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Clairon Restaurant, Montreal

Bright young things.

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To call Montreal’s Clairon “farm-to-table” would be not only tiresome—who isn’t claiming that these days—but also would undercut the unique care that maître d’ Étienne Dufort, chef Maxime Descôteaux, and sous-chef Kamille Farrell put into their work. Like so many young restaurants, what’s on the menu is local, fresh, seasonal, and elevated to the standards that diners have come to expect. But the young talents (Farrell is 27, Descoteaux 28) at Clairon aren’t here to wax poetic about their food philosophy—it is articulated in every bite.

Open since last October in the centre of Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, Clairon serves up a lighter-style Quebecois cuisine, letting the ingredients dictate the cooking style rather than subscribing to one genre. Most plates on the menu lean vegetable-forward, focusing on fresh produce. “I like vegetables, he likes meat,” Farrell laughs, nudging Descôteaux in the kitchen. A standout dish features local mushrooms, sautéed in butter, and served with jammy cured duck-egg yolk, which adds sumptuous fat to the meaty vegetables. Fork-tender, slow-cooked octopus sits on a bed of silky puréed potato with endive leaves and nduja (a type of Italian cured pork). It is a dish where every ingredient, even humble potato, is given an opportunity to shine.

The concept behind Clairon evolved quickly from what was first conceived. “In the beginning, just six or seven months ago, it was supposed to be a diner-style menu [of] salads and sandwiches. But we realized pretty soon when I came onboard that’s not what we wanted to do,” Descôteaux says. “Over the weeks and months, it’s changed completely.” Change is fundamental to the menu, which is seasonal. To sip, there is a mostly-natural wine list as well as a perky selection of cocktail if the mood strikes. The vibe is finished off with pop-disco tunes, a minimalist décor, and youthful patrons that are probably prepping for a polite night on the town.

The contemporary restaurant’s interest in opulence and indulgence that tends to characterize Quebecois food can oftentimes feel burdensome. Meat, fat, and cheese are all on the menu at Clairon, but never feel overdone. Steak cured in the style of gravlax is sumptuously smeared with a charcoal aioli, and when house-made ricotta and labneh cheese is called upon, nothing goes to waste as the whey is cleverly transformed into ice cream. “We try to stay really close to the ground,” Farrell says of her modest approach. “We try to have zero waste, we use everything.”

In line with their no-waste philosophy, experimentation factors in heavily in the food that Farrell and Descôteaux put out. “We’re kids—we just go with the flow,” Farrell laughs. It’s that kind of care-free ambivalence that is only afforded to the young—and the kind that creates exciting food.

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March 29, 2019