The critic for the Montreal Gazette writes up a different kind of restaurant this week in Cul-Sec. The relatively new outfit from chef Martin Juneau, Louis-Philippe Breton, and Jonathan Primeau, is part of the Pastaga, Mr. Crémeux, and Le Petit Coin family in Little Italy. Chesterman has been a big booster of Pastaga and likes the buvette-cum-caviste concept of Cul-Sec: patrons can sit and enjoy a few bites with a glass or purchase a bottle to go with a takeout food order. All in all, a nice alternative to the SAQ's monopoly: "So when I entered Cul-Sec for dinner one night and saw many bottles that were new to me imported by some of the most innovative wine agents (including Oenopole, Rézin, la QV, Glou, Vin Libre, Prima-Vin, Les Vieux Garçons and Ward et Associés in which Juneau is a partner along with ex-Pastaga sommelier David Ward), I gasped. What fun!"
The critic notes, however, that as a sit-down restaurant "we were here to taste the fare of chef de cuisine, Francis Duval." Cul-Sec's food menu is driven by small plates like tartines, salads, and tartares. Chesterman endorses most, such as "the charcuterie platter presented on a large silver tray featuring four varieties of saucisson, none homemade, but all Quebec in origin and delicious." Smoked fish with radish, cucumber, ricotta, and roe is "lovely." Duval's tartare gets a major plaudit from Chesterman as "one of the best" in town, and a grilled chicken caesar salad puts "all those cloying commercial Caesars to shame." Only a panzanella lets the critic down. An ice cream sandwich from Mr. Crémeux ends dinner on a sweet note.
Chesterman is a fan of the concept and, for the most part, the food, but warns that for some, the price of Cul-Sec's bottles could be an issue. "If you consume wine in-house, the bottles are sold with a very fair 15-per-cent markup. But when you want to buy one to go, you’re faced with wines that, for the majority, are over the $30 mark. Ouch." Still, as a place to discover some cool, not-available-at-the-SAQ wines, and that serves good food to boot, Cul-Sec compels. Two and a half stars on four from Chesterman.