Market cuisine always strikes me as an interesting reaction to the rising popularity of trends like locavorism, the human factor (like sustainable chains of production) and personalized diets. That said, market cuisine poses enough of a challenge in terms of what ingredients to use, but then there’s Outremont’s new arrival Provisions 1268.
P1268 has no set menu, so a meal there speaks for the experience and commitment of those involved in both finding their ingredients and cooking them in consistently new ways. Headed by Tina An at the front of the house and veteran chefs Hakim Rahal and Pablo Rojas concocting in the back, this 28-seater has been open for business for only a few months, but a meal there is testament to good (and surprising) food.
In lieu of a menu, entering customers find a blackboard mounted on the wall that lists the ingredients for dishes that evening, hence the name. That list is the only indicator of what to expect. So how does it work? Combining the aforementioned diner sensitivity with guided eating, P1268 offers up two prix fixe recommendations at $50 each. The first is the Surprise Menu for eager tasters, which includes two apps, two mains and dessert. The other option is a table d’hôte with one app, one main and one dessert. That’s about as far as the “menu” goes. Whether you find that pricey, or you’re not one for a multi-course meal, no worries. P1268 sells single dishes at prices adjusted by whatever they’re serving.
While my dining companion and I chatted with Tina about the operation, we browsed the drink menu. It didn’t take long to settle on the Peruvian-style house cocktail named after the restaurant, a mix of pisco brandy, pineapple and an in-house reduction of chicha morada. The deep clove taste is offset by the sweetness of the fruit, while a cinnamon and lemon garnish made light of the drink’s syrupy nature. As I sipped, we were greeted with a milk roll for the amuse bouche, a thick-crusted bread dressed in Spanish olive oil and chives.
The tasting started with a cucumber salad and tartare as the first entrée. Mandolined strips of cuke were shingled over small mounds of beef and a single halved soft-boiled quail egg, with a scattered garnish of cilantro, quince, dabs of house mayo and a crunchy house onion powder as crisp as bacon bits. One of the best parts of a dish like this lies in how each bite varies by taste and texture, from sweet to salty to bitter to sour, but a given stack on your fork is consistently balanced no matter how you mix it.
The other entrée, the carrot salad, spoke of the season a bit more both in colour and content. Seared rings of onion lay among buttery carrot, topped with minced pear, pistachio and a house yogurt. It was the two sauces running among and around the veg that made this dish for me, however. One was a noisette caramel that used leftover carrot, giving it depth beyond the taste of sugar and butter that’s burnt just right. The other, a pear purée, had a slight nutmeg flavour that complemented the pistachio. The two sauces together made for a deliciously autumnal dish. This app would’ve been plenty for me, but the salad was accompanied by a side dish of sea scallops garnished with grapefruit, coriander and more of that tangy house yogurt. It made for an interesting mix, switching between dark and light textures and flavours.
The first main course we had was perhaps the most confusing of all our dishes that night, but only in presentation. A tender sous-vide halibut cheek lay beneath a mound of eggplant capenade thick with capers and basil, all topped with lightly roasted pine nuts. This isn’t to say it didn’t taste right — the pairing of the fish and eggplant was more than consistent. It was only in how it appeared lumped together, a mound of food we had to literally dig into. Still, the dish was rich in all things smoky and salty with lingering hints of pepper, whose heftiness was a welcome follow-up to the previous dishes, like bulking up for the coming winter.
The second main was just as, if not more, seasonal as the carrot salad: A piglet leg roasted till soft and rosey, a slice of silky house terrine with beet, a roasted fig, more beets and almonds. All of this employed a mix of purées, compotes, jams and preserves that brought out the best of the season’s ingredients, and a range of reds as thorough as a colour swatch. I found myself plucking at different areas on the plate, and enjoyed a range of combined flavours like the first salad of the evening.
Now, the interesting thing about a no-menu approach like P1268 is that it makes the dessert course just as important as the rest of the meal, and this one didn’t disappoint. Scoops of soft, rich house vanilla ice cream were paired with slices of crunchy, caramelized bread. Both of these were topped with a silky sweet potato purée and a tart cranberry compote. Almost like a deconstructed brown betty, a bite began with the crunch of bread, only to melt in your mouth by the end.
All told, it was a thoroughly delectable job well done. The selection of ingredients and executions were fantastic, and it’s nice to know that a return trip is guaranteed to yield new creations. It’s not every day you’ll place your tongue in the hands of cooks without knowing precisely what you’ll get, only the ingredients.
Just make sure to reserve your table. While my friend and I arrived to an empty space a few minutes after they unlocked their door, the restaurant was full after an hour. Double points go to a place at the bar, so you can watch the kitchen and mise en place at work. ■
1268 Van Horne, 514-508-0828