Oregon Bar à Vin
Address: 241 Curé-Labelle Blvd., Laval
Phone: (579) 641-1414
Open: Tues.-Sat. 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian-friendly: Not especially (call in advance)
Cards: Major cards
Parking: Lot on site
Price range: Starters $12-$22; mains $25-$39; dessert $11-$13.
Some of the world’s great restaurants can be found in the oddest locations. There are restaurants located in defunct prisons, under water, in treehouses, in graveyards and even in vintage airplanes. The famous Jiro Ono of Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary fame runs his three-Michelin-starred Japanese sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, out of a — get this — subway station.
Strip malls are about the least sexy locations for restaurants, yet they still manage to house many famous eateries, including the former Masa sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills, the legendary Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, and Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec in Los Angeles. In fact, strip-mall restaurants have now garnered quite the following. Foodies tend to flock to strip malls in search of authentic ethnic eats, but here in Quebec, there’s a new style of strip-mall restaurant making waves, which I call the “suburb alternative.” With so much construction in and around the Montreal city core, endless traffic and bridges and interchanges being rebuilt underneath us, many off-island dwellers are reticent to spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel in search of dinner. So instead, they’re turning to the restaurants opening in their neck of the woods, which in the burbs often means strip malls. I have dined in chef-driven restaurants in Boucherville and Granby strip malls, elaborate 200-seat restaurants at the DIX30, and several trattorias and bistros in old and new West Island malls. But this week’s is a first. It’s a wine bar called Oregon in a strip mall on Curé-Labelle in Laval, and it is a keeper.
There are five partners behind this nine-month-old Ste-Rose establishment: Jérôme Pinard, Simon Boudreault, Étienne Gratton, Renaud Thérien and Antoine Landry. Boudreault plays the key role of sommelier and the chef is Paul Couture, whose work experience includes stints at Boulay in Quebec City, Cabane Au Pied de Cochon in Mirabel and the Merchant’s Tavern in St-John’s, Nfld.
Inspired by the thriving food and wine scene in the Pacific Northwest, this group of Laval natives opened Oregon with the intention of offering a locavore experience, drawing on the many farms in the region. As for the wine list, it’s a gem. Though on the pricey side, this “carte” was obviously assembled with great care and food-friendliness in mind. The bottles are either natural or organic, and all are privately imported, but Boudreault does a bang-up job recommending the wines on his list.
It’s important to point out right up top that though this restaurant may be wine-driven, there is not a smidgeon of pretentiousness on display. The whole scene at Oregon is more black T-shirts, jeans and man buns (read hipster) than suits and ties, and thank heavens for that because life is too short to spend even one more night listening to a pompous sommelier ramble on about the age of the vines, his last trip to South Africa and the hint of peach pit on the nose. Happily, Boudreault’s wines have more of a high index of drinkability than brag-ability.
The menu displays quite a bit of creativity as well. There aren’t many dishes, but daily specials flesh out the selection. Prices are higher than I’d like with main courses climbing into the $30 range, but rest assured portions are generous and presentations are soigné.
We began with three starters: a panzanella salad, pork dumplings, and a poached peach. A special that day, the panzanella diverted from the original recipe by adding smoked scallops, samphire and chanterelles to the tomato, bread and cucumber classic. Panzanella is a rustic Italian dish and this one was played very fancy — too fancy? — with the tomatoes as a lesser player and croutons in place of the usual rehydrated stale bread. I liked the result, especially the lightly smoked scallops, but this dish is a panzanella in name only.
The dumplings, though, were just what you’d expect. The pudgy parcels were packed with garlic-heavy pork filling and served in a deeply-flavoured, sweet and sour broth enhanced with bok choy, seaweed and tiny shimeji mushrooms. What a treat!
As for the peach, a winner also. Served with ricotta, a swirl of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of toasted chopped hazelnuts, this simple starter worked because the peach was perfectly poached and the cheese and vinegar enhanced with their milky/sweet flavours. So luscious.
Like the appetizers, main courses were all vastly different (there’s no real style to the cuisine at Oregon) and generally very good. My favourite was the agnolotti, three large pasta parcels stuffed with a sage and shrimp filling and topped with nordic shrimp, chanterelles and fresh corn. Sage is an herb that can overwhelm, but this flavouring was played just right. The dish sells for an eyebrow-raising $39, which could be justified by the amount of luxury ingredients. But still … If money’s not an issue, I’d say give it a try.
Budget diners would be better served by the fried chicken. Presented in an elaborate dish alongside some kooky accompaniments including watermelon, grilled octopus, corn pancakes and jalapeño peppers (no, I’m not making that up), the fried chicken pieces were crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. I’m not too sure watermelon goes with octopus and chicken, but everything individually tasted delicious.
Our last main was a wine-friendly onglet steak served with roasted potatoes, anchovy mayonnaise and quite a bit of chimichurri sauce. Here the accompaniments provided all the strong flavours as the beef itself, though tender and cooked to the requested medium-rare, didn’t have much on its own. Liked it, didn’t love it. As for the $28 price, this is definitely a dish that would be ideal for sharing.
For dessert, we tasted both on offer, starting with a large Paris-Brest with raspberry sorbet that had a great praline cream filling but a pretty tough pastry shell. And then there was a dulce de leche parfait with a vodka and coffee granite and a coffee crumble. Also good, but with so much beautiful fruit available this time of year, I wonder why a locavore restaurant favours such unseasonal desserts? A bowl of peaches and or berries and ice cream would have made more sense.
Despite some odd food moments, I liked my dinner at Oregon very much. Boudreault was our waiter, and it has been ages since I was served by someone with such warmth and smarts. As the night carried on, the room got darker, noisier and quite crowded with serious revellers, though, so be warned.
If ever you think the suburb scene is sleepy, check out this seriously happening wine bar. Wait, a cool restaurant in Laval? Yup, and how great.
You can hear Lesley Chesterman on ICI Radio-Canada Première’s Médium Large (95.1 FM) Tuesdays at 10 a.m., and on CHOM (97.7 FM) Wednesdays at 7:10 a.m.