Meet MTL’s next-gen Portuguese chicken

It wasn’t like the Plateau and Mile End had a dearth of Portuguese chicken, but now there are three more options for it: Rôtisserie Mile End Churrascaria, Café Smile and Ma Poule Mouillée. In the name of journalism, we tried them all.

Rôtisserie Mile End Churrascaria

Though residents of the Plateau-Mile End are generally spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants, there are certain gastronomic essentials that are woefully scarce. Good Chinese, for one (or, really, most Asian cuisines). A decent pizza joint, for another. But one thing that no one would ever lament is the inaccessibility of Portuguese chicken.

Still, that hasn’t stopped inexpensive fowl-heavy fare from popping up at three newish locations in the borough — Café Smile (5486 St-Laurent), Rôtisserie Mile End Churrascaria (100 St-Viateur W) and Ma Poule Mouillée (969 Rachel E). Their menus may not be so different from neighbourhood institutions like Romados and Portugalia, but these aren’t the down-home grills and rotisseries of yore. We had the quarter chicken (leg/thigh) with fries at each to compare.

It’s hard to imagine that the Ubisoft lunch market is robust enough to sustain two very similar restaurants within two blocks’ distance. But it must be if Café Smile decided to revamp itself from an unexciting breakfast and lunch café into a Portuguese operation on a stretch of St-Laurent not far from where Rôtisserie Mile End Churrascaria lies. But though they serve pretty much the same kind of food, you wouldn’t frequent them interchangeably.

Café Smile

Café Smile still seems to be going through an identity crisis. With a coffee window up front, signs advertising 5-à-7 tapas and haphazard decor (what’s that piano doing at the entrance?), it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, but the food is okay. The grilled chicken itself wasn’t bad, but the fluorescent orange chili-oil sauce set it at a severe disadvantage to its nearby competitor. It does boast a one-up in the fry department with heavily seasoned, albeit greasy, crispy fries. It must rely more heavily than Mile End on the lunch, as it was empty at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, while the pleasant terrasse around the corner was full.

Mile End, though older than Smile, has the sheen of a new place and decor that’s more elegant than the rustic, tasty food. It’s a smoother operation in every way, with fast waiter service (there’s also takeout). The chicken, roasted over charcoal à la Romados, is then briefly grilled and is served nicely charred and moist with a jar of good piri-piri sauce. The fries, however, were unseasoned and underwhelming. Order the roast potatoes instead.

It would take a lot to challenge the revamped Romados’s reign on Rachel, and Ma Poule Mouillée lacks its authenticity with its sleek confines and studied social media presence. That’s not to say that the food isn’t authentic or that it even wants to rival Romados.

Ma Poule Mouillée

But comparisons are inevitable, as Ma Poule Mouillée prepares poultry in the same way (roasted over charcoal). Its addictively seasoned fries are also similar, and its wan salad is similarly underwhelming. It’s cheap (my quarter chicken, which came with fries and salad, was $8) and, as the menu declares, includes “les maudites taxes.” The cutesy meal names — “Le Tremblay,” “Le Louis Cyr,” “Bon, les Portugais font de la poutine!!!” — and the pre-established (if slightly confused) Twitter “hashtag” (@MaPouleMouillee) may be a bit grating, but the succulent chicken and the piquant homemade piri-piri sauce make up for it. Eat it while scoffing at the line-up in front of la Banquise across the street and at the line you can be sure exists down Rachel at Romados. ■

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