Joe Beef has a reputation. In fact, Joe Beef has several reputations. It has the reputation of being one of the best restaurants in Montreal, if not the entire country. It has the reputation of being one of well-travelled TV-star Anthony Bourdain’s favourite restaurants in the world. The Joe Beef guys – David McMillan and Frederic Morin – have the reputation of being fun, loud, outspoken guys who are never afraid to say what’s on their minds. The Joe Beef book – The Art of Living According to Joe Beef – has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best cookbooks of recent years.
Joe Beef also has the reputation of being a “manly” restaurant, one that only serves heavy, over-sized, meat-laden, artery-clogging dishes. I am a little ashamed to admit that I have myself fallen victim to that rumour and have often declined a JB outing because of it. However, I am here today to tell you that there is a lighter side to Joe Beef. While it is true that some of the dishes on the Joe Beef menu will satisfy and render content your average hungry lumberjack, the menu also boasts some light and delicate plates rooted in traditional French and Quebecois cuisine that are most welcome when the warmer weather comes around, or at any time of year.
I cannot think of a more pleasant way to spend a warm summer evening then eating out in the beautiful Joe Beef herb and vegetable garden. On my visit last week, the garden was planted with different varieties of lettuces ranging in colours and textures from bright green to deep purple and from short and frilly to tall and smooth. The garden is its owners priced possession and the adjoining covered terrasse is where you want to be when it’s warm out. The terrasse is a little urban oasis that is perfectly shielded from Montreal’s temperamental weather by heaters and some plastic curtains that are put to use when the need arises. I was seated on that very terrasse last week during a downpour. I believe the sound of the rain and the smell of the wet earth add a certain immeasurable dimension to the dining experience, one that makes it almost better then going there when it’s perfectly calm.
The menu is written on a black board on one wall of the terrasse. The impeccable service staff is always knowledgeable so don’t hesitate to ask for help or suggestions, especially when it comes to wine since Joe Beef probably has one of the best and most extensive lists in the city.
Now you can certainly indulge in a foie-gras double down or a big slab of bacon-wrapped horse loin but if you want to keep it light, give some of the daintier dishes a try. The seafood platter for example, is a delight and filled with local delicacies including Gaspésie lobster and sea urchin. The whelks are also marvelous, if a little more rich with their almond and butter filling. My favourite dish of the night was a chilled poblano soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and an aged goat cheese that was a such a pleasant symphony of flavours that I would’ve been satisfied eating just that. The garden salad made with lettuces, herbs and edible flowers from the garden is as fresh as can be and complemented by a light vinaigrette that didn’t weigh the delicate leaves down.
What you will also find at Joe Beef are some classic French dishes that are not so easily found on menus these days. I believe the œuf en gelée I ate when I was there was probably my first one ever. Served with in season morels and fiddleheads, the dish tasted of spring and was light despite the rich, perfectly cooked runny yolk. The Quebec asparagus served with a Hollandaise sauce and a poached egg is another classic dish that I have not indulged in that often and that is cooked to perfection. One of the most surprising and delicious dishes we had that night – and a favourite of David McMillan himself – was a whole roasted head of cauliflower with piri piri spices. The cauliflower (not pictured here because it is not very photogenic) had a melting texture and a nutty flavour enhanced by the warm spices. I bet you don’t think of roasted cauliflower when you think of Joe Beef, right?
The meal ended with three classic French desserts: some chocolate and coffee-filled éclairs, a plate of syrup-filled cherry babas served with raisins and a few slices of Stilton cheese. The contrast in texture and in flavours between the syrupy and spongy cakes and the pungent blue cheese was one I hadn’t tried before. I did, however, make a mental note to start serving little babas with my blue cheese from now on because once you’ve tried them together, either one of these items would not be complete standing on their own. The third dessert was a fantastic strawberry charlotte – a whole one! – filled with luscious Bavarian cream and homemade strawberry sorbet; a most perfect ending to a great meal.
Tip: You didn’t hear it from me but the infamous foie-gras double down is used to weed out the true connoisseurs from the average gimmick-seeking tourist, so don’t fall for it if you want to be taken seriously 😉
2491 Notre-Dame West
514 935 6504
Tuesdays to Saturdays: 6pm until closing time.