In a year that has produced three-star-and-up (on four) raves for Hoogan & Beaufort, La Récolte, Fiorellino, and Pizzeria Melrose, the critic for the Gazette has, more often than not, dined at restaurants that teeter on the edge. Enough elements to recommend, but enough missteps to warrant some caveats, in other words. Enter the two-and-a-half-star review, seen so far in 2016 at the likes of Nozy, Tripes & Caviar (soon to close), Le Margaux, M.Mme, Jellyfish, and Luciano. This week, Lesley Chesterman puts chef Danny St-Pierre's Petite Maison in the same category. If not for some shaky service, and food that feels a bit too safe at times, the critic would have liked the relatively new Mile End restaurant even more.
It's the first review for Petite Maison since St-Pierre obtained his long-awaited alcohol permit, and extended his hours beyond brunch, which, for the record, La Presse critic Marie-Claude Lortie adored. Chesterman is fond of the chef too: "With his ever-present smile, easy laugh and bright eyes framed in stylish spectacles, St-Pierre is a chef whose obvious ambition is tempered with a big dose of charm. On top of that, he’s a great cook (...)." The meal begins with St-Pierre's signature poutine inversée, which the chef sells in supermarkets thanks to a partnership with St-Hubert. Chesterman loves 'em. "I ate two but could have happily inhaled them all."
Two strong starters follow: a beet and feta salad, and "perfect" duck rillettes with onion confit. A ham steak on pappardelle carbonara is delicious, but could benefit from a vegetable to balance out the decadent one-two punch. Hake in lobster bisque with lentils proves that St-Pierre "is an excellent fish cook", and a "luscious" mushroom risotto ends the trio of mains on a high note. Desserts — puff pastry with whipped cream, blackberries, and raspberry sauce; maple blanc manger; chocolate bread pudding, with hazelnuts and cherries — are less successful, however, and leave Chesterman "longing for more." Petite Maison's tidy wine list is well-chosen and priced, and a lot of the food is good, and inexpensive. While Chesterman is "eager to return", she concludes that "with a chef of St-Pierre’s talents I’d like to see a little more complexity in the plates." Two and a half stars on four.