Grassroots Goodness at Racines

With an already impressive roster of diverse and successful Old Montreal ‘it’ spots, namely Venti, Helena, Les 400 Coups, and Bar et Boe...

With an already impressive roster of diverse and successful Old Montreal ‘it’ spots, namely Venti, Helena, Les 400 Coups, and Bar et Boeuf, the MTL Cuisine Group has yet again left its mark on the historic part of town’s vibrant dining scene with the addition of Racines, a cool and intimate 40-seater housed in in what can only be described as a sliver of real estate attached to the building at McGill and St. Maurice.

The night of our press trial, the vibe was a-buzz with a mix of bloggers snapping shots of virtually everything, and the opinion-leading resto set who make a point of snagging a table soon after word hits the social networks.  

As Maître D’/Sommelier Franck Turbot showed us to our table, we had a chance to take in the décor. For decades the space had contained the iconic blue-collar diner Louigi’s. Undertaking a complete overhaul, the Group gave the interior a decidedly ‘urban lodge’ feeling with sturdy, dark wood tables and accents, punctuated by branched ceiling fixtures with bright round lights - definitely an ‘A’ for an ambiance their target clientele will be drawn to.

The focus of the menu is on simple, seasonal combinations featuring fresh and few ingredients with many plates using a broth or liquid reduction as a flavor enhancer. True to the place name, dishes are designed to bring out their own essence, with each one part of a carefully considered menu by chef Simon Mathys who, along with Turbot, previously held it down at Bar et Boeuf.

Specifically, lunch will see a weekly-changing menu of 10 dishes and 2 desserts, while evening services will vary according to seasons, and comprise 16 plates of roughly the same size, and 4 desserts, with each plate going for between 5$ - 20$.  Our server suggested men opt for 4 dishes each, which we did, thereby giving a full half of the menu a try.

We started with bread from bakery ‘du moment’, HofKelsten. Already the ‘go-to’ for many of the city’s noted restaurants, and buoyed by the opening up its product to the public and its doors in the form of a new Mile End café and bakery, the brand has emerged from obscurity and is now getting due props.

For first courses we decided on the shrimp with Boston lettuce and chive butter, and the foie gras with meringue. The shrimp were the miniature ones formed into 2 rolls, and nested with the lettuce leaves and chive butter beneath. This proved to be a great opener in both texture and flavour, especially thanks to the chives which gave the dish a bright, grassy punch. The foie gras dish was good, except we both felt the foie was cut a tad too thin, and the delicate flavour somewhat overpowered by the sweet and crunchy meringue chips.

Foie gras with meringue
Next up was the veal tartare with house mustard cream and raw beef with onions. The winner here was by far the tartare which had a great consistency, and the balance with the cream was right on.  Our only gripe was that there was a tad too much of it - essentially a condiment, the cream could have been used more sparingly without affecting the dish in the slightest.

The raw beef with onions was good, but didn’t wow. The beef was stringy and fatty and had a smoky flavor very close to that of smoked meat.  The onions, while well cooked, added little beyond their own flavour, and the whole combination came off as overly simplistic.

Shrimp with Boston lettuce and chive butter
Veal tartare with house mustard cream

Veal sweetbreads with smoked pasta

Gaspor piglet with oats pork

One of the third courses, veal sweetbreads with smoked pasta, turned out to be our hands-down favorite dish of the evening. The choice began with hesitation as I’d actually stayed away from sweetbreads for years due to their high fat and cholesterol content, and that they can be easily ruined if not properly cooked. Turns out I was very glad to risk it as these were fantastic. The texture was perfect, with just the slightest resilience when sliced, and a delicious caramelized exterior.  Paired with al dente papardelle pasta and mushrooms in a stock reduction the dish was wonderfully rich, woodsy, and Fall-perfect. The second dish was octopus with squid ink, but while the dish looked promising it lacked a standout flavor, and the octopus was a tad rubbery in texture.

Guinea fowl with tarragon and cabbage
Of our last courses, the Gaspor piglet with oats and pork jus proved to be the highlight, and we enjoyed it almost as much as the sweetbreads. Cooked to fork-tender and with the requisite crisp exterior, the meat was a nice counterpoint to the oats in both flavor and texture. Once again, though, there were too many oats for the modest piece of meat and, while delicious, much of them went untouched. Rounding out the last course was Guinea fowl with tarragon and cabbage, which my associate described as ‘simply delicious’, and ‘one of your Grandmother’s classic recipes from childhood’.  We’d take one of those any day!

Chocolate and pear
For dessert we opted for the apple cream bread, and chocolate and pear. Both were awesome, except by this time our appetites were considerably diminished with all of the sampling.  Of course, you would never tell by the photo on the right! 

Service was sharp throughout, and our server came through with spot-on wine pairings to complement each course.

Naturally, given personal taste, there will always preferred dished over others. What’s important is that the whole experience hangs together and delivers on what it sets out to do. And in the case of Racines it certainly does just that. Overall, it ranks high on our ‘Recommend’ list as a perfect as a place to catch-up with a relative visiting the city, an intimate date spot, or for a small group of friends to discover some excellent and innovative takes on this seemingly new form of minimalist cuisine.



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