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!


Le FILET restaurant, Montreal – The new excitement in town

Event: dinner at restaurant Le Filet
When: Tuesday April 19th 2011, 18:00
Type of food: Modern French-based Cosmopolitan Bistronomy (with focus on seafood***)
Addr: 219 Mont-Royal O, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-360-6060

URL: http://www.lefilet.ca/

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

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

Avec le Bouillon Bilk, voici le vent de fraicheur tant attendu en Ville. Les entrées et plats principaux furent créatifs, et gouteux. Peut etre pas mon dans mon top 10, mais pas loin….et j’y reviendrai!
  I am finally resuming with restaurant reviews at  home, following the launching of my Michelin star dinings web site and the memorable trip to San Sebastian in Spain.

I have not abandoned the main mission of this blog: reviewing Montreal’s finest bistrots and fine dining ventures. But as I have already mentioned, I will not lose my time with reviewing generic dinings just for the sake of entertaining my readers. My benchmark in Montreal lies in my Mtl’s & surroundings top 15 best dinners listing. Only a restaurant that can bring something refreshingly different or better will catch my attention, or else why bother?  Which brings me to Le Filet, a seafood-oriented Bistro which opened its doors three months ago, in February. In three months, Le Filet has received a media  attention (web blogs, restaurant review sites, mags, etc) that most restaurants would never enjoy in their entire existence: just do a search for it on the web and you will get what I mean. The latest is not the reason that motivated me  to step foot in this restaurant, though. I had gathered enough reliable informations to believe that Le Filet, at this moment, is bringing what I am seeking for: creative bistro  creations that either stand out or do at least bring some fresh appeal to the Montreal’s bistro scene. A warning: book way in advance if you want to dine there, especially for thurs, fridays, saturdays (this place is already popular).

They do offer tapas-sized courses, too, (very practical, in line with their main purpose: making their food more accessible, affordable)  but I  went for  3   “full” courses :

Marinated sardines, Miso, Radish, leek: a layer of meaty portuguese sardines that were marinated in miso and ginger (very tasty) covered with another layer of some sort of rice-krispies (brings the necessary ‘crunch’ to make the dish ‘multi-dimensional’ with regard to consistency) and radishes (expertly marinated with a sourness that was well controlled and remarkable flavor) . A 7.5 over 10

Crab risotto, asparagus, crustacean jus: My current benchmark for risotto, out of all Michelin-starred and Non Michelin-starred tables that I went dining at, is the one I sampled at Bistro Cocagne on Sept 4th 2009 (a showcase of perfect cooking paired with sublime taste, the only 10/10 that I ever gave to a risotto up to lately, it is the one that was served with the lamb shank dish that I ate and reviewed on that dinner). Recently, during my trip to San Sebastian, another risotto has joined the one of Bistro Cocagne as my personal benchmark for risottos: the one I had at la Cuchara de San Telmo (click here and scroll to the middle of the text), the second only 10/10 I ever assigned to this dish (completely different from the one of Bistro Cocagne but stunning in all aspects: taste, cooking, texture / keep in mind that outside of North America, especially in Italy, Spain..etc, they do not really use the common ‘arborio’ rice that we do use here for cooking risottos, and that leads to a totally different appreciation in textures and taste. The risotto at la Cuchara, for ie, had terrific flavour and vibrant texture ). I have enjoyed many stellar risottos in Italy (If you go there and love risottos, lurk around regions like Veneto and Lombardia just to get some kind of new gustatory reference as far as risottos go ) and all around the globe, but those two have stole the show as far as I am concerned.  Their risotto at Le Filet was nowhere close to the mind-blowing ‘perfection’ (in execution and divine taste) of the above mentioned risottos at Bistro Cocagne or La Cuchara de San telmo, but it was so delicious, well seasoned and enjoyable that I emptied the entire plate. An 8 over 10

Fluke, Japanese plum, wasabi, cucumber: here is a refreshing unusual dish. I picked this dish simply because it piqued my curiosity as I was wondering how the subtle fluke and cucumber would combine with the latent heat / spicy sensation of the wasabi in this version of their own creativity. It turned out that the wasabi was not dominant (good news), that the brown sauce that you see around the fluke’s flesh (this white fish was of impeccable quality) was successful (right consistency, exciting sweet-sour depth of taste). What is in fact a delicious plum-based sauce (the brown sauce) reminded me of my childhood’s beloved tamarind-based concoctions as well. That plum sauce taught me a lot about Chef Yasu Okazaki great talent: I measure the talent of a great Chef by his sense of taste. Nothing less. And my  definition of a great ‘sense of taste” has to go through the taste of your sauces. Some may overlook sauces as ‘simple pools of fatty liquids’, but in reality, sauces reveal a lot about the ability (or inability) of a cook to bring forward brilliant flavors. Recently, when I was at 3-star Michelin Ledoyen in Paris, I knew right from the first sauces that I was sampling that the meal was going nowhere (I kept my cool and was not disgracious in my review of that meal since there is no point to put down people, the purpose here is to constructively share our dining experiences, not to bash for nothing…but what had to be underlined with honesty, was!), and I was right. Creatively well conceived tiny potato chips (they tasted great and were amusing in their mild-sweet kind of mouth feel / that alone was a showcase of unusual brilliant technique and originality in flavors) were topping Chef Yasu Okazaki’s creation. 8 over 10

Dessert was Tres leches, mango, pineapple, coconut – A sponge cake soaked in three different type of milk, topped by tiny cubes of pineapple/mango  and ‘chips’ of coconut. This was ok, a 6 over 10. I am forgiving the low rating of that dessert; Honestly, who really cares about top of the line desserts at a bistro? Sure, bistros like Bistro Cocagne, Au 5e Péché and M Sur Masson have amazed me with some of their desserts, but it would be a mistake to judge an amazing bistro like Le Filet over a simple dessert. Le Filet has way more than that to offer: an inventive cuisine that brings enough refreshing novelty and excitement to the Montreal restaurant scene that it worth great consideration. Loved this place and I shall  go  back.

During my recent visit in Paris (which gave birth to my 3-star Michelin dining web site), I realized that the gap that once existed between Montreal and Paris (with regard to restaurants and food) is not that big anymore. Facts: most of their top bistrots are not that superior to Montreal’s equivalents anymore. Same could be said of the  average restaurants. On the fine dining level, I do not see …..what Chefs at Chateaubriand (in top 15 of S Pellegrino’s world best restaurants), L’Astrance (same), Passage 53, La Regalade…to name a few… could do and that our most talented Chefs like Laprise (Toque!), Navarrette Jr (Raza), Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne), Rouyé (La Porte), Pelletier (LCCP), Juneau (Now at Newtown), Mercuri (XO Le Restaurant), Lenglet (Au 5e Péché)…could not do?? Paris has a big advantage, though,  at the 3-star  Michelin level (especially with restaurants like 3-star Michelin L’Ambroisie that I did review during this trip, in March, to Paris), but Montreal has already a potential 3-star Michelin restaurant, too if Michelle Mercuri”s XO Le Restaurant excels, all the time, at the level of what I found on my last dinner there (click here for that review). With that said, draw no comparison between L’Ambroisie and XO Le restaurant: both are different,  but stellar on their own unique ways.  I know some may not agree with me, perhaps — in part — because of ‘perceptions’, but in facts, and in-the-mouth, what I have just raised is happening. Now, do not get me wrong: I love Paris. It is the City where I grew up, the city that taught me the love of great food and the importance of developing the palate. But times are changing, and places that were not used to be known for their gastronomy are now dominant (for ie, I initially thought that San Sebastian’s cocina miniatura was a product of buzz syndrom but reality was totally different once I got a taste of it), let alone the ‘cosmopolitanisation’ of Parisian cuisine in general (the new generation of their Chefs have a more International (oriental influence in Asian food, for ie) approach that you now see everywhere in North America, Europe and elsewhere). With that said, along with their far dominant 3 star Michelin fine dining ventures, Paris (and France in general) are simply unbeatable when it comes to bakeries, desserts (In Montreal, the local Chefs like Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne or Vachon at M Sur Masson are doing an amazing job with regard to  desserts, but the big majority of the best desserts came oftently from France ‘s Chefs as it was the case with creations from Chefs like Lenglet @ Au 5e Péché, Rouyé @ La Porte, Jerome Ferrer @ L’Europea and other French Chefs as well).

SERVICE:  Superb hosts greeting customers with care. They were all friendly and yet professional and you can see the willingness of doing things properly. At 6PM, when I stepped in, it was half packed (started to be extremely busy about one hour later), so I had time to chat a bit with the waiter about the logo of their restaurant: so, the F for Filet (which means a ‘net” in English) is a clin d’oeil to the net that is on the tennis court facing the restaurant.  Of course, it is also referring to the net of the fisherman (it is a seafood restaurant). Second part of the logo represents a fish, and the dot refers to a tennis ball (again a clin d’oeil to the neighbouring tennis court). And the red/orange tablecloths refers to the “clay” of a tennis court. Amusing!

Urban contemporary interior decoration,  with  marine life’s representations (at the back of the bar and on one of the walls), walls made of steel, some old school wooden chairs (tavern chairs alike / but the overall decor is not old school at all), with black and  clay ‘orange/red. (tablecloths) tones color schemes.

Some original and creative (to Montreal standards) well mastered  flavor combinations and textures were found all along this meal. Chef Yasu Okazaki manages to combine enticing oriental flavors to French cuisine in a brilliant manner. 

*** For those who like meat, you won’t be left aside: they have beef tataki, sweetbreads, duck and other red meats (you can have a look at their online menu).

PROS: Sometimes, when it is different (as usual, relatively to what we have here in Yul), well, it is exciting. And this was the case with the fluke/Japanese plum dish. The risotto was another delicious dish.
CONS: I want the sweets to shine at the level of some of those savouries.
Overall food rating: 7/10 Well, good of course given what we already know about the cooking team at LCCP (their Chef was part of that team). Some might even rate a meal like this higher, since it is refreshingly different (again, to Montreal standadrs), the technique hard to fault on this repast, and the taste not under-looked. This can certainly not be accused of being a boring replica of what we see in town: that dish of  fluke, for eg,  being an exciting dish we do not see in Yul.
Service: 10/10 Lovely service on this dinner