Dining Out: Tante Carole charms in Chelsea
168 Old Chelsea Rd., Chelsea, Quebec. 819-866-3149, facebook.com/RestoTanteCarole
Open: Monday, Thursday and Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., every day except Tuesday 5 to 9 p.m, closed Tuesday
Prices: main courses up to $28
Access: stairs to front terrace and front door
It’s a good thing that Jonathan Harris and Suyeon Myeong abandoned their idea to open a restaurant called Pho Chaud.
Not that I have anything against Asian soups. Or bad puns. But if the two young chefs, a couple in real life who previously cooked at Brut Cantina Sociale and Courtyard Restaurant, had brought Pho Chaud to life, there would have been no Tante Carole.
In February, Harris and Myeong opened that restaurant in the Old Chelsea space that had been Café Soup’Herbe. Neither of them has an aunt named Carole, but their place is named more abstractly, to evoke thoughts of homespun coziness.
The name fits. Who wouldn’t want to spend some downtime on the restaurant’s large and pretty covered front porch, which could still be open when the leaves turn colour this fall thanks to its heaters?
Indoors, there’s a simple, light-wooded dining room plus bar that seats about 40, surrounded by walls adorned with snow shoes and a cross-country ski. Near the kitchen, there’s also a large blackboard listing Tante Carole’s dozen or so wine choices, which tend to be off-the-beaten track private imports and are available by the glass for between $8 and $11.
The wines were a recent addition. At first, Tante Carole served only lunches. But after receiving its liquor licence in June, dinners came on stream.
I’ve been for one of each meal. On the whole, the farm-to-table fare from Harris and Myeong has been fully flavoured, interestingly diverse and, at best, delightful. If a few prices had been a little lower, and if service, while friendly, had been a bit more responsive, I’d be singing Tante Carole’s praises unreservedly.
At lunch on the porch, there was a burger to beat most that I’ve had in recent memory — big, juicy and bolstered with smoked gouda and bacon. A well-made wrap of sliced bavette steak was a more modest but still beefy option, paired with superior tomato-basil soup.
At dinner, eaten inside because the porch was packed, two appetizers began the meal with a bang. The first, a refined but rustic study in lusciousness, lined up a puck of mellow, creamy foie gras torchon with morsels of moist duck confit and irresistible homemade brioche. Sweet onions and tart pickled rhubarb finished this winning dish ($16).
A mushroom-themed starter ($12) featured some of Le Coprin’s finest plus a well-seasoned mushroom sauce and some puffed barley for crunch. Salad ($11) hoisted the flag high for locavorism, featuring greens from Hendrick Farm, just across the road from Tante Carole, and Juniper Farm in Wakefield.
Most of the dinner main courses were fully loaded creations that kept us happy and talking, thanks to vibrant flavours, varying textures and colourful presentations.
A lighter choice was the plate of five seared scallops ($23), punchily accompanied by succotash and pickled green beans. A hidden smear of salsa verde provided some surprising heat.
The scallop I stole from my neighbour was a touch overdone, as was my pork tenderloin, which was still good, but not the star of its Asian-themed plate ($25). That honour went to the novel and tasty starch component, a seared tofu-skin wrap filled with sticky rice.
A generous vegetarian dish ($23) threw off all kinds of sparks. Roasted cauliflower and eggplant and more Le Coprin mushrooms gave it bulk, while a luxurious purée of squash infused with kaffir lime leaf, plus scattered curried granola and pistachios, added complexity.
Meanwhile, succulent duck breast and smoked celeriac came with their fine, fluffy couscous and some sharp, home-made jerk sauce.
Desserts have been very strong finishes. I’ve twice had chocolate cake at Tante Carole, and it’s been eye-wideningly good, deeply chocolatey and not too sweet, offset by fine supporting players such as a roof of fresh raspberries, a quenelle of chocolate mousse, malted milk ice cream or Earl Grey drizzle.
Less showy lime sorbet on a bed of fresh berries was also delicious.
Our grumbles were slight — those proteins that could have been a little more juicy we thought, post-dessert waits for the bills that dragged on a bit, and the charges for the admittedly good bread ($2 a person, $5 for the table).
But these were small and easily remedied sins. What Harris and Myeong, who recently moved to live just down the road from their restaurant, do very well in Tante Carole’s kitchen more than compensated.