In a letter sent to Eater Montreal today that touches on a wide range of topics, Sylvie Lachance, the co-owner of the critically-acclaimed Van Horne in Outremont, is unabashedly frank about her restaurant's ups and downs, as well as what she sees as some of the less fortunate trends on the Montreal food scene.
What follows, with full permission, is a translation of Lachance's text.
Van Horne has been in existence since 2011 - we celebrated our third anniversary on April 21.
We have received all kinds of honours (sixth-best new restaurant in Canada in 2011 from enRoute) and excellent reviews from here and elsewhere in the world.
When our original chef, Eloi Dion, left us, we tried something different. We became "terroirists" with a radical proposal that went further than most to source local products.
I must say that we were wrong in that sense. We had the courage to do it - maybe we were too far ahead of our time, maybe what we did fell short of expectations. In short, it did not work and we turned the page.
The current chef is Jens Ruoff. He is 28 years old and of German origin. He is not a hipster, has no tattoos on his arms and does not serve homemade sausage on wood planks.
We do not have cookbooks for sale, nor a sugar shack, much less a television show. We cannot be a Relais Châteaux given our size, nor do we want to. We do not personally know Anthony Bourdain or René Redzepi.
We believe less and less in food bloggers that we invite because they are omnipresent and their views become diluted and less credible. We do, however, believe in the power of social media. We also believe in traditional media and we hope that food critics remain food critics.
We have a true sommelier who knows wine and is able to understand what a client wants. We offer friendly service and our servers - who wear real shirts - really know how to describe the dishes. The walls of Van Horne are not wood or concrete but we have real works of art and a true totem [see photo].
The profound nature of our cuisine is simple gastronomy. We also serve a tasting menu of five courses for $58. This is a bargain.
Our room seats 30 and we have one chef, one sous-chef and one dishwasher. We cannot even say that we have a brigade.
Without pretense, I think in our category (simple, affordable gastronomy) we have the best restaurant in Montreal.
I say this because I dine in restaurants like Van Horne in Montreal (and elsewhere) and unlike many of my fellow restaurateurs who do not move around, I make the effort - to see trends, to compare, to be able to improve. When I say the best - it is on the basis of culinary knowledge. If a blogger or journalist cannot recognize a good lobster bisque or recognize a perfectly executed piece of fish, it is very difficult to evaluate us on a scale of taste. Obviously, we're not perfect and we make mistakes.
There are too many restaurants in Montreal and not enough customers. In addition, the average customer - one who spends and goes out to restaurants on a regular basis - is not loyal because he follows trends and often gets lost in the maze of new pasta dishes and charcuterie and, unfortunately, confuses real restaurants with wine bars.
In addition, and this is a new global trend that is most striking here in Montreal - every chef wants to open his own restaurant or food truck. There are six that saw the light of day this spring and others will open shortly. In addition, we are located in no man's land (Outremont) - which means that we are not in Mile End, or in Old Montreal and even less so in Griffintown.
We are not dying at Van Horne but it is unfortunate, given all the hard work we do, to be forgotten so often.
If you come to Van Horne the night of a hockey or football game soon, do not forget that we do not have screen - but we will be pleased to inform you of the score.
Van Horne, 1268 avenue Van Horne, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.