New Mile End haunt has a little something for everyone
The Mile End’s newest hideaway is many things: a coffee spot by day, bar/restaurant at night, and bruncherie on the weekend, it also has a live radio room. Maison Sociale is like that person who always seems effortlessly cool and put-together, but who in reality spent five hours thinking up and perfecting every detail of their look for that “I woke up like this” vibe.
This new hotspot is highly conceptual: every minor detail about the place oozes meticulous detail, made to evoke an air of exclusivity without being pretentious. Even the name, Maison Sociale, conjures up a private club. In fact, they do offer membership—but thus far it’s free, and entails nothing more than signing up to their email list—which gives VIP patrons special perks like members-only cocktail classes and coffee tastings.
Maison Sociale is the collective effort of seven partners, including David Schmidt (Montreal restauranteur behind such hotspots as Mais, Datcha, Le Mal Necessaire, and Thazard). Also on the team are James Benjamin, who will be running the radio and music program, and Philip Tabah, founder of themainmtl.com, who will be charged with creating a culture-centric blog and social media presence to be diffused to members. Each partner has their own specialty niche, creating a polished collective space better than the sum of its parts.
The menu, which was still under construction as of their soft opening last weekend, is equally well thought out. For lunch, only one plat du jour is offered, and changes according to the chef’s whim. The dinner menu, composed of half-sized portions of entrees, is French cuisine with a twist. For those like myself who are perplexed at how exactly to quantify a half-portion, each plate is somewhere in between an appetizer and a main course—ideally, two people would share four to five plates.
My dining companion and I each started with a bowl of sweet onion soup, topped with crispy shallots and sprigs of fennel. The soup was creamy, almost like an onion bisque rather than a traditional french onion soup. It was velvety in texture, with the fennel adding a surprising herbal freshness. I never would have paired fennel with creamy onion soup, and while the mix of flavours was jarring at first, it all somehow married well together.
For the main course we shared three dishes: the beef tartare, with a side of fried clams and a horseradish sauce, beef cheeks on potato gratin with brussel sprouts, and coq au vin done bourguignon-style in a crockpot of wine-marinated root vegetables and lardons. The coq au vin was the uncontested winner; the chicken was tender and moist, and pulled off the bones with ease. The wine sauce was flavourful, and soaked the meat and veggies in a full-bodied sweetness. The tartare was diced with bits of tomato, and seasoned with the classic combination of salt, pepper, and oregano. The presence of tomato garnered mixed reviews between my date and I—I thought it gave a freshness to the dish, but he was not a fan. The fried clams were the shining star, though might have been more successful as their own separate dish. The beef cheeks were perhaps slightly overcooked, though not offensively so—the dish was all-in-all good, but could have benefitted from a sauce to cut the dryness of the meat.
The drinks menu was even more extensive than the food, featuring a fair selection of house specialty cocktails, wines, beers, and spirits. The cocktails were well done, inventive takes on classics.
While the food and drinks were great, the atmosphere is the real reason to pay this spot a visit. The decor could be described as Wes Anderson meets gentleman’s club meets 1940s lodge meets hipster-urban haunt. The waiters were all bearded and bedecked in plaid, and a DJ spun live music from the Green Room Radio room (named after the restaurant that previously occupied the space) into the restaurant and onto the airwaves of their live show. Even during the soft opening the small space was packed and lively. Sitting across from each other at a small round table made of beautifully lacquered wood, I had to raise my voice in order to have an audible conversation with my companion.
Maison Sociale is located at 5386 St-Laurent Blvd. Main courses run between $5 and $12, and cocktails between $10 and $15.