The end of my discoveries of Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations

This is the end  of my discoveries of Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations. Current post  is my last post on this site.

In 2009, frustrated to never be able to rely on online restaurant reviews /opinions whenever I needed advices on where to go dining out with my wife/friends/family, I decided to  take the bull by its horns and went trying  Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations.  In the process, I decided to share with whoever the findings might be helpful. Hence, this web blog. It was important for me to live the experience as a normal diner, which means anonymously, since the point was to experience things the way my friends, family, any normal diner would experience it in their turn.

I have nothing against those who have interest in the industry. If you want to be recognized, get favors, capitalize on the benefits of your visibility, then good for you. It is your choice and I respect that. I just have no interest in this industry (like any Business, it is generally more about making money rather than focusing on true skills, which again is  understandable, but   is simply not something that excites/appeals to me ), so having now my list of restaurants I deem worthy of revisiting, I decided that it was the end of the round as far as Montreal restaurants go (except, of course, if a particularly great Chef opens a new restaurant or I hear about a new restaurant that is shaking the restaurant actuality in town, Rfaol, in which case I’ll add that review to http://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/.

All reviews of my Michelin star meals will be listed  on the left, side of http://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com  from the higher to lower rated meals. But that blog, despite its name,  won’t focus anymore solely on my  restaurant reviews. It will, from now on, be the full expression of my own self with posts — in both my mother tongue (French) as well as in English – covering everything from my vision of the world, arts, cooking, literature, travel, etc. A  blog in its conventional definition, which means the expression of whatever I have on my mind and that I deem interesting to share.

Please also find here my sparse dining reviews at Montreal’s ethnic eateries, my humble reviews on bars/pubs in Montreal, and my reviews of couple of Parisian restaurants.

In fine, I love Montreal but came to the conclusion that its dining scene is over-rated. When, in 10 years, you have been able to spot only less than 30 really capable dining destinations over 6000 and more…the only conclusion that strikes is that it is an over-rated food scene. But is it is pretty cosmopolitan city, with anything…but food…as its qualities.You now have the  reason why I prefer saving my hard earned money and splurge on dining elsewhere!

STILL, where will Aromes go back then?
Bistro Cocagne, Toque!, Brasserie T, Au Pied de Cochon: No one is perfect in life, you know that.
So even for someone like me who fought hard for justice, impartiality, etc..well, I happen to be sometimes
very partial. And partial I am when it comes to most things taht come from Toque!, Montreal’s most revered
temple of haute dining. Bistro Cocagne, Brasserie T have Chefs who are  Toque’s alumnis and the standard
is usually consistently good, by Montreal standards, at those places. Au Pied de Cochon’s is owned by an ex Toque’s alumni,
Chef Martin Picard and his personal take on rustic quebecois cooking is one that seems to have found no competition in town years after he opened his restaurant. Delicious rustic bistrot food. Just make sure that is the type of food you like, as
you are supposed to do with all types of food.
Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon. I have been cooking for years, so I do not expect miracles. Just do something simple,  but better than most of your peers and I’ll be happy. KG on Jean Talon is making that happen: simple bistrot food  that is delicious and well made. If you think it is no big deal, arm yourself with a good sense for details and go ask  most bistrots how come they are not doing  it that well.
Au 5e Péché: Still in my top 5 of Montreal’s best bistrots. Had of course some great and lesser impressive meals there, as it is the case with all restaurants, but Chef Lenglet  is  talented, so the best dishes here will always pertain to Montreal bistrot finest.  He is always present in his kitchen, a miracle in nowadays world.
Bouillon Bilk: Chef Nadon, another great talent. The first time I ate here, he was at the helm and the food was superb.  Second visit was disappointing (he was away on that evening). Still, a good  restaurant with serious/reliable staff and owners.
Remains  a favourite of mine, but my second visit suggests that they need to find a way, when Chef Nadon is away, to keep  the bar high.
Raza: Chef Navarrette Jr, the Latino Genius. I had some of my most memorable lifetime meals at Raza and it is a restaurant that  has a special place in my heart (my type: simple, elegant, Chef Navarrette Jr deserving his place among my personal
best Chefs of all times). I just have one wish: his assistants need to live up to the challenge of having to work alongside such
a Giant Chef. It is a gift from the above to work with such a Genius like Chef Navarrette Jr…live up to that!
-La Porte: Chef Thierry Rouyé is something. I’ll never forget that one: Ppl in town kept raving about L’Européa, Toque!, Club Chasse et Peche,  etc.  Which are top tables I dearly respect. Then Boom..I discovered Chef Rouyé’s work and he impressed me even more.  La Porte is my personal favourite of all the high end dining ventures in Montreal. Even the decor moves me (beautifully exotic).
Bottega on St Zotique!. Read this review. I have nothing more to say, Lol
Queue de Cheval. Because it’s pricey, most (??) or some (??) will frown (??) . Listen, I do not have the means to go there on a regular  basis.  I went there just twice in 5 years. But like to hear this or not, I can deal just in facts and my recent visits of Montreal  top steakhouses confirmed that the Q! is still  the King! Just remember: it is pricey!  In town, there’s one steak that’s currently beating it though and you have to go and buy it and cook it yourself: Le Marchand du Bourg’s
aged steak.
Park: I am a fan of Chef Park for various reasons. He is one of the rare Chefs in town who is capable to surprise with flavors
and a creativity that is not that common in Montreal. True, the level of dining in Montreal is not high, but he is one who can set the bar. He  also  has a fresh open mind that lets him stroll the world for exotic flavors. When the focus is on that discovery of exotic flavors, his cooking is really top by Mtl standards. His kitchen just need to avoid
roaming away from that focal point.  It is seafood, so expect it to be pricey.
Kyo: My new coup de coeur in 2013. I know, it is new, so perhaps the imperfections will come with success/popularity.
But for now, I can only talk for what I know and the present is bright.
Lawrence: Sort of UK’s pub food and more. In that genre, Lawrence sets the bar in town. I was less happy with the service though

Jun I : Still the best of the sushiyas in Montreal, I was tough in my review, though  NOT  unfair…the proof is that I do  recognize that Jun I is the most authentically Japanese of all sushiyas in town. The master of them all, in Montreal.  Real Japanese sushi masters spend at least 7 years of training and Jun I has a REAL master at the helm, always present and hard at work.
That’s all.
Thanks for reading

Enjoy!

Aromes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A visit to revered Chef Junichi Ikematsu, JUN I – Montreal

As I lately pride myself to orientate this food blog towards Montreal’s tables standing out of the pack, I naturally had to pay a a visit to a table that is highly regarded by most connaisseurs of the Montreal Sushi / Japanese food scene to fly ahead of it’s peers: Jun I, establishment of Kyoto’s born Star Chef Junichi Ikematsu.

Restaurant: Jun I
Addr: 156, avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal
Cuisine: Japanese/Fusion
Event: Thursday May 27th Dinner, 18:00PM
Phone: 514 276-5864
Url:  http://www.juni.ca
Pros: A humble Chef. A table that’s among the very best (top 10 easily) in this City.
Cons: The sushis did not blow me away (but they are famous for their Asian-Fusion food. So, I have got to try this next time). I found Mikado’s sushis far superior to my taste. Here’s a rundown I did on major Mtl’s Sushi-yas.

I’ve always reproached Sushis in Montreal to roam a bit in the boring lanes, always within the same uni-dimensional styles…and this reproach is going to the upscale sushi spots…let alone the myriad of soporific average sushi offerings of this city, with their laughable myriad versions of makis. C’mon folks: Sushis, YES..no problem, but with extra miles into the Japanese food repertoire please…use a bit of ambition: I do not know..find out..go travel throughout Japan once a year..see how it evolves there…Out of Japan, go pay a visit to Nobu, Masa, Urasawa and come back… do something….the Oshizushi style of Sushi once in a while ?  or any other style / create, revolutionize…stop using the same ingredients from the same suppliers…stop thinking just about the western style rolls, vary, surprise, do something for god sake!!

Luckily, Chef Junichi Ikematsu is known to be “hard to beat”, in Montreal,  when it comes to  innovation, creativity and superb cooking technique. But what really interests me with Chef Ikematsu remains in the fact that he is famous to outshine it’s peers on two keys of the sushi equation: the quality of it’s ingredients + the efficiency of his cooking techniques (which reminds me that I should expect perfectionism from his part in the cooking of the rice, an aspect where I stand firmly and deeply picky since rice is the perfect ingredient to measure  ambitious cooking talent  in it’s full purity, versatility and creativity).

This evening, I purposely focused solely on Sushis and went with some classics + some few items to be widly known for being among some of their best sushis.

Kicked off with:
Unagi Dynamite – You can’t go wrong with those caramelized-looking smoky textured eels. They just have a natural tempting taste. I wish their taste was more upfront/daring here, but they were still good though. 
The mix of rice (loved the semi creamy texture of this rice and it’s mastered subtle sweetness) mixed with the rice crispies brought a welcoming playful touch that was very pleasant in mouth. Very good.  8/10

Spicy Kani Age – Enjoyable crunchyness of the soft shell crab. The shell crab on it’s own was tasty, with a loveable fried texture. Soya and cajun spice gave a nice exotic touch to the overall. Technically well concocted, but it lacked the extra punch I am used with it’s equivalent I had elsewhere. Good. 7/10

Then the multiple sushis plate that I had ordered: 
On that plate: Maguro sashimi, Sake sushi, Tai sushi, Hamachi in sashimi, unagi as sushi, bonatebi as sushi, Tobiko + Kani + Rising sun (as Gun Kan Sushi), Arc-en-ciel futomaki + Dancing unagi temaki:

-Hamashi Sashimi: It was fresh, sported a perfect texture. Tasty. Excellent. 10/10

-Maguro: I love my red tuna in Sashimi shape.My personal favourite sashimi btw. This piece was fresh, had the perfect texture I expect in my top notch maguro sashimi. Without reproach. Very good. PS: Sorry, I forgot to clean my plate from the soya left over. I was way too busy devouring that maguro and completely forgot about picture-friendly presentation. Ironically, it’s the piece that I wanted to shoot in the best condition.  8/10

-Sake sushi: Another common sushi. Good salmon (Fresh, nice texture) + the rice ideally cooked (not too creamy, not too grainy). Good 7/10

-Unagi Sushi: My personal glaze-grilled favourite. As already written about the previous Unagi dynamite, that meat has it all: enjoyable sweetness thanks to the kabayaki sauced meat , smokyness, great flavors + enjoyable taste. Very good. 9/10

-Rising sun sushi: my other favourite of this dinner, along with the Unagi + Dancing Unagi temaki. I found the topped small quail egg (fresh and delicious!)  to mix so well with the tasty fresh fish roe. The scallops added depth to the overall. It’s also an amazing work of harmonious complimentary ingredients that never fault together. Excellent! 10/10

-Kani. Preferred it in it’s Gun Kan sushi shape. Tasty and fresh crab (snow crab). Ok 5/10

-Dancing Unagi in it’s temaki shape: A medley of what I like the most: red tuna + eel, filled with amazing flying fish roe (tobiko), complemented by avocado and cucumber. Rich and tasty. Excellent 10/10

The rest was good enough: Arc-en-ciel futomaki (6/10)  did not seduce me but was filling and enjoyable with it’s meaty richness (crab meat mostly). Botanebi sushi was ok 6.5/10  (similar to it’s equivalent at most sushi places in this city).

This overall sushi dinner lacked sparkles. I had sushi dinners, in Montreal, with mas o menos most of the same similar classic sushi choices and they reached higher notes.
Next time I go there, I will opt for his omakase so that the Chef can freely unleash his creativity.

Service was impeccable + I like the Chef humble and very welcoming attitude.

Decor:
It’s not a huge restaurant, and yet the layout is enoughly airy, well exploited:

Nice fusion between elegance, simplicity and a bit of the upscale bistroesque feel:

The bar, sports the perfect Zen deco, with blond wood and great lighting:

Pascale Girardin Ceramics
I found that cool that they encourage the work of a local ceramic artist, Pascale Girardin.
Here are some of her works, translated in cute ceramic plates that they use at the restaurant:

SO,  were those the BEST Sushis in Montreal?
Some of those sushis definitely pertained to the best that my tastebuds have sampled in Montreal (the Unagis ones + Rising sun), Indeed. 
The BEST? Hard to say. Since some sushis kinda matched those I had at Mikado and Sho Dan in terms of quality and freshness of ingredients +  technique of execution. Some few others were even surpassed.
With that said,
let’s remain rational: with such prices (they are relatively not that $$$ for such quality Sushis), NO one should expect Jun I to be the Masa or Ryugin of Montreal. Most would not accept paying for Masa or Ryugin material in this city. Not too sure if  a restaurant would dare offering such $$$ in Montreal anyways. But the point here is that those upscale top Japanese/Sushi spots of Montreal would gain from inspiring themselves from giants like Ryugin. Jun I is very good, in many ways truely at the top of the Montreal Sushi spectrum, BUT it needs to bring more in my personal opinion: perhaps going beyond the usual sushi fares + it’s fusion fares, and bring some traditional tastes of Kaiseki, Wa shoku too. And above all, truely outshining the Montreal top Sushi / Japanese fare scene by stepping up to newer unseen (not yet  covered in Montreal) levels. It’s not a reproach, but a constructive suggestion because if Montreal wants to surpass itself in terms of Japanese fares, it’s not the average joe blow Chef that will make that happen but hugely talented Chefs like Chef Ikematsu!
Back to the strict sushi fares, there are also ingredients I would like to see them serving:
this summer I’ll call them to see if there’s any chance they serve  Katsuo for example (I know it’s a tuna that’s a bit $$$ and rare, but absolutely worthy. A must on a good sushi table). I’ll check for Anago too (I personally prefer the sea water eel over Unagi). Also: amuse with say, a grilled shitake sushi for example. And when I talk of “Sushi Yes…and go beyond sushis too”,  I mean offering little treats like a favourite broth: the matsutake tobimushi? Serve a Yuba Chawamusha? Try Dried/Grilled fish (sakana-no-hoshimono/yakizakana), grilled Shishamo fish (it’s mostly shipped from Canada!), Inarizushi? Anyways, the idea is NOT to do an inventory of what could be added on this table…nor suggesting to bring Nantaimori/Nyotaimori to Montreal, that is not the point and by no means realistic, but to expand the experience to the larger Japanese food repertoire.
What about his French fares with oriental touches: I know, Jun I is also about fusion but it is for it’s Japanese touch that I went . SO, Let me know how your experiences with Jun I’s fusion fares turned out to be?
Looking forward to discover a lot more from Jun I’s: It’s rare that I left a restaurant with the need to go back and discover more from it. It’s the case of Jun I. I want to go back soon and try an Omakase there. This time, I would like to seat at the bar, contemplating the Chef at work. And why not: perhaps an another visit for it’s French/Oriental fusion. 
Food for thoughts to ALL the top Sushi Chefs of Montreal: Give a bit of break to the endless western re-interpretation of Sushis and Japanese fares. I do understand that the huge majority of your customers are fond of the latest cutie maki, which is fine and I encourage you to keep up with that too, but you can’t rely on just such: If I was a top Sushi Chef of Montreal, I would go right to NY and dine at Masa. I would then –no need to go way over to Japan — stay on this continent and pay a visit to  Urasawa, California. And next thing you know is that I would fall in full embarassment! Again, I know I would not be able to charge what Urasawa commands in Montreal…but the huge tri-decade apart gap between what is going on abroad Vs what we have here makes no sense!

ありがとう (Arigatō)!

PROS: Among the few most authentic and better sourced sushis you may in town
CONS: Re-read the entire article! Where I was less impressed, I clearly stated it. With that said. this is easily a top-tier sushi place in Montreal. In October 2011, after less impressive sushi meals at my past favourite sushi-yas in town, I came to the conclusion that Jun I was indeed in the top 3. In 2012, it became clear in my mind that Jun I is the best of all Montreal sushiyas.

Thanks for reading, Aromes.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: Upon publishing my review on Jun I, many fans of this restaurant wrote to me expressing their admiration for this well known place and also their disagreement with some of my views. I get it: Jun I is very popular and as such, I too do expect it to shine at the heights of his popularity. I was personally impressed by the humility and genuine personality of their Chef. A Great man that many would like to have as a friend, for sure. I was also impressed by the amazing courteous, polite, friendly and yet professional service. But I also went there for the amazing food they are well known for, and that this entire city is raving about. The best sushis, was I reminded, the most talented Japanese Chef, etc. I have no doubt about Chef Junichi Ikematsu talent. I am actually a big fan of him and I do consider him, indeed, as one of this city’s best Chefs. I have no doubt that he can cook among the best food in town. But my current report is neither on Chef Ikematsu’s talent nor his cooking in general. It is about this one specifically reported dinner and what had to be reported was: it was good, but not great! With that said, they have way more than just sushis and next time I visit Jun I, I’ll sample the French-Japanese fused fares + their tasting menu served at the bar.

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BEST TABLES OF MONTREAL: Toque restaurant

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Toque

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tasting menu kicked off with a mise en bouche:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to end this heavenly feast,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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