor in combination. Burrata, something new to me, is a buffalo mozzarella pocket with a cream and mozzarella interior. The buttery notes made for a very rich foil to the toasted pine nuts, beans, artichokes, cucumbers, radish and tomatoes that framed it. Fresh-tasting, hearty and quite enjoyable.
It was during the sampling of the apps that Fred, one of the owners and chef, had come by to check on us and chat. I’m not sure if it’s because we were close to the kitchens, if he’s just a friendly guy, or if it was our cameras that prompted the visit. Maybe all three? But we touched on some of his cooking inspirations and he ended our conversation with “let me see what I have lying around” and ran off.
So the next thing we know, we have a long corn-flake-encrusted eel nugget and two huge BC oysters in a black bean and soy-type sauce. Fred had mentioned earlier that he had taken the latter from his post-work late-night Chinatown meals. Not my preferred preparation of these oysters, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The crunch from the eel and potato croquette was a nice counter to the rich oyster. We also particularly enjoyed the fried parsley on top. Nice play on visuals (the croquette with a pair of oysters at its base), texture and taste all around, but maybe a fig leaf would have been a better choice as opposed to the watercress!
At this point we were getting full and contemplating how we were going to finish that rabbit-for-two. Though we weren’t entirely positive, we suspected there was something else coming, and I both dreaded and anticipated what Fred had planned next.
We were not to be disappointed. A large pan, bearing a pig’s head sitting on a pile of mashed potatoes, dropped in front of us. With four cola-soaked dates perched on top and two biscuits and a hunk of foie at its back, this was an extremely impressive dish. Having an anti-Coke moment, Fred chose RC Cola to marinate with instead, and these dates, sweet and slightly spicy, were really good. I’ve already filed away a mental note to try this at home some time. Daunted by how to start on the head, we instead navigated around it, first trying the creamy and classic mash, then the slightly crumbly biscuit and the seared foie gras. Quite tasty as a mouthful.
We shared our bounty with Fred’s friend, writer and our impromptu waiter: Adam. Not really knowing where to begin, we figured we would offer the best first – the cheek. We eventually made our way around and ate even the tongue with Endy trying a bit of the eye (not tasty). I understood this to be the head from the stuffed piglet used in the piglet and biscuit dish, infrequently on the menu. Though it was doubtful that Fred would have been able to serve this particular portion, we were both flattered and honoured that he would consider serving this – something some might consider objectionable – to us, just a food-enthused pair. I’d later also mused about what might have happened had I instead pulled out the really big Gorillapod.
And we still had the rabbit – stuffed with a ground rabbit mixture and sitting on a bed of carrot purée and surrounded by cabbage and roasted onion. Cute. Despite the fact that we were full, we nearly finished it, leaving only some vegetables. It was really that good. Easily the best dish of the night, the rabbit was moist and flavourful, and the crisp cabbage combined phenomenally well with the sweet carrot. A definite re-order.
Not long after we were served muscat, an earl grey tea and the poached pear, Fred came back out and we had a wide-ranging conversation that moved beyond food. With the restaurant having only two seatings per night, our time was up and our bellies were more than full. We gave our thanks, said our goodbyes and slowly rolled out. It had been an enjoyable evening in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, heightening a really interesting and adventurous meal.
- Joe Beef 2491 Rue Notre-Dame West, Montréal
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