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Dec 8, 2007 07:06 AM

comptoir à vin « bouchonné »

Joined a friend for dinner yesterday at the city's newest wine bar, open since Wednesday. In its previous incarnation, the small space (around 35 tightly packed seats) was Checkpoint Charlie's last stand. A gorgeous old bar dominates the room; the open kitchen (with an electric range!) is behind it, where the bartender would normally be, which means the room is filled with wave after wave of aromas (obviously not ideal for wine appreciation, but less bothersome than at places like À l'os). A banquette running the length of the room faces the bar. The space between the bar and the front window is filled with high tables and counters with bar stools. The dominant colours are wood and red and the lighting has a warm, incandescent glow; it all makes for a cozy place to spend a winter's evening.

The menu is short and composed mainly of small plates. Lots of meat, a little seafood (including oysters on the half shell) and a grand total of three vegetable sides (mushrooms à la grecque, leeks vinaigrette and, and... I forget, but something marinated). A vegetarian would have to content him or herself with that trio, some deviled quail eggs and a short but enlightened assortment of raw milk cheeses. Based on our choice of dishes and the smells emanating from behind the bar, I'd say savoury is the operative word when it comes to the cooking: escargots à la bordelaise (cooked with bone marrow and shallots, mellowness on a plate); a gratin of sliced boudin, tripe and Yukon Golds (one bite had my initially hesitant friend keeping an eye peeled to make sure he got his fair share); venison carpaccio (slightly warmed, drizzled with olive oil and served under a thatch of mini-arugula and Parmesan shavings); and an off-menu thick slice of bacon braised in semi-sweet wine and topped with squash purée and insanely delicious "croutons" (paper-thin slices of baguette fried crisp and seasoned I know not how), the standout in a pretty impressive lineup. A small plate of 18-month raw-milk Comté came with slices of superb and superbly toasted walnut bread, roasted almonds and a minimally sweetened apricot compote. There's also a short dessert menu, which we didn't check out.

Written on blackboards over the banquette (meaning you have to leave your table to take it all in), the wine list comprises around 35 bottles and is just studded with the kind of hard-to-find, off-the-beaten-track wines I find impossible to resist, like a vin jaune from Overnoy or a 2001 Priorat "Clos Mogador" from René Barbier (the resto had two of the six bottles sold in Quebec). All the wines are available by the 5-oz glass, carafed in 500-ml increments or by the bottle. There's also a short list of wine duos, two 2.5-oz servings of wines that share a connection (a Petit Chablis with a Chablis Grand Cru, for example).

Service was friendly and attentive, though a few kinks remain to be worked out. We had to ask three times before receiving our first bread basket, including twice after our first flight of dishes arrived. No water was offered or provided. The menu was explained to us twice. But, hey, the place was hopping and it was their third day in business.

All in all, immensely satisfying. Bouchonné shoots straight to the top of the city's list of wine bars, alongside or maybe even surpassing BU.

comptoir à vin « bouchonné »
9 Fairmount East
514 273-8846
Open evenings seven days a week and for lunch on weekdays

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  1. After that huge write up, I'm not sure what I have to add!

    I'm lucky enough to live a few blocks down from Fairmount & St. Laurent, and I've watched this place with anticipation. I finally stopped by tonight and took a seat at the bar. Imagine my surprise when, half an hour later, carswell tramped in.

    What can I say, I'm in love. The atmosphere is fantastic: cosy, inviting, and warm. The wine list is peppered with "must try" items, including the aforementioned Vin Jaune, which at $25 a glass made me choke a bit, but well worth it. The waiter suggested the aged comte; it arrived accompanied by a toasted nut bread and almonds, delicious and simple.

    If you have half a chance, definitely stop in and give it a try.

    2 Replies
    1. re: phedre

      My biggest regret about Friday's dinner was not having had the opportunity to taste the vin jaune, a rare bottle of a quirky wine from one of the Jura's most idiosyncratic and idiomatic producers. Hence the repeat visit tonight for a pre-dinner snack of Comté. Yes, $25 is steep but vin jaune is expensive (the 1999 Tissot and Rolet sold at the SAQ retail for $69 and $63 a bottle respectively), the pour was generous (despite the fact that vin jaune is sold only in 620-ml bottles) and, a fact both of us have neglected to mention, the wine was nearly 20 years old (the 1989). I savoured every penny's worth.

      1. re: carswell

        Oh, the vin jaune was worth every penny. I'll grant you that! I look forward to my next visit... probably tomorrow!

    2. Couldn't agree more. By the way, I think the name goes the other way around: Bouchonné -- Comptoir à vin.

      3 Replies
      1. re: TomMorg

        Could be. I took the name from the announcement of the opening I received. Haven't seen a business card. As I recall, the name isn't printed on the menu or wine cards. There's no sign or other identifier outside. The answering machine message refers to "le bouchonné" period. Will try giving them a call during business hours, or maybe the lucky phedre can drop by and ask.

        1. re: carswell

          And force myself to have yet another glass of the vin jaune? What a horrible punishment.

        2. re: TomMorg

          Picked up a business card yesterday. You're right about the name. bouchonné -- comptoir à vin.

          A dense mushroom and milk soup/purée garnished with a slice of smoked sausage (morteau?), cheese shavings and whole parsley leaves is as intense a mushroom experience as you're likely to find. The suckling pig steak -- pan-fried and finished in the oven, served with onions and the slightly enriched cooking juices -- is huge, succulent, delcious and a great match for a glass of Volnay. As reported elsewhere, the cupcake -- I was allowed only a bite -- is another intense experience, a dense-bordering-on-gooey profundity of chocolate and walnut with an elusive flavour (when I inquired the chef replied "You mean that haunting flavour? That's my secret."). A steal at $3. The nuts notwithstanding, not vin jaune-friendly; the by-the-glass Pedro Ximenez would probably be a different story.

          The oyster selection has been doubled, with Pickle Points joining the Lucky Limes.

          The vodka chiller is way cool, especially when they turn it off and it's not.

          And that Prioriat mentioned in the original post was a special cuvée, "Manyetes", 70% old-vine Carignan and 30% Grenache.

        3. I hate you guys, really!!! I think I will spend all my christmas "allowance" in that small restaurant.

          spend part of the evening there tonight, got to taste a few dishes, and couple of wines.

          The marinated salmon, served hot (but not cooked) on a bed of coliflower purée really good; then the escargots(see other post) and finished with the braised bacon with a watercress soup (server separatly).

          All the food was very good and well seasoned.

          for the wine, i did not indulge myself with the vin jaune. I started with a glass of champagne (Lassaigne) followed by a glasse of Chignon (Savoie) and a Cotes du Rhone (Petit Pif).

          A very nice experience, and I take back the bad joke I tried to make about the name of this new restaurant.

          1. Surprise surprise, I ended up at Bouchonne for dinner again on Friday night with a friend who hadn't been yet. We were both completely blown away - a much repeated phrase over the evening was "Oh my god." from both of us.

            We ordered half a dozen devilled quails eggs (75c per egg), which were devoured with glee, sprinkled with crunchy rock salt. My partner absolutely swooned over the shrimp sticks, and my plate of three cheeses was to die for, but what do you expect of a place where a former manager at Hamel picks the cheeses.

            My companion had the special of the night, a salmon tartare which he said was divine, and I had the venison with shaved grana padano, savory and delicious. I'll admit I was tempted to get the mushroom and sausage dish that I'd had the previous evening, but I decided to try something new, and I wasn't disappointed.

            For dessert I once again had to have the cupcake, while my partner had a chocolate torte. I tried a bite and it was lovely. I still prefer the cupcake though!

            All of this was accompanied by wines suggested by our waiter, who was both knowledgeable and personable. My friend declared the entire experience sublime, and was thrilled to know about the new "hot spot" before it became too busy to just walk in and get a table on a Friday night.

            Another amazing experience at my new favourite dining establishment!

            1. Sounds wonderful! I can't wait to try it -- do you know if they take reservations, or are they not really necessary just yet?

              4 Replies
              1. re: susannajones

                Yes, they take reservations. 514 273-8846.

                Are reservations necessary? Depends on the evening. Last I heard, it's been nearly full on some nights, quiet on others, with no discernible pattern. I'd expect that once it gets reviewed -- and you can be sure it will -- reservations will be de rigueur. For now, they're probably just advisable. However, if you prefer to sit at a table on the banquette or in a chair, reserve. Otherwise, you may find yourself on a barstool.

                1. re: carswell

                  That's not such a bad thing! The barstool overlooking the kitchen is my favourite seat in the place.

                  1. re: phedre

                    True though the kitchen perch is a less viable option if you're a party of four, say. Ditto for the counters along the wall and the front window.

                    And I'm awfully glad we had a table on my first visit. To our amazement, after leaving we realized we'd spent nearly five hours at the place. Had we been sitting at the bar, I'd probably have called it a dead end.

                    1. re: carswell

                      Definitely go for reservations. I tried last Thursday and they were full.