One can become fast friends with a stranger. The same can happen with a new restaurant. Mon Lapin, which opened in March, immediately puts one at ease, like slipping into a long-shared history. This magic is thanks to the particularly Québécois qualities of generous hospitality and a spirit of pleasure that David McMillan, Frédéric Morin and Allison Cunningham have cultivated in their Joe Beef family of restaurants.
Mon Lapin came about by chance. Vanya Filipovic and Marc-Olivier Frappier, long part of the family (they both worked at Joe Beef) and, along with that original trio, owners of Le Vin Papillon and Mon Lapin, discovered the sunny corner location while walking around their Little Italy neighborhood. The traditional area, north of trendy Mile End, made them nostalgic for the old vibe of Little Burgundy, home to the first three Joe Beef restaurants.
The narrow space, white and crammed with colorful paintings populated by rabbits, forests and hunting scenes, glows with dusk light. With only 30 seats, including five at the bar in front of the open kitchen, the room is cozy but comfortable. There are no reservations accepted; guests waited at the entrance with a glass of sparkling wine. Anchoring the middle of the room was a cart with a cold bath from which sprouted the necks of several magnums of wine.
The wine list — one of the most interesting in the city, if not the country — is built on long relationships with natural wine producers, primarily in Europe. Ms. Filipovic, also the wine director, said there is no dogma to how she chooses bottles: “It’s a little bit cheesy but it’s really all about emotion, it’s really all about finding things that stand out in terms of energy in the bottle.”
Our server suggested three wines based on our preferences; we chose La Monnerie, a merlot from the western Loire that is aged in clay amphorae. It had a delicious minerality.
Like the wine selection, the food — a casual but innovative menu of about 20 small, seasonal plates from Mr. Frappier, the executive chef, and Jessica Noël, the chef de cuisine — is both serious in intent and playful in execution. There is no culinary mandate, Ms. Filipovic said, but “it’s a real evolution and continuation of the same spirit” at Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillon. That means toying with the excess of the former and the lighter vegetable focus of the latter, which was exemplified in our favorite dish: whole radishes dipped in a creamy chicken liver mousse.
On first impression, chewy sunchoke bread with canola butter seemed simple, but the sunchoke flour is custom milled locally, and the butter was made in collaboration with the University of Laval by spinning organic, cold-pressed canola oil at high speeds to get a smooth margarine-like texture that tasted of fields and sun.
Among the other highlights was a peppery and pink taramosalata dip, tender veal tongue on spinach, and smoked scallops with foraged peas. For dessert, there was geometric buckwheat cake with a center of buckwheat honey, fromage blanc and a crème fraîche glaze (with summer, the honey has given way to rhubarb compote).
As the restaurant emptied, we didn’t want to leave. So we ordered more wine. Ms. Filipovic counseled us like an old friend and we chose a bottle of Puszta Libre, a Beaujolais-like blend from Austria. “Glug glug wine,” she said.
Mon Lapin, 150 Rue Saint-Zotique Est; vinmonlapin.com. An average dinner for two, without drinks or tip, is 100 Canadian dollars, about $76.