Modavie: Old Montreal Jazz Haunt Meets Restaurant
December 24, 2014 | by Evelyn Reid - I've known about Modavie for years. Memories of an artichoke pizza I nervously dined on during a business meeting with my boss in a past life circa 2005 immediately springs to mind. A self-confessed dark horse in his field, he was, to put it lightly, an unconventional shrink sought after by Fortune 500 types in the nebulous, shark-infested realm of corporate executive behavior analysis and prediction. And until my recent revisit to Modavie, that meeting was the only thing that sprang to mind. It was one of his favorites haunts too. Staff knew him by name.
Known for its choice Old Montreal location, live jazz, polished service and French bistro cuisine with a Mediterranean feel, the sad part is Modavie's reputation -just look at its rank on Tripadvisor- went right over my befuddled head. I was too focused on keeping pace with the unsung, demanding genius in front of me, making sure I used the right fork while maintaining impeccable posture and taking copious notes on matters that would get my hiney sued or worse, if I let my mind drift for an instant. In some fields, there's just no room for error. You're almost safer turning your back on a hungry predator.
So nearly a decade later, I decided to go back, but this time with an unfettered mind. And an empty stomach.
Modavie: All That Jazz
Every evening at Modavie involves live jazz. Fridays and Saturdays generally feature trios belting out jazz standards laced with pop, R'n'B, soul and even reggae classics and hits on the restaurant's second floor. The night I went, everything from crowd-pleasing Fleetwood Mac to lesser-known hip hop jazz maverick Robert Glasper made it into the mix. The vibe is upbeat and the crowd can get boisterous depending on the table, but within reason. Sundays through Thursdays offer a lower-key experience with jazz duos on the ground floor, paces from the bar. A purist Montreal jazz club, Modavie is not. But that's okay. Some people yearn for comfort and familiarity. Jazz improv is music to some ears. To others, it's cacophonic punishment. Different folks...
Modavie: All That Food
Now here's the thing with Modavie. You need to drop preconceived notions of what happens when dinner is paired with song. It's easy to assume, oh, great, here we go with another dinner cabaret complete with schmaltzy cruise line entertainer channeling Englebert Humperdinck as I'm forced to stomach lackluster chicken soaked in a mysterious, water-thick "sauce."
My experience was the polar opposite. The venue is elegant, service is smart, and musicians follow the pace and pulse of the room, so much so that if you're not careful, you might just fall into the music. I did by dessert.
And the food. Let me start off with one word: LAMB. Get the lamb. Be it the sesame-covered rack with a side of goat cheese or the six-hour braised pulled lamb on millefeuille pastry puffs, just do it. Vegetarian? Fine. Get the mushroom risotto or the pasta penne, Modavie's more popular meat-free dishes. The roasted beet salad with feta and mint sounds killer but I didn't try it so I can't vouch. By the way, if you plan on getting the rack of lamb with goat cheese or a cheese platter, consider a glass of Tawney port as a digestif. That port was made to follow up goat cheese, swiftly complementing and then removing any lingering dairy tartness with a lush sweetness coating the mouth as it goes down.
Appetizers? Okay. Moot point first: onion soup au gratin. The cheese and bread gratin was generous. And quite nice. The problem lay in the actual soup. It was thin on onions, depth and flavor. In the spot, I speculated that it was as if the kitchen wasn't expecting as many onion soup orders that night and perhaps thinned out the broth to keep up with demand. Can't say if it was an isolated incident or not. Next: three seared scallops topped with cherry tomatoes and herbs. WIN. The plating was lovely, the kitchen obviously knows the exact moment to take those finicky bivalves off the fire and the balsamic reduction paired with tomato sauce and pureed peas brought it all together. Beautiful. And the fried calamari was perfect. It's a tricky dish to get right. Even when you manage to fry the calamari just right -30 seconds too short and it's a recipe for food poisoning, one minute too long and you might as well dine on a rubber boot- eating more than a few pieces can cloy the system, especially when most places that serve them side up the over-oiled seafood with a thick, mayo-based sauce. Modavie cuts through that awful heaviness. Its fried calamari tastes light, isn't covered in grease, and it comes with two sauces, one a tart marinara and the other mayo-based but acidified. The mayo's typical heaviness is cut with a dose of vinegar that lightens the whole dish. Absolute ace strategy. It's also a big enough appetizer to share.
Desserts? All housemade. I tried the tiramisu and apple pie. Both great.
Modavie: Dress Code and Crowd
There's no overt dress code at Modavie. What I can tell you is patrons are generally dressed smart casual and business casual. Mind you, nobody will crucify you if you, gasp, arrive in jeans. Age-wise, it's baby boomer heavy with a solid show of late twenty, thirty and fortysomethings. The atmosphere is sophisticated while free of haughty airs. Not stuffy at all. Romance and date potential? Absolutely. Just keep in mind that the vibe has volume. "Quiet" and "intimate" are not the first words that come to mind.
Prices at Modavie are mid to high end in the evening. Expect a three-course meal for two with alcohol, taxes and tip to exceed $200 CDN, as was the case when I dined on a Saturday evening. But that amount can realistically be halved. Or doubled. It all depends on what you order and whether you side that with a glass of wine. In contrast the lunch menu is quite accessible: all dishes are under $20 -many are under $15- and come with soup, starters and sides. Note that live jazz is in the evenings only.
Modavie Business Hours
Sunday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations recommended but not required. Usually open on statutory holidays, including Christmas and New Year's Day.
Modavie Contact Info
1 St. Paul West, corner of St. Laurent
Montreal, Quebec H2Y 1Y6
Tel: (514) 287-9582
Note that prices, hours of operation, the live jazz schedule and menu items are subject to change without notice.
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