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Barroco: A Montreal Restaurant Review
barroco montreal restaurant review barocco

Above: lobster with truffle butter and a side of black truffles, available on a seasonal basis.

Photo © Evelyn Reid
Part exposed wood beams à la country cottage, part 200-year-old stone walls meets eccentric Transylvanian castle owner with a penchant for white studded leather seating arrangements, Barroco, a dimly-lit Old Montreal mainstay since 2008, is arguably among the neighborhood’s top five dining establishments, if only for its dedication to hospitality. Management’s commitment to a high staff to patron ratio plays a leading role. I’ve been to restaurants with more than twice the seating capacity of Barroco and yet half the staff working the floor. A cost-cutting strategy for the business, granted. Shoddy service for customers? Close to guaranteed. Barroco clearly grasps this all too common trade-off, refusing to play that game.

Then there’s the food, a combination of French, Spanish and Italian persuasions with a seemingly low priority on plating. Presentation is simple, spartan, mildly imperfect, in tune with the locale’s namesake: in Italian, the term “barroco” came to mean “contorted idea,” “off-kilter” or “bizarre” through the middle ages and past the renaissance era. “Barroco” is also the Portuguese (and Spanish) word for “baroque,” a rough translation of “irregularly shaped pearl.” Imperfect beauty.

Having dropped in without a reservation, my dining companion and I ended up eating at the bar, which, full disclosure, is something I’ve been known to enjoy more than sitting at a table, depending on a restaurant’s layout and the reason for eating out. But not all restaurant bars are manned equally, though, in this case, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover regulars preferring an intimate dinner at the bar than at a table. Bantering with the horn-rimmed adorned bartender -- a quick, clever and well-spoken type -- was freshly whipped icing on the proverbial cake. Not that I had any, opting to seal the evening’s meal with churros instead, Spain’s traditional answer to doughnuts, long prisms of fried dough served with warm, thick melted chocolate dip. Hit the spot, notwithstanding an urge for just a hint more sweetness from the cocoa.

Skipping the appetizers in light of the price tag on the mains -- $28 to $44, not including vegetables, which must be ordered separately at roughly $10 each -- and my intense desire for a side of black truffles on anything I planned on ordering, an extra $15 per two grams, the evening started with a Villa Castello Pinot Grigio, standard wine fare from a fairly extensive list.

The reason we were there at all that evening was courtesy of my dining companion’s longing for a repeat of falling-off-the-bone beef short ribs braised in veal stock, port wine reduction and thyme he’d originally supped on with a side of house parmesan gnocchi the last time he visited Barroco. And he loved it again, even more so with a sprinkling of truffle shavings. The business colleague he ate with that time claimed her gnocchi was the best she ever had.

On my end, the Îles de la Madeleine whole lobster with truffle butter and a side of rapini swimming in butter was nice (more full disclosure: having been partially “raised” by a now ex-step family with fisherman roots, I grew up with access to premium seafood, so my expectations are high). But the cooked crustacean lacked a little punch, flavor-wise. Enter black truffle shavings, the who-needs-sex-or-chocolate-when-there’s-a-steady-supply-of-rare-fungus, a delicacy I had never actually paired with lobster before.

Result? Ultimate. Gustatory. Orgasm.

And the service side of things? Delightful. There was no lack of fussing with at least five staffers on floor duty of an essentially small space of about 50 seats.

Finally, the cocktails. A major draw which had initially lured me through Barroco’s doors a few months prior, think Maple Old Fashioned (bourbon, Angostura bitters, maple syrup and a slice of orange), Hemingway Daquiri (rum, fresh lime juice, maraschino liqueur and fresh grapefruit juice, which Hemingway used in lieu of sugar because he was diabetic) or Sazerac (bourbon, brandy, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters, orange peel and absinthe).

All in all, for such an imperfect pearl, Barroco is unblemished, a best bet for a romantic tête-à-tête, a key business gathering, a tourist-trap-free introduction to Montreal foodism, or a simple, everyday meeting of like minds.

Anticipate spending $250 for two, including appetizers and wine. Dress code is business casual to semi-formal. May through December feature Lobster Shack Sundays: every dish is lobster and/or seafood-themed with a specific wine pairing proposed for each concoction.

Barroco Contact Information
312 St. Paul West, Montreal (map)
Reservations recommended: (514) 544-5800
Barroco website

Review published February 11, 2012.

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