Joseph Cheaib was 10 years old when he first arrived in Montreal with his family from Lebanon. One of nine children, it became clear pretty quickly that his career path would end up involving the food industry.
It was the Cheaib family who started the hugely successful ethnic food retailer Marché Adonis. From a small store on Faillon Street, it has grown to become a powerhouse chain across Quebec and Ontario. In 2011 it was purchased by supermarket giant Metro.
Young Joseph grew up in the Adonis stores, working weekends while in school and most importantly learning how to take care of clients. That came in handy when he graduated from university and opened his own restaurant and fish market in 1995 on L’Acadie called la Sirène de la Mer, offering the charms of the Mediterranean to Montrealers. It was an immediate success, so much so that a year later a second location opened on Jean-Talon in TMR. Joseph even had a West Island spot for a short time.
At one point Joseph decided to sell the L’Acadie restaurant and devote all of his energy to Jean-Talon. I have been dining there for years with my family, always impressed with the team Joseph has behind him. It starts with the ever so charming general manager Milad Moussa, who has been there from the start. Assistant GM Gabriel Feres came aboard in 1996, He also serves as the head server, always in demand by customers.
The restaurant itself sits 200 diners, as well as 40 on a seasonal terrace. There is a private room for groups tucked behind the attractive wall of wine bottles. This place is ideal for corporate events, professional conferences, product or service launches, office parties, birthday dinners, intimate weddings, and other private events. The venue is equipped with audio-visual systems, large screens, and connectivity installations for computers and multimedia systems. Milad and Gabby run an excellent operation, with impeccable service and mouthwatering appetizers and main courses. Of course let us not forget the sensational fish market, which accounts for about 30 percent of the business. Not only is the selection second to none, but Hassan and his team behind the counter will provide endless tips on how to prepare your chosen fish at home or if you call ahead they will cook it for you to bring home to the dinner table.
Joseph’s brother Sam is an importer of seafood via his company Lagoon. As a result, fresh fish is delivered three to four times a week. “Among the best in the city,” Joseph says proudly.
Implicated with many charities, Joseph is the vice-president of the Cedars Cancer Foundation, He lost his dad to the dreaded disease. Will La Sirène expand again one day? Joseph is carefully eyeing the downtown core for a new location.
It was wonderful to go to La Sirène on a recent weekend evening with members of my family. We were a party of five and on this occasion, we asked Gabby to recommend selections.
We started off with two salads: a Tabbouleh (a simple Mediterranean salad of very finely chopped vegetables, lots of fresh parsley and bulgur wheat, all tossed with lime juice and olive oil) and a Fattouche (a juicy, crunchy mix of herbs, cucumber, tomatoes, and pita, bright with the flavor of suma). There was an addictive plate of Hummus with pita bread there as well. Then came the Baba ghannouj (an appetizer of mashed cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and various seasonings). This was all perfect to share around the table and made for a fun start to our dinner.
We were soon ready for the main course and how enjoyable it was to anticipate Gabby’s next recommendation. Along came some Shrimps la sirene, grilled so well there were also some cheese rolls and Kebbe meatballs. For the fish, we were treated to two orders of Mediterranean Sea bass direct from the market and grilled to perfection.
The real surprise for us was the Chich taouk Chicken and chich kebab. For whatever reason, we had never tried the chicken here before and it went over extremely well, moist and so easy to cut and chew. We will definitely have that on our list next time. Some filet mignon was presented to us as well.
We all shared a few side dishes of rice and a few glasses of wine. For dessert, we feasted on ice cream with cotton candy and a fruit plate. It was a tremendous meal!
La Sirene is located at 114 Dresden Avenue (Jean-Talon West) in the Town of Mount Royal, Quebec. For reservations call 514-345-0345. The restaurant and fish market are open seven days a week. Log on to sirenedelamer.com.