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Laid back and inexpensive birthday

I know there are dozens of recommendations on here, but everyone has their own idea of what casual or cheap means. I'm getting a small group of friends together for my bf's birthday, and I'm seeking a restaurant that fits a few criteria...

- good food! Any kind. Only stipulation is that one of my guests can't do peanuts or nuts. Good desserts would be a bonus.
- not outrageously expensive. To me, this means, between $16-26 for mains. As an example, for his last birthday in Toronto, we went here: http://www.universalgrill.ca/dinnerMe... - a really nice neighbourhood-y place that you can get drinks, courses and dessert without completely destroying your bank account until the next payday
- some atmosphere, but not so loud that you can't hear the person next to you
- not too far from a metro

I still don't know the city that well, I've been going on my own instincts and Chowhound recommendations - but typically don't eat (what I consider to be) expensive dinners out on a regular basis.

I've been to Sparrow with friends - this is close to the kind of place I'm looking for (though a step up from grilled cheese would be nice). Went to Le Cartet for lunch once - if their lunches were dinner at a different restaurant, I'd say that's the perfect sort of place.

Any thoughts? I'm trying to give specific examples of what I'm looking for, hoping that helps with recommendations. Thanks in advance!

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  1. I recommend Nouveau Palais in Mile End (Ave du Parc and Bernard). Back in the day when it was still called New Palace, it was a smoky 24-hour diner and late-night poutine destination with smoky waitresses and a sweet little old man behind the bar.

    A couple of years ago it was taken over by a trio including chef Gita Seaton (formerly Club Chasse et Pêche) and the new menu is great, with lots of fresh, seasonal local produce. They have tasty appetizers (e.g., crabcakes, house-cured salmon salad, matane shrimp, fresh oysters, zucchini fritters, beet or chickpea and fennel salad etc. depending on the day and in the $5-12 range) and daily specials including a fish of the day. Mains are 10-$22 (around $10 for great hot beef sandwich and fries, $10-12 for burger and fries, $12 for great mussels and fries, $16-22 for chicken, ribs, steak, fish, etc.). They also have a vegetable of the day for about $5-6 – asparagus, swiss chard, kale, fresh fava beans, wild mushrooms...

    As for dessert, a three-word email (SWEET POTATO PIE) usually does the trick to get a friend to head up to my neighbourhood. Their chocolate pudding and cheesecake ain't bad either. I've previously asked about peanuts and was told by the waiter that he was pretty sure peanuts are not used in any dishes – but make sure and specify when ordering; the veg of the day sometimes has slivered almonds.

    It's a kid/family-friendly place, with kid portions and prices and they also serve mac and cheese. The staff are really nice. There's a stuffed fox in one corner, which drunken customers tried to steal one night. The booths at the front, in front of the bar, are particularly nice.

    http://www.facebook.com/nouveaupalais

    3 Replies
      1. re: EaterBob

        Great video! So the secret ingredients of the Nouveau Palais burger are salt and pepper, delicately sliced onions and poppyseed bun... and it would break her heart to serve crappy tomatoes. Don't eat the sexy toothpick, y'all.

        1. re: mimibi

          i didn't enjoy the handling of raw ground beef and raw vegetables with the same set of hands.

    1. Maybe Sardine around the corner from Sparrow? Its brand new so you can impress everyone with your foodie knowledge of the city.
      Or if you like Sparrow, then Reservoir is an obvious choice - their main dishes aren't huge, but always less than $20 and are usually pretty good! However, I've never tried to reserve for a group - I somehow doubt they'd oblige.
      Also brand new is Smoking Vallee in St. Henri - its BYO and the mains mostly sneak in under your price range. It might be tough to score a reservation here.
      Finally, I've been more and more impressed with Omma lately - great Korean home cooking. Mains are about $15-$25 as I recall.
      Like the others above, I also think Nouveau Palais would be good, though they haven't taken reservations in the past and they can really only seat groups larger than 6 in the one large booth at the front, or by putting people at adjacent booths in the back. That might not be ideal...

      4 Replies
      1. re: Fintastic

        Wow, thanks mimibi and Fintastic (and EaterBob) - good suggestions! And I haven't tried any of these places.

        I think I might opt for Nouveau Palais this time (and we're probably only going to be 6-8 people, no kids). While the Smoking Valee looks awesome and is in the neighbourhood, I hate sending friends to places where the cheapest main is $20. Looks like a better option for a nice dinner for two.

        Omma sounds really good, and I love Korean food - I'm curious, you must think it's worth the price. I'm used to Korean places where you're paying about $12 on the high side.

        Read the recent review of Sardine and checked out their website - looks good, and the prices are great. For this particular occasion, I think NP seems more accessible... checked out Resevoir's website - they don't seem to do dinner? But looks like a good place for drinks first perhaps! Birthday boy is a beer-lover.

        1. re: deadchildstar

          If he's a beer lover, you can also check out Dieu du Ciel for drinks. It's walking distance from Nouveau Palais (in comfortable shoes).

          1. re: captain_vegetable

            Ha! I can be found griping in another thread about how I didn't enjoy the atmosphere at diel du ciel the one time i was there. Thanks though... maybe I'd try again when/if they're less crowded? Been enjoying Vices et Versa.

          2. re: deadchildstar

            Reservoir is like Sparrow - it's a bar primarily. However, they have lots of daily food options that are well above par for even bistro-pubs. They are owned by the same people who own Salle a Manger, and I think both the food and chefs they get benefit because of that relationship. Again, you won't get proper dinner service, and there are aren't appetizers and mains, per se.

            Omma is very different then most Korean restaurants. The back of house (i.e. kitchen) is at least partly run and supervised by Korean people, while the front seems to be mostly Montreal Quebecois. I find it peaceful, almost quaint, but it never feels very Korean to me. If you come from Toronto/Vancouver originally (I'm just assuming) then this will be significantly more expensive than what you're used to, but it is an entirely different type of restaurant than most of what is offered elsewhere. The aforementioned cities have a tremendous price-quality advantage over Montreal when it comes to most asian foods.

            Again, you should try calling NP to see if they'll reserve you a table. For 6 people, they have one larger booth in the back, and the long connected booths at the front. For 8 its tough to fit into that back table unless you're all very tiny. It would suck if you got there and you all had to split into separate tables. They don't have the layout (or the chairs) to simply add extra people to a table. Worst case I guess you could go next door to Helm. Their food is pretty good also, and it's not unlike Sparrow.

        2. Thanks for the recs - we had an excellent night! Nouveau Palais was the perfect spot, and Helm seemed pretty great too.

          Started off at Helm - they offered $4 pints until 8pm, so that was a nice bonus. Helm was very laid back, great place to drink and chat. Food coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled great, would definitely eat there another time.

          Then over to NP - the perfect spot to order a bunch of things and not break the bank. (I was picking up the birthday boy's tab and my own, and as I mentioned, I never feel great forcing friends into spending a ton).

          We ordered the fritters for the table just to sample - they come 6 to an order - and they were really unexpectedly yummy. I could have easily eaten the whole order! A round of cocktails (an old fashioned seemed appropriate), then a bottle of wine and mains (and sides, because who can resist!) I had the pork chop and grilled pineapple which was a little wacky - you really have to love pineapple - but the pork was excellent, and I got a side of frites, which I would call perfect in this situation. I was amazed, though, that they won't substitute e.g. the steak comes with couscous - why not with frites? And my (German) friend wanted a side of spaetzel, but that can't happen unless you order a main dish and share it among the table - next time maybe. (Though they will turn the side mac'n'cheese into a full order if you ask nice?). I also tasted the poached fish special, it was very nice, quite lite. The quality all around was solid - about what expected.

          The desserts, too, satisfied: pudding, lemon curd, sweet potato pie. I think it's a place that wins on atmosphere and tasty basics. Averaged per person, it was maybe between $50-$65 with drinks, wine, apps, sides, mains, desserts. That's impressive.

          And of course the service was great - the waitresses were a little aloof and almost too-cool, but the (owner? manager?) server Jacques was charming as heck and absolutely knew what he was doing. He helped round out the fun, relaxed evening. Perfect spot for a small group get-together!

          I'd love to go back for brunch or lunch. And I'm keen to try some of the other mentions on a different occasion. Thanks again, guys!