Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10
Locavore Approved? YES- From the first look at Le Vin Papillon's chalkboard's menu, it is blatantly obvious that these guys love their veggies. The produce-forward menu is revamped daily, keeping some old favourites and adding some newbies based on what they can get fresh. On the night of our visit for example, they had a good number of vegetarian dishes but also a "shellfish theme" as they were able to get in a lot of fresh, local seafood that day. As you will read below, they were able to transform vegetables into dishes that could satisfy even the most hard-core carnivore. Who could miss the meat when eating your veggies is so darn tasty?
Being in Montreal for a whole month for work, I was excited to try all the best that Montreal's food scene had to offer. When I polled people who knew the city, the overwhelming consensus was that I needed to visit Toque (done!- see here) and Joe Beef. Because I am pescatarian, I did not think that Joe Beef would necessarily be my thing, but I was very intrigued when I heard about Le Vin Papillon, their vegetable-centric sister restaurant.
Le Vin Papillon is located just a couple doors down from the infamous Joe Beef and their other sister restaurant Liverpool House (an oyster bar) in Old Montreal. It is the smallest of the restaurant group, with just enough space for 25 guests inside the rustic, sparsely decorated interior. On one side is a white brick wall and booth seating, while the other side houses the kitchen/bar which is covered in a variety of cheeses and breads. When we arrived at 7:30 on a Friday night, we were told it would be a 45 minute wait and that we should come back then (no reservations allowed, and they do not take names at the door). We knew it would be worth the wait so we went to a little coffee shop right next door to bide our time and returned about 35 minutes later to scout out the prospects. While the inside was still full, we were fortunate that the patio out back had opened a few short days earlier and there was a seat available for us there. It ended up being a beautiful evening and, while it got a bit chilly after the sun had gone down, it was a nice April al fresco dining experience.
The service at Le Vin Papillon is just as low-key as the atmosphere. The servers are nice enough, but do not expect any bells and whistles. While our server was happy to answer all of our questions about wine and food, I could tell she was very busy and was only able to come back to our table a handful of times to refill water and check up on us. It is certainly possible that we got a bit less attention, being out on the patio instead of inside. Dishes come out of the kitchen whenever they are ready, in no particular order.
The only menu you will find here is on a chalkboard right as you walk in the restaurant (all in french) and because the do not offer printed menus, we snapped a picture and brought it back with us so we could decide on our meal while seated in the patio. Every night, there are about 15-20 sharing plates to choose from, as well as a nice selection of cheeses and a few desserts. On the night of our visit, there were also a few special seafood dishes available including local sea urchin and snow crab. In keeping with their name (vin= wine), they also take great pride in offering a very unique selection of organic and biodynamic wines.
Our server recommended a particularly great Burgandy-style blend called Deux Terres from the south of France that had incredible depth of flavour. They take great pride in serving superior wines and are happy to let you taste before committing to a glass.
Here are the dishes that myself and my two dinner companions enjoyed on the night of our visit (***= table favourites). We were much more full than we thought and could probably have done with one less dish but I was glad to have tasted them all!
***7-layer dip- Although it is quite a toss-up, this is arguably my favourite dish of the night although with so many great dishes it is tough to choose just one favourite. It had muitple luscious layers of beet, eggplant, hummus and goat cheese (to name a few) with some crunchy nuts on top, served with an indian-spiced flatbread. I cleaned out the bowl! I could have easily made a meal out of a few of these and been more than satisfied!
Oeaf a la Cane Remoulade- This was quite a unique dish, with soft-boiled eggs served with julienne veg and a creamy yet light sauce. With an egg for each of us, it was easily shared.
***Smoked steelhead with pickled turnip- Another unanimous table favourite. The fish was simply prepared so you could taste all of its wonderful fresh flavours. It was served with a light dill cream sauce underneath which was a perfect match (gotta love fish and dill!) with chunks of the pickled turnips. Alongside was a piece of their braided bread (made at a nearby bakery from what we understood) which was incredibly light and fluffy. Even for someone like me who can usually take or leave the bread, this was impossible to resist.
Celeriac bagna cauda- It is rare to see celeriac front and centre in a dish like it was here so this was a special treat for the taste buds and the imagination. The celeriac was served in thinly-shaved pieces, still with a slight crunch, and served with a light cream sauce and salty capers.
***Rotisserie cauliflower- OMG. I honestly thought I died and went to heaven. Golden brown on the outside and warm lemony goodness inside. No amount of description can do it justice. Just order it.
Foie gras- My dining companions enjoyed this dish, although the foie was not as creamy as others they have tried in the city. The side of pickled cucumber, leeks and fiddleheads (my personal favourite!) was nice for both presentation and lightness to offset the foie.
After dining at this Montreal gem, it is easy to understand why the Joe Beef clan is so well respected and well renowned. Le Vin Papillon delivered some of my favourite dishes of the year thus far for a steal of a price ($100 for thee of us before tip). Seems like something out of a dream. I am still pinching myself!