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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Aromes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawrence, Montreal – A coup de coeur for me too…but READ the ‘service’ section …

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.  



PS: MANY FOOD BLOGS REVIEW THE BRUNCH AT LAWRENCE. I  CAN’T STAND BRUNCHES AT RESTAURANTS (CUZ  I USUALLY DO FAR BETTER BRUNCHES AT HOME) , SO PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THIS  REVIEW OF MINE COVERS ONLY THIS EVENING’S OFFERINGS  @ LAWRENCE.
 
In the series ‘coup de coeur of  our YUL’s star food journalists ‘, I went visiting Lawrence, the coup de coeur of Le Devoir’s star food journalist Phillipe Mollet. Food is subjective and there’s no judgement to make over other people’s opinion, but if there’s a food journalist with whom my experiences did differ widely from, then it would be Phillipe. This should substract   nothing from Mr Mollet’s opinions, a man that I actually dearly respect. Lawrence is anyways a “coup de coeur” of  many other food journalists as well as the big majority of gourmands in Yul. Lawrence, on this evening, turned out to be my “coup de coeur”  too, which is a feeling I have failed to experience since Bouillon Bilk….in  …July 2011…. BUT  let me be clear about this: if the service remains as uneven as on my visit on this evening, many will leave heartbroken ……which is a shame, because Chef’s Cohen food and some of the staff in this house really deserve better faith! A shame, because this is one of the very rare places that I am adding to my top  tier favourites in YUL. With over 5000 tables in Yul, and only less than a dozen in my top tier favourite, I feel confident to repeat this: Lawrence deserves perfection all the way!

British Chef Marc Cohen quickly became a Montreal favourite for his widely acclaimed cooking  at the Sparrow in Montreal, and has since moved to Lawrence. Some serious job is done in this house as can be demonstrated by charcuteries and bread made on the premises.  

The decor/feel/ambiance is a take on British gastro pub. In my view, the best rendition of that style in Yul. Grey is the dominant tone here: grey-painted wooden floor, some parts of the walls are grey. When you enter the small room (surprisingly, they exploit such mini space better than at spacier restaurants), you have a sofa right at the entrance, a bench at the end, plenty of relatively well spaced tables, a bar towards the end and a “post-industrial” mixed with gastro-pub feel and look. I love this place, the amazing penetration of light provided by the glass windows, the cozy atmosphere. Nothing here looks neglected. To the contrary, everything is thoughtful, meaningful, useful in its sheer simplicity.

SERVICE: Was this…a meditation  on the theme of the ‘ying’ and the ‘yang”? I do not know. Let us see. ”Ambiance”…as we say in  French: first, Wow…here’s one restaurant that carefully respects your requests. I asked for a table by the window. Most restaurants, unless you go for the fancy fine dining ventures, do not bother remembering such detail when you dine solo. They did. I even told them that if the room gets busy, I was willing to move to the bar. They insisted to respect my initial demand. Strike #1: World class! Strike #2:  Sommelière Etheliya Hananova was in charge of the wine, an  amazing woman who could give ‘a run for their money” to most of the 3 star Michelin wait staff out there. Although  not really a slip on her part (there is a limit to find trouble where there are none) , I have to write this: ppl have widely reproached to the older generations of French, in France, their snooty service. But those  same ppl do the exact same thing ..just  in a different way. YES! In a different way! But same sh?&*. For eg, it is a trend nowadays in Nyc, Montreal, and many other places who have widely embraced  the ‘Let’s ditch the old snooty French service‘ to offer a supposedly alternative  that’ s actually a replica of what they have decried! So, why am I writing this? Because my fabulous sommelière played that card at some point, although I insist on  seeing the bigger picture: she is human, and above all spectacular! So what card? Well, this one: ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’. Perhaps ”For this food , I’d suggest this wine….”” would pass as less lecturing.  It reminded me of what most have decried. It reminded me of Monsieur Henri V  telling me what should be good for me. Only, it was stated in English and in  less snooty manner, Rfaol!   I mean I do not need to know what wine I need for the course. I gave you carte blanche to embark me on a wine tasting journey, so go ahead. This is nitpicking, I know, and I am writing this not as a reproach to this wonderful woman..trust me, she is wonderful..but more as an opportunity to remind others that ‘hey…you are … using the very tactics that you decried…”” . I am insistening on this, also, because this has been a widely spread reproach to the old French guard…only to get to the exact same point.  Regardless,  Etheliya Hananova  is a world class woman with spectacular service that would be exemplary to  many staff  at  many  serious tables out there  !  Let’s continue on this pattern because we are getting to the part where I was left with more questions than answers.. Strike #3: the woman  who took my order, then served most of my dishes, wow..wow! Great service, very attentive. BUT then..Strike #4, the ‘yang???”…I need to know…: Another waitress, whom I’ll nickname the ‘skinny lady with a high top hair cut’, was at least smiley…but never ever described the dishes she laid on the table! I think she mumbled something at some point. ..then the woman who served  the coffee … she was utterly silent (??). I honestly thought that somekind of mechanical system has left a cup on my table. A robot would have more warmth. Now, notice that I am using caution here, and you’ll now understand why: if both ladies can’t talk, I am deeply sorry.  I come from social backgrounds where it is mandatory that ALL kind of people are included in normal social life. If they can’t talk, then this is a 10/10. The restaurant having my highest respect for including everyone with no discrimination.  BUT….if the reasons are found elsewhere, then I couldn’t careless: it’s a restaurant, a place where hospitality standards should prevail. Point blank! With that said, this is no dramatic neither: no one was un-pleasant nor rude and the best parts of the service pertained to world class standards.  I’d not return anyways to a place where I was disgusted by the service. Here,  I’ll run back, anytime, which tells you how I was not that offended at all.

WINE: For sure, with Sommelière Etheliya Hananova, you are in great hands (she is one of the very best  sommelières of Montreal), a world away from some restaurant celebrities (Chefs, sommeliers)  hiding behind stardom BS. Here’s a pro working hard right on the field, with efficacy. An artisan sommelière if I can say so. The kind I highly respect. Of course, I had that little ‘resistance’ to her phrase ” ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’, but hey, this is no big deal at all. As a a matter of fact, she is not snooty at all, neither. On the other hand, you see this  kind of remark on my blog because I am not a satellite of  the industry, therefore things  are brought to you the way they appear to me, as opposed to the way …they should appear to you!   Anyways, the way things appeared to me is this as well: on top of fabulous wine recommendations, Etheliya showed world class hospitality all along this evening. Some star Sommelier-e-s have the big head, not her: she brought the bill, worked like any other element of the wait staff, sometimes pouring water, at other times clearing a table, etc. I am telling you: an amazing down to earth person! I am taking time to write this because I have rarely seen a star sommeliere as down to earth  as Etheliya. Now, here’s a sommelière who ‘reads’ in the mind of the big majority of his customers: approx 140 bottles squizzed on a two-sided page, easy to consult by price range (unless you are Rockefeller, don’t you look at $$$ first when perusing a wine list??), and the ‘tour de force’  of reaching out to most tastes and pockets where other sommeliers  would need hundred of pages to get to the same results. The red wines, for eg, start from a $35 Carignan Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Three Trees,  2009, Domaine de Majas & Tom Lubbe, then the red wine listing goes, thoughtfully,  by ranges of price: some in the 30+ range, then some in the 40+, 50+, etc, up to the priciest of the red wines, which is, on this evening’s list, a $207 Cornas, reynard, Thierry Allemand (2008).  I was talking about a list catering to  everyone’s tastes, so the classic big guns are there, too: for eg, a Vosne-Romanée, Domaine D’Eugénie 2008 at $127, a Cote Rotie, Domaine Clusel-Roch, 2007 at $154;  a Barolo, Az.Agr.Bovia 2007 at $134. But you have plenty of little gems in all price ranges, from Italy/France/California, many imported wines, plenty of wines by the glass,  etc. Some other examples of red wines, before I move on to the white ones: Cotes du Roussillon Tradition, Domaine Ferrer-Ribeire2010 at $37, Vino de la tierra de Castilla, Bobal Calabuig, Pequenas bodegas del Levante, 2010 ($38), Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil L’Hurluberlu, Sebastien David, 2010 ($48). White wines are priced from $34 (M-S-R, Riesling QbA, Selbach, 2011) to $147 (a classic big gun, Meursault 1er cru ‘Poruzots’, Francois Mikulski, 2008). In between, the same thoughtful idea of offering choices in the $30+, $40+,$50+, etc price ranges. For eg, Cantons de L’Est, Seyval/Chardonnay, Les Pervenches (2011) at $35, Jasnières Cuvée des Silex, Pascal Janvier, 2011 ($45), Cotes du Jura, Chardonnay Bardette,Domaine Labet, 2008 ($73), etc. Sparkling wines comprised of Cava, some Crémant du Jura and D’Alsace, as well as Moscato D’Asti, Champagne and a Spumante. Of course, I am no Rockefeller, so I chose the wine pairings by  the glass, and each pairing were at the heights of the talent of this fabulous sommelière: simply stunning! Yep, when I am pleased with a performance that’s well done, I take the freedom to rave. So, stunning as I said! 

FOOD:  Chef Cohen …the British Chef…. well, I love this Gentleman. When I was young, in France, we used to joke about our neighbors, the British, to never be able to cook stunning food like what our Chefs were able to deliver in France. Particularly the pastries, etc. Of course, nowadays, this is not the case anymore  but as a French I love seeing a British Chef re-affirming the currentlys widely acclaimed fact that the British Chefs are a force to  to be reckoned with, although I am  not including Gordon Ramsay in this equation…Lol..Marco Pierre-White, Yes. Gordon…Nah. Rfaol. Cohen…seduced me on this evening. Ah..if only the overall service, tonight, could have shone at  those heights ………

Crab /  potato bread $15 – Very good crab that they thoughtfully mixed with fresh home made chives/mayo/piment d’espelette. This was virtually faultless and really tasty. .Only reason I keep this dish under the 10/10 bar has to do with the fact that, right here in YUL,  I had  crab-based dishes which souvenir commands that I calm down before letting myself  go, Rfaol: for eg, a 10/ 10 dish  like this one “crab tourteau “at Cuisine & Dependance, was simply  as spectacular as receiving an invitation to land on the moon, Rfaol. Whereas this one, in comparison, would be Very good, nevertheless  8/10

Pig’s cheeks and Apple tart $12 – This is the moment when I realized that I was going to fall for this kitchen. Again, if the service is as uneven as on this evening, the love story will be really short…but, in the meantime,  to ceasar what belongs to him: Strike #1 .. It looked like any piece of pork, but it had the taste of the most flavorful of them all! I must admit that it is hard to miss this one, but few talented Chefs can pride themselves of pulling off as much bewitchment as what this kitchen has managed, on this evening, to extract from this memorable piece of pig’s cheeks    9/10 for that delicious piece of porky marvel.  Strike #2:  the Apple tart ..I could use all superlatives available and would still not pay justice to this benchmark deeply fruity and sensational piece of Apple tart. The pastry, simply of world class perfection.   10/10

Lamb’s brain, Kohlrabi, brown butter $13 – The meat, superbly buttery as it should, packed with deep enjoyable flavors. Potatoes would need more cooking and less salt (the level of cooking being so high on this evening that this passes as an afterthought..still, avoid this….  ) …but who cares when the overall is as delicious as this? 8.5/10

Braised octopus $30- Some eat octopus like you drink water. A”no big deal’ affair, rfaol. For me, the humble son of the sea..Rfaol…cooking Octopus sets apart the great cooks from the rest. One of my lifetime best Chefs has served me only..octopus!. Rfaol! But what an octopus that was!  Since then,  all Chefs who have served me stunning octopus meals have invariably counted among my favourite Chefs. The two very best octopus dishes I was served in YUL remain those I had at Kazu and Biron. This one is really not far from the aforementioned. This was clearly some very skillful cooking: The fresh cephalopod mollusc was cooked enoughly slow to maintain that perfect balance between the chewy and the tender, which is exactly what a prime octopus  should be about. If you think this is an easy affair to master, then let me know: I have a list of at least 30 very serious restaurants (in Montreal and abroad) who seemed to have never understood the art of cooking the octopus, laughably confusing the rubbery with the chewy. This was a solid 9/10 dish, and where I scored a 9/10  when all was technically excellent  eventhough not necessarily exciting, here it is a case where  both the technique and the palatable excitement shone through. In the top tier of all my 9/10 dishes, and almost a dream dish for a top level 2 star Michelin table in Europe. I feel a bit embarassed to not score this dish  with the full 10/10 it largely deserves, the only reason I am refraining from doing so is because  I was born and raised on the shores of an ocean where seafood dishes were naturally centuries ahead  of the top seafood dishes that many are raving about nowadays  (last year, while dining with a friend who knows 3 star Michelin ventures as much as you and I are are familiar with our two hands, he insisted that I sample his lifetime favourite 3 star Michelin seafood dish. A dish that “”will make you reconsider everything you ate before“”, he insisted. I politely finished the dish and told him: ”’you are a friend, and I like you. Thus, I’ll be honest with you: if I’d bring this dish to the people with whom I was raised, they will laugh at me”. That dish was of course technically well executed, but there are comparisons you can’t make, unless of course  you know what you are talking about..the taste of the best seafood dishes I had on the shores where I grew up being way more divine  than what I was sampling.). When I see dishes like those, I realize how, abroad, many are laughably making lots of noise with way lesser ability than our most serious Chefs (we have pathetic  cooks, too, surviving only because they hide behind stardom BS, but Chef Cohen is not of that breed).   This was accompanied with a superb ragout (of exemplary tomatoes, beans, the acidity so beautifully controlled) and an outstanding aioli (those who think aioli is a granted affair will benefit from trying  this one).

Strawberry and goat’s curd dacquoise – Of course, delicious as everything that this kitchen has delivered all along this evening, and here is a case where goat cheese (I wished Jannice, a huge fan of goat cheese-based desserts was here tonight) is at its most palatable level, its freshness so amazing.  Had the meringue part  being better refined and delivering more depth of flavor as I have experienced with other dacquoise, I’d certainly have happily raved more  about this dessert. Nevertheless this  was still really good.     8/10

The coffee I had on this evening…I asked for an expresso…it was not an expresso…it was a failed attempt at a reflection on the expresso..it was actually just a poor cup of regular coffee…  far worst than an afterthought: utterly watery,  supremely insipid. I drank it …to be polite!  Perhaps the worst cup of coffee I ever sampled at a restaurant. 0/10

Lawrence’s daily menu is available on their twitter account, with prices, etc

PROS: A coup de coeur! Easily in my top 5 best bistrots in Yul. The delicious food, and solid cooking of course. Chef Cohen mixes  British gastro pub refined dishes with other  Intl inspirations: French, etc. He does that with uncommon creativity, too.  To Montreal standards, this is at the top of the ladder. Cohen rocks, the city knew that already. Now I know, too. A gastropub with elegance, thoughtful touches. This is not a cheapie gastro pub (I do not mind cheapie at all, to the contrary I love holes in the wall that deliver great food, but this is an elegant gastro pub). I visit restaurants just to find what’s best for me , so that I know where to go on special occasions with friends, my wife, relatives, etc. While at it, I share my findings with you. And I am always happy to find that little place I know I can rely on. Which is the case here, even if I still need to clarify the question marks I raised over the  service.  

CONS: The coffee…the coffee..the coffee.  Barista, please! And naturally, you have to describe all the dishes that you serve, not just some of them.

Overall food rating: 8.5/10 Solid cooking, top stuff indeed. An appealing creative  menu for this kind of restaurant. And in two years of intense searches throughout YUL’s finest… this is the only new entry in my top tier favourite tables. On an evening like this, they  managed to make me forget about my favourite bistrots   in town (Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie Poisson on Jean-Talon, Kazu). That speaks volume about this evening’s meal.
Service: I won’t rate this. We have all we need to know in the service section and I would find it unfair to score this as a poor service  given the fabulous performance of the ‘ying” part of the service. Also, as I explained: perhaps what I think is the ‘yang’ part is actually not ‘yang’ at all (or who knows, it’s perhaps the ‘style’ that’s intended too?…although, if that is a style….for the prices that are charged, well nah…I do not need style, thanks..)  and bottom line, no one was rude here. 
Decor:   It certainly does not look like your typical laidback pub. Although the décor is clearly of the bistrot kind (wood floor, no tablecloth on the tables, a bit of the ‘post industrial’ theme, simple metal grey chairs), we are here in no neglected settings.

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KGP, Montreal – The non happening

Dinner @ Kitchen Galerie Poisson 
Saturday June 4th 2011, 9PM
Addr: 399, Rue Notre Dame Ouest
Phone: 514-439-6886
Type of food: North American Bistro/Seafood
URL: http://www.kitchengaleriepoisson.com/menus/index.html

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

(English review will follow) – A ces prix là, one ne peut pas se permettre une seule soirée ‘OFF’! Oh, oui j’allais oublier: c’est un copie-coller du meme commentaire que je fais pour chaque repas qui m’a décu car en fait, je ne suis inspiré que lorsque c’est…inspirant!
 
Kitchen Galerie, as most Montlealers already know, is a well established restaurant located on Jean Talon. The one on Jean-Talon is a favourite of mine following some outstanding meals like this one. Recently, their main Chefs (JF St-Denis and Mathieu Cloutier) did open another restaurant in the old Montreal: Kitchen Galerie Poisson (their seafood venue). Jannice and I paid a visit to their restaurant in the old Montreal this Sat June 4th 2011 and the cuisine, on this evening, was prepared under the auspices of Chef Jean Francois St Denis (a very friendly and joyous gentleman who went from table to table serving customers the food he had prepared for them).

We started with their Foie gras poêlé aux fruits confits, $ 21 – A far cry from what their   2nd line up Chefs, Axel and Mathieu Bourdages, have served me at Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon  (refer to this dinner’s review). I know that this type of story won’t please the most (I am the very first victim of such, since reporting about average dinings is a pure loss of time and guess what…MONEY!!), but … what’s complicated with pan-searing a piece of foie gras? This did not worth even 1 cent of its $ 21 price tag.  That tiny insipid   piece of pan-seared foie gras was…DRY!!, U-N-I-N-S-P-I-R-E-D!   All I was left with is to find consolation in souvenirs of  the stunning pan seared foie gras of Chef Axel @ Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon or the dazzling €2 (less than $4 memorable piece of pan seared foie gras @ la Cuchara de San Telmo in SSB).  0/10

Then we picked their Beignets d’huîtresoysters beignets. I know many food columnists have raved about those, and the buzz has gone a long way, but seriously … who can miss frying beignets, for god sake??  Have you noticed that I didn’t even bother rotating the pic of that dish properly? That is right: when I pay for food that has no inspiration, I have no business being inspired neither! 5.5/10

Next: one dish that they should not have missed -> their surf & turf, basically comprised of a straightforward filet mignon and a losbter tail.  I requested the cooking of the filet mignon to be blue rare. It was served medium rare! I just don’t get that one (cooking meats at desired doneness is not rocket science; at home, in their backyards, most people are not missing this one. Worst case: there are meat thermometers to come at your rescue, Rfaol!). But this was not my main quibble about this dish….the lobster was:  tempura fried lobsters that I will only remember for its cheapie-looking texture and  uninteresting flavor. At $45…this was amplified frustration!  Just serve those lobsters simply grilled…!!!   The photos I took suffer from lack of light, but honestly…you are missing absolutely nothing!  6/10

When it is not meant to succeed, it just won’t work…even their basic  dessert missed the marks:
A chocolate mousse-based cake topped with marshmallow was ordinary. Go figure… 5/10

Ironically, it’s at Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon, stronghold of their 2nd line Chefs, where  I’ve experienced inspiration and stunning food. Chef JF St-Denis, last year’s winner of Canada’s Gold Medal plates (along with Chef Cloutier) was in the dining room this evening @ KGP…but if this is what he is capable of, then I am afraid we do not share the same appreciation of  Gold!

258.05$ for two persons….that is what appeared on the bill..BUT for what, e – x  – a – c – t- l – t – y?? The gentleman who served us (an amazing fellow, btw) was surprised that I was taking a pic of the bill. If only he knew…. Not his fault, so I didn’t tell him anything about my frustration. Like in most cities, the majority of people want to hear  good stuff  about  their restaurants, but if improving matters to you … then reality has to be unfold!

My friendly advise: Put  style  (the compact all-wooden  and warm bistro decor is indeed cool, the laidback friendly ambience too, the visit of their top chef to the tables, etc…but…) aside and focus on substance!

I will keep going back to KG on Jean-Talon, but here…NO..Thanks!

PROS: Nothing on this meal
CONS: This meal was a 258$ disappointment! Never again.

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Ethics, Guidelines + Questions & Answers to Aromes

Aromes reviews are written in a style that is not sellable / media or buzz-friendly. In other words, you will rarely find my reviews advertised on restaurant web sites or promoted in the foodie blogosphere. This is exactly what I want since the purpose of my reviews is to be as indepent as possible from the restaurant industry.

How this food blog works:
Here’s my method: I pick a city known to have great food (latest : Montreal, Canada).
For several months, I gather the maximum  information possible about its restaurant scene.

Then I indulge in intensive visits to the maximum  of restaurants possible (If you are serious about what you do, there’s no need  to go to ALL restaurants. You won’t have a life to fullfill this, anyways. But after several months of intensive and smart research and dinners,  you will get a serious idea of what counts).

From there, I review only the restaurants that are in many ways (originality, creativity,  outstanding cuisine) leading the pack in that given city. This is far from being a tough task: in any given city,  you won’t find hundreds of restaurants that are outstanding from the rest, but usually one or two dozen of them at best. Although my interest is mainly about French fine dining and upscale bistroTs, I do at times also cover  other type of restaurants. 

Here are the sources that I rely on (virtually everything on restaurants except those that are  known to advertise about them, naturally):

-food blogs
-people on the street
-folks at work
-foodie circles (foodie gatherings, conferences and all types of other foodie events do bring a lot to your experience as a food enthusiast)

Evaluation of restaurants:

(1)In the past, I was using the tag “Best of” in the title of reviews covering the top  restaurants of a given area. That sounded like an advertisement, Rfaol!  My readers know that my current work is focused on the finest dinings. No need to add more.  I did not modify the title of the old reviews — that contained the “best of” description —- but from now  on, this will not be mentionned anymore in my titles. 
(2)I have definitely adopted the ‘marks out of 10’ rating

Please click here to learn more about my food review ratings.

The big NO..NO

(1)No familiarity with restaurant staffs nor management
(2)Never accept invitation from restaurants
(3)No free meals

BUT anonymity like you and I will enjoy.

You can find more about my ethics on my Michelin Star dining web site.

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