This is a story not only about food but how to run a small, small business.
There is an industrial section of Montreal called Verdun. You walk down the main street, Wellington, and you see a consignment store here, a dollar store there. No Hermes on this roadway. But it just happens to house a remarkable restaurant that has been open for a little less than six months. It probably shouldn’t be considered remarkable that the restaurant, Mas Cuisine, is so good. The chef owner, Michel Ross, was a co-owner of another popular Montrea restaurant called Brunoise, which in several short years jumped up to the number one ranking in Zagat. And then in late 2007, it was closed.
Ross believes a restaurant and its food should be great, approachable and affordable. Very affordable. Which may have been the problem with Brunoise. It was downright cheap and had to cost a mint to run.
So, Ross sat tight for a little more than a year and opened up his new restaurant. It has but 28 seats. The kitchen has three cooks (including himself and his wife, the pastry chef). And two wait staff. They are open three days for lunch (Wednesday through Friday) and four nights for dinner (Wednesday through Saturday). Those are the busiest days for each of those meals, which means Ross doesn’t need additional staff standing around on slower days. As it is, he said he works 60 hours a week and doesn’t need to work anymore.
So his model – very hands on ownership. He runs the kitchen, watches the diners’ enjoy his food and it is said that he does the dishes when need be. He is successful because he is smart this time about watching the costs, his overhead in Verdun has to be lower than in the St. Denis area of Montreal (kind of like the Village in NYC). And he sells a “product” that people will talk and talk and talk about.
We visited for lunch on July 2. I knew Ross from his Brunoise days and whenever I travel north to Canada, I put his name in google to see if he has re-emerged. I struck gold in June. The food was classic Ross.
Some at the table had a parsnip soup (with pumpkin seeds floating on top) to start the meal. I had a terrine of pork and fois gras and pistaschio alongside a tasty arugula salad. Then we moved on to the main course – lamb shank prepared in a confit style on a bed of small pasta dots that were cooked as you would rissoto rice. And the pasta held the lamb sauce the way risotto does. We had a duck confit at the table as well – prepared in the classic Quebecois way. This was resting on a bed of risotto and a light sauce with figs on top.
And then the vanilla panacotta for dessert. On top of the soft panacotta was a crisp cookie made of lemon and poppy seed and fresh fruits.
Ross is one of those chefs who believe the flavors should not only explode in your mouth but the texture of the different foods on the plate should be felt in your mouth as well. Thus, the reason he puts soft and crunchy foods together on the same plate.
And the price? With the table of four consuming six glasses of wine (we split the bill down the middle), it all came out to $31 (Canadian) dollars per person. Dinner is a little more expensive. But still, both are a huge bargain.
The Verdun area can look a little down on its heels. But Mas Cuisine makes the visit a must.