Madre is the second restaurant in Mario Navarette Jr’s growing mini-empire of Latino influenced small restaurants. Like Raza, his first restaurant, Madre is situated in a long and narrow space with the kitchen located in the rear of the restaurant. Madre is a bit smaller than Raza and is located in a more blue collar neighborhood not too far from Olympic Stadium. Where Raza is Navarette’s flagship and creative center, Madre is more of a latino-influenced bistro.
The bistro affect of Madre extends to the menu, which consists of several blackboards on a wall listing the day’s choices. We stopped for an early Sunday brunch before heading back home to New York. It was a good thing it was early, because we did not have a reservation and got the last table. Where Raza did a slow but steady business befitting its status as a tasting menu restaurant, Madre had the busy feel of a bistro with a more rapid turnover and simpler dishes. Navarette continued the Peruvian tradition of fusion, creating brunch dishes based on French and Quebecois standards, but enlivened with Latino elements.French toast with a twist, the pain doré came with caramelized bananas, sweet potato, chocolate sauce and a side of pineapple chunks. My son was happy, though he would have been equally happy with what my wife and I had ordered. He also enjoyed a glass of agua de jamaica, which was kept nice and tart. My wife’s poached eggs with smoked salmon also came with potato crepes, caviar and a lively carrot and bean salad. This was a well-balanced, well-executed and tasty dish. Bavette is skirt steak. This one had been marinated and sautéed to a nice medium rare. Served with a sunny side up fried egg, roasted potatoes, a fresh salsa and aioli, this was a delicious and hearty breakfast that fortified me into the evening. Where Raza likes to push creative boundaries and utilize Modernist cooking methods within a context of a mostly Peruvian based cuisine, Madre is a step back into a comforting cocoon and with a name like Madre, what else could or should it be? Rodrigo Flores Maso was in charge of the kitchen the morning we were there. Our dishes were well prepared and just what we were looking for at that point. The food was creative and incorporated enough Latino influence to be interesting and different, but it was also grounded enough to convey a mother’s nurturing.
Navarette is a very hard worker. In addition to maintaining his three restaurants (I have not yet tried A Table, his newest, though I would like to), he cooks at each of them and still finds the time to plan additional small restaurants. At the moment, he is contemplating a cevicheria. None of Navarette’s restaurants are located within the typical tourist centers of Montreal, but they are worth seeking out, especially if one wishes to venture away from the Franco-centric fare that still dominates this city’s wonderful culinary life. Latino cuisine may not yet have come to be “the next big thing” in the North American food world, but one doesn’t need to wait for that day to enjoy the flavors of our neighbors to the south of Mexico. As others like Maricel Presilla, Jose Duarte and Gaston Acurio have done elsewhere in North America, Mario Navarette Jr has made them accessible, affordable and enjoyable in Montreal.