À Table is dead.
I was surprised to hear the news, especially as I was there for À Table’s launch, had a particularly good meal this one Cinco de Mayo and always had to make reservations to secure a spot. Very curious indeed when friends said it was closed when they tried to drop in for an impromptu meal.
But it’s not like I’ve been paying attention as I’ve spent a lot of the past year eating at diners in the Garden State and could never find a moment to drive over to Ahuntsic (!) to look for myself. Then there was word that my pal Mario’s started looking for kitchen talent for his new restaurant, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense because why would he be opening restaurant number 4 when number 3 had succumbed?
Well, it does pay to pay attention and I really should just go and ask Mario rather than speculate, but it comes down to an unforeseen event actually providing an opportunity to relaunch under a slightly different branding.
So… she’s dead, Jim. À Table really is gone. Madre sur Fleury now stands in its place, and long may this eatery continue operations.
Mario’s second restaurant – Madre (on Masson) – recreated itself by ditching the liquor license a couple of years back to become a very popular BYO in the Rosemont sector of the Big Croissant. Madre sur Fleury continues that formula, dumping its liquor license and adopting a couple of additional visual elements like the artboards of mothers and the giant chalkboard menus. And brunch. Sunday brunch is now available.
The restaurant’s hard opening with live paying customers was tonight and I went to take a look. The day À Table fired up back in 2010, there was torrential rain and I dodged the opening night bullet by being there on the second day and taking advantage of their having installed an air conditioner. Tonight’s hard launch had torrential rain and I should have showed up tomorrow because their heat pump will only be installed… tomorrow. Crap. Actually the room cooled down considerably after the front door was opened for a few minutes but anyone dining after tomorrow will be way more comfortable.
New signage of course, but the room itself hasn’t significantly changed though the wall artwork is now different and the chalkboards are large enough that I can read the very neat printing without my glasses. My favorite table seating is still there and I took a shot of it and the kitchen from my table viewpoint. Same kitchen setup and chalkboard above the entryway, but the bar’s changed and there’s a little table where they set up decanters. The renovations to the room are to the left (out of frame) and behind me. And of course the giant till obligated by the provincial government, which was part of the reason I didn’t pick my favorite table (opening day teething problems with the wireless card reader = people standing in front of the giant till).
The new staff is nice.
Food-wise, the launch menu is essentially the current menu at the other Madre. Smart move because these plates are popular and it should allow them to tinker with what the local neighborhood will accept, plus the brigade is already familiar with it. Flavor-wise, there are no significant surprises or deviations from the old À Table “Quebeçois Latino” offerings. The locals get a little ethnic raciness throughout but all in very non-threatening packaging.
Format: the price of the main plate if the cost of your two-course meal. Choose what you want and pick from one of the starters. There is a supplemental charge for ceviche, but understandable given that the quality of fish required for this obligates a daily purchase. Dessert’s an optional charge too.
I noticed that wait staff had to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how the menu worked to the other patrons but that should work itself out. I hope. It’s pretty simple but if you’ve never seen it before I can understand why.
Two lacto-ovo starters but no vegetarian main, which doesn’t matter to me but might matter to visiting herbivores. The small print menu that I left with does indicate that the risotto can be had without the shrimp. A bit odd not to have a wine menu but it’s a BYO and duma$$ that I am, I forgot to BMO.
Opening night meant that I could get Mario to cook for me. What to get…
Ceviche! That’s always good and since it was hot, something light, cool and flavorful would be good. Opening night’s was salmon cut like tiradito with a smear of sweet potato and little dabs of avocado to offset the acidity. Onion and grilled corn kernels provided textural contrast and the first thing I notice is that the cilantro sprouts are gone in favor of mature cilantro. Same taste, less frou-frou. Very nice – I like a bit more chile but I would have drank the marinade if I could have gotten away with it.
Cold corn soup. I’ve eaten a lot of variations of this soup, and annoy the crap out of Mario by frequently ordering this as dessert. Good – the same corn kernels seen in the ceviche for texture, nice sweet corn taste, and it’s refreshingly cold. This soup changes constantly so chances are excellent that the garnishes aren’t going to be the same in a couple of weeks.
This is the aforementioned shrimp risotto which can be made lacto-vegetarian if necessary. I’ve made risotto and I don’t care what people say – there is no way to make risotto look nice. It’s always going to be a blob, though visually this one reminded me of a Delissio box.
Taste-wise, creamy, slight toothy bite to the rice, nice Nordic shrimp. The red pepper coulis and basil pesto added little flavor hits to help vary what was hitting the palate. My preference is for a finer grating of cheese but this is supposed to be a bold look. Good dish, but I would have appreciated it more if it was really cold outside since I associate risotto more with autumn and winter than spring.
The risotto was nice, but the pan-seared scallops were better. You can see a scallop on the lower left; my plate had six of these U10 scallops so not exactly chintzing it up. What you don’t see on the plate is a pea purée as the aji amarillo sauce is hiding it. As for the other things, squid rings, shaved celery which didn’t overwhelm with celery taste, radishes, leeks and sweet potato chips.
I really liked this – just by reading this the impression is that it should be too sweet but it isn’t because the celery is neutral, the radish is a bit spicy and the aji amarillo is tangy. The sweet potato isn’t actually sweet; there is some sugar but it’s a more earthy sensation than anything. And the squid? I like squid – it’s bonus protein and DHA to help lubricate brain.
I didn’t do dessert.
What have we learned today?
If you’re going to a BYOB launch but haven’t decided whether or not to just say hello or sit down to a quick bite, make sure to bring a bottle of something to quaff because plain old water is really a “meh” accompaniment to the dining experience.
While I miss having a glass to go with the meal, I actually did not miss the old wine list. Why? There were serviceable bottles available to it but the Nuevo Latino flavor profile is better met with more esoteric bottlings that would be well out of the price range that a neighborhood restaurant would be able to sell in. I have some of those kinds of bottles so I’m set for the next time.
Madre sur Fleury offers an approachable concept that should continue to serve the locals well, especially as the BYO makes the dining experience more affordable. I found it interesting that Mario went with the same menu as the other Madre; logistically it makes sense because it streamlines mise en place (e.g. base sauces, stocks). He thinks they’re going to stay in parallel, but I suspect that as time goes on, the two Madres will share some menu items but have one or two “only at…” menu options as the clientele within the two neighborhoods are different. I’d like to say that I am correct, but we’ll have to see if I’m right.
At the moment, Madre sur Fleury, like every new eatery that just opens, needs to shake out a few kinks post-launch, but it should prove to be quite popular as the combination of food, BYO, price and abundant free parking (!) make for a very attractive package.
Madre sur Fleury
124, rue Fleury ouest
Tel.: +1 (514) 439-1966