Laloux's Michelle Marek bakes us up some Austro-Hungarian splendour
I’m pleased about this week’s column because it involves the conflation of several of my very favourite Montreal food things – and it involves Austria, too, so you’ll have to forgive me if I get a tiny bit Julie Andrews about it all.
Laloux, the French bistro at the foot of Pine that was the site of my first grown-up pay-for-it-myself fancy restaurant meal, is celebrating 25 years of existence. And while the bistro shook off a tiny bit of stuffed-shirtness when young chef Seth Gabrielse was engaged to revamp it, the traditional Parisian steak-frites can still be had in Laloux’s gorgeous room with its buttercream-coloured walls, dark-wood paneling and halls of mirrors, but a closer contemplation of the menu shows that Gabrielse is also deeply thoughtful and creative, and willing to take risks. Which brings me to the brilliance of his young pastry chef, Michelle Marek, who was promoted from assistant when the kitchen went through its changes. Marek is also part-owner of An Endless Banquet, hands-down Montreal’s best food blog, which she composes with her partner, food writer AJ Kinik. An Endless Banquet’s posts are varied and astutely overlong, and they show off Montreal food culture in a way that deftly deflects all the obvious clichés.
Now for the Austrian angle. This Sunday, as part of a series of events to celebrate Laloux’s silver anniversary, Marek, with DJ help from Kinik (which sort of makes this an AEB affair) will tweak Laloux’s 7e arrondissement airs and transform the sunny, wintry room into a Viennese coffeehouse circa 1912. This is a terribly appealing idea because of Marek’s pastries and also because it contrasts sharply with the inelegance of our current coffeehouse culture, so crammed as it is with laptops, flavoured syrups and pseudo-Italianate names for things that aren’t even coffee that, well, the coffee gets lost in the mix.
Speaking of the coffee: Anthony Benda of Myriade, Montreal’s most tapped-in downtown coffeehouse, is on barista duties, making drinks to accompany Marek’s sachertorte, linzertorte, Czech nut crescents and butter spritz cookies ($10 gets you a coffee drink, a large pastry and a petit four, or order à la carte).
Marek, eyes shining with enthusiasm, describes her vision of "perfect displays of cookies and cakes, all laid out on a buffet," as well as her own Czech heritage and nostalgia for the dearly departed Café Toman on Mackay, as the inspiration for the first of her (hopefully many) kaffeklatschs – future ideas include chessboards, a book club and other salon-type activities.
"I’m envisioning it as an Old World gesture of an afternoon at the coffeehouse, where friends can meet in a [beautiful] nice room, where Eric Satie is maybe playing… and my dream is that somebody will get up and spontaneously recite a poem."
Kaffeklatsch at Laloux
At Restaurant Laloux (250 Pine E.; 514-287-9127), Feb. 6, 2-5 p.m., $10