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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Followed by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Café Sardine, Montreal – The day this kitchen will unleash its full potential….

 

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

. Dinner @ Café Sardine
Addr: 9 fairmount, Montreal, Quebec
When: Tuesday, 26 June 2012 18:30

Type of Bistrot: Neo North American Bistrot
Ambience: packed, tiny, popular, laidback
Decor: rustic, plenty of dark wood, wall bricks, close-up tables
Phone: 514-802-8899
Website: http://cafesardine.com

  (English version, to follow) – Ca faisait belle lurette qu’on avait pas d’innovation relativement ‘tranchante’ du coté de la restaurantion Montréalaise. Il y’a eu Bouillon Bilk l’an passé, peut etre le filet dans une certaine mesure, puis plein de belles initiatives mais rien de vraiment différent. Café Sardine apporte donc quelques petites touches innovantes, par ci et par là. Pas étonnant, vu que le Chef Aaron Langille a déjà fait ses classes au restaurant Noma, temple d’une cuisine moderniste ultra innovante. Donc, meme si il y va molo (à Montréal, pas question de brusquer les us et coutumes –on est pas ultra conservateurs, Rfaol, mais certainement pas des plus aventureux non plus), sa cuisine est plein de petites découvertes peu ou pas du tout offerts à Montréal: travail poussé des herbes marines (par exemple, sa salade de pois de mer, laitue de mer), la transformation de ces dernières en meringue  par exemple, ainsi que bien d’autres éléments tel que le travail de tous les éléments de la plante de concombre (le plat ‘maquereau, purée de concombre) en textures peu courantes dans les restaurants de Montréal (par exemple: assécher certaines partie de la plante de concombre, un résultat qui est vraiment pas mal). Bref, un peu de Noma dans certaines créations. Mais encore? Une cuisine interessante, des touches innovantes (en regard de nos standards Montréalais) et certainement la plus interessante que j’ai eu l’occasion de savourer sur une table Montréalaise depuis l’ouverture du Bouillon Bilk.  Des prix doux, des ingrédients  de qualité, un rapport qualité prix qui est dur à battre. Bémols? Les défauts (bruyant, petit, tables hyper rapprochés) de ses qualités (ambiance électrisante dû justement à la superficie toute menue des lieux, des plats bien exécutés qui feraient palir de jalousie plein d’autres   tables offrant du moins bon à plus cher..ceci expliquant pourquoi plein de Montréalais investissent les lieux) , mais au final  ca vaut un petit détour entre amis amateurs de bonne cuisine et de bon vins (les flacons, au verre surtout, valent leur petit pesant d’or) , histoire de découvrir ces  petits plats plein d’intérêt, gouteux, bien faits, aux petites touches bien pensées et parfois quasiment suprenantes. Oublions les nappes blanches, oublions le coté guindé, oublions les décors sophistiqués. Après tout, n’est-ce pas ca un resto: avoir du fun, manger des bons petits plats et se laisser aller au petit coté ‘party” de la chose. Peut etre pas un coup de coeur, dans mon cas, mais  j’ai bien apprécié.

Café Sardine is the new hit of the Montreal restaurant scene. Its Chef,  Aaron Langille has spent some time at Noma in Copenhagen (this is the only reason that led me there: I have been waiting, for a while now, after  some kind of fresh new  culinaric creations on the Montreal restaurant scene. Especially if Noma’s ideas could inspire those..I am dreaming, I know..since I’d doubt that Mtlers will widely adopt Noma’s foliage standard bearing creations. But some inspirations, coming from Noma, adapted to Montreal scene…why not? )  before working for several restaurants in YUL.  Opened around the end of March, it is a popular tiny eatery that fulfills  its role of a café in the morning, of a luncheon destination  at noon, as well as a bistro in the evening.  They told me that they do not take any reservation when I called them and given how popular this place is, they certainly do not have to bother with potential last minute cancellations. I think Café Sardine is the most prolific restaurant concept  I ever saw  in YUL since a long time being  basically a ‘’compilation’’ of everything that works nowadays: low prices, shareable sized portions of food , short menu, flexible eatery (café/luncheon place/dinner) and avoiding loss of time with un-popular bistrot items (for ie, their dessert section is short…why losing time with creations that are not in big demand? ).

YUL is known for its myriad of eateries, it counts among North American cities with the most restaurants per capita.  Each year, hundreds of restaurants  keep opening …alas, it would be more appropriate to call most of them ‘replicas of  restaurants’. The 100th cote de boeuf, the 101th veal chop dish, another marinated beet, and so on. Not even the 100th cote de boeuf but one that would be a …stand out Cote de Boeuf. Not even.  Or when they sounded original, it was basically  about unexciting dishes just presented differently.  Aside from what I consider among my favourite in YUL,  and since the likes of Bouillon Bilk and Le Filet, now over 1 year,   I have seen many serious dining destinations opening in town,  with the will of doing really well, but virtually none that brought standout surprises. It is, as if, everytime someone is opening a new restaurant, that person’s existential question is the same:  How to survive? Although it is of course absolutely normal to think about profit, I seriously question the passion of  some of those restaurateurs. How come, in a tiny city like San Sebastian, they are all doing pintxos and yet finding thousands of  exciting ways to surprise your palate? How come, at a time when thousands of restaurants kept doing the same thing, Au Pied de Cochon found original ways to give a new exciting dimension to rustic QC’s cuisine, Kitchen Galerie (on Jean Talon) managed to pull out a neo-rustic bistrot cuisine  that’s more exciting than what others can deliver, Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché managed to stand ahead of  YUL’s very best bistrots . None of those are re-inventing the wheel but they are, in many ways (skilled cooking, food with an edge on the palatable aspect, etc)  at the forefront of current Montreal’s restaurant dynamic  . My intent is not to bash for the pleasure of bashing. It is a city that I dearly love, therefore  wished it could shine among world’s most exciting dining destinations. The intent is just to bring some food for thoughts that will hopefully end up somehow, somewhere, in new ears willing to push Montreal to a potential World’s exciting gastro city. As you’ll see below, Café Sardine is far from being just another restaurant. It is an inspired eatery concept that brings fresh new air to Montreal restaurant scene.

Décor:  Prior to visiting this place, I have read that it had a Parisian bistrot décor. Well, not really. First off, the majority of Parisian bistrots have mostly chairs and traditional tables,  whereas here you have bar stools and tall tables. Most Parisian bistrots (A la Biche au Bois , Au pied de fouet, Josephine “Chez Dumonet”, Bistro de Paris)  have tablecloth (more and more are putting the traditional tablecloth aside, for ie Bistrot Au Passage, Cartouche Café, Le Miroir..etc  but that’s not typical of classic Parisian bistrot style), which is not the case here. Also: even if things are changing a bit on that aspect, it was no custom to sit and eat at the bar or a counter at most Parisian bistrots (which you can do at CS). Café Sardine décor has more accurately a mix of  some elements from some English pub (the dark wooden floors, plenty of dark wood décor elements) and their own take on some neo-rustic bistrot style with ideas inspired from 1950s-era pop-art style (the Café Sardine solo wall painting), very interesting retro touches as that fun old-school phone in the gents room (wow..really really loved that all wooden retro décor in the gents room. Pick that phone in the gents room and listen to what they say..Rfaol!), 1930s hollywood glamour painted brickwork. You can seat at the bar counter, the few tall tables (mostly for 4 pers), or at another  counter close to the window.

Service: In such a tiny packed place, you can’t expect flawless synchronized service, but they did the best they could in being relax, cool, professional and friendly. A charm.

Wine list: At the table, they have a small list of wines divided in 5 sections: reds from France (14 bottles, with wines as low as a $34 for a 2009 Chateau Jouclary Cabardes Cuvee Tradition, then some few bottles in the $40+ range, then some in the $60+,  some in the  $70+, up to a $102 Vosne-Romanée Village Domaine Daniel Rion 2009. Worth noticing: a $78 2009 Domaine Amiot Guy et Fils Les Chaumes, Chassagne-Montrachet),  reds from other parts of the world  (11 bottles from $40 up to $88, for ie a $44 Igt Toscana 2007 Calviolo, Le Querce or a 2006 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe at $82), white wines from France (13 bottles, from $37 to $78 with some nice picks like a $45 Dom. Les Éminades Montmajou 2010, Saint-Chinian or a 2009, Pouilly-Fuissé  Maison JanotsBos at $75), as well as white wines from other parts of the world ranging from $44 to $62. Constant changes to that list are of course applied, so next time you go there, other wines might feature on that wine list. They do also have far more gems than those on that list, and I went with wine pairings by the glass (in between $8 to $10) which exposed far more treasures (plenty of amazing biodynamic wines). A little coup de coeur, in my case, for a lovely 2009 Toscana i.g.t., Cabernet Sauvignon, Calviolo.

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

The food
: The menu at Café Sardine is inspired by a trend: the menu just features quick  lists of the ingredients, for ie –tomato, basil, thyme-  (think Eleven Park Madison, L’Astrance). Of its time, obviously, but come to think about it, not a bad idea at all: you list the ingredients and that gives you the freedom of composing whatever you want with them. 

We started with a starter of baguette bread topped with tomatoes ($2). This is an item widely present   in the the mediterranea, but this version I was having on this evening lacked many elements to truely shine on par with its med counterparts: it needed more acidity, perhaps capers, a touch of olive oil and such starter needs stunnier tomatoes. But at $2, I guess I am asking way too much, Lol.  4/10

Then Boeuf, épinette, pimbina, consoude, rose, tournesol ($14) – Beef tartare served atop a leaf of  ‘consoude’. here, a first influence from Noma’s  foliage trend  with the use of consoude leaf. The tartare on its own was just ok (seasoned as it should, but certainly not a benchmark one – it lacked prime beefy flavor impact), but eating it with the consoude leaf did definitely turn this into an interesting experience. Talking about interesting, the dimension brought by the presence of the rose really kept  this tartare in worth-to-pay-for category. Lots of efforts and thoughts went in this tartare, enough efforts to forgive the otherwise just Ok beef tartare    7/10

Then Truite, caviar de poule de mer, sur pomme de terre confite et crème fraîche – Top quality trout, cooked to ideal consistency. Logical matching ingredients such as potatoes and crème fraiche completed this dish. Hard to fault such dish, and certainly not a dish that will make me leave the comfort of home for, but at $13 and with what lies ahead, this is certainly acceptable. 7.5/10

Next was maquereau, purée de concombre $13 – Mackerel and purée of cucumber had references to Noma with all parts of a cucumber being exploited: the cucumber itself came in purée as well as in its pickled version. There was also a noma-esque exercise of drying some parts of the cucumber plant, the latter being a total success of functional modern interpretation of foliage.  This could have been a 7/10 dish in other circumstances, but in this case, there were many glimpses of outstanding efforts as shown in the work of the cucumber. The mackerel itself, although packed with enticing grilling flavor, did largely benefit from the amazing work of its outstanding pairing companions. 8/10

Then Gigot d’agneau, purée de noix de grenoble, moutarde mariné, onions vert – Excellent lamb that did, again, benefit from the enticing flavor coming from the grill on which it was cooked. At $15, with such low $$$, you can easily see why this place is so popular. But it’s really in the glimpses of brilliance seen on some other dishes where my interest lies. Still, nothing to complain about. 7.5/10

Joue de boeuf, radis – $14  A delicious and tender piece of top quality braised beef cheeks. At $14, I have really nothing to pique at. I know places serving such dish at twice this price and the palatable impact is not as high. Had the sauce being as stunning as the meat itself, this would have been a benchmark of its genre. But on this occurence, I’ll rate it with a 9/10

Pois de mer, laitue de mer, sabline, cendre, huitre$10 – A salad of sea foliage was the reason I have full faith in the depth of skills that’s in that kitchen. For a  palate that’s focused, what I was having would be a treasure of interesting discoveries. If you do not like sea foliage, this will not be your thing. I love sea foliage and this was certainly a 10/10 salad as far as I am concerned. Noma foliage inspiration was strong here, too. Top marks for a little meringue made of sea foliage and oyster. That was world class meringue (I really hope that Mtlers will adopt such unusually -seen elements on the Montreal restaurant scene like for ie, sea foliage meringue, ashes mades from  elements of the sea. They add so much to the enjoyment of a dish, and that’s coming from an old-school gourmand like me). Adding oyster emulsion to that salad was one of those little touches that showcased the great depth of inspiration invested on this dish, and as with anything inspired, it brought emotions right up to the very last inch of the palate.

Gateau au citron, sirop de poire, violette$5- Usually, at most Montreal’s bistrots, desserts are an afterthought. And seen just 2,3 items on their dessert menu, I was ready to give up on the dessert part of this meal. But they proved me wrong:  this was largely one of the very best lemon cakes ever sampled on a Montreal table, with a depth of enticing lemon and pear flavor that lingers on the palate for long. Excellent 9/10

Chocolat blanc, fromage bleu, thé du labrador, rhubarbe $7 – The staff explained that the desserts are made by a pastry chef during the day. This gentleman needs more visibility as dessert after dessert, his creations are certainly not your usual ordinary Montreal restaurant dessert creations. His style is definitely not boldly modern but  its shows a great sense of taste and unusal inspired work. 9/10
 

Bottom line: the best dishes of this repast were refreshingly novel to Montreal restaurant standards and revealed a great potential in this kitchen. I can’t say that I was blown away (always a subjective thang, right?) , but I’ll have to concede that it is the most interesting restaurant meal I ever had in Montreal since a long time, with ingredient quality that’s high, cooking techniques on point, a Chef who’s obviously talented, and the dessert creations sampled during this meal might appear ‘normal’ at first glance but they unveiled a sense of taste that is certainly superior.  To an attentive eye / palate, plenty of little details will not fail to catch attention. Don’t expect perfection all the way though: the charm of this tiny eatery really lies in balancing its strengths (busy popular ambience, surprising culinaric highs here and there such as the 9/10 and 10/10 dishes of this meal) with its weaknesses (such a popular place has inevitable downsides such as being too noisy, having the tables too close to each other, etc).  In the end, it is a refreshingly interesting place that has a lot to offer. And the day this kitchen will unleash its full potential, oh my …my…

PROS: A braised beef cheeks course of world class execution, even if its sauce was not as spectacular. Very creative by Montreal standards. Desserts were also of solid level.
CONS: That tartare and tomatoes on baguette bread ..were surprising not at the level of the rest. Way below a general level of cooking that’s quite good, and more importantly interesting.

Overallfood rating: 7/10 Really good for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparablerestaurants/dining category. Closer to an 8 over 10 btw, because the hits here (although sparse on this meal) are bold, veryexciting! And when such an unassuming hole in a wall makes you doubt aboutsome top gunners, you know that when the lion will roar, only the sky will bethe limit! I still can’tbelieve that only a handful of the numerous 2 and 3 star Michelin  I madein the past decade have been able to offer dishes with the stunningimpact that their joue de boeuf (it’s a market cuisine, so no signature dish) was oozing of! Of course, it’s not a grand luxe place, but there’s alion in the house ;p If it roars ….
Overallservice rating
: 7/10 Professional. They do their best, but what can you do: its is so busy, packed,electric, so ….they do their best in the circumstance.
Décor: 5/10  laidback,shoulder to shoulder. But hey, it’s FUN!  Trust me (even with the bunch of stoopid susceptible characters we had next to us on this evening–Lol, they wereshocked because I was caressing the hair of my wife. Sad characters of thepaleolithic age, Lol)

IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance  on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

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Maison Boulud, Ritz carlton Montreal – Monsieur Boulud’s top standards of hospitality

Before going ahead, here are the two major links of current web site:
(1)A recap of all my reviews of Montreal’s finest bistrots & fine dining ventures
(2)My 3 and 2 Star Michelin web site



Event: Dinner at Maison Boulud (Ritz-Carlton Montreal)
When: Thursday May 31st, 2012 18:00
Type of cuisine: Contemporary French/ Italian /Mediterranean fares
Addr: 1228 Sherbrooke St. West, Montréal, PQ, H3G 1H6
Phone:  (514) 842-4224
URL : http://www.ritzmontreal.com/en/dining/maison-boulud/
http://www.danielnyc.com/maison_montreal.swf

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

(The review in English will follow) Il est avec Gordon Ramsay (dont l’aventure Montréalaise a coupé court, récemment, au vu de la fin de son association avec ses partenaires d’affaires Montréalais) , l’autre Chef 3 Étoiles Michelin qui mise sur Montréal. Son restaurant, à la cuisine aux inspirations Franco Méditerranéennes, situé dans le Ritz Carlton Montréal,  est désormais ouvert depuis la fin Mai 2012. Point de vue décor, ca vaut le détour : le luxe à la fois  contemporain et classique du Ritz,  en contraste avec le charme chic-épuré et légèrement japonisant de la Maison Boulud m’a beaucoup plu. Dans l’air du temps, comme dirait mon voisin Léo. Aspect cuisine, il est trop tot pour juger, mais je prends toujours la précaution, afin d’etre aussi précis que possible, de rappeler que je ne juge (jugement toujours subjectif, bien évidemment) que les repas que j’ai pu déguster et jamais le restaurant. Car la magie d’un repas réussi, ca demeurera toujours un souvenir impérissable qui ne décevra jamais. Alors qu’un restaurant  peut éventuellement  décevoir, naturellement. Sur ce, l’éxécution technique, lors de ce repas du 31 mai, fut au rendez vous : donc, cuissons réussies, assaisonnements  maitrisés en général (avec un léger petit reproche pour le coté sur-salé de certains plats; à prendre constructivement), harmonie des saveurs. Et du gout, beaucoup de gout du coté viandes. Somme toute, un repas plaisant dans l’ensemble, sans éclats particuliers (excepté pour l’exceptionnel filet de veau), sans ratés non plus. Donnons sa chance à ce tout nouveau restaurant, ou la qualité du service et l’humilité du Chef  Riccardo Bertolino (des années au service des plus grandes tables de Mr Boulud, et pourtant pas une seule once de tete enflée…ah, l’humilité des grands! Fallait le voir écouter attentivement les petites remarques constructives du petit Joe anonymous que je suis. Lui qui a pourtant vu tant d’autres. Voilà un Chef, un Vrai, un Grand! ) servent de véritable lecon de vie: un resto, ce n’est pas que des plats réussis et des égos sur-dimensionnés. C’est effectivement bien plus que ca! On est dans la cour des très Grands, ceux qui prennent rien pour acquis, ceux pour qui le moindre avis compte, ceux qui établiront toujours les standards à suivre.

I wrote, on my review of Bouillon Bilk, that I was not going to dine at a celeb Chef’s restaurant (Ramsay, Boulud were planning  to open  restaurants in Montreal when I wrote that article).  Here I am at Boulud Montreal. I have contradicted myself and feel no  remorse: isn’t life, in itself,  a big contradiction: we live … in order to die. 

Daniel Boulud is, as most already know, the famous French 3 star Michelin Chef which eponymous 3 star Michelin dining  venture (Daniel) is located in NYC.  He has recently opened a restaurant in the Montreal’s Ritz Carlton, Maison Boulud. Most will tell you that you do not visit a restaurant on its first days,
but I have only my own rules to live by so I went paying a visit to what will most likely be considered among Montreal top finest dining ventures (Toque!, L’Européa, La Porte, Xo Le Restaurant, Club Chasse & Peche, La Chronique, Nuances, etc). This web site is dedicated to Montreal finest fine dining and bistrot tables, thus a visit to Maison Boulud’s in YUL.

For us, Montrealers, the Ritz turned into the ‘grande dame’ of classic luxury that generations of Mtlers saw growing, then aging to the point that it  needed some kind of serious revamp. For the past 4  years, they proceeded with major renovations and the new décor of the Ritz (now re-opened since the end of May 2012) pertains to  grand contemporary luxury (with nice classic touches in the mix). Of its time, indeed.  I am usually not a huge fan of grand luxury and will never be, anyways , but I know how to  appreciate it whenever the situation arises and the reno at the Ritz worths a detour I’ll recommend to anyone visiting downtown YUL. This (Maison Boulud’s opening in YUL) will certainly make the news in YUL’s actuality for the upcoming next months since it’s the major YUL’s restaurant event since the opening of Toque’s Brasserie T and Gordon Ramsay’s former and short lived Montreal’s restaurant experience (the restaurant is still opened, but Gordon Ramsay is not their Business partner anymore). Maison Boulud opened right on time for the upcoming June’s F1 racing event in Montreal. Perfect timing as well as ideal location (at walking distance to  downtown’s main attractions).

Menu: Their menu is updated online with the prices. But just as a quick overview, starters range from $13 to $25, main courses from $16 to $37 and there’s a section of the menu dedicated to side dishes (for ie: $9 potatoes,  $13 artichokes).  The menu is mostly composed of French-based classics (for ie, patés, salade tropézienne, supreme de poulet), as well as Italian  fares (porchetta, various pasta dishes, etc), all updated to  contemporary plating arrangements as well as flavor/ingredient combination. And as it is customary nowadays at most restaurants, plenty of local produce (Asperges du Québec, superb local veal)  feature on their menu.

Decor: The interior design  of the restaurant was overseen by reknown Tokyo based interior designers Super Potato (Park Hyatt Saigon, Sensi Restaurant in Las Vegas, etc), known for their ingenious contemporary use of contrasting natural elements  such as the chic wooden floors and tables of Maison Boulud Montreal,  its separator wall  of glass and granite, etc. It’s the warmth of casual functionality meeting with new world chic. The Japanese influence is present: it is strongly influenced by the concept of sabi (elegant simplicity) found in modern Japanese design, adapted here to a decor that is  familiar to our  North American eye. The kitchen is visible from the dining room (a large glass window allowing diners to have a look at what’s going on in the kitchen), a modern bar facing it (a patron said to the Maitre D that she found everything perfect, expect that the bar seemed too small to her. I think it’s a bar of the right size, approx 5 to 6 seats on each of the 4 sides of the squared-shaped bar.  A bigger bar would be out of context, in my opinion).  The dining room itself is divided in several sections, with one in between the bar and the kitchen, others in the far end of the room (the latter offering a more intimate atmosphere ). On their web site, the restaurant seems to feature orange tones. Unless I missed that part (I did not visit the entire restaurant), I observed only comfy beige chairs and a mix of light beige with dark wood alongside earthy tones of granite.

Service: I’m going to do something unusual. I shall write about service before writing about food, because tonight I was touched. Touched by how the service was exemplary on this dinner. For decades, I was tough on restaurants, expecting only their food to be the centerpiece of the overall dining experience. Then something happened about 2 years ago, when I dined at a star Michelin dining venture in NYC (No, it was not Daniel and not Per Se neither). The food was stellar but the service was so crappy that I could not appreciate the food performance at all. Slightly after that sad event, I had my meal at 3 star Michelin Ledoyen. This time, the food experience was not impressive but the Maitre D was one of the best I ever met and I suddenly realized how food was not enough. I felt so great at Ledoyen, perhaps one of the rare restaurants where I felt really at home and years later, when people look at my food ratings of that lunch at Ledoyen and tell me ‘ needless to ask you if it’s a recommendable place’, I urge them to understand that it is not the case at all. That it’s really a special place, and that despite what I perceived as some less enthusiastic food, I still had a great time.   Hospitality can really bring you a long way. The service, on this evening at Maison Boulud, was one of the very best I ever had. It was a perfect balance between casual and formal, and yet very professional. Mr José, my waiter, was not only attentive but at the summum of the art of hospitality. I won’t get into details because I come from  very humble backgrounds and I am not too crazy about royal treatment, but top standards of restaurant hospitality were applied all along this meal. The rest of the staff offered the same kind of perfected service as Mr José. Mr Boulud is obviously not joking when he insisted on his hospitality standards. 

Food:

Porchetta de lapin à la provencale ($16) –Obviously, one of those occasions where the meat of a rabbit can brag about being flavorful and not dry. It came in the shape of a paté (as opposed to the classic Italian porchetta presentation), was well seasoned with, as expected,  plenty of meaty flavor coming from the tasty roast pork element.  It is a starter, so the portion is naturally not big and yet I’d recommend a touch more of the veggies (marinated onions, radish, carrot) elements that accompanied the dish. In the work of the veggies, an aspect so oftently ignored by many Chefs, I could see the great potential of this Chef. I personally found  this terrine’s version of the rabbit porchetta a bit hard to tantalize me, but it might certainly reach out to others (a matter of personal prefs: having grown up in France, anything that  comes in the shape of a terrine or paté suffers from harsh expectations)  6/10

Ragoût d’Agneau, Rapini et Pecorino ($18 in its starter version) – the Chef is Italian (Riccardo Bertolino. Hopefully people close to the restaurant world  in YUL  will do their homework and will shed  more light on him, since there’s a scarcity of infos on this Chef, at the moment of writing) and obviously at ease with his homeland fares, given how the lamb ragu came through without virtually nothing to quibble about: the meat cooked as it should, with proper timing and a thoughtful balance of ingredients. It is certainly not your typical Nonna’s ragu (which I am a huge fan of), but one that is nicely updated to nowadays fine dining standards. Solid points too for the proper doneness of the egg-based Garganelli pasta, and this was packed with lovely flavors. A bit too salty, unfortunately, . 6.5/10

Filet et ris de veau Saltimbocca ($36) – As expected from a Daniel Boulud’s dining venture, the ingredient is taken seriously and the top quality of the veal I was sampling testifies of the latter assertion. Mind you, Quebec is blessed with some of the most amazing veal in the world. But I caught another glimpse of the big talent of Chef  Bertolino:  this Gentleman cooks meats beautifully. I had roman  saltimbocca dish (veal, sage, prosciutto), a simple dish that I tasted on numerous occasions few years ago in  Italy. I can’t compare this version against those sampled in Italy (not the same veal, not the same land, therefore pointless comparison), but there’s little to argue about the favorable rich and tasty nature of this one I had just enjoyed. The filet element reaching excellent levels (9/10 for that Veal filet, so succulent). What piqued my curiosity, though, is the sweetbreads that was part of the saltimbocca dish. In Montreal,  despite the popularity of  the ris, I was surprised  to have found only a handful of amazing sweetbread dishes at most of the leading restaurants (bistrots, fine dining ventures) in town.  To that regard, two tables stood out , in my view: Chef Daniel Lenglet’s Au 5e Péché, which sweetbread preparations (I think Chef Lenglet is one of the few – that I know of – who can truly master all aspects that lead to the cooking of this flesh: preparation, proper cooking technique, better understanding of that meat, etc) have always appeared outstanding to me, followed by my second best ever in town, the Sweetbreads/Gremolata/Artichoke dish I had at Le Club Chasse et Peche. LCCP’s was tastier, but Au 5e Péché’s was better accomplished. Chef Bertolino’s seemed, in my view, not as remarkable as the one that I sampled at Lenglet’s Au 5e Péché  but it was certainly nicely prepared, its consistency  as plump and firm as it should, and the flavor as delicate as only veal sweetbreads are known to deliver.  8/10 for his sweetbread.

Wines: A 16 pages thoroughly constructed classy booklet of predominantly French and Italian wines, with, as well, its share of wines coming from various corners of the rest of the world. There are also Canadian wines on that list. Prices will reach out to all sort of budgets with price tags as low as a $45 for a Telmo Rodriguez, Rueda Basa  2010 (there are plenty of wines in the $40-$60 category: for ie, the $59  Tselepos Moschofilero Mantinia 2010, the $58 Beaujolais Domaine du Vissoux 2010, etc ). On the splurge side (the side that I can only dream about, Rfaol) , you can have a $920 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassiciaia 1999, a $670 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes 1993 (375 ml), and  some major names of sparkling wines do feature on that list, too: Champagne Delamotte, Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Laherte frères. There are also several wines available by the glass.  The woman who was my sommelière of the evening is highly knowledgeable (She is not new at this, and she used to work alongside one of Quebec’s most famous sommelières, Elyse Lambert ) and her wine pairings  on this evening  were absolutely thoughtful.

PROS:  The amazing veal filet, the hospitality standards of a Daniel Boulud’s dining venture and the  lovely contemporary setting of the restaurant. A good dining experience is indeed sometimes more than just food.
CONS:  Time will tell. I have nothing to say for now since it’s only in its first week (actually second day, only)

PS: An aside note –> I saw that Chef Marc Veyrat dispenses cooking lessons since couple of days, in Annecy (France). This gentleman, known to many  as the non-official best Chef  of all times (many consider him as even better than Joel Robuchon), will certainly not dispense courses oftenly. It’s actually a rare occurrence to see Chefs of this “high velocity” caliber dispensing courses.  For those who may be interested, this is a unique occasion.  Cours de cuisine, 7, avenue de Chavoires. 74940 Annecy-le-Vieux. marcoveyrat@gmail.com http://www.marcveyrat.fr/en/marc-veyrat.htm

MAISON BOULUD
Overall food rating
: 5/10 Average for what Iam accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category. It was their 2nd night only, if I am not mistaken. So they may have improved a lot by now. I have no doubt that this house  will do way better, but I have got to give my personal appreciation of what I have experienced: not bad at all, to the contrary,  tasty food was generally served all along my meal there (be careful with the salt on that ragout, pls), but nothing  outstood neither (yes, the veal filet was something, indeed, and I rated it with the 10/10 it fully deserved…but still, it is a veal fillet and many of us can cook 10/10 veal fillet at home, too).  In your first week, in a new city which patrons you are not familiar with, it’s virtually impossible to please right away. So, the assessment of such a young  restaurant will naturally evolve quickly.                                                      
Overall service rating
: 10/10 Think ‘GRAND’!Very GRAND! On that evening I was there. 
Décor
: 8/10  Class, with very cleancontemporary lines in the décor.   
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmecticcalculation of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance  on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: I am glad to see that they have vastly improved from their humble beginnings. I do not care about reviews all the time and had not reviewed my last  visit there, but it is true that they are now one of Montreal finest gourmet destinations. Way better than what I experienced on my 1st meal here. What I like with them is that they are not doing great food just for the foodie food bloggers, Lol. No, they also cook great food for every diner, no matter who you are. But again, I am not surprised: even on my 1st visit there, I could feel that they were genuinely interested to get better. Une grand table, indeed. Long live to Maison Boulud! I think they have now found their way.

Standard

Bouillon BILK, Montreal – Novelty in gifted hands

 

UPDATE

2ND MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON AUGUST 2013 – CLICK HERE FOR THAT REVIEW

 

THE FOLLOWING IS THE REVIEW OF MY MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON JULY 2011:

This Month’s featuring review is the one I wrote about Bouillon Bilk, a restaurant that unsurprisingly (Chef Nadon was trained by the Mercuri brothers, Joe and Michelle,  who count among my favourite Chefs around the globe) found itself in my top 3 bistrots in Montreal (along with Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché). Chef Nadon was cooking on this meal, and when this gentleman is in his prime, he is as equally remarkable as Chef Alexandre Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne) and Chef Lenglet (Au 5e Péché), although what he is doing is more eclectic than the former two grand Chefs. When I wrote this review, I received many emails reminding that my title ‘Novelty in gifted hands’ was exaggerated since some found this not to be that ‘novel’. Interestingly, one of those emails came from a long time experienced foodie that I admire a lot and who I won’t name, but my answer to him was a reminder that novelty, as with anything else, is a relative assessment: ‘Dear xxxx, you once raved over the novelty of a dish of yucca you  had at Mugaritz and bragged that it was unique..guess what my friend: all along my childhood, I used to have that same dish and that was over 3 decades ago…”.  Bottom line, Novelty, when I use that term, is relative to a given location/circumstance. As a Bistro, and even at the time of writing this (almost 1 yr after my reviewed meal there at Bouillon Bilk), BB remains the breath of fresh air Montreal badly needed in its restaurant scene. I have written this only about a few Chefs and I’ll re-iterate it, here: Chef Nadon is a gifted Chef.

Event: Dinner @ Bouillon Bilk
When: Wednesday July 20th, 2011 17:30
Type of cuisine: Mdern Cosmopolitan/French
Addr: 1595 Boul Saint Laurent (close to Metro Saint Laurent)
Phone: 514-845-1595

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

  (English review will follow)  Plein de Chefs ouvrent des restos pour finalement offrir du déjà vu dans le contexte de leur propre délimitation géographique. A tel point que je   renommerai leurs restaurants ‘copie 1’, ‘copie 2 ‘, etc.. Le Chef Nadon du Bouillon Bilk coupe court à ce désolant scénario: il apporte la formule de fraicheur tant espérée depuis des lunes sur la scène des restos Montréalais, la créativité, l’audace de sortir du lot en insufflant  une touche unique (dans les standards locaux) et tout cela agrémenté  d’excellence technique, d’un travail des gouts qui est remarquable . Bouillon Bilk,  c’est tout simplement brillant (dans mon top 3 de mes meilleurs bistrots à Mtl). Le Chef Nadon, bien au delà des standards locaux, c’est un   grand talent dont les actuelles  créations culinaires au Bouillon Bilk n’ont souvent rien à envier à ce que l’on peut trouver dans un excellent 1 Étoile Michelin en France. Allez, hop dans la liste de mes coups de coeur!

Montreal is getting all excited with the future opening of Gordon Ramsay’s  (I don’t get that one!) and Daniel Boulud’s ventures, but I would not. GR and DB will put Mtl on world’s gastronomy map, perhaps, but Montreal has some serious homework to do before feasting: this city has thousands of restaurants ..thousands…and yet, I can count on  the fingers of my hand the number of restaurants that I would care for. A handful! That’s yet. There are many that are decent, indeed. But just a handful that worth the hype of international consideration we seem to seek through big names like GR and DB. Talking about GR and DB…you won’t see one review of their restaurants on this site. I know this will change nothing in their life, but it won’t neither in mine. GR and DB are welcomed in Montreal though. They will ensure more mileage to the  remunarated fooc critics, but I beg to stay away from mutton’s folly land!   For the record, I am not the type to encourage celebrity chefs in their quest for perpetual expansion through name bearers: Pacaud, for ie, is a 3 star Michelin Chef who is way more talented than the likes of GR and DB. Pacaud is of the level of spectacular legendary Chefs like Robuchon, Fredy Girardet, and although on the verge of retirement (that  ‘real genius‘ is 65+ if  I recall properly) ..he was there, behind his stoves, kicking a spectacular 3 star Michelin meal  on a Friday lunch: this one. Now, imagine what I may think of name bearers promoted by some…

Which brings me to what I like to do most: discovering the food of the artisan Chefs who stand as true gems. I remember Chef Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant. I remember Chef Rouyé at La Porte. I remember Chef Navarrette Jr at Raza. I remember Chef Lenglet at Au 5e Péché. I remember Chef Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne. I remember Chef Belair at Le Marly.  I remember those ones, because I truly think they stood out in their own ways. I know there are few more (Toque, Club Chasse et Peche, etc), but not so much more. Still, my doors are open: just bring some true talent…make sure it’s true talent though…and I’m the first who will be enthused by  the idea of discovering their Chef d’oeuvre. You won’t fool me: I know what is pure empty buzz, and I know what is worthy of  the buzz!  When I heard that Chef François Nadon has opened his restaurant, that caught my attention: this gentleman is more busy expressing his cooking talent where it needs to rather than parading on TV cooking shows!  He is more substance than fla fla. If I could say of a Chef that he went to the right school, then it would be of Chef François Nadon. Given  his past experiences at ex-Bronte, XO Le Restaurant and Globe (those three restaurants have always welcomed raw talents..just think of the Mercuris, Eric Gonzalez, Frédéric Morin), I had to pay a visit to his new venture ( Personally,  I would tend to play more attention at any Chef who has evolved at those 3 restaurants than   most cooks who would pretend having spent times in 1,2,3 star-Michelin kitchens).

Off to the food report:

Linguini, bacon, roasted almonds, blue cheese, mushrooms – Write  this down: roasted almonds and blue cheese …done this way, cooked this way, tasting this way….mixed with pastas..is a hit! It might not be a benchmark (my 10/10) dish  but  this is simply excellent (a rich and memorable mouthfeel that deserves that I leave the comfort of home for. This could be easily a 10/10 (the taste, the flavor combinations were amazing) , but with respect to my strict rating standards, I’ll give it a fair 9/10 (which means EXCELLENT, by the way!)

Next offering:

Grilled shrimps, bone marrow, orange, miso, céléri and thyme   – An 8 over 10 (which means ‘very good’ in my standards), but here again … be careful: this could be easily  a 10/10 since I don’t see how you can improve on this dish: the taste is irreprochable, textures are perfect, cooking technique right on point, the addition of subtle orange, miso, thyme and celeri flavors so inspiring. So why 8/10 and not 10/10: simply because I  know the potential of this Chef. He is not an average chef and in his own standards, this is great but not stellar. This Gentleman can be stellar….trust me! The other reason is this: for someone like me who was born in front of an ocean of stunning seafood, the standards are very high when it comes to seafood. Not bragging here, just a reminder about how strict  you become in such circumstances.So, take that 8 over 10 as a perfect score.

Braised pork (as a ragout), green peas ravioli, olive oil emulsion, pistachios – This is of pure benchmark material: the level of deliciousness being so high, the raviolis well done, the braised pork faultless. Each  ingredient shining on its own is something we oftently see. But this went beyond: the rich and memorable individual tastes paired so well together. This is what I am willing to pay for when I dine out!  10/10

Duck Magret is my secret ‘testing-weapon’  when I visit a restaurant. It’s those ‘hey..this is easy thing to do‘ that most Chefs will tell you. Love this…because the easier things tend to route Chefs in Easy-Land…and I … in Strict-Judging Land…Here again, this would be easily a 10/10 at most tables in Montreal…the most important task being fullfilled: the duck magret was superbly well cooked and tasted so great. The lentils, delicious with great mouthsome. But since Chef Nadon is not our average chef,  we’ll roam within his standards: Chef, elevate those two portions of duck terrine to stunning levels (they were great, don’t get me wrong…but I know you can make this as stellar as let’s say the terrine of foie I had at Biron, for ie) and this is an easy 10. It is an 8.5 over 10 for this occurence, but that’s being insanely picky….which I can afford to be, knowing well the talent of Chef Nadon. Notice that there’s no technical fault and no serious reproach, here!

Chocolate ganache, tia maria, black raspberry, hazelnut ice cream – A 9/10 of my standards (which is no benchmark, but excellent) for the delicious top-tier ingredients (the chocolate was of impeccable quality, same could be said of the raspberry). There’s really nothing not to enjoy here, each component being perfectly well executed with taste to match!

Cheese cake, strawberry, basil, balsamic – I thought I had my share of cheese cakes with most of them being of top marks. Chef Nadon had a surprise for my palate: what about pushing the boundaries a bit higher? Which he successfully did…but the amazement of this one cheese cake can’t be summed up in just those few words…Grandma used to tell me ‘succulent dishes can’t be described….they only can be tasted!”.  .10/10

Menu:  The dinner menu on this given evening is small but   varied. Six  starters priced from $12 to $14 (well balanced between veal carpaccio, crab, fish, shrimps, etc). Five main courses (Pork, trout, scallops, lobster, duck) from $23 to $28 and 6 desserts (from $7 to $12). A rare occurence: they do excel on savouries as well as on desserts. An enticing menu, lots of  combinations you seldomly find at other Montreal restaurants  and  a sense of detail/creativity  that’s among those few that stand out in town.

Wine: On this given evening, a  small list of wines (1 sparkling wine which was a Prosecco Bisol $40 the bottle, $8 the glass/ 2 champagne which were Champagne Barbichon  and Bollinger )  + 6 white wines, 9 red) that was smartly conceived and balanced with reasonable prices ranging from $35 (Beaujolais 2010, Raisins Gaulois, M. Lapierre / Coteaux d’Aix en Provence 2008, Chateau Revelette)  to $120 (the bottle of  champagne Bollinger). In between, lots of nicely priced bottles: for ie,  an Anjou 2008, Chateau de la Guimonière was priced at $40 (8$ the glass), a Monferrato Freisa 2005, Canone Inverso, Cantine Valpane at $48 (9.5$ the glass), a Coteaux du Languedoc 2010, Mas Jullien at $42 (8.8 the glass), etc The wine was skillfully paired all along our meal (we basically paired each dish with a glass of wine, with some glasses of the Prosecco Bisol at the very beginning).

Service: Wherever and whenever you put someone open minded, who has travelled a lot and who is well mannered on my way, I am in heaven! The young woman who served us works for Air Canada, has travelled a lot and is as refreshingly interesting as a fun classy globetrotter! A 10!

Conclusion: Of this restaurant, food critic Marie-Claude Lortie writes  that it is refreshing to see, finally, a table that refrains from re-editing what we see everywhere in town. Chef Nadon’s unusual but mostly exciting combinations seem to appeal to her taste. Food critic Thierry Daraize underlines Chef Nadon’s tremendous talent in his article, but wished the portions were more generous (Although not a big concern…I shared his feeling only with the  the duck magret dish where I’d have requested a tad more lentils and a slightly bigger portion of those foie gras, but the portion of duck magret was fine. They were generous with all the rest, though! Even the wine was generously poured!). Both food columnists seemed not to feast on  the ‘crabe de gaspésie, fraises, fenouille‘ appetizer….and I presume Chef Nadon has good ears since this dish is now off the menu!  Some little corrections here and there for those this might interest: Chef Nadon has never worked at Lemeac. Her business partner has! Chef Nadon’s cooking, for now, is closer to Ex-Bronté’s (the fans of the old Bronté, now closed, will be happy to learn this) cuisine. Bronté was easily among Montreal’s top 5, btw! Both my wife and I had 3 courses each, wine pairings to each item  for me, 2 glasses of wine for her and this came around $170. I honestly think that this was largely fair for such inspired cooking. I have experienced, in Montreal, dinners that did cost at least $80 more than this with some food items deserving nothing less than 0/10 …………….

In Montreal standards, Chef Nadon stands among those who brings novelty (it might not be novelty abroad, but what he is doing remains new on current Montreal restaurant scene). I am a big fan of great classics superbly executed with taste to match (Les Mas des Oliviers, Le Bonaparte, Le Margaux, Chez la mère Michel), but would never run away from novelty that stands out. Here’s a Chef who has not yet embraced the nonsense quest for fame. He is where it makes sense to find him: in his kitchen. He is where, as a patron, I do expect his talent to shine: in his kitchen, not on TV ..because he, at least, understood that a diner should bother with what a Chef is serving to his guests and not to what a cook is selling on TV!

Admittedly, although I value true artisan Chefs (as opposed to TV-boosted cooks), it has to be a talented Chef as well, or else I won’t be enthusiastic. Chef Nadon does have such a  superb talent  that I can state, in total confidence,  that he stands among Montreal’s very best Cooks at this moment. As long as he does not follow the nonsense practices  of some  talented Chefs who lost the respect of some of their patrons because they were more interested by fame rather than efficient and effective great work,  I can see Nadon marking memories of Montreal’s gourmands for a long time. Nadon was cooking on this dinner (I am realistic: I have no clue how this amazing Chef will work his schedu;e, but I am not expecting him to work days and nights. If he does so, good for him..but it would be stupid to expect this. Personally, with such talented Chef, I’d rather opt for dinners, especially on Fridays and Saturdays: after all, lunches — although  affordable —  is always  casual at most tables).

Chef Nadon, you have got a new fan as long as you shine where I expect you to excel, because YES.. TREMENDOUS TALENT (amazing techniques, a sense of taste that’s impressive, and one of the few Chefs who  reconciles me with  sous-vidé cooking technique — he masters this technique so well — a cooking technique that is usually not my cup of tea in other instances)  …  YOU HAVE!!

PROS: This was INSPIRED work all the way! Easily in my top tier tables in Montreal, and it vindicates Chef Nadon in my top 10 Chefs in town. I shall go back !

CONS: As far as I am concerned, Nothing to complain about

PS: A reminder before I go -> a review with at least a 9/10 and one 10/10 worths your upmost attention. There are, on this reviewed dinner,  two 10/10, a 9/10 and other marks that would easily be 10s in other circumstances.

BOUILLON BILK
Overall food rating
: 8.5/10 In between VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category.For Montreal standards, as of lately, this is refreshing top stuff. I personally was not surprised: their Chef was trained alongside the Mega talented Chefs Joe and Michele Mercuri.
Overall service rating
: 8/10 nice, Really nothing to say here. And on that day, I even met a waitress who share my passion ofTravel, so whatmore can I ask, lol.
Décor
: 7/10  The décor is very simple. Twotones of color from what I remember: white and grey. Basta, but  this is perfect: it sends you back to the very food itself. No distraction needed.Hey..who is complaining about the décor at the Fat Duck in Bray, btw???    


Standard

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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