This was my second visit to Joe Beef. The first was in March of 2015—I was in Montreal for a conference and a friend who lives there made a reservation for our group of grad school friends who were all on a panel together. That meal was spectacular and was a large part of my desire to get back to Montreal soon’ish with the missus so she too could eat at Joe Beef and not just listen to me go on about it. This autumn we had the opportunity (and a reason) to do a weekend getaway by ourselves and so it was to Montreal that we decided to go. Note: neither late March nor late October are the optimal times to visit Montreal but I would suggest that there is no bad time to visit Montreal. It’s a beautiful city and if you like food in a French vein there is no better place in North America.
I won’t repeat my brief introduction to the restaurant and its ethos. If you need a quick refresher, pop over to the review of my first dinner there. The restaurant’s reputation has not dipped in the year and a half since that meal and it hasn’t become any easier to get in. We had to book in August for a dinner on a Saturday at the end of October and the best time we could for a table of four was still 9.30 pm. Weeknights are easier, I think, but it’s best to book as early as you can. We dined again with our grad school friends who live and teach in Montreal. They visit Joe Beef once a year or so and are big fans.
If you’ve memorized my previous review—as I expect you must have—you won’t need me to tell you that there were certain genres of dishes that were completely left out: fish, for example, and also dessert. I was told after that meal that as meat-centered as Joe Beef’s worldview is, their fish is excellent as well and that skipping their sweet stuff is also a mistake. Accordingly at this dinner we went in a different direction than at the first. The only dish we repeated was the lobster spaghetti. I don’t mean to suggest that there were many other unchanged dishes on the menu that we could have re-ordered, by the way. More that we mostly stayed away from the types of dishes we’d eaten last time: no steak and no lamb—and given our oyster blowout at Jean-Talon that morning, we didn’t get any oysters either. I can now confirm that Joe Beef is an excellent meal even if you don’t eat four pounds of beef, pork and lamb each. And oh, we shared everything.
So, what did we get? Read on.
From the starters section:
- Steelhead fumée, celeri au caviar. As the name says, lightly smoked steelhead trout with celery and caviar. Served with toast and very good. $16 (CAD).
- Gravlax de bouef & puntarelle. The beef as you have figured out was prepared a la gravlax, which is to say it came out like dry pastrami; it was quite good but this dish was really all about the crisply-fried puntarelle. I had never had puntarelle before: it’s a type of chicory, picked and cooked young. Not overwhelmingly bitter, it really made the plate. This was $16 (CAD).
- Tartelette de terrine de foie gras garnie. This was available in a small or large portion. The small at $20 (CAD) and the large at $40. We got the smaller one and that was just as well: it was good but it didn’t blow us away. It was not a warm tart and the foie gras was a little more chilled than we would have liked. It was topped for some reason with thinly shaved turnip (I think).
- Blutnudeln, ragu de sanglier. Blood noodles, it says, and that’s what it was: pasta made with blood and tossed with a rich ragu of wild boar. Bloody good. $16 (CAD)
From the large plates section:
- Spaghetti Homard Lobster. Yes, it’s the large platter of spaghetti in a cream sauce with a whole goddamned lobster under it. We repeated this because I’d gone on about it after our first meal and the missus wanted to try it as well. Well, it was very good again, if a little under-seasoned, though she said it suffered from being overhyped by me. It was also a far richer iteration, and more heavily sauced, than the one we had at the previous dinner—I don’t know which is the outlier but I have to say I preferred the first one. $55 (CAD)
- Omble de Baie-Comeau, “pot au feu”. There was walleye on the menu as well and we considered being true to our Minnesotan identity and getting it but ended up instead with the char (from Quebec). I’m sure the walleye is very good as well but this was dynamite: from the fish to the great root veg to the pot au feu it all sat on. $30 (CAD)
- Grande choucrote de lapin. They had us at choucrote; one of our friends is of German extraction and there was no way he was going to pass on choucrote at Joe Beef. That the meat was rabbit was an intriguing twist. Well, it was all excellent: all the different ways in which the rabbit was presented, the sauerkraut and everything else. This was also available as a large or small version. We got the small at $34 (CAD)
- Canard du fumoir. This perfectly cooked duck was also available as a small or large. We got the small at $35 (CAD).
Dessert: We were very full but I didn’t want to pass on dessert again and so we decided to split one order of their five-layer cake. Chocolate, hazelnut cream etc. and very, very good. I forget what the scoop of ice cream on it was—at this point our attention was on the drama at the table behind us (more on this below).
Click on an image below to launch a slideshow. Apologies in advance for the low quality of the pictures: it’s a very dark restaurant. More comments below the slideshow.
As this time we had done pre-dinner drinking at the Burgundy Lion across the street (as recommended in the comments on the previous review), we restricted ourselves to a single bottle of wine. Our personable young server, who had guided us through menu selection, brought out four bottles of wine that he thought would go well with our food choices and from them we selected a 2013 Gamay from the Pearl Morissette winery in Ontario. The winemaker is apparently a somewhat controversial figure but the wine was very good: bright red fruit with good acid. It did indeed pair up well with most of our selections. I think the bottle might have been $85 (CAD) or so—which does not seem to be an obscene markup.
Speaking of our server and drink, however, there was a little bit of a controversy at the table behind ours. The one problem with Joe Beef’s ultra-casual setup is that you can be very close to neighbouring tables and, as was my misfortune, if the person sitting behind you is inebriated, and getting more so as the night goes on, it is hard not to be aware of it (or not get nudged in the back from time to time). Where does our server come in? Well, he was also in charge of that table and the gentleman in question at that table had apparently wanted steak and had allowed himself to be steered in a different direction. With every drink, however, he seemed to get more aggrieved that he had not been allowed to order steak (which was his take on the situation) and at the end of his meal he kept asking for steak (after dessert and after the kitchen had closed). The situation had the potential to get loud and messy but was very gently but firmly defused by one of the hostesses.
Now I will say that our server did indeed make recommendations to us as well rather strongly. It’s true that adults can order whatever they want but I suspect that in this case the gent was a little intimidated by the whole experience to begin with and was “persuaded” against his will, which then began to belatedly assert itself with every drink he had. The lesson as always is that not everyone who really wants a steak is going to be happy with rabbit. And that if you really want steak you should not let your server talk you into rabbit instead. I don’t mean to suggest that having all this happen right behind us ruined our meal: it did not. The few drunken nudges in the back as the gent moved around to shower affection on his companion I could have done without but the plaintive and then resentful pleas and demands for steak actually got somewhat amusing at the end of the meal.
What was the damage? My credit card statement tells me that all of the above plus tax and generous tip came to $85 (US)/head. You don’t need me to tell you what a screaming deal this is relative to meals in the same genre anywhere in the US, and that’s before we even get to the quality of ingredients or the cooking. The curse of Joe Beef, which makes it harder to stomach prices in the Twin Cities, continues. Well, I hope we’ll be back in Montreal again within the next few years and we hope to be back at Joe Beef too. Until then I have a few more meal reports to come from this trip—including one meal that might possibly have pipped this one (though not for excessiveness).