Intentionality is a trait that often gets overlooked in the restaurant industry. It’s more than what a restaurant serves, its concept or what’s on the wine list. Intentionality is self-reflective and can be felt in every aspect, from the decor to the service and from the menu to the soundtrack. When a restaurant’s intention is clearly defined, and the team understands that each element of the restaurant works in support of the other, you get something extraordinary. There are only a few restaurants that I can think of that have a strongly considered intention and even fewer that manage to clearly articulate that intention while pulling off a faultless dining experience. I’m happy to say that, after an exceptional meal, I can comfortably add Foxy to that list.
Opened in 2015, the restaurant owned and operated by Dyan Solomon (Olive + Gourmando and Un Po di Piu) and Éric Girard has earned a reputation for being very good. As a chef-owner, Solomon gets a lot of praise for the exceptional quality of the food at her restaurants but she would be the first to acknowledge that the success of her establishments rests in large part with the staff and management who run them. That’s her real gift, I think — she, more than almost anyone, is able to identify, nourish and empower talent. That, and I believe she truly understands hospitality. Her vision is comprehensive, which is to say she gets the bigger picture and she nails all the details. In other words: she just gets it, and not everyone does.
Despite being widely beloved, Foxy somehow doesn’t come up much in the circles I run in. I can’t say exactly why that is. Maybe it’s the tucked-away Griffintown location, or the name, which sounds more like a supper club than a proper restaurant. But if you’d asked me two weeks ago what I had to say about Foxy, I’d say that people seem to like it and that it’s known for wood-fired cooking. Both those things are true, but that description is far too reductive — Foxy is the only restaurant of its type in Montreal, and based on my most recent meal, I’d argue that it’s one of the best restaurants in the city.
My dining companion and I came to eat on a particularly frigid Friday evening. It was -20 or so, perfect weather for sitting by the fire. Immediately upon entering, the room envelopes you in this dark and moody atmosphere; not dark and brooding though, more cozy and sophisticated — romantic even. You get the sense that you’re not in Montreal anymore, maybe New York or London. I digress, I made the point before that Solomon’s gift is surrounding herself with talent and that starts at the front door where we were greeted by Montreal hospitality stalwart and Foxy’s director of hospitality, Véronique Dalle. Dalle, who has been called Montreal’s “Grande Dame of Sommellerie” by legendary sommelière Veronique Rivest, is a wine educator who has trained a generation of the city’s best wine minds and who has put together exceptional wine lists across the city — most notably at Pullman, where she oversaw the wine program for over a decade. Not a bad team captain.
As we settled into our seats by the front window overlooking a scene of frozen city streets, the sweet and unmistakable scent of the wood oven wafted to our table. Suddenly, as if by magic, it was as if we were cozying up to the fireplace for a hearty winter dinner. Back to the décor for a moment. The room has this mid-century modern meets industrial look. Wood and metal combine in different ways throughout the space and the colour palette is decidedly black and brown with touches of gold and brass. With the scent of wood and smoke lingering in my nose, I suddenly got it: the entire room is designed to recall the wood oven. Even the brick wall, which is painted matte-black evokes charcoal — it’s all on purpose. No matter where you’re seated in the restaurant, you can smell the oven and you’re reminded of its existence. A point for intentionality in design.
Okay, time for a cocktail. Foxy’s cocktail list, like most everything at the restaurant, is unconventional but highly considered — it’s also a bit on the pricey side, with drinks ranging from $16–$30. My dining companion opted for a classic martini, which she described as being the best that she’s had. I for my part took the recommendation of the Labrusco ($16), a mix of gin and Chilean pisco with sage, lime, long pepper and a concord grape syrup made of last season’s preserves. Served up, the indigo-hued libation was vibrant and spirit-forward. The gin’s juniper profile pinged off the long-pepper’s floral spice and the vinous quality of the concord grape added body and structure for a drink that properly whetted the palate. A perfect aperitif that arrived just in time for a trio of snacks.
The menu opens with a succinct selection of snacks: oysters with a seasonal dressing, a “three-layer” dip and gougères. We opted for the works. The oysters, served on the half-shell, came dressed with a sort of ginger and coriander mignonette that made for a very pho-like profile. Simple, tasty and great with a cocktail. The three-layer dip, served with a side of crispy potato chips, consisted of a sort of brandade, which was topped with Mujjol caviar and finished with a blanket of chives and dill. Beautifully seasoned, the brandade had the texture of a light rillette and spread easily onto the chips. If you’re a chip and dip person — and I am — you will love this dip. The gougères, I am almost ashamed to admit, were one of the best bites of the night (among an unrelenting parade of delicious bites). These messy morsels are craquelin-covered profiteroles filled with a luscious mornay-like smoked cheddar sauce flecked with little bits of crispy prosciutto that burst from the beautifully airy choux pastry and onto your fingers and plate. As I said, it’s a bit messy but it had us smiling from ear to ear. What can I say, I guess I’m a sucker for a cheeseball.
Foxy’s reputation, since 2015, was owed in large part to Leigh Roper, a Vin Papillon alumnus who ran the kitchen until 2021. Under her direction and in collaboration with Solomon, Foxy’s menu focused heavily on animal protein — that is to say, meats on the grill. Nothing wrong with that. However, after permanently stepping back from the kitchen two years ago, Foxy’s hearth is now under the direction of a new chef, Catherine Couvet Desrosiers. Roper leaves behind big shoes to fill, especially for Desrosiers as this is her first ever time leading the kitchen as its chef. She is, without a doubt, equipped for the role. Though quite young, Desrosiers’s resumé includes time spent at Marconi, Bouillon Bilk, the late Hotel Herman, le Petit Mousso and, most notably, the Michelin-starred Manfreds in Copenhagen — some of the most meticulous, creative and technique-driven restaurants around the world. Dalle and Solomon each view Desrosiers with admiration and see her as a welcome change of pace for the restaurant. Under her direction, animal proteins are down by nearly half in favour of seasonal vegetables.
One thing that hasn’t changed on the menu, however, is the feta. A staple since day one, the cheese is always the same — only the garnish changes. On this particular occasion, the feta (my guess is that it’s a blend of sheep’s and cow’s milk) was topped with tender rounds of braised leeks, a soft-boiled egg and a handful of parsley all dressed in an anchovy vinaigrette. It’s an exquisite little plate of cheese and herbs. The feta is silky and fragrant and briny without being overly salty. It acts as the perfect counterpart for the richness of the egg yolk. The herbs bring a touch of vibrancy, as does the vinaigrette, but if I’m splitting hairs, I would have liked the dressing to have a touch more anchovy. What makes this dish, however, is actually on the plate next to it — a beautifully puffed and charred round of pita cooked to order over charcoal. Brilliant.
Accompanying the feta was an order of beef tartare. Put through the meat grinder, Foxy’s tartare may have a slightly unusual look if you’re used to hand-cut tartare. That method, however, has its advantages; having been gently ground (only a single pass-through) means that any tough bits of meat get mixed in with the more tender parts, yielding a more consistent texture overall. Taking a North African approach, the tartare is topped with a roasted pepper and chilli condiment that tastes like the middle ground between Turkish ajvar and Spanish romesco. The lot is topped with a small pool of preserved ramps in oil. After the recommended vigorous mixing, the resulting dish is electric. The tender beef is enlivened by the warm bite of chilli and the smokey quality of roasted pepper, the ramp adds depth but also a touch of welcome acidity. The tartare is served with a few slices of sprouted rye bread, which adds a bit of crunch for texture. It’s an absolute pleasure to eat and one of the best tartares I’ve had in recent memory.
Our next course presented the most iconoclastic duo of dishes of the evening: cacio e pepe spaghetti with black truffle and a flatbread — a pizzette, really — topped with squash purée and kimchi. Before I talk about these dishes, I want to briefly comment on the wine. Dalle’s list is long and the references are deep — suffice to say, there is no shortage of exceptional wine at all price points on this list. Dalle herself, however, is the cellar’s greatest resource. As we discussed the wine, I see the gears turning; she’s combing over the list and digging through the cellar. We briefly talk Burgundy — maybe deep rosato from Tuscany. Ultimately, she emerges from the cellar with the last bottle of Karmin No. 9 from Austrian winemakers Christine & Franz Strohmeier. A complex rosé made of Blauer Wildbacher, it’s elegant and somewhat earthy, with just the right amount of young red fruit and present acidity. “You’re having this,” she says with authority. She couldn’t have been more right. The menu at Foxy is eclectic — it jumps around in terms of style and cuisine seemingly at will. While that’s a quality that I usually see as a negative, it makes perfect sense at Foxy. They’re not creating a menu in accordance with a region or cuisine or a particular style, but based on seasonal availability and the ingredients that are best suited to the open flame. That presents a challenge for anyone building a wine list because it requires flexibility, creativity, an ability to select wines and winemakers that are atypical. It also requires the know-how of a sommelier who can pick a wine that can start with feta and tartare and carry over to a kimchi flatbread. If anyone would be up to the task, it’s Dalle.
We all acknowledge that the rosé and the cacio e pepe isn’t the greatest pairing, but who cares? We’re at peak truffle season and the toothsome pasta finished in a pan over an open flame has taken on the slightest hint of smoke that seems to have awakened some usually more muted qualities of black pepper. It’s not entirely traditional but it is entirely delicious. The pizzette, however, is the wine’s perfect match. The bubbled, gently charred crust works perfectly with the earthy and somewhat flinty quality of the wine. The sweet and creamy squash purée is lent acidity by the wine and funky notes of fermentation present in both the wine and the kimchi find balance and harmony in each other. When a pairing is right, the food is made better by the wine and vice versa. Both dishes were fantastic and a perfect example of the range of cooking that this kitchen can execute.
The final dish was, for me, revelatory: a take on chou-farci, a Savoyard dish of cabbage stuffed with minced pork. Desrosiers gives her chou-farci a mille-feuille treatment, layering mint-inflected braised lamb between layers of steamed savoy cabbage. Pressed, seared, and served by the slice, it’s a dish that is seemingly simple and that tastes so beautifully complex. It reminds me so much of what I loved about Hotel Herman and what many of my favourite restaurants do so well, to restrict themselves from unnecessary flourishes and to cook with precision. This is a dish that was about two things: cabbage and lamb and not only did Desrosiers succeed in celebrating both ingredients, but she also managed to produce the best dish I’ve had all year. Sensing that our rosé might be a touch too acidic, Dalle arrived with perfect timing to serve us a glass of Grenache Noir from Laurence Manya Krief of Domaine YoYo in Banyuls. Rich and bold, Krief’s Grenache tastes of dark fruit, wildflowers and Herbs de Provence and it sings alongside our chou.
Each course, the pacing, the wine and the ambiance is dialled in. Each dish is ordered to build an arc for the meal. For dessert, we shared the mignardise for two, which included tender paté de fruits, crisp chocolate chip cookies with chewy centres, miniature bites of tarte au citron and two profiteroles filled with what I’d guess was a take on banoffee. All the bites were excellent but bookending our meal with the sweet rendition of the gougères that kicked off the meal was a subtle wink and a stroke of genius.
We in Montreal have such an entrenched restaurant culture. Dining out comes as second nature. I think that it can make us complacent, or at least our exposure to it means that we see dining out as quotidian. Foxy reminds us that dining out can and maybe should be an occasion. I left my meal not just impressed with the beauty of the room, the competency of the service or the quality of the food — I left with the sense of having experienced hospitality in its truest form. My experience as a diner was left in the hands of a team of professionals who, at every stage, ensured that I was being taken care of. More remarkably, as I looked around the room, Dalle and her team were working it with poise and efficiency yet always had time to share an embrace with a regular, to discuss wine and the menu at length, to fill a glass with champagne or fetch a coat from the rack, all with seamless orchestration. All around me, delighted guests were experiencing exactly what I had experienced. It takes a lot to make an impression like that on one person, but on an entire dining room on a busy Friday night? That is the sign of a truly exceptional restaurant. ■
For more on Foxy (1638 Notre-Dame W.), please visit the restaurant’s website.
This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of Cult MTL.
For more on the food and drink scene in Montreal, please visit the Food & Drink section.