Tel. 281-6492 Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 11 P.M. $35 for two before wine, taxes and service. Table d'hôte: $16.45 (noon and evening). Daily special: $13.20.
L'Entrecôte St.-Jean is one of the most unique restaurants I've ever been to. Schwartz's is famous for its smoked meat, and indeed, it's many a customer who would mind not a bit if the menu there consisted of a white sheet of paper with the words "Smoked Meat" centered in bold. But that's not the case. You can have a salami, a turkey, or even a tongue sandwich, if that's what you want.
But there's only one thing on the menu at L'Entrecôte St.-Jean: the L'Entrecôte. Oh yeah, and the fries. Steak and fries. It's not even a case of steak and fries done seven different ways, à la "They did everything to this steak and fries but pistol-whip them and dress 'em in Bermuda shorts."
"Hmm," I thought, when all this became alarmingly apparent, "but maybe these steak-frites are the best steak-frites this side of Lyons." Sadly, this was not to be.
The restaurant is on Peel at Maisonneuve in the heart of downtown. Designed by architect Alain Bauffe, who also designed the Café Vienne in the Montreal Courthouse, it's a room whose design obviously had the words "to look like typical Paris bistro" scribbled and underlined on the rough comps.
There are burgundy banquettes. There are "brass" rails. There are bevelled mirrors. There are vintage posters. The tableware is monogrammed with the LSJ logo. We could be in Bistroworld, Orlando, FL.
The clientele seem to be a mix of businessmen and tourists. Surprisingly, several of the customers were greeted with recognition by the server. I've heard that Pierre Trudeau used to hang his hat here. This could, however, be an urban legend.
The menu is small: "L'Entrecôte St.-Jean with its unique sauce in North America served with fries and walnut salad." I asked for the dinner menu, thinking there must be some mistake. There was not. "It's the same menu," said our server.
For $17.30 one gets the soup of the day or tomato juice, "Salad with walnuts," "Strip loin steak with thin fries" and "Profiteroles au chocolat."
The soup was Cream of Vegetable, ladled right from a hot-pot set into the waiters' station. It was not a zesty purée of lively market-fresh produce, but it was hot and wet.
The salad with walnuts was butter lettuce and a smattering of walnuts splashed with a listless vinaigrette.
The fabled steak-frites arrived shortly thereafter: the 8-oz. entrecôte was done to the requested medium-rare and was accompanied by a rather insipid mustard-cream sauce and a heap of quite greaseless and crisp fries.
Quick, whip out the Bermuda shorts.
Dessert was a pair of quite good profiterôles (small cream puffs) filled with ice cream. I was surprised to learn, after ordering it, that coffee was not part of the table d'hôte.
The total for two after taxes and tip was $47.50. Service was somewhat rushed, but with such a limited menu, one can understand the staffs' wondering "Come on, what's to sit around and figure out?" about this place.Reviewed by Nick Robinson