Casavant montreal restaurant

Casavant imports a bit of Parisian restaurant magic with freedom to innovate and explore

This Villeray restaurant is a neo-brasserie that romanticizes Parisian institutions while allowing itself the freedom of exploration and innovation.

Casavant, which opened in the fall of 2023, takes its name from the grandmother of co-owner Matisse Deslauriers (ex-vinvinvin). Conceptually, it’s a place that’s steeped in nostalgia — a neo-brasserie that romanticizes Parisian institutions while allowing itself the freedom of exploration and innovation. Occupying a sweet corner storefront in a picturesque part of Villeray, it feels like a place ripe with potential — a neighbourhood restaurant with staying power. I could feel the buzzy energy of the place as I approached the door, and despite the frigid winter weather, I can already picture groups of good-looking 30-somethings spilling out of the doors, wine glasses in hand, for a mid-meal cigarette. I immediately liked Casavant; I like what it stands for and the type of Parisian restaurant magic it’s attempting to import. 

Joining Deslauriers in the venture are Geoffrey Gravel (also ex-vinvinvin), Amélie Demchuk and Chef Charles-Tristan Prévost, who most recently worked as the sous-chef of Club Chasse & Pêche. It’s the first solo venture for the foursome and the first head-chef job for Prévost. As a concept, the brasserie is a good jumping-off point. It’s beloved and uncomplicated. It can be upscale and pricey (like Paris’s Grande Brasserie) or far more utilitarian. In any case, the recipe is fairly simple: make the food good, don’t reinvent the wheel and don’t bite off more than you can chew. In my pre-dining research, I came to learn that the goal of Casavant was to become the new “after-work” hangout for the restaurant industry — l’Express for a new generation. Big shoes to fill if you ask me.

Casavant is beautiful and striking in its design, which was realized by powerhouse design firm Ménard Dworkin. It’s contemporary, for sure, and I like the fact that they’ve made no attempt to recreate a typical French brasserie. Instead, they’ve used an elegant and elaborate tile mosaic on the floors, burnt ochre banquettes and white oak (or a similar light wood) tables. The main attraction, however, is the back bar — a spectacular wooden cabinet bursting at the seams with neatly organized bottles of wine. It’s got a Bar Raval look to it (although far less brooding than that Toronto establishment) and it’s absolutely lovely. 

So too is the wine list by Deslauriers, the man behind the import agency À boire debout. Deslauriers’s list features plenty of products from his portfolio along with a decent helping of references from the world’s best producers. It’s worth mentioning, I think, that creating an exciting wine list (especially a natural wine list) is becoming harder and harder. With limited allocations for sought-after producers and small quantities in general, it’s often the established spots that get all the best stuff. The occasion called for something good and something French — to me that nearly always spells Burgundy and so we selected a bottle of ‘21 Bigotes from Frédéric Cossard. It’s a lighting-in-a-bottle type of Chardonnay, the kind of wine that’s generous yet energetic and textured (in a round and silky way) while having driving minerality that makes the wine an absolute pleasure to revisit sip after sip. 

The menu is structured in what is becoming the new standard format: smaller plates at the top and bigger ones at the bottom. We started with a duo of surf ’n’ turf-style dishes, beef tartare with smoked mackerel and scallop crudo with chorizo from Pascal le Boucher. At face value, beef tartare with mackerel is not a particularly tasty-sounding proposition. I’ve eaten many a tartare in many formats and I have particularly liked versions that incorporate high-quality anchovy, and though smoked mackerel and anchovy are quite different fish, I figured they earned the benefit of the doubt. Good thing, because the combination absolutely works. The beef tartare receives the same basic preparation as any classic tartare save for the addition of the smoked mackerel, which has been whipped with mayo to make a sort of rillette that’s folded into the tartare. It brings the additional depth of flavour you’d expect from oily fish but the smoke is also a quite pleasant addition.

The scallop dish was a bit disappointing to me. When I read it on the menu, I thought, “How clever,” a rendition of the oyster and chipolata dish famously served at l’Avant Comptoir Mer in Paris — where, I should add, sausages are served in scallop shells. It was a conceptual home run for me. My disappointment, I admit, comes in large part because the dish I was presented with did not at all resemble the dish I had concocted in my mind. Hardly their fault but, then again, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity, no? The dish we received was a much more elaborate composition of sliced raw scallops in a shallow pool of green oil, topped with pickled red onion, Mujjol caviar, a heap of microgreens and a middling chorizo crumble. It’s not a bad dish but it’s not particularly interesting either. If you call the dish scallops and chorizo on the menu, that’s what you should get. Instead, this was a dish that felt overworked and a bit insincere. In my particular dish, the chorizo seemed almost entirely absent. I think it’s a combination that could easily work well, say a few chunks of well-seared chorizo served with princess scallops dressed with lemon and the rendered chorizo fat — just spitballing. In any case, not bad but not great either.

For the main course, we opted for something opulent — half a pintade (guinea fowl), roasted until golden and served with a vin jaune sauce and morels. A rendition of the classic Bressane dish poularde aux morilles, this is all about luxurious ingredients and rock-solid cooking. Casavant’s version is generous in portion, meant to serve two but could comfortably serve more. The pintade is as golden as advertised and sits in a glossy, dark brown pool of jus. The sauce, which is delicious, is also atypical. Generally, a vin jaune sauce will be made with a good dose of cream and have a much paler complexion, but I actually prefer Casavant’s version. The morels were roughly torn and lacked their characteristic plumpness but it’s not exactly morel season in February so they can’t be held accountable for that. Although it does beg the question, why put a morel-centric dish on the menu when it’s not morel season? To round out the dish and add a bit of starch, Prévost included some roasted sunchokes whose natural nuttiness was a perfect match for the oxidative qualities of the vin jaune sauce. While the dish was impressive, it also fell a bit short in terms of cuisson. Pintade is meant to be cooked medium rare or medium at a maximum, like duck in that respect, but I found the cooking to be on the rarer side of medium-rare, even for my tastes. It was a busy Friday night and I suspect that the bird was not given sufficient time to rest before hitting the plate — a somewhat understandable error, but an error nonetheless. 

On the whole, Casavant is a beautiful restaurant with a really stellar beverage program. As for the food, it’s got promise for sure but it definitely needs some fine-tuning. I think what it boils down to isn’t a lack of skill or know-how but more that the menu is missing an established point of view. I expect that the confidence and cohesive vision will come as the team matures within their space — it is, after all, still early days for Casavant. With that said, there is already great maturity in the service, which is effortlessly warm and consummately professional — something I’m overjoyed to see. For the time being, I’m not convinced that Casavant will become the next l’Express but I am confident that it will establish itself as a well-loved restaurant in this city. Though it may not go down as one of Montreal’s most revered and cherished institutions, being a good restaurant in this town is still something to be very proud of. ■

For more on Casavant, please visit their website.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

For more on the food and drink scene in Montreal, please visit the Food & Drink section.