Last chance to try a Hull favourite
Saying farewell to a one of the best across the river.
- Name + address: Les Vilains Garçons, 131 Promenade du Portage
- Type of food: Contemporary fusion
- Mains: $28-$90
- Diet: Vegetarian, meat and seafood
- Wheelchair accessibility: Yes
- Licensed: Yes
- Website: www.lesvilainsgarcons.ca
One of the pleasures of living in Ottawa is our proximity to Gatineau. It affords us access to an extraordinary park system, fabulous food and drink artisans who are building a burgeoning agritourism industry, and very good restaurants.
There is no shortage of things to discover in Gatineau and this makes it easier to forget favourite haunts like Les Vilains Garçons. Of course the pandemic did contribute to the memory fog but that’s lifting.
I stopped in on a Friday at 5 pm and it wasn’t long before the place was full of the energy of diners anticipating inventive comfort food.
While their kitchen does offer larger plates, the mainstays are the pintxos (Spanish Basque country version of tapas) which are served in sets of three ($36), five ($58) and eight ($90).
Then I saw oysters on the menu and I had to inquire. The server informed me that they were offering Opus, Umami and Saint Simon bivalves from the east coast of Canada and I opted to try all three.
Interestingly, the Opus oysters delivered more umami than the Umami variety. The Saint Simon were bright and briney, their salinity putting thoughts of Champagne or a dry Normandy cider in my head. All were varieties I’d not had before and all were superb.
This was just another example for me, of the benefits of dining in a different province. Restaurants will have different supply chains and you, the diner, get exposed to new things.
This is certainly true of their beverage menu which features local Quebec beer, cider and wine as well as more than 70 wines from Italy, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa and the list goes on. House cocktails range in price from $12 to $14.
Soon the pintxos platter arrived and I had selected five items that might give a good representation of the kitchen: Salmon tartare with soy beans, a Chevre mousse with zucchini, pastured veal with foraged mushrooms, fish and chip style cod with fennel slaw and a risotto with leeks and roast garlic.
Vegetarians will be delighted to know that the Chevre mousse seasoned with lemon zest accompanied by cubes of raw zucchini marinated in vinegar and scotch whisky and topped with a house made papadum, was the outstanding creation on this platter. The papadum brought a swoon-inducing magic to the other components. I’m not sure if the kitchen planned it this way or if it was a happy accident but they need to keep this on the oft-changing menu.
I love salmon tartare dressed in sesame oil and here that flavour came in the form of sesame and salt marinated soybeans that added a pleasant sweet and savoury texture contrast to the fish. The taro root chips were an inspired touch. This is likely to end up as a dish at my next dinner party.
The battered cod was perfect and came on a bed of orange and fennel slaw in a light vinaigrette. On the side a dollop of house saffron mayonnaise that would have been enjoyable had it even a modicum of acidity and salt. It was clearly a kitchen oversight because those two crucial mayonnaise ingredients were entirely absent.
The pastured veal with wild mushrooms was superbly moist and tender with a deep rusticity brought by the mystery mushrooms. Even here the dish was under seasoned and a greater complexity would have come forward in the presence of a little salt.
Not everything is bound to be perfect and sadly the risotto with leeks and garlic was not on point.The leeks were undercooked and fibrous and the rice stodgy. It was meant to have roasted garlic but all I tasted was the creaminess of a funky washed rind cheese. It was not mentioned on the menu so I was more than a little puzzled by the taste.
Before the pandemic I often frequented Les Vilains Garçons at lunch and was always intrigued by the ever rotating menu of food and drink. A good strategy as it had me going back time and again. Now this restaurant is open only for dinner, and while the menu still changes from week to week, its days are numbered.
I was informed that Les Vilains Garçons will be closing its doors at the end of the month. Apparently the owners were now interested in other pursuits. The restaurant business is very hard and sometimes it’s best to walk away at the height of success.
The “bad boys” of Hull contributed much to the spirit of adventurous dining and certainly supported so many other local businesses along the way.
If you’ve not yet been to this restaurant, I recommend making a reservation even as you finish reading this sentence. It will soon be impossible to get in.
Finally, these folks also made a name for themselves with their excellent charcuterie free of nitrates and nitrites. You can find these at their butcher shop Boucherie des Vilains, also only until the end of March.