Sunday, July 20, 2014

Breaking Brunch Regiment - Régine Café

(Sidebar: Okay, I'll be completely honest about my lack of blogging. Basically, Google is being an utter asshat, which has really put me off blogging. But my friend took me to this brunch spot a couple of months ago, which sparked something in my cold, Google-hate-filled heart. A second visit cinched it; I had to share this discovery with whatever few followers I had left.)

I know that brunch is a huge thing in Montreal. I mean, we probably have as many brunch spots as we do Starbucks, which is to say about five on every street corner (Starbucks... wat r u doing... Starbucks... stahp). To be completely frank, I never understood the fascination. Very few brunch places have every wowed me (Prohibition), and even then, on a scale of glassy-dead-fish eyes to giant-round-dinner-plate eyes, it only scored an eyebrow quirk and a slight surprised widening. For other much praise-lauded venues, I just didn't really understand the hype (Allo Mon Coco, L'Avenue - although the decor for the latter definitely gets brownie points). They were decent, but there wasn't anything that stood out about the food.

And then I met Régine. Oh, Régine. It really was food-love at first sight.

I mean, she really had the whole package going for her. Quirky but chic good looks, a menu with a unique personality, scrumptious food, voluptuous portions... 

Gawd, stop me before I embarrass myself!

Accessibility - Grade: B-
The only downside I can think of for this restaurant is how inaccessible it is. If you're taking public transport, you'd have to take the metro to station Beaubien, and walk a good 15-20 mins, depending on the weather. If you're driving, finding parking is going to be a major issue, since most spots have a limit of 1 hour, and you'll definitely need more, what with the waiting times. There is a bus that goes from station Beaubien and stops right outside the restaurant, but I'm not sure how often it passes.

Service - Grade: B
I've been here twice, and the it service varied from one time to the other, so it really depends on who you get as your server. The first time I came, it was close to closing time, and so you could tell that the waiter was straining to be polite when we were indecisive. The second time, our waitress was very sweet, but kept forgetting our order. Both times, the waiters were so busy that they didn't check in on us unless we flagged them down. But I'm not super picky about service, so it didn't detract from my positive experience.

Ambiance Notes:
I reeeeaaallly like the decor for this restaurant. It kind of looks like a tea salon that doesn't take itself too seriously. Or a hipster tea salon? Anyway, there are plush sofa chairs, multi-color picture frames hanging on the wall, high tea trays at the center of the table, random silverware that still fits in somehow. Kind of posh, but subtly eclectic. From the outside, the restaurant looks like a hair salon. It might be a bit too effeminate for those who aren't completely secure with their masculinity, though, so maybe check to see if your boyfriend isn't a macho over-compensator before bringing him here. Only downside is that there are so many people here that it tends to get very noisy.

Food - Grade: A
Unlike most cookie-cutter brunch places, Régine has a set menu instead of a build-it-yourself brunch menu, much like Prohibition. You can probably request changes or your typical eggs-and-bacon fare, but the set menu is there for a reason; it's what they do best, and they're fantastic at it. 

Chocolate Chai Banana Something Or Other Shooter
 As a starter, the waitstaff will usually bring you a sample of their milkshake concoction of the day. The one shown above is a chocolate chai banana milkshake. It was pretty good, but I'm not a fan of chai in large quantities, so the shooter was quite enough. Still, a nice way to start the meal.

Yogurt brûlée 
 I mentioned the unique menu, right? We wanted to try the 'Un Peu de Tout', which is like a taster menu that lets you try a little bit of everything. The only problem was that all the items were sweet, and we were hankering for something savory. So we decided to pick out the items that caught our eyes the most, and one of them was the yogurt brûlée. Essentially vanilla yogurt with torched sugar, it's a fun twist to an otherwise boring and commonplace breakfast item. Plus, most people just like the torched sugar part of a crème brûlée, right? Here, you get to eat it and not feel terribly guilty about it after!

Pain Brioché, with a banana-caramel sauce
We had originally wanted to order a french toast, but accidentally ended up ordering a pain brioche instead. It was still very tasty! The bread was golden and crisp on the outside, but fluffy and rich once you bit into it. The caramel-banana sauce was creamy and fragrant, but not overly-sweet. 

Le Gros Jambon
 I ordered the Gros Jambon, which looked like typical brunch fair on paper, but came out as so much more. Scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon, pulled pork, potatoes, bread, and a side of fruit... boring, right? Oh my friend, you would be so wrong. 2000% wrong. In fact, in the words of the great Richard Ayoade, Britain's gift to deadpan comedy, you could be 1900% less wrong, and you would still be 100% wrong.

I though the Jambon was a reference to the pork items on the plate, but after working on my plate for 20 minutes and discovering that I had only made my way through about 50% of the contents, I realized that the 'Jambon' was actually me, if I managed to finish the plate. Which I did. This thing is hefty.

Mmm... bacon.
I don't know how many eggs they used (at least 3, I'd wager), but the scrambled eggs seemed to go on forever. Actually fluffy and cooked to a perfect gold, not too wet and not too dry, and perfectly seasoned. Definitely not the powdered stuff, or the thin, deflated and layered stuff you'd find at your average brunch place. The bacon was thick and juicy, kind of like the ones at Prohibition, minus the maple syrup. Definitely not the shriveled, greasy mess you'd find at other brunch places. And they give you 3+ slices, on top of the mound of smokey, tender pulled pork. All this accompanied by a side of home-made whipped potato, baked beans, and lightly buttered ciabatta with cretons. And just enough fruits to take the heavy edge off!

 My friend ordered the Gaufré, which is Régine's rendition of the smoked-salmon brunch staple found in most brunch venues. Instead of the typical smoked-salmon eggs benedict or bagel and lox, we get savoury cornbread waffles topped with chive cream, trout lox, tomato salsa, pickled onions and mixed greens. It's a lighter option than the Gros Jambon, but no less delicious.

I have to admit, I was wary when I first read cornbread waffles in the description. I also wasn't sure about the waffles and smoked trout mix. But it just worked. I'm not sure if it's the delicate and smooth but flavourful chive cream that somehow married the two together, but the normally unpleasant grainy texture of cornbread really complemented the silky, smokey trout. The waffle itself was quite pillowy for cornbread, and had a lightly sweet aftertaste, but was still mostly savoury. The pickled onions were also much sweeter and less pungent than regular onions, and added a nice zyng to the dish, along with the arugula and tomato salsa. Overall, a very pleasant surprise.

 Yet another one of us ordered the Champi, which is Régine's answer to the Egg's Benedict. Two lightly poached eggs atop a slice of rustic bread, smokey Mamirole cheese, and accompanied by mushrooms sauteed with sage, and cream of butternut squash sauce. Served again with the homemade mashed potatoes and fresh fruit.

We had the option of replacing the the poached eggs with scotch eggs (!) which we forgot to do when we gave our order. That would have been the cherry on the proverbial sundae. Even without the scotch egg, though, the dish was quite good. The rustic bread was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and porous enough to sop up the yolk from the poached egg. The mushrooms were lightly spiced, and very savoury. Not an complex dish, but still enjoyable, due to its proper execution. We still regret not getting the scotch egg, since it would have made the dish that much more special.

If you're not in the mood for brunch items, Régine also offers some lunch items, such as gourmet sandwiches and salads.

Price - $$
For brunch, it ranges on the higher end of the price bracket, averaging about $15 a dish. The Gros Jambon was $15, and the Gaufre was $16. The Champi was $15, but with the scotch egg, it would have been $18. The yogurt and pain brioche were about $6 each. But honestly, given the portion sizes and the attention put into the details in each dish, I'd say that the price is well worth it.

Final Grade: A-
I don't give many A's, but I was genuinely impressed by Régine. I wouldn't hesitate to say that at this very moment, it is my favourite brunch spot in Montreal. It isn't just the food, but the combination of the food, the venue, and the experience that makes Régine such a unique experience. Entering into this small restaurant really feels like entering into a completely separate pocket dimension somewhere, since it's just that different.
I guess I had to deduct some points for accessibility and service, but believe me, if this restaurant was just a tiny bit easier to get to, I'd be squatting here every other week. It would be my go-to brunch place.

And if you do visit and are completely underwhelmed, that's okay. It just means less competition and line-up times for me! :D

Régine Café
1840 Rue Beaubien Est Montreal, QC 
(514) 903-0676

Régine Café on Urbanspoon


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