It’s difficult to get a sense of a traditional Canadian culinary identity growing up in Vancouver (if one exists, that is). It’s no wonder when maybe only 10% of Vancouverites actually have Canadian heritage.
So when I went to Montreal, I got the chance to discover what “real” old-time Canadian food is. After seeing how much delicious meat was involved, I now have a new reason to be proud of Canada!
The use of meats considered untraditional like venison, boar, bison and eve horse is much more widespread in Montreal than in the rest of North America, perhaps as a result of its European-like culture and French roots. I couldn’t pass up the chance to try all these meats when I had the chance!
Maybe it’s just a byproduct of the need to keep warm during the cold winters, but it seems like every higher-end dining option goes heavy on the richness scale. Whether it’s the countless dishes of foie gras served at Au Pied de Cochon or the indulgent excesses of Joe Beef, Montreal is a meat and fat lover’s dream!
L’Orignal fits right in with Montreal’s food scene, distinguishing itself by the wide variety of game meats served and the laidback and casual Canadian setting. It looks like a lively version of a bar dating a couple hundred years back, but the food served is modern in every way! It’s self-styled ‘Chalet Chic’ ambiance with a Canadian flair!
L’Orignal means moose in French and they make sure to remind you of that every chance they get. Too bad they didn’t actually serve moose meat because knowing me I would have had to try it!
The restaurant was bustling with both foodies and people enjoying themselves in a social setting, although in a city that revolves around food it’s hard to differentiate between the two! There was no attempt to make things too fancy and L’Orignal fit the whole Montreal culture of having delicious food in a casual environment.
While some of the fish dishes are supposed to be very tasty, it’s hard to overlook all the meat options on the menu! If you like meat and being adventurous, then this is the place for you. The emphasis of each dish was on showcasing the flavour and texture of the meat and L’Orignal did a great job with that!
I felt like more complexity could have been put into some plates given the cost of the meal, but there was at least a consistent philosophy here which I could understand and it’s much easier to be lenient when the meats were all done well which was the focus here. Overall I really enjoyed my experience!
Things Roger Ate like a Pig
Complementary Bread – 3.5/6 (Good – Very Good)
The bread here was solid although unspectacular. It was freshly baked with a good airiness, although the butter was a little hard for my liking.
Raw Venison – 6/6 (Must Try!), $16
- Venison (deer) carpaccio with baby spinach leaves, bread crumbs and feta cheese
I’m not sure what was it about this dish but I was completely spellbound! I imagined this to be not too different from a beef carpaccio, but the taste and texture were so unique and captivating!
Any worries that I had about venison meat were quickly alleviated. This didn’t really have any bad gaminess and it was clear the deer used was quite young. The taste was so clean and straightforward that it wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese omakase.
The texture of the meat was moist and enveloped in most likely olive oil that never verged on the precipice of fatty excess. The taste was another contradiction: picture the meaty complexity of an aged steak coupled with a divine oiliness akin to fresh saba (mackerel) nigiri.
Top that off with a hint of toasted garlic and baby red-veined spinach leaves to weed out any unwanted flavours, bread crumbs for added texture and some feta for added cheesiness and you have an absolutely delicious appetizer!
Boar Terrine – 4/6 (Very Good), $11
- Boar terrine mixed with carrots and celery chunks and served with mustard seed condiment
There are more conservative options on the menu, but why do that when boar is on the menu?! The boar terrine was solid although this didn’t wow me quite like the venison carpaccio.
The boar meat by itself was a little bland and on the dry side, with a taste that was like lamb-infused pork (…crappy metaphor much?). The vegetables mixed in seemed like they were pickled, although they didn’t have quite as much crunch as I would’ve preferred.
The mustard seed condiment made this dish come to life! The mustard taste wasn’t very strong in the spicy sense but it was just a little tangy to bring some energy to each bite. I definitely wanted some more of this as it ran out pretty quickly!
While boar isn’t the easiest meat to make tasty, I think this plate was a decent introduction to the taste of boar meat and certainly worth a try.
Bison, Carrot, Sumac – 4/6 (Very Good), $29
- Bison steaks, cooked rare, with carrot chunks and slices and a carrot soy sauce
Don’t be fooled by the overhead view, because this dish was super meat-heavy! The three thick slabs of bison steak made for probably 1 1/2 pounds of meat of solid meat.
The bison was cooked with a thorough black pepper and sumac based crust that offered a contrast in texture to the chewy meat and a hint of smokiness in each bite.
Sumac was a new ingredient for me! It’s a Mediterranean berry ground into a powder that adds a sour, fruity and smoky touch when grilling meats. I definitely had that “I don’t know what this is but it’s good” feeling about the flavour of the crust and now I know!
If you’re wondering about the taste of bison compared to your regular beef steak, I’d say that it’s a little more delicate and sweet than beef but still unmistakably meaty. Bison meat is known to be very lean (5 times less fat than equivalent beef) so it can be tough when not prepared properly, but my rare steaks hit this balance right on the money. I didn’t have to expend too much time cutting this which was great!
The rest of the plate could have been more interesting though. There was a lot of carrot, both in slices as well as one big chunk, that gave some sweetness but was quite ordinary in quality and preparation. Its inclusion felt a little forced, as if someone’s parents had looked at all the meat and made a feeble attempt to balance out the meal.
The sauce was more liquid than I expected and prefer for something intended as a dipping sauce. It had that carrot sweetness again mixed in with the taste of diluted soy sauce which didn’t add much when dipped with the bison.
L’Orignal nailed the meat which was rightfully the star of the show! But for $29, I was hoping for something more inspired with the rest of the plate as well.
Brussels and Bacon – 3/6 (Good), $7
- Brussels sprouts with bacon bits
With such a meat-loving feast going on, I’m surprised it took this long for bacon to appear! This side ended up coming later than our mains so it got comped by the house.
The brussels sprouts seemed like they were steamed and then fried in lots of oil, perhaps bacon grease? While they were excessively oily by my standards, they still had a decent crunch and the flavour of the brussels sprouts was fresh and satisfying.
I definitely wished there was more bacon here though (my waistline probably disagreed at this point!) The bacon bits were quite meager and while cooked well it really didn’t add much to a dish whose title featured bacon just as prominently as brussels sprouts.
L’Orignal is a great place for meat-lovers to try out less common types of meat in a old-school Canadian setting! The food here isn’t fancy, but the meats are the star of each plate and prepared very well.
Date visited: Feb 2, 2013
Price range: $40 – $50