Thazard‘s Art Deco-inspired mirrors reflect back the light of dozens of candles. Waiters roll carts around the room, torching mackerel and offering you a choice of spices on your yam fries. The music is pumping, setting the mood for some late-night fun. Well-dressed diners crowd the tables and bars, ordering one cocktail after another. One thing is clear: Thazard is open for business in Montreal.
“It’s not old-school at all. We’re doing whatever we want to do,” said David Schmidt of Thazard. When Schmidt (Maïs, Datcha, Kabinet, Le Mal Nécessaire, and the former Café Sardine/Izakaya Iwashi) joined forces with Edward Zaki (BarBounya, Chez Victoire, Mimi la Nuit), chef Hachiro Fujise (Izakaya Iwashi, Guu Izakaya in Toronto), Pierre-Olivier Besner and Christophe Jasmin to turn the former Cielo into a French-inspired Japanese eatery, our curiousity was piqued.
But when Schmidt announced the restaurant would resurrect the guéridon French cart service of bygone eras, things really got interesting.
“It’s definitely showy and fun,” Schmidt says in regards to their return to the classical service, which was popularized a couple of years ago by San Francisco-based eatery State Bird Provisions. “It allows us the liberty to do things spur-of-the-moment, and not be bogged down by the menu.”
And it seems like this easy-going approach is resonating with diners. Though their first service was mere days ago, on Nov. 19, Thazard is not in want of buzz. On its first night, the restaurant saw a steady stream of well-wishers, friends, industry heavy-weights, and even neighbourhood passersby walk through its doors. The vibe is definitely lively, and the staff exudes the proud exuberance of those who know they have a good thing on their hands.
The restaurant’s menu, emblazoned with the logo of two fish, combines familiar Japanese flavours like shiso leaves, miso, and ramen in some very inventive combinations. A housemade cured seafood platter proudly proffers goji berries and pickled vegetables. Miso butter is joined by cheddar for a decadent, salty and nuanced poutine gravy. Salmon jerky is also on offer, alongside a host of intentionally vegan and gluten-free dishes. All courses range between $7 and $14.
“We understand that food can be a necessity, as well as a luxury,” said Schmidt. “We kept the menu very accessible, very casual. There really is something for everyone.”
The problem is that it’s practically impossible to just stick to the menu. As Thazard’s waiters circulate the room, their carts overflowing with the day’s catch and the result of chef Fujise’s kitchen experiments, crispy yam chips and beautiful, glistening mackerel seem to almost dare you to go for a taste. And why wouldn’t you? With prices that range from $2.50 to $8, it’s easy to fill up on snack-sized cart offerings alone.
Just make sure you leave room for alcohol. With a choice of avant-garde cocktails that include ingredients like grapefruits and hops, bee pollen, and chlorophyl, there is no shortage for experimentation. They offer a respectable selection of sake, as well as white, red and bubbly wines and beer.
When you enter Thazard, be prepared for an experience that is as much about the food as it is about the atmosphere. With its black, white and gold colour scheme and guéridon service, Thazard harkens back to the 1940s’ French jazz age, with its strong drinks and intoxicating music. Every detail is intentional. Yet the decor’s opulence is understated, reflected more in the careful choice of glasses and napkins than in gilded mirrors and ornate decorations, though some of those exist here as well.
“We were really in love with the timelessness of places like L’Express and Leméac, and that’s what we were going for — a stylish place where you can have a bite until 2 am.”