In the shadow of the Chelsea Freshmart, in a functional mini mall, is the newish Le Resto, a likable little fish restaurant of yellow-green walls and bright white trim, allied with the long-running Chelsea Smokehouse just down the way.
It was a treat to watch Line Boyer wandering this spotless room, greeting regulars, fetching chairs for babies, dispensing wine advice. She had been my server a few times at Les FougÃ¨res, and very much a part of the pleasure of that place.
Boyer and her partner, U.K.-born James Hargreaves, took over the 25-year-old Boucanerie Chelsea Smokehouse in 2008. They opened Le Resto a year later to showcase on dinner plates the artisanal products they produce — smoked salmon, mackerel, trout, sturgeon, Arctic char, oysters, scallops and mussels, along with luscious gravlax and their addictive salmon jerky — the fish sourced from Whalesbone’s Sustainable Oyster and Fish Supply.
On the menu they pay homage to other local producers: Bryson Farms is credited for the greens, duck is from Quebec, bison from le Ranch Panoramique in Wakefield, even butter chicken (odd, but there it is) is from Ishina in Ottawa.
But mostly you find salmon on the short menu — fresh, smoked, gravlax, jerky, fashioned into cakes, tossed in a caesar, tucked in a bagel, or the star of a chowder.
Actually, the real star of the chowder is the smoked mussels. These are optional, but they add much to the creamy mix of salmon, potato, celery, carrot and fresh dill. Sweet little Matane shrimp elevate a salad of vermicelli and daikon, cucumber and slivered peppers, dressed with a sweet and spicy Thai-style vinaigrette. Pickled beets and a lovely little green salad side the salmon cakes, studded with chunks of soft potato. These are fresh tasting, but slightly dull, and a tad dry. We use every bit of the horseradish cream sauce to moisten them.
I haven’t exhausted my search for the best fish and chips in the region, but based on some recent tastings, Le Resto serves my current favourite.
The fish used is sustainable cod. It retains its fresh, firm flesh beneath a brown, crunchy batter, and the grease quotient is there, as it must be, but not so there that you feel ill about it. There are mushy peas, just a dollop of them, lurid green and lumpy like they ought to be — but brightened with mint. The chips are humdingers. None of those skinny french frites here — these are fat, firm, golden, and tasting solidly of potato and coarse sea salt. Immensely satisfying.
If fish and chips are not on The Plan, there’s cod in a robust tomato sauce as well, with chorizo, olives and anchovies. And if you’re more a bison sort of person, the burger is very good. Tucked in a soft bun, the meat is very lean, and arrives still pink — for which we are grateful — roofed with house-smoked gouda, and deeply caramelized onion. More of those first-rate chips cuddle up alongside.
A carrot cake is undercooked, the middle bits more batter than cake, though we can tell from the edges that it has real promise. Better the thick slices of lemon pound, served with peaks of cream, and a wild blueberry sauce.
The beer list is all Quebec craft brews, while the wine list is of reasonable length, with reasonable a markup, and half of it available by the glass.