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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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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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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Bouillon BILK, Montreal – Novelty in gifted hands

 

UPDATE

2ND MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON AUGUST 2013 – CLICK HERE FOR THAT REVIEW

 

THE FOLLOWING IS THE REVIEW OF MY MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON JULY 2011:

This Month’s featuring review is the one I wrote about Bouillon Bilk, a restaurant that unsurprisingly (Chef Nadon was trained by the Mercuri brothers, Joe and Michelle,  who count among my favourite Chefs around the globe) found itself in my top 3 bistrots in Montreal (along with Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché). Chef Nadon was cooking on this meal, and when this gentleman is in his prime, he is as equally remarkable as Chef Alexandre Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne) and Chef Lenglet (Au 5e Péché), although what he is doing is more eclectic than the former two grand Chefs. When I wrote this review, I received many emails reminding that my title ‘Novelty in gifted hands’ was exaggerated since some found this not to be that ‘novel’. Interestingly, one of those emails came from a long time experienced foodie that I admire a lot and who I won’t name, but my answer to him was a reminder that novelty, as with anything else, is a relative assessment: ‘Dear xxxx, you once raved over the novelty of a dish of yucca you  had at Mugaritz and bragged that it was unique..guess what my friend: all along my childhood, I used to have that same dish and that was over 3 decades ago…”.  Bottom line, Novelty, when I use that term, is relative to a given location/circumstance. As a Bistro, and even at the time of writing this (almost 1 yr after my reviewed meal there at Bouillon Bilk), BB remains the breath of fresh air Montreal badly needed in its restaurant scene. I have written this only about a few Chefs and I’ll re-iterate it, here: Chef Nadon is a gifted Chef.

Event: Dinner @ Bouillon Bilk
When: Wednesday July 20th, 2011 17:30
Type of cuisine: Mdern Cosmopolitan/French
Addr: 1595 Boul Saint Laurent (close to Metro Saint Laurent)
Phone: 514-845-1595

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

  (English review will follow)  Plein de Chefs ouvrent des restos pour finalement offrir du déjà vu dans le contexte de leur propre délimitation géographique. A tel point que je   renommerai leurs restaurants ‘copie 1’, ‘copie 2 ‘, etc.. Le Chef Nadon du Bouillon Bilk coupe court à ce désolant scénario: il apporte la formule de fraicheur tant espérée depuis des lunes sur la scène des restos Montréalais, la créativité, l’audace de sortir du lot en insufflant  une touche unique (dans les standards locaux) et tout cela agrémenté  d’excellence technique, d’un travail des gouts qui est remarquable . Bouillon Bilk,  c’est tout simplement brillant (dans mon top 3 de mes meilleurs bistrots à Mtl). Le Chef Nadon, bien au delà des standards locaux, c’est un   grand talent dont les actuelles  créations culinaires au Bouillon Bilk n’ont souvent rien à envier à ce que l’on peut trouver dans un excellent 1 Étoile Michelin en France. Allez, hop dans la liste de mes coups de coeur!

Montreal is getting all excited with the future opening of Gordon Ramsay’s  (I don’t get that one!) and Daniel Boulud’s ventures, but I would not. GR and DB will put Mtl on world’s gastronomy map, perhaps, but Montreal has some serious homework to do before feasting: this city has thousands of restaurants ..thousands…and yet, I can count on  the fingers of my hand the number of restaurants that I would care for. A handful! That’s yet. There are many that are decent, indeed. But just a handful that worth the hype of international consideration we seem to seek through big names like GR and DB. Talking about GR and DB…you won’t see one review of their restaurants on this site. I know this will change nothing in their life, but it won’t neither in mine. GR and DB are welcomed in Montreal though. They will ensure more mileage to the  remunarated fooc critics, but I beg to stay away from mutton’s folly land!   For the record, I am not the type to encourage celebrity chefs in their quest for perpetual expansion through name bearers: Pacaud, for ie, is a 3 star Michelin Chef who is way more talented than the likes of GR and DB. Pacaud is of the level of spectacular legendary Chefs like Robuchon, Fredy Girardet, and although on the verge of retirement (that  ‘real genius‘ is 65+ if  I recall properly) ..he was there, behind his stoves, kicking a spectacular 3 star Michelin meal  on a Friday lunch: this one. Now, imagine what I may think of name bearers promoted by some…

Which brings me to what I like to do most: discovering the food of the artisan Chefs who stand as true gems. I remember Chef Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant. I remember Chef Rouyé at La Porte. I remember Chef Navarrette Jr at Raza. I remember Chef Lenglet at Au 5e Péché. I remember Chef Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne. I remember Chef Belair at Le Marly.  I remember those ones, because I truly think they stood out in their own ways. I know there are few more (Toque, Club Chasse et Peche, etc), but not so much more. Still, my doors are open: just bring some true talent…make sure it’s true talent though…and I’m the first who will be enthused by  the idea of discovering their Chef d’oeuvre. You won’t fool me: I know what is pure empty buzz, and I know what is worthy of  the buzz!  When I heard that Chef François Nadon has opened his restaurant, that caught my attention: this gentleman is more busy expressing his cooking talent where it needs to rather than parading on TV cooking shows!  He is more substance than fla fla. If I could say of a Chef that he went to the right school, then it would be of Chef François Nadon. Given  his past experiences at ex-Bronte, XO Le Restaurant and Globe (those three restaurants have always welcomed raw talents..just think of the Mercuris, Eric Gonzalez, Frédéric Morin), I had to pay a visit to his new venture ( Personally,  I would tend to play more attention at any Chef who has evolved at those 3 restaurants than   most cooks who would pretend having spent times in 1,2,3 star-Michelin kitchens).

Off to the food report:

Linguini, bacon, roasted almonds, blue cheese, mushrooms – Write  this down: roasted almonds and blue cheese …done this way, cooked this way, tasting this way….mixed with pastas..is a hit! It might not be a benchmark (my 10/10) dish  but  this is simply excellent (a rich and memorable mouthfeel that deserves that I leave the comfort of home for. This could be easily a 10/10 (the taste, the flavor combinations were amazing) , but with respect to my strict rating standards, I’ll give it a fair 9/10 (which means EXCELLENT, by the way!)

Next offering:

Grilled shrimps, bone marrow, orange, miso, céléri and thyme   – An 8 over 10 (which means ‘very good’ in my standards), but here again … be careful: this could be easily  a 10/10 since I don’t see how you can improve on this dish: the taste is irreprochable, textures are perfect, cooking technique right on point, the addition of subtle orange, miso, thyme and celeri flavors so inspiring. So why 8/10 and not 10/10: simply because I  know the potential of this Chef. He is not an average chef and in his own standards, this is great but not stellar. This Gentleman can be stellar….trust me! The other reason is this: for someone like me who was born in front of an ocean of stunning seafood, the standards are very high when it comes to seafood. Not bragging here, just a reminder about how strict  you become in such circumstances.So, take that 8 over 10 as a perfect score.

Braised pork (as a ragout), green peas ravioli, olive oil emulsion, pistachios – This is of pure benchmark material: the level of deliciousness being so high, the raviolis well done, the braised pork faultless. Each  ingredient shining on its own is something we oftently see. But this went beyond: the rich and memorable individual tastes paired so well together. This is what I am willing to pay for when I dine out!  10/10

Duck Magret is my secret ‘testing-weapon’  when I visit a restaurant. It’s those ‘hey..this is easy thing to do‘ that most Chefs will tell you. Love this…because the easier things tend to route Chefs in Easy-Land…and I … in Strict-Judging Land…Here again, this would be easily a 10/10 at most tables in Montreal…the most important task being fullfilled: the duck magret was superbly well cooked and tasted so great. The lentils, delicious with great mouthsome. But since Chef Nadon is not our average chef,  we’ll roam within his standards: Chef, elevate those two portions of duck terrine to stunning levels (they were great, don’t get me wrong…but I know you can make this as stellar as let’s say the terrine of foie I had at Biron, for ie) and this is an easy 10. It is an 8.5 over 10 for this occurence, but that’s being insanely picky….which I can afford to be, knowing well the talent of Chef Nadon. Notice that there’s no technical fault and no serious reproach, here!

Chocolate ganache, tia maria, black raspberry, hazelnut ice cream – A 9/10 of my standards (which is no benchmark, but excellent) for the delicious top-tier ingredients (the chocolate was of impeccable quality, same could be said of the raspberry). There’s really nothing not to enjoy here, each component being perfectly well executed with taste to match!

Cheese cake, strawberry, basil, balsamic – I thought I had my share of cheese cakes with most of them being of top marks. Chef Nadon had a surprise for my palate: what about pushing the boundaries a bit higher? Which he successfully did…but the amazement of this one cheese cake can’t be summed up in just those few words…Grandma used to tell me ‘succulent dishes can’t be described….they only can be tasted!”.  .10/10

Menu:  The dinner menu on this given evening is small but   varied. Six  starters priced from $12 to $14 (well balanced between veal carpaccio, crab, fish, shrimps, etc). Five main courses (Pork, trout, scallops, lobster, duck) from $23 to $28 and 6 desserts (from $7 to $12). A rare occurence: they do excel on savouries as well as on desserts. An enticing menu, lots of  combinations you seldomly find at other Montreal restaurants  and  a sense of detail/creativity  that’s among those few that stand out in town.

Wine: On this given evening, a  small list of wines (1 sparkling wine which was a Prosecco Bisol $40 the bottle, $8 the glass/ 2 champagne which were Champagne Barbichon  and Bollinger )  + 6 white wines, 9 red) that was smartly conceived and balanced with reasonable prices ranging from $35 (Beaujolais 2010, Raisins Gaulois, M. Lapierre / Coteaux d’Aix en Provence 2008, Chateau Revelette)  to $120 (the bottle of  champagne Bollinger). In between, lots of nicely priced bottles: for ie,  an Anjou 2008, Chateau de la Guimonière was priced at $40 (8$ the glass), a Monferrato Freisa 2005, Canone Inverso, Cantine Valpane at $48 (9.5$ the glass), a Coteaux du Languedoc 2010, Mas Jullien at $42 (8.8 the glass), etc The wine was skillfully paired all along our meal (we basically paired each dish with a glass of wine, with some glasses of the Prosecco Bisol at the very beginning).

Service: Wherever and whenever you put someone open minded, who has travelled a lot and who is well mannered on my way, I am in heaven! The young woman who served us works for Air Canada, has travelled a lot and is as refreshingly interesting as a fun classy globetrotter! A 10!

Conclusion: Of this restaurant, food critic Marie-Claude Lortie writes  that it is refreshing to see, finally, a table that refrains from re-editing what we see everywhere in town. Chef Nadon’s unusual but mostly exciting combinations seem to appeal to her taste. Food critic Thierry Daraize underlines Chef Nadon’s tremendous talent in his article, but wished the portions were more generous (Although not a big concern…I shared his feeling only with the  the duck magret dish where I’d have requested a tad more lentils and a slightly bigger portion of those foie gras, but the portion of duck magret was fine. They were generous with all the rest, though! Even the wine was generously poured!). Both food columnists seemed not to feast on  the ‘crabe de gaspésie, fraises, fenouille‘ appetizer….and I presume Chef Nadon has good ears since this dish is now off the menu!  Some little corrections here and there for those this might interest: Chef Nadon has never worked at Lemeac. Her business partner has! Chef Nadon’s cooking, for now, is closer to Ex-Bronté’s (the fans of the old Bronté, now closed, will be happy to learn this) cuisine. Bronté was easily among Montreal’s top 5, btw! Both my wife and I had 3 courses each, wine pairings to each item  for me, 2 glasses of wine for her and this came around $170. I honestly think that this was largely fair for such inspired cooking. I have experienced, in Montreal, dinners that did cost at least $80 more than this with some food items deserving nothing less than 0/10 …………….

In Montreal standards, Chef Nadon stands among those who brings novelty (it might not be novelty abroad, but what he is doing remains new on current Montreal restaurant scene). I am a big fan of great classics superbly executed with taste to match (Les Mas des Oliviers, Le Bonaparte, Le Margaux, Chez la mère Michel), but would never run away from novelty that stands out. Here’s a Chef who has not yet embraced the nonsense quest for fame. He is where it makes sense to find him: in his kitchen. He is where, as a patron, I do expect his talent to shine: in his kitchen, not on TV ..because he, at least, understood that a diner should bother with what a Chef is serving to his guests and not to what a cook is selling on TV!

Admittedly, although I value true artisan Chefs (as opposed to TV-boosted cooks), it has to be a talented Chef as well, or else I won’t be enthusiastic. Chef Nadon does have such a  superb talent  that I can state, in total confidence,  that he stands among Montreal’s very best Cooks at this moment. As long as he does not follow the nonsense practices  of some  talented Chefs who lost the respect of some of their patrons because they were more interested by fame rather than efficient and effective great work,  I can see Nadon marking memories of Montreal’s gourmands for a long time. Nadon was cooking on this dinner (I am realistic: I have no clue how this amazing Chef will work his schedu;e, but I am not expecting him to work days and nights. If he does so, good for him..but it would be stupid to expect this. Personally, with such talented Chef, I’d rather opt for dinners, especially on Fridays and Saturdays: after all, lunches — although  affordable —  is always  casual at most tables).

Chef Nadon, you have got a new fan as long as you shine where I expect you to excel, because YES.. TREMENDOUS TALENT (amazing techniques, a sense of taste that’s impressive, and one of the few Chefs who  reconciles me with  sous-vidé cooking technique — he masters this technique so well — a cooking technique that is usually not my cup of tea in other instances)  …  YOU HAVE!!

PROS: This was INSPIRED work all the way! Easily in my top tier tables in Montreal, and it vindicates Chef Nadon in my top 10 Chefs in town. I shall go back !

CONS: As far as I am concerned, Nothing to complain about

PS: A reminder before I go -> a review with at least a 9/10 and one 10/10 worths your upmost attention. There are, on this reviewed dinner,  two 10/10, a 9/10 and other marks that would easily be 10s in other circumstances.

BOUILLON BILK
Overall food rating
: 8.5/10 In between VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category.For Montreal standards, as of lately, this is refreshing top stuff. I personally was not surprised: their Chef was trained alongside the Mega talented Chefs Joe and Michele Mercuri.
Overall service rating
: 8/10 nice, Really nothing to say here. And on that day, I even met a waitress who share my passion ofTravel, so whatmore can I ask, lol.
Décor
: 7/10  The décor is very simple. Twotones of color from what I remember: white and grey. Basta, but  this is perfect: it sends you back to the very food itself. No distraction needed.Hey..who is complaining about the décor at the Fat Duck in Bray, btw???    


Standard

Restaurant Raza, 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

Restaurant Raza
Cuisine: Upscale blend of Modern French/Latino fine dining
Addr: 114 Laurier West, Montreal, Qc
Phone: 514.227.8712
Url:
http://www.groupemnjr.com/ 

All meals sampled at Raza Restaurant are gathered in the current article (please find below, the reports of all my dinners at Raza  listed in chronological order
)
                                 
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)


The following is my review of my 4th meal at Raza on February 11th, 2012 20:00 – Dinner @ Raza on this Saturday evening Febr 11th, 2012.  As the readers of this blog already know, Raza is my #1 favourite restaurant in Montreal and despite this regrettably tepid reported meal (I don’t review Montreal’s top dining ventures anymore, just re-visiting my favourite restaurants in town and dropping some few updates here), Raza remains my #1 because there’s in this house the basics of what make a restaurant better than its competitors: a Chef with great maturity, pride, common sense, exceptional talent and a better understanding of what a Restaurant should achieve. Naturally, the latter statement will pass as out of context  given the report about this meal of  Febr 11th, but the previous dinners (they are all reported right below) largely back my assertion. Now, the beauty of my work is that I’ve stayed away from making friends with the restaurant industry, and this leads to the advantage of enjoying experiences that most diners, 99% of the patrons at a restaurant, are experiencing for real. Thus the possibility of enjoying things as they come. No one wants his number #1 choice to fail, alas tonight’s dinner  had simply nothing to do with the Raza that has impressed me for so long. It was unfortunate to have experienced this, especially me: when I feel confident to go all the way to raving about a place, it’s usually done with rigorous thinking and backed by solid evidence (level of cooking, consistency, mastery in the depth of flavor combinations, amazement of the taste, etc). Tonight, all those superlatives that do usually define what I have found there were remote souvenirs: a simple braised beef  with sparse pieces of veggies could have been better executed at home …(6.5/10), chorizo in a bouillon was just that: sausage in a bouillon..hardly something that excites at a restaurant (5/10), salmon covered by a  creamy coconut concoction was ok, shrimps in a revised version of a bisque was pleasant but not on par with the standards that I am used to at Raza (7/10)…let us stop here and politely say that we were  miles away from Chef Navarrette Jr’s stunning cooking. Even the service was odd: wine pairing to each of the 7 courses does not mean pairing to just some of the courses…    We can see this through different angles: the 3 previous meals were stunning (they are all detailed on this current web page — just scroll down — .and this, I hope, will benefit to some of the apprentice cooks out there: when you have the luck to learn alongside one of world’s best Chefs, Chef Navarrette Jr is definitely one of them: seize that damn opportunity to level UP your cooking!! ). This is the only time that I am disappointed, in 4 occurences. Which is far from being bad. On the other hand, it is clear that next time that I am going to Raza, I’ll talk to Chef Navarrette Jr and make it clear that it is his cooking that I am paying for!  Chef Navarrette Jr is a  Gentleman who wants to give a chance to his cooks to shine. But that aide he had on this evening cooks food that I am not willing to pay for…………. I’ll go back: it would be stupid to stop myself at the only one slip of all these amazing dinings at Raza. Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what you will  find on  most top 2 star Michelin tables  out there, but of course, he needs to avoid being surrounded by lesser talented apprentices or else the huge gap in talent between him and those will be felt in a frustrating way by his patrons.

The following is the review of my 3rd meal @ Raza on Saturday October 22nd  2011, 8 PM ->
This is my  3rd visit with my wife here. Raza now offers a surprise tasting menu, left at the discretion of the Chef’s creativity, a trend that is now widely spread around the world. The default surprise menu is the 5 courses at $59. If you ask for it, you can also enjoy a 7 course surprise menu at $70. As on both previous two dinners, we opted for the latter (which I find to be a bargain for the high level of dining that’s offered – We also appreciate the surprise nature  of the tasting menu,  given how creative Chef Navarrette Jr has always been).

At this visit on Sat Oct 22nd 2011, the latino genius continued to impress with creativity and exciting food that remain leaps ahead of anything to be found in town.

The meal started with a ceviche of mahi mahi (9/10) that had an enjoyable depth of rich taste, the marine freshness of the fish shining through nicely. The quality of the fish being remarkable.

Next was a dish of  quail egg, dehydrated mushrooms, squid ink aioli. A dish that shows an impressive level of technical mastery with the mushrooms properly dehydrated and served to an ideal powdery consistency, its taste vivid (we are far from the dehydrated mushrooms that taste nothing: here the fresh taste of the mushroom is retained), the cooking of the quail eggs mastered to precision (perfect runny inside). An exciting dish with multi layers of flavors blending impressively well together. In Montreal top level dining standards, you won’t see anything close to this. Certainly not as expertly composed as this. 10/10
 
The following course of the tasting menu was a delicious soup of chestnut, tomato confit, chives. The palatable impact is maintained high, with again, exciting flavors that tease the palate, a characteristic of Chef Mario   Navarrette Jr’s cuisine 10/10
I had a glass of Chilean Errazuriz Chardonnay Wild Ferment, Casablanca Valley (2010), which complex and rich characteristics balanced harmoniously with the earthy profile of the chestnut soup.

Then came a dish of ‘Braised veal flank, butternut squash gnocchis, parmesan, red wine reduction” – Not one single item was short of palatable excitement (the recurring use of the word ‘excitement’ in my review is intentional for sake of accuracy in describing what attracts me towards the work of this genius, but also for  paying justice to the type of cuisine served by Chef Navarrette Jr).  Each item of this dish had dazzling taste; mixed together, the succulence reached a rare peak in deliciousness. The display of impressive cooking execution and refinement continued on this dish (the cooking of the gnocchis and the veal was exemplary). 10/10
This was matched to a nicely Merlot Rubini colleccion Crianza (Ica, Peru 2006) which appealing density went thoughtfully well with that dazzling braised veal flank.
 
Next came a ‘sabayon, blue cheese, pears, apple compote‘. The sabayon had all elements whisked expertly to proper temperature, thickened to ideal consistency, with not one single spotted fault. The blue cheese imparting a welcoming counter-kick of flavor, and the top quality fruity components enhancing perfectly the enticing rich flavor profile of this course. Another dish which intent to impress the palate went beyond the targeted goal. 10/10
 
This dinner  ended with a jar of Chef Navarrette Jr’s take on the theme of ‘nutella’ and ‘banana‘. I am not a fan of  nutella  and chocolate since I was born and was raised in a tropical environment where chocolate and candies were replaced by pineapple, coconut and mangoes  (this naturally explains why great desserts based on those tropical ingredients do benefit from better appreciations from my taste buds), therefore chocolate-based desserts suffer from having to stand out at all cost. But to elevate a combination of such classic elements (banana, nutella) that are already known to deliver delicious taste on their own to newer heights of palatable impact like what I found in this dessert is the kind of achievement that, in my view, defines a GRAND CHEF. I know I gave lower marks in the past to more complex desserts, but that is because they failed to be this delicious. 10/10
 
CONCLUSION: This looked like a distribution of 10/10, Rfaol! Even the ceviche, which I rated with a 9/10, would be a perfect 10 in most talented hands (9/10 is ‘excellent’ in my rating system. A 10/10 is of benchmark material, which  btw, as far as my evaluations of ceviches go, is detained by Chef Navarrette Jr’s ceviches that I have previously sampled).
In facts, it’s  just the result of when you pair an endless source of exceptional talent with creativity and a unique palate. That inevitably provides stunning dishes like those. Talent, raw and exceptional talent, makes all the difference: I have seen, many top level Chefs offering ceviches that failed to come as close to half of the excitement found in Chef Navarrette Jr’s.  A while back, a top level Chef had  cooked something similar to the corn velouté that Chef Navarrette Jr once offered at A Table. My conclusion was that there is Chef Mario Navarrette Jr and  then you have the rest. Modern creative cosmopolitan marvels like these will always perfume my sweetest gastronomic souvenirs. So, again and again: another exceptional meal by an exceptional Chef.

PS: I was reading  a recent article of Quebec’s top food critic Marie-Claude Lortie on Raza. She loved her meal and holds Raza in high esteem, but wished  most of the food would be more spicy, more provocative (as she wrote: more chilly, more spices). I enjoy Madame Lortie for her great sense of culinary analysis (I personally believe that she is in the top 5 of world’s best food journalists and I would bet on her palate to be the most accurate of them all), but here I don’t agree with her: if you put more spices and push the exotical aromas to some extent in  the cooking of Chef Navarrette Jr, then  you end up with a cuisine that is not Modern Cosmopolitan anymore. The reason it is modern (as in Modern French cuisine, for ie) lies in the fact that its intent is to move away from traditional cooking (spices, strong aromas in the case of Classic Latino cuisine). Also: Chef Navarrette Jr Cuisine is more accurately about a big majority of food items pertaining to Modern French cuisine with latino influences and some Modern interpretations of couple of Latino-based dishes like the ceviche, for ie. And I insist: this Genius deserves a city with better visibility!

The following is the review of my 2nd meal at Raza on AUGUST  14th, 2010 20:00  =>

Restaurant Raza

Cuisine: Upscale blend of Modern French/Latino fine dining
Addr: 114 Laurier West, Montreal, Qc
Phone: 514.227.8712
Url:
http://www.groupemnjr.com/ 
Event: Dinner @ Raza on Saturday August 14th 2010, 8 PM

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


(You will find the English review, below) – Un génie, le Chef Mario Navarrette Jr. Personellement, je le considère comme étant le meilleur Chef Montréalais, et largement dans le top des meilleurs Chefs de cuisine moderne cosmopolitaine à travers le monde. Du calibre d’un deux étoiles Michelin, facilement. Souvent, ca frise le calibre d’un 3 étoiles Michelin coté talent culinaire. Il mérite de briller sous des cieux plus cléments: Shanghai? Dubai? Tokyo?

This dinner was primarily a romantic tete à tete with my sweet half.  I still brought my camera, though. For Jannice, it is the opportunity to taste the food  of  a Chef largely praised by her food enthusiast of a husband, and here, we  will get to taste what I’m truly  praising:  when you go to Raza, Chef Mario Navarrette Jr is there, cooking for real. Even more important to me: he is not slowing down with his creativity.

 Jannice and I went for the grand fiesta: the 7 service tasting menu. I love giving carte blanche to highly talented Chefs: you are inventive, go ahead..unleash it!

The night started off with great music (whoever thought about that collection of great latin american and spanish music that was playing last night has great  taste in music. It’s rare that I talk about music played at a restaurant, but what was playing last night added to the festive and tasty meal we were enjoying) and their iconic Pisco sour cocktail:

Followed by:

Course #1 Black kingfish (Cobia) ceviche, bouillon of ginger, sweet potato purée – Excellent quality of fresh fish marinated in a delicate and nicely balanced acidic based  jus that brought perfect moisture to the flesh. Top marks to the technique of marinating that’s behind this ceviche: expertly precise. The gingery taste was well thought and that scoop of potato purée that you see atop the fish paired surprisingly well with  the light gingery broth. 8.5/10

Course #2: Poached shrimps, sauce seco, parmigiano-reggiano, gnocchi – The shrimp, juicy and of generous portion, kept its freshest flavour and texture.
Jannice — of Italian descent and a severe judge of Italian cuisine — said of Chef Navarrete’s light and delicate gnocchi that ‘it was done with the heart and soul of an Italian grandmother‘.
Impeccable delicious lumps, I must admit .. but knowing well the versatile talent of this Chef, I was not surprised at all. The gnocchi was bathed in a delicious beer-coriander based sauce seco. The cheese added an extra gustatory dimension to this nicely composed dish.  10/10

Course #3: Scallop, risotto of quinoa & butternut squash), caviar – Atop, a plump tasty scallop nicely seared and fully flavored, adorned by some fresh cucumber carpaccio. Underneath, a succulent risotto of quinoa cooked with butternut squash. Mixing the fresh quality of mullet’s caviar to that risotto of quinoa was divine and to add an extra layer of complexity that works really well,  the overall was enhanced by a zesty touch of orange reduction. Creative, fun and very pleasing to the palate. A dish that Jannice qualified as a  pleasurable sin. 9/10

Course #4: Duck magret, Aji panca chili, green apple carpaccio, cipollini, cherry tomato confit – A short description of this  duck magret could go like this ‘the secret here lies in the  impeccable quality of this duck” but such statement would be utterly incomplete. It would be more accurate to include the exceptional work of delicious tastes and skilled cooking techniques to the equation. The Panca chili adds a pleasant kick (the pungent taste is present, but in an enjoyable subtle way. Not the hot and over spicy kind of taste ), the green apple bringing a nice acidic balance.The cipollini and cherry tomato were first grade ingredients. Next time, I need to know who are the farmers behind such quality products. An exceptional dish. 10/10

They dimmed the lights at that point, so the next picture did benefit from the flash of my camera and will look slightly different from the previous ones:

Course #5: Filet mignon, chanterelles, squid ink and aioli – That was a stunning piece of top quality Angus AAA meat, expertly seasoned, fork tender and drool-worthy. The earthy and nicely cooked chanterelles tasted great. The soft and creamy potato purée was delightful. 8.5/10 

A pre-dessert:

Course #6: Flash-frozen avocado purée, mango sorbet – Few of the best desserts I have enjoyed at the top restaurants of Montreal (and even abroad) could qualify as exceptional. This one is the newest addition to that very selective list. The fresh avocado purée was flash-frozen in an anti-griddle, paving the way to a unique frozen type of texture that made the avocado very enjoyable in mouth. The sweetness of the decadent mango sorbet paired so well with the avocado. Also of high mention: that gelée you see on the side + a savourish snowy-white airy mousse lying beneath. I was so distracted by the enjoyment of  the overall dessert that I do not remember what they were made of . This dessert was delicate, brilliantly creative. The taste, exquisite. 9/10

Course #7:  Chocolate cake (excellent moist and deliciously rich chocolate cake with a pleasant molten inside consistency ), Sugar cane Ice cream (lovely creamy quality ice cream). The nutella powder that was served along this dessert was a nice touch.  9.5/10

Bottom line: an exceptional meal by an exceptional Chef.
As far as I’m concerned, Chef Navarrette has once more proven to be among the few who truly can take it (the culinary experience) to the next level with outstanding creative cooking skills that translate in food that’s exciting to enjoy.

Excellent mention to the service: efficient and professional.
And this nice wine they served to me is added to my personal favourites, too: The 2005 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza.

PROS:  Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what I found on  most top 2 star Michelin tables I know. I’d not be surprised that he can go beyond that level

CONS:  Chef Navarrette Jr coking deserves a city with better visibility. Dubai? Tokyo?

Off I go!
If you find food of a level of what is offered at XO Le Restaurant/Toque!/Raza/La Porte/LCCP/Bistro Cocagne/ let me know and I’ll be more than interested to give it a shout. Till then, thanks for reading!

The following is the review of my DECEMBER 4TH, 2009  20:00 meal at Raza restaurant =>

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Raza
Friday December 4th 2009 17:30
Addr: 114 Avenue Laurier West (Montreal, QC)
Phone: 514-227-8712
Web site: http://www.restaurantraza.com/
Type of cuisine: Upscale French & Latin American Fusion

Arome’s the food blog: Q&A’s, Guidelines, Ethics, Vision
I purposely chose Raza to cut a bit with my latest trend of upscale French/QC’s dinners  (Toque!, Nuances, La Chronique, Le Club Chasse et Peche and so on) . I wanted something a bit different but known for its creativity. A table that’s innovative. Here comes Raza.

Decor: Small, narrow but NOT claustrophobic at all: chairs and tables and well spaced, some along the grey walls (turning into brick walls on the second end of the restaurant’s wall) :
 
others in the small — and yet well exploited — squarrish area that’s in between the entrance and the bar:

Here’s a picture of their little bar:

The overall is surprisingly elegant, romantic

(well thought dim lightning, and cute little
candles sitting in small blue glasses filled with  with corn seeds), cozy, far from being intimidating:

It is also sparsely decorated (couple of paintings here and there + few black and white farmed-photos).
One last immersion in Raza’s dinning room before skipping forward to the food:

Food:
Total cost: $165 (7 course tasting menu with wine pairing + 1 cocktail + 1 Cognac’d coffed)

I asked Francis, my waiter of the evening, for a suggestion of cocktail.
Naturally, the star cocktail of the house is the Peruvian (Chef Navarate has Peruvian origins) Pisco sour  cocktail:
Based on the Pisco spirit, a south american brandy made of grapes, Raza’s cocktail contains the expected lime juice,  a bit of lemonade and espuma mousse (aka foam)  + syrup is here replaced by some fruit sugar. The Pisco sour was without reproach: ideally frothy, it had the  enjoyable bitter sour flavour I seek in my ideal Pisco Sour. The potent flavor of the pisco was amazingly well balanced here by the enjoyable citrus touch. I still dream every night over that divine martini-litchi I had at XO, but this Pisco sour was equally seducing.

First came the home made bread:
I remember raving over the bread of Chef De Montigny at La Chronique. Well, Chef De Montigny has some serious competition,  right in front of his restaurant (La Chronique and Raza face each other). Actually this one beats Chef De Montigny’s  bread  because not only this bread is as light, airy, fresh and delicious as the one of La Chronique … but it is more exotic: Chef Navarate bakes his bread with yukon-gold potatoes and his bread oozes of an incredibly fresh-baked aroma. Just devour that bread fast while it’s warm, since you wont wanna miss this beauty in all its warmth and splendeur.
The bread to send all bakers to retirement! 10/10

Next, the wild mushroom soup:
It’s presented in 2 steps. First, a plate filled with flavorful fresh chanterelles, yellow oyster mushrooms (pleurotes jaunes), black truffles:

Then, the waiter poured an unctuous all flavorful mushroom creamy soup in the plate:

The overall soup was impressively intense, powerful and delicate, enjoyably unctuous and richly seasoned. The fresh mushroomy flavor was so addictive on this one. And NO…this mushroom soup is just NOT another mushroom soup. It’s a luxurious version of a muhsroom soup with smart fresh ingredients and an impeccable taste you just cannot  compare to most usual good mushroom soups. 10/10
Pairing wine: Tabernero Chincha, Peru 2007. This mixed Sauvignon blanc & Chardonnay has an enjoyable light minerality that reached out fine with the earthiness of the soup. Good choice of wine pairing on this course.

Course #2: Magret de Canard (duck)/Onions Jelly/Mango Vinaigrette
Bathed in a nice mango vinaigrette (flavorful, unique, enjoyably moving in terms of taste ), onions gelée (Wowed!), fresh coriander, the duck magret (breast of a moulard duck) had a perfect melt-in-your-mouth quality, was of impeccable texture and was delicious. This tastebud marvel of a dish was sitting on top of a nice unctuous creamy purée. Here’s a dish  with flavors/taste that’s daring in an enjoyable way. The zesty mango vinaigrette enhanced the overall with a memorable enjoyable acidy touch that added punch to an already tender delicious magret. Technically flawless + Tastebud-wise yummy!
Pairing wine: Wayne Gretzky in my wine glass!!  Rfaol! It was the 2007 Wayne’s  Sauvignon Blanc (Estate Series, from Niagara). Dry and fruity, it was fine on its own. As for the pairing, it complimented the dish just ok.

Course #3: Artic char/Blue Potato purée
cooked to perfection, the fish kept its skin on one side, had a perfect light crispy nicely seared coating and impeccably moist inside. Tender and fresh, it had the freshness  of a fish that would have been caught right from the sea (enjoyable marine flavor). But this is not just another piece of well cooked fish: it had a tastebud blowing spicy zesty enjoyable taste that my tastebuds will have hard time forgetting about. My pictures might not suggest it, but may it be the artic char or the previous course of  duck magret, those are food items that would hit the world’s  best tables on a heartbeat for their impeccable rich daring explosive tastes and flavors (infused beer was a hit on this one, blue potato purée was tasty and elegant, the coriander added a subtle punch)  and the subtle genius work that is done with each element of those dishes. Michelin needs to taste this!  10/10
Pairing wine: Pairing wine: Nekeas Navarra Spain 2006. This Chardonnay had a light texture, was, mineral and clean in mouth. Not a daring full bodied wine, but its lightness was what I needed to accompany the fish.

Course #4: Quail/Pumpkin cream/guava-barbecue sauce
Look very homie, hein? Lol. Well, forget about the look, we are far from our next door homie fare here.  Our little bird was ideally firm, evenly cooked, nicely seasoned. The prosciutto-wrapped quail was very tasty. As with the previous  food items, flavors do blend so well here: the flavorful meat was enhanced by a surprisingly decadent mix of barbecue  and guava sauce. Also noteworthy: the succulent pumpkin cream that you can’t miss to spot on the photo. 9/10
Pairing wine: Sancius Ribera del duero Spain 2004. A very nice tempranillo with an enjoyable flavor of cherry that reached out so well with the guava/barbecue sauce and the subtle sweetness of the quail. It is also nicely oaky, long and elegant in mouth, with lots of character. Largely a personal favourite of mine and of perfect companionship to the quail (it was not ideal pairing only to the pumpkin cream).

Course #5: Veal cheeks/Oyster mushrooms/Chorizo/Potato purée
Accompanied by chorizo, oyster mushrooms (pleurotes), a nice potato purée, the veal cheeks were ideally cooked, juicy,  had a very pleasant mouthsome (tender and yet firm enough) and a remarkable beautiful brown texture. I had my share of great veal cheeks in Montreal, but this one put them all to rest. Cheeks are the toughest cuts to cook and yet, they were superbly well cooked with such an amazing ease on this dish, a  rare achievement at the heighest levels of fine dining. Easily a plate that the best 3 star Michelin tables out there would be proud of! 10/10
Pairing wine:  Taymente Huarpé, Argentina 2004
Elegant Malbec that’s as fruity (berry,cherry ) as floral. Smooth in mouth, it was an amazing natural companion to the veal cheeks.

And to round this successful meal off (This meal was of solid 2-star Michelin calibre. To give you an idea, normally a meal with only at least one 10/10 and a 9/10 is already of solid material, largely worth leaving the comfort of home for. A dish with two 10/10 usually pertains to a 1 star Michelin level. There are 4 food items of 10/10 rating on this single meal), two desserts:

Course #6: Lucuma Ice cream, papaya gelée – The papaya gelée was absolutely delicious, not only because I  am fanatic about papayas but also for  the upfront fresh and natural taste of the fruit that came through  remarkably well on this dessert. The  ice cream exuded fresh lucuma flavor, had rich tasting and the  right thickness.   9/10
Pairing wine: Vendanges tardives Concha y Toro (VTCT). This white sauvignon is a perfect companion to desserts, blessed by an elegant body, long in mouth delicious sweet taste. Intense and full bodied, this wine was really nice on its own and should have worked well with the papaya jelly, but my tastebuds thought otherwise: despite several attempts of fully concentrated tastings between the papaya jelly and the VTCT, the harmony I was trying to find in the marriage between both was not convincing.

Course #7: Chocolate custard, Dulce de Leche ice cream, Corn powder  – The addictive dulce de leche ice cream boasted superb flavor intensity. Next to it, a smoky-flavored  layer of marshmallow was resting on a tranche of  chocolate custard. All components combining thoughtfully   with an  additional spoonful of corn powder. Inspired! 8.5/10

Service: My waiter, Francis, is a courteous young gentleman. Humble, professional, very attentive, patient and helpful, he has the huge advantage to be very knowledgeable for having worked in lots of restaurants and for having worked as a cook too. He used to work at Navarate other restaurant, Madre and told me that I should not miss the brunch at Madre. I am not into brunches, but took note of this.

PROS:  Chef Navarrette Jr can easily cook gustatory marvels comparable to what I found on  most top 2 star Michelin tables I know. Of course, he needs to avoid being surrounded by lesser talented apprentices or else the huge gap in talent between him and those will be felt in a frustrating way by his patrons.

CONS: A Chef who deserves a city with better visibility. Dubai? Tokyo?

Find better pictures of this dinner on my Google picasa’s gallery:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/RAZARESTAURANT#
 
Conclusion:  For a long time, Alexandre Loiseau of Bistro Cocagne was alone — in my books — as my choice for this year’s best chef in Montreal. But on the back of this stunning dinner, I have no choice but to declare a draw — up to now — between Navarrete and Loiseau at the very top. If there’s one aspect where both chefs shine better than most it’s exactly where it should:  the rise of stunning tastes! In other words, the word BLAND is not part of their vocab ;p Navarete is unarguably a genius of creativity, an architect of stunning refined and researched tastes, and surprisingly he is beating the boys of the block at their own game: remember those upscale bistros or new QC’s/new North American fine  dining … well, Navarette has surpassed them and raised the bar very high, albeit of course with a light touch of Latin American’s influence. To each their own, and to me such dinner pertains to what I expect to see at the best Relais & Chateaux or  Michelin stared tables (of course, such creative genius of a cook should not be judged over simple fares such as a steak. It would be  pure non sense. Let him fly over a tasting menu where his creativity takes all its sense, and then enjoy!). 

RAZA
Overall food rating
: 10/10 on thefour initial meals, 3/10 on the 5th meal.  Chef Navarrette Jr is simply in my lifetime world’s ten best Chefs ever, and  in case you are wondering, this list includes Chef Constant, Pacaud, Maximin, Besson, Piège. The 5th meal was underwhelming, but he was trying to give his chance to one of his assistants on that evening. The Gentleman wassimply not on par with the standards of his mentor. Four stunning meals of at least 2 star Michelin culinaric perfection, at times easily 3  vs 1 failure only: I prefer this, anytime, over 5 meals over 5 that would have been just good, or safe enough. The latino Genius remains my #1, all type of dining  offerings taken into account. The proof is that I went there more oftently than at the other prestigeous big gunners inYUL. 
Overall service rating
: There’s a standard here and it shows: always professional, charming.
Décor
: 8/10 I have always loved Raza’s décor. It’s not grand luxury, but charming, very charming with, the last time I was there (they have made big changes to the décor since) a beautiful wooden floor lending its warmth to the grey tones of the walls. There was something very Zen in that décor.
IMPORTANT: ‘Overallfood rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance  on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

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