Best restaurants of Montreal: La Porte

Restaurant La Porte
Addr: 3627 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal
Phone: 514-282-4996
Url: http://www.restaurantlaporte.com
Type of food: High end French fine dining

 

*****UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2014  Chef Rouyé did close La Porte and has now opened a more humble restaurant in Val David, called La Table des Gourmets (https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-table-des-gourmets/1463806720537762). It’s, apparently, already a big hit overthere,which, knowing Chef Rouyé’s talent, came as no surprise. Check that out: La Table des Gourmets 2353 rue de l’église, Val-David, Quebec (819) 322-2353



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

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,
Park, Kazu, Hambar, .

UPDATE:  DINNER AT LA PORTE, SATURDAY OCT 26TH 2012, 20:00 – Romantic dinner with Jannice, therefore  no pictures taken, but you can find plenty of photos of the interior of the restaurant in the review of my last meal here (see below, in this same post). This is only my second visit at La Porte, and last time I was here it was over two years ago.That first meal shone, once the sum of all its parts assembled,  as a solid 3 star Michelin meal by European standards (which was no surprise: Brittany’s Chef Rouyé was already a Michelin star Chef back home) . On that first dinner there, even the petits fours were perfected to world class standards. They won Open Table’s 2012 diner’s choice for Montreal, which is in itself quite remarkable given that Open Table is about very serious diners of  this city’s elite high end  dining destinations like Toque!, XO Le restaurant, L’Europea, Club Chasse et Peche, La Chronique.

La Porte’s decor remains as beautifully exotic as I remember it from last time, the decor pretty much similar to the one you see on the photos below, with a major change since my last visit here: the color theme switching from some kind of orange  to the nowadays  omnipresent glamourous tone of  grey. La Porte’s decor is indeed very pretty in its genre.

On the food aspect, they still have nice deals on lunch (lunch prices: $30 for 3 services, starters at $10, mains in between $15-$23, desserts at $10 ), but I’d guess — like it is the case with most restaurants — that  the best way to discover the full potential of this kitchen (the cooking here is French from France but ‘updated’ with modern twists, the Chef calling his cuisine ‘franco-urban’ ) is to splurge on a dinner. Still, I heard that their lunch deals are among the best value in town. Dinner is more pricier (you have all their prices on their web site), with à La carte items as well as a $80 and a $100 multiple-course menu.

I went with one of the tasting menu, in order to fully enjoy the huge potential of this kitchen.

Carpaccio de pétoncle, radis, tapenade d’olives: Before going any further, let us be clear about this -> the ratings you will see concern only the category within  which La Porte is competing, which is haute French dining. For those familiar with Michelin star standards in Europe, this evening’s meal largely pertaining  to a strong 1 star Michelin in France, for example. With many items in strong 2 star Michelin category as well (those with the 9/10 and 10/10 ratings).  Regarding the carpaccio, this was a beautiful generous slice of top grade New Brunswick’s scallop, left in a sea shell, with remarkable marine freshness. When I hear chefs using the phrase “letting the produce expressing itself”, I am always disappointed, but here, they obviously have no time to lose with words, only the real action matters: this scallop carpaccio being better described as a  mouthful of bliss  9/10

Macaron de crème de sésame, chutney de courge, terrine de foie gras : I wish I had a top quality  camera or a HD video cam on me, this plate being so beautiful to espy, its colors so appealing. But the kitchen had obviously decided that beauty was not going to be its sole feature as  it comprised of a benchmark terrine of foie gras (competing comfortably with the finest in France), sandwiched in an equally flawless macaron of sesame seeds. In typical Chef Thierry Rouyé’s style: creativity, palatable excitement, beautiful presentation and superb technique intermingled. A world class dish  10/10

Langoustine, crèpe au sarrasin, crème de pomme, andouille – A  delicious langoustine, cooked and timed to perfection, sized to appropriate tasting menu’s proportions was wrapped in a crèpe au sarrasin, accompanied by two items that are true benchmarks  in their own categories: an impressive andouille as well as a superior apple cream. Top stuff.  8.5/10

Lotte, purée de pomme de terre, jus de daube  A piece of Burbot, oozing of memorable marine freshness, its flesh perfectly moist and its texture flawless, was paired with an equally faultless and delicious potato purée and a jus de daube masterfully executed. 8.5/10

Pigeonneau, Merguez, mille-feuille choux et beacon, foie gras poélé – Perhaps the only dish of this evening   that was the least impressive, and yet I’ll keep the overall score high because this was by no means an ordinary dish, and it certainly deserve its ‘very good’ tag even on a 1 star Michelin table. What made it pass as ‘less impressive’ is actually not a fault, but a touch of  familiar cuisine  that many may like: the addition of the Merguez and beacon/cabbage mille-feuille. They were of course tasty, but they took me by surprise since I do not have them in mind while attending such dinner. But again, they were done with refinement, and there is no strict rule about what ingredient should make it to a fine dining event. Thus, consider this as nitpicking. The other qualm I had was regarding the pan-sear foie gras: its texture and consistency could not be faulted, but I wish it had a deep livery sensuous punch I do expect from my favourite pan-sear foie. And yet, with a piece of squab as expertly cooked as this, its taste divine, consider this as a very strong 7.5/10

Then a platter of local cheeses, with one of my favourite being the 14 arpents. It is hard for any high end restaurant in North America to compete  with its France’s  counterparts when it comes to cheeses, but those were as good as you will get this side of the border. They were served with a nicely made home made prune marmelade.

Up to the desserts and petits fours. I was a bit saddened to learn that Valentin, their great pastry Chef had left for Maison Boulud earlier on (see this review). But I was in for a good surprise on this evening: he is back, for a short time though (he will go to work at Chez Rémi?? ..from what I gathered). On this evening, as I am now accustomed to, with Chef Valentin Rouyé’s pastry creations, the level of the desserts pertained easily to a comfortable 2 star Michelin level:  coeur fondant à l’anis étoilé (10/10), butternut squash sorbet (benchmark sorbet), visitandine, an old fashion financier which he updated brilliantly, not hard to do but hard to make a stellar one, which he did (10/10),  caramel macaron (Valentin’s macarons have always been my favourite outside of France, no exception here 9/10), fruit paste (Valentin obviously knows how to make world class versions of those).

My  ‘coup de coeur’ wine of the evening: CHATEAU HAUT MONPLAISIR 2007 CAHORS (MALBEC)

Service: Dominique, my main waiter on this evening, is the quebecois  version of the cool young fun classy Italian wait staff I have encountered this summer at 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano as well as 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio. Top class gentleman and easily among the very best waiters I ever met in Montreal. Fantastic service on this evening from Dominique. There was also another young waiter from France, a bit shy, but doing a pretty great job. As for Madame Rouyé, well, I guess that even with the best intent … I’ll just never be her  fan (on this evening, her exploit was to simply pour the wine in the glass with no offering of tasting a sampling of the wine first. At many lesser eateries they do not skip that one anymore) . Yep,  who cares since the rest, under this house, truely shines.

PROS (of this Saturday Oct 26th 2012):  Exactly the kind of excellent meal  I do expect at this level of dining. I am not the kind to naively expect miracles or anything special from food; I go to Walt Disney for the latter, or sip some booze. But to me, what needs to be done at this level needs to be fulfilled brilliantly..or else, what’s the point of leaving the comfort of home? And that is what they did: a brilliant food performance from what one should expect from a top tier dining destination in Montreal. Second visit and still a huge fan!
CONS (of this Saturday Oct 26th 2012): When a heart is happy, there’s no room to imagine trouble where there ain’t.

Overall food rating: For this Sat Oct 26th meal, easily a 8.5/10    – On the food aspect, by  the 1 star Michelin category I am accustomed to, in Europe, I am referring to the stronger ones, this was a superb meal, with perfect technique, superb flavors, beautiful creativity. Make no mistake: even by 2 star Michelin standards, this meal was perfectly in its element. And yet, Montreal has no Michelin stars. So imagine..I could easily give a 10 to this meal and  feel very comfortable about it, based on just the observation that far lesser kitchens are enjoying the beautiful parade under the stars . What also impresses me is that Chef Thierry Rouyé is not seeking stardorm BS: on my two meals here, I never saw him nor his sons touring the room. If you see him in the room, I’d bet that you are a VIP, a journalist, or have specially requested to meet with him. Which I do not need. I need to be a normal diner, in communion with the best of what a Chef has to offer. All my life, I have never understood why fans (or what some illiterate cooks have called ‘fanatics’) would need  to shake the hands of the creator of what they would have liked? The creation should be the star, no? Anyways,  when Chef Thierry Rouyé is paired with his son Valentin, the roof..the roof..the roof is truely on fire! In the “big guns league”  of fine dining in town (Toque!, Club Chasse & Peche, Nuances, La Chronique, L’Europea), this is my favourite along with XO Le Restaurant. This was a superb meal, and I hope you compare the ratings of each of its dish to the scores of the savoury courses of my latest meals at 3 star Michelin Le Calandre and Ledoyen in Paris. I compare meals to meals, never restaurants to restaurants, but this will, hopefully,  help you better understand how superb  this meal at La Porte was.  In case you are afraid of comparing apples to carrots: do not. This is comparison that makes utter sense.

WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE REPORT OF THE JANUARY 15TH 2010, 18:00 MEAL AT  LA PORTE:

(English version to follow) – Oh là là! Ce repas du 15 Janvier 2010, 18:00 fut marqué par des merveilles qui feraient palir d’envie les meilleurs 3 étoiles Michelin de ce bas monde: le tartare d’huitre, la raviole de la meme bete, et bien d’autres. Aux oubliettes les 2 plats qui ne m’ont pas emballé: ce repas du 15 Janvier 2010 fut 1 reve, meme pour les meilleures tables 3 étoiles Michelins! Celle ci fut une surprise car la pluspart des opinions semblaient situer cette table autour des 5 à 10 meilleures tables de la ville. Ce repas, en tout cas, avalerait tout cru ce qui semble etre généralement passer pour le top 3! Et vu que je ne me base que sur ce que j’ai vécu, je ne saurai vous dire autre chose que ceci: basé sur ce repas, La Porte est dans le top 3 des meilleures tables ‘gourmet’ de Montréal. J’ai d’ailleurs été personellement plus impressioné par ce repas que par celui au Toque, chez Nuances  et au Club Chasse et Peche.

After my Thursday Jan 14th stunning dinner at Cavalli (Yep..you read this very well: stunning, I wrote! And I am talking about the food!) with Jannice and folks of her work, here comes Friday Jan 15th in a completely opposite trend. For this Friday, I booked a table at  La Porte. I have always been curious as to where La Porte stands on the Montreal restaurant scene. We all know where Toque!, Club Chasse et Peche, Raza, Jun I, Nuances stand…but what about la Porte? Well, this fully detailed photo and text reportage will hopefully bring more light to that question. In the meantime, La Porte is highly regarded by many observers  as among the top 10 of Montreal’s tables. I will give you my opinion on that at the very end of the reportage after decrypting with you all the aspects of this latest dinner there. La Porte is a bit different from the latest restaurants I lately reviewed to you: it does not fully pertain to the bistro (Bistro Cocagne, M sur Masson) nor the latest North American Nouvelle Cuisine trend (La Chronique, Le Club Chasse et Peche, etc). It is  modern  French cuisine with Quebec’s local ingredients. His chef is from France’s region of Bretagne (note to myself: the second chef ever from that region, after Chef Sylvain Guillemot, whose food I sampled and highly enjoyed). Also different from what I reviewed here before: it has a familial touch with dad and son behind the kitchen + mum as the Maitre D’ in the dining room.

Restaurant La Porte is located in one of Mtl’s most busiest areas (restaurants, bars, cafes):
On saint Laurent Street (The Main):

Corner Saint Arthur:

From the outside, have a look at the classy elegant glass-fronted restaurant:

The overall decor of La Porte reminds me a bit of The “Thousand and One Nights” exotical decor.
Really pretty and to me, one of my personal  prettiest restaurants in Montreal.
You will notice in the pics below, the little touches of the same designer who also re-designed LCCP (chairs
are in the same trend of colors as in LCCP and there are here and there little traits of LCCP
decor, albeit, in my humble opinion — with all due admiration that I have for LCCP —, La Porte is far more
attractive).

So, the inside is very elegant, cozy, with a predominence of warm dark colors,

Elegant with candles on the tables, white table clothes:

Banquettes and alcoves:

Ideal dim-lit setting for romance:

Great presence of wood and glass:

Charming  decor touches like those long vases of flowers on the wall:

On the left of the picture, their famous door from Morocco:

View on the bar, leading to the kitchen:

Ok Enough with the pics. You can find more pics of this reportage on my online Google’s Picasa web Gallery.
Keep in mind that it is in Montreal, as far as ambiance + decor goes, one of the most romantic dinning rooms
of this city.

Now, down to the food. I picked the 8 course tasting menu with wine pairing

First, a mise en bouche:
Course #1: Oyster tartare, truffled scallops, Parsnip Velouté  – Finally a mise en bouche that’s daring/moving on a Montreal fine dining table. I have always reproached the big majority of Mtl’s finest tables to not be enoughly daring when it comes to mise en bouche. That is not the case of this one mise en bouche: The creamy parnsip velouté was of perfect creaminess, sporting an enjoyable subtly sweet taste . It was topping a meaty flavorful tartare of impeccably fresh oyster. Even the chip you see on that velouté was remarquable: very tasty, enjoyably crunchy.A mise en bouche that is not only stunning to Montreal restaurants but also to world’s best tables. A mise en bouche of a strong 3 star Michelin level! 10/10

Course #2: Oyster ravioli, borecole, serrano ham, duck foie emulsion  – The ravioli had perfect al dente mouthsome. The emulsion was light, and very well concocted. The fresh crunchy tasty cabbage was pure delish and the crunchy piece of samphire that was topping the overall was oozing of freshness. Another 5 star course with moving/daring/spectacular tastebud pleasing well balanced savors and definitely one that the majority of world’s best tables would steal from La Porte. It was that amazing! Another dish pertaining to a solid 3 star Michelin caliber. 10/10
Pairing wine: Vouvray 2008, domaine des aubussières cuvée silex
A medium-bodied wine marked by an enjoyable mineral note, light and dry that is a natural pairing partner to the seafood found in that dish. My tastebuds also captured the light citrus flavors shining through this overall well balanced fruity wine. I found it’s minerality to reach out so well with the the earthiness of the cabbage too.Good wine.

Course #3: Scallops, tapenade of blood pudding, apple cider, buckwheat sarrasin – The scallop was fresh, tender and tasty but the star ingredient there was definitely the blood pudding: I never had, in Montreal, all finest tables of this city included, a blood pudding that is as stunningly succulent and expertly concoted as this one. Kudos too for the apple cider reduction (on your right) which was heavenly delicious. On your right, a pink apple purée. Anywhere between a 2 to 3 star Michelin level. 9/10
Pairing wine:  Entre deux mer 2008 château les arromans
It’s the first time I was trying this affordable white bordeaux  wine. Nice blend of white sauvignon and semillon. Perfectly sensed the expected enjoyable grapefruit  notes from it, it is definitely of solid value: well balanced, pleasantly mineral. Great value and nice pairing especially to the scallop.

Course #4: Roasted pickerel, Black rice, Kari Goss lobster reduction, almonds – Another world class food item: the organic black rice was cooked with surgical precision and tasted really good. The chunk of fish had perfect moist inside consistency and was oozing of impeccable fresh seafood flavor. The touch of almonds on top of the fish is a welcoming nice touch in there. Lovely ane memorable inspired dish! 9/10
Pairing wine: Sancerre terre de Mainbray 2008 Pascal et Nicolas Reverdy
I barely focused on this wine but it was a decent wine. Found nothing wrong nor strong points from it.
Just good.

Course #5: Gaspor’s piglet cooked slowly, lightly seared red tuna and duck liver, squash, vanilla reduced jus
Heuh…what to think of this course? Let us decrypt this one: YES…each ingredient there was of high quality (the piglet from Gaspor is reknown for being a great meat and it is indeed a great piece of well cooked meat in there. That piece of foie gras was of perfect quality too. The tuna, cooked on one side was fresh and tasty. The squash really good and the vanilla reduced jus, a blast. The problem is that they simply did not add up as a whole. Basically, it came out more as an assembling of food items (a pile of ingredients if you prefer) that did not complement each other. Instead, make something elaborately more porky (since the Gaspor piglet seemed to be the central theme of this course). But I’ll forgive this one, since it is the only mis-step among so many other stunning courses! 5/10
Pairing wine: Bourgogne rouge En Bully domaine Rapet 2007
Great wine. Enjoyably aromatic, balanced and elegant with a nice finish.

Course #6: Curcuma melted sauvagine cheese on potatoes and chitterling sausage – This is the cheese course. This course, despite high quality ingredients, remains — whether they like it or not — a homey simple food item. Simply put, if I take camembert and let it melt on  a piece of oven baked potato, I am getting the same effect. So, Yes it was good but I know they have a huge talent in that kitchen and can surprise us with more daring cheese courses.  6/10
It was paired with a great 20 yrs Optima Porto.

Course #7: Citrus salad, hazelnut ice cream, Vanilla/Ginger/Coconut cream
The French from France are simply unbeatable when it comes to desserts! The title and the picture do not do justice to what stands by far as the best dessert I ever devoured on any high end fine dining table in Montreal & surroundings. Freshness of the ingredients, spectacular juxtaposition of tastes, vibrant and moving are among the superlative that come to mind and my tastebuds will drool over this one for years. PS: You do not see it well on this picture, but there was a greenie citrus jelly roll  in there that was simply heavenly as far as tastes go. Wowed! 10/10
Naturally, the light grapefruit tone of the pairing Sauvignon blanc Monkey Bay 2008 was perfect match to that dessert.
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Course #8: Mignardises
La Porte managed to keep me stunned till the very last. YES…that’s the type of mignardises I do expect on a fine dining table -> The macaron you see there was stunningly good (airy, fresh,decadent). The chocolate sausage is a nice touch and was delicious. That Pina colada fruity jelly-paste: I am simply in love with it. Simply superb!

This dinner at La Porte, despite my reserve towards the cheese + piglet course (they were not bad, just not daring enough), was simply stunning. I have never been to La Porte before and I can’t give a definitive opinion based on just one visit, but this reviewed dinner is the type of performance expected at a solid European 2 star Michelin establishment, with items like the dessert, courses 1,2 3 and even the mignardises flirting with a perfect 3 star Michelin caliber.

This dinner at La Porte is also a reminder that some need to do their homework properly: this dinner was of strong 2* Michelin caliber whilst many other tables supposedly superior to this one had offered food in between a no star to at best a 1 star potential.

Ambiance: What a cozy ambiance! It was half full of patrons at about 7pm, 1 hr upon my arrival.
Service: Madame Rouyé, the Chef’s wife, was paired with another woman for service in the dining room. All was ok (professional, attentive,helpful ), although Madame Rouyé could smile a bit more / be more relaxed…..

PROS: This was a dinner of solid 2 star Michelin level. Forget the little misses I wrote about, they were largely overwhelmed by excellence.

CONS: The wife of the Chef should smile a bit more. A restaurant is a place of enjoyment, after all! Allez, un petit sourrire svp! 

LA PORTE

Overall food rating (Jan 15th 2010’s meal): 10/10 Again,  I can talk only for what I have experienced on that solo visit. And YES, for those who feed themselves on huge spoonful of skepticism, there have been some lacklustre dishes. So why 10/10? Because the best dishes of this meal outshone by leaps the lacklustre ones that I can’t remember what was lacklustre, Rfaol!

What I keep remembering are courses, so impressive on that visit, that would make a top 3 star Michelin table in Europe melt with jealousy! As usual, I do not know if La Porte performs like that all the time, but again: I can only talk for what I have experienced! During my meals at Toque! and LCCP, I had some stunning courses, but the best dishes I had here at La Porte were easily ahead by a notch or two. I’ll go back and I want them to keep the bar this high on that next visit. I don’t know how they can do this….it was so high!

Overall service rating: 7/10 Professional. Fine, BUT their Maitre D’, Madame  Rouyé, although professional …. needs to show more warmth.

Décor: 10/10  Ah..Ah…look at the pictures. There are plenty of them in my review. Then if you like that style,you are in my club!

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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Le FILET restaurant, Montreal – The new excitement in town

Event: dinner at restaurant Le Filet
When: Tuesday April 19th 2011, 18:00
Type of food: Modern French-based Cosmopolitan Bistronomy (with focus on seafood***)
Addr: 219 Mont-Royal O, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-360-6060

URL: http://www.lefilet.ca/

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

For the record, I have gathered a recap of all my reviews
here (this is an easier way to get  to them rather than scrolling the entire xanga web page).

Avec le Bouillon Bilk, voici le vent de fraicheur tant attendu en Ville. Les entrées et plats principaux furent créatifs, et gouteux. Peut etre pas mon dans mon top 10, mais pas loin….et j’y reviendrai!
 
  I am finally resuming with restaurant reviews at  home, following the launching of my Michelin star dinings web site and the memorable trip to San Sebastian in Spain.

I have not abandoned the main mission of this blog: reviewing Montreal’s finest bistrots and fine dining ventures. But as I have already mentioned, I will not lose my time with reviewing generic dinings just for the sake of entertaining my readers. My benchmark in Montreal lies in my Mtl’s & surroundings top 15 best dinners listing. Only a restaurant that can bring something refreshingly different or better will catch my attention, or else why bother?  Which brings me to Le Filet, a seafood-oriented Bistro which opened its doors three months ago, in February. In three months, Le Filet has received a media  attention (web blogs, restaurant review sites, mags, etc) that most restaurants would never enjoy in their entire existence: just do a search for it on the web and you will get what I mean. The latest is not the reason that motivated me  to step foot in this restaurant, though. I had gathered enough reliable informations to believe that Le Filet, at this moment, is bringing what I am seeking for: creative bistro  creations that either stand out or do at least bring some fresh appeal to the Montreal’s bistro scene. A warning: book way in advance if you want to dine there, especially for thurs, fridays, saturdays (this place is already popular).

FOOD:
They do offer tapas-sized courses, too, (very practical, in line with their main purpose: making their food more accessible, affordable)  but I  went for  3   “full” courses :

Marinated sardines, Miso, Radish, leek: a layer of meaty portuguese sardines that were marinated in miso and ginger (very tasty) covered with another layer of some sort of rice-krispies (brings the necessary ‘crunch’ to make the dish ‘multi-dimensional’ with regard to consistency) and radishes (expertly marinated with a sourness that was well controlled and remarkable flavor) . A 7.5 over 10

Crab risotto, asparagus, crustacean jus: My current benchmark for risotto, out of all Michelin-starred and Non Michelin-starred tables that I went dining at, is the one I sampled at Bistro Cocagne on Sept 4th 2009 (a showcase of perfect cooking paired with sublime taste, the only 10/10 that I ever gave to a risotto up to lately, it is the one that was served with the lamb shank dish that I ate and reviewed on that dinner). Recently, during my trip to San Sebastian, another risotto has joined the one of Bistro Cocagne as my personal benchmark for risottos: the one I had at la Cuchara de San Telmo (click here and scroll to the middle of the text), the second only 10/10 I ever assigned to this dish (completely different from the one of Bistro Cocagne but stunning in all aspects: taste, cooking, texture / keep in mind that outside of North America, especially in Italy, Spain..etc, they do not really use the common ‘arborio’ rice that we do use here for cooking risottos, and that leads to a totally different appreciation in textures and taste. The risotto at la Cuchara, for ie, had terrific flavour and vibrant texture ). I have enjoyed many stellar risottos in Italy (If you go there and love risottos, lurk around regions like Veneto and Lombardia just to get some kind of new gustatory reference as far as risottos go ) and all around the globe, but those two have stole the show as far as I am concerned.  Their risotto at Le Filet was nowhere close to the mind-blowing ‘perfection’ (in execution and divine taste) of the above mentioned risottos at Bistro Cocagne or La Cuchara de San telmo, but it was so delicious, well seasoned and enjoyable that I emptied the entire plate. An 8 over 10

Fluke, Japanese plum, wasabi, cucumber: here is a refreshing unusual dish. I picked this dish simply because it piqued my curiosity as I was wondering how the subtle fluke and cucumber would combine with the latent heat / spicy sensation of the wasabi in this version of their own creativity. It turned out that the wasabi was not dominant (good news), that the brown sauce that you see around the fluke’s flesh (this white fish was of impeccable quality) was successful (right consistency, exciting sweet-sour depth of taste). What is in fact a delicious plum-based sauce (the brown sauce) reminded me of my childhood’s beloved tamarind-based concoctions as well. That plum sauce taught me a lot about Chef Yasu Okazaki great talent: I measure the talent of a great Chef by his sense of taste. Nothing less. And my  definition of a great ‘sense of taste” has to go through the taste of your sauces. Some may overlook sauces as ‘simple pools of fatty liquids’, but in reality, sauces reveal a lot about the ability (or inability) of a cook to bring forward brilliant flavors. Recently, when I was at 3-star Michelin Ledoyen in Paris, I knew right from the first sauces that I was sampling that the meal was going nowhere (I kept my cool and was not disgracious in my review of that meal since there is no point to put down people, the purpose here is to constructively share our dining experiences, not to bash for nothing…but what had to be underlined with honesty, was!), and I was right. Creatively well conceived tiny potato chips (they tasted great and were amusing in their mild-sweet kind of mouth feel / that alone was a showcase of unusual brilliant technique and originality in flavors) were topping Chef Yasu Okazaki’s creation. 8 over 10

Dessert was Tres leches, mango, pineapple, coconut – A sponge cake soaked in three different type of milk, topped by tiny cubes of pineapple/mango  and ‘chips’ of coconut. This was ok, a 6 over 10. I am forgiving the low rating of that dessert; Honestly, who really cares about top of the line desserts at a bistro? Sure, bistros like Bistro Cocagne, Au 5e Péché and M Sur Masson have amazed me with some of their desserts, but it would be a mistake to judge an amazing bistro like Le Filet over a simple dessert. Le Filet has way more than that to offer: an inventive cuisine that brings enough refreshing novelty and excitement to the Montreal restaurant scene that it worth great consideration. Loved this place and I shall  go  back.

During my recent visit in Paris (which gave birth to my 3-star Michelin dining web site), I realized that the gap that once existed between Montreal and Paris (with regard to restaurants and food) is not that big anymore. Facts: most of their top bistrots are not that superior to Montreal’s equivalents anymore. Same could be said of the  average restaurants. On the fine dining level, I do not see …..what Chefs at Chateaubriand (in top 15 of S Pellegrino’s world best restaurants), L’Astrance (same), Passage 53, La Regalade…to name a few… could do and that our most talented Chefs like Laprise (Toque!), Navarrette Jr (Raza), Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne), Rouyé (La Porte), Pelletier (LCCP), Juneau (Now at Newtown), Mercuri (XO Le Restaurant), Lenglet (Au 5e Péché)…could not do?? Paris has a big advantage, though,  at the 3-star  Michelin level (especially with restaurants like 3-star Michelin L’Ambroisie that I did review during this trip, in March, to Paris), but Montreal has already a potential 3-star Michelin restaurant, too if Michelle Mercuri”s XO Le Restaurant excels, all the time, at the level of what I found on my last dinner there (click here for that review). With that said, draw no comparison between L’Ambroisie and XO Le restaurant: both are different,  but stellar on their own unique ways.  I know some may not agree with me, perhaps — in part — because of ‘perceptions’, but in facts, and in-the-mouth, what I have just raised is happening. Now, do not get me wrong: I love Paris. It is the City where I grew up, the city that taught me the love of great food and the importance of developing the palate. But times are changing, and places that were not used to be known for their gastronomy are now dominant (for ie, I initially thought that San Sebastian’s cocina miniatura was a product of buzz syndrom but reality was totally different once I got a taste of it), let alone the ‘cosmopolitanisation’ of Parisian cuisine in general (the new generation of their Chefs have a more International (oriental influence in Asian food, for ie) approach that you now see everywhere in North America, Europe and elsewhere). With that said, along with their far dominant 3 star Michelin fine dining ventures, Paris (and France in general) are simply unbeatable when it comes to bakeries, desserts (In Montreal, the local Chefs like Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne or Vachon at M Sur Masson are doing an amazing job with regard to  desserts, but the big majority of the best desserts came oftently from France ‘s Chefs as it was the case with creations from Chefs like Lenglet @ Au 5e Péché, Rouyé @ La Porte, Jerome Ferrer @ L’Europea and other French Chefs as well).

SERVICE:  Superb hosts greeting customers with care. They were all friendly and yet professional and you can see the willingness of doing things properly. At 6PM, when I stepped in, it was half packed (started to be extremely busy about one hour later), so I had time to chat a bit with the waiter about the logo of their restaurant: so, the F for Filet (which means a ‘net” in English) is a clin d’oeil to the net that is on the tennis court facing the restaurant.  Of course, it is also referring to the net of the fisherman (it is a seafood restaurant). Second part of the logo represents a fish, and the dot refers to a tennis ball (again a clin d’oeil to the neighbouring tennis court). And the red/orange tablecloths refers to the “clay” of a tennis court. Amusing!

DECOR:
Urban contemporary interior decoration,  with  marine life’s representations (at the back of the bar and on one of the walls), walls made of steel, some old school wooden chairs (tavern chairs alike / but the overall decor is not old school at all), with black and  clay ‘orange/red. (tablecloths) tones color schemes.

CONCLUSION:
Some original and creative (to Montreal standards) well mastered  flavor combinations and textures were found all along this meal. Chef Yasu Okazaki manages to combine enticing oriental flavors to French cuisine in a brilliant manner. 

*** For those who like meat, you won’t be left aside: they have beef tataki, sweetbreads, duck and other red meats (you can have a look at their online menu).

PROS: Sometimes, when it is different (as usual, relatively to what we have here in Yul), well, it is exciting. And this was the case with the fluke/Japanese plum dish. The risotto was another delicious dish.
CONS: I want the sweets to shine at the level of some of those savouries.
Overall food rating: 7/10 Well, good of course given what we already know about the cooking team at LCCP (their Chef was part of that team). Some might even rate a meal like this higher, since it is refreshingly different (again, to Montreal standadrs), the technique hard to fault on this repast, and the taste not under-looked. This can certainly not be accused of being a boring replica of what we see in town: that dish of  fluke, for eg,  being an exciting dish we do not see in Yul.
Service: 10/10 Lovely service on this dinner

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BEST TABLES OF MONTREAL: Toque restaurant

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Toque

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tasting menu kicked off with a mise en bouche:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to end this heavenly feast,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find better and more pics at my picasa’s gallery:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/RESTAURANTTOQUEMONTREAL#

TOQUE!
Overall food rating
: 9/10  I went therejust once. So I can talk only for what I have experienced on that solo visit.  Iknow some have complained that they had food that would not even make a 1 starMichelin standard. Others, to the contrary, seemed to have been largelyseduced.  All I can say is that when you pick that meal I had there, 3 items wouldnot have been out of place on a solid 2 Star Michelin table in Europe:  The pan sear foie grascourse, the rabbit effiloché, the peach soufflé. That’s a lot of praise-worthymaterial in just one single meal, considering that I did recently  amusemyself with a little stat compilation of my 2 and 3 michelin star meals overthe past decade: 30% of my 3 star Michelin dishes (not meals, but individualcourses) , I  would have expected them at  a non Michelin starred.40% in the case of all 2 star Michelin meals I had since 2002. From a personalview, Toque! is not my #1 table in YUL, although I think it’s right to suggestthat it is in the top 3 finest tables of Montreal, perhaps the finest, but I find it important to remain accurate and convey things exactly as they are experienced: that meal I had was as great as any top2 star Michelin meal I had in Europe, regardless of the insipid amuse boucheand solo petit four I had  (well, who’s  naïve enough these days tothink that a meal can’t be of top level if one or two items are failing themarks?).
Overall service rating
: 8/10 Their Maitre D’,Madame Lamarche, what a Maitre D’! When I think Toque!, I think MadameLamarche! She is an amazing host, and despite years of great success, she ishumble and very welcoming. The rest of the service was exactly as you wouldexpect at a Relais & Chateaux / 5 CAA Diamond table (which Toque! isawarded with), courteous, pro.
Décor
: 7.5/10  You can see glimpses of the décor at Toque! in my review. It’s in between classic and contemp, large,with plenty   of space in between tables. It surely does not play inthe same league as the stunning pretty décor of the latest trendy restaurants,but remains faithful to its grand dining réputation. IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmecticcalculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance   on the specific  meal I am sampling  only.

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MONTREAL’S BEST TABLES: La Chronique

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Back to our main bud, La Chronique:

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

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

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

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

 

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

The layout and ambiance is ideally elegant, 

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

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

Course #1, Octopus/Romesco/Chorizo.

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

Course #2, Tuna/Avocado/Shrimp

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

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

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

Course #4: Foie Gras

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

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

The plate of cheese

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

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

Ending on a sweet note:

Course #6: Carpaccio of Pineapple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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BEST TABLES OF MONTREAL: Le Club Chasse et Pêche

Event: Dinner at Le Club Chasse et Pêche Restaurant
Friday November  13th, 18:00-21:30
Addr: 423 St Claude Montreal, QC H2Y 3B6
Url: http://www.leclubchasseetpeche.com
Phone: (514) 861-1112
Type of food: High end refined North American dining


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

(English review to follow) – Officiellement, cette table est dans le top 5 Montréalais. Je dirai que c’est exact si je me base sur mon repas du 13 nov 2009.   D’abord, lors de ce repas, j’ai été épaté par le plat de sanglier braisé. Un plat d’anthologie, pas seulement digne des meilleurs 3 Étoiles Michelin mais aussi de la crème des meilleures tables de la planète. Cela a beau sembler exagéré sur papier, mais ne l’est point dans les faits. Puis un plat de morue digne d’un solide 2 étoiles Michelin. Malheureusement, tout ne fut pas parfait: le dessert et l’entrée de pétoncle ne furent pas dignes du triomphe des deux plats précédemment mentionnés. Au final, c’est du top pour sa capacité à surprendre ici et là par un grand coup de magie (le sanglier, par exemple, lors de ce repas confirme que le Chef Pelletier est capable de froler le ciel).

Going to CCP is mystic affair (I love mysticism, it just have to happen naturally and charmingly. Which was the case here) for me: from booking a table over the phone with Ray, one of their staff gentleman (Oh man…this gentleman has that quiet powerful full-in control tone of voice of a young godfather, . Mystic was starting to blow in the air, right there!)…to watching the mystic appeal of their web site…to the choice of a Friday 13th…6PM (yeah..I know, it would be even better at midnight)…to lurk into the dark lanes of the Vieux port…


to the nostalgic soviet acronym (CCP)..to the somber  interior of CCP:
…it was really a feeling I have so rarely experienced before going to a restaurant. Although I truely felt that mystical mood — I could not help myself from stopping to build up on the inside — to be very special/funny/and welcoming since years of intensively eating at restaurants had put aside the sweet excitement I once used to have whenever I was going at restaurants (there are feelings you just cannot control), I was also certain of  one ultimate bottom line result: my judgements will be at the exact heights of my tastebud enthusiasm: mystic or not, I will rave if the food is great and will not hesitate to call a cat a cat if it’s less stellar .

Upon arrival, I am courteously greeted by a dynamic wait staff (very dynamic, helpful, courteous. You can see that they were very well selected, very well trainned). I truely like this refreshing melting pot (from different backgrounds/origins) of well-mannered, professional and yet accessible gentlemen and women. My dedicated waiter, Phillipe Morissette, is a gem of  his own: soft spoken, very well educated + articulated, this cool high class gentleman is service-oriented, very knowledgeable and his past experience at some Relais & Chateaux shows towards his impeccable service (along with Sidonie at XO,  Phillipe  — up to now — is among my personal top two favourite Mtl waiters of 2009).

The decor is dark (the cool kind of dark ), narrow, with low ceilings:


Because of it’s omnipresence of somber colors (oil-painted alike dark grey on the walls, dark burgundy  armchairs, dark colored ceilings and floors),


it brings a cozy feeling but make no mistake: this place is very popular and this evening  was lively (lots of people, great ambiance, nice background music of techno and other type of trendy music types. Background Music was set to perfect volume since you could talk without having to raise the voice and you could easily hear others with them talking at normal tone). Pics were of course taken right at the opening at 6PM, so people were not getting in yet (but less than an hour later, it was packed).

It is important to note that there’ s no official tasting menu at CCP. But they are so accomodating that they will concoct one upon your special request. That  is the case here and I highly appreciated the move:


Course #1: Pan-seared scallop cooked à l’unilatérale
(cooked on one side) with an artful line of fennel cream. The solo big scallop had a succesful sear, was evenly cooked  but I wish it  had more of the fully marine flavour punch and exciting effect of its far better peers. Fortunately, this was not an indication of what would follow next  5/10
Accompanied wine: a 2007 Alsace Bergheim’s white Marceil Deiss pinot. I have a long time soft spot for most wines from Alsace (they are accessible, have a nice light fruity taste I am fond of) and this was no exception. The slight creamy and apple-y flavors of this subtle sweet elegant wine is ideal pairing to the scallop.


Course #2: Sweetbreads/Gremolata/Artichoke

Sweetbreads is a touchy affair. It is bitter by nature but the most talented chefs know how to turn this snicky meaty chunk into a tastebud wonder. And this one at CCP was exactly this: a marvelous tastebud wonder!
Cooked in white wine, the sweetbreads were flavorfully intensily rich, utterly tasty, perfectly smooth on the inside, nicely crispy on the outside. Awesome expert work here to avoid the usual natural bitterness of the sweetbreads and making it very pleasant as I expect my best sweetbreads to stand. The accompaniment of gremolata is a genius classic accompaniment  to veal meats and it was there, and it was a superbly tasty expertly concocted condiment. The light and vibrant mushroomy porcini reduction, the savourish creamy elegant celery-root purée …all added an harmonious multiple dimension of tasting experience to this flawless course. 8.5/10
Accompanied wines: two glasses here. Really a nice touch from Phillipe, my waiter. He is also a sommelier, too. The idea here was to get the short finish light-on-the-palate 2005 Les Fourneaux chablis 1er cru  to reach out with the artichokes accompaniment of the sweetbreads, while his buddy the 2005 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay (more vibrant/with a  long finish and subtle nose of hazelnut)  would take care of the rest of this course:

Not a bad  idea at all since they all paired harmoniously well (particularly on a plate where there was quite a suite of ingredients: gremolata, porcini reduction, celery-root purée).


Course #3: Cod
, oyster flavors, vegetables, Black garlick purée
Smelt very enjoyably freshly flavorful right away. Bathed in a light crème normande , with a fresh flavor of oyster and topped by artful slim slices of beets and carrots with tasty mushroomy accompaniment. Perfectly seared on the outside, with an ideal tender flaky and moist inside consistency. This was total blast in terms of impressive taste, freshness, tastebud amazement: it had that very memorable ‘marine’ flavor I seek in my perfect  freshest pieces of fish. All accompaniments stood out well here: mushrooms were tender and packed of flavorful freshness. The crème normande was very tasty. I want to underlign a particular element on this plate that I would, If I were them, put a patent on:  on the plate, there was a tiny trace of creamy sweet black garlick purée. This was not just original, it was a memorable treat -> heavenly tasty without the bad notes of garlick, this creamy marvel is true genius workout that I have never tasted before and that compete with the Bistro Cocagne’s onion chutney I intensively raved about (check out the review of my Septh 4th Bistro Cocagne’s dinner). Both CCP and Bistro Cocagne should put a patent on the above-mentionned creative dish accompaniments! 9/10
Pairing wine: the 2006 Savigny les Beaune (Domaine Catherine & Claude Maréchal). I had enjoyed some great Savigny Les Beaune (the Les Hauts Jarrons, 1er Cru, Nicolas Potel being one I highly enjoyed) and this one was in the same trend: full bodied, with a refined elegant texture and enjoyably aromatic flavor. Satisfying choice of wine, but I would personally chose a nice white Sauvignon (as usual, question of pure personal prefs).


Course #4: Braised boar/Brussels sprouts/hazelnuts/Caramelized fig
Bathed in a very delicious light and flavorful meaty jus (the juice of the braised boar itself), this course has simply stole the show as my 2009 Mtl’s best main course (along with the Free Form Lasagna I had at XO): with a light amazing tasty crusty coating on the outside (basically a light elegant cheesy coating), perfect browny texture, ideally tender on the inside. This marvel-to-the-tastebud wonder was a genius workout of amazing flavorful meaty taste with accompaniments that were creatively so well thought: the hazelnuts in there were not just another ingredients to try…they were a perfect harmonious addition to the rest of this course. The caramelized fig was pure genius food work: intensely rich and tasty, it was the kind of tastebud amazement marvel that secured for good what I think of this cuisine: one of world’s bests (YES…you are reading this right! Do not go to CCP, order a risotto and complain that I am pushing  a bit too much when I write this. Instead, be more accurate: Go to some of the best restaurants of the world like the Fat Duck, El Bulli, L’Osier, L’Astrance, Hermann. Then head to CCP, try this Braised boar course. Then you will get what I mean! Of course, I am not stating that CCP is as great as those. That is purely subjective and I wont go there. What I am stating is that on this tasting menu, some items compete with the best ones I ate at the Fat Duck, El Bulli, L’Osier..etc). Back to the helluvah heavenly caramelized fig: so it added to an already flawless course, a level that is hard to beat. This, folks, would send even the best tables of the world (El Bulli, Fat Duck) to reflexion. Stunned! 10/10
Pairing wine: Montecillo Gran Reserva 2001. To my tastebuds, this was perfect match with the boar meat. The oaky intense flavor of that MGR 2001 is exactly what I seek for with my game meats.


Course #5: Pan-seared duck liver
, purée of dates, jalapeno flavoured apple jelly
Nice cooking technique here (very close to my two top personal Mtl’s all time best pan-seared foie: refer to my Febr 13th dinner at  L’Eau à la Bouche + the Sept 4th dinner at Bistro Cocagne): beautifully seared, slightly brown on the outside, enoughly smooth (albeit a little bit mushy at some point when I was digging deeper into it, which makes it just a tad behind the impressive one I had at EAB…but with accompaniments that stole the show over it’s similar at EAB…mind you the one I had at EAB had barely any accompaniment…didn’t need accompaniments neither since it was stellar on it’s own self) consistency on the inside. The taste was flawless, very hearty and delicious. It was accompanied by a suite of pure wonders I have got to rave about, because not only they did add a welcoming degree of creativity and well thought additions to the duck liver, they also were very tasty: a delicious sweet fruity purée of dates (talk about adding marvels to the marvelous), a jalapeno flavoured apple jelly (Wowed! Patent..Put a Patent on this, my dear CCP! Heavenly delicious, elegantly concocted) , nice fresh slices of spice bread…all were heavenly breezes to my heart, eyes and tastebuds.  8.5/10
Paired with a QC’s ice cider: that’s the beauty of the new world touch -> as much as I liked my fruity Old world classic wine along with the foie, I must admit that ice cider brings better punch!


Course #6: Paris-Brest topped with a popcorn ice cream
The popcorn ice cream is one I never tried before.This one was surprisingly delicious and elegantly superior (in taste, richness of the flavors) to the usual good ice creams. Heavenly tasty ice cream with bites of nuts that were crunchily nice, but the overall Paris-Brest, although not bad at all, failed to seduce me: the choux pastry ring was nice but not memorable. Same opinion over the pastry cream. I am fond of Paris-Brest, but this one was slightly sub par to the top ones I had at the high end pastry spots of Montreal (Patisserie L’Escurier, for ie). Sorry for the comparison but judgement is an equation of comparisons. So, the Paris-Brest was acceptable but not great. 6/10
 
Just need to underlign a nice little touch from their part, here: the Paris-Brest was served with a nice cup of warm enjoyable light Assam tea. This is a great idea, since the amazing malty light flavor of this type of tea really balanced harmoniously well the sweetness of the Paris Brest. Nice touch!

I found the delay very reasonable between the courses (average of 30 mins between the course, but never mind the numbers here…this is perfect timing to enjoy one course at a time as it is supposed to be!). I sometimes see criticisms about tasting menus being too long: that is a non sense. A tasting menu is supposed to be slowly fully enjoyed. What is a tasting menu if I feel like just stuffing my mouth one food item right after another??

If you ask me, given a complete economical blackout, what Montreal restaurant would be the very last to close, I’d say CCP: get this -> without big advertisements, with just mouth to mouth recommendations, this place is packed of devoted fans. And that is happening with nearby great restaurants like Chez L’Épicer. When success wants you, there is no escape out!  I am sure the owner (s) must laugh at night while sleeping: just mouth to mouth reputation and they end up with one of Mtl’s most admired tables. Well deserved because this is a stunning cuisine! It is also a place that shines with an impeccably well trainned admirable staff (here, I deeply felt that everyone is equally treated with class and full attention with a level of professionalism and accomodation that all restaurants would gain from following).

The only 2 reasons LCCP is getting a VERY GOOD mention from my part, instead of EXCELLENT  (it is very close to Excellent btw, and they truely do not need my opinion to know that. Look at how they are appreciated by armies of food fans…that right there talk for their greatness) is just because I expect such highly talented cuisine to blow my tastebuds with an impressive dessert course  (make no mistake, I am sure they can deliver tastebud blowing desserts like those I enjoyed at EAB, M Sur Masson, Bistro Cocagne and Nuances) + the 1st course of Pan-Seared scallop lacked the fully marine freshness and taste I do expect on an appetizer of Seafood .

On my way to CCP, this Bob Marley song was playing in my mind: ‘there is a natural mystic blowing through the air…’. On my way back, another song was reworked to suit my subsequent feelings: Black Eyed Peas ‘I got a feeling that tonight gonna be a good night’ was simply renamed ‘Tonight was a very good night’. There are moments in your life that are simply filled with greatness, and in this imperfect world of sins and economical turmoils, I pray for such spectacular happyness to spread over the destiny of the less fortunate!

PROS: Some of the savouries were of world class level on this dinner, especially the braised boar and cod
CONS: What were that weak scallop starter and forgettable dessert doing there?

Ok, Folks I am out! For more and better pictures on this dinner, please visit my Google’s Picasa.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATERI went back two more times, with friends, since that reviewed meal, and based on those visits, I  can indeed safely confirm that the finest food items I had here pertains to world class level. The braised boar, as an example, was as spectacular as any of the best food items at a  world’s top 10 best table, if such top 10 makes sense to you. But I have hard time electing LCCP as a strong favourite, for a very simple reason: some items I had here were not items I would expect at the level of their finest dishes. And that transpired right there on my reviewed meal: the lacklustre scallop, the ordinary paris brest. Still, this is easily in top 5 Montreal’s finest fine dining destinations, even top 3 would make perfect sense. Is it number 1,2,3,4 or 5? Hard to say. Perhaps no one will ever know, since it would take several visits to the very top of Yul’s fine dining ventures  (XO Le restaurant, Toque!, La Porte, L’Européa, Nuances) to really get a strong personal subjective opinion about this matter. Keep in mind that even even as a subjective personal opinion, you will still hit another wall: some are into European cuisine, others French, others North American. Good luck!  

 

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Montreal’s Luxurious tables: XO le restaurant

UPDATE- MAY 2013  CHEF MICHELE MERCURI  IS NOT WORKING THERE ANYMORE. THIS POST IS THEREFORE KEPT ONLINE SOLELY FOR   HISTORICAL PURPOSE


Event: Dinner at XO Le Restaurant
Type of food: Fine dining

Arome’s ranking: #4 (Categ: Fine Dining)

Date and time: Friday Oct 9th, 2009  8PM
Location: 355 St Jacques, Ouest. Montreal, QC
READ: March 19th 2010 Tasting menu at XO
URL:
http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/the-restaurant.asp
Aromes’s mention: VERY GOOD

XO LE RESTAURANTThe first time I had heard about XO, it was the very first time I had sipped a cognac!  Lol..Just kidding. I had heard about this restaurant a while back through my buddy Lionnel. Lio is a childhood pal who went studying at one the world’s best culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu. He successfully completed his studies and was going to work as sous-chef at a high end restaurant in Cannes when he decided to take 1 yr off and tour North America + Europe seeking for the greatest tables and/or most popular ones. Basically, he goes from city to city discovering each best well known tables of the moment. After his 1 yr of gourmet touring, he is planning to open his own restaurant either in Australia or in the Caribbean. So, Lionnel is in Montreal since February and has been to several local high end tables +  popular tables (Toque, Nuances, La Chronique and so on). I do, whenever time permits, accompany him since I love touring restaurants as well and seize that occasion to update my opinions of those restaurants. So, months ago, while talking to Lionnel, the name XO stepped in our discussions. He told me that he would give no opinion about it but would recommend that I book a table there and was curious to get my feedbacks. At that time, I had never heard of XO, so I did my homework and went informing myself on this restaurant. From what I gathered (while exchanging with lots of foodies during recent foodies meetings/get2gethers/web forums and so on), the opinions were mixed: some raved about it, others were less enthusiastic. Perfect scenario to go and find out for myself! lol.

I.Upon arrival
Jannice and I simply parked the car in front of the hotel (it’s the restaurant of Hotel St James in Montreal’s Vieux port, as most already know) and a valet took care of it. We passed the front door, continued in an all luxurious wooden small but beautiful hallway and hop…you are at the entrance door of the restaurant:
HALLWAY TO THE RESTAURANT(2) XO RESTAURANT DOOR

We were welcomed by a young courteous and well behaved hostess, then handed to our main waitress of the evening, Sidonie.

II.The Decor
For the long time passionate of architectural wonders that I am, this hotel is the epitome of all I like architecturally-wise: not huge, it is a beautifully condensed artful master piece of chic wood, luxurious stones, marbles and all other wonders of of the stylish 19th century Victorian’s era  second-empire decor. The restaurant itself continues in that same trend of course: the large crystal chandeliers, banisters, alcoves. It used to be a bank (the old Merchants’s bank of Canada), back in the days and it shows with their mezzanines and colonnades. Personally (this is by pure personal taste, so no need to take my opinion for a collective one ..lol) not the most impressive decor out of the luxurious Victorian decorated type of restaurant I have been to, but definitely very pretty to the most. The restaurant was closed since mid August for redecoration and is now re-opened: gone is the big XO sign in the middle of the restaurant. It is now replaced by an elegant long rectangular stand:
CENTER RECTANGULAR STAND REPLACING THE  BIG XO SIGN
When you enter the restaurant, you have a beautifully decorated small bar on your left:
THE BAR
…couple of alcoves on your right  (we chose to seat  in one of them, both Jannice and I):

ALCOVE(2)

You have a tiny lounging area right at the entrance, facing the bar:
LOUNGING AREA IN FRONT OF THE BAR
In the middle, you have that rectangular stand replacing the old XO sign and then you have a larger restaurant area when you pass that centered rectangular  stand. On both sides, you have two classic and elegant stairways leading to the mezzanines. I liked the chic bistro elegant touch of our alcove’s table: strong dark chic wood, without the white linen tablecloth. Exactly in the bistro elegant stylish type. The rest of the restaurant’s tables  have the usual white linen tablecloths:
WHITE LINEN TABLECLOTH TABLES
Overall, a very charming chic elegant decor with a remarquable cozy feel with visual architectural elegant touches
that will please the folks who are passionate about arts, architectures and luxurious materials.
Arome’s rating for the overall decor: 8.5/10

III.The Food
We started off with two cocktails: their “pétillant citron”‘s martini for me and the “envoutant litchi” for Jannice.
The martini had a well balanced enjoyable mix of lemony vodka, lemon juice and sugar can juice. The litchi cocktail was equally enjoyable (right amount of alcohol, perfect enjoyable delicate sweetness): it was a mix of vodka, soho, litchi juice and litchi syrup:
THE TWO COCKTAILS
Then two starters: beef tartare for me and a shrimp cocktail for Jannice ->
BEEF TARTARE The beef tartare was a small rectangularish  artfully presented tartare, amazingly fully flavoured, topped by a poached egg (break that poached egg at the very end, since you will lose all the amazing taste of that very tasty tartare  once it’s  bathed in the broken yolk), cute little leaves of baby arugula. This tartare is one of the top best I ever had in a city..where god knows…tartare is so popular: as far as taste, freshness, complexity of execution and supreme well balanced flavors go, this was simply impeccable. That truffle mayo master taste behind this tartare was simply heavenly to my tastebuds!
Arome’s rating: 10/10

Jannice went for a shrimp cocktail ->
SHRIMP COCKTAIL She had the choice of the usual classic shrimp cocktail, or the nuggety/tempura-alike  shrimp cocktail (10/10) . She chose the latest. They were filled with  smooth juicy and lightly sweet shrimps. The shrimp were nicely meaty, the taste perfect and the excution flawless (not one 1oz of oily feel! lol)…BUT at $27, I found them a bit pricey for what they were. I know it’s a high end table and I am not stingy about food (I am one who thinks that great food is priceless) but….

Went on with the 6oz beef rib eye for my sweetheart and a lasagna for me ->
6 oz RIB EYE Jannice’s had requested her rib eye to be cooked blue. Although it was not perfectly blue (closer to medium rare), the rib eye was good, nicely spiced, had a perfect smooth inside and was well flavored. Personally, I would not serve a steak alone in it’s plate. I’d add probably some beans or anything else on that steak’s plate. There was an accompaniment, but on a sepate plate:
the accompaniment was a vegetable gratin ->

VEGETABLE GRATIN The veggie gratin (basically a cousin of the tartiflette) was flawless as far as texture and taste go. Very tasty high quality cheesy gratin. 8/10 for the steak and 10/10 for the gratin.

My lasagna was one lasagna you might not see anywhere else:

FREE FORM LASAGNA OF CHEF MICHELE MERCURI Called “Free form lasagna“, this dish — I predict — will quickly become (whether he wants it or not) the signature dish of their chef, Michele Mercuri: although, at first glance, it might not look like your typical lasagna…it is  packed with all technical goodies of a lasagne: cheese, pasta and so on. But this is a unique high end different and creative version of the lasagna -> as you can see on the picture, it’s more of a “deconstructive” version of it. What the picture wont tell you (and that is why I do predict that this is a signature dish to come) is about the remarquable work that is done in terms of savourishness:  from the small tasty chunks of lobster, succulent braided sweetbreads, enjoyable lobster emulsion, fresh tender baby spinash and oh so lovely stracchino cheese….every little element of that dish was a blast in terms of taste. Impeccably delicious. 10/10 and more if I could!

For desserts, Jannice picked the mignardises and I went for the mascarpone/berries/lemon curd’s trifle diplomate dessert ->
MIGNARDISES Jannice’s mignardises: nothing out of the ordinary here, but a nice selection of high quality sweet delicacies -> biscuits were definitely tasty, well made, with perfect light enjoyable buttery flavor. Chocolate truffles were first quality and tasted good. Same could be said of the white snowy enjoyable marshmallows. I always have a discrete smile when I see mignardises on a high end table: I recall those long hours of chit chatting with foodies from all around the world about the “pertinence” of mignardises on the finest tables. It’s a widely elegant touch to some. To me, it’s another story! But as long as it’s some high end quality mignardises, I am still fine with this (also, it’s a classic touch on most fine gourmet’s tables..so why not!)

My dessert, the ‘Diplomate trifle”:

DIPLOMATE TRIFLE That was an enoughly good unctuous creamy ‘pot de crème” alike (I know, a trifle is not exactly a pot de crème, hence the use of  ‘alike’ in my previous sentence) mix of berries, lemon curd and mascarpone. Although nice, I was left more with an impression of having enjoyed a casual heavy creamy dessert rather than a refreshing savourish delicate creamy marvel. Good, but not great.
My choice of  the “Diplomate trifle” dessert was my discrete personal challenging test for chef Mercuri’s desserts:
To each, their own -> some will rave about  the dessert grandeur of a chef over  a great crème brulée (never ever count on me for this one), others over complex combinations of desserts/pastries/fruity delicacies (absolutely!), and others, like me, will have very specific type of dessert they will use as dessert testing reference point: to me it’s the pot de crème or any it’s remote or close similars. Pot de crème is an interesting trap: so many grand chefs will tell you that there’s no big deal with conceiving pot de crème. Indeed, it’s fairly easy to make a decent or good pot de crème. BUT very few have yet delivered a GREAT pot de crème at  my table! Very few!! 7/10

Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004)Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004). I personally chose my wine, as I always do. This time I picked the $83 Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004). This Medoc’s full bodied red wine, is a personal favourite: I am fond of it’s complex and intense brillant mix of fruity, spicey and enjoyable slight smokey flavors (if you have it at home, make sure you drink it on the very short term. It’s a nice wine on the 1-2 hrs you’ve just opened it, but tend to lose it’s interesting aromatic strengths on the longer run).  Adorable (although..aouch..the profit margin is big, here ;p)!

IV.The Service
Let me preface this: if I could give 10 over 5, I would!
The entire staff was world class impeccable-> friendly, knowledgeable, courteous, well mannered and very attentive. Sedonie, our main waitress, was the ideal waitress: soft spoken, she is the perfect balance between beeing professional and yet accessible/attentive/careful on top of carrying a touch of the wisdom of a sage. She once worked at Joel Robuchon and it shows: world class! Sedonie is also amazingly very well informed about the restaurant scene here and abroad, the sign of someone who is passionate about the domain she works in. World class is the proper designation to the entire staff (Somelier Sebastien did a beautiful elegant job at decanting our bottle of wine, and what an enjoyable gentleman!, the various waiters who came at our table were all very classy and amazingly well trainned).

V.Afterthoughts
The top dishes of this dinner were  of world class material and would make any top tier 3 star Michelin table in Europe very proud. We can perceive things the way we want, but the facts remain that the 10/10 dishes on this specific meal (I never rate restaurants, only specific meals as to remind people that food performance is not something you can emulate endlessly. It’s not a robotic act, it’s not cloning. A great dinner just happens at a given moment and does not mean that it can be repeated) are food items that would be expected expect on a tables pertaining to the world’s top 15 best tables, if such list makes sense to you. Is this some kind of unecessary or un-realistic big  pressure on this beautiful grand table? Absolutely not: I am just talking about this one meal I just had, in relation with what I have experienced elsewhere. And for having experienced the cooking of Chef Mercuri (he was cooking on this evening) before at Bronte (now closed), I know that this Gentleman is among world’s very best Chefs.  I’ll come back to see if they consistently perform at this level.

Full galleries of our XO Le restaurant’s dinner on Picasa:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/XOLERESTAURANT#

 

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