La grande boutique

La grande boutique

Now it can be told. Last Friday, Fatos Pristine, the laird of Cheese Boutique, and his sons signed the papers on a 4000-square-foot property right across the road from the Boutique. They have been thinking about expanding for a long time, pondering the wisdom of opening a new branch downtown or uptown. “But my father pointed out that one of the main things people enjoy about Cheese Boutique is that it’s a family business,” says Afrim Pristine. “Our customers like seeing us all together and hard at work—my dad, my mom, my brothers…” When 18 Ripley Avenue became available, the die was cast. As well as being across the street, the property has other unique attributes. Long ago, it was a gun shop that sold firearms to the police and in the basement is a 100-foot tunnel where the weapons were tested. It’s cool, dark and moist—a perfect “cave” for ageing cheese. Within minutes of signing the lease, Afrim was on the phone ordering 600 wheels of manchego and 300 wheels of parmiggiano reggiano specifically for the new tunnel. Now he’s working on designs for some sort of conveyor belt that will silently and gently move the cheeses as they age in the damp darkness, communicating one to another in achingly slow, reassuring, telepathic cheese-speak.

The rest of the property will also be used as soon as the Pristines have finished tearing down walls and renovating. On ground level there’s a large apartment in the front of the building and a spacious warehouse in the rear. Cheese Boutique will open a fish store there and perhaps move their meat department over the road to give themselves more room in the current premises. They have also been in negotiation with a couple of chefs (Afrim won’t say who) about leasing out space for a retail outlet and restaurant.

“Little old Ripley Avenue,” muses Afrim. “It boggles the mind! But there really isn’t a great restaurant between downtown and Via Allegro, and there’s a lot of action in the west end and this neighbourhood in particular right now. This is a good place to be.” When will the new expansion be ready? Watch this space for news.

Yesterday (Sunday) Jamie Kennedy opened his restaurant on Church Street for brunch. With the French windows thrown open and the room configured for maximum light and space he is clearly onto a winner. The menu offers a two-course $20 prix fixe of such dishes as Eggs en cocotte with Thunder Oak gouda and Leek purée (mais oui!) or Potato rösti with smoked Ontario whitefish and fennel salad (mercy!) or Salt black cod hash with bacon, fingerling potatoes and schmalz egg (the schmalz in this case being duck fat). The best dish, according to savvy sous chef Nathan Maskerine, is probably hot terrine of smoked pork hock with Valentine radish salad. That will set you up for an active Dimanche p.m., I fancy.

I’ve written a lot about Gold Medal Plates in this blog (not surprising, really—it takes up a lot of my time). This year’s competitions will take place in October and November in cities across Canada and I’m delighted to announce that Montreal is involved with the program again. We held one event in Quebec last year—in Gatineau —though most of the chefs involved came from Ottawa. It will be fascinating to peel away all the regionalist blarney and bragodoccio that afflicts every province of this broad country and see how Montreal’s chefs compare with the rest of Canada.