Sometimes, eating alone is sad. Sometimes, it’s not. When you’ve got three chefs and house-made charcuterie for company, not so much. I wondered where to go for my solo dinner in Montreal, debated a classic French meal at a famous bistro, a light vegetarian meal after the days of amazing indulgence (more on that later), but settled on Le Comptoir, only a 20 minute walk away and oh, just voted into the top 10 restaurants in Canada.
Crossed my fingers and called for a spot at the bar, got a harried yesofcourse, and trotted on down to Rue Saint Laurent. Took my spot at the bar, a ringside seat for the kitchen drama unfolding right there in front of me. Three chefs, one dishwasher, and an array of extraordinarily hip waitstaff diving and ducking and twirling around each other, plating perfect dish after perfect dish, carefully measuring out slices of sopressata, stacking bright tomatoes atop one another, calling out for service, whisking the food off to the awed spectators. I started with a glass of organic Greek red wine (number one reason I like Canada), chosen by my waiter and guide through the all-French menu scrawled up on the wall. Then a plate of charcuterie—a must, seeing as they make the stuff right downstairs.
Soppresata, fennel sausage, chorizo, pig’s head (Yes. And explained by my Francophone waiter, “This is of the pig’s whole head, cooked and chopped.” And yes, shockingly good.), and a little rectangle of terrine. With a healthy dab of house-made mustard, a couple perfect little pickles, and a big hunk of pickled fennel. Took me a while to work my way through all the pork, but I made it to the other side for my next blissful course: poelee de chanterelles, langue de porc braisee, mini raviolis a la puree de racine de persil. I could pick out “chanterelles” and “pork” and “ravioli” on my own, and I was pretty much sold. Then once I got the full translation and realized pork tongue was up for grabs, I was super sold. I love weird animal bits. If anything was to convince me of divinity in this world, it’d be foie gras. Sweetbreads make me want to sing, bone marrow makes me want to dance. I always, always go for the lengua from the sketchy taco trucks. Pig tongue at the 8th best restaurant in Canada? Yes please.
Another glass of wine, this one a French red, arrived along with my bowl of heaven, chosen and explained in great, kinda indecipherable detail by my very knowledgeable waiter. And then the braised tongue, incredibly tender and perfect alongside the earthy mushroom and rich sauce. (And I swear they were morels…or maybe it was all so good that I just went ahead an hallucinated an once more of goodness…) And perfect little raviolis, all in a sauce of the gods, topped with a very necessary cloud of greenery, just bitter enough to cut the richness of it all. I’m not a very slow eater, in fact, a little bit of a scarf-er, but I savored that dish for a very solid twenty minutes.
Added to the flavors of the plate and the perfectly-picked wine was the joy of watching the three cooks practice their craft; the pantry man careful and deliberate with his many many mixing bowls, the broiler-grill duo wielding hot pans, coloring plates with sauces, timing a million things in their minds. Such a delight to watch this goodness come into being, to watch people do something they’re really truly good at. And a tiny bit of melancholy envy, mostly of their focus and their clear satisfaction. I miss that little jolt of joy when you see a row of perfect dishes ready to enter into the world, made by your own hands. But I got over my little pang when I noticed that all the glorious chefs were sweating like mad, wiping their brows on dirty kitchen towels and sneaking sips of wine out of water glasses. Then I snapped back to reality and relished my position on the other side of the counter.
I hadn’t noticed the dessert menu drawn up on the wall behind me, and hadn’t planned on dessert, with my double pork, double wine meal. But they had panna cotta. Panna cotta, compote de pommes, a la feve tonka, puree de date, sable Breton aux pecans. Apples…dates…cookies…tonka? Not so sure. And it was explained to my little English-only brain, but it was loud and I was in a pre-panna cotta haze, so I just nodded. And maybe drooled. The panna cotta arrived in a little glass, just like Mom makes; just like how its supposed to be. Jelled cream topped with something fruity. Pure, bright bliss. I love panna cotta because it manages to be rich and refined. It’s straight cream, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s the girl you never knew was uber wealthy till you spied her beautiful shoes. It’s quietly decadent. It’s the best. “Was it what you were dreaming of?” my waiter asked. Yes, yes, yes. The pure creaminess cut with the warmth of the apple and date, the silkyness contrasted by the snappy sable. I lingered for a good while longer over my panna cotta and last little milliliters of wine, not wanting to leave the glow of the kitchen, of cooking, of good food, of people all delighting in creating and eating and drinking and savoring and sharing.
But here’s the walk home:
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