HAMBAR, Montreal – This meal was perhaps too pricey for what was on offer

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 is one of the latest big entries on the Montreal restaurant scene.  The restaurant is situated inside the trendy Vieux Port’s boutique hotel St-Paul. It  has a pretty modern hip bistro feel, with no tablecloths, beautiful  use of wood and glass and a nice long bar right in the middle of the room. 

It was extremely busy on this thursday evening, which added to the lovely electric  ambience (For those in search of a hip 5 to 7 place, the happening is here on thursdays) I experienced during this meal, but the wait staff explained that this was a particularly busy night.

Food: I picked their star item, the charcuterie platter, along with a fluke ceviche, grilled octopus and a beef tartare.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

The charcuterie platter consisted of a  poultry liver mousse (stunning for both its remarkable palatability and fantastic texture), cauliflower, local ham (ok), prosciutto di parma (ok, although it does not help that I still have, freshly in mind, its far better version sampled at Salumeria Garibaldi in Parma this past June), okra, Iberian cheese (ok), sausage (ok). This is one Ok charcuterie plate (at the exceprion of the poultry liver mousse, an exceptional item on this evening), with perhaps the one at Comptoir charcuteries et Vins appealing a bit more to me. The components seemed, to me, as good as any ordinary restaurant charcuterie in town. A matter of personal taste, as usual.  7/10

 Fluke ceviche came with a cream of avocado, jalapeno, lime emulsion, crème fraiche and puffed rice.  I appreciate the efforts. They try hard as obviously observed by the thoughts put in their dishes and obvious determination to be creative. I just found it unfortunate that the results did not blow me away:  I mean, it is a good riff on the ceviche, and I can’t remember many tables being able to pull out such appealing intensity of acidity (either the citrus was an exceptional one or an exceptional palate was behind that brilliant ceviche marinade), but the overall was just decent to me. Pleasant enough ceviche yes, but alas, unremarkable as far as I am concerned. 6/10

 Beef tartare  came with home made chips (Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip; among the better home made chips I have sampled at a restaurant in Mtl), a topping of sunny side up egg, and horseradish. A decent tartare, imo. Simple dish   like a tartare has no other choice but to be stellar in order to be noteworthy, which means stunning ‘beefy’ flavor, remarkable work of the texture,etc. Which I failed to experience with this beef tartare. Again, pleasant enough but not great, and I found this pretty much frustrating for them…yep, not even for me, the paying customer.. ..but for them…given the amount of efforts they have invested (plenty of accompaniments, logical touches to elevate the tartare such as the addition of the egg, etc).     6.5/10

Grilled octopus – The octopus was tender, but overwhelmed by a puttanesca vinaigrette that was way too thick. The octopus was mixed with that vinaigrette, and that did not help the seafood at all. In this particular case,  the puttanesca  would have been a better idea as a side dipping to the octopus. I know, the idea is to mix it with the seafood..and I had far better ones made with just that theme of mixing the puttanesca with the octopus…but on this occasion,  it just took the appeal of appreciating the octopus away.   The octopus also lacked enough heat to be  enjoyed  at its best, especially since it is  grilled. A world away from the octopus dishes I had recently at Kazu, or  Lawrence in September. 3/10

Service was really cool with perfect attitude from young and fun wait staff, although  I should note that I did not appreciate that the priciest wine glass offering appeared to be the one which bottle was not presented to me.
 
Pros: A focused palate won’t fail to find the touch of acidity of that ceviche memorable. Alas, that touch never elevated that ceviche to what my palate and all other senses would have perceived as a great ceviche. This was also the case of that stunning poultry liver mousse, almost close to the better ones one would enjoy in France,  but again…not enough to save the rest of my evening’s charcuterie platter from passing as  just Ok , as far as I am concerned. Then there was the effort put in each dish, the very nice homemade chips,  the hip ambience.
Cons: I found this meal way too pricey for what was on offer. My meals at Lawrence, some of the finest I had at Bistro Cocagne or Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon were certainly not cheap, but I never mentioned prices because the food made the price an afterthought. In contrast, on this evening here, none of the 4 food items of this meal was remarkable, whereas the bill …was!  This evening’s meal of mine lacked better work of textures, it lacked mouthfuls of succulent bliss.

Overall food rating: 4/10 From what I am accustomed to at equivalent eatery in Montreal (charcuterie-based Modern Intl bistrot cuisine in this case). To me, this evening’s meal (I judge my meals, not restaurants)  was nothing more than  just some Ok food. In the genre, charcuterie-based eatery offering their takes on International modern bistro food, Comptoir Charcuteries & Vins fared better to me on the aspect of food.

Conclusion: I know Montreal is generally ridiculously pricey when it comes to food at restaurant, and yet I still found this meal overpriced for what I was enjoying on this evening. As a comparison, solo dining meals (I was dining solo there, on this evening)  with equal quantity of food items and wine by the glass   at restaurants that are among this city’s very best like Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon  cost me less than what I have just paid.  Yes, I do understand that I did splurge, but that was equally the case at the other mentioned restaurants. And just in case I did not make myself enoughly clear: even  without splurging (so no wines, just tap water), and at whatever price, I still would have found this meal too pricey for what I was having on this evening.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: When you have cooked for so long (which is my case), you are confident about certain things, others not. Of course, it happened that I stumbled upon average meals and had no doubt that the same brigade of cooks could surprise me with better meals on  subsequent visits (for example: Maison Boulud in Montreal gave me that impression. I had an initial overall average meal there, but I knew the next meals would be better, And I was right.  but in the case of Hambar, deep inside of me, with the same cooks that have cooked that meal, I doubt there could be a radical improvement. Still,  the beauty with  cooking is that you can indeed be a better cook. You need to find out how, though. I won’t return to Hambar because I do not believe in it, but see for yourself. Who knows, they are probably proving me wrong. Which I hope, for them. But I’ll tell you right off the bat: I am not going to find out and i just could not care less!
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Raza, 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

Restaurant Raza
Cuisine: Upscale blend of Modern French/Latino fine dining
Addr: 114 Laurier West, Montreal, Qc
Phone: 514.227.8712
Url:
http://www.groupemnjr.com/ 

All meals sampled at Raza Restaurant are gathered in the current article (please find below, the reports of all my dinners at Raza  listed in chronological order
)
                                 
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)


The following is my review of my 4th meal at Raza on February 11th, 2012 20:00 – Dinner @ Raza on this Saturday evening Febr 11th, 2012.  As the readers of this blog already know, Raza is my #1 favourite restaurant in Montreal and despite this regrettably tepid reported meal (I don’t review Montreal’s top dining ventures anymore, just re-visiting my favourite restaurants in town and dropping some few updates here), Raza remains my #1 because there’s in this house the basics of what make a restaurant better than its competitors: a Chef with great maturity, pride, common sense, exceptional talent and a better understanding of what a Restaurant should achieve. Naturally, the latter statement will pass as out of context  given the report about this meal of  Febr 11th, but the previous dinners (they are all reported right below) largely back my assertion. Now, the beauty of my work is that I’ve stayed away from making friends with the restaurant industry, and this leads to the advantage of enjoying experiences that most diners, 99% of the patrons at a restaurant, are experiencing for real. Thus the possibility of enjoying things as they come. No one wants his number #1 choice to fail, alas tonight’s dinner  had simply nothing to do with the Raza that has impressed me for so long. It was unfortunate to have experienced this, especially me: when I feel confident to go all the way to raving about a place, it’s usually done with rigorous thinking and backed by solid evidence (level of cooking, consistency, mastery in the depth of flavor combinations, amazement of the taste, etc). Tonight, all those superlatives that do usually define what I have found there were remote souvenirs: a simple braised beef  with sparse pieces of veggies could have been better executed at home …(6.5/10), chorizo in a bouillon was just that: sausage in a bouillon..hardly something that excites at a restaurant (5/10), salmon covered by a  creamy coconut concoction was ok, shrimps in a revised version of a bisque was pleasant but not on par with the standards that I am used to at Raza (7/10)…let us stop here and politely say that we were  miles away from Chef Navarrette Jr’s stunning cooking. Even the service was odd: wine pairing to each of the 7 courses does not mean pairing to just some of the courses…    We can see this through different angles: the 3 previous meals were stunning (they are all detailed on this current web page — just scroll down — .and this, I hope, will benefit to some of the apprentice cooks out there: when you have the luck to learn alongside one of world’s best Chefs, Chef Navarrette Jr is definitely one of them: seize that damn opportunity to level UP your cooking!! ). This is the only time that I am disappointed, in 4 occurences. Which is far from being bad. On the other hand, it is clear that next time that I am going to Raza, I’ll talk to Chef Navarrette Jr and make it clear that it is his cooking that I am paying for!  Chef Navarrette Jr is a  Gentleman who wants to give a chance to his cooks to shine. But that aide he had on this evening cooks food that I am not willing to pay for…………. I’ll go back: it would be stupid to stop myself at the only one slip of all these amazing dinings at Raza. Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what you will  find on  most top 2 star Michelin tables  out there, but of course, he needs to avoid being surrounded by lesser talented apprentices or else the huge gap in talent between him and those will be felt in a frustrating way by his patrons.

The following is the review of my 3rd meal @ Raza on Saturday October 22nd  2011, 8 PM ->
This is my  3rd visit with my wife here. Raza now offers a surprise tasting menu, left at the discretion of the Chef’s creativity, a trend that is now widely spread around the world. The default surprise menu is the 5 courses at $59. If you ask for it, you can also enjoy a 7 course surprise menu at $70. As on both previous two dinners, we opted for the latter (which I find to be a bargain for the high level of dining that’s offered – We also appreciate the surprise nature  of the tasting menu,  given how creative Chef Navarrette Jr has always been).

At this visit on Sat Oct 22nd 2011, the latino genius continued to impress with creativity and exciting food that remain leaps ahead of anything to be found in town.

The meal started with a ceviche of mahi mahi (9/10) that had an enjoyable depth of rich taste, the marine freshness of the fish shining through nicely. The quality of the fish being remarkable.

Next was a dish of  quail egg, dehydrated mushrooms, squid ink aioli. A dish that shows an impressive level of technical mastery with the mushrooms properly dehydrated and served to an ideal powdery consistency, its taste vivid (we are far from the dehydrated mushrooms that taste nothing: here the fresh taste of the mushroom is retained), the cooking of the quail eggs mastered to precision (perfect runny inside). An exciting dish with multi layers of flavors blending impressively well together. In Montreal top level dining standards, you won’t see anything close to this. Certainly not as expertly composed as this. 10/10
 
The following course of the tasting menu was a delicious soup of chestnut, tomato confit, chives. The palatable impact is maintained high, with again, exciting flavors that tease the palate, a characteristic of Chef Mario   Navarrette Jr’s cuisine 10/10
I had a glass of Chilean Errazuriz Chardonnay Wild Ferment, Casablanca Valley (2010), which complex and rich characteristics balanced harmoniously with the earthy profile of the chestnut soup.

Then came a dish of ‘Braised veal flank, butternut squash gnocchis, parmesan, red wine reduction” – Not one single item was short of palatable excitement (the recurring use of the word ‘excitement’ in my review is intentional for sake of accuracy in describing what attracts me towards the work of this genius, but also for  paying justice to the type of cuisine served by Chef Navarrette Jr).  Each item of this dish had dazzling taste; mixed together, the succulence reached a rare peak in deliciousness. The display of impressive cooking execution and refinement continued on this dish (the cooking of the gnocchis and the veal was exemplary). 10/10
This was matched to a nicely Merlot Rubini colleccion Crianza (Ica, Peru 2006) which appealing density went thoughtfully well with that dazzling braised veal flank.
 
Next came a ‘sabayon, blue cheese, pears, apple compote‘. The sabayon had all elements whisked expertly to proper temperature, thickened to ideal consistency, with not one single spotted fault. The blue cheese imparting a welcoming counter-kick of flavor, and the top quality fruity components enhancing perfectly the enticing rich flavor profile of this course. Another dish which intent to impress the palate went beyond the targeted goal. 10/10
 
This dinner  ended with a jar of Chef Navarrette Jr’s take on the theme of ‘nutella’ and ‘banana‘. I am not a fan of  nutella  and chocolate since I was born and was raised in a tropical environment where chocolate and candies were replaced by pineapple, coconut and mangoes  (this naturally explains why great desserts based on those tropical ingredients do benefit from better appreciations from my taste buds), therefore chocolate-based desserts suffer from having to stand out at all cost. But to elevate a combination of such classic elements (banana, nutella) that are already known to deliver delicious taste on their own to newer heights of palatable impact like what I found in this dessert is the kind of achievement that, in my view, defines a GRAND CHEF. I know I gave lower marks in the past to more complex desserts, but that is because they failed to be this delicious. 10/10
 
CONCLUSION: This looked like a distribution of 10/10, Rfaol! Even the ceviche, which I rated with a 9/10, would be a perfect 10 in most talented hands (9/10 is ‘excellent’ in my rating system. A 10/10 is of benchmark material, which  btw, as far as my evaluations of ceviches go, is detained by Chef Navarrette Jr’s ceviches that I have previously sampled).
In facts, it’s  just the result of when you pair an endless source of exceptional talent with creativity and a unique palate. That inevitably provides stunning dishes like those. Talent, raw and exceptional talent, makes all the difference: I have seen, many top level Chefs offering ceviches that failed to come as close to half of the excitement found in Chef Navarrette Jr’s.  A while back, a top level Chef had  cooked something similar to the corn velouté that Chef Navarrette Jr once offered at A Table. My conclusion was that there is Chef Mario Navarrette Jr and  then you have the rest. Modern creative cosmopolitan marvels like these will always perfume my sweetest gastronomic souvenirs. So, again and again: another exceptional meal by an exceptional Chef.

PS: I was reading  a recent article of Quebec’s top food critic Marie-Claude Lortie on Raza. She loved her meal and holds Raza in high esteem, but wished  most of the food would be more spicy, more provocative (as she wrote: more chilly, more spices). I enjoy Madame Lortie for her great sense of culinary analysis (I personally believe that she is in the top 5 of world’s best food journalists and I would bet on her palate to be the most accurate of them all), but here I don’t agree with her: if you put more spices and push the exotical aromas to some extent in  the cooking of Chef Navarrette Jr, then  you end up with a cuisine that is not Modern Cosmopolitan anymore. The reason it is modern (as in Modern French cuisine, for ie) lies in the fact that its intent is to move away from traditional cooking (spices, strong aromas in the case of Classic Latino cuisine). Also: Chef Navarrette Jr Cuisine is more accurately about a big majority of food items pertaining to Modern French cuisine with latino influences and some Modern interpretations of couple of Latino-based dishes like the ceviche, for ie. And I insist: this Genius deserves a city with better visibility!

The following is the review of my 2nd meal at Raza on AUGUST  14th, 2010 20:00  =>

Restaurant Raza

Cuisine: Upscale blend of Modern French/Latino fine dining
Addr: 114 Laurier West, Montreal, Qc
Phone: 514.227.8712
Url:
http://www.groupemnjr.com/ 
Event: Dinner @ Raza on Saturday August 14th 2010, 8 PM

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


(You will find the English review, below) – Un génie, le Chef Mario Navarrette Jr. Personellement, je le considère comme étant le meilleur Chef Montréalais, et largement dans le top des meilleurs Chefs de cuisine moderne cosmopolitaine à travers le monde. Du calibre d’un deux étoiles Michelin, facilement. Souvent, ca frise le calibre d’un 3 étoiles Michelin coté talent culinaire. Il mérite de briller sous des cieux plus cléments: Shanghai? Dubai? Tokyo?

This dinner was primarily a romantic tete à tete with my sweet half.  I still brought my camera, though. For Jannice, it is the opportunity to taste the food  of  a Chef largely praised by her food enthusiast of a husband, and here, we  will get to taste what I’m truly  praising:  when you go to Raza, Chef Mario Navarrette Jr is there, cooking for real. Even more important to me: he is not slowing down with his creativity.

 Jannice and I went for the grand fiesta: the 7 service tasting menu. I love giving carte blanche to highly talented Chefs: you are inventive, go ahead..unleash it!

The night started off with great music (whoever thought about that collection of great latin american and spanish music that was playing last night has great  taste in music. It’s rare that I talk about music played at a restaurant, but what was playing last night added to the festive and tasty meal we were enjoying) and their iconic Pisco sour cocktail:

Followed by:

Course #1 Black kingfish (Cobia) ceviche, bouillon of ginger, sweet potato purée – Excellent quality of fresh fish marinated in a delicate and nicely balanced acidic based  jus that brought perfect moisture to the flesh. Top marks to the technique of marinating that’s behind this ceviche: expertly precise. The gingery taste was well thought and that scoop of potato purée that you see atop the fish paired surprisingly well with  the light gingery broth. 8.5/10

Course #2: Poached shrimps, sauce seco, parmigiano-reggiano, gnocchi – The shrimp, juicy and of generous portion, kept its freshest flavour and texture.
Jannice — of Italian descent and a severe judge of Italian cuisine — said of Chef Navarrete’s light and delicate gnocchi that ‘it was done with the heart and soul of an Italian grandmother‘.
Impeccable delicious lumps, I must admit .. but knowing well the versatile talent of this Chef, I was not surprised at all. The gnocchi was bathed in a delicious beer-coriander based sauce seco. The cheese added an extra gustatory dimension to this nicely composed dish.  10/10

Course #3: Scallop, risotto of quinoa & butternut squash), caviar – Atop, a plump tasty scallop nicely seared and fully flavored, adorned by some fresh cucumber carpaccio. Underneath, a succulent risotto of quinoa cooked with butternut squash. Mixing the fresh quality of mullet’s caviar to that risotto of quinoa was divine and to add an extra layer of complexity that works really well,  the overall was enhanced by a zesty touch of orange reduction. Creative, fun and very pleasing to the palate. A dish that Jannice qualified as a  pleasurable sin. 9/10

Course #4: Duck magret, Aji panca chili, green apple carpaccio, cipollini, cherry tomato confit – A short description of this  duck magret could go like this ‘the secret here lies in the  impeccable quality of this duck” but such statement would be utterly incomplete. It would be more accurate to include the exceptional work of delicious tastes and skilled cooking techniques to the equation. The Panca chili adds a pleasant kick (the pungent taste is present, but in an enjoyable subtle way. Not the hot and over spicy kind of taste ), the green apple bringing a nice acidic balance.The cipollini and cherry tomato were first grade ingredients. Next time, I need to know who are the farmers behind such quality products. An exceptional dish. 10/10

They dimmed the lights at that point, so the next picture did benefit from the flash of my camera and will look slightly different from the previous ones:

Course #5: Filet mignon, chanterelles, squid ink and aioli – That was a stunning piece of top quality Angus AAA meat, expertly seasoned, fork tender and drool-worthy. The earthy and nicely cooked chanterelles tasted great. The soft and creamy potato purée was delightful. 8.5/10 

A pre-dessert:

Course #6: Flash-frozen avocado purée, mango sorbet – Few of the best desserts I have enjoyed at the top restaurants of Montreal (and even abroad) could qualify as exceptional. This one is the newest addition to that very selective list. The fresh avocado purée was flash-frozen in an anti-griddle, paving the way to a unique frozen type of texture that made the avocado very enjoyable in mouth. The sweetness of the decadent mango sorbet paired so well with the avocado. Also of high mention: that gelée you see on the side + a savourish snowy-white airy mousse lying beneath. I was so distracted by the enjoyment of  the overall dessert that I do not remember what they were made of . This dessert was delicate, brilliantly creative. The taste, exquisite. 9/10

Course #7:  Chocolate cake (excellent moist and deliciously rich chocolate cake with a pleasant molten inside consistency ), Sugar cane Ice cream (lovely creamy quality ice cream). The nutella powder that was served along this dessert was a nice touch.  9.5/10

Bottom line: an exceptional meal by an exceptional Chef.
As far as I’m concerned, Chef Navarrette has once more proven to be among the few who truly can take it (the culinary experience) to the next level with outstanding creative cooking skills that translate in food that’s exciting to enjoy.

Excellent mention to the service: efficient and professional.
And this nice wine they served to me is added to my personal favourites, too: The 2005 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza.

PROS:  Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what I found on  most top 2 star Michelin tables I know. I’d not be surprised that he can go beyond that level

CONS:  Chef Navarrette Jr coking deserves a city with better visibility. Dubai? Tokyo?

Off I go!
If you find food of a level of what is offered at XO Le Restaurant/Toque!/Raza/La Porte/LCCP/Bistro Cocagne/ let me know and I’ll be more than interested to give it a shout. Till then, thanks for reading!

The following is the review of my DECEMBER 4TH, 2009  20:00 meal at Raza restaurant =>

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Raza
Friday December 4th 2009 17:30
Addr: 114 Avenue Laurier West (Montreal, QC)
Phone: 514-227-8712
Web site: http://www.restaurantraza.com/
Type of cuisine: Upscale French & Latin American Fusion

Arome’s the food blog: Q&A’s, Guidelines, Ethics, Vision
I purposely chose Raza to cut a bit with my latest trend of upscale French/QC’s dinners  (Toque!, Nuances, La Chronique, Le Club Chasse et Peche and so on) . I wanted something a bit different but known for its creativity. A table that’s innovative. Here comes Raza.

Decor: Small, narrow but NOT claustrophobic at all: chairs and tables and well spaced, some along the grey walls (turning into brick walls on the second end of the restaurant’s wall) :
 
others in the small — and yet well exploited — squarrish area that’s in between the entrance and the bar:

Here’s a picture of their little bar:

The overall is surprisingly elegant, romantic

(well thought dim lightning, and cute little
candles sitting in small blue glasses filled with  with corn seeds), cozy, far from being intimidating:

It is also sparsely decorated (couple of paintings here and there + few black and white farmed-photos).
One last immersion in Raza’s dinning room before skipping forward to the food:

Food:
Total cost: $165 (7 course tasting menu with wine pairing + 1 cocktail + 1 Cognac’d coffed)

I asked Francis, my waiter of the evening, for a suggestion of cocktail.
Naturally, the star cocktail of the house is the Peruvian (Chef Navarate has Peruvian origins) Pisco sour  cocktail:
Based on the Pisco spirit, a south american brandy made of grapes, Raza’s cocktail contains the expected lime juice,  a bit of lemonade and espuma mousse (aka foam)  + syrup is here replaced by some fruit sugar. The Pisco sour was without reproach: ideally frothy, it had the  enjoyable bitter sour flavour I seek in my ideal Pisco Sour. The potent flavor of the pisco was amazingly well balanced here by the enjoyable citrus touch. I still dream every night over that divine martini-litchi I had at XO, but this Pisco sour was equally seducing.

First came the home made bread:
I remember raving over the bread of Chef De Montigny at La Chronique. Well, Chef De Montigny has some serious competition,  right in front of his restaurant (La Chronique and Raza face each other). Actually this one beats Chef De Montigny’s  bread  because not only this bread is as light, airy, fresh and delicious as the one of La Chronique … but it is more exotic: Chef Navarate bakes his bread with yukon-gold potatoes and his bread oozes of an incredibly fresh-baked aroma. Just devour that bread fast while it’s warm, since you wont wanna miss this beauty in all its warmth and splendeur.
The bread to send all bakers to retirement! 10/10

Next, the wild mushroom soup:
It’s presented in 2 steps. First, a plate filled with flavorful fresh chanterelles, yellow oyster mushrooms (pleurotes jaunes), black truffles:

Then, the waiter poured an unctuous all flavorful mushroom creamy soup in the plate:

The overall soup was impressively intense, powerful and delicate, enjoyably unctuous and richly seasoned. The fresh mushroomy flavor was so addictive on this one. And NO…this mushroom soup is just NOT another mushroom soup. It’s a luxurious version of a muhsroom soup with smart fresh ingredients and an impeccable taste you just cannot  compare to most usual good mushroom soups. 10/10
Pairing wine: Tabernero Chincha, Peru 2007. This mixed Sauvignon blanc & Chardonnay has an enjoyable light minerality that reached out fine with the earthiness of the soup. Good choice of wine pairing on this course.

Course #2: Magret de Canard (duck)/Onions Jelly/Mango Vinaigrette
Bathed in a nice mango vinaigrette (flavorful, unique, enjoyably moving in terms of taste ), onions gelée (Wowed!), fresh coriander, the duck magret (breast of a moulard duck) had a perfect melt-in-your-mouth quality, was of impeccable texture and was delicious. This tastebud marvel of a dish was sitting on top of a nice unctuous creamy purée. Here’s a dish  with flavors/taste that’s daring in an enjoyable way. The zesty mango vinaigrette enhanced the overall with a memorable enjoyable acidy touch that added punch to an already tender delicious magret. Technically flawless + Tastebud-wise yummy!
Pairing wine: Wayne Gretzky in my wine glass!!  Rfaol! It was the 2007 Wayne’s  Sauvignon Blanc (Estate Series, from Niagara). Dry and fruity, it was fine on its own. As for the pairing, it complimented the dish just ok.

Course #3: Artic char/Blue Potato purée
cooked to perfection, the fish kept its skin on one side, had a perfect light crispy nicely seared coating and impeccably moist inside. Tender and fresh, it had the freshness  of a fish that would have been caught right from the sea (enjoyable marine flavor). But this is not just another piece of well cooked fish: it had a tastebud blowing spicy zesty enjoyable taste that my tastebuds will have hard time forgetting about. My pictures might not suggest it, but may it be the artic char or the previous course of  duck magret, those are food items that would hit the world’s  best tables on a heartbeat for their impeccable rich daring explosive tastes and flavors (infused beer was a hit on this one, blue potato purée was tasty and elegant, the coriander added a subtle punch)  and the subtle genius work that is done with each element of those dishes. Michelin needs to taste this!  10/10
Pairing wine: Pairing wine: Nekeas Navarra Spain 2006. This Chardonnay had a light texture, was, mineral and clean in mouth. Not a daring full bodied wine, but its lightness was what I needed to accompany the fish.

Course #4: Quail/Pumpkin cream/guava-barbecue sauce
Look very homie, hein? Lol. Well, forget about the look, we are far from our next door homie fare here.  Our little bird was ideally firm, evenly cooked, nicely seasoned. The prosciutto-wrapped quail was very tasty. As with the previous  food items, flavors do blend so well here: the flavorful meat was enhanced by a surprisingly decadent mix of barbecue  and guava sauce. Also noteworthy: the succulent pumpkin cream that you can’t miss to spot on the photo. 9/10
Pairing wine: Sancius Ribera del duero Spain 2004. A very nice tempranillo with an enjoyable flavor of cherry that reached out so well with the guava/barbecue sauce and the subtle sweetness of the quail. It is also nicely oaky, long and elegant in mouth, with lots of character. Largely a personal favourite of mine and of perfect companionship to the quail (it was not ideal pairing only to the pumpkin cream).

Course #5: Veal cheeks/Oyster mushrooms/Chorizo/Potato purée
Accompanied by chorizo, oyster mushrooms (pleurotes), a nice potato purée, the veal cheeks were ideally cooked, juicy,  had a very pleasant mouthsome (tender and yet firm enough) and a remarkable beautiful brown texture. I had my share of great veal cheeks in Montreal, but this one put them all to rest. Cheeks are the toughest cuts to cook and yet, they were superbly well cooked with such an amazing ease on this dish, a  rare achievement at the heighest levels of fine dining. Easily a plate that the best 3 star Michelin tables out there would be proud of! 10/10
Pairing wine:  Taymente Huarpé, Argentina 2004
Elegant Malbec that’s as fruity (berry,cherry ) as floral. Smooth in mouth, it was an amazing natural companion to the veal cheeks.

And to round this successful meal off (This meal was of solid 2-star Michelin calibre. To give you an idea, normally a meal with only at least one 10/10 and a 9/10 is already of solid material, largely worth leaving the comfort of home for. A dish with two 10/10 usually pertains to a 1 star Michelin level. There are 4 food items of 10/10 rating on this single meal), two desserts:

Course #6: Lucuma Ice cream, papaya gelée – The papaya gelée was absolutely delicious, not only because I  am fanatic about papayas but also for  the upfront fresh and natural taste of the fruit that came through  remarkably well on this dessert. The  ice cream exuded fresh lucuma flavor, had rich tasting and the  right thickness.   9/10
Pairing wine: Vendanges tardives Concha y Toro (VTCT). This white sauvignon is a perfect companion to desserts, blessed by an elegant body, long in mouth delicious sweet taste. Intense and full bodied, this wine was really nice on its own and should have worked well with the papaya jelly, but my tastebuds thought otherwise: despite several attempts of fully concentrated tastings between the papaya jelly and the VTCT, the harmony I was trying to find in the marriage between both was not convincing.

Course #7: Chocolate custard, Dulce de Leche ice cream, Corn powder  – The addictive dulce de leche ice cream boasted superb flavor intensity. Next to it, a smoky-flavored  layer of marshmallow was resting on a tranche of  chocolate custard. All components combining thoughtfully   with an  additional spoonful of corn powder. Inspired! 8.5/10

Service: My waiter, Francis, is a courteous young gentleman. Humble, professional, very attentive, patient and helpful, he has the huge advantage to be very knowledgeable for having worked in lots of restaurants and for having worked as a cook too. He used to work at Navarate other restaurant, Madre and told me that I should not miss the brunch at Madre. I am not into brunches, but took note of this.

PROS:  Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what I found on  most top 2 star Michelin tables I know. Of course, he needs to avoid being surrounded by lesser talented apprentices or else the huge gap in talent between him and those will be felt in a frustrating way by his patrons.

CONS: A Chef who deserves a city with better visibility. Dubai? Tokyo?

Find better pictures of this dinner on my Google picasa’s gallery:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/RAZARESTAURANT#
 
Conclusion:  For a long time, Alexandre Loiseau of Bistro Cocagne was alone — in my books — as my choice for this year’s best chef in Montreal. But on the back of this stunning dinner, I have no choice but to declare a draw — up to now — between Navarrete and Loiseau at the very top. If there’s one aspect where both chefs shine better than most it’s exactly where it should:  the rise of stunning tastes! In other words, the word BLAND is not part of their vocab ;p Navarete is unarguably a genius of creativity, an architect of stunning refined and researched tastes, and surprisingly he is beating the boys of the block at their own game: remember those upscale bistros or new QC’s/new North American fine  dining … well, Navarette has surpassed them and raised the bar very high, albeit of course with a light touch of Latin American’s influence. To each their own, and to me such dinner pertains to what I expect to see at the best Relais & Chateaux or  Michelin stared tables (of course, such creative genius of a cook should not be judged over simple fares such as a steak. It would be  pure non sense. Let him fly over a tasting menu where his creativity takes all its sense, and then enjoy!). 

RAZA
Overall food rating
: 10/10 on thefour initial meals, 3/10 on the 5th meal.  Chef Navarrette Jr is simply in my lifetime world’s ten best Chefs ever, and  in case you are wondering, this list includes Chef Constant, Pacaud, Maximin, Besson, Piège. The 5th meal was underwhelming, but he was trying to give his chance to one of his assistants on that evening. The Gentleman wassimply not on par with the standards of his mentor. Four stunning meals of at least 2 star Michelin culinaric perfection, at times easily 3  vs 1 failure only: I prefer this, anytime, over 5 meals over 5 that would have been just good, or safe enough. The latino Genius remains my #1, all type of dining  offerings taken into account. The proof is that I went there more oftently than at the other prestigeous big gunners inYUL. 
Overall service rating
: There’s a standard here and it shows: always professional, charming.
Décor
: 8/10 I have always loved Raza’s décor. It’s not grand luxury, but charming, very charming with, the last time I was there (they have made big changes to the décor since) a beautiful wooden floor lending its warmth to the grey tones of the walls. There was something very Zen in that décor.
IMPORTANT: ‘Overallfood rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance  on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

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Restaurant Le Chien fumant, Montreal – Puzzled

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

Event: Dinner @ Le Chien fumant
Addr: 4710, de Lanaudière, Montréal
Phone: 514.524.2444

URL: http://www.lechienfumant.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Le-Chien-Fumant/217170711646
When: Saturday May 7th 2011, 7PM
Type of cuisine: Bistro (Gastropub style)

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

(English review will follow) – A ces prix là, one ne peut pas se permettre une seule soirée ‘OFF’! Oh, oui j’allais oublier: c’est un copie-coller du meme commentaire que je fais pour chaque repas qui m’a décu car en fait, je ne suis inspiré que lorsque c’est…inspirant!

After our last successful meal at restaurant Le Marly, both Jannice and I thought about trying a totally different restaurant style this time.  This  is the Plateau’s establishment of popular Chef Maksim Morin.Chef Morin used to be  a cook at another giant of Montreal’s restaurant scene: Joe Beef. After leaving Joe Beef, he opened Le Chien fumant, perhaps in the top 5 most “written about” Montreal eateries (virtually all Montreal foodies, web blogs, food columns have covered this restaurant). Almost everything here is homemade (charcuteries, sauces) and most ingredients sourced nearby.

Upon entering the tiny front glass window restaurant, I realized that what I liked the most with Joe Beef’s decor  is also present here: an overall  british style pub atmosphere, with its usual omnipresence of dark wood. The food too is in that same logic: lots of homemade charcuteries, braised meats, comforting rustic  food revisited and the menu presented on a chalkboard. Another feature that I liked at Joe Beef and that perpetuates here: the sense of relative (relatively to Montreal’s current restaurant realities) originality : for ie, the possibility of enjoying a 19th century cocktail. Restaurants like Joe Beef and Le Chien fumant are essentially  the Montreal’s representatives of the  2000s UK’s gastropub phenomenom that took off in the US.

As starters, Jannice picked the ‘Scallops ceviche’ whilst I opted for the ‘Braised pork’:

  Ceviche de pétoncles – Of appreciable mention here: the sizeable fresh scallops. They were paired  with top quality carrots and radishes (you can’t beat market cuisine at that, obviously), and the usual enhancing ingredients (onions, etc). All decently marinated, with an Ok  lemon jus (this was far from the startling ceviches of  latino genius-Chef Mario Navarrette’s Jr, who is in a total class apart, and although I do not expect Chef Navarrette’s level of cooking in all ceviches I am sampling,  I do reproach  this one Ceviche to lack spark). I am fine with the  $18 price tag of this dish though: the quality of those scallops and veggies is a fair reason for this price, and although not of memorable material, this was not bad at all. Overall, just ok 6/10

Porc braisé, Sésame, Okra – The least expensive appetizer on this evening’s menu ($12). The morsels of braised pork were well cooked, tender and tasty and yet, without being faulty (it’s technically a faultless dish: good cooking, decent sauce, the temperature and the timing of the cooking  mastered, again and again the ingredients are of nice quality as with  those impeccable okras) … this was an ordinary dish in terms of prime palatability. Okay  6/10

For mains: a rib eye steak for Jannice, halibut for your humble host ->

Entrecote aux poivres – the meat is fine (good quality), the cooking correct. As simple as such dish might stand, some steaks are naturally better than others but this one does not fail amidst those that will mark my souvenirs. In my opinion, this just lacked  a depth of beefy flavours and the sauce aux poivres (peppercorn sauce), although fragrant enough, was short of  intensity / richness (features I do value in a great peppercorn steak sauce). This was served along a watercress salad (evenly seasoned) and Ok french fries. At $30, I still believe that this is pricey for this one specific dish  (in comparison, a startling rib eye steak of approx the same size at the keg steakhouse was less $$$, same could be said of a memorable dish of hanger steak at Au Cinquième péché priced at  $27) 6.5/10 

Fletan au curry vert – Bon, voilà…finally a dish that I am pleased to write about (there’s nothing as frustrating as losing my time writing about average food…believe me!). The cooking (impeccable here), the taste (delicious…so, question: was this the same Chef who cooked the previous dishes??…I came close to ask), the fish itself (halibut) as fresh as you could get (remember: for a halibut to be so tender and packed with such a fresh impeccable flesh, this fish was probably not a large halibut since the larger ones tend  to have a tougher flesh- and spent a small amount of time in between the catch and its cooking. Details like those should never be discarded, since they tell us a lot about how they are commited to top quality ingredients) , the cooking of the accompanied veggies perhaps not perfectly accomplished (slighltly overcooked) but forgivable since they remained tasty. And even the green curry (which I would have prefered richer, in other circumstances / that would have been a bad idea in this case since it would have overhelmed the enticing taste of the halibut) harmoniously complemented the fish. Not a stunning seafood dish as, say, the roasted salmon  that Chef Martin Juneau once served  on this lunch at La Montée, but  really  good 7/10

Wine list: Not extensive, and it does not have to be neither since all you need is a well balanced list focusing on quality. While reading many reviews on Le Chien fumant, I noticed that most have complained about the high prices of the wine. But what those people forgot to mention is that there are many high end wines in there, such as some Cote Rotie. I even saw a Puligny-Montrachet. The wine list varies from $45 to $157 (the latter being the Puligny-Montrachet that I saw).

Service: The Irish-Canadian woman who was our waitress is my choice, up to now, along Le Marly‘s Alex, for this year’s best waitstaff. This is the type of service that I praise: efficient, very attentive, classy and genuine. 

Conclusion:
I know, I know -> this city loves its Chien fumant (numerous praises over the web, many rave comments from foodies on their facebook page, etc)  and I wish I could love it too: the service was charming, the British gastropub concept lovable (proof that you can be a French man and still love what the UK offers, n’est-ce pas?), the wine list seduced me in its short but qualitative feature, their sense of originality and seek of authenticity (the 19th century cocktail for ie) is noteworthy. BUT my quibble is with what brought me here: the food. Hence…Puzzled...the title of the current review. The food was simply ordinary (except for the halibut),  a far cry from the sense of savourish taste of say, the Kitchen Galerie bistro or the accomplished superior cooking at other bistros like Bistro Cocagne, La Montee, and Au cinquième péché. I do not mind pricey food if your top quality ingredients (obviously the reason behind the cost of most of the dishes we’ve sampled) are backed by superb savourish meals, but superb savourishness is not what I’ve experienced on this one meal.  Jannice was even less enthusiastic about this meal.  I am glad to see that we both are  in the minority here (this place gets packed easily, proof that a lot of diners are obviously not sharing both Jannice’s and my opinions), but this post is not to criticize for the pleasure of criticizing (it’s way more pleasant to report about stunning food, especially when the main duty of the current blog is a long time consuming process of intelligence gathering on what the Montreal  restaurant scene offers at its best + you are doing this in total anonymity and paying with your own hard earned $$$): its goal is to be taken constructively for diners and their restaurants to move forward (reaching newer culinary heights).fyi: Chef Morin was cooking during this dinner. I won’t go back.

PROS: Lovely service and decor
CONS: Food at a restaurant should be packed with either interest, sparks, something….
Overall food rating: 5/10 I can talk only for this meal, and this one was average for what I should pay for at a comparable restaurant

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