Saturday night, I ventured out for dinner with a few friends. Our destination: Les Délice de l'Ile Maurice, a small Mauricius BYOB seating approximately 50 people. Location: Beautiful downtown Verdun. For those of who have never heard of Ile Maurice, it is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar. It's culture, cuisine and people are a mix of Chinese, Indian, African, Cajun & Creole.
This was not the first time I had attempted going to this restaurant. Last summer, there we were, just me and my dining companion, sitting in my parked car, bottle of wine in hand, eying a suspicious looking man smoking a cigarette outside the restaurant. The man in question wore a white apron, smeared with what looked to be a recent slaughter. "Go ask him if there is a menu and check it out." I urged my companion. Finally submitting to my persistence, she reluctantly got out of the car and slowly approached the man. A few words were exchanged, and my friend quickly scurried back to the car. " What did he say?" I asked. "That he is the menu" she responded. After several more moments of sitting in the car and staring at the odd character, we decided we did not want to be so adventurous, and drove off in search of another restaurant.
Since that night, I have been curiously scouring the internet for reviews of Les Délice de l'Ile Maurice. Reviews of the food itself was always secondary to the comments such as "quirky", "perfect place to kick you in the balls", and "snobby eaters stay away". So Saturday night, surrounded by my posse for support, we headed out to Verdun.
A rowdy atmosphere greeted us when we walked in the door. A waiter quickly seated us by the the window where magazines and books on the Maurtius Islands were strewn. The decor of the restaurant was eclectic and wall decorations included posters of Castro, maps of Ile Maurice, children's drawings, and oil paintings. A further look around and I noticed tennis balls on the legs of all the steel-framed chairs and, hey it that cologne by the decorative plates on the shelf by that table?
There is no menu at this place and no price list to be seen. Patrons freely get up and go to the fridge in the back of the restaurant to retrieve their own beer or wine which they have brought with them. Patrons mix together, chatting with one another from table to table.
Our waiter brings us our glasses (no two are alike) and a serving each of battered and crispy fried cabbage. He tells us it is to be eaten with any of the four sauces placed at our table in mismatched bottles. The cabbage was delicious, reminded me of battered fried onions.
We have a choice of appetizers: shrimp salad, smoked salmon salad, and chicken drumsticks. Among the salad, the smoked salmon stood out, being both flavorful and refreshing. Chicken drumsticks seemed odd as an appetizer, but were deliciously deep-fried - five drumsticks per plate! Our appetizers were followed by some uninspiring lentil soup.
Finally, chef/owner Sylvester makes his appearance at our table to take our order. A charicaturistic Asian man who exudes joie de vivre and looks as if he just walked out of a soup kitchen. Upon closer inspection, I notice that his apron is not smeared with the blood of a recent slaughter as I had assumed on my previous visit. The stains on his apron are, in fact smears and splatter of various sauces from the kitchen.
"For today..." Sylvester's voice booms "... in terms of seafood, we have scallops, we have shrimp, we have calamari, we have salmon, and we have bass." I quickly interject "What kind of bass?" "Wait, wait!" reprimands Sylvester "... let me finish, and then your questions." He continues: "For meat, we have chicken, we have jaret d'agneau, we have tongue, and we have le t-bone. Now, for your question... the bass is... BASS! You don't like it, I fire the cook. You like it, you pay double!" So Sylvester writes me down for the bass, but I tell him I was just curious about the bass, and was actually interested in oxtail which I had heard is often on the menu. Sylvester slips away into the back and shouts back"We have it... you want?" So, I order the oxtail in a curry sauce. My dining companion from my previous visit here orders le t-bone, but Sylvester won't let her choose a sauce"You leave it to me." he tells her. My other friends orders the jaret d'agneau with saffron sauce, the bass in garlic sauce, and the shrimp in garlic sauce. Other choice of sauces included Cajun, Creole, tomato, and honey.
Sylvester disappears into the kitchen and within a few minutes, our main courses begin coming out of the kitchen piping hot. All dishes are served with plain white rice and a bit of salad. At this point, I am reminded of my father, who regardless of what type of restaurant he was in, be it Italian, steakhouse or Chinese, would always ask "Yeah, but does it come with lots of gravy, because I don't like it dry... I want lots of gravy." These dishes were so full of gravy that my father would have been a very happy man. My dining companions found their shrimp and bass in garlic sauce much to their liking. I, however found them a little bland. The lamb was fork-tender and her sauce subtle yet flavorful. Le t-bone was peppery and bold. My oxtail was succulent and tender, the curry sauce savory and slightly spicy.
Dessert at Les Délices de l'ILe Maurice consists of a small Tupperware container of sugar-coated gummies. Don't feel let down however, Sylvester will re-fill your container if he notices you have finished them off. My friends claim that the coffee was the best they have had in a long time... they had run out of real coffee, so the waiter brought us steaming cups of water and packets of Sanka.
The real fun begins after closing. At about 9:45, Sylvester prances around the dining room chanting "On est fermée... we are closed!" He pulls the curtains behind us closed (actually mismatched shower curtains), and secures them with a chip bag clip. From behind the counter, he grabs (intentional omission - well, I really don't want to divulge too much). I am suddenly transported into a house party at it's best. Sylvester goes from table-to-table, making sure everyone feels equally "welcome". A hockey game is on the television set atop a high shelf. Patrons quickly place their bets. Sylvester, cheers of his team mimicking voodoo-like gestures at the tv set anytime anyone approaches for a goal. The cheers get louder as the end of the game approaches... who won? Who knows... all I know is that Sylvester set about the room dancing.
As we were leaving the music was cranked and a few people began dancing by their tables. Sylvester came to kiss us all good-bye and asked us to return soon. The cost for all this, including tax... less than $20 per person. Will I return? Absolutely... who's in?
Les Delices De L'ile Maurice
272 Rue Hickson, Verdun, QC H4G2J6, CA