2130 St-Mathieu (look for the number on the door, not the name)
6 1/2 out of 10
I walked up St-Mathieu from Maisonneuve, then turned right on Lincoln, right again back onto Maisonneuve, over to St-Marc…where is this place? It was 11:30am and I was looking for noodles and the sign-less restaurant La Maison du Nord.
Actually, there is a sign, and it does say “Restaurant”, but the words “La Maison du Nord” are certainly not to be seen in either of Canada’s official languages. I shamefully walked into Le Roi du Wonton and asked the lady where I could find the actual restaurant I was looking for. It felt like maybe I should order some wontons for the road (1 block, just around the corner) for so rudely leaving the place with the intent of finding lunch elsewhere. Finally I got back to St-Mathieu, having gone full cirlce, and found La Maison du Nord on the east side of the street, just south of Lincoln ((2130 St-Mathieu)…basically where I had thought it should have been in the first place. Look for the number and the sign saying “coiffure” and you’ll have no problem finding the place.
The whole reason for wanting to come here was to try the “magic” noodles. There is one chef who is capable of taking a long strand of dough and stretching it, pulling it, and miraculously shaping it into a giant soup bowl’s worth of glutinous noodles. I sat myself in front of the open window to the kitchen and waited to be amazed. I expected to see noodles flying through the air, being spun, twirled and dangled.
In fact, the whole stretching process seemed kind of boring. The man had obviously stretched a whole lot of noodles in his life and he made it look no more complicated than shuffling a deck of cards. Actually, the first time he did it I didn’t even notice. He kept his subtle hands under the opening of the kitchen window. I felt cheated because I figured my noodles had actually been machine-stretched as there had been no show made of the whole magic noodle creation, which didn’t make sense because I had been warned that it would be a 20 minute wait for the noodles, since the chef had just arrived. This in itself made me skeptical because noodles take a whole lot longer than 20 minutes to make from start to finish usually. You need to combine the dough, knead it, let it rest for awhile, sometimes knead it again, sometimes let it rest again. All in all, it can be a long process. So I’m going to hope that much of this process was pre-done, and the dough had been prepped in advance of the “magic” noodle chef’s arrival.
You can have these noodles in a whole lot of different kinds of meal soups. I had the noodles in a lamb broth. Most of the options are beef, but you can also get tomato and egg. Vegetarians are a bit out of luck , but maybe you could just get the noodles by themselves??
A giant bowl of steaming noodles with shaved, tiny pieces of delicious lamb came to the table. It was topped with a heaping pile of tasteless green onions, along with some also bland carrots, but the highlight of the bowl was the cabbage, which was perfectly al dente and sweet.
At least the soup, unlike the noodle throwing, didn’t let me down. The broth was surprisingly un-salty, which is definitely atypical of noodle soups in Montreal. Maybe, just maybe, they didn’t add a ton of MSG to the broth. Maybe it was actually mostly flavoured by the lamb? I was overjoyed to find that the broth was just a little spicy. It wasn’t too greasy, either, which is both a good and a bad thing. It means it was either skimmed of fat, which is unlikely, or a whole chunk of lamb was not used (as would be traditional) to make the broth, but it didn’t feel like I was wading through fat to find broth.
After being let down by my expectation of the “magic” noodle show, at least the noodles themselves were pretty good. They were filling and comforting and just what a bowl of noodle soup should be, even if for some reason they didn’t have any distinguishable noodle taste, like when you make fresh pasta with a really good quality flour. With a bit of black vinegar, though, they were so satisfying, and a great addition to the rest of the soup fillings.
I had to try the dumplings to compare them to Qing Hua down the road. The dumpling wrapper here was thinner, and the fillings weren’t as juicy. In my shrimp, chive and and egg dumplings I had a hard time finding any shrimp. I would have liked them better if the sauces that accompanied them were better. The hot sauce didn’t taste like anything. I’m pretty sure it was just chili flakes and oil, so it really didn’t help the dumplings out at all. The black vinegar was good, but I’d had enough of that with the soup. The soy sauce provided was just packets of Wings. Does the trick, I guess.
The exciting part of the meal for me ended up being the dishes that you don’t find in every other Chinese restaurant. The Northern Chinese (Shaanxi) dishes, like a side dish of spicy shredded raw potatoes in a salty, spicy, and sour sauce, were delicious! They kind of tasted like noodles, and certainly looked the part. It would be an amazing lunch if Montreal’s raw foodists got together at the very un-vegan La Maison du Nord to talk about the values of noodles made of potatoes and turnips.
Finally a sweet baked flatbread filled with a periodically sweet sesame paste. “Periodically”, because whoever made the paste didn’t stir in the sugar very well, so some bites were sweet and some were savoury, which was actually pretty fun. One bite would taste like natural peanut butter, and the next would taste like Kraft’s sweet and salty version. The bread was beautiful. Kind of like a Northern Chinese version of naan. It had the most flavour of all the doughy foods I tried. The wheat flour definitely won out over the glutinous flour used for the noodles.
The price? Ridiculously affordable. Even though you can get a dozen dumplings here for $8, which beats Qing Hua’s pricing, I’d still say it’s worth it to “splurge” down the road. It’s all relative, since it’s not like Qing Hua is particularly expensive in the grand scheme of Montreal restaurants. The Maison du Nord sweet bread was $2.99, and makes a great snack for two at any time of the day. You can get lamb soup for $3.99, but with the noodles it gets bumped to $7.99, which is basically two meals of soup and so, so many noodles. You could also come here and order main dishes (mostly pork-based, or fried fish and vegetables) for slightly more money (around $8-$10 a dish), and leave happily stuffed or with leftovers. Whatever you get, you won’t spend a fortune and you’ll be very full. Oh, and tax is included!
Hours: 11am-11pm, daily
Expect to Pay: $8 to be full, $14 to have to roll yourself out of there…