When writing about sugar shacks, one always fears preaching to the choir…
Still, for those who never had the chance to experience the convivial-yet-slightly-ogre-ish vibe of an authentic Québec sugar shack, here’s a summary of what it entails:
1) a trek, usually with a group of friends or family, to a countryside location where you’ll find…
2) an actual shack in or near a maple forest where, in one room, a massive contraption boils down maple water to produce syrup, and in another room people sit at communal tables, merrily eating….
3) massive amounts of artery-clogging fare such as meat pie, roast pork, pea soup with bacon and pecan pie, all generously doused with heavy doses of maple syrup
One of Montreal’s true urban sugar shacks, the newly-opened La Cabane, involves none of the above. More of an homage to Québec’s maple traditions than a replica of the real thing, it is a hip and happening pop-up restaurant which will serve, until April 15, a tasting menu concocted by star chefs Patrice Demers and Marc-André Jetté, co-owners of the equally hip Les 400 Coups restaurant in Old Montreal.
The dishes manage to allude to Québec peasant classics while keeping a definitive edge of sophistication and modernity. Turkey is prepared sous-vide (vacuum-sealed) to preserve all its juices. Maple appears here and there, as tiny clusters to add crunch or in a jelly atop a chicken-liver mousse – but it’s never too much, never cloying.
Guests eat all at once and at communal tables, inside an airy, hangar-type space in Montreal’s Old Port, amidst funky forest-themed work by local artists. A beautiful knitted wool instalation sits beside a hedge of tree branches and maple-collecting tin buckets, while a giant stuffed moose head serves as centerpiece in the dining hall.
As a parting gift, dollops of Québec ice cider are poured on snow and rolled up as lollipops, in the old tire-sur-la-neige tradition (an elegant and decidedly less sweet version of the maple-syrup original).
La Cabane: until April 15th in the Old Port of Montreal, directly below the Jacques Cartier esplanade. Wednesday-Saturday (one seating at 6:30pm) Sunday (one seating at 11:30am). $55 per person, $15 for children under 12, (514) 444-4383