An unexpected place to tuck into a fine meal
If you weren’t out looking for it, chances are, you’d never set foot in Tuck Shop. And not just because its unassuming façade or smallish sign make it easy to miss. It would take a very wrong turn at the Atwater market, or perhaps mistakenly booking a physiotherapy session at one of the nearby massage parlours for anyone but a local to be wandering the forlorn western end of Notre-Dame Street.
Which makes the buzz about this place all the more intriguing: it’s run by a young, but knowledgeable trio — Amelia Stines, Jon Bloom and chef Theo Lerikos — formerly in the Monkland Tavern’s employ; the large contingents of patrons from NDG and Westmount have given the place a definite anglo vibe; and the NY-subway-style glazed white tile walls and casual-but-professional service add to its air of aloof coolness.
I can’t vouch for the area’s other attractions, but judging by my recent experience with two dining companions, a trip to Tuck Shop is guaranteed a happy ending. That is, if you can manage to book a table — call at least two weeks in advance, if you can help it.
Once seated and the menu explained in delicious detail (from memory) by our affable, but professional waiter, we tucked — or rather, tore — into a duo of appetizers: the falafel platter and pork belly with oyster mushrooms. The former dish was easy to share, since there was a crisp ball of falafel for each of us, along with a couscous and tabouleh salad, and thick chunks of marinated turnips. The pork belly dish was a bit more challenging to divvy up, if only because the massive golden cube of succulent meat and sweet pork fat was too good to willingly share. It was served on an earthy bed of mushrooms and cream, and topped with julienned turnip, striped in white and pink.
For the main course, me and one of my companions split the fish of the day, a large Mediterranean sea bass, while our other table mate ordered the butcher’s cut — a 10-ounce slab of pink and juicy filet mignon with green peas and baby artichokes. The sea bass came topped with arugula and roasted tomato salad, all of it served on a mountain of orzo pasta, pine nuts, olives and cranberries. As a seafood lover, I was pleased enough that the selection went beyond salmon and tilapia, but what really impressed me was when our server offered to de-bone and portion the fish at our table, which he did expertly. He even asked if I wanted the head, rather than just discarding it (the most tender and flavourful part of a fish is its “cheeks,” just under its eyes, behind its gills). It was grilled just right, with crisp skin and tender, flaky flesh that married well with the briny-sweet pasta and peppery salad showed off the chef’s chops as well.
Sated, but with a taste for something sweet, I ordered the mocha pot de crème, while my friends both had a classic chocolate brownie à la mode. Neither was able to get much more than halfway through the brownie before finishing the ice cream, and when this was pointed out to our waiter, two ramekins of vanilla goodness quickly materialized, without complaint. Little niceties like that may be why, despite being new and in a dodgy neighbourhood, Tuck Shop has shown it has strong pull.