Restaurant Hotel Herman, Montreal – Pleasant enough

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We ate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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