I’ve had good luck at 51 rue St-Jacques, though I’m not sure it’s
been a lucky address for the restaurants that have occupied it.
Bistro St-Jacques is the newest occupier of number 51. It took over
the space from the first-rate Moroccan restaurant Safran, which
mysteriously left the street a few months after a glowing report in
this space last April. Safran had, in turn, taken over from a gem of
an Italian restaurant called L’Ulivo. Again, I lavished praise, and the
place shut down shortly thereafter.
My concern is that both Safran and L’Ulivo were unprepared for the
sudden sweep of popularity a positive newspaper review can
sometimes generate. Or maybe they just got tired of cooking.
I think Bistro St-Jacques will fare better. For one, there appears to
be more staff. For another, there is a computer. (Safran
meticulously hand-wrote each bill.) And a proper wine list (Safran
recited its stock from memory, bringing over little gift samples, all
at a delightfully unhurried pace).
Indeed, gracious, affable service (some might say, dawdling) has
always been a drawing card at this address. This latest tenant is no
slouch in that department either. Service at Bistro St-Jacques is
excellent – attentive without being invasive, charming without
being fawning, and awfully keen to keep you hydrated.
The food shows great promise. Chef, Lucas Hornblower (wonderful
name!) hails from Stella (under Derek Benitz) and worked for a time
with Benitz at Benitz Bistro gaining experience in a smaller
There are things he’s doing right in his own small operation. For
one, he’s hired good guys to run the front of the house. For
another, he’s kept his menu short and straightforward, with prices
in line. The evening menu lists five starters, six main dishes (mostly
low twenties) and four desserts, plus cheese. At lunch, all
sandwiches are $12. They come with excellent fries and a nice little
salad. (None of that troublesome either-or stuff.)
It would also appear that the ingredients are carefully sourced. The
raw materials on a February menu include local bison and lamb,
Mariposa duck, homemade sausages, sustainable fish, Ottawa Valley
honey, Quebec cheeses.
The vegetarian dish one evening was a simple, effective plate of
fresh tagliatelle pasta threaded with cloves of roasted garlic, slow
roasted flavour-packed tomatoes, fresh thyme and mushrooms
(shiitake, oyster and Portobello) topped with Mamirole cheese,
from the Fromageries Eco-Delices. Nicely seasoned, a bit of stock
and a bit of truffle oil, and a terrific $15 dinner.
One lunch, a thick, homey root vegetable soup sweetened with
roasted garlic, and then a nice, juicy burger with bacon and old
cheddar, on a fresh, firm bun with a dandy little tomato jam.
Sharing the plate, those great fries, salted just right, AND a little
salad. Woo hoo!
Also at lunch, rainbow trout, with a nice crust, the flesh cooked
perhaps a tad too long, topped with a tomato, bacon and shallot
concoction and served on top of a perfectly cubed ‘hash’ of sweet
potato, squash and celery root perfumed with fresh thyme.
One evening we are told the fish is a wild halibut. Shortly after it is
brought to our table, our server informs us he made a mistake. He
is so very sorry. It is line caught cod. He will not charge us.
I was floored; such grace is almost unheard of these days.
There have been some iffy bits – the sundried tomato bread one
night seems to have been sliced too far in advance leaving it stiff.
A warm mushroom salad with arugula, lardons, croutons and
overnight tomatoes is a bit so-whatish, in need of a stronger
dressing, and certainly smaller croutons (these guys are tooth
cracking). Crab cakes are dense and fresh tasting, but need a bit
more oomph in the flavour department. The root vegetable salad is
a bit cloying, and though the duck confit is fine, the breast is
Desserts are beautiful. Candy caramel cages and other spun sugar
pretties adorn the plates. A proper crÃ¨me brulÃ©e is flavoured with
orange and garnished with a honey comb. A chocolate hazelnut
cake is dark and decadent and comes with an equally d and d
chocolate sorbet, and though the walnut cake is dreadfully dry, the
ginger gelato and coconut panna cotta are wonderful. Two out of
three ain’t bad.
Dinner for two at Bistro St-Jacques, with a couple of glasses of
wine, would come to about $80. Which seems about right. Do call
ahead. We want these guys ready.