Venezzia (Venice, Venise) – Is it overrated?

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)

(IV) SEE ALSO: the report on  Cinque Terre, Milan & Parma.

Your humble Montreal gourmand dropped by Venice on June 16th since my meal at Le Calandre was  relatively close. It’s not my first time in Italy, but my first in Venice. Instead of indulging in the common public relationship’s write-up style  that we all can profusely peruse over the web, I went with a more ‘down to earth’ straight-to-the point approach’. To each, their own

Usually, when you see a dispatch with such title as “is xxx overrated”, you would naturally anticipate frustration from the dispatcher and I would anticipate the usual reactions like ‘why don’t you just enjoy Venice..instead of nitpicking, Rfaol! Not to worry: wherever I go, I think about my enjoyment first and do fully appreciate my time however things go. You certainly do not invest your hard earned money in nitpicking. But for the constructive sake of guiding people in the more accurate way, I’d rather write about all sides of the theme. Do not judge hastily, my conclusion of this dispatch might not be what you thought in the first place, and with those carefully selected infos that I am sharing with you, your trip there might be optimized.

I have always maintained that if I had to write something, I may as well do it differently. And more importantly, my own way, regardless of what people might think. Therefore, I’ll spare you the same refrain about Venice’s landmarks:  the world already knows that you need to lose yourself in its canals, that it’s supposed to be one of the most romantic places on earth,  that there are two train stations  you need to be informed about (Santa Lucia Train Station which is the one you need to take in order to get to the most interesting parts of Venezzia –its name in Italian–,  the car-free historic center  with its endless canals and popular sites like Piazza San Marco,  and then you have a second train station, that is Venezzia Mestre which is the hub to the automobile-friendly part of Venezzia) and that Venice…well, it is also the  Venice that can make you dream, as well….

I am more interested to cover an aspect of Venezzia that over-optimism and unecessary need to make travel reports beautiful at all cost….do usually and sadly lure us away from: what if Venezzia was a big tourist trap? Is Venezzia overrated? Some people thing so, and yet millions of people flock to Venezzia. The following might help us a bit into unveiling  the latter dilemma.

Tourist  trap? All places that are popular with tourists do naturally suffer from this. It’s, to me, utterly normal and if you ignore that reality, then you’ll be hurt in Venezzia, because for all the buzz created around its image of one of world’s most romantic places, you might perhaps –SEE next section to understand why I am writing ‘you might perhaps’ as opposed to ‘you will’ —, once there, find the ideal of romance be replaced by a very busy ambience of hordes of tourists flocking in all directions, and  lots of people approaching you with the expected need to offer you services (come on my gondola, eat at my restaurant, but your souvenirs at my shop).

So Venezzia, not romantic at all? Of course, we all have our ideal of what a romantic place might look like. But I think that it is absolutely wrong to let  the busy nature of Venice and its  hordes of tourists make Venice appear as less romantic. What about doing this: (1) if you land at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, take a mean of water transport up to Venice’s historic areas. Although it might appear overpriced at first glance (slightly more than 100 euros), you might get an initial enjoyable  perception of Venice this way (2)wander in Venice historic area’s canals and streets early in the morning, way before 9am. (3)I found Venice to be visually more enjoyable from its  waters, so perhaps this is how to get the best out of your journey in Venice. (4)I’d doubt that a gondola ride though the interior canals — as opposed to just the grand canal — late at sunset (not at night..since you just can’t see much anyways and it would make the ride as equally exciting to a night ride on any waters anywhere else) with your sweet half would not fit with the classic ideal of a romantic moment

What would I avoid in Venice? Eating at their restaurants, terraces in the historic area. It’s ..as you might expect…way too $$$ for what’s delivered. I would also avoid visiting Venice without having initially read a lot about its history and valuable architectures. Failing to do so make it worthless to visit Venice since you won’t appreciate the great depth of historical material behind what shall be displayed before your eyes. And if you can’t stand people…lots..lots…lots of people, well do not go!

Hope this helps in making your stay in Venice more enjoyable,
Aromes

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Postal card from Italy – The Italian Riviera (Cinque Terre) , Milan & Parma


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

A little tour of Northern Italy (regions of Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy) by  your humble Montreal gourmand. Enjoy!

CINQUE TERRE – Most people who read this blog have no clue of what Cinque Terre is about (since they are mostly gourmands). But if you happen to feel the urge of visiting Italy, I recommend you include CT in your plans.    It’s a coastal area of five  eye-candy fishing villages of the Italian Riviera (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza,Corniglia,Manarola, and Riomaggiore). This is my first time here, and despite a major mudslide that affected some parts of this area, I have to say, upon my visit here ( Friday June 15th, 2012) that the place is as charming as ever: picturesque typical seaside Italian villages with colorful Mediterranean landscapes and lively ambience.

Touring CT was a breeze and one of the most fascinating experience as a traveller. I opted for a tour guide of the region:  Douglas Heise’s tour of Cinque Terre. Doug is a charming gentleman, and more importantly one of the most reliable tour guides I can think of. He offers both a seaside as well as a walking tour of what is nowadays widely known as one of Italy’s best well kept secrets (it is not a secret anymore, Rfaol, but definitely on the top 5 of Italy’s must-see places). Doug stayed till the very last minute with me, ensuring that the most was delivered. His knowledge of his region is un-parralled and what a cool person. This was top-class tour guide (I picked the sea tour of CT) and if you happen to visit CT, give a shout to Doug. 

Cinque Terre is beautiful, pure and simple natural beauty. But Doug surprised me with a finding on the gastro side as well. This gentleman is not the typical tourist guide with predictable recs. He went above and beyond and came out with — despite a week of top quality discoveries in Northern Italy — one of the major coup de coeur of my gourmand’s journey in Northern Italy:

It’s called  A cantina de Mananan and is located in  Corniglia (Cinque Terre) – Their Piatto misto acciughe / Mixed dish of anchovies(see above picture) was a reminder that the best of Italian cooking is the one that is  free to express itself without rules, guides nor food critic recommendations. The best of Italian cooking is taste that explodes in your mouth and lingers on your mind for a long time as epitomized by this Ligurian tastebud marvel .  This was a top dish, and in the room I could spot demanding local gourmands  with their nonnas raving over this cuisine. 

A Cantina de Mananan was a real gem and surprised me because in an area that is as touristic as Corniglia, they could have lowered their standards  and no one would have complained. Instead, they kept delivering stunning food after stunning food: 

For ie, their gnocchi salsa di noci (gnocchi and walnut sauce) had to be tasted in order to fully understand why, I found their meal on this Friday June 15th 2012, to outstand  many top  tables of Italian  cuisine in both the work of taste and texture of their food. This was Italian food in pure glory. A Cantina de Mananan, a fabulous hit on this lunch!

Osteria con cucina ‘A Cantina de Mananan’
Via Fieschi, 117 – Tel 0187 821166
Corniglia – Cinque Terre
Email: mananan@libero.it

A mention also to another place where they pay justice to the legendary palate of the Italian people: Ristorante Pizzeria Vulnetia in Venezzia  (Cinque Terre). They do Pizzas as well as various Italian amuses. Their sense of taste here is also fabulous.

MILAN – the city of fashion, business and the NEW Italy.This interesting article gives a fun introduction to Milan.For the gourmand that I am, it was also the opportunity to try their finest  iconic risotto à la Milanese. Outside of Milan, I spent  some time doing the same with the tortelli di zucca, a Mantuan signature dish. My modus operandi never varying: I always diligently knock at the doors of  experienced and picky local gourmands, twisting arms (I am kidding with the twisting arms;p)  in order to get as close as possible to their  hidden secrets. This brought some unusual …but much appreciated..moments such as enjoying the authentic food of some of their  nonnas (thanks to the Italian friends who made this possible: you know who you are!) in the Mantovan  countryside on at least 4 occasions.

Back to Milan, I understood that the locals were raving about Trattoria Milanese (the one on San Marta) as #1 best classic Milanese trattoria in town. I tried it, and here’s what I thought: 

It is a place that understands really well the needs of today’s diners: big portions, tasty food. As an ie, the saffron risotto you see on your left had that kind of deep rich flavor that makes a risotto standing out, and it was  sauteed to proper consistency with enough bite to it. But the osso bucco itself was just ok to me. Certainly impressive for its size, not the less appetizing but I have definitely seen better in town. It lacked the kind of meaty prime dimension that makes an osso bucco successful.  

And I have to say: I was disappointed by my starter of  Parma ham at Trattoria Milanese: in a region  where ham is a king, I was set aback by that lacklustre ham I was served. Odd. Only the wine really stood out: a Nino Negri Vigneto Fracia 2008, a lovely Nebbiolo.All in all, I can understand why many local gourmands recommended this place: you will feel good here (they treat you like a king, food is generally certainly tasty, the atmosphere really cool and I’ll certainly go back because I believe that a place where you feel well is a  place that deserves a return visit) . But as the #1 trattoria in Milan? I easily found 2 other spots that fared better and I am not even a local. 

 

PARMA – It is the temple of Parma ham and Parmigiano cheese, so naturally your Montreal gourmand had to stop by, Lol. Although manageable, I didn’t have time nor any interest neither to try all their places for Parmy ham and  cheese and tell you which ones stood  as my favourite, but as you would have guessed, any Parmy Cheese or Ham you try here is of course  among the very finest .With that said, there are naturally some who take the experience further in aging their  ham longer,  mastering its storage better than others, and using all kind of tricks and techniques to offer ultimate freshness and texture. One place that the locals kept suggesting for the perfected ham was  Salumeria Garibaldi. This is a salumeria well known and respected in the world of its top authentic  Parma charcuterie. They have a little table on the premises where you can seat and sample some of their finest hams and cheese. I asked for a tasting platter of their star prosciutti: culatello di Zibello  (culatello is a refined and aged prosciutto, the di Zibello kind being the top of the notch DOP kind), culaccia (another top prosciutto using production methods exclusive to the legendary nearby Salumifico Rossi). I also tried slices of  their coppa, along with …what a surprise..lol..their 30,48, and 60 months aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Top among the top stuff, indeed. You do not need to go all the way to Parma to taste those (I came to Parma for a combination of interest in both gastronomy and  architecture ), since you can also find those hams and cheese around Italy.

More to come….sorry, I am so exhausted, lately

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bottega, Montreal – Could this be the best Pizza in Montreal?

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site

Bottega
Cuisine type: Pizzas and other misc Italian calzones, sfizis, dolcis.
Addr: 65 St Zotique East, Montreal
Phone: 514-277-8104
URL: http://www.bottega.ca/

A while back,  I was reading an article on the best Pizzas in Paris written by a famous food columnist from France. Caught in  between the unsatisfaction of those whose pizzerias appeared to not make it among that Gentleman’s favourite  and their overexcited opponents, the debate was simply surreal. Let alone the circumstancial patronizers: ‘You should‘… wrote one of them ”ensure that you are Italian before giving your opinion about Pizzas‘…or that other one writing ‘you are not a purist‘…Rfaol! The best are the experts of the moment, those with lessons on what seems overrated to them. They are the best because instead of informing themselves on how a Pizza is baked, they will tell you what a Pizza should taste and look like. They will even provide you with the numbers: the pizza you’ve just ate…someone once told me..is 85% dough!  Euh..Nope…not at all, laughable man!  There’s also that normal instinct to always find ‘not that great‘ what others found outstanding (we are all victims of the latter). Ok, with me, things are simple: no matter what purists, non purists or Ave Maria thinks…we should all know better that food is subjective and only what pleases to my  (or your own) palate counts.

In Montreal, this is no different: every Pizzeria think his/her pizza is the best and the web is loaded with just that: ”hey Pendelis is the best, No it’s magpie, No it’s Bottega, oh wait it’s Napoletana..hey No, you are not a purist85% dough!”. Deuh. And on and on. Regardless, after 15 years in Montreal and being a great fan of pizzas, I went trying as many as I could throughout  more than a decade (the big  majority of Mtl  pizzerias from the top contenders like Bottega, Magpie, Napoletana, Amelio, the popular Artigiani, Manzio, Pendelis, Il Focolaio, Dei Compari,  up to the franchise variety Pizza hut, Domino, etc). And my verdict is clear: Bottega (the one on St Zotique, that is – The one in Laval has not impressed me that much) is the big winner. By leaps!

I have to remind this, it’s an important detail since it tells you what type of reviewer I am : I don’t technically analyze food in the 1st place. Analyzing is only second to my emotion. It’s food. It’s like breathing air. When the air is fresh and pure,  I first appreciate it (its freshness, how happy and moved it makes me feel)  .. then I may optionally  technically describe it (there was the right amount of oxygen, etc). I like reminding this to people because I see too many food  reviewers focused on the decrypting of their food: for ie, couple of months ago, I was seating at the table of a restaurant with a food critic and as soon as he indulged in the very 1st spoon of his velouté, he had a lot to say. Already..??..wait..did I tell him. Take your time, enjoy it. If it’s really bad, you’ll know it anyways. But upon enjoying one spoon..how on earth did you have time to enjoy (or not) it enoughly well to judge it? That’s me: I enjoy it first, and of course..if it’s really bad, I ain’t like it. If it’s just ok, I’ll say it. If it’s outsanding to my palate, I won’t hide it. Of course, as usual: it’s all subjective!

For this article, I just came from picking two classic Pizzas at Bottega  (the one on St-Zotique street):

Pizza Margherita
Their Margherita Pizza is the most memorable I ever had in Montreal. The taste, the cooking, the conception of the dough, all went in line with my idea of the ideal Pizza: a beautiful puffy cornicione, a standout soft crust, dazzling fresh toppings of San Marzano tomatoes and a fior di latte  that’s at its very best. A 9/10 (which is excellent) of my standards for top level pizzas. In  Montreal, there’s no doubt that this one at Bottega (again,on St Zotique) stood predominate at all levels (taste, baking consistency, top quality ingredients). I have tried   all its other top contenders in town  and none of them can hold a candle to Bottega , I am afraid! Moreover, all of them would benefit from a meal here and see how refinement can bring them a long way: just look at the photo and notice how nothing overwhelms  that pizza, textures are right on point, and  were miles away from common features so oftently seen elsewhere such as poorly conceived  crusts and bases, or  piles of overwhelming toppings.

Pizza Quattro Formaggi
With Gorgonzolla, Tallegio, provolla,ricotta and basil. An 8.5/10 (which is very good as opposed to excellent), but I personally never had better QF in Montreal. In Roma and Naples I has some few that fared better (perhaps 9/10), but still this is the best Quattro Formaggi I ever had in montreal.

If you have just arrived in Montreal, I’d suggest you start with Bottega  then continue with whatever is proposed to you. Personally, I found Bottega to be in its own league here in Montreal. With that said, if your palate is only pleased with  the North American takes on Pizzas or the over-doughy greasy pizzas of the quantitative type , then I am afraid you are losing your time reading this post: Bottega offers a Pizza that’s as close to home  as you’ll ever get here in Montreal. And in my assessment, their Pizzas are simply done way better, with better baking techniques, better flavor, better ingredients  and more authenticity and refinement than at any other Pizzeria in town. As usual, it’s a matter of personal taste and I hope you don’t go there expecting to be wowed: we eat so many Pizzas in our life, than unless a Pizza is shipped from Mars after being baked on Jupiter, we are unlikely going to be wowed by a Pizza!  Last but not least:  unless you decide to sit there, indulge in wines, extra items and other personal luxurious choices (like for ie, their $30 pizza made with black truffles),  I don’t see any reason you might find Bottega pricey:  That Margherita Pizza was $13,  the quatro Formaggi $17. Prices are listed on their web site.

Some of the other top contenders in town:
Although I did them all (Prato, Amelio, Magpie, and on and on), I wont list them all since this might be endless. Instead, I will just list some of the top contenders in town. Virtually everything have been explained on the web about these places so I’ll skip the technicalities (about the dough, the crust, etc) and jump directly onto the subjective personal opinion over the resulting palatable impact.   

Pizza Magpie, 16, rue Maguire – Magpie has delivered  the second favourite Margherita Pizza of this rundown right after Bottega’s. Their Margherita had actually a visual appeal that was even superior to the one at Bottega (my favourite Pizza style, as you have realized by now being the Neapolitan-Style, therefore the relevant visual style is also one that I prefer).  But Bottega’s Margherita  ended being the winner for its better puffed crust, and for being also tastier to my palate (I found Bottega to make a better use of the advantage of using the wood burning oven). The use of the dopio zero Italian wheat flour and top quality Ingredients such as the San Marzano’s cheese really give an advantage towards Neapolitan-Style authenticity to both Bottega and Magpie’s Margherita Pizzas. Magpie has a neo-rustic bistro-pub  electric feel that makes me want to go back there and sit at one of their tables. It’s such a cool laidback place with a nice service. I’ll go back time and again, that’s for sure, and when I’ll do so, I’ll try the Margherita and all their other items,
except for the pepperoni Pizza (it had an oily fragrance to it that didn’t do it for me). 8/10 for the Margherita Pizza, 5/10 for the Peperroni one but largely my #2 favourite Pizza in Montreal.

Pizza Prato 3891, boul. St-Laurent – This is the #3 of this rundown. This was different and interesting when compared to the other top contenders: flavors were enjoyable, the topping not as refined as on the Margherita Pizzas of Bottega and Magpie, but the taste of each ingredient being superb (you could really distinguish the fresh tomato taste from the superb depth of cheesy flavor, for ie). I don’t understand why they had to scatter the basil leaves (just leaving 3 beautiful basil leaves intact would have added to the visual appeal of that Pizza), but I won’t hold this against them since this pizza, without being the best of the rundown, remained one I wouldn’t mind re-ordering (despite the $16 price tag. The most $$ Margherita of this current review). This left a good taste on my palate. 7/10

Pizza Artigiani, 4657 rue St-Denis
A beautiful cozy place with a service to die for. They have a nice wooden bar, and a relatively chic warmful bistro feel decor, on Saint Denis not far from Laurier Street.. As for all Pizzas of this rundown, the intent there is to get as close to what’s offered in Italy, therefore wood-burning oven is  used for baking the pizza
I found this Margherita Pizza at Artigiani  to appeal a bit more to my taste than Napoletana’s, and yet I didn’t find it  to stand out by any means. The taste was good, crust well done, but the overall impact,again in my view, did not appear to me as anything superior to  what I can usually find at any good neighborhood pizza joint in town.  6/10
Pizza Napoletana, 189 Dante
Located not that far from Bottega, in little Italy. This place might be one of the few in town that can brag about its amazing popularity. Went there on a Tuesday evening and it was packed, a rare ocurence that only places like Au Pied de Cochon do have the privilege of enjoying. This is one of the top contenders among Mtl’s Pizza fans, especially those interested in a Pizza as close to home as possible.
For accuracy purpose I went buying this Pizza Margherita at Napoletana  so that we can compare apples to apples (I also ordered a Pizza Margherita for this rundown at all the other Pizzerias as well). I really went there with the intent to tell you that I thought this is indeed a top pizza place, but unfortunately this one Margherita fell short of any interest: pretty much anything about it was average, in my view:  the crust (just ok), the tomato sauce (nothing special), the taste (pretty much standard to my palate). I’ll go back and try other Pizzas of theirs. Perhaps I’ll then understand what the fuss is all about, but I expected a pizza as classic as a Margherita to shine. For that Margherita a 4/10

Bottom line:
Of course, we all know  that the ‘best’ is purely of subjective material and you have hopefully understood that by ‘best” I naturally meant what I perceived as ‘my favourite”.  This latest rundown has essentially covered the pizzerias widly buzzed (blogosphere, pizza fans circles, opinions of locals) as the very best in town.

As I have explained earlier on, of those, only Bottega has left a great impression on me (Magpie did a great job as well with their Margherita Pizza, the only 2nd best of its kind that I could find in Mtl,  second only to the one at Bottega).

With that said, I believe that it would be more accurate to convey that there’s no need to develop unecessary expectations towards such subjective appreciations: for ie, it would be erroneous to believe that wowness might be expected from Bottega since it’s at the top of my list. Wowness is in itself an over-rated, misleading description that is understood only by oneself’s perceptions, therefore as utterly as irrelevant as another nonsense: the term ‘over-rated’ (for those exact same reasons).

Bottega is the #1 on my list because it appeared to me (my expectations, my judgement, my evaluation) as the Pizzeria that made it in a better way, with better flavor compared to what I have been sampling in town at this given point in time. Nothing more, nothing less.

I actually purposely focused my review on Pizza Margheritas mostly … so that you can find an obvious weakness to pique upon … so that I can remind you that there’s no perfect opinion anyways, so  I may as well do my reviews the way I feel like doing them..Rfaol!

Now, although this city is not famous for its Pizzas (New York as an ie would fare better to that regard, in my opinion), I’ll end this post with some pizzas that are not necessarily claiming to be authentic  nor to be the best in town, but at this moment they surprisingly are bringing more  palatable excitement (as far as I am concerned)  than at  99% of their  widly buzzed peers:
-Pizzedelic:   At times, I found their Pizzas to be among this city most delicious at this Pizza chain.
-Pendelis  :   A long time favourite Greek Pizza place (I only know the one on Van Horne. Their hearty cheese pepperoni has satisfied me where many of the widly buzzed ones have failed. Talking about hearty Pizzas, Amelio’s do bake some tasty ones too.  Amelio’s is one of this city Buzed Pizzerias. Its tasty and rich taste coupled with the fact that the McGill Ghetto folks have a strong presence on the web do surely help. 
-Pizza Hut: I am a fan! Hey..what..?? It’s tasty to my palate and that’s the only thing that counts, no? It used to be even better couple of years ago, I found.

Hence, my question: could Bottega be the best of them all? If you are a competitor of Bottega, don’t lose your time with the exercise…Rfaol!…. ..but if you aren’t, start with Bottega, try Magpie and all the other places and see for yourself. As always, taste is a subjective matter

Pizzadeliciously yours,

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Le FILET restaurant, Montreal – The new excitement in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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