Restaurant Review: Moishes
So, does Moishes 2.0 match the old?
If Moishes steakhouse were celebrating its anniversary this year, it would be its 85th. Opened in 1938 by the late Moishe Lighter, this family run restaurant had long been managed by his two sons, Lenny and Larry. Generations of Montrealers frequented this establishment, which was city's oldest continuously operating fine-dining restaurant in the same location. Moishes always scored with its superb service, great food and history. And the ambiance and decor were steak house perfection. On my last review for The Montreal Gazette in — gasp! — 2012, I awarded them three and a half stars. I was a fan, and as legions of Montrealers crowding the 200-seat dining room night after night proved, many of you were too.
But then everything changed.
In 2018, Lenny Lighter sold Moishes to the Sportscene Group, the company that owns La Cage (formerly La Cage aux Sports). And not just the restaurant, but the brand, which covers a large line of Moishes supermarkets products. The deal was that the restaurant would remain open with its current management, including owner-manager Lighter, on site to help with the transition. A much-loved presence in the restaurant, Lenny Lighter was one of Montreal’s most respected restaurateurs who knew a good number of his multi-generational customers by name. The press release for the company promised that the “personality and family spirit” of the historic restaurant would be preserved. It all sounded so promising!
And then came Covid-19.
When Moishes was sold, plans were to move the restaurant closer to the business district in Old Montreal to profit from the biz-person clientele and serve lunch. But with everything at a standstill during the pandemic, the project was put on ice. Even the idea of reviving the old site to do take-out meals during the pandemic, Lighter told me, was impossible as the kitchen was in no shape to snap back into action. For a while I wondered whether the new Moishes would even get off the ground, as it was rumoured to be a multi-million dollar project and the La Cage group had taken a well-publicized hit during pandemic, closing several restaurants, and laying off nearly 30% of its workforce.
Then last spring, once the Covid clouds had cleared, the new Moishes was indeed opening for business. But as the contract with Lighter had terminated over the five years since it was sold, they would be opening without a family presence. And meanwhile, Lighter had moved on to new projects with the Milos group. Only of few of the original employees from the former restaurant remained, including David Zaltzman, a former manager of the maison mère.
I was hesitant to return, and not just because I was afraid the new restaurant would not match my memories of the old (I’m not THAT nostalgic), but because I heard it was expensive… very expensive. Full disclosure: my son has worked at the restaurant part time, on and off, since the opening, so I saw the menu in its early days, including the $18-a-shrimp shrimp cocktail, a $39 side of lobster mac ‘n cheese, a $61 shish kebab, and a $290 seafood tower.
As for the steak, how about a $95 bone-in filet mignon, a $190 dry-aged porterhouse, and a $89 ribeye? Yup, that’s some big bucks right there, but choice cuts of steak have become a major luxury item. And this is USDA Prime meat, pretty close to the nec-plus-ultra on the steak scene. From what I’ve heard, the restaurant is doing gangbusters. Vegetables may be all the rage, but it’s hard to deny that steak still rules the upscale restaurant scene.
So faced with an eventual mortgage payment of a bill, I made my way to Moishes on a quiet Sunday night (I wanted to dine on a Saturday but they were fully booked) and entered completely open to the experience.