MONTREAL, QUEBEC – When a good restaurant closes for renovation, there can be cause for concern. Will we lose a place that is precious to us? Will the soul of the space be left intact? When L’Orignal closed for a revamp on August 2, expectations for its relaunch were high.
Fortunately, in the case of this favourite in Old Montreal, the relaxed atmosphere and the rich local food remained. The new menu is just as heavy, blunt and full of meats dressed differently; the new dining room still gives the impression of a warm après-ski lodge. In short, the changes are good, and instill new life to this little restaurant known to host some big names, including hockey players from the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
The re-opening this past Wednesday was an opportunity for Travis Champion, co-owner, and Omar Zabuair, chef, to present the new room and the new menu.
“With countless numbers of restaurants opening up every few days – or so it seems – we wanted to make sure that people remember that we are still here,” Champion explains of a restaurant known for its late-night atmosphere. “We completely redesigned the layout so that the bar can hold a lot more customers.”
The restaurant’s decor is all-wood, which gives the impression of being in a cottage in the north, and the menu reflects it fully. It includes local produce, game, fresh vegetables and rich sauces. It’s a way to eat like a gourmet hunter of sorts. And the chef is not taking ideas from only one part of the world, either: the menu includes American-, Italian- and French-inspired dishes.
The menu, which changes whenever the chef feels like it, has surprising items, and more traditional ones.
Zabuair has worked with some of the bigger names in the Montreal restaurant scene: Stephen Leslie (Taverne On The Square, Le Sieur D’Iberville), and David McMillan and Frederic Morin (Joe Beef). Now that he’s responsible for the kitchen of L’Orignal, his past experiences are blending well with Champion’s desires.
“Creating culinary dishes via products from Quebec and Canada’s local suppliers and farms” is how Champion, in his no-nonsense style, describes the thought process behind the menu at the restaurant whose name means “moose.”
Upon reopening, it included a small mise-en-bouche of Polish-style broccoli and a soufflé with mushrooms in a thick, aromatic sauce.
A highlight is a small plate of seafood: lobster confit, smoked trout, mussels and oysters. An old-school Italian dish that’s virtually unfindable in restaurants in Montreal is gnudis, prepared here with homemade ricotta. Then a huge ball of chopped and seasoned pork is wrapped in a cabbage leaf and then laid on a smooth potato purée; the dish is served with an au jus that would be delicious even on a shoe. The osso buco is relatively traditional except perhaps for the fact that it’s made of bison meat: very lean and with a faint taste of game, the flesh falls apart, and once again the au-jus accompanying the meat makes all the difference. Finally, for dessert, the blueberry buckle is an avalanche of textures: crunchy, moist, fat, caramelized, creamy, soft.
At the bar, L’Orignal’s beer, brewed by Bierbrier, stands alongside classic and creation-style cocktails and a short wine list. There is even a pair of Quebec wines, which is relatively rare in town.
Finally, at L’Orignal, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And the wooden moose head is still there, with its comforting look, hanging behind the bar, to watch over the customers.