LE MARGAUX ,
classic French Bistrot, 5058 Ave du Parc, Montreal
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).
Then crab cake/lobster bisque – The 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 mangue – hazelnut 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 meal: 5/10 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