Reservations are notoriously hard to come by at Joe Beef. Every time we plan a trip to Montreal, Joe Beef is fully booked. This time around, we booked a reservation first (three months in advance) and planned our trip around it.
Joe Beef opened back in 2005 and is the brainchild of owners David David McMillan, Frédéric Morin and Allison Cunningham. It was an immediate success and seems to be one of the most well-known restaurants in the city thanks to the exposure from Anthony Bourdain’s tv shows – Layover and Parts Unknown.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6pm and if you’re unable to get a reservation here, the same owners own the nearby Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon. I haven’t been to either myself but I’ve heard that they are both worth checking out as well.
From the moment we entered the Joe Beef, we knew we were going to be in great hands. Each and every person we encountered was incredibly warm and welcoming. We also loved the cozy and dimly lit atmosphere which made us feel like we were eating in a farmhouse.
Similar to our experience at Maison Publique, instead of printed menus, their menu is found on a chalkboard. The menu is very extensive and all the descriptions are in French which can make it a bit overwhelming. But have no fear! Our server sat down with us and spent a good five minutes going through the menu in detail.
You’ll likely need some guidance from your server as portions tend to be quite large so it’s not your typical restaurant where you’d order an appetizer, entrée and dessert each. What I loved about our experience was the ability to customize our meal. They offer half portions of many of their dishes and your server will offer suggestions in tweaking your meal to your liking. For example, when we told her we were debating between the foie gras terrine and horse tartare she said if we wanted foie gras, she could add some seared foie gras to our entrée.
While Joe Beef is known for their meaty and gluttonous dishes (most notably, the foie gras double down), they also offer a nice selection of seafood from their raw bar. We started out with a selection of oysters (from PEI and the west coast) and some uni from Quebec. I particularly enjoyed the uni which had a very sweet and delicate flavour.
We were debating between the foie gras and the Horse Tartare but our server suggested ordering the latter instead since you can get foie gras anywhere but horse meat isn’t very common. The tartare was perfectly seasoned, mixed with small bits of pickles and topped with crispy sunchoke chips. It was a damn good tartare. Horse meat doesn’t have a unique flavour. If I hadn’t known, I would’ve just thought it was beef tartare.
Joe Beef changes their menu regularly but the Lobster Spaghetti is one of their mainstays. We ordered a half portion since we had another dish coming. The half-portion would make for a good appetizer if you have a hearty appetite but it might not be enough to fill you up if you’re not planning on ordering any appetizers or dessert to supplement it.
The half-portion came with a claw and two other pieces of lobster. The shells were pre-broken so the meat extraction was easy. As for the pasta, it was cooked to a nice al dente with a light coating of creamy sauce which resulted in a lighter dish than I expected. All in all, I thought this was a good dish but I don’t think it’s worth all the hype.
Next up was a half-portion of the Duck which was more than enough for the two of us to share. We couldn’t decide between this and the arctic char but our server recommended the duck, saying it was something special. Our server was right. The duck was really something special. To prepare the duck, they cover it in Joe Beef seasoning and slow smoke it. The skin was unbelievably crispy and the meat was wonderfully moist and flavourful. Since it was a half duck, you get a good mix of cuts. Mike preferred the leaner breast while I preferred the leg. I should mention that the duck is quite fatty so be prepared to feel pretty lethargic afterwards.
For dessert, we shared an order of Soft Serve. During our visit, the featured flavours were a buttermilk and lingonberry twist. It was topped with a buckwheat crumble which I wasn’t a fan of but the soft serve was fantastic. It wasn’t very sweet, more on the tart side really, which made it a great way to end the meal.
Since we’ve been trying to get a table at Joe Beef for so many years, I was a little worried that we’d be letdown since it was so hyped up in our minds. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case at all. We had such an amazing experience and with the ever-changing menu, we wouldn’t hesitate to come back.
At a glance:
- One of the toughest reservations to get in Montreal (reservations accepted 3 months in advance)
- Located in the Little Burgundy neighborhood
- Same owners as the nearby Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon
- Open Tues to Sat from 6pm
- Very warm and cozy atmosphere; excellent service
- An extensive menu which changes regularly; menu is all in French but servers are happy to walk you through the menu
- Loved our experience; would come back in a heartbeat
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 4.5 stars
- Service: 5 stars
- Atmosphere: 5 stars