Jean-Michel Leblond, a.k.a. John Mike, the brains behind the organ meat centric Tripes & Caviar food club, never wanted a restaurant. "It was the worst-case scenario," Leblond told Eater in 2014. "Even to this day I'm wondering why the fuck I did it. I understood the hours. I grew up in the restaurant business and I knew what it was all about. So I was like, never. Never. Forget about it. There's not enough money in it." Despite his reticence, Leblond's Verdun restaurant, dubbed the Castle, is on the verge of its three-year anniversary.
While Tripes & Caviar has won a measure of fame beyond Sud-Ouest Montreal — the restaurant was featured on an especially depraved episode of "Chef's Night Out", the series by Vice Media's Munchies brand — it has not garnered a critical take since La Presse's Marie-Claude Lortie gave it a modest thumbs up in November of 2013. Why have other critics hesitated to write up Tripes? Fear, hints Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman this week: "[F]ear of being served something I can’t bear the thought of putting in my mouth. We’re talking seal brains, pig rectums, veal penises and lamb lungs, and let’s throw some live insects in there for good measure."
Chesterman knows Tripes well. The critic wrote an article about Leblond's madcap food club before it went brick-and-mortar, but review-wise, chose to "hold back until they toned down" the emphasis on viscera and such. Leblond comes from a cocktail background, and Chesterman enjoys two drinks to start, made with gin, aloe, cucumber and bitter celery, and Cynar, Bénédictine, Luxardo maraschino and sweet vermouth. General Tao brains hits the table first. Served with marinated cucumbers and kimchi, the Chinatown take is "good enough." An excellent Caesar salad follows, but the star app is a Tripes signature — salmon's head: "Doused in a coconut-based curry sauce and spiked with two sparklers, which were firing away madly as the platter hit the table, this fish head was a triumph."
Two of three main dishes score. Chesterman dismisses sweetbreads, carrot purée, and Brussels sprouts, but loves the kitchen's porchetta, served on herbed spaetzle. Another dish, pig’s cheeks, patatas bravas, tomatoes, cauliflower, and chimichurri sauce "is a hit." "If you think you don’t like offal, taste these delectable jowls and get back to me," writes Chesterman. Unfortunately it all ends on a sour note with two bad desserts. One, a chocolate ganache, "ranks as one of the laziest desserts" the critic has ever tasted. Still, despite the hiccups, the daring Tripes & Caviar earns a respectable two and a half stars on four. "Any old restaurant can serve you red wine and steak/frites," concludes Chesterman.