Restaurant Review | Small dishes and great pleasures at Nolan
Why talk about it?
To kick off the year in style, we returned to a neighborhood restaurant that seemed full of promise on our first visit last summer: Nolan’s in Griffintown. Inventively prepared seasonal and local vegetables and tempting cocktails are on offer in this cute, friendly venue that operates without reservations.
Who are they ?
Nolan was born from the encounter between two groups. On the one hand, Matthew Shefler and chef Vincent Lévesque Lepage, duo known for the Knuckles restaurant in Villeray; on the other, Julien Bétancourt and Abel Garcia (Clandestino), who have accumulated several years of experience in catering, as well as their good friend Paul Aoun, a great traveler who acts as an external critical eye. Shortly after the opening, the latter trio finally took over the shares of the other two partners and are now at the helm of the boat. Julien signs the wine list and Abel that of the cocktails. In the kitchen, Tyler Flamand (Foxy) puts on his chef’s hat.
First week of January, when several restaurateurs choose to close to breathe a bit. Fortunately, on this frosty Saturday evening, Nolan shines like a beacon in the night at the corner of Notre-Dame Ouest and Saint-Martin streets. The place is full as an egg, the atmosphere is already sparkling and the evening is well underway. Since it is impossible to book, we have to wait a bit before finding a seat. Meanwhile, honey and I take refuge in the hidden Henden of the Bird Bar, right next door. One glass later, we already have our place at the bar; a comfortable cocoon where we immediately feel at ease, already convinced that the evening will be beautiful and good.
Because Nolan is the kind of place where the magic happens from the front door. All the elements contribute to this sensation: the restaurant, charming and welcoming, furnished with taste (no trace of the old Nini’s Polpetta can be recognized); the service, absolutely impeccable while remaining relaxed and friendly (special mention to Alexis, the bartender, who served us); and finally the short, stimulating and creative menu, which highlights local and seasonal products.
In just a few months of existence, Nolan managed to build and assert his personality. While the wine shop is undoubtedly behind the times with its small plates and locavore menu, we’re far from being served reheated food.
The small dishes rise before us, in two servings, and make our happiness with no clouds on the horizon. The signature dish “Nolan Rolls” are a treat imbued with a touch of nostalgia not to sulk. Tall and Montreal version of the “cheese stick”, the plump sticks are covered with a light and crunchy panko crumb, which reveals under the bite a mixture of dark Emmental, smoked meat and sauerkraut, to be dipped without depriving yourself of the creamy pepper sauce reds, which you could eat with a spoon!
The elegantly crafted trout gravlax is creatively prepared. The pronounced taste of Quebec wild trout is refreshed with a brunoise of pickled cucumbers and marinated shallots; sweet and savory maple-tapioca chips and chunks of fish skin, dried and then caramelized with a torch (no waste!), add a nice crunch to the whole thing.
Vegetables are very well represented. The tempura-fried oyster mushrooms, topped with a homemade “baseball” mustard emulsion and another with green shallots, are an absolute hit – we’re still dreaming about it! Very subtle and well-balanced, the red and yellow beet dish is served with house-made whipped ricotta, a crunchy green onion and lemon balm oil, and a pumpkin seed granola. “A game of textures around the beet”, sums up the enthusiast (and budding food critic).
Very al dente (perhaps a little too much for our tastes), the pumpkin should be served cold (good idea?), with smoked tomato powder, smoked apple butter and caramelized onion compote. Many elements in this slightly destabilizing and less unanimous dish on our table. Something that did not happen with the homemade cavatelli, immediately preferred, inspired by cacio e pepe. An enveloping and meaty dish, based on curly kale, tender roasted parsnip cubes and Quebec shiitake, wrapped in a rich brown butter sauce and Clos des Roches cheese, from the Grondines farm.
In our glass
The wine list is full of discoveries and often leaves room for novelties. As an aperitif, the very fine bubbles in the traditional method of winemaker Franck Peillot (Bugey Montragnieu Brut) were perfect for whetting the appetite. The Quai à raisin, a white suggested by Julien, offering a nice minerality and a slightly nutty blend of macabeu and grenache, was a great companion to this more than satisfying meal. Downside: It’s hard to find bottles there for under $65.
Special mention to the venue’s very inspiring cocktail menu, which works a lot on bitterness, freshness and acidity – think amaro, vermouth, cynar, campari, etc. As an after-dinner drink, Child’s, an “inverted dirty martini” in which red and white vermouths steal the show, washed down with Citadelle gin and olive juice, provided the perfect end to the evening.
Small plates range from $12 to $21; cavatelli retail for $27, and you’ll pay an average of $40 for the heartier dishes (arctic char and sirloin during our visit). Cocktails cost around $15.
Good to know
The menu is very vegetarian; vegans will have to inquire, because butter and cheese are present. The room is not particularly suitable for people with reduced mobility, as the toilets are in the basement.
Nolan is open every day, except Tuesdays, from 4pm to 11pm.
1752 Notre Dame Street West, Montreal