April 9, 2012

La Cabane: Urban Sugar Shack in Montreal

This is the third year that the Scena space on Quay Jacques-Cartier in the Old Port has hosted an urban sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, during the second part of March and first part of April.  It is called simply "La Cabane", and each year a different team heads up the menu.  This time it's Pastaga's turn.  While there are some imperfections and the prices are high, consider giving it a try if you are looking for a fun evening out, especially with a large group, or have guests coming to town.


The booking system for La Cabane is really slick.  The up-to-date website provides all the information you need.  Click, book, pay, and you're done.  Friends can pay separately and add themselves to an existing reservation.  Just show up on the appointed night between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., when themed cocktails, wine, and beer are available at the cash bar.


Organizers have done a good job with the challenge of decorating the cavernous dining space for this short-term project.  The mounted moose head makes a big statement.  Other key elements are the numerous crocheted lampshades that hang over the tables and the large wooded scene that blankets the windows on one end of the room.  They've done enough to give a nice atmosphere without going over the top.


Around 8 p.m. the crowd starts to sit down and settle in.  What comes afterwards is a steady stream of sugar shack dishes done with a novel twist.  Just the right touch has been used to create a menu that is creative while giving a nod to tradition.  The bottles of maple water on the table, for instance, are a nice touch.

When I visited La Cabane I enjoyed most of the food, but some courses were better than others.  The starters were a strong point.  The trio of smoked bison, trout cretons, and a pulled pork sandwich was delicious.  The duck soup that followed was more exciting in its presentation, with the bouillon being ceremoniously poured over shredded duck and its accompaniments, than its taste.  I also felt the that duck soup was perhaps too far away in spirit from the traditional pea soup.

The main courses and sides came out family style, except for the slices of blood sausage tart that were placed on each plate.  I'm not a big blood sausage fan, and this tart didn't do much to change my mind, even though the complementary apple chutney was tasty.  The side of roasted root vegetables was acceptable, but somehow seemed a bit too healthy in the context of a sugar shack meal.  I guess that one could drown them with the maple provided on the table.  The other main dish was pork and beans.  It was superb.  The tender piglet was moist and perfectly crisped on the outside.

Unfortunately, the rest of the meal was rather disappointing.  The hot chocolate entremet wasn't hot, and the mini desserts of chocolate covered maple marshmallows, molasses nougat glacé, and maple stuffed doughnuts were neither particularly full of taste nor memorable.


During dinner some soft electronic lounge music filled the room.  After dinner, however, things picked up when a musician playing an electric violin took his place on the wooden box at the front of the room and enthusiastically presented several upbeat tunes.  It was again modern, but based on tradition.

Overall impressions

The atmosphere was fun, and some of the food was quite good and interesting.  La Cabane can easily handle crowds, making it a good choice for large parties.  Out of town guests might also get a kick out of this urban sugar shack, although the various homages might be lost on them if they are not familiar with the traditional concept.  Be aware that this experience is not a bargain dinner, though.  The price of the set menu is $59 before drinks, taxes, and tip.

Limited time only!

The last day for La Cabane this year is Sunday, April 15.  Two of the remaining five days are sold out as of this writing, so if you are interested in trying it out, make reservations soon.

La Cabane
Scena building on Quay Jacques-Cartier in the Old Port
Metro: Champ-de-Mars
Parking: King Edward Quay or Clock Tower Quay, starting at $8 for the first hour

Dress: Casual or chic casual.

Price: $77 per person including tax and tip, but excluding beverages; $113 per person including tax, tip, and matching wines

Highlights: Festive atmosphere.  Great starters.  Tasty take on pork and beans.

La Cabane on Urbanspoon

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