XO Le Restaurant: Take Two



Event: Dinner at XO Le Restaurant

Type of food: Upscale Fine dining (Modern European)
Date and time: Friday March 19th, 2010  6:00PM
Location: 355 St Jacques, Ouest. Montreal, QC
Arome’s New Ranking of XO: #1 (Categ Upscale Fine Dining)
Arome’s Mention of this latest dinner: Excellent++
Read: My review of the 1st dinner there on Friday Oct 9th, 2009  8PM

URL: http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/the-restaurant.asp

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

(English review will follow below) – Présentement, à Montréal, c’est ce qui se rapproche le plus du calibre d’un 3 étoile Michelin à tous les égards (service, décor, expérience gastronomique, etc). Ici, on est vraiment dans le calibre Intl des 2 à 3 étoiles Michelin. Tant que le Chef Michelle Mercuri exposera son immense talent tel que j’en ai vécu l’expérience lors (surtout) de mon dernier repas au XO Le Restaurant, cette grande table sera toujours un 3 Michelin ‘officieux’ (puisqu’il n’ y a pas de resto Michelin à Mtl) à mes yeux.  Allez y un Jeu/Vendr/Samedi soir, gardez l’esprit ouvert, et laissez le Chef Mercuri vaguer à sa créativité.

This is only my second dinner at XO Le Restaurant (restaurant of Montreal’s Hotel St-James in the Vieux Port of Montreal). Last time I was at this fine dining gourmet hot spot (ref: click here for a report of my previous dinner there ), what I’ve experienced was an overall dining experience that did set the bar for all Montreal restaurants: a stunning world-class dinner with an easily 2 Michelin star level food item (the Free Form Lasagna that I had on that dinner was perhaps the most memorable food item I ever enjoyed on any upscale fine dining table in Montreal & Surroundings), world class service (orchestrated by my personal choice for best waitress in 2009, Sidonie), luxurious decor and ambiance. But I felt bad because such upscale table is one that I should have more accurately reviewed through an epic gastronomic journey, the tasting menu! 5 Months later, here I am back: I learn that Sidonie is not on duty this time (a bit of a heartbreak for me since she was one kind of exceptional great  waitress you seldomly get to meet. In my personal opinion, Sidonie is –along Christiane Lamarche at Toque! and Christina Garcia at Osco!  among the very top best professionals of the restaurant scene in Montreal) but I should not worry since top service is their trademark.

This time, I can free myself from the photo session part of the restaurant’s interior settings: already done on the 1st report  but I still brought my camera for visual accompaniment to my multiple couse tasting menu of the evening.

The Dinner of this evening: 9 course tasting menu ($135) + wine pairing ($80)
PS: You have many other options of tasting menus at various prices (3 course, 6 course If I recall properly and 9).

Started with a nice cocktail of lemon pétillant (their cocktails are expertly concocted, so this one was naturally a hit):

Went on with the 1st dish:

Course #1: Oyster in Soya jelly, Cucumber emulsion & Saké
The dominant  fresh enjoyable flavor of the cucumber emulsion came through nicely on this course. That foamy emulsion was remarquably airy, refreshing and was topping a visually appealing dice of Soya gelé in which was inserted a meaty piece of delicious fresh oyster. At the bottom, couple of thinly minced morsels of beets that were fresh and tasty. Neither my pictures nor my description will manage to give justice to this world class food item: It was technically very modern and skillfully concocter both in terms of presentation and execution. One course of a level that I wished I could see more oftently on this world’s best tables: daring, complex, unique in all aspects. Chef Michelle Mercuri — and that is actually not a secret —- walks on the same tracks as any of our great 2* Michelin Chefs out there and the perfection of that little tastebud marvel is largely one proof among many others of how highly skilled he stands. Excellent++  10/10
This was paired with a Bruno Paillard Champagne, 1ere Cuvée. It was exceptionally aged (30 Months) in barrel. Nice body, great structure, with an enjoyable taste of brioche bread. Elegant and classic as I love my Champagnes. Paired well with the Oyster course.

Course #2: Fresh Florida Shrimp, Razor clam, Compressed melon, Jicama, Pomegranate lemon grass granita, Ginger Yogurt Spuma – This was served in a  Caviar metal container, that was itself disposed on crushed ice, in order to preserve the freshness of the course.

In the container, several concoctions:

first, the citrus granita was a Hit: decadent, delicious! Then the emulsion of yogurt: extremely tasty and of impeccable freshness.I liked the inspirational touches found on this food item: for example, some discrete pieces of thinly cuted delicious fresh radish paired with the yogurt turned out to be perfect tastebud wonders.The chunks of shrimp were nicely boiled and kept a perfect depth of flavor. This is a course that reminds us of how seafood and sweetness can be a fun exciting refreshing mix. The seeds of pomegranate added enjoyable crunchy-ness. So playful, exotic and interesting, although in full constructive honesty, I would change two things here (to be taken constructively):
(1) I would work the shrimp differently. Perhaps lightly frying/pan-searing it, just to elevate the textural robustness of  the shrimp. It would also be interesting to see, on most Montreal tables,  more of the black tiger sort of shrimps (whether it is or not a luxurious product is not the question. It is it’s taste that interests me) . I am being picky here, I know, but if you take this to that level of textural level, I am confident that it’s an extra that will please to all. Of course, the presentation would have then to be rethought (pan-seared shrimp would then requirre warmer accompaniments too). So, come to think about it,  this is a matter of pure personal preference: that shrimp was of the highest quality and tasty / and this is not a complaint at all!
(2) A re-adjustment of the conceptual presentation of it all: perhaps skipping the pieces of fresh lettuces + laying all the rest separately in somekind of visually artistical ways (I ‘d steal couple of tricks from the Japanese food visuals here). With that said, do not fool yourself: Chef Michelle Mercuri cooks extremely beautiful food, as you will quickly realize from all the next food items. Good. 7/10
Pairing wine: Ostertag 2008, from Alsace. Exotic and Fruity, medium bodied white wine.  Just ok for me.

Course #3: Charlevoix veal tartare, poached calamari, pumpkin seeds, Chorizo smoked mackerel, veal tongue:
Impeccable freshness of the veal, a fantastic tartare, exceptionally tasty with skillfully balanced flavors: not one hint of overpowering flavors, evenly spiced. The poached calamari was flawless, same could be said of the Chrorizo smoked mackerel and  decadent veal tongue. Of modern visual presentation, this is the type of daring food Item I expect on a great 3* Michelin star table. The kind of marvel that reminds us of how greatness can be found in a plate and you just can’t describe it. You’ve just got to taste it, enjoy and feel fortunate that you were blessed by such. Genius on a plate. One notch above Excellent: Exceptional! 10/10
Here’s a flashless picture of that wonder, offering it to you through a different angle and visuals:

Pairing wine: A 2006 Clos Jordanne. An ok Chardonnay’s white wine (to me), dense, with a classic structure.I prefer wines with more depth.

Course #4: Guinea-hen, Morels, Black Truffles
Excellent fresh tasty black truffles (came from Italy’s region of Alba). Amazing earthy taste and flavors and as with all previous dishes: very well balanced/harmonious. The meatiness of the fowl and it’s excepional depth of flavor were remarquable. What’s even more remarquable about this dish is how classic flavors were brought up in a daring/re-juvenating way. Excellent, not only for it’s exceptional daring amazing tasty-ness but also for it’s inspired touches: the fowl’s meat was stuffed in delicious raviolis, meaty and daringly superior in terms of deliciousness. The intense jus beneath was rich and exceptionally tempting. The crunchy fresh green beans were pure genius add-ons to that dish and the fresh chunks of parmigiano cheese were pure tastebud wonders. This course pertains to World’s top meal courses, there is no doubt about that. Wowed! 10/10
Pairing wine: Clos Jordanne, Le grand Clos, 2006. This one fared better to my tastebuds than the previous. It’s also a Chardonnay. Nice minerality, nice structure and I sensed the expected enjoyable stone fruit aromas, as well as those of the white flower. Ok for the pairing.

Course #5: Organic Salmon confit, Pan-Seared foie gras, Salsify purée
Excellent fresh salmon with an impeccable pinky-ness to it, nicely cooked (sous-vidé), deep in flavor (10/10). Topping the salmon was a piece of foie gras that kept it’s  perfect enjoyable livery flavor, perfect <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> bouncy seared surface and flawless meaty mouthsome (10/10). Salsify purée was tasty.  The piece of pork belly that you see on your right was proof that when put in the hands of a great Chef, that piece of meat never fails to be a wonderful thing. It was. Ironically, this is usually the type of dish that I am reluctant about, since most Chefs, as talented as they might have been, ended up offering it to me as a dull montage of food items rather than an harmonious juxtaposition of wonders that complement themselves. When you think about it, how harmonious and complementary can this sort of take on Surf (Salmon) & Turf (Foie Gras/Pork) be? Virtually unlikely. But here again the Genius of Chef Mercuri unleashes some outstanding magic: in a way that only my tastebuds could understand, the rich succulent eathiness of the foie was pure enlightment to the deep flavor of the Salmon, and this was mutual. The Pork Belly continued on that same trend: it shared outstanding kick and palatable amazement with the two others. There was in there an undeniable commitment to make flavors reaching newer dimensions of complexity (may it be the Foie, the Pork Belly or the Salmon…all three were oozing of an unusual work of deep, rich and tastebud-blowing flavors) and complement each other to perfection. He manages here to do the impossible: Another dish that goes to world’s best hall of fame. Excellent ++  10/10
Here is a close up picture of it:

Pairing wine: 2005 Beaune Clos du Roi, 1er Cru, Maison Rapet. A great red wine with aromas of white pepper +
black cherry, great tannins, with an enjoyable finish. Paired really well with the dish.

Course #6: Gaspor Pork, Sweet potato gnocchi, black garlic purée
That Gaspor pork is known for it’s high quality and it was stunningly well concocted on this one -> ideal tender mouthsome with it’s  enjoyable porky depth of flavor that was heavenly succulent. The sweet potato gnocchis were decadent. The black garlick purée was sublime. It’s not a dish for the glutony-hulky buddies of this world (Go to a fastfood joint for that! ), but an impeccable showcase of modern food item at it’s best. I would say of a level that’s anywhere between a 2* to 3* Michelin Star’s great meal. Exceptional! 10/10
Pairing wine: Brunello di Montalcino, 2004. Great red wine, nicely aged, with enjoyable deep aromatic flavors of black cherry , black olive, raspberry. Great pairing wine to that dish.

Course #7: Venison, cippolini
The venison was impeccably rosy within, juicy, full-flavoured throughout, fork-tender and daringly tasty. The accompanied veggies were remarquable too: cippolini onions were nicely marinated and tasted great, oyster mushrooms were earthy and delish. 9/10.
Pairing wine: Las Rocas, Garnacha 2007. Excellent wine, with nice structure, balanced tannins, smooth texture and enjoyable aromas of Black cherry + Black raspberry. Paired well with the gamey-ness of the venison.

Course #8: Basmati rice jelly, Apple & Lavender broth, Melon Jelly, tangerine.
Genius work of the Basmati rice flavor here: not overwhelming, but in ideal subtility. It formed an enjoyable light, glutinous mass that was very refreshing and very pleasing in-mouth. Lots of great technical mastery here: balancing the flavor of the Basmati to ideal tastebud appreciation is of high mention. But this was not all: the precision of it’s sweet taste was remaquable: not overly sweet, not underly sweet but a well measured contained and yet very enjoyable sweetness. I might sound a bit too descriptive, but this translated  in practise into an outstanding exercise of great  mastery in taste and execution that is worthy of high mention. The broth (apple, lavender) added a welcoming light addition of acidity from the apple aromas (well thought, since it added sufficient kick to the lightness of the jelly) whereas the lavender subtle elegant flavor added an extra dimension of exotic freshness. The tangerine complemented ideally well the overall, with it’s lovely fragrance, not to forget the envouting freshness of the melon Jelly. Modern in it’s presentation and execution (cute little flowers, beautifully disposed fruits, technically contemporary in the way it is concocted), this dessert is an impressive work of passion, patience, intelligence (in balancing well that much complexity coming from so many ingredients) and inspiration. It was remarquably inventive, exotic and delicious. Very good. 8/10

Pairing wine: Jean-Luc Colombo, Muscat de Rivesaltes Les Saintes, 2003.

Full bodied, intense, fruity wine. That wine was a well thought choice on elevating the lightness of that delicious dessert.

Course #9: Ricotta mousse, Coriander Sorbet, Pomelo marmalade, Pecan foam cookie, Ivaory Sechuan peppercorn – The coriander sorbet, ideally frothy in texture, was stunning by it’s freshness and moving decadent rich taste. Pomelo marmalade was delicious, and the ricotta mousse was dense, airy, creamy and nicely done. This is a complex dessert that would actually move lots of   fans of inventive desserts. The sorbet was not the only coriander-flavored tastebud marvel in there -> there was couple of amazing tasty sweet coriander-flavored chips that were remarquable.
The wait staff informed me that they have now a Pastry Chef. Chef Mercuri was doing a nice job on that department, but it is a great idea that he leaves the dessert part to a specialist of such. Too bad I was a bit tired at that point and was not in the mood of finding out more about that Pastry Chef, but I would be interested to learn more about her since her desserts are daringly modern and inventive. 8/10

Pairing wine: Monde, Vin de glace 2008, Vignoble de la Rivière du Chêne – Great ice wine, enjoyably fruity with aromas of peach, lemon confit, pineapple and honey. Went well with the dessert.

Mignardises comprised of chic quality sweets, all memorable:

Concluded this fantastic dinner with an enjoyable Brazilian Coffee:

Overall, what a spectacular inventive and daring tastebud showcase of modern high end fine dining! In a world where some other Chefs around the world need to play with their little nitrogen tubes in order to elevate food to a trend, I will always admire those who dare elevating food for what it is: a joy for the tastebud! And Montreal is lucky: Chefs like Michelle Mercuri (XO Le Restaurant) or Normand Laprise (Toque!) cook some very beautiful high end modern food  that taste heavenly!

Service as usual was first class, very service-oriented, charming, attentive, focused.
You feel treated like a princess/prince (look around you and all acquaintances are receiving that same gracious service and remarquable magical sense of hospitality you wish to experience at ALL restaurants!) at this fine high end gourmet hot spot and the food is of world class mention.
Delay: Set your own delay, especially at such place where accomodation/flexibility is present. Talk to them and tell them how fast you want it to unfold. Timing is something purely personal and no one will agree on the perfect delays, so common sense: inform them of how in a hurry or not you are.

Chef Mercuri is not just ready for world’s big leagues, he is already there! Only reason he is not officially a 2* Michelin Star Chef is because Montreal has not got the same vibility of cities like Tokyo, Paris.  Had Chef Mercuri evolved in those cities, that would have been a done deal. With Chefs like Normand Laprise (Toque!), Pelletier (Club Chasse & Peche), Navarrette (Raza), Rouyé (La Porte) and many more, I strongly believe that the next big surprises of World’s high end gourmet could come from here. Tonight, Chef Mercuri had not only proven that he is one of Mtl’s top best Chefs but that the world, too, is easily at it’s reach.

This tasting menu was daringly exceptional, and has actually reached the ultimate top Marks of my 2009-2010 Top 15 best dinners in Montreal & Surroundings, surpassing the exceptional fine dining  dinner I had at Toque!. Which is quite an exceptional accomplishment.

PROS: this was of a level of a 3 star Michelin meal!

CONS: Nothing to complain about