Event: Dinner at Restaurant Toque

Type of cuisine: High end (North American/French) fine dining
Arome’s ranking: #1ex  (Categ: High end Fine dining)

Address: 900, Place Jean-Paul Riopelle, Montreal, QC
Friday November 27th 2009  17:30
Tasting Menu, Pairing wine,1 cocktail, Coffee with Grand Marnier: $Can 270 (Before Tips)

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

(English review to follow)- Cette grande table Montréalaise réussit à se maintenir dans le top 3 Montréalais depuis plus d’une décennie. Et dans l’assiette, l’expérience reste indémodable: des plats aux textures et gouts du jour. De ce repas du 27/11/09, je retiens plusieurs plats de solide calibre 2 étoile Michelin tels que le ”plat de foie gras poélé”, le nougat crémeux, le soufflé de poire, l’éffiloché de lapin. Parcontre, quelques observations à prendre constructivement et qui ne concernent que le repas dont j’ai fait la critique: Il faut, à ces prix là, insuffler de l’éclat meme dans des éléments aussi anodins qu’un simple amuse bouche. Ce n’est pas un drame (cela peut s’addresser à une panoplie d’autres  grandes tables), mais je demeure convaincu que tout avis constructif permettant de faire mieux ne peut que profiter à l’évolution de la table en question. Et tant qu’à offrir des mignardises, offrez-en quelques uns (j’en ai eu eu qu’un seul lors de ce repas). Évidemment, il y’a pire dans la vie et ce genre d’observations peuvent paraitre farfelues à plein des égards (des milliers d’enfants crèvent de faim, par exemple)…mais elles demeurent tout à fait appropriées vu qu’il s’agit ici  d’apporter un oeil critique mais constructif sur un  restaurant haut de gamme . Ces observations, dois-je le répéter, n’enlèvent rien à l’excellence de cette grande table et ne peuvent qu’etre bénéfiques au restaurant lui meme.

Well, I guess there is no need for presentations here! Anywhere around the world, pick any touristic pamphlet about Montreal, and chances are that you will find Restaurant Toque at the very top of the Mtl advertised restaurants. Ask any world restaurant rating system to have a look at Montreal, and Toque will be one of the very first they will stare at.  And our friend has a long list of distinctions to talk for him: it is the only  Relais & Chateaux in Montreal as of right now, it has –like Nuances — some diamonds of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and the American Automobile Association (AAA). The Guide Debeur has also awarded our friend.

Toque! is located in the financial district, downtown Mtl, right besides the Inter-continental hotel and right in front the Palais des Congrès:

On the inside, the decor is elegant, vast (lot of space in between the tables) and contemporary,

bathed in a balance between pastel toned colors and some darker tones as well, with a “wealthy feel” to it.
In the middle of the restaurant, their wine cellar:

It’s located in the Montreal financial district, and with that in mind I must say kudos to their designer: like it or not, it’s –decor wise —one ideal type of table to expect in such environment.

I started picking a cocktail that is unique/original/curious, an idea of the Toque! house: A Hydromel (quebec’s honey flavored wine)  & Saffron cocktail. The concoction has an appealing full bodied golden yellow color, with a first  in-mouth strong-in-alcohol zest (in contrast with it’s light smell).  Particularly appreciated the fact that the saffron was not overwhelming here. Barely noticeable and this helped the cocktail  to be more enjoyable (I will try mimicking this one in my food lab at home just  to see what it gives with stronger levels of saffron flavourings). Then the more you drink it, an enjoyable citrus taste starts developping. Very nice cocktail if you do not give up on the 1st in-mouth strong alcohol punch!

I opted for the 7 course tasting menu with foie gras ($104) + an another extra $107 for  the prestige wine pairing choices.

The tasting menu kicked off with a mise en bouche:

A  tangerine & orange liquid  shooter. Not bad, but a forgettable item. I’d suggest a mise en bouche with more punch/zest (I know, a mise en bouche is not intended to shock  the tastebuds…but it still can / and has to be a work of memorable flavorful/zestier  taste). In you want to go for that kind of amuse-bouche, then go for something complex, daring like this one of L’Astrance.  5/10

Course #1: Pétoncles Princess à l’eau d’amande amère, brunoise de chou-rave, pomelo et mousse de wasabi   Impeccable freshness of this top quality scallop: fresher than that,  it’s in it’s waters! I do not mind paying the $$$ for quality (I’m especially extremely tough with seafood’s quality, being born in a fishermen village), but the quality has to be there: and that was the case here! Now a suggestion: scallops that tiny, you do not cut them in 3 tinnier slices (that was the case here): keep them as a whole! It was complimented by a light enjoyable wasabi mousse (geniusly concocted, light and enjoyable and by not overwhelming at all, on top of completing so well the scallop item) , tiny slices of apples (nice accompaniments, too) + an enjoyable zesty touch of sour almond water (taste exactly like vinegar)  at the bottom. Not an item that would mark my souvenirs, albeit not bad at all especially considering the top quality scallops and beauty of the presentation (the 2 shells sitting on top of a  layout of crushed  ice was pleasing to the eyes).  I just wished it could’ve been flavorfully bouncier/more vibrant.  8/10
Pairing White wine: Chablis 1er cru 2007, Les Vaillons, D. Dampt
Nice green yellow color, a fine palate of lemon and granny smith. It is a wine that I usually drink for a  straight pleasant consumption. It’s a young wine, with no particular character,  but ideally light and of perfect companionship to the scallops. It’s mineral flavor balanced so well with the scallops. Safe choice imho, but the results are there -> harmonious pairings.

Course #2: Terrine de foie de lotte, gelée de saké, radis, concombre et soya gélifié
Nice touch here. Where most restaurants will offer just 1 version of foie with their “tasting menus with foie”, Toque! is more generous -> 2 versions of foie are offered here (one cold, the next hot).  And I appreciate their will to add an original touch of not offering just duck foie only.  Here it is a terrine of the burbot’s liver. Surrounded by small pieces of cucumbers and carrots, the foie terrine  had an ideally pink fresh texture on the inside with a perfect smooth velvety overall consistency. The problem here is not with the foie itself (which was perfect on it’s own) but with the soya sauce it was bathed in: the soya had overwhelmed the full flavor of the foie. So nice idea (the overall really brings some kind of  oriental fusion food trend that could have been a blast) but the foie needs to be enjoyed fully flavor-wise. 7/10
Pairing wine: Vouvray sec 2006, Haut-Lieu, Domaine Huet 
This too, appeared a bit of a safe choice to me. Make no mistake: it’s a good mainstream wine, and I  usually like chenin blanc, but this wine is more appropriately ideal for a day to day consumption imho.  With that said, it’s a good wine, with an intense rich smell (ideally aromatic with green apple flavors I truely  enjoyed), hearty light sweetness in mouth. The wine paired nicely with the oriental feel of the dish  (terrine of liver bathed in soya sauce).

Course #3: Foie gras poêlé, daikon poché au foin d’odeur, eau de pomme et gelées de miel et jurançon Very elegant chunk of beautifully-textured (perfect soft unctuous texture) pan-seared foie. Evenly cooked, deliciously tasty with an impeccable smooth inside  consistency. It kept all  it’s fully inner flavors. Bathed in a light subtly sweet delicious  apple jus, with dices of apples and heavenly delectable dices of honey gelée. That apple jus is very distinct and lightens the dish. Simply, WoWed!  Largely among the best pan-seared foie Items I ever had on any of the finest tables I dined at in Canada and abroad!  10/10
Pairing wine: Pinot Gris Grand Cru 2006, Sonnerberg VT, Domaine A. Boxler
This Pinot was intense, richly fruity and reached out perfectly well with the sweet apple jus and
lightness of the foie.

Course #4: Effiloché de lapin, pâte à cavatelli,  matsutakés et craterelles, betterave et purées de rutabaga The tender small cubes of sauteed rabbit were impeccably tasty.  On top of being tasty, this dish was generously filling, nicely seasoned, flavorfully  well balanced. I courageously gave a good bite at the far left lonesome generous chunk  of garlick only to find out that it was free from it’s usual agressive taste (that garlick was surprisingly sweet, enjoyable).  10/10
Pairing wine: Vosne-Romanée 1999, J. Grivot 
As much as I was reproaching the first 2 wine pairings to be safe choices, as much as I like this one and find it daring, ambitious, full of character. It had an intense depth of  in between cherry to cola flavors with enjoyable gentle tannins. And this wine will keep improving with age. Great wine on it’s own,  and would be a perfect wine pairing to the the rabbit had the meat been more char-flavored.

Course #5: Gigue de cerf rôtie, cerfeuil tubéreux, rabiole (rutabaga), topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke) et purée de poivron rouge
The chunk of deer was lean, perfectly tender, nicely peppery, warm through the middle with a perfect hint of red. Delicious fresh chunk of meat. Comparable to the best filet mignons I had enjoyed.
The accompanied Red Pepper purée was tasty and beautifully unctuous. The yellow turnip was nicely boiled and tasty, the accompanied brussels sprouts fresh and pleasantly crunchy and there was a also (not mentionned in the title of the menu) a very succulent breaded meat ball of ground foie. 8/10
Pairing wine: Pauillac 2000, Château d’Armailhac
This 2000 Château d’Armailhac red bordeaux wine had not impressed me on 1st tasting (too light, sour, with a short nose at first). BUT it evolved progressively into an enjoyable smooth-palate pleasing intense full bodied wine. Nice surprising  wine that paired ok with the deer.

Course #6: Fromage Comtomme, crème au piment d’Espelette, pain craquant, gelée de piment, pomme et graines de tournesol
Instead of offering the traditional plate of cheese, they brillantly concocted a cheese based marvel: caramelized apples with Comtomme cheese (turned into a slight cheesy fondue) might not be exciting on paper,  but this dish is, to my tastebuds, one of the best daring/exciting/tastebud pleasers I could think of this year.  From the nice crunchy mouthsome to the sweet and salty decadent balanced flavors and tastes, each bite of this tastebud marvel  was a decadent propulsion to heaven. Litterally! In terms of moving tastes (as if that was not enoughly decadent, the creamy slighly peppery touch of Espelette chilly was shining through the dish, not to mention the delicious and exciting gelée of chilly) , this was simply a blast!   Largely one item that all the world’s best restaurants would want to steal from Toque!. I would just present  it differently. 9/10

Course #7 consisted of 2 decadents desserts:
Nougat crémeux, flocons de dacquoise, nougatine,
fruits confits et sorbet à la framboise:
Elegant and more importantly a flawless delicious sugary creamy nougat, with touches of one of my personal top favourite  dessert cake (the dacquoise), delicious confit fruits and a decadent fresh raspberry sorbet concocted on site. Freshness, genius execution, sublime workout of the taste were all reunited in that succulent dessert! 10/10

And to end this heavenly feast,

a peach soufflé:
Here again, the technical mastery of this dessert was impressive. The soufflé was ideally smooth, unctous, sported a perfect fluffy texture, it amazingly held together nicely, and had a  remarkable consistency. It had an elegant sweetness to it. Soufflés are supposed to be simple, and yet  very few are delivering such  flawless soufflé!   10/10

World class impeccable, exactly what I expect from a Relais & Chateau restaurant: There were several waiters and waitresses servicing my table, but all of them had same  polite, courteous, service oriented patient attitude with all 1st class standards such  as always making sure your glasses are never left empty, placing the chair for you when you  are back at your table, always making sure that clean new cutleries are placed on the table, and so on. Kudos to Christiane Lamarche, the Maitre D’: classy, courteous, very professional, she is the “Force tranquille” of all this majestuous Chef d”oeuvre! Flawless.

Perfect timing. Actually the fastest tasting menu I could think of.  I am not surprised by this: they seem to be very serious about people complaining over the web on the long delays of the tasting menu. Although I appreciate the professional  reaction of Toque!, I can’t stop myself from mocking at those complaints: how, for god sake,  do you opt for a tasting menu  and wants it to be fast! That is like chosing to watch en epic movie and complaining that it’s long! It’s just a non sense! Anyways there is no need to complain about delays: all the major top restaurants of Montreal will accomodate  you upon your request (just tell them that you like your epic movies to be short! rfaol! And oh..btw, while enjoying your requested swift paced tasting menu, ask yourself this question: what the hell are you doing at a fine dining restaurant, requesting a tasting menu with…an attitude of a fast food’s customer?!).  

Bottom line:
Overall, a great meal marked by the expected precision in cooking that you should find at this type of high end restaurant.  As far as Upscale fine dining goes at this moment, in Montreal, Toque! is in a class apart with a level of overall modern gastronomic amazement that is superior on the local restaurant scene. The only restaurant that have surpassed it, in my personal opinion, being Chef Michelle’s Mercuri XO Le Restaurant. But both have a different type of cuisine: Toque! is into Modern French/North American fine dining whereas XO Le restaurant offers upscale European modern fares. Both are easily of a good 2* star Michelin caliber (Mercuri’s XO Le restaurant would be of a strong 2* Michelin star level). Also worth of top mention with regards to fine dining in Montreal: L’Européa, La Porte, Raza, Nuances, Le Club Chasse & Peche, DNA.

PROS: There’s no doubt: Toque! is in the top 3 of Montreal best tables (that soufflé, that nougat crémeux, the foie gras poélé, the rabbit and cheese courses are on same level  as what we are all used to on a standard 2 star Michelin table in Europe). And one of their fortes is Madame Lamarche. She  is one of this city’s best restaurant managers.

CONS: I went to Toque! just once. So, keep in mind that my quibbles are limited to just this reported meal. On this meal, the tangerine shooter amuse did  not fit with the high level of cooking mastery found in the other courses. The scallops brought nothing much to the dinner. Also: I did expect better from the wine pairing on this dinner, especially at those prices! And why serving one piece of chocolate as a mignardise (this was the case on this meal): whether you serve 4,5 petits fours (the standards at the big majority  of restaurants or you serve nothing at all.  Those are little remarks to be taken constructively and are easy to address. For the rest: the ‘PROS’ section says it all: it is indeed one of Montreal very best.

Find better and more pics at my picasa’s gallery:

Overall food rating
: 9/10  I went therejust once. So I can talk only for what I have experienced on that solo visit.  Iknow some have complained that they had food that would not even make a 1 starMichelin standard. Others, to the contrary, seemed to have been largelyseduced.  All I can say is that when you pick that meal I had there, 3 items wouldnot have been out of place on a solid 2 Star Michelin table in Europe:  The pan sear foie grascourse, the rabbit effiloché, the peach soufflé. That’s a lot of praise-worthymaterial in just one single meal, considering that I did recently  amusemyself with a little stat compilation of my 2 and 3 michelin star meals overthe past decade: 30% of my 3 star Michelin dishes (not meals, but individualcourses) , I  would have expected them at  a non Michelin starred.40% in the case of all 2 star Michelin meals I had since 2002. From a personalview, Toque! is not my #1 table in YUL, although I think it’s right to suggestthat it is in the top 3 finest tables of Montreal, perhaps the finest, but I find it important to remain accurate and convey things exactly as they are experienced: that meal I had was as great as any top2 star Michelin meal I had in Europe, regardless of the insipid amuse boucheand solo petit four I had  (well, who’s  naïve enough these days tothink that a meal can’t be of top level if one or two items are failing themarks?).
Overall service rating
: 8/10 Their Maitre D’,Madame Lamarche, what a Maitre D’! When I think Toque!, I think MadameLamarche! She is an amazing host, and despite years of great success, she ishumble and very welcoming. The rest of the service was exactly as you wouldexpect at a Relais & Chateaux / 5 CAA Diamond table (which Toque! isawarded with), courteous, pro.
: 7.5/10  You can see glimpses of the décor at Toque! in my review. It’s in between classic and contemp, large,with plenty   of space in between tables. It surely does not play inthe same league as the stunning pretty décor of the latest trendy restaurants,but remains faithful to its grand dining réputation. 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 specific  meal I am sampling  only.