Feel like crashing a boisterous soirée in the cramped-but-adorable living room of a friend? Then call ahead and book a banquette at the bistro-oyster bar, Joe Beef (2491 Notre-Dame St. W.; 514/935-6504; dinner for two $80). Having named the place after the legendary 19th-century Montreal innkeeper, owners David McMillan and Frederic Morin channel his ebullient hospitality into this vest pocket-size space, which manages to be both down-home and branché. Inspired by whatever Morin feels like cooking that day—not to mention his deep affection for bacon and cream—the blackboard menu pushes all the right buttons with a cozy mix of Gallic-Canadian standards (rabbit ballotine or sole meunière) and New England inspirations. The deeply flavorful chicken legs, braised in crayfish-infused cream and brought to the table in a red-lidded pot, prove that cuisine grand-mère is alive and well. Slow-simmered beef might come garnished with a towering marrow bone. Clams, crab, and lobster tend to be prepared with minimum fuss (though sometimes overcooked). But the soul of the place is the oyster bar, where world-champion shucker John Nil—he’s the one with the tattoos—tends to his sweet, briny Cape Bretons and Malpeques. Don’t stop at a dozen.
L’Atelier (5308 St. Laurent Blvd.; 514/273-7442; dinner for two $75), a streamlined, airy storefront in the trendy Mile End district, is a virtual primer on boutique Québécois foodstuffs. Black-and-white photographs of produce adorn the walls; the owners’ passion for local duck, rabbit, venison, and even bison and horse fuels the kitchen’s bold, meaty flavors. Scenesters gather on a brown banquette under a log-paneled wall to share small plates of crisp wonton-skin ravioli filled with boudin noir, and terrific house-made charcuterie. Though the menu doesn’t offer English translations, someone will be on hand to explain the ingredients of the wild-rice risotto scattered with escargots and foie gras shavings, or to recommend that you try the poutine—a vernacular grease-bomb of fried potatoes, gravy, and curd cheese, reinterpreted here as fat Yukon Gold frites under a cap of pulled rabbit, dabbed with barbecue sauce and curls of nutty Allegretto cheese.