Located in Pavillon Jean-Brilliant, a monolithic slab of a building at the base of Mount Royal near Côte-des-Neiges, Chez Valère looks a little like a feeding hall for the Borg: dull, unadorned and utilitarian. Though it was renovated five years ago, Chez Valère remains a product of another time, when cafeterias were replete with stainless steel fridges, metal counters and plastic trays that would come in handy in a jailhouse brawl. The attempts at modernization—primarily the salad bar and sushi options—are successful, if limited.
The caf has two daily specials that are hit and miss: the cumin chicken was surprisingly tangy and flavourful given the pile it came from, while the beef bourguignon had an Alpo-grade texture and taste. Whoever made the pizza managed the dubious feat of making the cheese crustier than the crust itself, which was spongy and damp. Raccoons have likely passed up better pie in dumpsters out back.
Thankfully there’s always poutine. The dish is advertised loud and proud, clogged arteries and swollen guts be damned, and it lives up to its billing. The sauce is thinner without the chunks that doom lesser poutines, and the chefs use real fromage en grains, not the grated variety familiar to most Upper Canadians. Plus, Valère serves beer, which is stored next to the impressive selection of Jell-o. Not coincidentally, the desserts look like they haven’t changed since Duplessis, and are about as appetizing. The good news: everything, even the nasty pizza, is trans-fat free, and only equitable coffee is served.
Valère is university-run and non-profit, which makes it easy on the wallet: the daily special, complete with potatoes and steamed vegetables, goes for just over $5. A hearty helping from the salad bar, which is priced by weight, is about the same. The staff encourages recycling, and will charge you an extra 15 cents to use a paper plate, or five cents for a plastic fork. Considering it has 5,000 visitors a day, that’s a lot less landfill.
— Martin Patriquin