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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Le Margaux, Montreal


LE MARGAUX ,
classic French Bistrot, 5058 Ave du Parc, Montreal
514-448-1598
http://www.lemargaux.com/
Dinner there on Nov 29th 2012, 19:00

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 ,

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

Le Margaux is a  French bistrot mostly inspired by  influences of south western France’s classic cuisine . Bistrots focusing on classic regional  cuisines of France do not abound in Yul, and  the few that I have tried passed as simply Ok to me (Paris Beurre being one that comes to mind). This is not to be confused with a a Bistrot like Au 5e Péché, which has indeed a Chef from France, but which cuisine  leans towards modern French bistronomy.  The cooking at Le Margaux is a cuisine  I am very familiar with for having spent many years in South west France. It (south western France) is also the other  place around the globe, after the Indian Ocean, where I have fine-tuned my cooking skills, both places having a strong influence on my long years of cooking and in my food likings, naturally.

We are not in Southern France, so I’ll keep my expectations to realistic degree and will apply myself to situate this meal to its closest local peers, if you can call that comparison… (as I wrote earlier on, real authentic French bistrot do not abound in Montreal).

The meal started with an amuse bouche of  creme de cepesAn exciting and refined  ‘crème’ with fabulous buttery and earthy mouthfeel. The best item of my meal, tonight.  9/10

 

Then crab cake/lobster bisqueThe good news: the price, $8.95. Who can do better? Another good news: tasty, generous (you had pieces of bread, with rouille atop and emmental cheese)… all of that for 8.95!!!!!!!! Can’t beat that cost performance. Now, as much as I like this place, as much as  I need to get down to business here: first, too many things going on … too busy as a dish! A simple stunning crab cake (this crab cake was forgettable,  its bread crumbs lacking the beautiful golden color of a winning crab cake, its expected meaty-ness and more importantly taste of the crab barely present) with a memorable bisque (‘passable’ is how I would describe that lobster bisque, since the crustacean never managed to express itself with this bisque. A world away from the one I had last year at  Le Bonaparte) would have been a blast.  Also: I did really not need the emmental cheese. It is a very generous table, and many will appreciate this feature, but oftentimes  I find dishes this generous to be mostly over-done, especially at Le Margaux. Le Margaux is at its best when it sticks to doing the classics in their sheer simplicity (I’ll repeat this oftently in this review) , not when it tries too much to please, in my opinion.  5/10

Ris de veau en persillade $25.99 – Those sweetbreads were done in proper classic French cooking traditions, seasoned as it should and I could see that the classic sweetbreads/persillade process was indeed applied beautifully (as we all know, the pre-cooking preparation being a key feature of the execution of a ris  de veau en persillade, and I could observe that this part was well mastered just by the fresh quality and consistency of the meat itself  ), but they lacked the excitement in visual appeal and depth of flavor that a place like Au 5e Péché, as an example,  manages to pull out from its sweetbreads.   Cooking is no miracle: a little detail such as an additional last minute addition of fresh parsley would have made a good improvement here.  Generosity is Le Margaux’s forte, so  the sweetbreads came with a flawless hachis landais,  bites of duck confit, and a spoon of duck  foie gras. The accompaniments were good, but I wish the sweetbreads would be packed with the beautiful plump texture of its better versions.  5/10

Joue de veau braisée à l’ancienne $ 23.99 – A generous portion of beautifully tender veal cheeks. Some would look down on dishes like this because it is more homey than gourmet, but that would be an error: this kind of classic dish is expected to have a homey feel. It is the way it should be. This had a really nice taste and showcased great respect of traditional French cooking methods. Those familiar with créole sauce rougaille (http://recettes.de/rougaille)  would particularly feel at home since the sauce tasted exactly like a sauce rougaille, with the fresh tomato tang and the parsley flavor being this time so well exploited . A well executed one, btw. It takes  dishes like this to  remind us how cooking is vast and the more you know, the better you appreciate. This, in its genre, was a successful classic French dish.  Just stop serving that spoon of duck liver crème brulée  dish after dish (it featured again as an accompaniment to this dish) . 7/10

Mousse noisette, sorbet à la manguehazelnut mousse was excellent confirming what I have always thought of Le Margaux since its very debuts, years ago: sheer simplicity  isbetter for them  (7/10), but I found the mango sorbet ordinary for its lack of vivid texture and color, although the taste was Ok, still far from the most successful fruitier  versions that abound in town or that I could have made at home  (4/10)

PROS of this meal: The crème de cèpes! The kind of item ppl would tell you that it is no big deal but ask them to deliver it, lol!  What a crème that was!  Still on the food aspect, I appreciated the bright homey flavors  brought by the rougaille tasting joue de veau. On a personal level, I have always liked the pristine all-white clean décor of Le Margaux. I feel so good here, in my element. It is, with the décor of La Chronique, the type of simple European setting that I am fond of.

CONS of this meal: On this evening, the crab cake, the lobster bisque, the sweetbreads, the mango sorbet, all done with great intent but lacking in palatable excitement. 

Overall food rating of this evening’s meal5/10 based on what I came to expect from a classic French bistrot outside of France.The overall score being low here because the crab cake and sweetbreads were essentially too weak. But Le Margaux can, at times, do better than this, especially when they stick to dishes oozing of sheer simplicity such as that crème de cèpes, the joue de veau à l’ancienne (remember, this was not the neo-bistrot version of the veal cheeks but one classic French interpretation of it), the simple but well executed hazelnut mousse.

Bottom line: Le Margaux is considered by many among Montreal top bistrots. I like this place, but I can’t confidently situate it among Montreal finest. Let me explain: this is my 3rd visit here in 5 years, and when Le Margaux sticks to sheer simplicity, it can indeed do great  as proven by the item of crème de cèpes, an item that even many grand tables can’t always deliver with equal panache. But as on my 2 other visits here, the amazement was unfortunately not always continual. Exactly as I have experienced this evening: crab cake and sweetbreads that seemed to me to have never shone at the heights of the crème de cèpes. Tip: when you go there, focus on their strengths which, based on my experiences with Le Margaux, have been their work of the duck (duck magret, for example). Foie gras is also king there. I am not too sure if they still do it as well as I have enjoyed it on my 1st visit there, but they also used to do some nice things with  veal kidneys (again, I have no clue if they are still  as good as those  I had on my 1st meal here since I never re-ordered veal kidneys ther for a long time).  This evening I seemed to have pushed them a bit out of their comfort zone (notice that I took no duck magret, ordered no foie gras, etc). Service on this evening was top! 

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Not much on top of what  I have already written. I don’t think that Le Margaux will ever be a top classic French bistrot (well, I hope for them, that they can prove me wrong), but it certainly can, here and there,  offer some pleasant traditional flavors

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Montreal Restaurants with the most BUZZ: Au Pied De Cochon!

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Au pied de Cochon , 536 East Duluth
Montréal
, QC H2L 1A9
(514) 281-1114
http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca

Type of cuisine: Rework of some Quebec’s classics + some very unique fares proper to APDC

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

(English review will follow) – Des milliers de restos et plusieurs années après leur ouverture, APDC continue à faire cavalier seul: unique avec sa cuisine rustique réiventée, inspirée des traditions locales, l’endroit n’a pas perdu de son lustre si je le compare à ma dernière visite ici,  il y’a plus de deux ans. Mon repas de ce 28/11/2012 fut composé d’une excellente vichyssoise aux oursins, excitant en bouche. Suivi d’un maki d’anguille exécuté tel qu’il se doit (bonne qualité de la feuille d’algue, le riz balancant parfaitement entre fermeté et moelleux requis, l’anguille de bonne qualité). Pour enfin conclure sur un péché gourmand, tellement riche en gout qu’il vous faut presque un appétit d’ogre pour parvenir à le finir: le pied de cochon fourré au foie gras, succulent comme ce fut l cas la dernière fois que je l’avais essayé ici, quoique moins excitant que sa version précécédente surtout à cause du manque de ‘punch’ acide dont bénéficiait celui de mon repas du  15 Decembre 2009.    

UPDATE Dinner @ APDC on 28/11/2012 18:30 –  I can’t believe I haven’t gone back  for that long. But I have been so disappointed by the latest new eateries in town that I find consolation in the old time favourites. APDC is Montreal’s most celebrated restaurant and foodies from all around the world flock here after all the rage generated by Anthony Bourdain’s no reservation show on APDC, naturally leading to leagues of anti and pro APDC foodies, Rfaol! Rule of thumb: go to a restaurant because it is your style of food, do not go because someone raved about it! And between you and me: you seek for gourmet suggestions from the greatest ones (JacquesMaximin, Eric Briffard, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon )…not from Tony B,Rfaol! Although a pleasant gentleman and certainly very interesting character, I certainly have no plan to rely on Tony to know where I shall go to eat. With that said, I think that for food as characteristic to its land as the one found at APDC, you should, before opting to travel all the way to Montreal, ensure that this is food that caters to your taste. I am insisting on this because I know many ppl who travel to Montreal and expect surreal things from Apdc whereas they do not enjoy rustic rich French food in the first place. Some ordering APDC’s foie gras poutine and they do not even like poutines. Others go there with the idea of finding some type of upscale food. Hey, c’mon folks…it is APDC’s take on RUSTIC RICH cuisine.

On this evening, I picked 2 items from the daily menu as well as their signature pig trotter au foie gras that was already reviewed on my last meal here (see below).

The 1st item off the daily menu was a Vichyssoise  (I ate it all way before thinking about picturing it, lol) mixed with sea urchin, one of the merely examples that reminds  of  why APDC appeals to many: there is always, somewhere on its menu, little creative gems that few in town dare trying because not many can turn them into the exciting creations that can sometimes comes from this kitchen. A triumph of texture and moutful bliss 8/10

Another item from their daily menu I picked was a maki of eel. It would be absurd to compare Adpc’s version to what a sushiya would do, apdc is not a sushi place, but here again Apdc shows the little fun and out of the ordinary things (to Montreal’s bistrt standards) that few other bistrots manage to achieve this well in town. Or when they do, it is not as interesting as at Apdc. It would be foolish  to compare it to sushis at sushi places, you certainly are not gojng to start evaluating the quality of the meshi, the number of rice grains here, rfaol,  but it  was certainly  tasty and refreshing to be found on a bistrot table in Yul. 6/10

Ended witthe pig trotter stuffed with foie gras, almost as deliciously rich as I remembered it from last time, only the dazzling tang of acidity of the last version was more subtle this time, making it a bit less memorable. Still, good and in its genre, a successful delicious rustic creation A 7/10

I like APDC because all that counts for me is how far a meal can be delicious. Yup, I know…people say that rich food is alwaysdelicious and things like that, but   you have to make it happen. And this is where theory and practice do clash. Listen, if you have that idea of spectacular food being what Ferran Adria was delivering, do not go to Apdc. If you will start complaining about greasy food, do not! Rustic rich delicious food takes butter, it takes fat.  Point blank. In its genre (a take on rustic rich cuisine), apdc is a treat. It is a well oiled eatery with classy service, fun ambience. Their wine choices are among the most exciting in town,  especially the little gems that are off the wine menu After all these years, thousands of restaurants later, it remains Montreal most unique and delicious table.

Overall rating of this meal of Nov 28th 2012: As always, divine delicious rich and rustic  food , although..hey mon petit cochon….you were a tad more exciting at the time of Chef Hughe Dufour (now in the US).   Now the scores: scoring individual dishes, I have no problem with that, even in the case of ADPC. I did it, actually and found it as fair as I could go. But  assigning an overall score to this meal, or even the previous meal at APDC would be a non sense. To what overall food rating … would that overall food rating at APDC be compared to? It’s just not, as an overall,  a dining experience you can compare to something else.You can’t compare APDC to anything else since it has its very own style of re-visiting classic québécois cuisine. It is unique even on its own land, so no comparison to make with what is done anywhere else. After all these years, APDC remains a huge personal favourite for  festive rustic rich food and I could assign it a 10/10, a 20/10, a 30/10 overall food rating…it just won’t mean anything and will serve nothing! So does it worth travelling all the way to Montreal to eat at APDC because it is unique? In my view, No. But if you happen to be in Montreal, and you are fond of rustic rich food, Yes, put APDC at the top of the list!

THE FOLLOWING IS THE REVIEW OF MY DINNER THERE ON  Tuesday December 15th 2009, 21:30PM

APDC!
As anyone knows by now, it is the Montreal restaurant with the most buzz. Zillions of restaurants would drool over the never-ending legendary popularity of APDC. Some few hate it, a LOT love it! 
Naturally, knowing my preferrence for classic fine french fares, most of my friends think I do sn0b APDC. Most actually never even mind asking, anticipating horrific responses from my part!
And some few, anticipating my rejection of APDC, plays the “anticipated accomodation” with statements like “It is way overhyped, way over this, way over that…”. 
Although it is a fact that I am more into fine dining classic French fares, and that APDC is indeed not a restaurant that I dream about at night,  I would like to seize this opportunity and set couple of records straight:
-To those who complain about APDC being overhyped, keep in mind that when you are fond of something, you will sound naturally overhyped. So, APDC appears overhyped just because a lot of people are madly in love with APDC. Or…is it overhyped to some, just because APDC doesn’t serve food that looks like at any other classic restaurant? If that is the case, recall that APDC was not meant to serve the classic white-glove presented dishes (everyone knows that this is wild and rustic food)!
-Some said that all of this hype has started because of Anthony Bourdain’s No reservations reportage about APDC. C’mon…Bourdain or Not…I do not know anyone enoughly stupid to fall in love with a restaurant just because someone else did like it. Bourdain helped with the visibility of APDC, but had APDC not pleased the tastebuds of the most, there would have been no buzz at all!
-Now, APDC … I cannot compare it to any other restaurant since it’s unique, on it’s own genre. It’s also a restaurant that I do admire a lot for it’s originality, daring approach to gastronomy and most importantly, for the enjoyment it is bringing to the most.

HOW IT ALL STARTED!
My love story with APDC  started years  back, by a hot summer evening, while sipping an enjoyable martini on a terrace of the Vieux Port with a bunch of friends. The name popped out from the mouth of one of the attendees. I had heard about it before, but this time it was making it’s way deep into my conscience: out of the 9 folks, 6 were raving about it as if it was the biggest thang of all times, with .. I am not kidding….multimedia presentations of their favourite restaurant live from their handheld devices. At some point, I thought it was fixed up! Then things went fast: a first dinner there at the invitation of one of the 6 devoted fans + an another one with his best friends (like a clan of APDC fans ). Those two first dinners did unfortunately not impressed me at all: the famous “duck in a can” I had on 1st dinner has not done the trick for me. Same for the baked apple + other items I preffered erasing from my souvenirs on the subsequent dinner there.

Then time passed. And I found myself playing the tape about one side of those 2 dinners that I kinda neglected a bit: the amazing collective happyness all patrons seemed to be bathed in. I have rarely seen that in a restaurant. On both dinners, it was packed…jam packed…of people who looked so happy to be there. So blessed to enjoy their food. There had to be something that I was missing! Then I kept asking myself “in the end, shouldn’t food be just that: putting a huge sunshine of happyness of people’s heart!”. So, I opted for a new approach: the curiosity level (strange hein? Usually you are curious then you try. BUT this time, it was the other way around: I tried it already, thought I would forget about it forever, and here I am offering a new eye on it). I started reading a lot about APDC, the philisophy of it’s Chef Martin Picard, the reasons behind the impressive success and buzz around this fairytale. In th end, I found myself  embracing the cult (lol): this food is making a lot of people happy and that is what counts the most! So, I decided to go to APDC for a 3rd time with a totally new angle, this time: just go and enjoy! Of course, it won’t stop me from describing things the way they are (I can’t do otherwise: if the fries are burnt, why would I say that they aren’t? If the meat is bland, well I will have to describe it as is: bland!) — but there was a new attitude this time: heading there with a relaxed approach. A festive one!

ok, ok the damn FOOD..!
POUTINE OF FOIE GRAS
– I started with the poutine of foie (yeah, no appetizer because I knew that I had to make it for my two heavyweight choices of this dinner: the poutine of foie + the pig’s foot with foie!). Although they are famous for their poutine of foie, I never thought about ordering it on the first two visits. This time I made that choice. After years in Quebec, needless to stress that poutines I devoured! For years, I can’t count anymore the numerous times I had enjoyed poutines at my QC’s buddies grand parents homes, I can’t anymore count the numerous spots that I have eaten at as soon as they would be known for their poutine by locals, I can’t anymore count the numerous times I have spent perfectionning that poutine gravy, fries consistency or texture, it’s taste (with all kind of oil and all sorts of techniques –from the most traditional to the most modern ones — and ingredients). The ONLY thing I never tried was just that: foie with poutine. My dish of poutine had a nicely seared hunk of duck liver (that fully earthy flavored foie was delicious in taste with perfect smooth inside consistency) sitting atop the poutine. The poutine’s fries were flawless. Cheese curds were perfectly fresh, enjoyably squeaky springy and delicious +  the gravy was to die for (the touch of the foie flavor in that already delish rich unctuous gravy was pure blast to my tastebuds)! SUCCULENT!    8/10

What a pig am I! Rfaol! I courageously went for the second heavyweight of the evening:

PIG’S TROTTER WITH FOIE GRAS – This braised then breaded pork’s trotter had the expected ideal tenderness and oozed of  addictive enjoyable fatty flavors that were shinning through the rest of the delicious meat. On it’s side, a delicious earthy creamy rich foie gras sauce with tasty fresh sauteed mushrooms, nicely sauteed fiddleheads (crunchy and tasty) topped by an excellent chunk of perfectly seared (awesome browny texture on the outside, nice meaty center on the inside) duck liver that kept an impeccable earthy flavorful taste. The extra lemon acidity note found in that dish complemented very well the overall, adding punch to an alredy savourish meal. Inspired, rich and excitingly enjoyable!  8.5/10

Chosen wine:
A Beaujolais: the 2007 Brouilly La Croix des Rameaux. Still a young wine (I have 2 bottles at home, and I will open them in between 6-8 yrs from now), and yet a solid choice:  a red wine without barely any flaw -> beautiful intense ruby red color, well balanced and enjoyable fruity and sublty spicy nose. Even the finish is well balanced: not a long, nor a short finish but a very enjoyable one. Solid elegant wine and one great value imho.

I wish I could devour some of the desserts, but humm..me belly full! I was also looking forward to devour one of their signature dish, la plogue à champlain, but it is now off the menu (the wait staff explained that it would now be served at their sugar shack. Makes sense to serve such sweet dish at a sugar shack.

amazing service!
I am amazed by the professionalism (of their entire staff) on this dinner: I recall a lot of places full of sucess, with staff that just could not keep up with the buzz (heads getting bigger and bigger, puffed by success), but at APDC this is absolutely not the case -> despite legions of admirers (on our way out, close to midnight, it was as festive and busy as ever!), they keep their cool, stand very professional and attentive: while waiting in line to be seated, the Maitre D’ recognized a of regulars that was behind us. I gently proposed that they are seated before us (a trap!), but the Maitre D’ never fell into the trap: she courteously sat us first. Small detail you might think, but you will be surprised by the numerous times I saw this trap closing on many staff at big restaurants. Such tact is admirable from the Maitre D’, and was in line with the impeccable service we received from the few  waiters who came at our table: courteous, helpful, attentive and all that in a casual cool atmosphere. Bravo!  

THE OVEN OF decadent sins!
The world already know about APDC. The web is full of pictures of this temple of savourish food, but how come barely anyone thought about an hommage to their magical wood-burning oven (as most already know, it used to be a pizzeria, and nowadays that oven is behind most of the savourish food we are all raving about):  

 

a decor for feast!
I have always been a fan of the laid back all wooden narrow rustic decor of APDC: proximity of chairs and tables, mirrors on the wall, all ingredients for cooling down and enjoying a festive meal

 

And do you know that many places, as busy close to midnight:

Packed!!

THEY LOVE THEIR MAN!
They have a big portrait of Chef  Martin Picard in the Gents room.

And a techno touch amidst the rustic decor, still in the Gents room -> 

An LCD  flat monitor displaying the Wild Chef’s TV show. Why not? I rather see the face of someone who is making people’s stomach happy than the picture of mad cows like North Korean’s Kim Jong il who makes my stomach vomit!

Bottom line: I have the highest respect for Martin Picard. The guy could have easily went with a safe fancy type of high end cuisine. Instead, he rethought the matrix and came out with an amazing rework with additional creative add-ons of some of  the French Canadian classic fares and his own creations. Food that is that heavenly deliciously tasty: ANYTIME! And it’s rebellious, different, creative, daring, indigenous and you name them…just what I like!

SEE the gallery of this dinner’s pictures on my Google’s Picasa online web album:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/AUPIEDDECOCHONRESTAURANTMONTREAL#

Check all my Mtl’s restaurant quick reviews on YELP 

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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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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.

Standard

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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