Quebec City’s Patente et Machin (roughly translated as ‘Trinket and Doodad’) is the city’s most popular new restaurant. Opened just two months ago in a former diner of the St-Sauveur neighborhood, an area of the city that is off the average visitor’s radar, it’s the most talked about Quebec City restaurant in blogs and social media and it’s at the top of many to-try lists. Patente et Machin is the second opening of three young restaurateurs, François Jobin, Benoit Fortin Lyonnais and Olivier Lescelleur St-Cyr, who also own L’Affaire est ketchup, located just a little farther down the street. L’Affaire est ketchup has quickly won the hearts of the city’s gourmands, who figured that a second opening, less than two years after their celebrated first step onto the local restaurant scene, could only mean good news.
So recently opened there’s no official signage yet.
Picture by Kim Garceau.
I have visited the restaurant twice, both times with friends from Montreal who wanted to find out if the place lived up to the hype. On my first visit, I was charmed by the simple rustic décor, featuring brick walls and recycled wood, and I immediately liked the rowdy tavern feel of the place. E and two friends accompanied me, and we were given what I felt was the best table in the house: a booth right in the restaurant’s front window, apart from the other tightly-arranged tables. After going back for a second time, I can confirm that it was indeed a great place to sit because it isolated us somewhat from the rest of the restaurant, in which the noise level can make it hard to maintain a conversation without shouting.
The restaurant’s menu, written on a blackboard that servers carry around the restaurant, is composed of petites patentes (snacks), patentes (appetizers), machins (mains) and gros machins (large mains to share). Because each dish is described in just 3–4 words on the blackboard, explanations are necessary and the servers’ performance while doing so has become the signature of the restaurant. Servers – young, spirited guys – carry the large and heavy blackboard to every table and proceed to describe each dish with great verve and gestures that mimic a chef’s mannerisms. Although the performance lasts a while (I feel sorry for the servers, who need to do this dozens of times every night), it’s very entertaining and sure makes diners enthusiastic about the meal to come. The only hard thing is to remember which dishes tempt you the most.
As you may have guessed, service is friendly and efficient – when the kitchen manages to meet the demand. On my first visit, service (handled by one of the owners) was flawless, but on the second occasion there were a few mishaps and a very long wait between our first and second courses, when a large table took over the kitchen’s production capacity for close to an hour.
The food is inconsistent for now: the restaurant has a hard time living up to the expectations created by the appealing descriptions. Among the highlights are the crisp onion rings, drizzled with honey and dotted with shaved, aged cheddar cheese; the perfectly prepared calf sweetbreads, served both in appetizer and main course portions; and a surprisingly elegant appetizer combining smoked eel and duck, served with a Riesling mayo and a dreamy soft-boiled quail egg. Many dishes disappointed my guests and me, though, such as the grilled cheese, an appetizer promising a luscious mix of pulled pork and bourbon-soaked raisins sandwiched in bacon bread, which ended up quite ordinary, with the pork being dry and lacking seasoning and flavor; or the wild boar and octopus main, which sounded inventive but tasted like a disparate assembly of ingredients. The octopus, basted in a spicy tomato sauce, clashed with the glazed piece of boar belly it was sitting on – both felt as though they would have deserved their own individual dish. The piece of boar also lacked a crispy skin (à la pork belly), which would have added a welcome textural dimension to an otherwise very rich dish.
Good dish: Crisp onion rings, drizzled with honey and dotted with shaved, aged cheddar cheese.
Good dish, two ways: Smoked duck and eel with Riesling mayo and soft-boiled quail egg. Both version were great; I prefered the first presentation, but loved the addition of caviar and grasswort the second time around.
Good dish: Sweetbreads over spaetzles in a cream sauce. I’d say sweetbreads are one of their specialities: they make them perfect every time, at both of their restaurants.
Disappointing dish: A luscious sounding bacon bread grilled cheese with pulled pork and bourbon-soaked raisins that turned out unexpectedly boring.
Disappointing dish: A disjointed mix of spicy octopus and glazed boar belly, too rich to be enjoyable.
On the positive side, the restaurant features a carefully curated list of reasonably priced wines, and you are only charged for what you drink, making it easy to mix and match choices throughout the night. Although I would have liked them to be a little more knowledgeable, servers are at least willing for you to taste as many wines as needed for you to find ‘the one’. Also on offer are a couple of imaginative signature cocktails that double as appetizers: a Bloody Caesar with crab meat, and a delightful dry martini that features a giant scallop deglazed in Vermouth.
Patente et Machin is obviously not the place to go for a quiet, romantic dinner, but it’s perfect for a fun casual night out with friends. The food is rich and satisfying, the kind that goes down well with beer and a bottle of wine (or two). The ingredients used are of a high quality, most being sourced from local producers and merchants. Given the owners’ well-deserved success at their first restaurant, L’Affaire est ketchup, I’m convinced that the mishaps I experienced are largely due to the restaurant’s recent opening and that they will quickly iron out any kinks. One diner told me, as I came out of the restaurant, that his meal was “even better than an orgasm”. That unreserved enthusiasm tells me that the place will keep on growing its fan base in Quebec City and beyond.
If you ever feel the need for a fun night of edible trinkets and doodads, be sure to book in advance, or sit at the bar, where you’ll enjoy Patente et Machin’s banter at its best.