298 pl. dYouville (Old Montreal)
Open every day from 4:30 p.m.-11:p.m. all major credit cards. 282-1837
Here are the basics: great steak and seafood, attentive servers dressed in faux 18th-century blouses and dresses, two hundred year old building with wonderful ambiance. So what's wrong? Well, this is the perfect place if you want to bring your folks for a birthday meal (and Lord last night there must have been a crew singing Happy Birthday and slugging out the house cakes every five minutes). This would also be a good place to entertain the out-of-towners on an expense account. So what's wrong?
Well, imagine a Jewish steak house that really wanted to be a French restaurant when it grew up. So we get dill pickles and a loaf of warm bread on the table along with real bacon bits and sour cream, and that's before we order. There are a slew of à la carte steak and seafood dishes (lobster at $32 a pound, 2 pound minimum caught my eye . . . but not for long) and a list of table d'hôte steaks, lamb chops, veal chops and fresh fish ranging between $25 and $30.
For that there is a starter (soup, salad, or tomatoes with onionsremember the deli roots). Main courses come with rice, potatoes and vegetables. Coffee and dessert are extra. The portions are huge. The steaks are good but not great. The filet mignon was very tasty and the rib steak was an inch thick. The blackened Cajun-style artic char was superb and the grilled tuna was tasteless. Methinks it spent too much time on the grill, as it had a thick charcoal coating not unusual when the heat isn't high enough to sear.
For dessert there was a good ice cream sundae, a decent although not drop-dead chocolate mousse and crême brulée that was a little gritty in texture and had raspberries atop. The problem is that the portions are huge and don't quite make sense.
On a bitterly cold night, the soup de jour was gazpacho. Hey, what's wrong here? And it wasn't even tasty. The salad had great croutons, a standard French style vinaigrette and could have been half the size. The one appetizer we ordereda chopped steak jalapeño sausage with mango chutney, was surprisingly flat. Yeah, the peppery taste was there but otherwise bland. Don't know how they did it but they did.
So in summary, great for entertaining. Impressive portions. Good but not outstanding food. Super service. Your mother or great aunt would love it. Me? Well, there is better food in lots of places. I must be getting old. I'd rather have half a dozen small dishes, each of which was superb. So Giggby'sgreat for gourmands, less so for gourmets.
Reviewed by Barry Lazar
Went to Gibby's, the steak place (notice how the substitution of a word can make all the difference? The word "joint" would have been biased. This is why I am not a restaurant critic) on a "Can it be more than this perfect?" Sunday afternoon with two "friends" and showed up on time for our incredibly early 5:30 p.m. reservation.
This time was reserved because we would be taking in the IMAX films at 12:15 (one of only two shows in Englishthe other was at 8:15 p.m.!) and would be wandering around the Old Port, where Gibby's is, in the interim. If you haven't gone to the IMAX theatre, by the way, do it; it's better than the roller coasters at La Ronde.
Back to Gibby's. I almost had a crisis of confidence when I saw the menu outside. This place is incredibly expensive. Even for Montreal. For me, if there's anything on the menu over $20, not including the alcohol, it's expensive.
I balked. This is where the true meaning of the word kicks in. I was looking at a $200-plus meal for threeeasy. But the nascent restaurant reviewer in me soldiered on and insisted that we try the "expérience à la Gibby's."
Well, it went from shock to worse. The "table by the fireplace" that I had cordially been promised over the phone, in response to my request to be "as far away from the smokers as possible", was in front of the fireplace all right, but the "fireplace" was actually a waiters' work station. The subsequent hubbub was incredible and distracting.
It was also incredibly busy for a Sunday afternoon, the visitors looking to be mostly family types or tourists. The room was preternaturally cramped, in a sub-basement kind of way. I think the 8- or 9- foot ceiling contributes mightily to this impression, although the overall darkness of the decor probably accounts for this and the somewhat seedy, 70s look.
We are not talking nouvelle-anything here. We are talking serious retro, as in the Time Tunnel, circa 1974. This restaurant needs a serious facelift to bring it a full twenty years forward into the 00s.
The waitressesthat's all you can call thembelong in a diner, à la Emil Villa's Barb-e-Q Pit. These fifty-somethings are unkindly stuffed into brown aprons more appropriate for, I'd imagine (never been there) Hooters.
All this did not bode well for the upscale dining experience I was expecting.
Still, the waitperson assigned to us was, in typical Montreal fashion, quiet and polite. No loud "Hi, I'm Emily, and today's specials are . . . ." here. But sadly, that's what was missing. It seemed to us that Emily was just "doing her shift". One of our company kept comparing this unfortunate place to Izzy's steakhouse in San Francisco . . . until I had to tell her to shut up. It was too depressing.
I ordered a Gibson, with extra onions, which is my favorite drink in the whole universe, and was not disappointed. This is good! But the bread that came as an appetizer reminded me of those dinner rolls that you get on airplanes: shiny, chewy and sweet. And the salad was inappropriately huge, almost a first course in itself, towering with mounds of supermarket icebergnot a shred of arugula or mustard greens in evidencedressed in Price Club Italian dressing. A perfect 1974 steakhouse salad.
But the steak! The steak. I always get worried when a restaurant only has on its menu the item for which it is renowned. For example, steak. There's always some recalcitrant individual in the party who just happens to not like steak. Or in seafood's case, seafood. Usually, on the menu, there is one glaring alternative, as in seafood's case, steak.
But not here. There is absolutely no allowance for someone who Does Not Want Steak. No hamburgers, no stir-fry shimp, no kids' menu. It's steak, steak, steak, $25 and up, babyno exceptions. Pretty harsh.
Choosing from a somewhat limited menu, we happened to all choose steak with a form of pepper sauce; one with a green, the others a black peppercorn base. It was tasty enough, but there was too much of it, and. in the case of the two of us who had opted for "medallions de boeuf" the two tiny (at $31.00) rounds of steak were practically lost in the sea of it. Adding insult to injury, the steak itself was, to this taster, supermarket-grade.
Accompanying the steak, "Sizzler"-style, was a choice of baked potato or pilaf, with which I have had enough experience with to be truly wary. "Pilaf" is usually code for overcooked and rather bizarrely-spiced piles of rice of unknown origin.
The steak itself was good enough, which is to say not cooked beyond the state requested, but superlatives only apply to the prices. This is a steakhousenothing less, nothing more, and for Montreal, it's extremely pricey.
And ya can't even get a hamburger.
Three out of ten for Gibby's. Reviewed by Nick Robinson