MTLàTABLE: Fred St-Aubin, from Moleskine Restaurant

Isa Tousignant

A Montrealer since 1997, when he came for an Italian cooking course at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, Frédéric St-Aubin is a Franco-Ontarian chef who’s travelled the world and worked all over Europe. He welcomes diners with open arms at Moleskine Restaurant, which offers pizza and homemade soft-serve on the first floor and market cuisine on the second, located in downtown Montréal on the corner of Parc and Sherbrooke – inches from the Quartier des spectacles.

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Why did you choose to open Moleskine downtown?

I opened here because I joined forces with the owners of Pullman, next door. When the Greek restaurant that was here for 40 years closed, we got access to the space and we jumped on it – we dove into the adventure and opened Moleskine.

What are some discoveries you made here since you opened?

The vibe is cosmopolitan. You’ll find all cultures, all ages – tourists, residents, students. Everyone passes by Sherbrooke and Parc!

Is there a hidden side to the neighbourhood?

Yes! One of the things I love doing is having meetings with my business partner Véronique Dalle on the McGill campus. Before becoming a sommelier, she studied music there, so she knows all sorts of interesting spots in the music department. There are incredible spaces where we can forget we’re downtown.

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What relationships have you built with neighbouring businesses?

As soon as I moved in I went to see David Aghapekian, the butcher from Boucherie Dans La Côte, and we started working together. We also work with papeterie nota bene when we have promotions to do, and of course Pullman is like Moleskine’s big brother. There’s a real spirit of collaboration on this block.

Where do you go in the neighbourhood to get a coffee?

All my workers pass by Pikolo Espresso Bar on their way in – they open a little before us. But I make my own coffee here. I’m a bit of an expert!

Where do you go for last-minute errands?

It’s pretty amazing to have the Provigo right across the street. Plus, right next door there’s an organic store, Optima, that has an impressive selection of products, so I do my research there sometimes and discover new things. They have a good selection of seeds for making sprouts.

Is there anywhere you like to go after a long day’s work?

BENELUX brewpub is always fun; I go sometimes between shifts for a beer and a bit of relaxing on their nice terrasse. Cinéma du Parc is also very cool. They show vintage and unusual movies.

What flavour does Moleskine add to the neighbourhood?

This is a chef’s restaurant – other than us it’s cafés, chain restaurants, it’s a very student-y strip. We offer complete meals and delicious drinks for lunch and dinner, in an amazing atmosphere.

What keeps people coming back to Moleskine?

The pizza and the soft-serve ice cream! Let’s be honest. But there’s also my partner, Véronique Dalle. She’s a truly expert hostess; she can change your mood in an instant. Moleskine is easy to get to and welcoming to everyone, and we’ve got a generous spirit – even if we’re full up we’ll take the time to make you a bespoke ice cream flavour if you ask for it.

What are some Québec products you use on a regular basis?

Oh, cheeses. I use the Hatley Road, from the Eastern Townships, and buffola by Élevages Buffalo Maciocia on a daily basis. I also love the Fromagerie Ruban Bleu from Chambly, which makes goat’s milk cheeses. I buy their Beurrasse, a fresh goat curd that I serve simply with vegetables like asparagus or roasted carrots.

Do you have a favourite ingredient these days?

Bitter greens are a family that fascinates me. Dandelion greens, mustard greens, chicory, puntarelle; I braise the heart until it’s tender with a slight bitter kick. It’s delicious served with a caper or anchovy vinaigrette. I like grilling radicchio in the wood oven and serving it with a bittersweet lemon dressing. Those greens have an amazing growing season in Québec, which lasts well into November.

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant, blogger

Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s eclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.

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