La Table Cachée Menu Extra

Working out the tasting menu conundrum at la Table Cachée

“Here’s the thing about tasting menus: I don’t like them. So when I caught wind that the talented team behind the popular pandemic-era venture Menu Extra was hosting a series of private, fixed-menu dinners, I was torn.”

Here’s the thing about tasting menus: I don’t like them.

More often than not, they’re overly conceptual, overly elaborate and inconsistent. The idea of a curated multi-course meal is right up my alley but for some reason (maybe ego, maybe food costs), tasting menus are frequently just a parade of hits and misses that lack any real sense of cohesion. So when I caught wind that the talented team behind the popular pandemic-era venture Menu Extra was hosting a series of private, fixed-menu dinners, I was torn. 

Menu Extra is known for taking dishes emblematic of French gastronomy and making them accessible to home cooks. Their meal-kit service ranked, for me, amongst the most memorable meal experiences of the last few years. Chefs Francis Blais and Camilo Lapointe-Nascimento along with sous-chef Han-Julien Lachapelle and Jean-Philippe Goneau impressed many in Montreal’s restaurant scene with their precision cooking and thoughtful distillation of the restaurant dining experience. Over the last two years they threw some really lovely looking dinners in vineyards around the province — I figured if any group of cooks could change my mind about tasting menus, it’d be them.

Now in its seventh or so edition (depending on how you count their various pop-ups), Menu Extra’s la Table Cachée is a relatively straightforward concept: four services over four nights — 20 seats per service. The evening includes a generous 10-course menu plus wine pairings. It’s somewhat secret, highly exclusive and comes with a whopping $295 price tag — per person. For context, that puts this meal in league with Toqué (about ~$300 with wine pairings) and above Damas (~$250 with the premium wine pairing), which positions their offering among the most expensive in town. For a meal served in what’s ostensibly a converted garage, it’s a bold proposition that feels like uncharted territory for Montreal. 

Menu Extra is located on the northwest corner of St-Laurent and Fairmount, directly opposite Larrys. When I arrived at 7 p.m. for dinner, the garage doors were open and I could see a long table draped with pressed white tablecloths at which sat a number of well-dressed 30-somethings. Walking through the door, I was greeted by Menu Extra partner and sommelier Alexis Demers who greeted me warmly and promptly served me a glass of rosé bubbles from the cult Ardèche winemaker Anders Frederik Steen — just my kind of welcome. I was guided to my seat, which was directly next to the open kitchen. 

There isn’t much to say about the dining room because this location isn’t really a restaurant. It is, in nearly every regard, a makeshift dining room inside of an industrial prep kitchen. However, it was a beautifully arranged table setting, dressed with Lehmann glassware and modern sliverware complete with sweet little ceramic cutlery rests. A special point of attention goes to the lighting, which delivered on the “intimate dinner party” promise by way of proper candles artfully dripping down their simple yet sophisticated candleholders. It made for an elegant juxtaposition that rang true for the “hidden table” concept. The kitchen and service staff, for their part, were clad in meticulously clean whites and aprons. With soft soul music playing in the background, Demers came around to my end of the table, topped up my glass and presented me with the menu for the evening: 10 ingredients, 10 courses. 

The atmosphere was buzzy and convivial. Two servers whisked around the room while the kitchen, on their enormous kitchen island, began plating the first course: a little tomato and olive tartelette, or chausson, really. A variation on the classic Provençal pissaladière, this small but highly appetizing morsel of stuffed puff pastry was buttery, rich and sweet thanks to concentrated tomatoes, described as having been given a charcuterie treatment, which I understood to mean lightly cured. The hit of briny olives added a lovely touch of salt, although I wouldn’t have minded a bit of anchovy for the full Provençal experience. In any case, an excellent start.

A small note: for the sake of brevity, I won’t describe every dish that was served that night. Instead, I’ll stick to describing the things that left the greatest impression and that I think best illustrate the experience. Most everything was good, some less, some more. 

The first dish to make an impact on me was the “Tuna” course, which comprised two generous slices of raw bluefin tuna in a plum vinaigrette with currants. Served in a small ceramic bowl set within a larger bowl filled with crushed ice, it was a lovely sight to behold. Taste-wise, I initially found the dish to be lacking something — a touch of salt, maybe an extra bit of acidity — it all tasted very round. That was until I took a sip of wine. For this course, Demers cleverly paired the Surfer Rosa from Australian winemaker Ochota Barrels. A bright and savoury blend of Pinot and Grenache, the wine provided a salinity that brightened up the fish, and with notes of Damson plum, the wine emphasized the fruit and acidity in the vinaigrette. Separately, I think this dish and this wine are so-so but Demers demonstrated an adept ability to achieve a pairing greater than the sum of its parts  — something much easier said than done.

Logistically, however, there were some imperfections. The kitchen and service teams were working in near-perfect harmony to get the food in front of diners in a succinct and well-coordinated fashion. Once the food hit the table, however, the vibe changed. Blais would emerge from the kitchen and, in circus-barker fashion, would call the room to attention and then yell out the description of the dish. I mean, it did the trick, I suppose, but in a particularly indelicate way. Considering the lengths this team goes to deliver a highly refined experience, I found it to be a bit incongruous. 

The next course was a section of roasted Chinese eggplant, sliced lengthwise and garnished with puffed rice and ginger with a dollop of deep brown “barbecue sauce” made of Jerusalem artichokes. Paired with la Soif du Mal, a blend of muscat and macabeo from Languedoc winemakers, les Foulards Rouges, the dish was aromatic and complex with the brightness and heat of fresh ginger effortlessly balancing the deep and funky flavour of the sunchoke barbecue sauce. Following the eggplant was a particularly excellent flatbread, billed on the menu as “poivron.” Warm, fluffy and impossibly tender, the charred flatbread was served with a whipped roasted pepper butter and a type of oily peperonata. Who doesn’t like a piece of warm bread and butter? Flatbread is such a pan-cultural food and, in all of its iterations, is delightful and altogether comforting. Menu Extra’s was non-regionally specific and the butter hit notes of Calabrian bomba, Muhammara and even Balkan Ajvar. I could have eaten this dish a dozen times over. The bread was paired with the Listan Blanco from Tenerife’s Borja Perez, which was smokey and saline with a stony minerality that comes from the rocky, volcanic soil on which the vines grow. 

The least successful course of the night was the halibut and corn dish: a petite square of steamed halibut set in a velvety corn chowder flecked with bits of jalapeño and pancetta. On the menu, corn and halibut were listed as two separate courses. Leading into this course, we were served a surprise (and absolutely delicious) pesto gnocchi course, and were told the the corn dish would follow. I only mention this because when the corn and halibut course arrived, it felt as though it was a bandaid fix for something that went wrong during prep. To serve a soup at this point in the meal felt disjointed and in terms of concept it felt like a departure from the rest of the menu. It was tasty, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t a great corn dish nor was it a particularly great halibut dish. From what I know this team can do, I would have expected more, especially from the fish course on a $300 menu. Demers, continued on a high note, however, pairing Faia, a Chenin blanc from Anjou by way of ex-Vancouverites Kenji and Mai Hodgson, which brought acidity and freshness to compliment the richness of the fish and just enough residual sugar to support the sweetness of the corn. 

As the evening progressed, the polished aspects of the atmosphere started to come a bit undone. The smartly curated playlist moved away from the sophisticated soul vibe and into a mix of early 2000’s club bangers, including one particularly jarring transition to a too-loud Lil Jon track. I’m not going to pass any judgement on whether the music is good or bad, I respect the subjectivity of taste, but it’s a big ask for me to appreciate the nuance of currant to a backdrop of “Get Low.” It might be small potatoes but it’s details like this that make the difference between a good experience and an exceptional one.

Redemption came in the form of some delightful veal sweetbreads, served with girolles and an unctuous veal reduction. Paired with Gamay from Bugey’s la Vigne Du Perron, this was the dish I found best reflective of the style of cooking I most associate with Menu Extra. Classic, perfectly cooked and utterly delicious. The final savoury course was an exquisite chicken roulade (breast meat rolled around minced thigh meat) served with a luscious concord grape jus. A perfect example of fine technique and pitch-perfect cooking, the poultry was stunning and its jus, a deep purple puddle studded with gently burst berries, is something I will not soon forget. It was paired with barbera from Northern Italian winemaker Cascina Corte — a lovely pairing to be sure although I might have liked something with a bit more brambly to stand up against the concord grape. Regardless, it was a standout hit of the evening.

La Table Cachée Menu Extra Montreal review tasting
La Table Cachée by Menu Extra

With two courses remaining, the wine pairings ended. As the kitchen prepped the first of the two dessert courses, Demers and co. went around the room offering wine lists to patrons still interested in drinking or for those hoping to take a few bottles home. While I suppose ending the pairings with the savoury courses can be forgiven, what’s a little harder to look past is the fact that the announcement of the end of the pairings and the introduction of the wine lists meant that for the remaining two courses the servers were entirely occupied making wine recommendations and fetching bottles from the cellar. As servers became salespeople, a very lovely melon and vermouth palate cleanser went almost entirely unappreciated and the final course, a vin jaune crème brulée with pommes noir was enjoyed as somewhat of an afterthought. Both desserts were delightful and the crème brulée was one of the best dishes of the entire meal. At the price point, I would have expected the pairings to continue straight through dessert. Why not serve a glass of vermouth alongside the melon granité, for example, or a splash of vin jaune with the crème brulée? I found it to be a somewhat anticlimactic end to what had been a lovely meal.

I suppose another thing about tasting menus that irks me is the reality that more consideration, more elaborate menus and a much higher price tag do not always coincide with increased generosity. To their credit, everything was served with great hospitality and by no means did I leave needing a slice of pizza on the way home (not true of every tasting menu experience I’ve had), but for the very steep price tag, I supposed I expected a bit more. I understand that this is a for-profit venture and I want them to make their buck, but this is a dinner party, no? My feeling is that guests should leave feeling spoiled. To that end, most of my feelings about tasting menus remain unchanged. Menu Extra was able to put together one of the most complete and cohesive menus I’ve had in ages, but to call it faultless would be an exaggeration. With that said, I have no doubt that these dinners will only continue to get better — as is, it’s far and away the best tasting menu I’ve had in Montreal. 

If you have the budget and you’re looking for a truly unique dining experience in Montreal by one of the tightest kitchen crews on the scene, I would highly recommend booking a seat at la Table Cachée. Oh, and you’re in luck. A new edition of the dinner series is being held from Oct. 12–15 and again from Oct. 19–22. ■

This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

For more details and to make reservations, please visit the Menu Extra website.

For more on the Montreal restaurant scene, please visit the Food & Drink section.