I love raw meat. There you have it. When I cook ground beef, you can be assured I will have at least a little pinch of the raw stuff before cooking it up for spaghetti sauce or forming it into patties for burgers. So, steak tartare is one of the pleasures of my life. I don't eat it much because it can be done so poorly. The meat can be too sinewy, the restaurant can be too sketchy, or the waiter can use Ceasar salad fixings instead of steak tartare fixings (this happened at El Gaucho in Portland - a story for another time). And it's not a common item on menus in Portland.
During my wanderings in Old Montreal on Saturday, I passed a few restaurants that served steak tartare. It had been my plan to stay in the area for dinner that night, but the dark and cold set in around 5, and I couldn't find a way to while away enough time to stay for dinner. I decided tonight would be a perfect night to venture away from the area around my hotel for dinner; I can't watch the Blazer game anywhere and there isn't any good TV on, so why not spend time walking and riding the Metro instead of wasting time in my hotel room?
I picked a restaurant in my Lonely Planet and headed there after work. The Montreal Lonely Planet that I have was printed in 2004, so it's a little old. I could not find the restaurant I was looking for on Rue Notre Dame Ouest, but I happened upon L'Assommoir, a place featuring numerous varieties of tartare on their menu outside the door. I couldn't resist.
Upon entering, it was obvious this was a popular after work happy hour type place. It was packed. The hostess offered up any open seat, and as I walked down the long bar, I realized the only open seats were covered in coats and purses. I found a solitary empty chair at the very end next to the place the waiters come pick up their drinks. I didn't think my entree choice was up for much thought, but after seeing deer tartare on the menu, I was intrigued. I called the bartender over, ordered a dirty gin martini and asked for his recommendation between the steak and deer tartare. He gave a no-thought answer: deer tartare. And so it was raw deer for me.
Apparently there was some issue in the kitchen, so my dinner was a bit delayed. I was perfectly happy reading my book and drinking my martini, but apparently the bartender felt bad. He brought me plantain chips and salsa on which to nibble while I waited.
I only got through two of these massive chips before my dinner arrived.
The pictures do not do this meal justice (though, I should be proud that I braved taking pictures at all - it is a bit humiliating using one's Blackberry with flash to take pictures of one's meal at a nice, crowded place). The tartare was spectacular. There is really no other way to describe it. The meat was perfectly tender and not gamey like I expected out of deer. It was mixed with toasted hazelnuts and nestled on a bed of parmesan shavings and, of course, topped with a quail egg. It reminded me of Oregon. Something about the combination of a game animal and hazelnuts.
I broke the egg out of the shell before remembering to take the pic, unfortunately.
After the meal was finished and my place cleared, the bartender came over with three shots, called the other bartender over, and told me that I was going to do a shot with them so they could apologize for making me wait so long for my food. Oh those Canadians and their hospitality. What started as a bit of an awkward seat at the end of the bar ended in shots with the staff.