Agrikol (Montreal, June 2019)


Agrikol was my group’s last dinner in Montreal but it wasn’t my last dinner in Montreal. This is not because I stayed longer in the city but because I made a second dinner stop that night. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I treated the group meal at Agrikol as an appetizer to the night’s main event at Damas, where I met two old friends for a fuller meal after abandoning my group. Unlike Damas, Agrikol is known not for Syrian but Haitian food. It is also known for being owned by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of the Arcade Fire—they were co-owners when the restaurant opened in 2016 along with Jen Agg of Toronto’s The Black Hoof and her partner, the artist, Roland Jean, but as of 2018, the Arcade Fire power couple are the “sole” owners. Chassagne is of Haitian origin and the restaurant is a tribute to her roots. As you might expect from the Arcade Fire connection, it is not an informal/bare bones restaurant—as seems to be the case with Caribbean restaurants in most American cities—but a hipster destination. The restaurant is strikingly and attractively decorated inside and out—with murals by original co-owner Jean—and if our reservation at 6 pm on a Wednesday is any sign, packed with young and beautiful Montrealers.

The restaurant proper is not very large. The main floor as you enter off Amherst St. is dominated by a large bar. There’s another counter and some small tables on this level. One level up is another small dining room which may or may not be where larger groups are shunted. We were a larger group but we were not shunted up there. Instead we were given two tables on their patio out back. This was both good and bad. Good because the interior was LOUD with thumping music; bad because it turned out that the outdoor area has a completely different menu than the indoors. This was bad because the menu we’d been looking forward to from their website was their indoor menu. However, it wasn’t all bad as what was available outside was pretty good in its own right.

This was a sequence of small plates, largely revolving around grilled meats and seafood. Most of these dishes are also available in aggregate form as grilled meat and seafood boards. Given the size of our party–14 people at this meal—we were split into two tables. At my table we decided to just get one meat board and one seafood board and taste most of the menu that way. In addition, we got an order of their ceviche, the avocado salad, fried plantains and peas and rice. The latter three, by the way, were the only dishes available for vegetarians on the patio. There were two other more interesting-sounding vegetarian dishes on the menu—involving eggplant and breadfruit—but they weren’t available on the night.

The outdoor bar also has its own cocktail list—mostly rum-based—and those at our table tried three of these: Kreyol 75, Florita Rhum Sour and Granmoun Ayisien (this features not rum exactly but the related Haitian spirit, clairin). I got sips of the other two and thought they were good but I liked most of all the Florita that a couple of us got, made with rum, lime juice and a piquant scotch bonnet syrup. Very refreshing indeed.

Drinks in hand we waited for the food. Some of it—the ceviche and the avocado salad—came out relatively fast; everything else took a long time. Our table—which included another person who had to leave early—had got our order in as soon as we sat down (one of the benefits of communal ordering under the guidance of a benevolent dictator) and so I was able to taste everything before leaving at 7.30. The other table, I was told the next day, didn’t get most of their food till after 8 pm. The food was all very tasty, however, in a hearty vein with lots of acid and smoke and heat. I liked everything I took small bites of but will single out in particular the smoked herring and grilled octopus on the seafood board and the churrasco and sausage on the grilled meat board. And both boards were quite large and easily shared by six people. I did not have time to stick around and find out if they had any desserts as well

For a look at what I did nibble on and at the restaurant, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for service, price etc. and to see what’s coming next.

 

Service was very friendly but not uniformly clueful. Our lead server was very knowledgable about the menu, others were more confused (one gent responded to a query about the menu with a simple shrug and a “I don’t know”). They were extremely busy inside and out—the patio was on the empty side when we got there but had filled up by the time I left. The vibe as a whole was pleasant. I do remain disappointed that we didn’t get to eat their oxtail etc. from the inside menu but I do think the volume inside would have given many of us headaches (with a couple of exceptions our group was all in the coveted 40-70 demographic). The ideal thing would have been to sit outside and eat the food from the inside but that is not a possibility. This must be to simplify the operations of the small kitchen that services both inside and outside but it doesn’t seem like the optimal situation for diners. I guess for people who actually live in Montreal—and at whom the restaurant is obviously aimed—inside or outside is not a terminal choice.

Price? I was not around when the bill was presented but looking at the menu I’d guess that at most our table would have topped out at $40 CAD for food and drinks before tax and tip. That is not bad at all for the quality and quantity. Even without the USD conversion this would be cheaper than you’d pay for anything vaguely comparable in the US.

My report of my actual dinner at Damas will come in a couple of weeks. The next couple of reports from this Canada trip will involve a Cantonese banquet in Toronto and a return to Jean-Talon Market in Montreal. But before either of those there’ll be another St. Paul report and hopefully also my review of Indian (-ish).

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