In recent years, Notre Dame West has seen a bit of a revival. It has evolved from a dusty antiques road show to an up and coming, hip and dynamic part of town. In St. Henri, restaurants, bars and shops have been popping up as the population continues to change. The latest of these fine, freshly opened establishments is Le Smoking Vallée.
You walk into Le Smoking Vallée on any evening and it’s filled with people chatting and laughing with their friends and sometimes, even with their neighbors. The crowd is definitely a reflection of Montreal; colorful, well dressed and not afraid to stand out. The atmosphere is cool and vibrant while the small size of the restaurant only adds to the intimacy. As the evening gets started, the low, incandescent lighting almost feels like candles are casting shadows on the dark, smoke colored walls. The décor is kept modest (and you will find out why as you read on) save for the beautiful mural that covers the entire east wall. The wait staff is friendly, quick and unpretentious. Your waiter will arrive, open your bottle of wine and let you dive right into it before coming back a few moments later to take your order. The menu is written on the back wall in chalk, so there’s no giant encyclopedia sized books of food getting in the way of important wine space.
Le Smoking Vallée is a modern French bistro and while the menu is simple, it’s anything but modest. I have tried their bavette de beouf, served with a delicious smoky mayonnaise, and pontneuf style potatoes. I got a chuckle out of Mathieu, one of the owners of the restaurant when I noticed that they use Laguiole steak knives; as if I wasn’t impressed enough already. Don’t worry, I haven’t pocketed any. I’ve also tasted the oysters, and recently, the cod (stolen from a friend’s plate), both very good. Everything is expertly cooked and when you’re almost done you will wish there was more. I ended my second visit to the restaurant with their orange and anis flavored crème brulé that disappeared all too quickly.
I’d love to brag and say I found this place all on my own, but the truth is it was recommended by a friend who hauled me over to St. Henri for dinner one evening. It had recently opened in her neighborhood and she wanted me to try it with her. I’m glad I listened because it was one of the most pleasant dining experiences I’ve had in Montreal. If you live in St. Henri, check it out and if you don’t, it’s worth the trip, just don’t forget to bring your own wine.