Le Comptoir. Photo by chef-owner Segue Lepage
In the course of our Montréal food research, prior to our last trip there, our Airbnb host was one of several locals we asked to weigh in on the dishes and drinks we proposed to cover. He gave a lot of great input, but it was the line about visiting one of “Montréal’s classic buvettes,” which he described as “something between a wine bar and a gastropub,” that caught my eye. What was this mysterious class of restaurant we don’t have in America?
Turns out, buvettes are pretty accurately described as wine bars meet gastropubs, and they definitely belong in any conversation about modern-day Montréal gastronomy, certainly because of the seasonally focused, French-Canadian-influenced food and carefully curated wine lists that tend to be offered in these types of establishments. Harder to pin down is the atmosphere, a cozy mix of chic and neighborhoody—extremely conducive to eating, drinking, and conversing with friends for hours on end—that somehow feels quintessentially Montréal. In short, these are the places you want to be.
On our host’s suggestion we visited Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins (4807, blvd Saint-Laurent, map; call for reservations: 514-844-8467), a classic buvette in the Plateau neighborhood that, since opening in 2010, has quickly become a Montréal must (especially, among locals, for late-night dining). An open kitchen sets a bustling, informal vibe, but the food’s pretty serious: The one-page (and chalkboard) menu features a highly shareable mix of snacks and seasonal full plates. As you can guess by the name, charcuterie and wine are big deals here; the former is regionally sourced and made in-house, while the wine list focuses on French and biodynamic wines, with about 10 to 12 by-the-glass offerings.
Here was one of our favorite meals in the city. We started, as everyone should, with the charcuterie platter—an ever-changing spread of such nose-to-tail delicacies as guanciale, saucissons secs, crispy cotechino, country paté, and pork liver mousse, served with pickles, toast, and mustard—and then delved into the seasonally shifting main menu (and, ahem, a lot of wine). Many of the dishes here are marked by simplicity, unexpected flavor, and pleasing contrast: roasted cauliflower salad mixed wonderfully with anchovy puree, arugula, and fried bread; the familiar roasted beet salad got a twist from watercress and argan oil, the pillowy goat cheese smoothed around the plate’s edges; a lovely veal loin tataki was enlivened by sage puree and crunchy “sweetbreads popcorn”; white wine-braised octopus was draped over roasted onion, chorizo, and crème fraîche. These dishes are not permanently on the menu, of course, so just ask for recommendations and trust your servers—they know what they’re doing.
Veal loin with sweetbreads popcorn
Similar establishments worth checking out include Buvette Chez Simone (4869, ave. du Parc, map) in Mile End, a popular hot spot with communal tables and a cool but relaxed vibe to match its casual French-Québec menu (think local-cheese plates, rillettes, roast chicken) and affordable wine list. Alas, no reservations are accepted there, so expect to hang out at the bar while waiting for a table—there are certainly far worse things. Fashionable wine bar Pullman (3424, ave. du Parc, map) is another good option, with 300-plus wines (about 50 by the glass, and wine flights are available) and creative small plates like smoked mackerel salad, port-steeped grilled cheese, and venison tartare for the taking.
We have to agree with the locals and say no trip to Montréal is complete without a tipsy, free-wheeling night of eating and drinking in a classic buvette. Do you agree? Got a favorite spot? Share it with us!