On March 5, 2015, Darren and Sylvia Cheverie embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to raise $95,000 to open a rustic, French Canadian restaurant. By April 24 they had not only reached their goal, but surpassed it by 13K. Their campaign has become the most successful restaurant Kickstarter program to date, in Canada.
Just over a year later, the sign was hung, and Chartier officially opened its doors. It was like giving water to a dying man. Local residents and campaign supporters filed en masse to Beaumont’s beautiful new brasserie.
Two weeks in, a group of us snagged a rare available table during the off hours and sat down for a feast of French Canadiana.
Big beams straddle the space. It is warm and inviting with touches of reclaimed wood, vintage tableware, and chalk-painted chairs in summer garden hues. You feel like you’re in an elegant, yet very comfortable old homestead.
The cocktail list is small with intriguing names: Beauvation, La Fussée, Red Lady. Josh Walsh, the head bartender, or ‘spirit guide’ as he is called, has talent, but he also has a thing for pink cocktails as three out of the six are all shades of rose.
The food menu is a one-page affair with seven small plates, and seven entrees. Traditional French cuisine is front and centre: poutine (two kinds), charcuterie, tourtière, and beef Bourguignon. More modern and decidedly non-French options round out the menu: “tomarrow” (a tomato soup with bone marrow side); Montreal smoked meat carpaccio; roasted hen; shepherds pie, and a seafood feature, among others. The menu will change depending on availability of ingredients.
Of the small plates, we tried the soup, the classic Quebecois poutine, the pork jowl cakes, and the crispy duck.
Slather, dip, and slurp are the three steps required in eating Tomarrow, the creamy tomato soup with grilled brioche and bone marrow. A tad more seasoning in that soup would make this good dish even better.
The upside to this poutine is that it’s pretty fantastic. The downside is that the portion is too small for a full meal, and everyone knows that when a poutine fan sees this Quebecois go-to on a menu, he/she can’t be persuaded to eat anything else. So, more poutine please (and a few more curds wouldn’t hurt, either). That gorgeous gravy, by the way, is gluten free, and vegetarian-based with duck protein added in for extra wow.
Let’s all give pork belly a break and start focusing on pork jowl, like Chartier does—same kind of flavour but less fat, yet still succulent. Two meaty quenelles are presented on a black pepper jam and topped with a sweet and savoury arugula salad. And those plates? Nothing wrong with gilding a lily every now and then. Nice touch.
Deep fried duck bits are tossed with smoked broccoli florets and set atop a puddle of blue cheese and rosemary ganache, an odd combination and not one that necessarily worked. There should have been a presence of one of those strong flavours (ganache + blue cheese?), but it appeared that they simply cancelled each other out. Loved the duck, but that smoked broccoli really turned my head.
On to the entrees: Tourtière, beef Bourguignon, roasted hen and the seafood feature, Arctic Char.
Chartier’s tourtiére is made of bison, pork and confit duck. I have a very strong opinion about this dish: Tourtiére to the French is like sauerkraut to the Germans, as in, you can’t like it unless its in your DNA. Let me know if I’m wrong. A heavy sweet/cinnamon undercurrent reinforced my completely unsubstantiated, biased claim about this misunderstood meat pie.
The beef Bourguignon was a delectable dish of braised beef on top of pomme purée (mashed potatoes) with an accompanying mixture of pear and bacon-roasted mushrooms. Hands down, the dish of the day.
It was with the next two dishes where things started to go sideways.
The components here are chicken, ratatouille, grilled brioche, fried egg and jalapeños. Had the menu stated that jalapeños were part of this ingredient parade, I doubt I would’ve ordered this dish. Not that I don’t like jalapeños, but more I would’ve wondered what purpose they serve. The same could be said for the egg as well. And the brioche. That poor chicken, tasty as it was, just got punked.
Confusion appears again in the seafood feature: a piece of char is set on a grilled sourdough slice which cantilevers into a bowl of bacon, leek and garlic chowder that also sports a bobbing 64 degree duck egg. I appreciate a skilled chef, I really do, but sometimes chefs with skill get a little skill-happy. Remember, I’m the one who always says a soft egg on anything makes everything better. Not true in this case. After mixing the soft egg into the chowder, the texture was actually off-putting, and, the soggy bread and marginally overcooked fish didn’t help matters.
For dessert, we went with the beet and vanilla cake, the tarte au sucre (sugar tart), and the creme brûlée.
Surprisingly, the beet and vanilla cake got the thumbs up from almost everyone in our party, even from the guy who doesn’t like beets. Had that creme brûlée been allowed to set more, it would’ve received my vote. It was the sugar tart that caught my attention with its salted whiskey ice cream topping.
On CBC, I said that the food was fantastic, and it was, for the most part, but I also alluded that Brochu hasn’t found his ‘rustic, French Canadian groove’ quite yet. He will though, and when he does, I can guarantee there won’t be a jalapeño in sight.