1 Atelier chef Marc Lépine. 2 Atelier’s Yes, Deer: deer strip loin with corn, truffle and Mill St. Brewery’s Tankhouse Ale.

Youngish, molecular-gastronomy-obsessed chef opens minuscule standalone restaurant (without a sign) in an off-the-path location in a famously meat-and-potatoes city, then has the nerve to offer only a single, 13-course tasting menu to no more than a handful of diners each night. In a recession. Restaurant suicide? Almost certainly. But damn if it isn’t an exhilarating death.

Chef Marc Lépine’s labour of love is one of those rare science-inspired kitchens where the food isn’t a chore to eat – it’s maddeningly good. To wit: a plate of pulled duck confit, little puffs of goat cheese gnocchi, Jerusalem artichoke purée, pineapple sage leaves, a seared fig and tiny squares of “paper” made from figs and plums. Or caramelized pear and horseradish soup topped with whipped elderflower honey. (It’s weird but divine.) The intermezzo is triple sec gelée and flash-frozen pineapple ziti; diners finish the dish themselves by uncorking a test tube of sangria – the vial is built into the handle of a spoon – and emptying it overtop.

The $85 tab is a giveaway. Get there while you can.

540 Rochester St., Ottawa, 613-321-3537,

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Murray Street


1 The housemade Plate of Squares at Murray Street. 2 Serving up Murray Street’s Mad House Salad – toasted quinoa, spiced nuts, baby spinach, baked cheese from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and wild chokecherry vinaigrette – along with Sheets of Beef, paper-thin slices of Dan O’Brien’s naturally raised beef with pickled milkweed pods and shaved Glengarry Fen cheese.

Murray Street may be the closest that an English-Canadian kitchen has ever come to replicating the ethos of Montreal’s legendary Au pied de cochon (see No 6 for its new outpost): Chef and co-owner Steve Mitton revels in off-cuts of pork and game, and specializes in colon-busting takes on vernacular culinary classics. But this ByWard Market gem is anything but a knockoff.

Mitton’s accomplished kitchen does Upper Canadian farmhouse cooking at its exuberant best, with only an occasional lusty nod to Quebec. Grilled, pickled elk’s tongue, perhaps, with Mrs. McGarrigle’s mustard and a hunk of char-grilled bread? A daily special called Local Pork “Head to Tail” (the kitchen butchers a pig every week) brings a juicy slab of confit shoulder that’s stuffed with creamy Tomme Haut-Richelieu cheese. Spaetzle, rhubarb, jarred meats and pickles also feature prominently in Chef Mitton’s mix. Desserts evoke a Presbyterian church basement bake sale: They include a Plate of Squares so deliciously authentic that they arrive on vintage china. The only thing the plate is missing is a clumsily repaired chip.

110 Murray St., Ottawa, 613-562-7244,

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Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon


1 The flaky tourtière at Cabane à sucre Au pied de cochon. 2 Cabane waiter Gorka with maple-sugar cotton candy.

The buckwheat crepes, nutty and steaming, come first, along with a pitcher of maple syrup. Is that foie gras in the pea soup? No worries. A little animal fat never hurt a soul. Then there’s a smoked-mackerel omelette and some brisket and pork rinds and a scoop of cretons and cured salmon heady with onion and dill. By which point we’re not even a third of the way through the meal.

This backwoods outpost of Martin Picard’s Au pied de cochon reimagines a beloved Québécois custom into something more finely wrought than tradition ever could have dreamed. With portions almost comically large (tourtière for two brings half of a golden, elementally meaty pie, while the savoury platter is piled with at least four pounds of food), a meal here is one of the greatest experiences that a big-eating foodie can have.

Despite tweaking tradition, Picard is smart enough to know which cabane à sucre customs to protect: The wood-fired évaporateur here billows sugary nimbuses into the night and the dessert trio is followed by a tray of crushed ice, a torrent of syrup and a Popsicle stick. Everybody has room for that.  

11382, rang de La Fresnière, Saint-Benoît de Mirabel, Québec, 450-258-1732, (Open mid-March to May)

Check out the Food & Drink section of our Montreal city guide for more restaurant picks.