Dinner #2 in Montreal on our Scartan ladies Montreal road trip. Oh yeah. This post is about exactly what you think. Chef Chuck Hughes’ first restaurant: Garde Manger. I’ve been pinning to come here ever since I saw the first episode of Chuck’s Day Off back in 2009. The place just looks so chill and from how deftly Chuck whips up dishes on the show, I know it’ll be good stuff.
Chef Hughes (@chucksdayoff) is what you can call a celebrity chef; now that he’s got not only ONE show on The Food Network (Chuck’s Day Off; which I love!), he’s also got Chuck’s Week Off: Mexico and Chuck Eats The Street !! This Montreal native owns Garde Manger and Le Bremner, loves seafood, has a lemon meringue tattoo, and of course, is bilingual. Just perfect. Sigh.
Garde Manger is located in the historic Vieux Montréal (Old Montreal). It’s got a lot of character. On the left photo, you can see how blunt the division is between the city and Old Montreal; it’s literally “office building office building BAM! old historic Montreal!”
I was able to snag reservations a month prior to our food trip for a late dinner at 9. We arrived early so we took advantage of our surroundings and wandered through the streets. :D Here’s the front of Garde Manger. Super discrete eh?
If I remember correctly from his show, Chuck mentioned that the “NEW BRIGHT IDEA” plate was there originally? Oh good Lord I sound like a total fan girl…(just ignore that please). Excited doesn’t begin to decide our anticipation for the meal.
Our first look inside!! I’ve been told that this place ain’t as big as I might think. And my friends were right! This allows for a pretty intimate dining experience. I could tell that if I lived in Montreal (and my wallet overflowing with money), that I’d be a regular here.
The ladies! I'm so glad our Montreal road trip worked out because not only did we get to experience the good food that we went there for, but we had so many laughs and some unforgettable experiences (good, bad, and an ugly one or two haha).
As I’ve mentioned before, love menus on chalkboards. On the left are the appetizers and the mains, on the right. I spy the infamous lobster poutine from Chef Hughes’ Iron Chef debut.
Snow Crab Caesar (15). It’s huge! The giant crab leg was scary to approach though. There’s no way you can avoid the mess. Good thing it was a delicious mess. Mmm…
BREAD. We’ve come such a long way from bread being something to nibble on as you wait for your “real” food to arrive. Now, the bread at the beginning of your meal is a star in itself. And the traditional butter is more often than not another area for exploration. Chefs nowadays seem to have more freedom to experiment. :D
Poutine de homard (19) – lobster poutine
When Chef Hughes went head-to-head against Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, the secret ingredient was lobster. That was the perfect ingredient for him and he ultimately triumphed…which he mentioned was really unexpected. So humble. It was so delicious! Poutine is so Canadian (more specifically Québécois). Oh gotta love them cheese curds!
Accras de morue a/ crème fraîche & caviar (13) – cod fritters w/ crème fraîche and caviar
We weren’t too sure what to order because we wanted to try a good variety of the standout dishes here but didn’t want to break the bank. Our server Maude steered us towards these cod fritters.
On the same note about recommendations, Maude really pushed for the seafood platter. Okay, I know that seafood is really highlighted at Garde Manger, but it’s not something that we could afford. When one seafood platter could be equivalent to two to four dishes, it was simply a wiser choice to skip it.
Tartare de Saumon a/ raifort & pommes pailles (17) – salmon tartare w/ horseradish and shoestring potatoes
I remember going to Chuck’s Garde Manger cookbook signing at the Bayview Village Chapters (brap brap my old hood!!) back in May and a lot of his fans asked him for his favourite recipe in the book. This was it.
SALMON TARTARE!!!!!! This was definitely my favourite dish of the night. When everything comes together so beautifully, you can’t ignore it. I’m huge on textual contrast and this had just enough. Temperature was spot on and the flavours…good lord the perfect balance!! I wonder if this is achievable at home.
Pétoncles a/ gnocchi & beurre de carotte (35) – scallops w/ gnocchi and carrot butter
Chyeah those scallops have the perfect sear on them. This was yet another very well-composed dish. The gnocchi didn’t take centre stage as much as the carrot butter did. The recipe for it is in the cookbook as well so you betcha I’m gonna be making some real soon.
Risotto de crevettes de roche (36) – rock shrimp risotto
I’ve never had rock shrimp before so this was a cool first experience. Risotto was a pretty safe choice. Thing is, it was under! :( I was shocked! Everything up until now was pretty top. When done well, the risotto becomes one with the sauce…not sure if that makes sense but the idea is that it’s a very creamy dish. I wanted this to be that so badly, but it wasn’t.
Short ribs de beouf a/ spatzle & cambozola (36) – beef short ribs w/ spaetzle and cambozola
Redemption time! The spaetzle were like little chewy pops of egg noodle that were really taken to the next level with the sauce. The cambozola—a cross between blue and brie cheese was a nice surprise. We completely demolished this dish…of course in the most lady-like way possible. ;)
Here we come to the end of our meal. Or so we thought!! DUN DUN DUN!! (G [down ] D [up] C#!!!!!)
When Brian (@theurbancraze) and I went to the CNE/EX back in September, Chuck was doing a demonstration with one of his sous, Kevin. I totally dragged Brian to watch it with me and we chatted with Chuck and Kevin afterwards. Long story short, Kevin remembered me (YAY!!!) and treated us to dessert.
DEEP FRIED MARS BAR. We (well, maybe “most of us” is more accurate) love the chocolate-caramel-ice cream combination. This is just that, but amped up. The crust is SO THICK AND CRUNCHY! Thank you so much Kevin! :D:D
Post-dinner, I took a few photos of the restaurant. The lighting was really tricky (it was so dim) to work with but by the kitchen, it was a lot better. Chef’s table?! Bahaha That’d be so mean…people in the kitchen would be tripping over you. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too loud!
At the pass. Things were going very smoothly, there was no yelling or franticness! At this point, I was slowly working up the courage to go to the kitchen to say hi to Kevin (still scared that he wouldn’t remember me). And I did! We chatted for a bit just outside the kitchen before he had to jump back onto the line. I really appreciate him taking the time to talk to me because it ain’t easy to leave the kitchen mid-service.
He even invited me in to take a few photos. I was mucho scared to take anymore than a step or two in. There’s Kevin back in action in the top photo (he’s a Toronto native yay!!! And a Leafs fan…I’ll leave that one to you guys haha). In the bottom photo, I believe it’s Steve(?) working the dishwashing station. Gotta keep pumping out them clean dishes or no one gets their food! It’s a tough, and therefore a very admirable job.
Verdict: It’s quite clear that we had a great experience here at Garde Manger! The late dinner sort of threw us off though because we ended up snacking a bit beforehand and arrived with smaller appetites than we would’ve liked. Perhaps I’ll use that, and the consequent lack of menu exploration as a reason to come back! That and the great dishes that would bring me back anyways. MMM that salmon tartare was divine!!
Check 'em out! http://crownsalts.com/gardemanger/
4.5 out of 5 NOMs