I’ve never experienced actual winter (aka with snow) until I came to Montreal, and it’s quite extreme compared to Asia. It’s “normal” to expect snow in mid-March or even early April. C’est le printemps à Montréal (It’s the Spring in Montreal). When it’s Spring, it is also known as the Sugar Shack (aka Cabane à sucre) season in Quebec! To embrace (or fight) the cold in Spring, there’s nothing better than spending a day just eating a feast that incorporated with sweet maple syrup.
Spring is the season where the sap of maple tree is boiled and made into maple syrup. Traditional sugar shacks are normally found in the country side, surrounded by the forests of maple trees. However, for city dwellers or people who don’t have a car (like me), there are urban sugar shack pop-ups that are more accessible and still provide the experience.
I found out about this urban sugar shack, Chef à l’érable, through Tourisme Montreal, where it is listed as one of the best sugar shacks in and around Montreal, and “one sitting you won’t want to miss”. I did a quick research about it (eg. looking through blog posts from last year, menus, news reviews…etc.), and I’ve only seen positive comments! Hence, I proceed to the next step, making RESERVATION!
This year’s sugar shack at Scena is led by Chez L’epicier (see my previous visit for MTL à Table) world renown chef Laurent Godbout, whom has represented Canada at The Bocuse d’Or (a prestigious world culinary competition) for two years in a row. This is also the second year that chef Godbout held sugar shack at Scena. Locating at the Pavillon Jacques-Cartier of Old Montreal, it wasn’t hard to get there at all. There is bus 715 that stops right in front of Scena or metro to station Champ de mars. Though it was cold, it was sunny on the day I visited and the sun shines through the glass windows made the entire venue bright and warm!
It was a five-course meal, which each course has multiple courses…. Let’s dig in..
Potato and ham chowder, pickled mustard seeds with maple – It was garnished with olive oil and chives. The soup was warm and hearty. I like how it isn’t as thick as most chowder I had before (sort of in between a stew and a chowder). There are large chunks of potato and leak in the soup, and the saltiness of ham balanced out the flavor of the soup. Perfect start for the feast!
Oreilles de crises with sucre à la crème and parsley – These thin, crispy pork ears are a bit addictive to munch on throughout the meal. They are crunchy, and surprisingly not greasy at all! It’s good with a drizzle or dip with the maple syrup provided on the side.
Maple wood smoked trout cone – The cone is filled with cream cheese and topped with lime zest. The cream cheese is full of smoked trout flavor, and surprisingly light in texture. However, the cone was soft and soggy. My friends and I thought that it would be better if it’s made out of those waffle cone or any that’s crispy/crunchy.
Kale and frisee salad, macrcona almonds, apples, raisins, and maple buttermilk vinaigrette – My friends (one of them is also a soon-to-be dietitian) are so happy and glad that Chef Godbout incorporated greens into the menu! It is definitely refreshing to have veggies along with those traditionally known for meat-based meal. The dressing was a plus too! We thought the buttermilk would make it a bit heavy, but it wasn’t. The tartness of apples, the sweetness of raisins, crunchiness of almonds, and the greens create a great combination. It gave a good cleanse of our palate to prepare for what’s coming up next.
Maple flavored ham sausage pogo – It was served within a bath of mustards. This was probably the only dish that I found it alright. Though the ratio of the sausage and the bread coating was good. You won’t have a problem with too much bread or vice versa.
Sliced black pudding, poached egg, tomato, béarnaise, maple sponge toffee sauce – Upon serving, we all had a “wow” moment.
This was one of the highlight of the meal. It might be a bit messy to eat this, but I managed to cleaned my plate without leaving any egg yolk! ;) The black pudding was soft and doesn’t have the bloody taste that some people are afraid of. The tomato confit balanced out the richness from the egg and the pudding.
Cabbage torte with bacon and mushrooms, ravigote sauce with maple vinegar – We felt good to see greens again! This is another dish that I enjoyed. The bacon and mushrooms fillings were hearty and full of flavors with the sauce. I would definitely eat more if I wasn’t already full.
Mashed potatoes with ham gravy, cheese curds, vegetable crumble and parsley oil – Absolutely loved this mashed potatoes! It was rich, smooth, and creamy. The hidden cheese curds at the bottom adds a bit of saltiness, and the vegetable crumble adds a bit of crispy textures to the dish.
(Top left) Maple braised beef macreuse (shoulder), herbs – I did not try this dish because I don’t eat beef. But here’s what my friend Karen said “It was very very tender, but too salty. It’s like a bourguingon sauce, so very rich, with mushroom and wine flavor. However, the pigs ear did not add too much to the dish, purely ornamental”.
Coq au vin potpie – The pie is made with braised chicken and pork in red wine with mushrooms, root vegetables, and topped with gravy.
Of course we didn’t get the entire pie. The waiters would go to each table and give you a slice. I really liked it. All the flavors blended in really well. Though I found the meats a bit dried. Karen thought that the cinnamon taste was too strong (she doesn’t like cinnamon), but I didn’t taste it at all (I love cinnamon).
Finally.. to end on the sweet note…
Pinapple “poutine”, fleur de sel caramel sauce – Again, we were excited to see that fruit is on the menu! Especially pineapples, it contains enzymes that’s good for digestion, hence it is suitable after such a feast. The pineapples act as the fries, the cheesecakes are the cheese curds, and the flour de sel caramel sauce is the gravy. We think that there were too much sauce, which made the entire bowl too sweet. It would be nice if it could be serve on the side for people to adjust the amount. However, it was a creative one.
Giant puff pastry, diced caramelized apples, maple whipped cream, and warm caramel – We were all shocked by the portion of this puff. It was “giant” as the menu described.
Baked Alaska – It was maple ice cream wrapped in a folded crepe, and coated with charred whipped cream. This was probably my favorite dessert, despite that it was too hard to cut at first. I really liked the maple ice cream, which was light and kind of cooled me down. The whipped cream was light and airy, thought it was torched.
Orange flavored Jell-O shots, citrus and maple liqeur – First time having a jell-o shot, and it was good. I thought it would have a hard liquor taste, but not at all. The alcohol was very subtle.
Lastly… How can a sugar shack end without the classic maple taffy! However, Chef Godbout made it even better. It was on iced milk instead of pure ice. The iced milk created a bit of creaminess. The maple syrup has this woody taste, which I have never tasted from previous experiences!
Overall, it was truly a great urban sugar shack experience! The servers were attentive and friendly. I loved how they would explain every single dish in details upon serving. There was a musician walking around with his violin playing cheerful and country music throughout the meal.
Even though it falls on the pricey end of a Sugar Shack, it was totally worth it. Definitely giving a thumb-up for the creativity, which was a nice twist to the traditional dishes. I could felt the hard work that was put behind it, none of the dishes came up sloppy, most of them “wow” us.
I truly recommend it, and definitely considering to visit next year (if I’m still in Montreal…). However, go with a group of, at least, 4 people. Since each group is served with the same amount of food, the portion can be huge. Get your sugar-fix before it’s too late! It’s a classic Quebec experience that I believe everyone should try at least once in their life.
The Chef à l’érable runs every weekend from March 6th to April 12th. It starts at 7 pm for dinner services on Friday and Saturday, and 1 pm for brunch on Sundays (only one seating per day). It’s $60 per person (excluding tax or gratuity). It is mandatory that you call to make reservations!
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