Bistro Cocagne, Montreal – In my top 3 bistrots in Montreal

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, La Porte, Au pied de cochon , Le Margaux.

 

Recent update ***Meal on Friday August 30th 2013, 18:00
Corn is in season at this moment, so corn cream (7/10) had beautiful luscious texture, the taste delicious, the creamy consistency balanced well (light and yet with proper body to it). Nordic shrimp accras (5/10) –there’s no name for accras in English, they are some sort of fried dumplings very popular in creole cuisine —  did disappoint  me  since I had some of the best accras in town right here, under this same roof. This time they lacked the heat  and exciting plump texture of last minute  made accras. I also found Nordic shrimp to be too subtle for accras to be exciting. Accras are fantastic with cod or any meat which mouthfeel can be deeply felt. Or else, the accras taste bland, at least to my palate. A simple beef filet steak  had nice deep fresh meaty flavor, cooked to ideal tenderness (7/10). All in all, this one was an Ok meal, just not  among the finest I had here.

 

 

Bistro Cocagne
Date and Time: December 31st 2012 18:30PM
Type of food:  North American (QC’s) Market cuisine Bistro
Location: Addr: 3842 Rue Saint Denis, Montreal, QC

Phone: 514-286-0700
Web site: http://www.bistro-cocagne.com

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

French(review in English will follow): Au vu de cette soirée ci du 31/12/2012 , fort bien réussie, Le Bistro Cocagne continue à se maintenir  dans le peloton de tête des bistrots Montréalais. À mon avis, facilement dans le top 5 des bistrots locaux (avec le Lawrence, Au 5e Peche, Bouillon Bilk et Kitchen Galerie sur Jean Talon). Comme à tout restaurant, vos favoris ne faisant point exception,  j’ y ai évidemment dégusté des plats meilleurs que d’autres au fil des années, et connu des repas spectaculaires et d’autres moins.Mais la qualité des produits, le niveau technique, ainsi que le travail du gout  furent d’une régularité quasi irréprochable. Un restaurant se maintient dans le peloton de tête grace à sa capacité de se surpasser par des repas qui sont occasionellement (il serait utopique  de s’attendre à de l’exceptionnel à chaque détour …un restaurant ca n’est pas un spectacle de magie constante à la Walt Disney ;p) exceptionnels, et de tels performances, j’en ai de temps à autre vécu l’expérience à ce bistrot.  Il y’a eu aussi, bien sûr,  les moins bons coups, tel que cette ‘macaronade au foie gras’ pourtant si populaire (preuve et rappel que tout ceci n’est que subjectif, il ne sert donc à rien d’en faire un plat..ce ne sont que des avis…héritage de notre culture démocratique et clin d’œil au fait que tous les goûts sont dans la nature;p) mais que j’ai trouvé un peu trop lourd et surtout banal, ou encore cette éternelle entrée de‘raviole’ qui me parut  naguère épatante, beaucoup moins avec le temps ..et cela malgré les variations du contenu de la raviole –par exemple, parfois avec de la viande de bison, parfois avec d’autres types de viande — (les plats signatures ont parfois cette facheuse tendance à souffrir  de l’évolution des …tendances. Si ce plat est toujours un plat-phare c’est que beaucoup doivent l’apprécier. Tant mieux pour ce plat, mais pour moi ca ne passe plus l’épreuve du temps). Mais voilà, et  c’est ainsi que je prends la pleine mesure d’un grand bistrot : même dans les moments les moins mémorables, la performance demeura tout de meme au-delà de la moyenne de ce qui se fait dans la pluspart des autres bistrots. Je peux me tromper (à preuve : les plats que j’ai moins apprécié sont hyper populaires et l’un de mes meilleurs repas ici fut composé de choix à la carte ) mais j’ai  personnellement pu mieux apprécier la pleine capacité de ce très bon bistrot au travers de leurs menus ‘dégustation’ plutôt que dans le menu à la carte (sans vins, sans folies, comme n’importe où, je pense qu’on s’en sort avec un excellent rapport qualité prix). Quant au menu dégustation de ce 31/12/2012, absolument rien à redire: le boudin blanc fut ravissant en textures et en saveurs,  le reste tout à fait à la hauteur d’un grand repas bistrot.

31/12/2012 – Everyone in Montreal has his/her own idea of the finest bistrot in town, but the fact of the matter is that Montreal is not Tokyo nor San Sebastian,which means there are not that many choices of real top bistrot to pretend playing around with multiple suggestions.

Let us face it: there is just a handful of top bistrot options here, and by handful  I mean no more than a dozen, and that is a big reasonable maximum. I know it sounds hilarious to spot such a tiny quantity of top bistrots  in a city with 6000 dining options and more, but again…Montreal is not the dining destination it thinks it is. Far from that. I can tell you that more than half of those eateries would have long gone bankrupt in many places abroad.

Bistro Cocagne has always been, in my view, throughout the years and despite the variable nature of all operational restaurants (sometimes at their best, sometimes ‘running out of steam’)  — your  finest ones are no exception —- one of the few that kept itself consistently among Montreal’s top 5 finest bistrots. Given that all tables will, anyways, always have off days and weaknesses, I believe that the proper way of evaluating a dining venture is to see how far it can go when it is in its prime.  Consequently, the most accurate way to compare them is to evaluate their better performances. In their prime (of course, they are not always at their very top, naturally) , I could see only bistrots like Bistro Cocagne, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Au Cinquième Péché truely standing out of the pack. Like to hear this or not: it is as good as it really gets at the finest bistrot level in town, at this moment.

There are of course other little favourite of mine, ones that I truly enjoy like M sur Masson and Au Pied de Cochon, but their finest performances did not appear to me as strong as the heights that the likes of Bistro Cocagne, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Au Cinquième Péché can reach.

Did I  purposely forget the more classic bistrots? Absolutely NOT! The more classic ones are pleasant and I do frequent them once in a while, but they are by no means outstanding ones. I mean, go visit a simple laidback classic bistrot like la table D’Aki in Paris, and that is just one random example –not even the 1st choice that pops up as a top classic bistrot when you ask most Parisians — , come back, pick whatever you think is a top classic bistrot in Montreal and tell me if you still want to argue, Lol. Not that I am comparing Paris with Montreal, but certainly to get the idea of what can properly be qualified as a top classic Bistrot as far as food goes. It is one thing to think that a bistrot is top, it is another story to get it right ;p

Up to my meal at Bistro Cocagne.On this evening, the offer is a new year eve’s tasting menu.  No pics since Janice and I wanted this dinner to be fully intimate, thus devoid of the distraction of taking pictures of the meal.

The meal started with some amuses of refined foie gras cromesquis. They do those really well here: ideal consistency, fresh enticing taste.

Next:

Saumon mi-cuit, crêpe de pomme de terre, émulsion à la lime et caviar de Tobiko  – Quality of ingredient has always been high at this bistrot, and this was no exception : impeccably sourced salmon, the ‘mi-cuit’cooking providing the expected enjoyable contrast between tender low-temp Vs firmer cooked flesh.The salmon was encased in a mini “potato crepe” posing on a layer of deeply delicious beurre blanc sauce.  A simple item at first glance, but this was proper “top bistrot” item (the execution, the sourcing).  Very good.  8/10

Boudin blanc à la truffe, purée decéleri rave, pleurotes érigées, bok choi, jus au vinaigre d’érable–  It is the first time I am having boudin blanc at Bistro Cocagne. It is with items like these that it is easy to see why  Bistro Cocagne is a highly regarded bistrot. From the irreproachable ideal temperature, right amount of heat, divine taste, this boudin blanc was easily competing  with the finest boudin blanc I had in France. This was a reminder that memory of taste passed from generations to generations is the key ingredient to food that has soul. Excellent  9/10

Terrine de foie gras, beurre de pomme à l’érable – Well sourced quality foie gras with stand out dense and creamy texture. Very good  8/10

Noix de cerf poêlé et collier braisé, trompettes des morts, sauce périgourdine – High quality fresh venison meat (they use venison here, in place of the popular ) cooked beautifully, with taste to match. Here again, the selection of the cut (noix de cerf  is gets praised for the right reasons ) is of prime mention. 8.5/10

Fromage 1608 fondu sur abricots et amandes, croûtons  et huile de pistache  –   Fromage 1608 is a famous Non-pasteurized (thermized) cheese from Charlevoix (Laiterie Charlevoix de Baie-Saint-Paul ),an area known for what count among the finest diary produce of Quebec province.The particularity of this widely praised cheese being that it is made with the milk of a very rare breedof cattle (only 200, but Charlevoix is not the only place where you can find them), the ‘Canadienne breed”, which in 1999 was considered by Quebec government as part of the province’s agricultural heritage. I found this to be a successful and creative diary-based culinary interpretation .  8/10

Chibouste chocolat, sablé cacao, crème vanille et réduction de griotte –  Good (7/10) I am not a fan of chocolate in general, therefore it takes mountains of prouesse for a choco-based item to satisfy me, but this was certainly properly executed, using fine ingredients. Just to give you a visual idea, it looked a bit like the entremet mousse au chocolat you can see here.

As usual, there is not much to pique at with such a very good bistrot. Unless the Mayans are right and a real new cycle of life is under way, with people’s palates being resetted, Rfaol.. there is no  major problem to foresee with the cooking here. It is an updated take on classic French/North American bistrot fares  that is well executed, delicious and as good as you will get from  what Montreal is currently offering at its  finest bistrot levels.

Wine pairing (I went with wines by the glass) on this evening has been  remarkable as usual,with beautiful discoveries throughout. The finest bistrots  of this city (Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon, Lawrence, Au 5e Péché) doing a fantastic job in the aspect of selecting exciting privately imported wines.

Pros (of this meal of 31/12/2012): In the top 5, to be safe and as accurate as I could in my evaluation  (I personally would situate it in top 3) of Montreal’s finest bistrots as proven once again by this evening’s tasting menu. As usual, Bistro Cocagne managing to pull the best out of  well sourced ingredients. Special mention too for the service: warm, welcoming, knowledgeable while remaining pro.

Cons (of this meal of 31/12/2012) :  None on this evening

My overall food rating for this evening’s dinner (meal of 31/12/2012):  By the finest Bistrots standards in Montreal (for example: in comparison to the better performances of Lawrence, Au 5e Péché, Bouillon Bilk,  Kitchen Galerie Poisson on Jean Talon), I would rate this meal with a strong  8/10 – An overall very good bistrot meal (updated classic French/North American bistrot), as I came to expect from Bistro Cocagne.

Standard

My top 3 Montreal’s Isakayas (Japanese bistrots)

When I read critics complaining that Montreal Isakayas have nothing to do with what is found in Japan, the only thing that comes to mind is that such statement can only come from clowns, Lol.

Comparing Mtl’s Isakayas to Japan’s. Euh…Seriously? Cool down buddy: you need Japan, fly to Japan! Rfaol!

Ok Ok , I know: Vancouver is making it happening and a good friend told me recently that NYC Isakayas are impressive. That same friend told me that when her aunt came here from NYC, she was turned off  by Montreal’s high $$$ for lackluster Isakaya food.  

I feel bad reviewing / rating Isakayas outside of Japan: for simple straightforward / simple fares like those, it’s naturally the fares  found where it all started (therefore perfected for so long)  that will always have the edge. I do not have the means to go all the way to Japan whenever I have a crave for some Isakaya food, thus I am sampling them in Yul (Mind you, NYC is not that far away  ) , and I am trying my best to write this little review of some of them here, but keep in mind that it would be unfair to expect Isakaya’s motherland fabulous fares to be replicated in Montreal:

Before I go ahead, a tip: Chose wisely (ask the staff for their daily and best offerings /  tell them you want things as close as possible  to authentic Japanese Isakaya fares /  do not just blindly trust the menu) when you try an Isakaya in Yul. Or else, you’ll experience  the dumb mistakes that I had to run into the 1st times I went visiting them (generic picks, food for tourists, Lol)

Also: the ratings you see next to the name of each Isakaya may change / evolve with future visits to those places. This is purely subjective and temporary rating that reflects an overall personal assessment of –NOT the restaurant — but the meals.

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


LATEST UPDATE: Meal at Kazu on November 26th 2012 (meals listed from the oldest to the most recent)

Kazu (8/10): Big line up. No reservations taken.  Addr: 1862 Sainte-Catherine Street West, Montreal, Qc   (514) 937-2333.  They have no web site – While Imadake has a more classy, elegant feel for an Isakaya, Kazu opts for the opposite  very laidback / tiny bustling ‘hole in a wall’ theme. I love Kazu because it sends me back to my very humble backgrounds, a life where a place like Kazu would actually be luxury. They take no reservations here, and it is easy to see why: hordes of people are all the time lining up at their doors days and evenings. All Isakayas  I am writing about are those with Japanese Chefs at their helm and Kazu is no exception: it’s as Japanese as you can get in YUL. Their Chef was working at Toque!, therefore do expect some  ‘western style’ touches here and there on his take of Isakaya fares (for ie, salad on some of his dishes + also hints of ‘western style’ plating  here and there). They are known for their ramen (had them twice. Only served at lunch time.  Rated both ramen with a 7/10. Montreal is not a city for remarkable ramen, but this was as good as I could get in town  — 7/10 is the highest rating that I have assigned to a ramen in QC), salmon tuna bowl (also a 7/10 – good. It’s hard for me to get excited with Isakaya fares in YUL, but again, this is as good as you’ll get in this city’s Isakayas from such a simple creation), okonomiyaki (the famous Isakaya pancake) was sampled once and it had good depth of delicious taste (7.5/10), 48hrs pork with rice was –given the incredible raves it gets all over the web — not the stunning dish I was expected (a remote cousin of the ‘Yashinoya‘ beef bowl for those who are familiar with the Yashinoya chain, but here at Kazu, you have the fine pork morsels on a bed of rice with  appealing gingery tones to it — not as bad as its detractors make it sound / not as stunning as its fans are selling it neither…just tasty / pleasant enough for me to rate it with a 8/10, especially to Montreal Isakaya standards. Abroad, especially in Asia I’d rate it with a 7/10.), and yet this was again and again one of those another delicious  items reaffirming the great sense of taste of Kazu’s cooking team (an 8/10 item, in my view, but still…d-e-li-cious!), Yakitori  grilled chicken  (7.5/10) was tasty (it has to, I know, Lol..but they did it well and it was worth paying for), and up to now (3 visits there), my favourite item has been their fabulous pork neck served in a big pristine white bowl of remarkable porky pleasure (10/10). We’ll get to that later on.  As I wrote earlier on,  If you are stucked with visions of an Isakaya in Japan,  you better fly to Japan. Montreal will certainly not match with your fantasies, but the thing about an Isakaya like Kazu is that they managed, throughout my 3 visits there, not to necessarily make me think of ..Japan (I’ll think about it when I’ll be there, anyways)…Lol..but more importantly to deliver where it needs to:  stunning flavors. On Aug 3rd 2012 at 17:30, my most recent visit there, I took for the first time their $15 grilled pork neck. Three big chunks of fabulous meaty and dazzingly tasty pork  that makes all equivalent in town (including the haute dining ones) pass as amateurish. A 10/10 food item which, once you forget about unecessary comparisons to what an Isakaya sounds and looks like in Japan, is simply one of those reasons why Kazu is (all type of cuisines included) in my top 5 best eateries in town! Their sense of taste, the palate of their cooking staff is simply of superior level to Montreal’s standards. And I have to say: even the service at Kazu is right up my alley: frendly,  super cool, fun! Kazu, my love…
UPDATE: 4th meal at Kazu on this Friday Aug 10th 2012, 18:30  Kazu is really not $$$ at all, so you can manage many meals here without any hard impact on the pocket. This time, I took again the okonomiyaki shrimp pancake and asked the staff to pick a daily course for me. While the Chef was preparing my daily pick untitled ”  Grilled octopus leg”, another member of the kitchen brigade had prepared the okonomiyaki. The Okonomiyaki, when the Chef does it, is an interesting item, usually well done. Not my favourite, but still delicious. But tonight, the other member of the brigade seemed to have taken this popular dish for granted: from its mushy un-interesting texture to a poor green salad sitting atop, it was an item that simply distracted from appreciating the huge talent of this kitchen (3/10 at best). But then appeared the “Grilled octopus leg”, an item that I did not see on my previous visits here and for good reason: it’s one of the daily offerings, not a classic (classics here seem to be the Okonomiyaki pancake, the BBQ’d grilled Pork Neck, the Salmon/Tuna bowl, etc). The ‘Kazu on top of the world’ show was about to be broadcasted: Grilled octopus, not chewy, well done and enhanced by charcoal grilled flavor, we all know it is an instant success that actually not that many skilled kitchen brigades do deliver as succesfully as they pretend. But Kazu’s went beyond all of that, ages ahead I’d say and would still confidently admit  zero hint of exxageration in my statement. Its surreal tender texture and divine mouthfeel, coupled with  a world class salad (yes, a salad of greens & carrots! I wish I would not rave about a salad, but there is simply no other salad like this one that was paired with the octopus) was of a level you would dream of finding at a fraction of the best 3 star Michelin restaurants around the globe. Even the presentation was world class (the Chef used to work at Toque!, so presentation is one of his many strenghts). It might sound like an over the top statement, but it was not. Epic..epic..epic…such was the magnitude of  this world class dish 10/10. Interestingly, had my recent 3 star Michelin meals at Ledoyen (Paris) or Le Calandre (Rubano) delivered one single savoury dish close –so not even of similar level — to the amazement of this one exceptional ‘Grilled octopus’ dish, they would have most likely ranked among my favourite 3 star Michelin restaurant around the world.   In Montreal, even my two top best bitrots (Bistrot Cocagne and Au Cinquième Péché, although capable of many 10/10 items as shown on my reviews of them, have yet blown me away with a dish of the ‘magnitude’ of this evening’s Kazu’s Grilled octopus).   Kazu did it again…..       
UPDATE: 16/10/2012 – My first time here with Jannice. She found her meal pretty impressive by Montreal top bistrot standards.
Grilled octopus $22 – This is the same item that I found remarkable in both execution and palatable excitement during my last meal here. Tenderized  to perfection, as delicious as I remember it from the last time, this remains a benchmark bistrot dish. Only, it was more ‘refined’ this time, whereas its previous version was more ‘rustic’ for its richer, deeper char flavor. Although I prefer last time version,  there is no doubt in my mind that this is a solid 10/10 item (many top bistrots here or in France would have caught my uttermost attention with a sense of taste like the one found in this kitchen) .

Grilled Pork neck – They did not have, on this evening,  the crowd-pleaser bbq’d version, which seemed to me superior to tonight’s version. And yet, this was by no means a disappointing item. To the contrary, the theme of delicious char flavor, cooking that’s on point  and deep enjoyable meaty mouthfeel were brought to center stage in a way that many, with the same tools in hands, seem not to pull off as easily as Kazu. It is easy for a grilled piece of meat to be tasty, we all do this at home, but rare to push it to a stage worth paying for at a restaurant, which is the case of most grilled meats I have enjoyed at Kazu, this one being no exception (BUT I insist: the bbq’s version is even more worthy of my hard earned bucks) . 8/10 and, despite the fact that I missed its stunning bbq’d ancestor (lol), a very enjoyable bistrot item.

Grilled toro (belly) tuna for two ($35) pursued  with the usual great bistrot cooking (not one single technical fault  to be noticed, a flesh cooked to  perfect moist consistency) and fabulous work of the taste that made Kazu a personal favourite. Grilling tuna is no rocket science, but getting all the nuances of a perfect grilled tuna  shining through (controlled timing of the direct and indirect cooking phases being obviously crucial for grilling tuna)  is another story, one that they have delivered. This was cooked by some members of the brigade, a great way to re-assure me after my disappointment over the okonomiyaki that this same brigade has prepared on the last meal. Simply excellent. 9/10

We wrapped up this meal with a flawless wasabi ice cream which had a depth of successful exciting  milky freshness typical of the better ice creams.

Kazu, like any favourite table around the globe, will of course have its ups and downs. And there are items that I do not see myself ordering, such as an eggplant paste dish, or very simple stuff like salad and rice, or even their beef cheeks which seem to me not in th eleague of Kazu’s best items . But the ups happen more oftently here and with almost 15  food items sampled at Kazu  over the months, only one went under the 7/10 bar (last meal’s okonomiyaki pancake), the rare ones with 7/10 could not be accused of lack of palatable excitement but were rather kept under the 8/10 bar simply because I had enjoyed equivalent dishes abroad with a slighter advantage, the big majority varying between 8, 9 and 10/10. Which can’t be said of most bistrots  here and abroad, that is why it is still my number one Isakaya in Montreal, as well as largely deserving its place in the top 5 best bistrot in town, for its delicious food. I see no drawbacks in the following, but it is is worth knowing that thre is a line up here, the décor   is laidback, rustic, proximity to other diners being a feature of its packed/busy nature. It is not of the grand comfortable elegant type, so you want to come here for the food aspect. Despite Kazu being constantly packed though, I did not find the noise level to hit on my nerves at all, and the service is  efficient here.  Overall food rating for this Oct 16th 2012 meal: 8/10 Delicious  bistrot food, that is all I am asking for, and that is what they do deliver. For food, easily a top 5 contender in Montreal and largely the best Isakaya in town as of lately. 
UPDATE 26/11/2012 18:00 – Kazu is one of my two Montreal coup de coeur of 2012 (alongside Lawrence), but on this evening,  it did not shine at the heights that, meal after meal, kept it as my 2012 best Isakaya in YUL. And trust me,  I gave it its chances, lol:  first, the $18 grilled beef with rice and salad. Tasty as expected from Kazu’s usual standards,  it unfortunately lacked heat. At least, its meaty appeal still shone through, but this was a 6/10 dish, no more,  which is weak for what Kazu do usually deliver. Kazu has that gifted charcoal grill in house, and I love meat,  so I pursued with a great kazu hit that I did rave a lot about on previous visits here: their classic pork neck bbq.  To my disappointment, it suffered from the exact same problem of the previous item: lack of char grill heat! 5/10 on this  instance, for a food item that I haved experienced in its very best version (a 10/10 the 1st time I had it here).  I was getting really  frustrated at this point since the problem here could have been easily avoided…just letting the meat a bit longer  on the grill! Kind of odd because Kazu was doing this so right on so many visits here. Take #3, I changed strategy and chose to forget the  …grill! Which was not what I had hoped for at a place where the main attraction is the magic that came from its char grill.  I was still hungry, so I ordered the signature 48 hrs pork bbq. At best a 6/10. It was certainly not bad, alas not great neither.  So, am I going to downgrade my overall rating of Kazu (the 8 over 10 you see at the top). Nope, it would be a nonsense to  wipe away all great meals I had here on the back of this lacklustre performance. Take any restaurant u think is top,
and it is a matter of time before we’ll find its weaknesses. It is more realistic and less naive to judge a restaurant by the heights it has  proven to reach out to. There is no miracle: Kazu would have never been one of my two coup de coeur of 2012 without the superb meals it has  delivered before. Since I insist on always being as accurate as I could as well as realisitic, the only suggestion that I would dare laying on the table is this one: could Kazu suffer from the syndrom of the damned Mondays? Many of our favourite tables do suffer from this problem: I remember one of my favourite all time African table, which I won’t name because it is closed anyways,  was a pale copy on its own self on Mon, Tues and Wed. But towards the end of the week, well …it was simply one of the finest
African gastro destinations. As a matter of fact, past meals at Kazu happened towards the end of the week and that was a totally  different story (just read my previous reviews). This is the weakest meal I had here, which triggers this suggestion from my part:  if you insit on going there, go on Thurs, fri, sat. Overall food rating for this 26-11-2012 meal: 5/10 But be very careful,  since this is not the usual Kazu standards that I am accustomed to! I doubt that Kazu will perform at the level of this evening’s meal on a regular basis. PS: AlthoughI was at the bar, I did not play attention at what was really going on (I was busy talking to someone), but I have  cooked enoughly long to suggest that on this evening, they were either suffering from a charcoal grill that was not at full heating power (this happens a lot with some charcoal grills, particularly in winter which is the case on this visit) or perhaps the meat was pre-cooked and finished up way too swiftly on the grill (which is a method that you see a lot nowadays and that I am not a fan of).

-Bistro Isakaya (7/10) No line up. Reservations taken.  Addr: 3469 Ave. du Parc Montreal, Qc 514-845-8226  http://www.bistroisakaya.com/menu.html      – An amusing thing I like to do is this –> In YUL, whenever I meet people who are familiar with Japan’s local food scene, I ask them what they think of this or that isakaya? What’s to them, the ones that gets closer to what is found in Japan?, etc. It is a fun exercise, and better than your own opinion, it brings fresh new views of what’s done in YUL to that regard. Bistro Isakaya is one of those that most connoisseurs of the real Japan have referred me to when it comes to a recommendation for Isakaya. It is a bit pricier than, say, Kazu for ie. One thing I really like with the Isakayas in YUL, however humble they might stand before their cousins of NYC, Vancouver and of course, the motherland (Japan), it’s that they do ensure to add something that the competitor does not offer. Take the traditional Japanese Daifuku   (a sweet, usually made of strawberry that I rated with a 8.5/10 the last time I tried it here ) or Chawanmushi (sort of Japanese egg custard – the one I tried was easily an 8/10 ):  they thought of offering them  here. A nice touch since I haven’t seen them  yet at the other Isakayas in town. To the contrary of  all the top Isakayas in YUL, they also have a full sushi menu here (to me, they were good sushis. Not great – For sushis in YUL, I’d head to the likes of Jun I, Sushi Volant, etc  instead ). The only way a Montreal Isakaya can, in my view, worth a little detour is to hope that their better known items shine while you are there. There’s no guarantee for the latter to happen (take the cow tongue I had at Imadake. Most people who had it  raved about it, but that was not my case at all. For sure, this was certainly just a bad luck and I doubt that my next cow tongue at Imadake will not pass the test, but things are what they are: I’ll have to wait a bit before joining the bandwagon of Imadake’s cow tongue fans), but all of this to tell you that when you go to Bistro Isakaya, on top of asking them for their daily/seasonal picks, give a try to items that they seem to deliver  well  on a regular basis such as their Miso soup (a simple item, indeed, but I haven’t had better one in YUL 8.5/10) . Again, this is a bit pricier than Imadake and Kazu and although it has some interesting choices , and this is a promising team (most of them come from Montreal’s ex successful highly regarded authentic Japanese dining venture, Katsura  ) I am a bit surprised that this ranks that high among the Japan’s food experts I met. Mind you, the Miso soup I had there is the finest I had in YUL up to now, and if you look carefully at the ratings of the food items I had sampled, they are doing some quite good job (which again, should not be that much of a surprise for anyone who knew how good Katsura was). Still, it’s not cheap. At least, the quality is usually on center stage. Preferably dine there (as opposed to lunch).

Imadake (5/10) No line up. Reservations taken.  4006, rue Ste-Catherine O   Montreal, Qc,  (514) 931-8833 http://www.imadake.ca/  – It’s the latest big Isakaya in town. For once, I’ll ask you to forgive the low ratings of some of the dishes I had there for reasons I’ll explain later on and go, try it for yourself with one condition: Ask them (as you need to do with all Isakayas in town) for their  daily / seasonal  best offerings and do not do like me: do not just rely on the menu. On my sole visit there, the food items I chose were a mixed affair: Grilled cow tongue  was chewy, lacked heat and had no grilling flavor at all (0/10), which was surprising especially since such simple grilled item  is hardly something I’d expect to fail. Then things were back on track with an item that’s simple, indeed, like most isakaya  fares actually, but that delivered appealing freshness, amazing produce and skillfully balanced dressing: a fresh salad of greens, carrots. A salad, I know, but a well done one.  Then another slip: An ordinary  beef tataki that would barely be a 4/10 (the beef ok, the overall taste only ok, but not worth the $$$, yep..even at $8). My heart was happy again  with a course of Takoyaki (a $6 little tasty lovely croquette of octopus 7.5/10  — This could have easily been a 8/10 or even 9/10 had the texture been remarkable, but it delivered that it needed to: delicious taste with nice moist consistency of fresh meaty octopus). All in all, I was obviously not impressed with the food performance but I tweeted my dissatisfaction to the restaurant and the way they reacted impressed: instead of hiding behind a wall of laughable big ego and annoying defensive arguments, they constructively proposed that I ask them for what’s best /seasonal, etc while dining there. An amazing reaction and given how they take their work at heart and showing how they want to improve, this is for sure  a place where I am   willing to spend my hard earned money.  Imadake deserves that I give it another chance, and you: just go (the ambience is so cool. So different from other Montreal eateries. You’ll love the loud cheers, the Japanese feel, enjoy the sake booooooooom boooomm ritual on the tables when people order the sake bomb..you’ll know what I mean once ther) ! 

 
I’ll stick to my current top 3 Isakayas in YUL. Whenever I stumbled upon one that I believe I should add to this top list, I’ll oblige. Subjective stuff, as usual but I really really find it hard to rate Isakayas in a city like Yul simply because I have sampled equivalent Isakaya fares abroad that went above and beyond the simple observation that since this is straightforward food, it needs to find a way to somehow shine enoughly well to justify leaving the comfort of home for. For ie, I don’t want my yakitori to simply stand as a nice little piece of skewered chicken. That, I can do that at home,Lol. I want it to be a standout one and that…well, that is possible. Just do not expect this  oftently in YUL,  but Kazu made it happen. That’s obviously why it’s my ‘coup de coeur’ and top pick of Mtl’s current Isakayas.  In the end, it all goes down to what you do expect. Just remember: it is not Japan! It’s Montreal. Forget about Japan, go and appreciate what’s delivered, for what it is: Montreal’s take on Isakayas. Chose wisely! Arigato!

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Restaurant Hotel Herman, Montreal – Pleasant enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We ate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the URL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service was impeccable. 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Followed by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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F bar restaurant, Montreal – It’s OK. Nothing more, nothing less

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

F Bar
Addr: 1485, rue Jeanne-Mance, Montréal
Phone:  (514) 289-4558
Dinner @ F Bar on Friday Dec 2nd 2011 18:00
Cuisine type: Bistro (Modern French with Med/Portuguese touches)
URL: http://www.fbar.ca

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

(English review will follow) – Le refrain est connu: il faut que nos plus beaux talents OSENT!! Sinon ca donne ceci: bon resto, des plats bien concus, rien de mauvais à dire…mais rien de particulier non plus! C’est dommage d’avoir que ca à retenir de cette soirée. En fouillant un peu, je dois dire que les beaux petits flacons Portugais, ca nous fait voyager un peu et ca a donné le ton à cette soirée, charmante soit…mais comme bien d’autres….à mon avis.

Chef Gilles Herzog has worked under Alain Ducasse (at Louis VX in Monte Carlo) in the past, and has also spent some time alongside Michelin starred Chef De Matteis (Who once was at Taillevent, Paris), 2 star Michelin Chef Patrick Henriroux, and Serge Chenet. He also worked at 2 star Michelin Châteaux de Divonne, 2 star Michelin La Pyramide and 1 star Michelin Le Prieuré (all of those tables been in France).  I first discovered him when he was working at restaurant Derrière Les Fagots in Laval, a restaurant that stood among Quebec’s very best when he was at its helm. Without being bold, his French contemporary cuisine maintained itself among the most exciting in the province. Easily among this province’s top 5 best Chefs when he was at Derrière Les Fagots .

He now has the mission of offering the so-called market cuisine theme with a touch of Portuguese flair at the restaurant F Bar.

Many tend to confuse F Bar with a portuguese restaurant: its owner is portuguese, some part of the decor pays tribute to Portugal and it’s clear that they have Portuguese-inspired dishes (bitoque, natas, etc), but I think it would be erroneous to go there with the sole idea that you are heading to your typical Portuguese restaurant: Chef Gilles Herzog has always made it clear to the medias that he has never cooked Portuguese food prior to his appointment at the F Bar, but that the owner asked him to come up with his take of  Market cuisine ‘rhythmed’   by Mediterranean/Portuguese touches . Therefore, what this is more accurately about is a Chef Herzog Modern take on Portuguese / Mediterranean  cuisine. If you are a purist of Portuguese food, then I’ll suggest you go to Portugal!

Since its opening, I went at the F Bar twice already. The 1st time, I was on a rush and had their pasta acores, which did not do it for me.  On a second visit, I had the Portuguese Bitoque (runny egg atop a strip loin steak). Which was just ok for me. Both visits occured at the beginning of the week, so this time I decided that an early  Friday evening would perhaps be a better idea, with of course different items.

The food I had on this evening:

Deer tartare, orange/pepper/juniper berry jelly – Tasty tartare, judiciously spiced, chopped  as it should. Then dices of orange jelly (retained the purity of orange flavor, adding extra taste/texture dimension to the dish). On my right, a salad of beets, executed with finesse and seasoned with precision.   This was really Good 7/10, but again, that’s what is expected from any good bistro.

Halibut, black raisin-parsley-almond condiment, brown butter/sherry – This is one of their most celebrated dishes among foodies and food journalists. It’s well done, that’s for sure: the fish is nicely cooked and packed with appealing moist consistency,  the purée (that’s underneath) sieved to ideal soft creaminess. Then you get the expected work of textural and flavor constrasts: crunch of the almonds,sweetness of the grapes, the grassy-ness of the parsley. All of this is nice, there’s no doubt about that. But we have no surprise, no daring-ness. Just what’s expected..again and again..from a good bistro.  In between good  to Very good  7.5/10
  
Coconut milk rice pudding, passion fruit/basil sorbet – This  pudding stood creamy as a good rice pudding should be, its sweetness well controlled (not overwhelming), but where’s the coconut flavor???? The sorbet (tasty without being stunning) and some  crunchy bites added to the rice pudding do bring the necessary contrast and variety of  textures …but I really don’t get this dessert: when I was reading its description, elements such as ‘coconut milk’ and ‘basil’ led me to think that some aromatic ‘pep’ would be delivered. In Mouth, they surprisingly remained absent:  take the sorbet for ie…had that sorbet alone rose with a depth of flavor, I would have rate this dessert with a comfortable 8 over 10. Same for the coconut flavor: it’s a flavor that I enjoy a lot and it would have certainly impart an interesting kick to the pudding…alas my palate never sensed it.  – Good 7/10 …but not great.

Bottom line: is F Bar among Mtl’s best bistrots. Yes (albeit, in my view, a notch or two behind Bistro Cocagne, Au 5e Péché, Bouillon Bilk). But there’s no room to feast, neither:  Chef Herzog had the chance to work with culinary masters  like Alain Ducasse, De Matteis, etc. So why not transferring a bit of that brilliance on those dishes. The dishes were good, a recurrence with many good bistrots in town, but neither on this meal nor on the 2 previous visits there…did I feel any sign of outstanding achievement. That’s to be expected from a Chef of the caliber of Herzog! 

PROS: the nice wines of Portugal as that amazing mineral Dona Maria 2009 served along the halibut. The fun, down to earth bartender on this evening (I sat at the bar). The festive atmosphere (it was packed).

CONS: I am not expecting all Bistrot Chefs to surprise me as Lenglet did at au 5e Péché…BUT of a Chef like Herzog, I guess it’s normal to expect some sparks. Of course his food is good, better than at a lot of other highly regarded tables (I personally preferred this later meal here to the last ones I had at Le Chien Fumant, Chez Victoire, KGP for ie) , but of a Chef like him … I need — at the very least — to stumble upon random stellar elements (even if it is as insignificant as a simple condiment).

Last but not least, I need to say this — to Mtl’s restaurateurs: making $$$ is wonderful, but people are eating out a lot nowadays, so a bit as in fashion…expect to face more and more demanding customers. Expect to be challenged. Just doing a good job won’t suffice. Expect to surpass yourself.

Wishing the best to all of us,and may 2012 be a better year of discoveries!

FBAR
Overall food rating
: 5/10 Average for what Iam accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category. Iwas surprised by this just Ok performance, knowing well how the Chef here hasbeen able, at his previous restaurant, to offer far  superior cooking. Thefood was pleasant, and as expected from such a talented Chef, it was well done,but keeping things on the safe side has  not worked for me althoughthis is the way to go for their business to succeed: this is a place that isbusy night after night.  Atleast, this is a very pleasant place with electric ambience.  Overall service rating: 8/10 Mostly young,professional on this evening.
Décor: 8/10  Elegant, colorful, contemporary. Go on thei rwebsite,WYSIWYG!
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.

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Restaurant Laloux, Montreal – This dinner was disappointing to me

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

Dinner at Laloux 
Type of cuisine: French Bistro
Friday November 25th 2011, 20:00
Addr: 250, avenue des Pins Est, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514 287-9127
URL: http://www.laloux.com/index.html

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

(Review in English to follow) J’espère que ce ne fut qu’une soirée off: magret et jambonneau de canard trop salé, le jambonneau complètement sec, le tout sans panache. Quant au plat de foie de veau, c’est du beau produit, certes…mais il faut le sublimer, le rendre épatant en bouche! Dommage, puisque Laloux a toujours été un coup de coeur de longue date. A eux de garder l’esprit ouvert à la critique constructive et en profiter pour rebondir.  

Chef Jonathan Lapierre-Réhayem is known as the latest new kid on the block of the Montreal restaurant scene. Many food journalists have raved over his work at the latest La Montée, and now at Laloux. It’s with great enthusiasm that I went finding out about this new talent of the Montreal restaurant scene especially after learning that he also worked at some point at XO Le Restaurant and also Au 5e Péché, both being in my very top 5 of Montreal finest tables (one being a fine dining venture, the latter one being an amazing Bistro that I can’t stop raving about).

As for Laloux, this is a Montreal institution (almost 3 decades of existence very soon). I used to live right next door to Laloux and this is a classic high end bistro that I have always been a big fan of (I remember, for ie, the top quality dinners I had there when Chef Gonzalez was working at Laloux. I’ve never experienced Laloux under Chef Jetté, but this might have been another big moment of Laloux’s history given the huge talent of Chef Jetté.

The decor of Laloux is classic. It could remind some of a classic Parisian bistro, with its high ceilings, white table cloths, and uniform black and yellow tones, large glass windows. The food is inspired by classic French Bistro cuisine, which is usually the type of cuisine that I am the most fond of.

I began with a starter of fresh oysters (nicely sourced, the oysters were impeccable to all respects: freshness, quality), then ….

I lost touch with the radio signal ………

Foie de veau, purée de pomme de terre, panais rôtis, sauce à la pancetta et cipollini – Veal liver (cooked correctly), potato purée (done as it should). But this dish remained a standard dish, with no particular palatable highlight (the taste being ok, but I have tasted way more flavorful veal liver dishes at numerous bistrots). I don’t know how many times this should be repeated: it’s not enough to just have a good produce (the veal liver was of nice quality, same could be said of the parnsnip)…at a restaurant, you need to elevate all of that to something that awakens the taste buds. This was way too simple to be enjoyed at a restaurant. Classic food is one thing. Simple simple simple food is another thing 4/10

Not knowing what to make out of the last dish (I am not patient with lacklustre restaurant performance…people are paying for this!!!  ), I decided to give another chance to the kitchen:

Magret et jambonneau de canard, spätzle à l’aneth, salsifi et crème sure à la moutarde de Meaux– The quality of the duck is remarkable. But again, the work of the produce comes with a load of reproaches: (1)over-salted meat. Way too much salt and this is coming from someone who loves salt!  (2) presentation lacked appeal (3) the ‘jambonneau’ was dry…barely edible! I don’t get this! 3/10

At that point, I decided to take no dessert, no coffee and just leave. 

Dommage since  I am a long time fan of Laloux (I had some great meals, there, in the past) as I prefaced earlier on. It’s then all natural that I  had hard time accepting this kind of under-performance. Laloux has lost a long time fan tonight. Up to them to bounce back and to prove to themselves that this was just an off night. And if I were them, I’d take whoever has cooked this meal, invite him to tables like Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, La Porte, Raza or Le Marly and instruct him to imagine how those Chefs at the previously mentioned tables would cook that foie de veau and magret dishes  (Those restaurants I have just mentioned are not all offering the same type of cuisine as Laloux, BUT of this given  meal I just  had, there’s definitely a lot to learn from those tables, in many aspects: presentation of the dishes, work of the taste, etc)! 

PROS: Wine pairing was inspired on this evening (great little findings from all around the world) and their wine list will cater to every taste. I also like that classic French bistrot decor.

CONS: I can talk only for what I experience. So this concerns this given meal on Friday November 25th 2011: Food, especially when people are paying for it ..needs to be flavorful. Not just well cooked. Not just good produce. And since it’s French cuisine, the word DELICIOUS needs to be part of my post-dinner verbiage!  Which was not the case of this specific dinner.

LALOUX
Overallfood rating
: 3/10  Why those things happen to my favourite Chefs? I really like their Chef, a man who has travelled a lot and whose  open mindness is well known. My kind of Chef. But on this evening, honestly, nothing really shone.
Overallservice rating
: 8/10 Professional .
Décor
: Pretty Parisian look-alike bistro style!

IMPORTANT: ‘Overallfood 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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