This is the second post in the Our Neighbors to the North - Celebrating Canada! series. Other posts in this series include La Porte in Montreal.
I've been to Montreal probably three times since I started working with our Canadian colleagues back in 2012. In three trips, I've managed to eat at a variety of restaurants - everything from bagels and smoked meats to fancy multi-course meals.
Virtually nothing beats the bagels and the smoked meats. However, if I were to take a look at all the more upscale restaurants I've visited (and there have been many - after all, aren't most business dinners kinda fancy?), one of my favorite dining experiences was at this tiny little market-driven restaurant called Van Horne.
Co-owners Sylvie Lachance and Urs Jakob opened Vanhorne in 2011. Within a year, the restaurant was crowned one of en Route Magazine's top 10 new restaurants in Canada, coming in 6th place. They've won the Diner's Choice Award on Opentable, consistently make the Eater 38 Essential Restaurants list, and received three out of four stars by the Montreal Gazette.
The restaurant is tiny and cozy, with only 30 seats. The food is modern and eclectic, with a focus on farm fresh ingredients. Elements on the plate appear as if they had just been foraged (and who knows, maybe they were!). Van Horne emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients, with about 30% of its produce being organic (pretty good!).
The 5-course tasting menu is $58 CAD, or you can order a la carte, with appetizers ranging from $13-$17, entrees $22-$34, and desserts $8-$9. I was with a few co-workers, and our entire table opted for the 5-course tasting.
We started out with some grilled oysters, which were served on a pretty circular "ring" of blanched scallions. These were very fresh and quite nice.
My coworker does not eat shellfish, so they gave him these gorgeous grilled artichoke hearts served with a vibrant red sauce (and some pretty pink flowers). I couldn't help but look longingly at his plate, secretly wishing I could eat one (but that would be weird at a business dinner, right?).
I love the chef's use of really rustic vegetables. Here, you can see these tiny baby turnips (with their long roots still intact!), served with crispy fried leaves and a flavorful vegetable puree.
Our seared fish course came with farm fresh carrots as well as a thin, cracker-like sheet that was made from some sort of whole grain. I loved the textural contrast, and the flavors were excellent.
Our final savory course was slow cooked beef short ribs served with spring onions, asparagus, dried lichen, sunchokes, and mushrooms. I loved the emphasis on the spring ingredients, and every single element was perfectly seasoned. Together, the dish worked really well.
I felt healthy and clean after this meal, satisfied in a good way. I really enjoyed the dishes, which were not only beautifully plated, but also well-designed and well-executed.
For dessert we had a lovely baked meringue which came with fresh strawberries and a strawberry sauce. We ended the meal with a simple but refreshing sorbet palate cleanser.
I dined at Van Horne in September of 2013. One day after my visit, the Montreal Gazette came out with its three star review. Though the review was positive, the author did call the cuisine "innovative verging on-over-intellectualized" and asserted that while some dishes were fabulous, others were "way out there . . . too out there?".
I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or not, but in less than a month, the chef-de-cuisine, John Winter Russell, was unexpectedly let go. Owner Sylvie Lachance said that her customers were not ready for Chef Russell's radical, "terroirist" cuisine which placed almost an obsessive emphasis on local, foraged, "no waste" ingredients. Van Horne changed directions, hiring Chef Jens Ruoff from Germany.
Sylvie Lachance calls the restaurant "simple, affordable gastronomy". They have recently instituted more hearty, less modern food such as all-you-can-eat raclette Sundays, a homage to co-owner Urs Jakob's Swiss heritage.
I wish I could recommend this place, but I actually have no idea what the food is like under Chef Jens Ruoff. So far, the restaurant has remained on the Eater 38 Essential Restaurants list as of April 2014, so it seems promising that it's still very good.
On a side note, Chef John Winter Russell appears to be in the preliminary stage of opening his own restaurant, which is very exciting as well. He's been doing a few pop-ups throughout the city. If nothing else, I would definitely be interested in seeing what he has to offer.
Montreal's such an exciting and ever-changing dining city. I'm so glad I get to go back on a semi-regular basis!
1268 Van Horne Avenue
Montreal, Quebec H2V 1K6
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