English: Candid [kan-did] 1. frank; outspoken; open and sincere / 2. free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward
Français: Candide (adjectif) Qui manifeste une grande ingénuité allant jusqu’à la crédulité
In the name of transparency and full disclosure, I first need to say that chef John Winter Russell is a good friend of mine. However, that is not the reason why I’m writing this post on his new Restaurant Candide. The real impetus is that it’s been quite a while since I’ve been this surprised and excited about a new Montreal restaurant. This blog is all about sharing my latest discoveries and coups de cœur with you all and this was definitely a coup de cœur.
Making your way to Candide is like going on an adventure to a secret location only you know about. Located on diminutive Saint-Martin street (more accurately described as a lane) in Little Burgundy, the restaurant takes up the old presbytery space of Paroisse Saint Joseph, which has been transformed in its entirety to a creative lab and event hall. If you’re driving down Notre Dame West, Saint-Martin is easily missed and even when you do happen upon it, you will hesitate because it doesn’t look like a street you should be driving on. But it’s ok, go ahead and turn and make your way to 551 Rue Saint-Martin somewhere in the middle of that lane.
It’s hard to describe the design aesthetics at Candide. There are the original presbytery brick walls and wood paneling that lend the space a certain texture. The big open kitchen takes up almost half the space and the bar on the other side of the working kitchen counter is furnished with stools that can only be described as rustic. The old refectory tables have been retrofitted with marble inlays, remnants from the church’s renovations, that make them look contemporary and the modern light fixtures and green banquette complete the unique and stylishly unpretentious look. If this was in Scandinavia, the decor would be described as nordic so I will go with that description.
Candide is like no other restaurant in Montreal. It is unique, refreshing, innovative and memorable. John’s rigorous approach to seasonal and regional cuisine is irreproachable and unwavering (I believe the only non-local item on the menu is the coffee service, using beans roasted by local roasting company Dispatch Coffee). His near obsession with local ingredients–especially vegetables–is only rivalled by his excellent knowledge and technique. Reading the menu, the cuisine seems simple at first–leeks, mussels, green tomatoes–yet each dish is cooked to perfection and each ingredient transformed to its utmost best. Textures, flavours and colours lend a certain playfulness to each plate (and the dishes from Ceramik B make a gorgeous background!). There’s also a sense of adventure and curiosity about all these unheard of and off the beaten track ingredients commonly found in our great Quebec backyard, that is if you knew what to look for and where.
The menu is a set, 4-course, vegetable-heavy, table d’hôte menu consisting of two appetizers, one main dish and a dessert or cheese course. The menu will change often and will depend on product availabilities. The wine program will be taken over by Emily Campeau and the excellent service is managed with great aplomb by GM Valérie Bélisle.
I tasted the entire menu on my visit a few days ago. I started with the black cabbage, grilled onions, homemade yogurt and popped barley appetizer followed by the leeks and mussels cooked in a green tomato sauce. Both were excellent, simple yet balanced flavours. The first appetizer had zing and a pleasant acidity while the second was more earthy thanks to the stewed leeks and mussels with wild fennel crackers. The two main dishes were both so different and yet equally exquisite. The Guinea hen with squash and cranberries consisted of thin slices of crispy skinned hen on a bed of intensely flavoured squash cooked in squash jus. The roasted cranberries contributed the perfect acidic note to offset the other components. The second main was a smoked sturgeon dish served with slices of kolrabi, crème fraîche, marinated vegetables and rye, a gorgeous, delicate and distinctive plate.
We ended our meal with the cheese course of Pikauba cheese served with red lettuce leaves tossed with service tree oil and sweet purple potatoes. The dessert was an angelica cake with honey and candied sea parsley, a John classic and a definite favourite of mine. Angelica is a member of the parsley family and can grow up to 8’ tall. For this particular cake, the seeds are ground up and used as a spice. The sea parsley leaves are candied in maple and become this crispy, sweet, absolutely addictive floral addition that you’ll want to sprinkle on everything from salads to your morning cereal.
Dinner at Candide was one of the most exciting meals I’ve had in Montreal for a while. I am looking forward to my next meal there and the discovery of even more new-to-me regional ingredients. Book your table now before this becomes one of the hottest spots in town and reservations become hard to come by. You heard it here first 🙂
551 Rue Saint-Martin
514 447 2717
Wednesday to Sunday: 5pm – 11pm
Parking is available close by in the school’s parking lot (ask and you shall be advised)