This past Monday 3 friends and I hiked up to Little Italy to engage in a very special Royal Canadian Monday at Pastaga (#RCMPastaga for short). On Monday’s during the year Pastaga invites chefs and restaurants from around the world to present their cuisine to Montrealers who desire a taste of how food is done elsewhere. Pastaga’s invitee for last Monday was Mallard Cottage, a wonderful restaurant from my neck of the woods, Newfoundland.
A few weeks ago when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join him at the event I didn’t give it much thought and I said yes right away. I’m always up for a grand ol’ time out on the town, even if it’s a freezing Monday night in March month. As the day came closer I got a little more excited and also a little weary about what I might have gotten myself into. I’m still a little finicky around fish and seafood and as sure as there’s fur on a rabbit, a chef from Newfoundland will be up serving the mainlanders their best seafood preparations. The idea to cancel crossed my mind but in the end my curiosity got the better of me. I’m glad I stuck to my guns and didn’t cancel because I fell for the menu, hook, line and sinker.
For the last 20 years I’ve been avoiding the dreaded cod, lobster and other creatures that lined our kitchen sink as I was growing up. What I didn’t understand until I was older, I was eating organic and local before either became cool. Each day I would come home and there would be something flipping, flopping or clawing at me from the sink as I rolled my eyes at yet another seafood dinner. I was dying for a cheeseburger or a pizza or something that hadn’t lost its life an hour ago or was certain to lose its life in a boiler of water as soon as suppertime rolled around. My mother would say repeatedly You’ll be wishing for a feed of cod yet and being from an undiluted lineage of the most stubborn of people I’d stamp away to the living room thinking to myself, by the Jesus I won’t be wishing for any of that.
Over the last couple of years I’ve started wading back into the seafood eating pool. I’ve picked at calamari and sampled shrimp and a month ago I even ordered cod as my main dish. I’m still not wishing for it as my mother may have prophesized but I’m growing to enjoy it again which brings me back to the meal we were served by Mallard Cottage.
Having left the comforts of Quidi Vidi village, Chef Todd Perrin and his sommelier Steve Lee very carefully prepared the seven-course tasting menu and wine pairing. All the ingredients, right down to the Quidi Vidi brewed, Iceberg beer and actual iceberg chips for the drinks were imported from Newfoundland; a very impressive start to say the least.
Not long after we took our seats Steve came to greet us and of course knew one of my friends. After a quick chat he left and swiftly came back with his signature cocktail to get us started. Soon after finishing the cocktail the services started and here’s how it went down.
The first service was simple and delicious. We were served smoked pork hock and pig head with a sweet beer jam and almond crumble. The beer jam and crumble really jazzed up the pork. We also sampled a swig of the Iceberg beer and it couldn’t have been a better choice to help wash down the start of the meal.
Our second service was a little more elaborate. We tried a selection of Mallard Cottage pickles including halibut, mussels, cod roe, carrot, beet, parsnip and shallot. The beet was smoky and delicious, very surprising. I also enjoyed the cod roe and the halibut. I still can’t bring myself to even think about trying mussels but my Argentinian friend seemed to like them as he scoffed them down.
The third service was astounding. We were served a sample of saucisson with sweet raisin bread and mustard. The saucisson was great but I devoured the homemade bread. I remember growing up and smelling my mother’s homemade raisin bread and wanting to eat it right out of the oven. The nostalgia mixed with the scent of cinnamon and flavors from the saucisson was perfect.
For the fourth service we tried some piping hot papardelle with cold water shrimp, beurre noisette and cod bottarga. It was perfectly balanced and the butter-covered pasta was wonderful.
Next on the menu was the salted cod, a staple of Newfoundland cuisine and the signature dish that has helped define our province as one of Canada’s most distinct cultures. It was tender, salty and simple. The white fish was served on a spicy white bean stew, both of which paired quite well.
The sixth service was stuffed rabbit. Growing up in Newfoundland rabbit was part of our diet during the winter. The rabbit we were served on Monday was well seasoned and retained that wild game flavor that makes it so popular. The rabbit was served with a sweet carrot puree, scalloped potatoes and port jus.
Mallard Cottage saved the best for last. The seventh service was dessert and as they placed the steamed wild berry pudding on the table we were grabbing for our forks. The steamed pudding was nothing less than amazing. Normally served with jigs dinner or Sunday dinner, as it’s known back home, presenting the pudding as a dessert was the perfect way to cap off the evening. While half of our table was fighting over the hard sauce, the other side was more content to eat their pudding au naturel and the Argentinian seemed a little scared of it. Hard sauce is basically rum, butter and sugar and it was so delicious that our half of the table doused our pudding with their sauce as well.
Pastaga was a wonderful setting for our meal. The restaurant’s ambiance that night was engaging, curious and warm. I’m interested in going back again to see how the restaurant works without a Newfie at the helm.
I love food from Newfoundland. I love the simplicity and I love the labor that can go into preparing a meal. I also love reinvention. When a chef such as Todd Perrin takes tradition and modernizes it while respecting its roots it becomes something that we all can be a little more proud of. I expect I’ll be back on the Rock over the next couple of months and I can’t wait to haul into a table at Mallard Cottage and see the place for myself.
What Todd, Steve and the entire crew accomplished on Monday was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. The restaurant was completely full and as I looked around the dining room, taking it all in, I saw people curiously reading the label on the blue Iceberg beer bottle and taking bites from their food and being completely surprised by what they were tasting. The evening was a happy little moment that affirmed my unwavering pride in where I’m from and the amazing things Newfoundlanders bring to the table.