With 29 years of experience in Montreal restaurants, Zach Suhl has just about seen it all.
"When I started out as a cook at Mediterraneo the manager would sometimes come into the kitchen and say, 'This is for a V.I.P. customer.' And I always found that strange. My reaction was, 'I can't do better than I already am.' To me all the customers were the same."
That approach to service informed Suhl's subsequent restaurant, Brunoise. The tidy space on Saint-André in the Plateau felt like a new breed of neighbourhood restaurant when it opened in 2003; one where suburban couples on dates could rub shoulders with politicians, Quebec media stars or, say, U2, and not feel out of place.
Suhl and his partner at the late Brunoise, chef Michel Ross (also of the late and beloved Mas Cuisine in Verdun), recently made over the 33-year-old La Petite Ardoise to try and assimilate that Brunoise ethos on tony Laurier.
Enter the new Wilfrid sur Laurier.
"The experience we're trying to give is more upscale pub or tavern. Never casual in service but with ambience. I'm a stickler. I don't like the service to be casual. But I like customers - and my staff - to be relaxed. I consider ourselves a neighbourhood restaurant. But Laurier is a destination too. It's not purely anglophone, francophone, bourgeois or touristy. It's where Mile End, the Plateau and Outremont converge in a way. What I like about that is the possibility for walk-ups, neighbourhood people and tourists."
As for the food and wine menu (see below), Suhl asserts that at Wilfrid sur Laurier the "main goal is to find something enjoyable at reasonable price-points."
"It's about that approachable middle ground. And I would say it's a bit fluid. We have a starting menu and concept. We're still tweaking it and adapting. The primary difference between here and at Mas and Brunoise is we're going away from prix fixe and going à la carte. That's the main conceptual difference, for two reasons. Firstly, to give the customers some flexibility. Maybe Wednesday they come for a small dish and a glass of wine. Another night the meal can be more elaborate. The second reason is to position the restaurant not as a special occasion place but as a neighbourhood restaurant with refined, creative and seasonal cuisine."
"When I was young I used to watch Cheers all the time. I loved the idea of a place like that - if it's possible to have a Cheers-like attitude in a refined restaurant, that's what we want."
Wilfrid Sur Laurier - Menu