Normand Laprise may be Quebec's first star chef, but nobody took that label to the stratosphere reached by the duo of David McMillan and Frédéric Morin. Their first restaurant Joe Beef, an institution since its inauguration in 2005, has received countless accolades, made it as high as second place on Canada's 100 Best Restaurants list, appeared on numerous of the late Anthony Bourdain's TV shows, and was subject of exposés on Time, The New Yorker and Bon Appétit magazines.
Success aside, the two chefs have had an immeasurable cultural impact on the city by catapulting its status as a foodie destination and supporting local farmers along with other causes; not to mention the army of alumni chefs who have graduated from their kitchen to open their own thriving restaurants.
With all this said, it is no surprise that a table at Joe Beef is as hard to get as a U2 concert ticket; tonight was the first available date when my reservation was made back in November! To top that off, throngs of diners kept huddling at the door waiting for a table well past 10PM.
What started as a small operation in Little Burgundy way before it became the trendy neighborhood it is today has expanded considerably over the years. After annexing its neighboring space and closing off its patio in the back, Joe Beef today counts three separate dining rooms.
The décor has a vintage lodge feel courtesy of rustic furniture and white wood-paneled walls carrying stuffed animal heads. This bucolic vibe was oddly juxtaposed against 90s bump-n-grind R&B tunes; food porn anyone?
The landmark establishment is known for its decadent plates of meat and seafood – with often multiple animals per dish – following a French tradition while remaining unfussy. The chalkboard menu is constantly evolving and changing, save for the signature lobster spaghetti.
Scrumptious smoked trout/eel fritters were soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside and interestingly topped with dollops of caviar.
Perfectly al dente pasta was coated in a creamy butter sauce, enhanced with bacon and herbs then topped with cracked lobster chunks in-the-shell.
Luscious sweetbreads were drenched in a peppercorn sauce dotted with lentils and root veggies, and served with watercress to cut through the richness.
Two thick slices of homemade country-style bread came with uber-spreadable butter, a pickle and an I-would-kill-for-your-recipe marinated green tomato.
tagged: NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED
McMillan and Morin's staff epitomize the casual-yet-savvy style of service common at fine dining establishments today. Our young-ish waiter was very helpful while walking us through the menu and suggesting glasses of wine to go with our food.
If I had to dig deep and find fault, I was a tad surprised when my Campari soda came with a lemon wedge instead of orange – which was immediately replaced upon request – and also when it was cleared from the table before I finished it. Asides from that, service was polished and pacing was great.
With three other restaurants (including the excellent Le Vin Papillon, reviewed here), a fourth one to open soon, two cookbooks of sorts and a product line of sauces, spice mixes and beer, the famous chefs have kept themselves busy over the last decade and a half. But none of this has diluted their brand in any way or gave them reason to stagnate.
In fact, their iconic eatery is as relevant as ever and – might I add – still reaching new heights. My appreciation for their excess and creativity while representing Quebec's terroir has only grown over my handful of visits. My only Beef with Joe is that my coat, left hanging on the hooks by the kitchen, now carries a smell which will remind of this stellar meal for a couple days!
Price per person: $53
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.