Nouveau Palais (Montreal, QC)

This last week, we spent an extended weekend in Montreal. While we always enjoy a good trip to Montreal, this time we were coming for a specific event, Mondial De La Biere, Montreal’s Beer Festival. This was their 20th year of operation, and Mondial consistently has a good range of both Canadian and foreign brewers come in for a surprisingly low-key event (compared, to say, the Vermont Brewers Festival, there’s no entry fee, just beer tickets, and the crowds are surprisingly light). But one does not subsist on beer alone, so the trip also gave us a chance to both check in on various Montreal favorites, as well as check out some new (to us) places. Our first dinner in Montreal this visit came form meeting up with my friends Rick and Sarah (also in town for Mondial, you can read their travel log on their blog), and their buddy Nick (with daughter in tow). Nick, a Plateau resident, came up with our dinner location: Nouveau Palais, up in the Mile-End neighborhood.

Nouveau Palais is one of those sorts of places you can easily walk by a dozen times, since from the outside it’s one of those older 1940s-style diners that are still somewhat present in Montreal, and quite frankly the look of Nouveau Palais from the outside is “seedy” (er, I think the French term is “miteux”). It’s a little grimey. The sign is two pieces that aren’t perfectly aligned, meaning that that the sign advertises that they sell “Biere Vn Liqueurs”[sic]. And the facade used to be surrounded by hundreds of little lights, of which approximately four are still in existence. Inside, it’s vintage 1940s diner with dark lighting and booths. In fact, until approximately 2011, Nouveau Palais basically was a dive diner. But that’s when the current chef, Gita Seaton, took over the place, and has been redoing the menu. It’s still diner fare, but it’s “upscale diner fare”, with more than a little influence from Southern cooking (that’s Southern US) and Jewish cooking. When we were there, the specials ranged from fried chicken, to mac and cheese, to matzo ball soup, to hamburgers, to eggplant parmiagiano.

Looking over the menu, I had to go for some of my favorites. I started with the wedge salad. Those that dine with me know that the wedge is one of my weaknesses, I can seldom pass by an opportunity to order that classic salad of, typically, iceberg lettuce, bleu cheese dressing, and bacon, and Nouveau Palais’s version was just that (well, it was garnished with a stick of cucumber and half a tomato). It’s not the sort of salad that wins awards, but it’s a classic (along with it’s similar French cousin, the very similarly simple frisée aux lardons). But it showed that, done right, this is still a good salad: the lettuce was crisp and clean (and kept in a proper wedge, you’d be surprised how many places try to serve you a “wedge” salad without the actual wedge). The bleu cheese dressing was particularly tangy, with nice little chunks of cheese. And the bacon was served up in perfectly fried little lardons, with just enough extra bacon fat on them to combine with the lettuce and dressing to make a nice little treat.

Moving on, my choice of entree was similarly straightforward: one of the main items on the menu was fried chicken with bean salad, and I similarly couldn’t resist the allure of such a simple dish. And here they delivered as well: the fried chicken was very nicely done. A perfectly cooked and moist interior with a crispy and spicy breading that was substantial but flakey, this was one of those fried chickens that was obviously made by someone that really appreciates a good chicken. It’s not about to unseat some of my existing fried chicken champions (such as the delectably light and crispy Willie Mae’s Scotch House or Stroud’s in KC), but it was definitely top-tier fried chicken. The bean salad was also no slouch, with a nice combination of perfectly-tender beans and a sharp vinegar sauce.

If I had a disappointment at Nouveau Palais, it was the dessert. Like my wedge salad and my fried chicken, I’m often drawn to Key Lime Pie, and it featured prominently on Nouveau Palais’s menu, so that was my dessert selection. Alas, it wasn’t really Key Lime Pie, it was a rather loose interpretation of the concept, more of a “Key Lime Cheesecake”. The sharp Key Lime notes were there, but overwhelmed by the cheesecake texture and flavor. This wasn’t a bad dessert, but it definitely missed that mark.

That said, I wasn’t disappointed overall with Nouveau Palais, in fact, I was quite pleased. The fried chicken alone makes me want to come back again, and maybe check out some of the other menu options as well; the Palais Burger in particular looked to be a rather good version of a burger.

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