Pointe-St-Charles is getting a new Laotian food spot on Thursday, June 24, with Sep Lai opening on Centre Street, on the corner of Charlevoix.
The new day-to-night restaurant takes over the premises of now-closed neighbourhood BYOB Machiavelli, but comes from the same team, including chef-owner Natassia Marier, who’s leading the metamorphosis.
Sep Lai will dish up spring rolls and egg rolls, from fresh to fried and even mozzarella-filled; salads (including a minty yum salat, made with a traditional egg yolk dressing); and soups, such as a spicy red curry khao poon with somen noodles and slaw, and a chicken broth-based wintermelon option. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu branches out at night to include options like white fish steamed in a banana leaf; Laotian pork sausage meatballs; and maeh thuu jeow, an eggplant and ginger dip.
Marier began working at Machiavelli fresh out of culinary school about 10 years ago, joining the ownership team five years into her stint, but says she never truly felt a deep connection with the restaurant’s offering of French and Italian market cuisine.
“I tried to make Machiavelli my own as much as I could,” Marier says, adding that as its chef she’d routinely inject Asian flavours when she saw an opening, leading to dishes like tom yum spaghettini. “It worked out. People liked us. .... But it was never my concept. It was a pre-established menu. The clients were already there, and they were used to the escargot, the bread and butter, and the pastas,” she says.
Since opening in 2006, Machiavelli has garnered a faithful neighbourhood following that would regularly stop by for those dishes — and continued to do so even once the pandemic forced the restaurant into takeout mode. “Even though we were doing well takeout-wise, I knew that it got to the point that I just didn’t want to make another carbonara in my life,” Marier says.
After the second round of government closures, Marier told her partners as much, expecting that she’d have to part ways with the restaurant in which she’d earned her stripes. Instead, they offered her the creative latitude to trade in the meats and heavy creams for more veggies and leafy greens in a menu inspired by her Laotian mother’s cooking.
One thing locals will be pleased to hear, however: The BYOB model isn’t going anywhere.
Machiavelli permanently closed after Mother’s Day, and Marier has been working on developing a new menu and renovating the space ever since. Expect a more open and airy configuration that allows Marier to engage with patrons from the confines of her kitchen, and new bar seating conducive to solo lunches of fragrant soups, herbaceous salads, and crisp, deep-fried spring rolls.
Marier’s mother once ran a restaurant specializing in the stuffed cylindrical snacks, and as a child Marier would sit by her side learning how to tuck the fillings securely into their shells, thinking of herself as a de facto assistant. The name Sep Lai, Marier says, is Lao for “That was delicious!” — the reaction that her mother’s food would so often elicit. These days, however, it is her mother doing the assisting, frequently joining in on recipe development sessions and staff meetings via FaceTime, and it is Marier who’s likely to soon hear that pronouncement about her own cooking.
Sep Lai will open Thursday to Sunday, from 5 to 10 p.m., and for lunches beginning next week, at 2601 Centre Street.