First impressions are everything in the restaurant game and Model Milk Bistro had me at hello.
Upon ascending a short set of stairs to the hostess stand, one can’t help but be impressed. Located in the historic Victoria’s building at 308 – 17th ave sw, Model Milk captures the warmth of its history with a contemporary splash of the present. The exposed brick walls barely contained the energy on the Thursday night we visited and the vibe was contagious. It was love at first sight…
Although Model Milk is part of the larger Concorde group of restaurants and bars (West, Flames Central, Double Zero, Local 510/522, etc.) the feel is still that of a one-off, original creation. Much of the credit for this success has been heaped on the shoulders of executive chef Justin LeBoe. Prior to Model Milk Justin served as the executive chef of the large-scale, fine dining restaurant Rush. In his current venture LeBoe has clearly taken a step back and embraced a much more simple, grass-roots culinary philosophy.
Rather than the intimidating, pretentious and overbearing qualities some fine dining menus exude, this menu is a shining example of beauty in simplicity. Much like the room itself it creates a sense of warmth, like a hug from your favourite aunt.
For my first course I chose the shrimp and grits. Meaty succulent prawns nestled in a bed of creamy, perfectly cooked grits topped with a warm chorizo emulsion. The kind of dish that can’t help but make you smile…like finding a polaroid containing a favourite childhood memory. This is what food should be about; pure, simple, unabashed enjoyment. I opted for a glass of the Villa Matilde Falanghina with this course. Falanghina is an oddball, indigenous grape grown in the Italian Region of Campania. This particular example was fresh and bright with notes of apricot and orange zest. Tasty!
When choosing my main how could I help but select the item simply titled “Pig”? I love pig! In this case the pig took the form of a moist pork tenderloin wrapped in a layer of sausage and applewood smoked bacon. This orgy of meat was then sous vide for four hours, creating a tube of pure, smoky, succulent goodness. The bacon was crisp and the tenderloin was perfectly moist. As good as this epic meat tube may have been it was the sides that really set this dish over the top. Velvety pomme puree rolled gently into a bed of red cabbage braised in Chianti. The pomme puree was as soft as a cloud and the cabbage had a warmth of texture, flavour and colour that was nearly orgasmic. I asked our server Petar to pick a wine for this course and he presented a glass of Noble Tree Tempranillo from Alexander Valley, California. Grown in the warmer climate of California this traditional Spanish grape delivered a silky texture and vibrant flavours of red berries, cherry and spice. Another great match!
We had the pleasure of being seated right in front of the open kitchen and watching the chef and his team at work was a treat. It was as if the kitchen had managed to put up a force field of calm and tranquility that shielded them from the mad energy of the room. Orders rolled out smoothly and calmly, with each plate looking more delicious than the last. This up close and personal viewpoint added an extra dimension to the experience. Highly recommended.
My only criticism is that they need to find a new “cookie” for the ice cream sandwich. I found the thin wafer they used too hard and lacking in flavour. A very minor critique in an otherwise perfect meal.
Creating a great dining experience is an art and on this particular evening the good people at Model Milk painted a beautiful canvas. I will certainly be back soon.