Park restaurant, Montreal – I’d perhaps opt for the omakase + the bouillons are fabulous here

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman, Lawrence.

Like anyone who has cooked seriously for years, I could set just one bar and claim that whatever restaurant who reaches that bar is great, the rest is average. Had I done that, I’d break the very first rule that motivated me into sharing with you: trying, in the best of my ability, to be as accurate as possible. Had I done that, I’d never realized that even on lesser impressive meals, there can be hints of brilliance. Between the tons of praises  and  some friends opinions who did not seem to have liked it, I found this visit to Park to be very interesting: to some, words and opinions  are influencial. To me, they just motivate me into full focus, ultimate search of pure accuracy and only the experience on the field matters. Enjoy!

Park is the restaurant of Chef Park who was previously the Chef at Kaizen, an upscale  sushiya downtown (Yul)l. Mr Park has now opened his eponymous own restaurant in the wealthy neighborhood of Westmount (a restaurant that he owns with another associate). Since its opening in February, Park has enjoyed rising star status with many food journalists considering it as the finest of the current sushiyas in Montreal, a position on which I’ll provide my own views in the conclusion of the current post.

The minimum  that I  should expect from a good sushiya is applied here: seafood  is carefully selected as it should, all condiments made on the premises. The sushi technique is   good, to Montreal standards, but not necessarily ahead of the pack. The non sushi aspect of my meal gave me the interesting opportunity to appreciate Park’s creations through a new angle (up to now, I had never sampled his cuisine other than from his sushis creations at Kaizen, and here on an initial visit).

The kitchen  here offers sushis, as well as a mix of korean/french  offerings with at times, even latin american influences: for eg, chimichuri/jalapeno on top of nigiri. I  have already sampled his sushis at Kaizen in the past, thus my decision to not stick to sushis only.  I decided to give carte blanche to the kitchen for a tasting menu left at their discretion . To me, there is nothing better than to let the kitchen serves you what they judge best to offer on the spot. It is the way to go with the best Chefs in town. Therefore I picked the $85 omakase, for an overview of this kitchen’s offerings.

Tomato soup, mushroom, grilled bio chicken  showcased exactly what I am willing to pay for, at a restaurant:  a depth of complex flavors that excite in mouth, with a work of  texture that is superior to the standard good restaurant  food items, produce of very high quality as expected at those prices. I know that an Omakase is not cheap, thus I want to see where my money has gone, and  that exercise covers every single item that I am served. I could indeed find a first justification  to that cost, here. That was delicious,  its execution pertaining to the grand table standards, and the flavors did exactly what I do expect from an omakase: transport me closer to Asia. Furthermore, no shortcut is taken on this item: the creativity and on-the-spot inspiration that I do expect from a tasting menu left at the discretion of the Chef  (omakase) are strong features of this soup. Certainly not an ordinary soup, that one I was having   8/10

Scallop, dashi / sake bouillon – The stock of dashi with its hint of sake was my first introduction to  their work of the bouillon, an aspect that is,  to me, extremely important in making an opinion about  the ability of a kitchen. The fabulous bouillon was simply a lesson in the art of making the stock:  the perfect amount of heat, the right balance of flavor, the stock impossibly perfect on this meal .  An exciting bouillon, and …not  the sole star of the dish: the large scallop was also a show-stopper for its impressive depth of marine freshness, a texture and sear so glamourous that I  thought it was prepared for a photo shoot, its taste simply divine. I was born on the shores of the Indian Ocean, a treasure of stunning seafood, thus I tend to be a bit picky with seafood produce, but that one, on this evening… What a scallop, that was! Easily the most impressive  scallop dish I ever sampled in Yul, and I am taking the “big guns” into account, here 9/10

Then an array of nigiris (uni, albacore, etc) – The quality of the produce is there, the rice nicely done,  Chef Park clearly knowing how to make a sushi tasty,  but although   Montreal  is not a sushi destination,  I was somehow personally more taken  by sushis at places like the now-closed Katsura, recently Yasu in Brossard, or what Chef Park himself was actually  doing in his days at Kaizen.  I found Park sushis (I had more of his sushis on a first visit here, a while back) to be good, but not great, nor excellent, nor exceptional   7/10 . And in total honesty, although my review of Jun I did not sound enthusiastic, to me no one is beating Jun I on Yul’s sushiya scene as of lately. 

Next, a trio of  sashimis (amberjack, albacore) bathed in a bouillon- This was a world class dish, with again an again, very impressive bouillon (a dashi bouillon) and prime fish morsels of remarkable succulence. Whoever is making those bouillon and has pushed  those sashimis to such delectable heights is a cook of great talent. Many will tell you ‘Oh..it is just how you marinade it…’, to which the answer should always be “Ah…so how come only few can really deliver a stunning one, then…??”” — Furthermore, what has also impressed  me with this  Omakase…right up to this dish…. is that genuine feature of being really transported in Asia through fantastic exotic flavors. 10/10   

Black Salmon, Daikon, butternut squash puree – The most westerner item (of course, I love western food…but this is an omakase! so, keep the oriental flavors at the forefront as on the previous dishes) of the omakase, along with the next  dessert,  and perhaps not at the heights of the previous spectacular item , but the kitchen continues to show consistency with cooking  that is on point and clever ingredient and flavor combinations. Even if this dish was a 10/10 — which it is not, in my view (it essentially was as well conceived as I’d expect it from any very good contemporary French bistrot restaurant dish  in town) — my point would remain unchanged: there is certainly no shortage  of possibilities to  perpetuate the initial omakase spirit as anything from an inspired outstanding tempura or a kick-butt shabu shabu  –to be, of course, inserted at the proper stage of the progression of the omakase —  would have kept the magic brought by the scallop and sashimi dishes, alive. A butternut squash purée is certainly not a way to keep the exotism and creativity at play. Notice that I am not asking for the moon, here.  If I had to use an analogy to sports, my feeling is that  the kitchen, on this omakase, had brilliantly (analogy to the scallop and sashimi dishes) covered the first part of a 100 meter race but ran out of inspirational steam (this dish, then the next)  towards the end. Furthermore, an important aspect of an omakase is the plating, which the kitchen beautifully used at their advantage on the earlier dishes, but the classic plate of this course as well as the verrine of the next do hardly fulfill the visual plating playfulness that omakases are known for  8/10

Rice pudding, chocolate ganache – Clearly, the brigade on this evening is not an amateurish team and they do their things well, which means good technique, good palate, good sense of flavor and ingredient combinations, good work of the textures. The minimum for a good restaurant indeed, but alas even some grand tables do not seem able to always understand those basics. With that said, a good meal starts on good grounds, which is the case of this meal I am reporting about, and then should head in ‘worth to pay for category’, which this meal also did through  the trio  of sashimis  and the fabulous scallop (excitement, technique). But it has to keep you excited till the end, which was unfortunately not the case here, given  the less spectacular last two courses. So,  although this dessert of rice pudding and its choco ganache are unarguably   well conceived (good 7/10) , I found the overall dessert more appropriate to a contemporary French bistrot rather than an  ending note to an Omakase. Yes, I know they do fusion food, but on an Omakase I want  to travel through Asia all along my meal. The initial tomato soup, scallop and trio of sashimis  did shine exactly where this dessert seemed to have missed an opportunity: pulling off an inspiring depth of creative Asian flavors (contemporary, for sure, but Asian)! There are rice puddings in Asia, but this had  the  mouthfeel of a typical western style rice pudding. If the idea is to insist on rice, then I’d personally have preferred a simple sakuramochi, or even better, a creative contemporary take on it, in place of this rice pudding dessert.

Service: I was lately impressed by the service at many Montreal restaurants, for ie: the two fun (in their very own different ways) gentlemen at Hotel Herman, the amazing Melissa at Mezcla, the remarkable Etheliya at Lawrence. But on this evening, the perfection went one notch up. Geneviève, my main waitress, has worked at DNA (now closed) — a place that was known for top clas service —  before and it shows: polite, efficient, a pro with ..to my great surprise …skills that would send most sommelier-e-s to shame. The rest of the team was also very professional, smiley, accomodating. Top service on this evening

Decor: Neo-rustic type of bistrot, no tablecloth, high ceiling, cement floor, plenty of woody touches, a mix of casual bistro-style tables and couple of booths, the latter adding a touch of formal elegance to the otherwise overall informal bistrot feel of the  place.  There are two bars: the sushi bar as well as a conventional bar.

PROS: The fabulous tomato soup, scallop, trio of sashimis and bouillon on this specific omakase. They carried an exciting depth of contemporary oriental flavors.
CONS: The ‘less oriental’  mouthfeel of the black salmon and rice pudding broke the momentum imparted to the omakase by the fabulous initial items. But this can easily be fixed. As for the sushis, they are fine. No doubt about that, but I don’t agree with the claims that they are the best in town.

Overall food rating: For the better dishes of this Okamase, easily an 8 over 10. The  first 3 items (tomato soup, scallop, the sashimis) being not only strong on  the technique, but also for the palatable excitement as well. And the “bouillons” of this omakase (an essential element in cooking, sadly overlooked ..with time)  were of world class material.  Had the Black salmon and rice pudding continued the fabulous journey that has started in Asia…I’d be floored! In the genre and strictly regarding the food, Kazu remains my favourite eatery in YUL (for this price, I could pick several of their daily offerings at Kazu and arrange  a competitive omakase from the 1st dish to the last.

CONCLUSION:  The Omakase is pricey, as you might expect from any multiple-course of quality seafood, thus I am afraid that price will affect  proper evaluation in some instances, but if I focus on pure food enjoyment, the three star dishes of this  omakase  obviously showcased a strong performance worth of the price I paid, as far as I am concerned. Yes, the two last dishes had no business featuring on that omakase (I mean, it goes without saying that an Omakase should be exciting, inventive  and exotic till the very end) , but the first three kinda filled the gap. The only thing that I do not share with most opinions over the web is regarding the sushis, in general (I did try them a while back at Park, and for the 2nd time on this evening through his nigiris):  they are good, but the suggestion that they could be the best in town will never come from me. I never went to this place on lunch, therefore can’t tell if the level of cooking is as strong as on this evening’s omakase, although  some samplings of their online lunch menus show more affordable offerings.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Not to be compared to what’s done in Asia: not the same land, not the same demand, not the same competition, etc. But of course, a very good dining destination by Montreal standards. As long as  the focus is kept on delivering exciting oriental flavors from the very first to the very last bites.  I’d drop the the fusion part of the food (for example, French/Asian fusion items like the black salmon or that rice pudding): way too many places are doing just that, so depending on some mood, lol, some may find that segment to be ordinary. It is not cheap, for sure. 

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Lawrence, Montreal – A coup de coeur for me too…but READ the ‘service’ section …

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman.  



PS: MANY FOOD BLOGS REVIEW THE BRUNCH AT LAWRENCE. I  CAN’T STAND BRUNCHES AT RESTAURANTS (CUZ  I USUALLY DO FAR BETTER BRUNCHES AT HOME) , SO PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THIS  REVIEW OF MINE COVERS ONLY THIS EVENING’S OFFERINGS  @ LAWRENCE.
 
In the series ‘coup de coeur of  our YUL’s star food journalists ‘, I went visiting Lawrence, the coup de coeur of Le Devoir’s star food journalist Phillipe Mollet. Food is subjective and there’s no judgement to make over other people’s opinion, but if there’s a food journalist with whom my experiences did differ widely from, then it would be Phillipe. This should substract   nothing from Mr Mollet’s opinions, a man that I actually dearly respect. Lawrence is anyways a “coup de coeur” of  many other food journalists as well as the big majority of gourmands in Yul. Lawrence, on this evening, turned out to be my “coup de coeur”  too, which is a feeling I have failed to experience since Bouillon Bilk….in  …July 2011…. BUT  let me be clear about this: if the service remains as uneven as on my visit on this evening, many will leave heartbroken ……which is a shame, because Chef’s Cohen food and some of the staff in this house really deserve better faith! A shame, because this is one of the very rare places that I am adding to my top  tier favourites in YUL. With over 5000 tables in Yul, and only less than a dozen in my top tier favourite, I feel confident to repeat this: Lawrence deserves perfection all the way!

British Chef Marc Cohen quickly became a Montreal favourite for his widely acclaimed cooking  at the Sparrow in Montreal, and has since moved to Lawrence. Some serious job is done in this house as can be demonstrated by charcuteries and bread made on the premises.  

The decor/feel/ambiance is a take on British gastro pub. In my view, the best rendition of that style in Yul. Grey is the dominant tone here: grey-painted wooden floor, some parts of the walls are grey. When you enter the small room (surprisingly, they exploit such mini space better than at spacier restaurants), you have a sofa right at the entrance, a bench at the end, plenty of relatively well spaced tables, a bar towards the end and a “post-industrial” mixed with gastro-pub feel and look. I love this place, the amazing penetration of light provided by the glass windows, the cozy atmosphere. Nothing here looks neglected. To the contrary, everything is thoughtful, meaningful, useful in its sheer simplicity.

SERVICE: Was this…a meditation  on the theme of the ‘ying’ and the ‘yang”? I do not know. Let us see. ”Ambiance”…as we say in  French: first, Wow…here’s one restaurant that carefully respects your requests. I asked for a table by the window. Most restaurants, unless you go for the fancy fine dining ventures, do not bother remembering such detail when you dine solo. They did. I even told them that if the room gets busy, I was willing to move to the bar. They insisted to respect my initial demand. Strike #1: World class! Strike #2:  Sommelière Etheliya Hananova was in charge of the wine, an  amazing woman who could give ‘a run for their money” to most of the 3 star Michelin wait staff out there. Although  not really a slip on her part (there is a limit to find trouble where there are none) , I have to write this: ppl have widely reproached to the older generations of French, in France, their snooty service. But those  same ppl do the exact same thing ..just  in a different way. YES! In a different way! But same sh?&*. For eg, it is a trend nowadays in Nyc, Montreal, and many other places who have widely embraced  the ‘Let’s ditch the old snooty French service‘ to offer a supposedly alternative  that’ s actually a replica of what they have decried! So, why am I writing this? Because my fabulous sommelière played that card at some point, although I insist on  seeing the bigger picture: she is human, and above all spectacular! So what card? Well, this one: ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’. Perhaps ”For this food , I’d suggest this wine….”” would pass as less lecturing.  It reminded me of what most have decried. It reminded me of Monsieur Henri V  telling me what should be good for me. Only, it was stated in English and in  less snooty manner, Rfaol!   I mean I do not need to know what wine I need for the course. I gave you carte blanche to embark me on a wine tasting journey, so go ahead. This is nitpicking, I know, and I am writing this not as a reproach to this wonderful woman..trust me, she is wonderful..but more as an opportunity to remind others that ‘hey…you are … using the very tactics that you decried…”” . I am insistening on this, also, because this has been a widely spread reproach to the old French guard…only to get to the exact same point.  Regardless,  Etheliya Hananova  is a world class woman with spectacular service that would be exemplary to  many staff  at  many  serious tables out there  !  Let’s continue on this pattern because we are getting to the part where I was left with more questions than answers.. Strike #3: the woman  who took my order, then served most of my dishes, wow..wow! Great service, very attentive. BUT then..Strike #4, the ‘yang???”…I need to know…: Another waitress, whom I’ll nickname the ‘skinny lady with a high top hair cut’, was at least smiley…but never ever described the dishes she laid on the table! I think she mumbled something at some point. ..then the woman who served  the coffee … she was utterly silent (??). I honestly thought that somekind of mechanical system has left a cup on my table. A robot would have more warmth. Now, notice that I am using caution here, and you’ll now understand why: if both ladies can’t talk, I am deeply sorry.  I come from social backgrounds where it is mandatory that ALL kind of people are included in normal social life. If they can’t talk, then this is a 10/10. The restaurant having my highest respect for including everyone with no discrimination.  BUT….if the reasons are found elsewhere, then I couldn’t careless: it’s a restaurant, a place where hospitality standards should prevail. Point blank! With that said, this is no dramatic neither: no one was un-pleasant nor rude and the best parts of the service pertained to world class standards.  I’d not return anyways to a place where I was disgusted by the service. Here,  I’ll run back, anytime, which tells you how I was not that offended at all.

WINE: For sure, with Sommelière Etheliya Hananova, you are in great hands (she is one of the very best  sommelières of Montreal), a world away from some restaurant celebrities (Chefs, sommeliers)  hiding behind stardom BS. Here’s a pro working hard right on the field, with efficacy. An artisan sommelière if I can say so. The kind I highly respect. Of course, I had that little ‘resistance’ to her phrase ” ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’, but hey, this is no big deal at all. As a a matter of fact, she is not snooty at all, neither. On the other hand, you see this  kind of remark on my blog because I am not a satellite of  the industry, therefore things  are brought to you the way they appear to me, as opposed to the way …they should appear to you!   Anyways, the way things appeared to me is this as well: on top of fabulous wine recommendations, Etheliya showed world class hospitality all along this evening. Some star Sommelier-e-s have the big head, not her: she brought the bill, worked like any other element of the wait staff, sometimes pouring water, at other times clearing a table, etc. I am telling you: an amazing down to earth person! I am taking time to write this because I have rarely seen a star sommeliere as down to earth  as Etheliya. Now, here’s a sommelière who ‘reads’ in the mind of the big majority of his customers: approx 140 bottles squizzed on a two-sided page, easy to consult by price range (unless you are Rockefeller, don’t you look at $$$ first when perusing a wine list??), and the ‘tour de force’  of reaching out to most tastes and pockets where other sommeliers  would need hundred of pages to get to the same results. The red wines, for eg, start from a $35 Carignan Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Three Trees,  2009, Domaine de Majas & Tom Lubbe, then the red wine listing goes, thoughtfully,  by ranges of price: some in the 30+ range, then some in the 40+, 50+, etc, up to the priciest of the red wines, which is, on this evening’s list, a $207 Cornas, reynard, Thierry Allemand (2008).  I was talking about a list catering to  everyone’s tastes, so the classic big guns are there, too: for eg, a Vosne-Romanée, Domaine D’Eugénie 2008 at $127, a Cote Rotie, Domaine Clusel-Roch, 2007 at $154;  a Barolo, Az.Agr.Bovia 2007 at $134. But you have plenty of little gems in all price ranges, from Italy/France/California, many imported wines, plenty of wines by the glass,  etc. Some other examples of red wines, before I move on to the white ones: Cotes du Roussillon Tradition, Domaine Ferrer-Ribeire2010 at $37, Vino de la tierra de Castilla, Bobal Calabuig, Pequenas bodegas del Levante, 2010 ($38), Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil L’Hurluberlu, Sebastien David, 2010 ($48). White wines are priced from $34 (M-S-R, Riesling QbA, Selbach, 2011) to $147 (a classic big gun, Meursault 1er cru ‘Poruzots’, Francois Mikulski, 2008). In between, the same thoughtful idea of offering choices in the $30+, $40+,$50+, etc price ranges. For eg, Cantons de L’Est, Seyval/Chardonnay, Les Pervenches (2011) at $35, Jasnières Cuvée des Silex, Pascal Janvier, 2011 ($45), Cotes du Jura, Chardonnay Bardette,Domaine Labet, 2008 ($73), etc. Sparkling wines comprised of Cava, some Crémant du Jura and D’Alsace, as well as Moscato D’Asti, Champagne and a Spumante. Of course, I am no Rockefeller, so I chose the wine pairings by  the glass, and each pairing were at the heights of the talent of this fabulous sommelière: simply stunning! Yep, when I am pleased with a performance that’s well done, I take the freedom to rave. So, stunning as I said! 

FOOD:  Chef Cohen …the British Chef…. well, I love this Gentleman. When I was young, in France, we used to joke about our neighbors, the British, to never be able to cook stunning food like what our Chefs were able to deliver in France. Particularly the pastries, etc. Of course, nowadays, this is not the case anymore  but as a French I love seeing a British Chef re-affirming the currentlys widely acclaimed fact that the British Chefs are a force to  to be reckoned with, although I am  not including Gordon Ramsay in this equation…Lol..Marco Pierre-White, Yes. Gordon…Nah. Rfaol. Cohen…seduced me on this evening. Ah..if only the overall service, tonight, could have shone at  those heights ………

Crab /  potato bread $15 – Very good crab that they thoughtfully mixed with fresh home made chives/mayo/piment d’espelette. This was virtually faultless and really tasty. .Only reason I keep this dish under the 10/10 bar has to do with the fact that, right here in YUL,  I had  crab-based dishes which souvenir commands that I calm down before letting myself  go, Rfaol: for eg, a 10/ 10 dish  like this one “crab tourteau “at Cuisine & Dependance, was simply  as spectacular as receiving an invitation to land on the moon, Rfaol. Whereas this one, in comparison, would be Very good, nevertheless  8/10

Pig’s cheeks and Apple tart $12 – This is the moment when I realized that I was going to fall for this kitchen. Again, if the service is as uneven as on this evening, the love story will be really short…but, in the meantime,  to ceasar what belongs to him: Strike #1 .. It looked like any piece of pork, but it had the taste of the most flavorful of them all! I must admit that it is hard to miss this one, but few talented Chefs can pride themselves of pulling off as much bewitchment as what this kitchen has managed, on this evening, to extract from this memorable piece of pig’s cheeks    9/10 for that delicious piece of porky marvel.  Strike #2:  the Apple tart ..I could use all superlatives available and would still not pay justice to this benchmark deeply fruity and sensational piece of Apple tart. The pastry, simply of world class perfection.   10/10

Lamb’s brain, Kohlrabi, brown butter $13 – The meat, superbly buttery as it should, packed with deep enjoyable flavors. Potatoes would need more cooking and less salt (the level of cooking being so high on this evening that this passes as an afterthought..still, avoid this….  ) …but who cares when the overall is as delicious as this? 8.5/10

Braised octopus $30- Some eat octopus like you drink water. A”no big deal’ affair, rfaol. For me, the humble son of the sea..Rfaol…cooking Octopus sets apart the great cooks from the rest. One of my lifetime best Chefs has served me only..octopus!. Rfaol! But what an octopus that was!  Since then,  all Chefs who have served me stunning octopus meals have invariably counted among my favourite Chefs. The two very best octopus dishes I was served in YUL remain those I had at Kazu and Biron. This one is really not far from the aforementioned. This was clearly some very skillful cooking: The fresh cephalopod mollusc was cooked enoughly slow to maintain that perfect balance between the chewy and the tender, which is exactly what a prime octopus  should be about. If you think this is an easy affair to master, then let me know: I have a list of at least 30 very serious restaurants (in Montreal and abroad) who seemed to have never understood the art of cooking the octopus, laughably confusing the rubbery with the chewy. This was a solid 9/10 dish, and where I scored a 9/10  when all was technically excellent  eventhough not necessarily exciting, here it is a case where  both the technique and the palatable excitement shone through. In the top tier of all my 9/10 dishes, and almost a dream dish for a top level 2 star Michelin table in Europe. I feel a bit embarassed to not score this dish  with the full 10/10 it largely deserves, the only reason I am refraining from doing so is because  I was born and raised on the shores of an ocean where seafood dishes were naturally centuries ahead  of the top seafood dishes that many are raving about nowadays  (last year, while dining with a friend who knows 3 star Michelin ventures as much as you and I are are familiar with our two hands, he insisted that I sample his lifetime favourite 3 star Michelin seafood dish. A dish that “”will make you reconsider everything you ate before“”, he insisted. I politely finished the dish and told him: ”’you are a friend, and I like you. Thus, I’ll be honest with you: if I’d bring this dish to the people with whom I was raised, they will laugh at me”. That dish was of course technically well executed, but there are comparisons you can’t make, unless of course  you know what you are talking about..the taste of the best seafood dishes I had on the shores where I grew up being way more divine  than what I was sampling.). When I see dishes like those, I realize how, abroad, many are laughably making lots of noise with way lesser ability than our most serious Chefs (we have pathetic  cooks, too, surviving only because they hide behind stardom BS, but Chef Cohen is not of that breed).   This was accompanied with a superb ragout (of exemplary tomatoes, beans, the acidity so beautifully controlled) and an outstanding aioli (those who think aioli is a granted affair will benefit from trying  this one).

Strawberry and goat’s curd dacquoise – Of course, delicious as everything that this kitchen has delivered all along this evening, and here is a case where goat cheese (I wished Jannice, a huge fan of goat cheese-based desserts was here tonight) is at its most palatable level, its freshness so amazing.  Had the meringue part  being better refined and delivering more depth of flavor as I have experienced with other dacquoise, I’d certainly have happily raved more  about this dessert. Nevertheless this  was still really good.     8/10

The coffee I had on this evening…I asked for an expresso…it was not an expresso…it was a failed attempt at a reflection on the expresso..it was actually just a poor cup of regular coffee…  far worst than an afterthought: utterly watery,  supremely insipid. I drank it …to be polite!  Perhaps the worst cup of coffee I ever sampled at a restaurant. 0/10

Lawrence’s daily menu is available on their twitter account, with prices, etc

PROS: A coup de coeur! Easily in my top 5 best bistrots in Yul. The delicious food, and solid cooking of course. Chef Cohen mixes  British gastro pub refined dishes with other  Intl inspirations: French, etc. He does that with uncommon creativity, too.  To Montreal standards, this is at the top of the ladder. Cohen rocks, the city knew that already. Now I know, too. A gastropub with elegance, thoughtful touches. This is not a cheapie gastro pub (I do not mind cheapie at all, to the contrary I love holes in the wall that deliver great food, but this is an elegant gastro pub). I visit restaurants just to find what’s best for me , so that I know where to go on special occasions with friends, my wife, relatives, etc. While at it, I share my findings with you. And I am always happy to find that little place I know I can rely on. Which is the case here, even if I still need to clarify the question marks I raised over the  service.  

CONS: The coffee…the coffee..the coffee.  Barista, please! And naturally, you have to describe all the dishes that you serve, not just some of them.

Overall food rating: 8.5/10 Solid cooking, top stuff indeed. An appealing creative  menu for this kind of restaurant. And in two years of intense searches throughout YUL’s finest… this is the only new entry in my top tier favourite tables. On an evening like this, they  managed to make me forget about my favourite bistrots   in town (Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie Poisson on Jean-Talon, Kazu). That speaks volume about this evening’s meal.
Service: I won’t rate this. We have all we need to know in the service section and I would find it unfair to score this as a poor service  given the fabulous performance of the ‘ying” part of the service. Also, as I explained: perhaps what I think is the ‘yang’ part is actually not ‘yang’ at all (or who knows, it’s perhaps the ‘style’ that’s intended too?…although, if that is a style….for the prices that are charged, well nah…I do not need style, thanks..)  and bottom line, no one was rude here. 
Decor:   It certainly does not look like your typical laidback pub. Although the décor is clearly of the bistrot kind (wood floor, no tablecloth on the tables, a bit of the ‘post industrial’ theme, simple metal grey chairs), we are here in no neglected settings.

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Restaurant Hotel Herman, Montreal – Pleasant enough

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla.  

Hotel Herman
Type of cuisine: North American Bistrot
Addr: 5171, rue Saint-Laurent, Montréal, QC
Phone: 514 278-7000

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Dish per dish Ratings: 10/10-Benchmark 9-Excellent 8-Very Good 7-Good 6-Ok, pleasant 
My recent  visits covered restaurants that have been a ‘coup de coeur'” to some of Yul’s well regarded food journalists. I do that once in a while because they are the best specialists of our restaurant scene, therefore it is logical to give a try to what have impressed them the most. Last week, I tried Mezcla, a ‘coup de coeur'” of Thierry Daraize. In my view, not bad, certainly  more exciting  than other better rated places in town (their course of blood pudding that I had on that evening being so remarkably exciting ),  but a lacklustre braised beef and a ceviche lacking ultimate refinement kept that meal away for strong overall ratings. Two yrs ago, I tried Marie Claude Lortie’s coup de coeur: Bouillon Bilk. That was an instant  coup de coeur for me as well. Today, it’s the turn of the ‘coup de coeur'”  of one of Voir magazine’s star food journalists, Gildas Meneu. The name of the restaurant: Hotel Herman. Important: this is by no means a judgement over the amazing work of those wonderful journalists. Food, as you know, is subjective. Therefore, please do understand that my appreciation of a given meal is just that: at X time, I was impressed by X meal. At Y time, Mr Meneu, Mr Darraize, Madame Lortie had the superb meals they had. Point blank.

This is a romantic meal with my wife, so no picture taken. But for those who love pics, you’ll still have one picture in this review: the one of my bill.  I consider prices on a bill to be  part of my privacy, therefore you won’t see the numbers ;p
 
Dined here on Saturday Sept 8th, 2012. 19:00. Hotel Herman is a … restaurant, not a …hotel. An easy joke, but aside from that, the restaurant is located on Saint Laurent in place of what used to be the late La Montée. They have renovated the place and it now looks more airy, with a beautiful bar in the middle, grey-toned chairs and tables all around. The decor pertaining to what is widely known nowadays as ‘post industrial’ design . A really pretty place, way way way more appealing than  its predecessor.

First thing I noticed: this place is hard to book on a last minute attempt. I managed to get a seat for 7:15pm, only available till 21:00 for a saturday evening. But we never felt rushed at all, and the service was so efficient that we actually were done by 20:00 and could have stayed there without any problem.

SERVICE: We had two Gentlemen as our main waiters: one, I’ll nickname the ” moustache man” as well as a blond gentleman with hair in a tight ponytail who I’ll nickname ‘the surfer’ since he made me somehow  think of a surfer.  Both Gentlemen offered a stunning service on this evening,  the type of service that I would expect only at a world class dining venture. Many places I like still have little flaws in the service, but here that aspect was in superb hands from what I have experienced all along this meal: both Gents were simply evolving in perfect mode this evening, never leaving glasses empty, never forgetting about one single detail, excelling in all aspects of top hospitality standards. The ‘Surfer’ even showing an extraordinary  fun personality.  Not one single mistep in both Gentlemen work, but world class presence all the way. They also had the 2 owners in house on this evening: one of them is a Gentleman both Jannice and I nicknamed ‘El barbudo de granma’ since  he made us think a bit of a young Fidel Castro at the time of the Cuban revolution (the team of revolutionaries who went on chasing away Batista were nicknamed ‘Barbudos de grandma’ after the boat that they used ),  because of his hat and shirt, and of course beard. He was a superb company to all diners, expressing very humble, fun, and sociable traits. The other owner came to our table, at some point, to serve the desserts we’ve ordered: a woman of little words  (if no words at all )  from what  transpired at that moment.

WINE:  On this evening, the wine list consisted of 4 pages (size of  1/6 page wide club flyers) and an extra two-sided page of cocktails and various liquors  (for eg, bourbon limonade $9, rhum, cognac, poire williams,grappa, scotch, etc). Sparkling wines (10 of them featuring on that list)  went from a $47 La peur du rouge, Axel Prufer to a $110 Champagne extra brut, Fidèle, Vouette et Sorbée; Examples of other sparkling wines: a personal  favourite Phil en Bulles, 2010 Phillipe Tessier ($46 the bottle, $8.5 the glass), Baden Sekt, Pinot extra brut, 2003, Ziereisen ($48)Ca va bien, Phillipe Bornard ($54). White wines varied in between $40 (for eg, a  2011 Garganega del veneto, I Masieri, Angiolino Maule ($40) up to a $69 Venezia-Giulia, ponka 2009 Paraschos ; 17 white wines featuring on that list with another favourite of mine, the Arbois-Pupillin 2008 Domaine de la Pinte ($52, I did not have it this time since it was not served by the glass at that moment; I always go by the glass to taste varied wines), Serbie orientale poema 2009 Cyrille Bongiraud ($45 the bottle, $8 the glass), another favourite of mine Santorini Assyrtiko sélectionné 2011 Hatzidakis  ($54 the bottle, $10 the glass), a Willow creek riesling 2010 Chad Hardesty ($63), etc. Then thirty choices featured among the red wines, from a Vin du Québec, Solinou, 2011, Mike et Véro ($30), up to a $84 Bourgogne, Bedeau, 2010 Frédéric Cossard. Other examples of red wines:  Aglianico del taburno Apollo 2006 Domenico Ocone ($43 the bottle, $8 the glass), a 1999 Pessac-Léognan Chateau Mirebeau ($65), Barolo, La Morra, 2006, Renato Buganza ($75), VDT, chemin noir, 2011 Chateau tour grise ($40);  Bourgogne, Pommard 2008 Thierry Vilot-Guillemard ($90), etc. Their choice of  biodynamic wines is interesting.

FOOD: They have a short menu, which seemed well varied when it comes to starters, but both Jannice and I found the ‘main courses’ section shorter of perhaps 1 extra item. Make no mistake: I perfectly understand the need of a short menu and it’s the way to go, indeed. But Perhaps adding another meat course should do the trick, here. Prices already feature on their facebook site, so no need to repeat those here.

We ate:

Crabe de roche de Gaspésie, radis, cresson fontaine ($18) – The crab meat was fresh,  and there was plenty of them (I am insisting on this because many complain about the $$$ in restaurants compared to what you get: well, here there was the quantity justifying this cost)  and of course, there is nothing to not like with fresh crab meat. But there is also little in excitement to be experienced from fresh crab meat morsels and  marinated radish that are basically just that: fresh crab meat and marinated radish. When you offer simple dishes like this one, you have just one way out for the dish to be appreciated: it needs to outstand, a good example being the remarkable “crab tourteau” dish that Chef Jean-Paul Giroux has once served me at Cuisine & Dependance, now unfortunately closed: a dish of sheer simplicity that I have never hesitated to score with a well deserved perfect 10/10 since the mouthfeel was simply of  epic dimension. As for this one dish I was sampling on this evening at Hotel Herman, it is just an Ok dish, simple and fresh.  6/10 as far as I am concerned. But my hats off to the exemplary sourced radish and watercress, a remainder of how this is a restaurant who takes all little details into account.

Plateau de charcuterie maison (Saucisse, rillette, terrine de foie) $15 – One small block of the terrine de foie, another small block of the rillette, and 3 tiny slices of sausage.  All  Certainly pleasant, well done cold cuts.  Both the rillette and terrine de foie packed with fresh good flavor, although not at the level of the cold cuts that knocked my socks off.  6.5/10

Magret de canard, chou fleur, trompette des maures, sauce hollandaise $19 – While sampling that sauce hollandaise, I had this vision in mind: me, knocking at the door of all the Chefs who failed to deliver an exciting sauce hollandaise, and showing them this version. The Chef here is a young gentleman who used to work at  La salle à Manger, Marc-Alexandre Mercier. Based on just this meal, it is hard for me to tell you what I think about him but there are certainly — eventhough it’s obvious that this evening’s meal won’t join my favourite bistrot meals in YUL —  some signs of brilliance: such beautifully-textured sauce hollandaise with taste to match, that beautiful sensuous pan-seared foie of the next course. Alas I am not a big fan yet, for reasons like this: we all know that duck is a meat that’s tough by nature. But Yep, indeed, you can make it tender. That is actually why we all want  our duck to be rosy, cooked no long. Now, when you see that your duck is cooked as it should (rosy, as it was the case with this duck) …but it is tougher than expected from any successful duck magret ….there’s a reason for that, no? I mean I am sorry to sound mean here, I actually hate lecturing ppl, but it’s a restaurant and ppl are paying, and in total honesty: this is a place with plenty of potential, so why not encouraging them in the right direction? Anyways, this was a big ‘block’ of  duck magret, which is generous and I appreciate, but inevitably harder to get right if you want to cook it in controlled fashion . Slice that ‘block’  in 3 and you’ll get  better accomplished cooking of the duck. I am also not a big fan of serving ‘sauce hollandaise’ with duck magret. I know it is doable and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just can’t appreciate the match of both. Anyways, the reason I am not rating this higher  has nothing to do with my personal aversion to duck magret / sauce hollandaise. I could take that anytime, especially with that superb sauce hollandaise. It has to do with the fact that the cooking of the duck magret  was hard to master because  the piece of duck was cooked as a whole as opposed to 3 slices.  Jannice was even meaner than me on this one. Coming from the countryside, therefore a huge admirer of ducks, among other things, she knew exactly what to expect from an ideal  duck magret, either in the old fashion or innovative contemporary way. This, to both Jannice and I,  was pleasant ..largely because of the superb sauce hollandaise…but two notches behind the best duck magrets we had. Again, nothing catastrophic, far from that (which is why I still rate it with a 6 over 10), but I had more memorable renditions of the duck magrets. Still, at $19, this is a steal!       6/10

Foie gras, crème de mais, pain brioche $23 – Beautiful sear of the foie gras, and I’ll repeat beautiful! I insist on this because to me, this is what makes the difference between a benchmark  piece of pan sear foie Vs the average decent piece of pan-sear foie gras that anyways no one can’t miss. But this piece, oh my ..my! This is the piece I needed when I was talking about what was missing on this Mezcla‘s pan-seared foie dish to be a benchmark one: a texture of the gods, the necessary amount of sensuous heat, deep joyous lively livery flavor.  I was starting to play the “Ah la la la la long” in my mind at that moment. And YET… I am heartbroken here, because usually a benchmark pan-seared foie gras triggers a fountain of hysteria from my part, Jannice — when around — even usually insisting that I calm down asap, Rfaol! Two  problems, as far as I am concerned: that  pain brioche hidden under the corn cream. Why is it under that corn cream? Don’t we know that a pain brioche under corn cream is not a pain brioche anymore?? I want to taste the pain brioche, a classic ideal companion to foie gras, but not its liquid-immersed version, Lol! Also: Yes, quality corn cream (this place use prime produce and I am very appreciative of this aspect, hence the repeated reference to the quality of their ingredients) is inevitably tasty and I do appreciate this, but honestly: wasn’t this a bit too straightforward?  Good 7/10, but this could have been a 10/10 had the overall conception blown me away.  

Crème prise de lait de chèvre, fraises au sucre, crumble $8 – Served in a jar, this was Ok. Again, they use beautiful produce here, so the strawberries were indeed really nice. The quality of the goat milk, impeccable. But in mouth, the overall was more of a pleasant dessert rather than a remarkable one. Again, nothing bad here. Just nothing particularly great, neither.  A 6 over 10 for the combo goat milk/strawberry, Jannice even rating this lower (and she is a countryside woman with goat cheese milk-based dessert being usually her favourite), but the crumble on its own was in a totally different league: I have to think back to the best pastries of my childhood in France to find a pastry of such amazement!

Conclusion: Not really a coup de coeur as far as I am concerned (nothing, on this meal, went above an beyond what I came to  expect at comparable top bistrot eateries, nothing surprised, nothing particularly knocked my socks off), but certainly one place  delivering the charming little things that will inevitably appeal to the most such as the beautiful plating, a cool ambience, interesting choices of  biodynamic wines, contemporary bistrot food executed with  logical ingredient combinations. In a nutshell: the usual stuff I do expect  from a good bistrot that does at least enough extra efforts (especially in the attention to details when it comes to showcase beautiful contrasting textures on a plate)  to make things  interesting. Nonetheless,  the food here is delicious and comes with a sense of excitement (even when it’s expected: for eg, the corn cream with pan-seared foie gras). And the concrete reality that many Chefs are not  capable of such beautiful sensuous pan-sear foie and exciting sauce hollandaise…that remains a mistery in my books! This meal tonight is no benchmark, but it was a revelation in that aspect. The prices are relatively decent, here, especially given the beautiful produce on display. Marc-Alexandre, scrap the little flaws and make it happen, buddy!
PROS: Not many Chefs could get their pan-sear foie gras the way they delivered it on this evening. Tasty food.
CONS: Most dishes I had would have been stunning by avoiding the ‘avoidable’, for eg: there’s nothing appealing with a  a brioche under some cream, there’s hardly any control if you cook a big piece of duck magret, etc
Overall food rating: 6/10 Jannice would have give it a 5 from what she told me. Anyways, I thought that we must remain realisitic when it comes to restaurants. Quebec is, at this moment, not a world gourmet  destination,and yet many big cities around the world do enjoy gourmet fame for generally far lesser Chefs. I mean, I am not here to distribute unecessary flowers, but seriously that sauce hollandaise, that fab pan-seared foie, not many Chefs around the globe do this in such spectacular manner found on this evening’s meal. On the other hand, I’d fool this beautiful and promising restaurant if I’d suggest that everything was perfect on this evening. Re-read my review, 3 times if that is required,  and  you’ll see that there’s some homework to be done. It is not a drama to improve upon misteps. Some of todays’  best Chefs are among the best..because they accepted critics and improved upon!
Service: a 10/10 for the ‘moustache man’ and ‘Surfer man’ performance on this evening. But I have a question: is  Madame, the owner, happy to host guests? She was not mean at all, really not, but  ppl pay to visit your restaurant,  thus I’d expect a minimal sense of welcoming..no????  Anyways, nothing drastic here.
Decor: what’s not to like in such a beautiful urban, post industrial decor? Lively and fun as far as I am concerned

WHAT  I THINK MONTHS LATER – The  local food journalists seem to have been impressed with this place. Great for Hotel Herman, and the generous portion Vs sweet prices will inevitably
translate into raves (good value is what people are looking for, after all), but a dish like that revised version of the  magret de canard was simply about bad understanding of the basics of  cooking duck meat -hopefully, they are doing  better ones by now–, the foie gras dish showcased bad conception (pain brioche under corn cream..so what am I supposed to appreciate here: the corn cream? Ok. The pain brioche? How?? It is covered with corn cream…The concept of the pain brioche soaked in corn milk: No, thanks…it was a waste of pain brioche, then!). If the idea is to bring new concepts, fine. But they need to make sense. Judging by the excitement of the food journalists and loads of raves on the foodosphere, my meal is perhaps just a bad day.  So, I’ll drop by one of those days –way, after having tried world’s most serious food cities, to be honest with u — and see if things are indeed better.

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Restaurant Mezcla, Montreal – Not blown away but seriously CHARMED!

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central.  

Restaurant MEZCLA
Type of cuisine: Contemporary Mix of South American / French 
Addr: 1251, De Champlain Street
Montreal, QC
Phone: 514 525-9934
URL: http://restaurantmezcla.com/en

Mezcla, recently opened in the Eastern Montreal area of Hochelaga Maisonneuve (End of May 2012), has made the headlines as one of the  latest strong additions to the Montreal restaurant scene, and according to many, this is top level dining destination. Food journalist Thierry Daraize even rating Mezcla with a near to perfect 4,5/5.  I was not as blown away, but I’ll invite you to read on: this place has charmed me much more than  other places  which meals I had to score higher for technical reasons, not based on pure pleasurable grounds (I’ll explain later on, in the food review section + also have a look at the ‘overall rating’ section at the end of this article) .

The food here is Latino American Fusion food (Nuevo Latino), perhaps the only type of fusion cuisine that I appreciate the most, which, for someone like me who has always favored minimal interraction between different cooking styles, speak volume about how, when done really well, this fusion can indeed entice. Nuevo Latino is nothing new anymore this side of the border: Chef Navarrette Jr has been doing it for years in Montreal, and in Trois Rivières, Au Poivre Noir‘s Mexicano-Quebecer Chef José Pierre Durand has been, sometimes (not all his dishes are of the Nuevo Latino style), inspired by Nuevo latino cuisine. Perhaps, another proof of my admiration for Nuevo Latino food is that both Chefs count among  my favourite Chefs around the globe, as many Nuevo Latino restaurants do feature among my favourite restaurants around the world  as well:  Cobre in Vancouver, Ramiro’s 954 in New York (I was impressed by a recent meal there – New York is relatively not far from YUL, so whenever you pass by, give this one a shout!).

Service on this evening was a charm: my main waitress, Melissa, an amazing  French/Italian  woman being not only the type of waitress I would expect at a top dining destination, but oh my gosh..many, many, I repeat many .. would give her an award for fun, amazing, hospitable world class personality. Melissa, you’re simply an incredible world class woman!  Perhaps the only thing I would recommend is to always get the customer to taste a sample of the  wine first, before filling the glass (although I am pretty sure, given the amazing professionalism of Melissa, that this was a very minor omission) .   The rest of the team was superb, the two other women working alongside Melissa being so attentive, welcoming, professional. But many people I dearly love do read my blog and I owe them the truth and only the truth: Yes, there was something that could have perhaps hit on some nerves, but trust me, it’s not a big deal: the only  Gentleman of the wait staff squad  did not change my fork and knife between two courses. Ah..ha..Ah..Ha..He even asked me whether he should change the glass of wine or not. Ben là..la, Rfaol!  ;p Drama? No. No. No, because this Gentleman was really amazing, pouring water on a more regular basis than at most serious restaurants, and really a cool man. No, because there are some serious restaurants where you sometimes keep your fork and knife. A hint? Well, what about 3 star Michelin Bras in Laguiole? Ca vous va? But for the wine, indeed…change the damn glass, Bro! …Rfaol!  Again, this was superb service despite Bro’s Laguiole’s standards. Allez, we have just one life to live, so Bro’s performance is to be taken with humor and in a very cool way. You will be surprised how I really liked Bro. Anyways, Melissa and the other women of this amazing squad will balance everything with the classic grand service you  are accustomed to when in a more serious mood. And Bro, remain yourself. Just change that damn glass of wine, I ‘m telling you!

Decor here is no luxury, but exotic and warm elegance: wood, wall bricks, plenty of light penetration due to the big glass window they have. It’s contemporary warmth, and cozy enough for all kind of dining events: romance, between friends, familial, etc.  Perhaps an exception to the nowadays restaurant trends: you have no bar around the open kitchen. One thing I found odd, though: they have two Chefs. One was in his section, the other in a separate area. I’d guess this was perhaps a temporary situation it would make sense to have both Chefs in the same kitchen’s area?? 

Food & Wine – On this evening, the menu comprised of starters priced in between $10 to $16 (for eg, Tuna/Aji amarillo, cancha/vermicelli $14, fish and seafood ceviche $15, crab/tuna tartare $14, Galette of Yuca/Chorizo of Charlevoix/chicha syrup $12, Blood pudding/corn bread/Jalapeno/ $14, Crab cake/Tartare sauce $12, etc), main courses priced in between $19 to $33 (for eg, Seafood rice $26, braised Gaspor piglet $33, Braised Cornouailles chicken $19, etc). Desserts were all priced at $6 ( Trilogie de sorbets from bilboquet, Crème brulée, chocolate fondant) . And they have their $34 tasting menu (5 courses), which is clearly a steal: I took it, and not only the courses were generous, but top tier items featured on that menu. At this moment, this is one the best value tasting menu you can have in YUL, all type of dining offerings included. I do not know how long this will pursue, but at this moment, if  you can manage to discard the fancy stuff like wine pairings and extra ‘bling blingos’, you’ll leave with a huge smile on your face for a while.
Wines were decently priced between $29 (an Errazuritz, Casablanca Chili 2011 – This is also offered at $6 by the glass / $19 he half bottle) to an $88 Perpetual, Priorat, Spain 2008. In between, plenty of well chosen bottles: a $54 Brazilian Merlot Fausto de Pizzato, Vale dos Vinhedos, 2009; a $40 Vouvrau Brut Chateau Moncontour, Loire, a Dreaming tree, North coast California, 2009 at $46 the bottle, a delicious Vina Esmeralda, Cataluna, 2011 at $34 (this was paired, by the glass, with my initial starter of Ceviche. This wine seduced me so much, that it would have cost $5 or $80 and yet my appreciation of it would remain the same: a superb ‘sensual’ white wine, if this tag would makes sense to you. Those folks are not crooks: they charged me 1 glass at $8….I’ll never forget this since I was charged twice this amount for 1 glass at lesser restaurants!!), a fabulous Grand Lurton Reserva Mendoza, Argentina 2007 $47 the bottle, $12 the glass (I love this wine).

My tasting menu kicked off with an item that many have raved about: their Ceviche. Usually, they use some daily fish and other seafood on that famous Ceviche. On this evening, fresh salmon, octopûs,  aji amarillo sauce. As much as I would like to join the bandwagon and tell you that this was indeed one of the best Ceviches I ever had, as much as I found this item to be the main reason I could not assign a full 9 or 10 over 10 as an overall score to this dish: this ceviche was really pleasant, it would make most restaurant ceviches in town pass as amateurish. the produce really fresh and well sourced (how..for god sake…do you do that on a tasting menu of $34…no wonder this has turned as one of the most successful dining destinations in YUL)…BUT this was certainly NOT a TOP Ceviche: it lacked the refinement and “éclat”  that  I am used to with far superior ceviches. Certainly tasty (the piquant and fresh acidity will appeal, for sure) … but I had better. far better, and right here, in YUL!   6/10

Then, Octopus, Cancha (Corn from Peru), Black olive sauce – The Octopus nicely tenderized, the grilled corn would entice the most especially for the novelty aspect coupled with lovely grilled flavor , the black Olive sauce a perfect foil to the octopus. Clearly, if you expect lively flavors from genuine Latino Cuisine, you may perhaps be a bit disappointed. Set your mind to  International cuisine, and this is as good as it gets. I am scoring this with a 7/10 since I can’t see how more of an excitement this could have been, but in total honesty: this was as good, not exciting,  as a delicious morsel of octopus could mingle with an accomplished olive sauce.

The 3rd item was one that I had ordered from the A la carte menu: the $16 pan sear foie, chicha (black corn from Peru), House-made corn bread and Jalapeno – Hourrah! Some serious work here: the excellent corn bread suggests that they should continue with whatever bread they do in house. Then again and again, some nice piquant (Jalapeno) Vs sweet flavors (corn) thoughtfully complementing the superb pan seared foie gras. This, I’ll tell you right away, is a 9 / 10 item, but there’s a reason I do not score this  with a 10/10 and they could fix this easily:  folks, a stunning piece of  pan sear foie gras needs HEAT! It needs deep livery flavor. Which I missed on this one. Sizzle it and serve right away….;p   Still, I know serious tables who could not even manage to deliver such amazing texture in their pan seared foie gras. Again, I was not teleported to Latin America here, something that Chef Navarrette Jr managed to provoke on numerous meals, but a  9/10 is well deserved, and where I had no choice but to give a 9/10 (excellent) to some dishes at other restaurants only for the technical mastery,  here is dish that pulled off excitement both visually (a dish crafted  beautifully) and palatably. I just can’t imagine how ‘epic’ that would have been had that deep livery flavor and last minute touch of heat been imparted.

Fourth item was part of the $34 tasting menu: Blood pudding, beurre blanc, chorizo from Charlevoix, nuts –  There was, next to me, a family of latinos. I love being discrete, but I wish I could ask them: so, what do you think?? Lol. Anyways, they seemed to appreciate their meal. I, for sure, appreciated mine: The blood pudding is one of the most successful ones I ever enjoyed in a restaurant in YUL. Spicy, tasty, meaty, deliciously bloody. Other praise-worthy element: this Beurre blanc, which  was not just nicely done by them, it was excitingly revised. I like that when an item (a simple beurre blanc in this case) is pushed to newer heights, serving as a remainder that you can still do a lot more with what’s usually “taken for granted”. Chorizo from Charlevoix: great!  This was an exciting piece of  International cuisine. Excellent! 9/10

Then their Braised ‘Cote de Boeuf ‘ , green beans, panais purée, chica sauce, pieds de moutons The mushrooms were world class, the green beans properly cooked , the ‘panais purée’ without reproach, but nowadays, braising meats is a ‘granted affair” that even home cooks are not missing, let alone professionals. It is a restaurant, thus we do expect nothing less than professionals. Which triggers this question: why an overcooked piece of braised  meat? Why some parts dry? Why were some parts chewy, others tough, other superbly edible? Why? I did enjoy this whole dinner  way better than my last meal at Brasserie Central, but because of items like this, I could not assign a higher overall rating to this evening’s meal. Brasserie Central  would not dare making a subpar braised beef. Braised meats, as we all know, depends on careful timing of the braising. This was braised too long.   5/10

The dessert of this tasting menu was in line with the philo of this house: generosity! It is hard to  assess things properly before such generosity, but it is a challenge that motivated me into sharing my side of the story. I pointed out what I had to, eventhough a $34 tasting of such calibre could have largely expedite my feelings in ‘Mr lover, Luva’ mood. My conclusion: indeed, one of the few best value tasting menus in town (I still believe that L’Un des Sens tasting menu, without wine and all bling blingos is the very 1st best value tasting menu). As for the rest, well. my assessment of each dish talk for themselves. Ah..Oh..zut…I forgot to tell: the dessert was a chocolate mi-cuit with some ice cream (7.5/10), of which I can say one thing: it was delicious, well done without teleporting me on the moon. 

I’ll go back to Restaurant Mezcla, way before even thinking about some tables that I had no other choice but to score higher (usually because they technically did a better job, not necessarily a more exciting one though..). Not to give shit to my buddy, Bro…Rfaol! I told you, I really liked the guy,  but  to keep scoring hard on that $34 tasting menu till it gives up. Again, a fabulous value for a $34 tasting menu, by Canadian standards. If you decided to splurge and went beyond and above that bar, then it is YOUR problem! As far as I am concerned: not blown away (No fiesta for me when a ceviche lacks optimal refinement, a braised cut of beef missing excitement) , but certainly charmed (I once said to a 2 star Michelin Chef ”’mais est-ce si compliqué de poéler du foie gras??”””” …Mezcla, even with a pan sear foie that needed more heat and more depth of livery flavor…did  better!!!!   ) … and their blood pudding course, on this evening, was simply something exciting. How often did I write the word ‘exciting’ in my reviews…..
PROS:  (1)Melissa, a superb host. My little quibble over the fact that I need to sample my wine before my glass is filled substracts nothing from her outstanding performance (2) The blood pudding and pan-sear foie gras came so close to outstand, the former being utterly delicious, the latter missing just that little heat and depth of livery flavor to catch up to its finest versions.
CONS: (1)The Ceviche: its juice  lacked the  refinement of the best ceviche I had (2)The braised cote de boeuf: braised way too long…thus taking away all the appeal of the successful nature of braised meats (3)Bro, Rfaol! ….change the glass of wine. Do not ask if it should be changed.  (4) I am nitpicking here, since Melissa was an outstanding host, but please..please: let me taste a sample of the wine first, before filling the glass! 

Overall food rating
: 7/10 (good) for what I am accustomed to at comparable dining level/style. I was more excited by this meal than at many  recent ones which were scored higher ONLY because they technically achieved an almost ”sans faute”” with accomplished work of textures and the usual culinaric ‘class act’ that comes along. But for the excitement, Mezcla’s has the edge over those. The reason I am NOT completely in an awe here is because technically, some of the dishes (for eg the ceviche,  the subsequent course of octopus, then the subpar braised cote de boeuf)  lacked the ultimate world class ‘refinement’ and perfection that would force me to think of an 8/10 or even better as an overall score. Interestingly, I found that world class refinement in the ‘blood pudding’ course and the pan-sear foie gras dish, despite needing more heat and deeper livery flavor,  would have not felt ‘out of place’ on a serious 1 star Michelin table.
Service: Melissa =  Wow! Bro = whatever you want..Lol…but change the damn glass of wine, Rfaol!
Decor: Simple, and yet versatile, which means  appropriate for a romantic dinner, familial , etc. It is warm, cozy.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – I haven’t re-visited Mezcla yet. The  blood pudding and pan-sear foie gras dishes (I had) suggest  that this is a promising brigade, but they need to wipe off  the inconsistencies found during that initial meal: the ordinary ceviche, subpar cote de boeuf. This is  a place that will undoubtly attract many rave comments over the web since they understood what most people want: affordable meals, in cool/relax ambience. But for me, a restaurant needs to rise beyond the simple observation that its lucrative goals are achieved, especially when my meal showcased some poorly executed dishes (a cote de boeuf has to be tasty! it is what any cook takes for granted right from the beginning, and this applies to  a ceviche,too!)…BUT I believe in this place and I know they can do better. Actually, whenever I start going back to restaurants in Montreal, I’ll pay a visit there.

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Brasserie Central, Montreal – The Rouyé’s touch but I miss the sweets of ..Valentin


Before going ahead, here are some of the latest updated material related to current web site:
(I)A recap of all my reviews of Montreal’s finest bistrots & fine dining ventures
(II)My 3 and 2 Star Michelin web site

(III)Latest updated restaurant reviews:
ABROAD:
-Meal at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore  (June 14th 2012)
-Meal at 3 Star Michelin Le Calandre    (June 16th 2012)
IN MONTREAL:
-Meal at Maison Boulud (May 31st 2012)
-Meal at Café Sardine, Montreal (June 26th 2012)

Montreal’s top 3 Isakayas (Japanese Bistrots) – August 2012
Restaurant Helena, August 2012
(IV) SEE ALSO: the reports on VeniceCinque Terre, Milan & Parma. .

Food rating: Benchmark in its league (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Brasserie Central, Montreal
Type of cuisine: Updated classic French  Bistrot / North American
Addr: 4858 Rue Sherbrooke West (Montreal)
Phone: 514 439-0937

Click here for the URL

This is the second eatery of Chef  Thierry Rouyé (La Porte), opened since July, a venture that he co-owns with Paolo Oliveira of Café Méliès. The place, situated in the very wealthy neighboorhood of Westmount (how come there are so few great tables in such wealthy place??? I don’t get that one),  is simply but elegantly decorated (a mirror-lined wall on one side, omnipresence of white and black tones with the contrast of brass fixtures, dark wooden chairs, a ‘glimpse’ of what could have been some partial checkered floors — the room was full, so by respect to the diners privacy, I refrained from taking pics of the dining room but browse the web and you’ll find some pics of the place) , with  emphasis clearly on the food rather than on the distraction of bling bling decor.

This is a very classy place: when I called for a solo dinner, instead of telling me right on the spot that I’d have to sit at the bar — an annoying trend nowadays (hey..I am paying like anyone else, so why are the other places instantly proposing the bar to solo diners even when the place is emply  ) —  they offered me a nice table as it should at any restaurant! I chose to sit on the terrace….With the beautiful Westmount  by a nice sunny day… Oh my..Oh my…

The Chef is Chef’s Thierry Rouyé’s son, Maxime, and I was looking forward to get a taste of his own creations, now that he is not at the side of his dad (he was working with his dad at La Porte). 

As it’s the case of most tables nowadays, they put plenty of emphasis on locally sourced produce and seems to invest lots of efforts in even the little details sometimes overlooked by  the most serious bistrots: for ie, they bake their own bread, have hired a star bartender, make their  pastries on the premises . The place has enjoyed instant success since its opening, and you certainly need to reserve especially on weekends. 

Menu & food
On this reported evening, starters ($8 – $18) comprise of items like beef carpaccio ($13), salade noicoise ($16), foie gras terrine ($18), main courses ($19 – $45) have items like Black angus short ribs $45, lobster club sandwich $19, a daily risotto $19. Desserts were all priced at $10.

When you’ll read  comments about this place over the web , play particular attention at what the commentator has opted  for, because there are various type of dining offerings here: for ie, the bar menu comprises of cocktails, ham, oysters, but they also have a multiple course tasting menu which is closer to fine dining than bistrot fares, and they also have bistrot fares as well such as burgers, etc. Naturally, the person who went there sampling couple of oysters and munched on some hams at the bar might not have the same overview of this kitchen as the one who went for the tasting menu for ie. I picked the multiple course tasting menu because I went there to see how far Maxime could go now that he is on his own , therefore I can  talk only for this particular menu.

$60 for 5 courses of this dining level is definitely reasonable.

Terrine de foie gras, abricot, pate de sésame – As accustomed to, when the Rouyés are at the helm, quality of ingredient is at the forefront. The duck liver terrine was not going to be an exception to that rule: the finest duck liver terrine. Instead of offering a straightforward terrine, Maxime Rouyé worked it a bit by encasing   sparse pistachios ( not too much, just subtle enough to make it an interesting touch when you get to sample it) and the delicate sesame flavor was thoughtful. A perfect apricot ‘quenelle’ and scrumptious toasted bread complemented this excellentduck terrine.   9/10

Crème de chou-fleur, tabbouleh de chou-fleur, fromage mamirolle, chorizo, mousse de sardines – The cream of chou-fleur (cauliflower cream ), that’s as  perfect as you want your cream of cauliflower to stand like. Creamy, enticingly reach, beautiful texture. The mousse of  sardines, on its own: again, perfect texture, big great fresh sardine flavor (the remainder that fresh sardines is a world away from the fishy sardines at the super market and many top restaurants would benefit from incorporating such stunning mousse of sardines in some of their dishes). BUT Rouyé’s standards are no average standards so let me afford some ‘nitpicking’ observations here:  the cauliflower cream  mixed with the sardines mousse  seemed an uninteresting pairing to me, adding nothing particular as far as I am concerned and I could do without the mamirolle  cheese (again, not an item that elevates a cauliflower cream in my view)  a 6/10 (Overall, the bottom line effect is that this was just Ok but not great) seems fair, although the sardines mousse and cauliflower cream would score higher than that, as individual elements.

Pétoncle poélé, boudin noir, meunière de noix, rémoulade de chou, émulsion jus de pommes/cidre de pommes – Technically, there’s nothing to reproach to the Rouyés. They master their cooking, work the textures as most expect, generally balance the flavors as it is expected on any great table, and so on. Unless you set your imagination to find technical flaws where there ain’t, there is virtually nothing to say about that aspect. So, the scallop was beautifully seared, the flesh as impeccably rendered, although I must admit that I had sampled more exciting  scallops in town. Then you have the blood pudding, one of the Rouyé’s fortes: simply sublime. The emulsified apple iced/apple concoction is fine but has made its time. I’ll score it with a   7/10 for that superior  blood pudding, essentially.  And I’ll append a question to this paragraph:  why…pourquoi…bon dieu de bon sang…for god sake…using repeating elements (we’ll get to that later on …. the tip: the green apple!!!!) on the same meal?

Pintade rotie au four, morilles, pommes de terre grelots, petits légumes – Cooked like a charm (a beautiful moist consistency, exact amount of heat required, beautiful sear of its skin), this was as great as a top guinea fowl dish could be. Being not a huge fan of this bird, it just does not excite me as much as, say, a stunning piece of fish or an incredible marbled piece of beef, but it’s definitely gone as far as a guinea fowl can express itself at its best.  Morels, potatoes,  radish of exemplary quality and tasty sauce were  the complementary elements of this course. An excellent updated classic.   9/10  .

  Pop corn à l’érable, crème de mais, sablé breton, pomme verte en sorbet – Once upon a time, the Rouyés had a world class pastry Chef. His name was Valentin. Valentin Rouyé. His is one of the two sons of Grand Chef Thierry Rouyé. When I say ‘world class pastry Chef”, it’s not because I am under the influence of something, Lol. It’s because he proved it, on the field. Valentin Rouyé, when I got to sample his creations in 2010 (see the macaron, sweets, dessert of this meal), was..to put it boldly….at the same level of any 3 star Michelin pastry Chef out there. Nothing less, nothing more! Two months after that meal, a highly experienced  world gourmand  who visited me in Montreal and went dining at La Porte upon my recommendation, had to say this of Valentin Rouyé ”’are you serious? This guy’s macarons beats Hermé’s, his inventivity crushes many high profile 3 star Michelin pastry Chefs around the world””.  I am French, and do visit my homeland twice a year (Perhaps the Pierre Hermé’s reference is a bit exxagerated, although I have always considered Valentin’s macarons, for ie, to stand among  the very best I had) but  I can confirm what that gentleman was saying: indeed, Valentin..at his very best…he is something!   Even more amusing: Valentin never had any training in pastries at that time! Imagine. Valentin moved on,  completed his studies at Ithq , and now he works at Maison Boulud, downtown Mtl. I have no clue whether Valentin is at its top shape as he used to be, but what he was doing in 2010 was world class. Nowadays, the Rouyés have a new Pastry Chef and I was curious to sample his creations. Alas, the dessert I had (Sablés bretons, corn cream, maple-leaf flavored pop corn, green apple sorbet)   was ‘challenging’ to me: I am a huge fan of sablés bretons since it’s the kind of pastry creations that virtually every kitchen claims to do well, but only a few make the standout types. This sablé is probably a standout sablé, but I will never know because it was covered with the corn cream! Please, never cover superb sablés with anything else! Then again…slices of apples, a featuring element of the previous scallops dish. Why using repeating ingredients in the course of the same tasting menu??… It just takes the appeal of your menu away. For me, there were way too many things going on in there, but not cohesively: for ie, I’d rather have the apple sorbet and the popcorn  as the main elements of one single dessert. Leave the sablés as partners to your coffees (which they do really well, btw). And the cream of corn should be the base to a totally different dessert. I can’t judge this Pastry Chef on one dessert only, but  while I was sampling this dessert, I was  missing Valentin’s sweets. 5/10

WINE list – The wine list is short (approx 14 bottles featuring on the list available at my table on this dinner, presumably more gems available on the premises) with choices mainly from France, but also some few from California, Australia, Italy, New Zeland and Chile. Examples of great red wines found on that list: St Emilion Grand cru 2007, Chateau L’Armont ($87 the bottle/$17 the glass), Margaux 2007, Ch Paveil de Luze ($88), Sangiovese  Scabi 2009, Azienda agricola San Valentino ($52), a Californian Merlot 2010 Grayson Cellars ($54 the bottle, $11 the glass).
Among the white wines available on this evening’s wine list: AChablis Laurent Tribut 2010 ($98), Les petits QV Mas St Laurent 2011 ($52 the bottle, $10 the glass), Sonoma Rodney strong, chardonnay ($60).  Two rosés : a majolica cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2011 ($41), Château la lieue 2010 provence ($48). Bubbles comprised of a prosecco di valdobbiadene brut, crede, 2011 ($46 for the bottle, $9 for the glass); Cava cordoniu classico ($57),  Champagne Barnaut, grand cru de Bouzy ($97 the bottle, $19 the glass).

Service was impeccable. 

Conclusion:  All in all, Maxime Rouyé, on his own, has indeed managed to showcase serious skills. He certainly masters the technique, has proven  that he can cook classically-inspired dishes that has nothing to envy a michelin star restaurant with equivalent offering (exempli gratia, his guinea fowl dish was as great as a practically similar poultry dish my mum had during our meal at 3 star Michelin Ledoyen —that dish was not reviewed in that article, but it was the best dish of that meal) and his creativity can appeal as on that foie gras dish where the subtle addition of sesame paste was genuinely thoughtful.  I did not try his more bistro-alike material, for ie his burgers/club sandwich/salade noicoise, but I heard they are great too. We are in skilled hands, and this is is easily a top bistrot indeed (I personally would situate it right after my favourite bistrots in Yul: Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk,  Kitchen Galerie on Jean talon) although some details of this meal need to be fine-tuned: exempli gratia,  avoid repeating ingredients like those apple slices on the same tasting menu (I can understand that it is another story when the customer himself/herself orders the dishes, but that was not the case here), work on better exciting cohesion between multiple ingredients on dishes like that dessert of sablé/green apple sorbet/pop corn  or the cauliflower course I’ve just sampled. A suggestion: perhaps creating a perfected “show-stopper” course around that blood pudding or the sardines mousse. They do it so well.   

PROS: The blood pudding, the sardine mousse, duck liver terrine, the guinea fowl dish, the good service
CONS: some ingredient association needs to be rethought, others fine-tuned. That dessert also needs to be rethought.

Overall food rating (on this visit): 7.5/10 seems the most accurate rating for this meal I just had, although I am a bit torn about this overall rating. I’ll  explain: some items of  this meal would  be  big hits at even a 1 star Michelin level : stunning sardines mousse, the ‘as perfect as it gets’ guinea fowl dish, the sublime terrine of foie gras. Thus, anything below an 8 over 10 may sound mean.  But I was not excited by the association of ingredients on the cauliflower cream  course as well as a dessert that is clearly not right up my alley, which  makes me ‘wandering’ back and forth between a 7.5 and an 8/10. I’ll keep it at 7.5 since the better aspects of this meal deserve better reward although  I will observe that Maxime has not managed yet to make me forget about say, Bistrot Cocagne, Au 5 e Péché, Bouillon Bilk and even Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon I am comparing apples to apples here (top level bistrot in Yul Vs other top level bistrots in Yul).  and that this is more of a strong score for the technique showcased on this evening rather than for full excitement . 
Overall service rating
: 9/10  Professional, well trained. Connor, my main waiter on this evening, is a great example of the perfect gentleman: fun, accomodating, great listener, passionate about what he does and he does it well.
Décor
: Simple black and white theme, and yet elegant.
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance   on the specific  meal I am sampling  only.

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Restaurant Helena, Montreal


Before going ahead, here are some of the latest updated material related to current web site:
(I)A recap of all my reviews of Montreal’s finest bistrots & fine dining ventures
(II)My 3 and 2 Star Michelin web site

(III)Latest updated restaurant reviews:
ABROAD:
-Meal at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore  (June 14th 2012)
-Meal at 3 Star Michelin Le Calandre    (June 16th 2012)
IN MONTREAL:
-Meal at Maison Boulud (May 31st 2012)
-Meal at Café Sardine, Montreal (June 26th 2012)

Montreal’s top 3 Isakayas (Japanese Bistrots) – August 2012

(IV) SEE ALSO: the reports on VeniceCinque Terre, Milan & Parma. .

Food rating: Benchmark in its league (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Restaurant Helena
Type of cuisine: Contemporary Mediterranean/
Portuguese-inspired bistrot
Addr: 438, rue McGill – Montreal,
Phone: (514) 878-1555
URL: http://restauranthelena.com

Helena is an upscale Contemporary Mediterranean-inspired bistrot whose owner is the Executive Chef and also owner at Restaurant Portus Calle, a Portuguese fine dining destination on Saint Laurent Street. The bistrot, situated in the vieux Montreal,  has a very elegant/chic modern decor (with respect to other diners right to enjoy their meal in privacy and comfort, I try to never point my camera at a dining room full of people, or in the very rare cases I did so, it was done very discretely and faces were  blurred. The room was not empty, therefore I refrained from taking pics, but if you go on their web site, you’ll find plenty of pics showing how elegantly the dining room is  decorated). As it’s always the case nowadays when you dine solo, you are offered to sit at the bar. A trend you end up getting used to. 

I am fond of Mediterranean fares (for ie: Italian, Portuguese, Greek,  etc) but  do usually have hard time with  their upscale versions since I tend to expect the latter to be more than just the act of laying down elegantly  what  I would have sampled at lesser fancy restaurants. Furthermore, when you have been cooking since your tender age, you tend to be impatient when you are served with restaurant food you could have done yourself. All normal reactions especially given  you can have great Italian or Portuguese food in their more humble restaurants, one fresh example  was my recent trip to Northern Italy where the laidback trattoria A cantina de Mananan‘s savoury dishes in Corniglia outshone, in my view,  those of my 3 star Michelin meal at Le Calandre (Rubano). And I’ll let you guess the difference in $$$ between both.

The other thing about Portuguese cuisine is that it is a very ‘accessible’ cuisine in the sense that you do not need to be Portuguese to ‘understand’ Portuguese food, nor to appreciate it. And although it is always a good thing to know what authentic Portuguese food tastes like (Montreal is blessed with a strongly present Portuguese community and great authentic Portuguese food can be sampled at some of their close-to-traditional eateries in town), you won’t really need to be stuck with  those notions while eating at some of the  contemporary Portuguese dining  ventures, a feature that I do appreciate since I was born in a country where some of the most delicious food pertain to the topic of acquired taste. Portuguese food is accessible, indeed, since even the most traditional fares (make friends with Portuguese and ask their grand parents  to cook for you. It’s the way to go!) are not challenging at all (not drastically at the opposite of what our Western palates have been used to).

In Montreal, Portuguese restaurants represent just a fraction of the restaurants that are opened in town. After 15 years in YUL, you end up knowing them pretty well. My appreciation of Portuguese restaurants went through various phases: once, Ferreira Café (think of a contemporary and refined take on Portuguese food as opposed to Traditional Portuguese) on Peel Street was a favourite but I gradually lost interest in that place. Then I was once charmed by Douro (Think of an updated take on traditional Portuguese) on St Laurent Street before, again, giving up on it. In both cases, the ‘value for food’ aspect  was  the main issue I was personally having and  I also, at times, had some minor  qualms about the service at Ferreira Café (as usual, your experience might be completely different). Between the two, if I had to go back to one of them, I’d probably return to Douro (the food at Douro is closer to my ideal of what Portuguese traditional fares should taste like) way before thinking about Ferreira. Again, a matter of personal prefs as usual.

A restaurant that I did appreciate and still do, without particularly ‘knocking my socks off’,  is  Portus Calle (the big brother of Restaurant Helena). I kinda liked Chez Doval for its traditional fares (wished I would be as equally impressed by the service, though), but my personal long time favourite (unfortunately, a bit pricey in my opinion) has always been the very traditional Casa Minhota on St Laurent (I am not saying that you should all flock there and that it is particularly special; all I am saying is that it is the Portuguese that, in Montreal, has pleased me the most up to now) . The rest are mostly rotisseries with some other eateries that you certainly do not want me to elaborate about, since they just do not worth one single second of my time.

The thing that I have always found laughable is when people sample Mediterranean fares with the fear to stumble upon predictable food. You know, the kind of simplistic suggestions  like ”nothing here you probably haven’t tasted before”. Rfaol! A bit as if I go to the beach and suggest that I saw nothing here you probably haven’t seen before! I am afraid that this is the kind on non sense that is driving lots of cooks away from mastering the basics of real good cuisine. I am not against modernist food, but it has to be mastered properly, and for such you need to get the basics done right in the first place. And basics done superbly well translates in  the type of food that catches my attention, it is also the only expectation that I have for Mediterranean cuisine.

Last but not least, I have always maintained a certain ‘reserve’ in my appreciation of most contemporary interpretations of Mediterranean cuisine: I find that many Chefs tend to believe that they can convert to Mediterranean cuisines on a split second decision, just because it looks so easy to cook. Wrong move! This is food that only shines in the hands of Chefs who have gathered long years of practice and cooking memory alongside those who have traditionally cooked this very well with no need of written recipes

The FOOD
There is no menu currently on their web site, so I’ll explain: it is divided between several sections, for ie a section of soups and salads (between $7 to $10, the popular Portuguese soup  caldo verde being available), cold starters (in betweeen $15 to $35; octopus carpaccio $15, Asparagus salad $13, plate of charcuteries $10 per person, Alaskan crab salad $35 for 2), warm starters (between $6 to $15, examples are cod croquettes, blood pudding, fried items like  sardines) a section of meats (Between $25 to $30; for ie, Gaspor farm suckling pig, clams, fresh coriander at $30, a Francezinha sandwich Porto style with beef, ham, San Jorge Cheese at $25, Osso Bucco, etc),  a section for seafood (between $30-$60 for ie, cod confit brandade at $30 — I’ll observe that we are in serious fine dining league’s price tags in this seafood section, probably due to the top quality produce being imported). The menu features French/English/Portuguese brief description of the courses.

Tabua de grelhados lulas plovo e chourico $15 – Grilled squid, octopus, chorizo. All grilled to the point, the quality of the ingredients fautless, the octopus superbly tenderized, seasoning well judged. We are not on the on the shores of the Mediterranean sea, and yet this young team of cooks did quite a nice job in these circumstances in pulling off  appealing  flavors, well timed cooking. Better than this, it’s cooking brought to you by an experienced Portuguese cook who has spent decades at home piling up the entire culinary tradition s/he has inherited from previous  generations, Rfaol! This is exactly what I wished I had experienced on my meal at  F Bar in December. Good 7/10

Then another classic of the Portuguese, The grilled sardines $7 – Clearly, they do not joke with the quality of the produce here. Generous plump fresh sardines of remarkable quality, atop a superb ‘tapenade’ of black olives. Again, for better, you take the plane and land on the Mediterranean coast!   7.5/10

Ameijoas gratinadas, milho, chourico e sao jorge $10 – Gratineed clams (gratineed with Sao Jorge cheese), a fabulous cream of corn underneath (on its own, this cream was so well executed both in textures and work of flavors – a benchmark cream of corn if there’s any), red onions. It might not be rocket science (we are, after all, miles away from Ferran Adria’s or Achatz works of shapes and tastes), but this is a great refreshing example of beautiful creativity when it comes to a contemporary interpretation of Mediterranean fares: mingling lightness of flavors with thoughtful plating that adds to the former intent. Perhaps the tiny clams will hit on some nerves, and it’s important that the wait staff ensures that the diner is sampling this dish before any other items (I didn’t play attention at the fact that it was at the table, so I sampled it after the two other courses it was served along… you have guessed it: gratineed clams, not eaten on the spot, it’s a recipe for defeat, Lol) , but nothing  should distract from the observation that its conception is thoughtful. I found this one impossible  to score since the clams were so tiny and the remarkable corn cream not quantitatively significant.Rating this would be more accurately an assessment of glimpses of what this dish is really is. Perhaps 3 big clams (instead of multiple tiny ones) and more of the fabulous  corn cream would pave the way to a better appreciation of this course.

Feijoada de Mariscos $30  – A seafood ragout with lima beans, squid, shrimps, clams. There’s usually pork in similar Portuguese ragouts. This being closer to what a Brazilian version  would tend to be like (using seafood). They kinda cook this too in the Acores. I need something a bit more Mediterranean here, for eg: add some mint like what they do in Portugal. At this point, I concluded that this team of young Chefs, although offering something clearly different from what an experienced Portuguese Chef fond of his homeland  traditional cuisine would perhaps cook, had managed to showcase beautiful skills with respect to the contemporary genre they have adopted: dish after dish, the food was delicious, remarkably well balanced and the cooking always carefully mastered. This Feijoada de Mariscos was no exception to that rule. Delicious, and in its contemporary style, really well done, but this, I have to underline, did not feed my mind with some flashbacks of Mediterranea . 8.5/10

  Wine choices on this evening were flawless, for my taste: A glass of  Soalheiro Alvarinho 2011 had the necessary appealing depth of mineral aromas to balance perfectly with the starters I had. The Feijoada de Mariscos was served along another beautiful wine: a subsidio 2008 of fantastic taste. You have right there, with both previous wines, great examples of affordable (on the market) wines, both of private import,  packed with chararacter. All wines were properly introduced, their bottles presented as it should, except for the very first glass of wine, and without wanting to sound too picky, it’s worth couple of words because I found it amusing, funny (although I’ll recommend it is avoided ) :  to boot, I asked if they had some Portuguese Sparkling wines. The gentle young woman at the bar responded with an enthusiastic YES! I started to build expectations in my mind: would that be one of the little sparkling gems of  Murganheira or Quintadalixa? Both being excellent Portuguese wine producers (of sparkling wines as well).  The glass is filled, but no bottle shown. I insisted to see the bottle: bingo, it’s a Freixenet cordon rosada from Spain. Ha! That’s why I didn’t see the bottle, Rfaol! A bit embarassed, the young woman at the bar was sorry and explained that it was an exception and assured me of all following wines being Portuguese as I requested. Not a big deal, and I really find this more amusing than anything else, especially with such a delicious Spanish Cava, but please, do not hesitate to be upfront: if there is no Portuguese Sparkling wine, then there’s none. There’s no problem with that, Lol. PS: Not really a complaint since we all know that it is mainly on  wines that restaurants make their profit, but it would be also fair to observe that prices of a glass of wine are on the steeper side  here ($11 for the glass of subsidio 2008, which at least is privately imported;  $12 for the glass of Freixenet cordon rosada, a wine I can find at the SAQ for $14.25, but again, this is normal restaurant prices for such; $14 for the glass of imported Soalheiro Alvarinho 2011. The logic I could see here would be that imported Portuguese wines cost more to be imported. Regardless, those were at least  fabulous wines).

The little things I really loved...delicious food, well balanced. There’s definitely real talent in this kitchen brigade. For sure I do not expect miracles from a kitchen brigade that’s miles away from the Mediterranean coast, but with what they have in hands, they’ve accomplished the essential: showcasing good skills, delivering tasty food, and offering an interesting North American interpretation of Contemporary Mediterranean fares.

The little things  to improve upon …. Nothing is perfect and life goes on, Yep, I know and I also know that  I may sound not enoughly cool here, but as usual, to be taken constructively (for sure, nothing dramatic here, just those little details that bring you a long way) :
***When the patron has the wine list opened by its side, ask him if he is done with it before whisking it away. I may sound picky here, but with the elegant layout, the big efforts done by the rest of the wait staff, ….
***Never hesitate to be upfront with the customer: again, not the end of the world here, but that little episode about the cava should be avoided. Just tell the customer that you have no Portuguese bubbles. That this is an exception.
I am going to insist on this since I would like to convey as much accuracy as I can : I am being really picky here since the overall service was fantastic (the ladies at the bar were amazing, really cool and accomodating; the gentlemen serving me were all great professionals ), but on the other end, when I decided to write my side of the story about restaurants, it was mainly because I wanted to portray things the way they appeared  to me  instead of serving as simple advertising proxies or trying to sound cool / pleasant (as I have always maintained: Not meant to be mean here, not at all, but I do not care about what ppl think on what I write, I do not care about raving wherever I judge necessary, doing the opposite wherever I believe it has to, as long as I reach out to my own principles of bringing things the way I am experiencing them).

As for this one specific dinner at restaurant Helena, all I can say is  that their mission of bringing an interesting North American take on Contemporary Mediterranean-inspired bistrot fares is accomplished. All simple stuff, but well done and tasting good. Blown away? Nope. Satisfied? Yep, this team knows how to cook. Did I feel transported on the shores of Mediterranea? Nope, but that is a tough task to accomplish, virtually impossible when you are not in  Mediterranea.
PROS: Tasty food, technically without reproach. I prefer this over Fbar, but I prefer more rustic Portuguese.
CONS: Next time, get me a bit closer to Mediterranean shores. Learn from those who have cooked traditional cooking for long and pick couple of tricks from them. Add some of those tricks to current  offerings and many will fall for this place.

Overall food rating: 6/10 Above average for what I am accustomed to at comparable restaurants/dining category
Overall service rating: 8/10 Mostly young, professional on this evening.
Décor: 8/10  Elegant, colorful, contemporary. Go on their website, WYSIWYG!
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  That 6 over 10 as an overall food rating for that meal seemed accurate to me, based to what I came to expect from this type and standard of eatery. It was not an average (5/10) meal for sure, not a 7/10  neither (in my view), but a meal delivered with flawless technique and they went as far as a non-portuguese team outside of Portugal can deliver on an above average basis. I read a review of my favourite food critic in Montreal, Marie-Claude Lortie, one she wrote about Helena bistrot where she criticized the lack of spicyness of the food as well as some inconsistencies in the cooking. The spicy-ness, yeah perhaps. Well, it is more of a North American take on Neo Portuguese bistrot, so I knew that it would be hard to be transported on the shores of the Mediterranean (a point I actually clearly made in my review). But the inconsistency in the cooking…well certainly not on the meal I sampled there. She might be right, perhaps there were inconsistencies in cooking when she ate there, but it is important, before talking about cooking inconsistencies, to really put things in their context. The latter being only possible when you first get to know what you are talking about (that is why you won’t see me reviewing food that I am not familiar with). Surreal complaints like the pizza was not enoughly cooked at an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria  or the seafood is  raw at a sushiya are  thankfully less and less of an occurence nowadays, but I still suspect many people to carry  cooking standards from their part of the world to food that has nothing to do with those standards. And you might be surprised to find relatively knowledgeable persons indulging in such mistakes: a while back, I was seating not far from a food journalist (no, it was not Madame Lortie if you ask, it is a gentleman and it was in the US) who was complaining about his meat not being at medium rare temp. Wrong call: medium rare is not the way meats are cooked in the cuisine covered by the restaurant where we were eating.

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Restaurant Les zebres, Val-David, Laurentides – Talent right where it needs to shine


Before going ahead, here are some of the latest updated material related to current web site:
(I)A recap of all my reviews of Montreal’s finest bistrots & fine dining ventures
(II)My 3 and 2 Star Michelin web site

(III)Latest updated restaurant reviews:
ABROAD:
-Meal at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore  (June 14th 2012)
-Meal at 3 Star Michelin Le Calandre    (June 16th 2012)
IN MONTREAL:
-Meal at Maison Boulud (May 31st 2012)
-Meal at Café Sardine, Montreal (June 26th 2012)

Montreal’s top 3 Isakayas (Japanese Bistrots) – August 2012

(IV) SEE ALSO: the reports on VeniceCinque Terre, Milan & Parma.
Restaurant Les zebres
Type of cuisine: Bistro (French with eclectic influences)
2347, rue de l’Église
Val-David / Laurentides
Phone: 819-322-3196

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

Dinner on Sat Aug 11th 2012Dinner on Saturday Aug 11th, 20:30 – 3rd meal here.  Both my wife and I have considered Les Zèbres (LZ) as our little ‘coup de coeur’ restaurant in the Laurentides for the past 2 yrs now. We tried some other well known and raved-about places in Ste Adèle, Tremblant, St Sauveur & surroundings, but found LZ to cater the most  to our personal taste.

Tapas platter for two comprised of a series of top level items, looking simple as most tapas usually do, but carrying exciting mouthfeel and showing superior technique  :  beef skewers are items that are normally hard to rave about, and yet those had a depth of meaty and exciting grilling taste thateven few of the top beef skewers can claim to deliver. A benchmark beef skewer ifthere’s any (10/10). Another item was   their version of the tzatziki, so fresh and so delicious, it  would easily give to the best  tzatziki out there arun for their money  (10/10). Another 10/10 item, in my view, is their dried duck magrets with xérès caramel. I simply can’t tell which quality stood out: the superb duck itself?  the remarkable taste?  the impossible perfect flavor combination with the xérès caramel? But one thing  I know is that this dried duck magret, on this evening, was part of a 100-metre dash with other standard bearing takes on the duck magret, and while the others were still at thestarting blocks, LZ’s dried duck magret was long gone!  As impressive asthat. On this evening, they dropped the olives and veggie egg rolls thatfeatured on their web site menu (it’s a market driven restaurant,therefore sometimes little adjustments are made to reflect what came freshlyfrom the market). The beef skewer, tzatziki, dried duck largely deserving their superlatives, the other items of the tapas platter were not to be forgotten neither: trout rillette (9/10) was as close you would get to a perfect excitin grillette, a reminder that skilled hands coupled with a desire to refuse to take a classic for granted can sometimes bring an item so oftently overlooked to newer heights. It takes skills, though. Heart and good will alone do  not suffice. This rillette was the result of the combination of all of those. Fresh clams of exemplary quality  (8/10) also featured on  this absolutely fabulous tapas platter.  

The array of impressive tapas on  this evening  (their tapas platter is known to be an interesting one, but this was the best of the two tapas platters that I have enjoyed at LZ) did put a ‘big pressure’ (Lol) on what ensued:  both Janice and I once again opted for the beef (Contre filet de boeuf grillé) 8/10 ,  for sure beautifully cooked and tasting good given the skilled hands that took care of it.

But I   think that I have missed a rendez vous with what seemed to have been  the star of this evening, the dish of ‘lamb bavette’: while walking to the Gents room,  I saw plenty of other tables sampling the lamb bavette and their enthusiastic reactions was something I’ll remember for long. I should learn to follow the recommendations of the wait staff . Oh well, I too had my ‘star’ of the evening in  the tapas platter, Lol.

For dessert, both Jannice and I went  for the  uncooked cheese cake. The  cheese cake (7.5/10)  could not hold a candle to the sublime initial tapas or the once mind blowing fruit sorbet I once have sampled here,  and yet it ranked right up there with the second-tier successful desserts I came to be accustomed with at the top bistrots of this province. Really, no complaint over the cheese cake (it was a properly made, had refinement and tasted good)and the 7.5/10 score is in this case just a matter of personal preference: I tend to prefer  cheese cakes with richer flavors and  an additional layer of  anything fruity, a coulis of strawberry for ie. You have guessed it: New york style cheese cakes are among my favourite. This one at LZ was closer to the French style cheese cake, light both in texture and flavor, although this did not use gelatin as the binding ingredient.  When you live on a land that offers an incredible variety of cheese cakes,  the competitive spirit is so high that you virtually  never stumble upon a bad cheese cake. On the flip side, it takes a mountain of efforts and luck (yes, luck as in hoping that the cheese cake you are making matches with the style of cheese cakes your diner prefers… a virtually impossible task) for a kitchen to come up with a  9/10 or 10/10 cheese cake.

 

All in all, after 3 visits here, all I can say is that LZ continuesto shine at heights that makes it among my favourite top 5 to 7 bistrots in ourprovince. They just do things the way I like: using exemplary produce, they do get the MOST (vibrant taste, above average exciting dishes, etc) out of the very LEAST (a simple ingredient, no fussy manipulation). And with a  Chef who has such a great palate, I am at least assured to enjoy some nice yummy moments here. 

As an aside note: I am really impressed these days with a Neo-Japanese Isakaya (Japanese bistrot) that people have been raving about for years now (Yep, I don’t follow trends. So I wait, then one day I wake up and decide to find out for myself)  : Kazu on Sainte Catherine Street, downtown Montreal. (Click here to read a short article of my top 3 Isakayas in Montreal).  I  think that a place like Kazu embodies one of the most prolific dining models of our era. A  bit like the tapas places of Spain: no fuss in the décor, no table cloth but a constant huge line up justifying the fun to indulge in delicious food  bathed in a laidback electrifying  bistrot ambience. It’s a  ‘boui-boui’ (‘hole in a wall’  place)  as we say in French…but a boui-boui I would not have raved about if it didn’t stand out. This is something that I rarely say of a restaurant, but I found Kazu to  really deserve  each cent of my  hard earned money:  a very talented Chef (the Gentleman has an incredible palate as easily demonstrated by the delicious food he is creating. Which is no surprise: he was working at restaurant Toque for a while and his take on modern Japanese Bistrot fares will easily cater to Westerners too / his style is not entirely traditional Japanese but has also a bit of Western touches in plating and also ingredient combination at time) , present behind his stoves, delivering no BS but what most  diners should bother about: consistent exquisite food at low price tag. An example, among many others,  of  why Kazu’s has blown away most Montrealers -> a $15  braised then bbq’d  pork neck dish (10/10). A bbq’d dish … “there’s no big deal to that” you might argue, and yet not one single of the best bbq’d places of this province has delivered half of the deliciousness of Kazu’s version. Perhaps even more revealing is that I have to think back to  the very best dishes of  top bistrots like Bistro Cocagne or Au Cinquième Péché to find a bistrot food item truely worthy of a 10/10 as stunning as Kazu’s bbq’d pork neck tastebud wonder. Of course, like with any restaurant around the globe, your favourite included, Kazu has  great dishes and also fares not as stellar as that bbq’d pork neck but it delivers consistent delicious food that many top level restaurants can only dream about and it is doing it at prices that would cover most restaurants of shame (an example: that $15 pork neck is offered as 3 racks of meat — Most restaurants are offering half that quantity at twice that price with a level of deliciousness not even close to what the leftover of Kazu’s pork neck tastes like).
Overall food rating (meal of August 2012): 8/10 Very Good  for what I am accustomed to at comparable restaurants/dining level. The platter of tapas was of particularly brilliant level on this evening.
Overall service rating: 8/10 Down to earth, professional
Décor: 8/10   Elegant , romantic, high celilings, large glass windows
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmetic calculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only. Sometimes, if the meal comprises of courses
that went far beyond the cooking level expected in the league in which it is competing

Dinner on Sat March 3rd 2012My second meal only at Les Zebres in Val David, stronghold of a Chef (Chef Jason Bowmer) that I consider as one with a solid head on his shoulders. I insist on the latter because my last work (now completed) on the finest bistrots and fine dining eateries of Montreal & surroundings   revealed lots of interesting discoveries: Chefs who are reliable no matter what, others who find inspiration only when they see a camera in your hands or a journalist in the room, etc. Chef Bowmer does not suffer from variable factors and focuses on what matters most: expressing his cooking skills no matter the circumstances.  And skilled he is: we kicked off with an array of tapas for two with excellent rillette de truite (trout rillette), dried duck magret, merguez pogo, humus. This was certainly fun but most importantly reminded of why I praise Chef Bowmer’s work: he understands flavors better than many of his peers. The food is tasty, the cooking flawless, dishes well executed, the flavors exciting as shown on my wife’s dish of scallop/white wine sauce with pimenton and my braised beef course (both easily of 8.5/10 to 9/10 marks, perhaps of no relative/subjective 10/10 benchmark but who cares??.. when it’s done this well!). Sorbets aux fruits, crumble de biscuit sablé is the kind of dessert that most will not rave about, arguing that they had sorbets done this well elsewhere, but herein lies one of those few reasons ¸that led me to occasionally review restaurants  (not something I was excited to do, btw): I appreciate what I do experience as it is experienced but not in comparison to what could have been experienced..Rfaol..this trio of sorbet was a 10/10, as perfect as a sorbet can be. It was served with a piece of lemon, confit and dried in a way that an eye that’s sensitive to details would not miss to notice that this is cooking with a depth of inspiration. I love Chef Bowmer’s cooking because it is so inspired that it  goes deep into the details  that most eyes and palates can easily miss (not meant to be mean here): it looks classic, it looks simple but it is done better than what most are delivering as far as taste and skills are concerned. I receive a lot of emails asking why I gave 8, 9 or 10/10 on other sites to stunning bistrots like Youpala (St Brieuc), Thoumieux (Paris) but also to bistrots serving food that is appearently less spectacular than those…IF only they knew: that is what brought me here – appearence is not important to me. A simple pan-seared scallop that rises as excitingly to my palate as any complex-looking fare deserves to be rated as the latter if the in-mouth impact is as spectacular.  Chef Jason Bowmer proves that food does not need to be a piece of theater. When you are talented, it will be as exciting no matter how classic or straightforward it might stand! This is the type of consistent  cooking that makes me comfortable to feel confident about the fact that this is a reliable cuisine with virtually no chances to let me  down may it be on a 3rd, 5th or 10th visit there.

Overall food rating (meal of March  2011): 8/10 Very Good  for what I am accustomed to at comparable restaurants/dining level
Overall service rating: 8/10 Down to earth, professional
Décor: 8/10   Elegant , romantic, high celilings, large glass windows
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmetic calculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only. Sometimes, if the meal comprises of courses
that went far beyond the cooking level expected in the league in which it is competing

 

The following is the report of the 1st dinner there on Thurs April 21st, 2011 20:30

A quick detour in  the Laurentians with my sweet half, this time in Val David (slightly over 1hr drive north of  Montreal).

A quick word about bistros (and to some extent, restaurants in general): It is quite a challenge for me to review bistros. There is always that fear of reviewing ‘just another standard bistro’ with the usual braised meats, tartare and so on. As I was saying recently to my wife: ”there is an easy way to get away with a 10..simply serve some tasty bone marrow on a fresh piece of  bread, a tasty risotto, some rib eye steak, anything that roams in the safe lanes“. She reassured me with a simple ‘Yep, but what matters to you, anyway, are those who manage to do it  better‘. Indeed, Jannice is right and I find motivation only in that little touch that set some cooks apart. Take what Chef Bernard Pacaud cooked on my recent  lunch at 3-star Michelin L’Ambroisie (you can find that review on my newly launched 3-star Michelin dedicated web site), for ie:  it was insanely expensive, but how many times in our short life shall we run into such remarkable explosion of talent in a plate? Food is food indeed, but I had either the choice of keep cooking at home (which I prefer over eating at the table of an ordinary Chef. Why should I eat an ordinary cuisine…when most of us cook way better) or giving a try to Chefs which cuisine has some reference to bring (the latest is what matters to me. Make that tartare that has been replicated a thousand times, but make it better!). I will sacrifice my time only for bistros I believe do stand out enough (read: better work of the deliciousness of the food/ I do  mind sampling that 1000th duck magret if it can …stand out!! )  to worth my time as it was the case with my current top bistros in our province: Au cinquième péché, Kitchen Galerie, Bistro Cocagne

Les Zebres: this is a restaurant of the  Laurentians which cuisine has long been praised for its superior cooking. This is my first time at Les Zebres. From what I gathered, before going there, it is a Modern French bistro with an International influence (Mediterranean, Oriental touches). I seized the opportunity of a short romantic escapade to drop by.  

On top of the usual starters, main courses and desserts, they have a tapas menu and they are  flexible in terms of various dining possibilities: take-out, tasting menu from the tapas, tasting menu out of  the standard menu as well.

Foie gras confit au torchon, gelé de Sauternes, pain aux pommes et rhubarbe, salade de serres de Jardi pousses de Ste Adèle: the more I make  foie gras au torchon at home, the more I enjoy sampling it at restaurants. I guess it’s just for the fun to see how far those chefs can push it in perfecting  the texture, the taste, the consistency, the technique. Here, the foie au torchon I ordered went through some great preparation: nicely deveined, well poached and rested in timely delays. It tasted great too and was of stellar quality (10/10). Accompaniments to foie gras do usually not  catch my attention since a simple piece of superb fresh bread suffices for me, but they generously added some apple/rhubarb bread (simple but good bread + the apple/rhubarb taste pairs well, indeed, with the foie) and a salad of various greens (you should not miss a salad at such level of dining, indeed, but a salad that sets the bar is quite an achievement that only a tastebud can understand. This one was a stunning salad like I have rarely enjoyed at any kind of restaurants (Michelin-star, Non Michelin-star, etc; a 10/10 mark for the salad would be accurate). My only quibble is about the tiny dices  of  ‘Sauternes’ wine jelly: they need to be more flavorsome (perhaps something around the sweet/sour theme would make an adequate flavorful jelly to pair with the foie au torchon if you insist on jellies. I don’t). Overall a 9 over 10 (Excellent. There’s nothing as ideal as a foie gras au torchon, where the final product is as great as the skills, the care, the qualitative selection in the ingredients to seize the presence — or absence — or a raw talent behind it.).

Worth trying: Finally found the drink to match with foie gras au torchon: Brut Cava mousseux Parés Baltà. It was not paired to the foie gras, but I still had some left once the foie gras arrived at our table, and the accidental pairing knocked out all well known pairings to foie gras of torchon that I know.  Worth trying with a successful foie gras au torchon (fresh, enjoyably creamy lightness in mouth with fruity notes of pear and orange 
Brut Cava mousseux Parés Baltà, Spain
Code SAQ : 10896365  (16,60$)

Followed by:

Velouté de champignons –  This velouté of Chef Jason Bowmer’s  was a  demonstration of rich and delicious balanced flavors. An excellent velouté.

Contrefilet de boeuf Black Angus 1855 grillé, dry rub aux champignons sauvages et carvi, réduction de veau au foie gras: Black Angus 1855 sirloin steak, mushrooms, carvi, shallots and veal/foie gras reduction sauce. Moist and tender, the meat retained an enjoyable beefy flavour and was cooked with precision to requested medium rare, which led to perfect warmth through the middle and a nice red center. It may be simplistic to review a steak, but this is the kind of dish that reveals everything I need about the cooking skill of its Chef:  how the meat was aged and marinated, how swiftly it is charred, how the cooking is mastered, the flavors retained..etc. Furthermore,  in this case, the Chef receives no help from the meat: sirloin is a versatile cut, but it does not have the natural advantage  of  cuts like the rib or  the hanger  when grilled, thus some extra effort to fill that gap and make the sirloin as successful. Here, as mentioned above, I have no reproach at all (I personally prefer rich beefy/red wine fully flavored reductions, but the veal/foie gras that was served is a welcoming alternative) and the mark that I am assigning to this dish (8 over 10) is my usual rating for most great steaks that I have enjoyed. The rare times that you saw a 9 or 10 over 10 for such dish occured when it went beyond belief (for ie, the ”Onglet de boeuf, paleron“” at Au 5e Péché), and those occurences admitedly involved cuts of meats that  have an obvious flavorful natural advantage (hanger, rib eye). The overall was served with a tasty polenta cake.

Dessert (which I did not photograph because I was busy chatting ;p) was composed of a morsel of chocolate cake (a chocolate nemesis cake that was well done), vanilla ice cream (great depth of fresh vanilla flavors) /Chantilly complemented by a pineapple/mango salad (again, well done and the top quality of the pineapple and mango are appreciated here / they tasted fresh like it should always be at any great table), roasted pecans. Simple as I expect desserts to be at a bistro,  but delivered with good flavors, care, quality ingredients, and certainly not ‘ordinary’ in execution and enjoyment. 8/10

The cooking was well mastered, the food tasty. Indeed, this was some cosmopolitan bistro food that stood out and a Chef who has tremendous skills as far as I am concerned. It also takes quite an amount of courage to take risks and explore all kind of flavors from most parts of the world.  Chef Jason Bowmer  is perhaps a discrete Chef (which I prefer over the annoying Celeb Chefs spending more time on TV shows rather than excelling where we do expect them to), but his food, on this reviewed meal, was packed with character.

Decor:
cozy contemporary decor marked by warm colored white/beige (from what my eyes could see on this late evening, lol)  walls, brown-leathered chairs, large glass windows.

Wine list: Varied and well balanced. A smart list of wines.

Service: Fine, genuine, down to earth. Went well with the laidback and friendly character of the restaurant. 

Overall food rating (meal of April 21st  2011): 8/10 Very Good  for what I am accustomed to at comparable restaurants/dining level
Overall service rating: 8/10 Down to earth, professional
Décor: 8/10   Elegant , romantic, high celilings, large glass windows
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmetic calculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only. Sometimes, if the meal comprises of courses
that went far beyond the cooking level expected in the league in which it is competing

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER : My kind of place: classic food or revised classic food (French/Cosmopolitan)  achieved with character. Produce of this quality is never cheap, but I personally find the price tag justified, especially in light of the skills involved. Because here, the Chef does not just shop for beautiful produce. He also knows how to cook them beautifully. If for you, paying a bit more than usual needs to involve fine dining concept and stylish platings, then it is not the place for you. On the other hand, and that is my case, if cooking delicious food based on well mastered classical skills is your thing, then go. It goes without saying that it is not with a piece of steak that you’ll get what I mean. But try their tapas platter, try other special du jour they may have on offer and taste the difference. It’s a place about  substance rather than pretentious superfluous  lure of  grandeur.  One of my favourite French/cosmop bistrots around the globe.

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