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Maîtresse, La
1808 Sherbrooke Street West

Telephone: (514) 933-8111
Major cards.
Went to Bistro/Restaurant La Maîtresse on a dreary November evening that also happened to be the anniversary of my birth in a Calcutta hospital. No connection here, except possibly the owner of the place, Vikram Chatwal, who has shared with me both India and Africa as places of residence. However, this is coincidence - never met the fellow and never will.

This place got a writeup in the Gazette on November 1st or so as "what might become Montreal's Bistro du jour." Well, guess what, folks, it's not going to become Montreal's "Bistro du jour." It might become Montreal's "Bistro d'hier" very soon, if it doesn't figure out what it wants to be. What it wasn't was what it was drummed up to be in its opening night with a party attended by quasi-movie stars the Baldwins (has any actor ever deserved the nameplate "quasi" more than this shambling family of thespian mediocrity?)

The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Versailles hotel at the corner of St. Mathieu and Sherbrooke, apparently replacing the old restaurant, Champs Elysées. It's a classy room, green and ochre walls stretching back into the gloom with recessed ceiling fans and dim lamps in curtained alcoves. The sturdy mahoganyesque tables are set widely apart and the bar is a glowing green-glass designer's dream. Very posh.

The service was exceptional, the Maitre d' being sure to point out they'd only been open for a month or so and our eager young waiter hovering like a black and tan bumblebee. The few patrons at the stately hour of seven seemed to be elderly residents of the hotel, not the trendy young celebrity spotters this place is obviously looking to attract. Indeed, according to the waiter, there's sort of a joint deal happening with the (separately-owned) hotel and the restaurant, part of which is that they provide room service.

The menu is fairly small and relatively unadventurous. There was no table d'hôte. The main dishes are in the $15 to $25 range, with the most expensive item being a "seafood platter" at $69—no explanation of ingredients.

I went for an entrecôte with béarnaise and frites ($19.50) and my companion went for the Salmon steak at $15.50. The wine list is not long and is a bit pricey. Our half-bottle of an overly-sweet Bourgogne Aligoté was $14.50.

A mason jar of sweet-and-sour gherkins was brought to the table with a slightly meager basket of good bread. The potage du jour ($3.95) was a vegetable consommé that was a tad salty and unexceptional.

My entrecôte, while cooked perfectly to medium rare, was tough and fatty. The béarnaise sauce was strangely insipid, as was the mayonnaise for the Montreal-style fries (a bit greasy and soft.) In fact, everything seemed to have been prepared with a hesitant hand, as if not to offend the elderly hotel clientèle's delicate palates. The salmon, while hefty, was chock full of bones. Perhaps that's the bistro style, but it's just mainly annoying. Presented with a small array of overcooked vegetables, it was moist and flaky but again had that muted blandness that seems to be a hallmark of the kitchen.

The coffee was mediocre and the dessert menu not too inspiring. Our poor waiter, while clearing the table next to ours, dropped some container or other, which sprayed milk-froth all over our table. The Maitre d' hurried over and offered to "pay for dry-cleaning" but there was nothing to dry-clean. Our waiter disappeared after that.

This place will have to pull itself together a bit and up the taste-factor. Still, it's not overpriced and is a fairly decent stopoff for a casual date, if only for the upscale interior design. Trendy and bland—the perfect place for the Baldwins.

Sample menu (from room-service menu): Fish soup with croutons and rouille (5.95), Smoked Salmon with vodka-chive sour cream (9.75), Filet Mignon Tartare (23.50), Grilled Chicken and Avocado sandwich with French Fries or Salad (8.95), Tartelette du Jour (3.95), Chocolaté de la Maitresse (6.95) —
Reviewed by Nick Robinson

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