MONTREAL’S BEST TABLES: La Chronique

Event: Dinner at La Chronique
Friday November 20th, 2009 18:00
Addr: 99, Rue Laurier West, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-271-3095
Type of cuisine: Fine Dining (French, North American…they call it New American 😉
Dinner/cost: Multiple course tasting menu with wine pairings $229 (Taxes Incl.)
Url: http://www.lachronique.qc.ca

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

(English review to follow)  – Aucun doute là dessus: c’est effectivement dans le top 7 des meilleures tables Montréalaises. C’est un restaurant qui m’a personellement emballé à plein des égards:  des choix de vins parmi les plus inspirants en ville, un aspect romantique et calme qui sort du lot et quel Chef charmant: le Chef De Montigny (il fut le seul aux fourneaux lors de celle soirée là). Je ne connais la Chronique qu’au travers de mon repas du 20/11/09, par conséquent mon observation ne se limite qu’à ce que j’y ai dégusté:  Éclatants -> leur pain, tout simplement digne des meilleures boulangeries. Quelques plats remarquables: L’entrée de pieuvre/chorizo, le filet de Saint Pierre (anthologiques et de calibre d’un solide 2 Étoiles Michelin). Puis, il y’a aussi eu du peu reluisant, et là, à ces prix là, je boude: le foie gras (consistence flasque, mais le sourrire fut de mise car c’était bon au gout), le porc (bof), le dessert (plus d’audace, svp!). Alors, j’abdique? Absolument pas: l’on ne se retrouve pas dans le top des tables d’une grande ville au hasard de la vie. Et si je me base sur mon repas, je dois avouer que ce qui reluit ici, reluit avec plein d’éclat (pieuvre/chorizo  + filet de Saint Pierre, ce fut sensationnel ca)!…. mais il leur faut absolument éviter des ‘écarts’ tels que celui du  foie gras et le dessert qui lui fut peu élaboré pour de la gastronomie de ce niveau. Un rappel: je n’ai pas encore eu l’occasion d’apprécier l’oeuvre du Chef De Cank, l’autre Chef.

It is amazing how a lot of people are madly in   with La Chronique.  Most comments, I read on the web, about La Chronique, are  basically declarations of love such as “the best restaurant of montreal”, “my best restaurant ever” and so on. Even, my personal top favourite Mtl food reviewer, Thierry Daraize, wrote a raving review on La Chonique and untitled it “My best chronic“.

Located in Mile-End, at  mas o menos a 10-15 mins drive from downtown, the restaurant is situated in a fully autonomous area (lol): hairdressing salon, art galleries, spas, beauty salon,  shoe stores, cookware stores….

 

…right in front, one of Mtl’s great restaurants, Raza. Not far, another great one: Jun I

…+ couple of other restaurants like Phayathai (close neighbor to La Chronique), Baldwin Barmacie (Wow..that is original. Check that out!). A bit further, you have Chao Phraya (my personal favourite Thai in Mtl), Thai Grill (hot decor, but the food has never stunned me though), Barros Lucco (to my opinion, the best chilean sandwiches in Mtl), + the long time and one of my personal Mtl favourite historical delis called Wilensky).

Back to our main bud, La Chronique:

I do not know if you will get that same feeling, but whenever I was starring at their online pics (http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/fr/photo_resto.htm), I had the feeling that it was a bit somber, tiny old schoolish kind of bistro. The 1st time I watched those pics, I also anticipated the red wall to not be of my taste as well. But stepping physically into La Chronique provided me with a complete different visual experience, a very pleasant one I had not expected: La Chronique is certainly not huge, but I truely like the way they managed to maximize the space of this small restaurant: you do not get the unpleasant chlostrophobic feel usually found in such tiny space. Here, long banquettes are against the walls, tables and chairs superbly well arranged to provide room to the patrons. Really well though in terms of space management. And the restaurant does not have the borying kitsch decor I would have anticipated: to the contrary, there is an elegant bistro chic feel I was not expecting at all here:

The red color of the wall is beautiful, the black and white pictures are the fruits of the talented photograph that is hidden inside Chef De Cank. De Cank (he was not present on that evening), is a passionate photographer and  has a gallery of his beautiful black and white everyday’s life scenery photos displayed at this restaurant: 

Seems that De Cank also works the wood. The following wooden bread and salt boxes are wood art works of Chef De Cank:

OK 2 more pictures of the dinning room, before we indulge in the overall dining report:

 

Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by a gentleman who was going to be my main waiter of the evening, Pierre. Polite greetings, coat checking, and a beautiful corner table with view on Laurier Street.
The chef working tonight was going to be Olivier de Montigny: very sympathic gentleman.

The layout and ambiance is ideally elegant, 

even romantic too (with nice little jazzy music in the background, dim light,  and the general cozy feel of the dinner room, mainly when it’s not busy of patrons, this could be a type of sympathic charming romantic spot that I would certainly adopt).

I picked the multiple course tasting menu with the $can 195 (Before Tax) tasting menu:

Course #1, Octopus/Romesco/Chorizo.

Amazingly tender and very tasty chunk of octopus, oozing with an impeccable enjoyable char-grilled flavour. Intense rich tasty mouthfeel. The subtle tasty romesco sauce was not overwhelming, letting the octopus shine with all it’s splendeur. Finally a table that understood the importance of not mixing up big chunks of chorizo with a delicate appetizer! I am saying finally, because at so many tables, I saw lots of chefs mixing up big chunks of those sausages with food that were delicate on their own, instead of doing what Chef Montigny has brillantly done here: small little dices of tasty chorizos (delicate, elegant and appropriate). Kudos to the ecclectic touch of the chef on this one: here, it’s a successful balad under the suns of the seafood and the exotism of the spaniards (chorizo). Ole! Succulent.  10/10
Pairing wine: Chablis Tete D’or, Brilland Simon 2007. Amazing white wine, with an intensely pure body, fully mineral, sweet and elegant. It reached out perfectly well with the romesco sauce and the small dices of Chorizo. Brillant wine pairing, like the rest of all Pierre’s wine pairings as you will see later on. Great job, Pierre!

Course #2, Tuna/Avocado/Shrimp

Here again, another refreshing touch of ecclectic. This time, we travel to the Oriental world. The tuna is offered two ways here: both in it’s tartare + tataki version. The tataki tuna with wakame algae had a remarquably genuine authentic oriental taste that I enjoyed. Really well done both in terms of technical execution (truely felt like it was done by an original oriental chef using his/her authentic homey japanese tataki cooking technique / the meat was firm as expected, had the perfect texture) and work of the taste (tasty!). The tartare version was as succulent: oozing of freshness, remarquably tasty, it was paired with a julienne of fresh apples and sat on top of a delicious purée of avocado.The shrimp was a beautiful big juicy lonesome marvel dressed with it’s enjoyable tempura crust. Really well done! 8/10
Pairing wine: Marsannay les Longeroies, 2006 (Domaine de Jean Fournier). Great Pinot Noir from Burgundy, delicate, with a remarquably light fruity flavor. This wine was a killer to my tastebuds and paired harmoniously with this course. Really great. It is a private import. 

Filet de Saint-Pierre fish (John Dory)/Lobster

The chunk of Lobster was tender, slightly short of the fully marine flavor that make me go Wowed when I devour seafood items,  bu tasty. The filet of Saint-Pierre fish was impeccably evenly well cooked, not too smooth, not  tough with an appealing memorable white snowy tender flesh. Both the lobster and the Saint-Pierre filet were bathed in a yellow wine sauce: brillant work here since the yellow wine sauce was not overwhelming by all accounts. To the contrary, it completed perfectly well the dish. On it’s own, the yellow wine sauce was as beautifully creamy as enjoyably light and refreshingly tasty. Excellent . 9/10
Wine pairing:  A 2008 Blanco Inedito rioja. Amazingly soft and subtle enjoyable wine that I never tasted before. It reached out so well with the lobster and Saint-Pierre filet.

Course #4: Foie Gras

The Pan-seared foie had perfect on-the-outside beautifully browny caramel-looking texture, but it was unfortunately  mushy on the inside. Taste of the foie was good though. It came with a well concocted cabbage roll that was ideally crunchy and filled with an inside of risotto (nice touch!). A bit busy as a dish, but a winner since it was succulently hearty and homey: the delicious delicate flavorfully packed sauce of foie gras was a blast! 7.5 in execution, 8.5/10 in taste
Pairing wine: Clos Saron, La Cuvée mystérieuse, 2004. Intense red color, amazing great nose, enjoyably oaky with a nice sweetness made this Merlot/Syrah a perfect fully flavored rich companion to the Pan-Seared foie gras.  
Course #5: Pork

The pork meat was cooked 2 ways -> sous vide and roasted. The sous vide one, as expected, was oozing of it’s impeccable well preserved full porky natural taste. Perfectly cooked: tot too smooth, not to tough. The roasted was better though: tender, superior enjoyable taste, enjoyable porky peppery flavors. It was also less greasy, naturally. Accompanying the pork: fresh crunchy grean beans and a stand out fresh onion cippolini that was perfectly boiled and it was tasty.  7.5/10
Pairing wine: Saint-Julien 2006 (Domaine du Jaugaret). Impeccable red wine (Cabernet sauvignon at 80%, petit verdot, malbec). Private import. I am trying to get this wine at home for Christmas. Loved it so much!

The plate of cheese

Very nice varied selection (well thought choices, imho) from Quebec and abroad:
I chose went with 4 picks ->
(1)Queso de Valdeon
Nicely aged strong/intense flavoured Spanish blue cheese
A savourish mix of both cow’s and goat’s milk.
(2)Le Cendrillon from Alexis de Portneuf
A flavorful rich cheese of Saint Raymond de Portneuf (Qc) that won the World Cheese Awards 2009. http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/movie-guide/Quebec+goat+cheese+voted+best+world/2063623/story.html
The inside softness of this cheese is amazing.
(3)Pikauba From Lac Saint Jean, QC
Made of cow milk. Flavorfully intense/rich at smell, but surprisingly light in taste/mouthfeel
http://www.fromageduquebec.qc.ca/en/fromagerie.php?fromagerie=lehmann
(4) Fleur du Maquis, Corsica
Made of sheep’s milk. Perfumed with savory (sarriette), rosemary, juniper berries (baies de genièvre). Very mild, light milky taste that is enhanced only by it’s herbal perfume. Just ok.

My four picks of cheese were beautifully presented on a squarish plank of wood, with nicely sweet roasted nuts, dry apricots and other sweet dry fruity savouries (I am usually not keen to the sweet & salty, but this type of balance between sweet and salt seduces me highly: the overall was total tastebud pleaser -> the intense pairing sweet wine (Gewurztraminer Cuvée Théo, Clos des Capucins, Domaine Weinbach 2007: elegant, intensily sweet, fruity, velvety), the salty-ness of the cheeses, the sweetness of the dry fruits and nuts…simply amazing!!). 8/10

Ending on a sweet note:

Course #6: Carpaccio of Pineapple

From left to the right, a delicious oval-shaped ice cream, a creamy white choco concoction, pearls of strawberry sauce and slices of pineapple (hence the name Carpaccio of Pineapple). A dessert full of love, as I like to qualify such dessert: simple, straightfoward but done with passion, all the little attentions and full of elegance. 7/10
Pairing wine: a 2006 Gaillac doux, Domaine Rotier. Nice complexity of apricot, fig, quince fruit (coing). Ideal pairing to the hearty dessert.

SEE better photos of this dinner at my Picasa’s restaurant Gallery:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/RESTAURANTLACHRONIQUEMONTREAL#

SO, Voilà!
Overall, VERY GOOD. Would have walked away with an EXCELLENT rating had the dessert stormed the show (read: being complex in execution or tastebud blowing like the Bistro Cocagne‘s Pot de crème I had, or the M sur Masson‘s Caramelized pineapple marvel, or the ‘Amour des Iles’ exotical hottie I devoured at l’Eau à la bouche earlier on in February) + the foie gras being not of mushy inside consistency.

As opposed to Le Club Chasse et Peche or XO, there was no particular meal (out of this one dinner) that I would throw against those of some of world best tables that I already went dining at (El Bulli, Fat Duck, Pierre Gagnaire, Noma), but this dinner at La Chronique has definitely some stellar performances that confirms it’s well deserved consideration as one of Montreal’s top best tables (the starter of Octopus is among the best Octopus appetizer I tried on a fine gourmet table since a long time, their fresh bread would send many of the best bakers of this city to retirement, their pairing wine choices was flawless and service was very good). It is a table that I truely enjoyed, althought this pertains more to my top 10 rather than to my top 5 in Montreal. Next time I will go there, I want this time to try Chef De Canck food as well (a bit of both would be highly appreciated).

PROS: Indeed, one of Montreal very best (in my top 10 of Mtl’s restaurants), the bread …oh the bread..their bread…so heavenly. The Chorizo course, the John dory  too. The wine pairing was one of the very best I ever experienced at a Montreal high end table. BUT….

CONS: BUT…such a top table needs, at all cost, to avoid little flaws like the mushy foie gras (course #4) …especially at those prices!  It also commands a dessert that I can remember for a while (that dessert was way too ordinary for this level of dining)!

La Chronique
Overall food rating
: 5/10 (See the section ‘WHAT DO I THINK MONTHS LATER ‘ below for more about this.                                     
Overall service rating
: 10/10  On that evening I was there. 
Décor
:  simply decorated with taste and lovely touches such as the paintings of one of the Chefs on the wall
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmecticcalculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

WHAT DO I THINK MONTHS LATER: If you look at my scores of the individual dishes, the dishes were delicious, most of them  really good. But when I am charged the prices of a top tier dining experience and I find myself at what is known as one of the very best of this city, I have no other choice but to compare the overall experience to its closest peers. And this is where my score for the overall food performance remained a poor  5/10, which means ‘average’ for its category. There is no excuse: a mushy foie gras, as tasty as it is (it was tasty) on a 100$ ++ tasting menu., NO!..NO! and NO!!!.,, That average dessert, again, NO! Not at those $$$!!! Not at this level (La Chronique is regularly considered in the top 5 finest tables in Mtl).  The problem was essentially a problem of  value for my money:  I have experienced michelin-star level of food at other restaurants like XO Le restaurant, Raza, Toque!, Club Chasse & Peche, La Porte  …at less $$$ in many cases. 


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