Voted one of Canada’s top ten best new restaurants by enRoute Magazine last year, I knew it was good. The owners also own Olive & Gourmando’s, so they get the winning combo of real food + fresh ingredients + cozy ambiance. But I also knew it made its name with a wood-burning oven and excellent flatbread and all that gluten and cross-contamination (plus my occasionally checking the seasonal menu and rarely finding many naturally gluten free and dairy free dishes) made me go other places first: Candide, Le Fantôme, Montréal Plaza, for example.
But for a night out with an editor of the Porter & Sail travel concierge app, I checked the menu one more time and discovered that a number of the dishes right now are gluten and dairy free. I’m not Celiac, so a little meat roasting where bread had once been wasn’t enough to deter me.
And I’m so glad it didn’t. Because Foxy was awesome. The décor is all high ceilings with two open flames coming from the back of a long bar (one of two bars that were packed with diners on a Thursday evening).
The first flames came from house-brand charcoal wood licking the bottoms of meat circulating on a rotisserie below a grill. The second came from the giant bread oven further back in the restaurant – the one built into the wall next to the stack of charcoal logs that makes you want to stare into it all night, which you could do if the restaurant didn’t have a high turnover rate. We were politely told we had two hours to eat, which makes sense when the place is small.
But I really wanted to linger over another glass of orange wine from the mostly biodynamic, natural private import wine list:
Service? It was great – not rushed, but totally pro. The food? Delicious. And yet, it still took me a couple weeks to figure out what I really loved about my meal here.
‘Rustic’ is the word.
There’s nothing scary or frontier-pushing on the menu (i.e. sea urchin, razor clams, sea buckthorn espuma, dulse caviar, foie gras peanut butter sandwiches, horse meat). Instead, it’s all very accessible: Arctic char, hanger steak, grilled sea bass, pork loin. You can get all these at any local-leaning bistro worth its sea salt. But the meats and fish are high quality, generally sustainable, served in decent portions and plated in a way that shows the chef is more about comfort than fussy gels, foams and swirls.
The flash is awful on a camera for restaurant pictures, I know. Sorry for that. But that’s just a whole lot of tomatillo salsa with charred whole green onions (they didn’t even cut off the stringy ends), fresh avocado slices and a wood-fired half chicken. The chicken is not an afterthought – it’s just well hidden by everything else, and everything else happens to be very green.
Here’s a better photo:
Prettier, right? But you don’t see the heaps of avocado.
There’s a good reason this dish seems to be the restaurant’s calling card. It’s savoury with the onions, tangy from the tomatillos, creamy and rich from the avocado (I think it’s about half an avocado per serving) and crispy and chewy and crunchy from the Rose-des-Vents chicken. That’s a family chicken farm that you can find at health food and organic grocers including Rachelle-Béry and markets including Atwater. It’s a high-volume farm, and it’s not certified organic, but it’s small, quaint and well-run compared to most of the chicken farms that generally stock big grocery store shelves. And the flavour is better.
But the biggest reason this dish is a winner is because every inch of that chicken is gently charred and seasoned without being overly salty. It wasn’t roasted in a pan and then left mushy, soggy and gelatinous on the bottom where liquid accumulated. It wasn’t broiled or kitchen-torched or pan-seared as an afterthought. But neither is it blackened or burnt. It’s perfectly flame-kissed.
Like the butterfly kisses of cooking.
It’s also rare to see chicken on the menu in the first place. It’s kind of taboo at fine dining restaurants right now. Maybe because it’s not exotic as, say, deer or guinea hen, and it’s not that expensive. So to put a $32 chicken on the card (that’s one dollar more than the Arctic char, though a much bigger serving), it’s got to be good.
Now, the char was good, but it looked a little wimpy compared to the chicken.
It came grilled with beurre blanc, garlic, chervil and roasted winter vegetables for $31. The char just wasn’t that impressive flavour-wise, being farmed and all (though sustainable). And even the nicely charred (get it?) skin couldn’t save it. Suddenly, the simple fare just didn’t justify the price.
Which made me think of La Buvette Chez Simone, my favourite wine bar in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood. When you go there you just have to get the chicken. You can do a couple antipasti, like olives and nuts and mushrooms and charcuterie, but then you need to get a quarter, half or whole chicken to share. It comes with seasonal roasted roots vegetables and a yogurt sauce that it doesn’t even need because it’s already so good on its own. And it’s much less expensive. A steal, really.
But Foxy’s chicken is better – mostly because of the aforementioned non-flabby skin. La Buvette doesn’t have that wood-burning oven. But another point for Buvette is that you don’t feel as though you need to order a meal when you go there. You can come for a drink and a snack. And there are no reservations, whereas Foxy is reservation mandatory if you want to guarantee yourself a seat. Plus, Foxy doesn’t have a gorgeous terrasse, which is a huge draw for La Buvette in summertime.
But while Buvette has a great and affordable wine selection, and lots by the glass, Foxy’s list feels more exciting, with its clear leaning towards biodynamics and naturals.
So in conclusion, when I think about a plate full of comforting chicken – a little upscale, as in better-than-you-could-do-yourself-but-not-world-altering – Foxy and La Buvette both stand out. There’s actually something I like about La Buvette’s chicken being less amazing than Foxy’s. I feel like it’s better for me or even more rustic, because it’s less gourmet and more homestyle. It’s also meant for sharing, which I find endearing.
Foxy is not the neighbourhood afterwork wine bar. But I don’t think it’s trying to be. And weeks later, I’m still thinking of that chicken.
I also hear there’s flatbread that’s to-die-for, which I can’t have, but maybe you can. The toppings of this slice of magic change regularly. And there’s a popular winter salad and a homemade feta dish with buttermilk, egg and baked pita.
Oh! And homemade ice cream…which I also can’t have, but very much wish I could. More for you?
Where: 1638 Notre-Dame St. West, Montreal
Price: $75 per person with tax, tip and a glass of wine
Hours: Mon-Sun 5:30-11pm