In the sweetest spot on the sweetest street down in Old Montreal, Rue Saint-Paul (it’s also the oldest), there sits a sweet set of sister restaurants: Bocata, an atmospheric wine bar, and Barroco, a hip little hideaway that feels Old World in just the right way…
“Sister” is the operative word here; on a recent Saturday night out with a girlfriend, we noticed that most of the other tables for two in Bocata were similarly occupied with sets of ladies, dressed to the nines, who had stopped off for glasses of wine and small plates before hitting a hotspot in Old Montreal—say Velvet Speakeasy on the nearby Rue Saint-Gabriel.
Bocata’s best feature, besides the cozy feeling you get from lounging around a centuries-old greystone cavern with full bookshelves gleaming in candlelight, is the 15 page wine list (also housed within the pages of repurposed books). Not that food is an afterthought for chef Benjamin Leonard; indeed, half-glasses of the wines listed on the board ensure that you can pair with every course.
The menu features small-plates, still, we chose to graze on a first course and a main plate each: It’s spring, after all, and light is right. The arugula and smoked-duck salad plate spilled over with fresh greens, and was accented by a pancetta and apple vinaigrette. The lobster and sweet-corn salad was more sculptural, laid out like a painting on a plate with accents of pickled shallots and tomato.
For mains, on our server’s recommendation, we tried a square of perfect halibut, with a mushroom duxelles with artichoke. The all-day braised triple-A beef cheeks were served in a hotpot, accented with potato emulsion, and washed down with a light red. Perfect for a chill spring night.
Barroco is as warm and inviting as its sibling next door, with a more formal-dining vibe. The menu itself seems to emulate the restaurant’s name (Baroque in Italian). A “taste of spring” salad announces the first endives, embellished with brussels sprouts, pecans and gorgonzola. They also privilege fresh-caught fish and seafood; there’s a catch of the day option (market-priced), a dish of grouper and grilled octopus, and a signature paella that’s packed with lobster, shrimp and scallops.
The menu also features full-meat dishes, such as a steak with chimichurri that ranks among the best in town, as well as studied full-course meals such as guinea hen with cognac and truffle sauce, with purple potatoes and manchego. Locavorism is not the standard though, as their smoked salmon is from Ireland. For those who happen by in-season, Barroco has a take on the Lobster Shack that’s positively, well, baroque.
Bocata, 310 Saint-Paul West, (514) 507-8727
Barroco, 312 Saint-Paul West, (514) 544-5800