Bistro Cocagne, Montreal – In my top 3 bistrots in Montreal

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

 

Recent update ***Meal on Friday August 30th 2013, 18:00
Corn is in season at this moment, so corn cream (7/10) had beautiful luscious texture, the taste delicious, the creamy consistency balanced well (light and yet with proper body to it). Nordic shrimp accras (5/10) –there’s no name for accras in English, they are some sort of fried dumplings very popular in creole cuisine —  did disappoint  me  since I had some of the best accras in town right here, under this same roof. This time they lacked the heat  and exciting plump texture of last minute  made accras. I also found Nordic shrimp to be too subtle for accras to be exciting. Accras are fantastic with cod or any meat which mouthfeel can be deeply felt. Or else, the accras taste bland, at least to my palate. A simple beef filet steak  had nice deep fresh meaty flavor, cooked to ideal tenderness (7/10). All in all, this one was an Ok meal, just not  among the finest I had here.

 

 

Bistro Cocagne
Date and Time: December 31st 2012 18:30PM
Type of food:  North American (QC’s) Market cuisine Bistro
Location: Addr: 3842 Rue Saint Denis, Montreal, QC

Phone: 514-286-0700
Web site: http://www.bistro-cocagne.com

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

French(review in English will follow): Au vu de cette soirée ci du 31/12/2012 , fort bien réussie, Le Bistro Cocagne continue à se maintenir  dans le peloton de tête des bistrots Montréalais. À mon avis, facilement dans le top 5 des bistrots locaux (avec le Lawrence, Au 5e Peche, Bouillon Bilk et Kitchen Galerie sur Jean Talon). Comme à tout restaurant, vos favoris ne faisant point exception,  j’ y ai évidemment dégusté des plats meilleurs que d’autres au fil des années, et connu des repas spectaculaires et d’autres moins.Mais la qualité des produits, le niveau technique, ainsi que le travail du gout  furent d’une régularité quasi irréprochable. Un restaurant se maintient dans le peloton de tête grace à sa capacité de se surpasser par des repas qui sont occasionellement (il serait utopique  de s’attendre à de l’exceptionnel à chaque détour …un restaurant ca n’est pas un spectacle de magie constante à la Walt Disney ;p) exceptionnels, et de tels performances, j’en ai de temps à autre vécu l’expérience à ce bistrot.  Il y’a eu aussi, bien sûr,  les moins bons coups, tel que cette ‘macaronade au foie gras’ pourtant si populaire (preuve et rappel que tout ceci n’est que subjectif, il ne sert donc à rien d’en faire un plat..ce ne sont que des avis…héritage de notre culture démocratique et clin d’œil au fait que tous les goûts sont dans la nature;p) mais que j’ai trouvé un peu trop lourd et surtout banal, ou encore cette éternelle entrée de‘raviole’ qui me parut  naguère épatante, beaucoup moins avec le temps ..et cela malgré les variations du contenu de la raviole –par exemple, parfois avec de la viande de bison, parfois avec d’autres types de viande — (les plats signatures ont parfois cette facheuse tendance à souffrir  de l’évolution des …tendances. Si ce plat est toujours un plat-phare c’est que beaucoup doivent l’apprécier. Tant mieux pour ce plat, mais pour moi ca ne passe plus l’épreuve du temps). Mais voilà, et  c’est ainsi que je prends la pleine mesure d’un grand bistrot : même dans les moments les moins mémorables, la performance demeura tout de meme au-delà de la moyenne de ce qui se fait dans la pluspart des autres bistrots. Je peux me tromper (à preuve : les plats que j’ai moins apprécié sont hyper populaires et l’un de mes meilleurs repas ici fut composé de choix à la carte ) mais j’ai  personnellement pu mieux apprécier la pleine capacité de ce très bon bistrot au travers de leurs menus ‘dégustation’ plutôt que dans le menu à la carte (sans vins, sans folies, comme n’importe où, je pense qu’on s’en sort avec un excellent rapport qualité prix). Quant au menu dégustation de ce 31/12/2012, absolument rien à redire: le boudin blanc fut ravissant en textures et en saveurs,  le reste tout à fait à la hauteur d’un grand repas bistrot.

31/12/2012 – Everyone in Montreal has his/her own idea of the finest bistrot in town, but the fact of the matter is that Montreal is not Tokyo nor San Sebastian,which means there are not that many choices of real top bistrot to pretend playing around with multiple suggestions.

Let us face it: there is just a handful of top bistrot options here, and by handful  I mean no more than a dozen, and that is a big reasonable maximum. I know it sounds hilarious to spot such a tiny quantity of top bistrots  in a city with 6000 dining options and more, but again…Montreal is not the dining destination it thinks it is. Far from that. I can tell you that more than half of those eateries would have long gone bankrupt in many places abroad.

Bistro Cocagne has always been, in my view, throughout the years and despite the variable nature of all operational restaurants (sometimes at their best, sometimes ‘running out of steam’)  — your  finest ones are no exception —- one of the few that kept itself consistently among Montreal’s top 5 finest bistrots. Given that all tables will, anyways, always have off days and weaknesses, I believe that the proper way of evaluating a dining venture is to see how far it can go when it is in its prime.  Consequently, the most accurate way to compare them is to evaluate their better performances. In their prime (of course, they are not always at their very top, naturally) , I could see only bistrots like Bistro Cocagne, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Au Cinquième Péché truely standing out of the pack. Like to hear this or not: it is as good as it really gets at the finest bistrot level in town, at this moment.

There are of course other little favourite of mine, ones that I truly enjoy like M sur Masson and Au Pied de Cochon, but their finest performances did not appear to me as strong as the heights that the likes of Bistro Cocagne, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Au Cinquième Péché can reach.

Did I  purposely forget the more classic bistrots? Absolutely NOT! The more classic ones are pleasant and I do frequent them once in a while, but they are by no means outstanding ones. I mean, go visit a simple laidback classic bistrot like la table D’Aki in Paris, and that is just one random example –not even the 1st choice that pops up as a top classic bistrot when you ask most Parisians — , come back, pick whatever you think is a top classic bistrot in Montreal and tell me if you still want to argue, Lol. Not that I am comparing Paris with Montreal, but certainly to get the idea of what can properly be qualified as a top classic Bistrot as far as food goes. It is one thing to think that a bistrot is top, it is another story to get it right ;p

Up to my meal at Bistro Cocagne.On this evening, the offer is a new year eve’s tasting menu.  No pics since Janice and I wanted this dinner to be fully intimate, thus devoid of the distraction of taking pictures of the meal.

The meal started with some amuses of refined foie gras cromesquis. They do those really well here: ideal consistency, fresh enticing taste.

Next:

Saumon mi-cuit, crêpe de pomme de terre, émulsion à la lime et caviar de Tobiko  – Quality of ingredient has always been high at this bistrot, and this was no exception : impeccably sourced salmon, the ‘mi-cuit’cooking providing the expected enjoyable contrast between tender low-temp Vs firmer cooked flesh.The salmon was encased in a mini “potato crepe” posing on a layer of deeply delicious beurre blanc sauce.  A simple item at first glance, but this was proper “top bistrot” item (the execution, the sourcing).  Very good.  8/10

Boudin blanc à la truffe, purée decéleri rave, pleurotes érigées, bok choi, jus au vinaigre d’érable–  It is the first time I am having boudin blanc at Bistro Cocagne. It is with items like these that it is easy to see why  Bistro Cocagne is a highly regarded bistrot. From the irreproachable ideal temperature, right amount of heat, divine taste, this boudin blanc was easily competing  with the finest boudin blanc I had in France. This was a reminder that memory of taste passed from generations to generations is the key ingredient to food that has soul. Excellent  9/10

Terrine de foie gras, beurre de pomme à l’érable – Well sourced quality foie gras with stand out dense and creamy texture. Very good  8/10

Noix de cerf poêlé et collier braisé, trompettes des morts, sauce périgourdine – High quality fresh venison meat (they use venison here, in place of the popular ) cooked beautifully, with taste to match. Here again, the selection of the cut (noix de cerf  is gets praised for the right reasons ) is of prime mention. 8.5/10

Fromage 1608 fondu sur abricots et amandes, croûtons  et huile de pistache  –   Fromage 1608 is a famous Non-pasteurized (thermized) cheese from Charlevoix (Laiterie Charlevoix de Baie-Saint-Paul ),an area known for what count among the finest diary produce of Quebec province.The particularity of this widely praised cheese being that it is made with the milk of a very rare breedof cattle (only 200, but Charlevoix is not the only place where you can find them), the ‘Canadienne breed”, which in 1999 was considered by Quebec government as part of the province’s agricultural heritage. I found this to be a successful and creative diary-based culinary interpretation .  8/10

Chibouste chocolat, sablé cacao, crème vanille et réduction de griotte –  Good (7/10) I am not a fan of chocolate in general, therefore it takes mountains of prouesse for a choco-based item to satisfy me, but this was certainly properly executed, using fine ingredients. Just to give you a visual idea, it looked a bit like the entremet mousse au chocolat you can see here.

As usual, there is not much to pique at with such a very good bistrot. Unless the Mayans are right and a real new cycle of life is under way, with people’s palates being resetted, Rfaol.. there is no  major problem to foresee with the cooking here. It is an updated take on classic French/North American bistrot fares  that is well executed, delicious and as good as you will get from  what Montreal is currently offering at its  finest bistrot levels.

Wine pairing (I went with wines by the glass) on this evening has been  remarkable as usual,with beautiful discoveries throughout. The finest bistrots  of this city (Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon, Lawrence, Au 5e Péché) doing a fantastic job in the aspect of selecting exciting privately imported wines.

Pros (of this meal of 31/12/2012): In the top 5, to be safe and as accurate as I could in my evaluation  (I personally would situate it in top 3) of Montreal’s finest bistrots as proven once again by this evening’s tasting menu. As usual, Bistro Cocagne managing to pull the best out of  well sourced ingredients. Special mention too for the service: warm, welcoming, knowledgeable while remaining pro.

Cons (of this meal of 31/12/2012) :  None on this evening

My overall food rating for this evening’s dinner (meal of 31/12/2012):  By the finest Bistrots standards in Montreal (for example: in comparison to the better performances of Lawrence, Au 5e Péché, Bouillon Bilk,  Kitchen Galerie Poisson on Jean Talon), I would rate this meal with a strong  8/10 – An overall very good bistrot meal (updated classic French/North American bistrot), as I came to expect from Bistro Cocagne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Hotel Herman, Montreal – Pleasant enough

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
Type of cuisine: North American Bistrot
Addr: 5171, rue Saint-Laurent, Montréal, QC
Phone: 514 278-7000

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Dish per dish Ratings: 10/10-Benchmark 9-Excellent 8-Very Good 7-Good 6-Ok, pleasant 
My recent  visits covered restaurants that have been a ‘coup de coeur'” to some of Yul’s well regarded food journalists. I do that once in a while because they are the best specialists of our restaurant scene, therefore it is logical to give a try to what have impressed them the most. Last week, I tried Mezcla, a ‘coup de coeur'” of Thierry Daraize. In my view, not bad, certainly  more exciting  than other better rated places in town (their course of blood pudding that I had on that evening being so remarkably exciting ),  but a lacklustre braised beef and a ceviche lacking ultimate refinement kept that meal away for strong overall ratings. Two yrs ago, I tried Marie Claude Lortie’s coup de coeur: Bouillon Bilk. That was an instant  coup de coeur for me as well. Today, it’s the turn of the ‘coup de coeur'”  of one of Voir magazine’s star food journalists, Gildas Meneu. The name of the restaurant: Hotel Herman. Important: this is by no means a judgement over the amazing work of those wonderful journalists. Food, as you know, is subjective. Therefore, please do understand that my appreciation of a given meal is just that: at X time, I was impressed by X meal. At Y time, Mr Meneu, Mr Darraize, Madame Lortie had the superb meals they had. Point blank.

This is a romantic meal with my wife, so no picture taken. But for those who love pics, you’ll still have one picture in this review: the one of my bill.  I consider prices on a bill to be  part of my privacy, therefore you won’t see the numbers ;p
 
Dined here on Saturday Sept 8th, 2012. 19:00. Hotel Herman is a … restaurant, not a …hotel. An easy joke, but aside from that, the restaurant is located on Saint Laurent in place of what used to be the late La Montée. They have renovated the place and it now looks more airy, with a beautiful bar in the middle, grey-toned chairs and tables all around. The decor pertaining to what is widely known nowadays as ‘post industrial’ design . A really pretty place, way way way more appealing than  its predecessor.

First thing I noticed: this place is hard to book on a last minute attempt. I managed to get a seat for 7:15pm, only available till 21:00 for a saturday evening. But we never felt rushed at all, and the service was so efficient that we actually were done by 20:00 and could have stayed there without any problem.

SERVICE: We had two Gentlemen as our main waiters: one, I’ll nickname the ” moustache man” as well as a blond gentleman with hair in a tight ponytail who I’ll nickname ‘the surfer’ since he made me somehow  think of a surfer.  Both Gentlemen offered a stunning service on this evening,  the type of service that I would expect only at a world class dining venture. Many places I like still have little flaws in the service, but here that aspect was in superb hands from what I have experienced all along this meal: both Gents were simply evolving in perfect mode this evening, never leaving glasses empty, never forgetting about one single detail, excelling in all aspects of top hospitality standards. The ‘Surfer’ even showing an extraordinary  fun personality.  Not one single mistep in both Gentlemen work, but world class presence all the way. They also had the 2 owners in house on this evening: one of them is a Gentleman both Jannice and I nicknamed ‘El barbudo de granma’ since  he made us think a bit of a young Fidel Castro at the time of the Cuban revolution (the team of revolutionaries who went on chasing away Batista were nicknamed ‘Barbudos de grandma’ after the boat that they used ),  because of his hat and shirt, and of course beard. He was a superb company to all diners, expressing very humble, fun, and sociable traits. The other owner came to our table, at some point, to serve the desserts we’ve ordered: a woman of little words  (if no words at all )  from what  transpired at that moment.

WINE:  On this evening, the wine list consisted of 4 pages (size of  1/6 page wide club flyers) and an extra two-sided page of cocktails and various liquors  (for eg, bourbon limonade $9, rhum, cognac, poire williams,grappa, scotch, etc). Sparkling wines (10 of them featuring on that list)  went from a $47 La peur du rouge, Axel Prufer to a $110 Champagne extra brut, Fidèle, Vouette et Sorbée; Examples of other sparkling wines: a personal  favourite Phil en Bulles, 2010 Phillipe Tessier ($46 the bottle, $8.5 the glass), Baden Sekt, Pinot extra brut, 2003, Ziereisen ($48)Ca va bien, Phillipe Bornard ($54). White wines varied in between $40 (for eg, a  2011 Garganega del veneto, I Masieri, Angiolino Maule ($40) up to a $69 Venezia-Giulia, ponka 2009 Paraschos ; 17 white wines featuring on that list with another favourite of mine, the Arbois-Pupillin 2008 Domaine de la Pinte ($52, I did not have it this time since it was not served by the glass at that moment; I always go by the glass to taste varied wines), Serbie orientale poema 2009 Cyrille Bongiraud ($45 the bottle, $8 the glass), another favourite of mine Santorini Assyrtiko sélectionné 2011 Hatzidakis  ($54 the bottle, $10 the glass), a Willow creek riesling 2010 Chad Hardesty ($63), etc. Then thirty choices featured among the red wines, from a Vin du Québec, Solinou, 2011, Mike et Véro ($30), up to a $84 Bourgogne, Bedeau, 2010 Frédéric Cossard. Other examples of red wines:  Aglianico del taburno Apollo 2006 Domenico Ocone ($43 the bottle, $8 the glass), a 1999 Pessac-Léognan Chateau Mirebeau ($65), Barolo, La Morra, 2006, Renato Buganza ($75), VDT, chemin noir, 2011 Chateau tour grise ($40);  Bourgogne, Pommard 2008 Thierry Vilot-Guillemard ($90), etc. Their choice of  biodynamic wines is interesting.

FOOD: They have a short menu, which seemed well varied when it comes to starters, but both Jannice and I found the ‘main courses’ section shorter of perhaps 1 extra item. Make no mistake: I perfectly understand the need of a short menu and it’s the way to go, indeed. But Perhaps adding another meat course should do the trick, here. Prices already feature on their facebook site, so no need to repeat those here.

We ate:

Crabe de roche de Gaspésie, radis, cresson fontaine ($18) – The crab meat was fresh,  and there was plenty of them (I am insisting on this because many complain about the $$$ in restaurants compared to what you get: well, here there was the quantity justifying this cost)  and of course, there is nothing to not like with fresh crab meat. But there is also little in excitement to be experienced from fresh crab meat morsels and  marinated radish that are basically just that: fresh crab meat and marinated radish. When you offer simple dishes like this one, you have just one way out for the dish to be appreciated: it needs to outstand, a good example being the remarkable “crab tourteau” dish that Chef Jean-Paul Giroux has once served me at Cuisine & Dependance, now unfortunately closed: a dish of sheer simplicity that I have never hesitated to score with a well deserved perfect 10/10 since the mouthfeel was simply of  epic dimension. As for this one dish I was sampling on this evening at Hotel Herman, it is just an Ok dish, simple and fresh.  6/10 as far as I am concerned. But my hats off to the exemplary sourced radish and watercress, a remainder of how this is a restaurant who takes all little details into account.

Plateau de charcuterie maison (Saucisse, rillette, terrine de foie) $15 – One small block of the terrine de foie, another small block of the rillette, and 3 tiny slices of sausage.  All  Certainly pleasant, well done cold cuts.  Both the rillette and terrine de foie packed with fresh good flavor, although not at the level of the cold cuts that knocked my socks off.  6.5/10

Magret de canard, chou fleur, trompette des maures, sauce hollandaise $19 – While sampling that sauce hollandaise, I had this vision in mind: me, knocking at the door of all the Chefs who failed to deliver an exciting sauce hollandaise, and showing them this version. The Chef here is a young gentleman who used to work at  La salle à Manger, Marc-Alexandre Mercier. Based on just this meal, it is hard for me to tell you what I think about him but there are certainly — eventhough it’s obvious that this evening’s meal won’t join my favourite bistrot meals in YUL —  some signs of brilliance: such beautifully-textured sauce hollandaise with taste to match, that beautiful sensuous pan-seared foie of the next course. Alas I am not a big fan yet, for reasons like this: we all know that duck is a meat that’s tough by nature. But Yep, indeed, you can make it tender. That is actually why we all want  our duck to be rosy, cooked no long. Now, when you see that your duck is cooked as it should (rosy, as it was the case with this duck) …but it is tougher than expected from any successful duck magret ….there’s a reason for that, no? I mean I am sorry to sound mean here, I actually hate lecturing ppl, but it’s a restaurant and ppl are paying, and in total honesty: this is a place with plenty of potential, so why not encouraging them in the right direction? Anyways, this was a big ‘block’ of  duck magret, which is generous and I appreciate, but inevitably harder to get right if you want to cook it in controlled fashion . Slice that ‘block’  in 3 and you’ll get  better accomplished cooking of the duck. I am also not a big fan of serving ‘sauce hollandaise’ with duck magret. I know it is doable and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just can’t appreciate the match of both. Anyways, the reason I am not rating this higher  has nothing to do with my personal aversion to duck magret / sauce hollandaise. I could take that anytime, especially with that superb sauce hollandaise. It has to do with the fact that the cooking of the duck magret  was hard to master because  the piece of duck was cooked as a whole as opposed to 3 slices.  Jannice was even meaner than me on this one. Coming from the countryside, therefore a huge admirer of ducks, among other things, she knew exactly what to expect from an ideal  duck magret, either in the old fashion or innovative contemporary way. This, to both Jannice and I,  was pleasant ..largely because of the superb sauce hollandaise…but two notches behind the best duck magrets we had. Again, nothing catastrophic, far from that (which is why I still rate it with a 6 over 10), but I had more memorable renditions of the duck magrets. Still, at $19, this is a steal!       6/10

Foie gras, crème de mais, pain brioche $23 – Beautiful sear of the foie gras, and I’ll repeat beautiful! I insist on this because to me, this is what makes the difference between a benchmark  piece of pan sear foie Vs the average decent piece of pan-sear foie gras that anyways no one can’t miss. But this piece, oh my ..my! This is the piece I needed when I was talking about what was missing on this Mezcla‘s pan-seared foie dish to be a benchmark one: a texture of the gods, the necessary amount of sensuous heat, deep joyous lively livery flavor.  I was starting to play the “Ah la la la la long” in my mind at that moment. And YET… I am heartbroken here, because usually a benchmark pan-seared foie gras triggers a fountain of hysteria from my part, Jannice — when around — even usually insisting that I calm down asap, Rfaol! Two  problems, as far as I am concerned: that  pain brioche hidden under the corn cream. Why is it under that corn cream? Don’t we know that a pain brioche under corn cream is not a pain brioche anymore?? I want to taste the pain brioche, a classic ideal companion to foie gras, but not its liquid-immersed version, Lol! Also: Yes, quality corn cream (this place use prime produce and I am very appreciative of this aspect, hence the repeated reference to the quality of their ingredients) is inevitably tasty and I do appreciate this, but honestly: wasn’t this a bit too straightforward?  Good 7/10, but this could have been a 10/10 had the overall conception blown me away.  

Crème prise de lait de chèvre, fraises au sucre, crumble $8 – Served in a jar, this was Ok. Again, they use beautiful produce here, so the strawberries were indeed really nice. The quality of the goat milk, impeccable. But in mouth, the overall was more of a pleasant dessert rather than a remarkable one. Again, nothing bad here. Just nothing particularly great, neither.  A 6 over 10 for the combo goat milk/strawberry, Jannice even rating this lower (and she is a countryside woman with goat cheese milk-based dessert being usually her favourite), but the crumble on its own was in a totally different league: I have to think back to the best pastries of my childhood in France to find a pastry of such amazement!

Conclusion: Not really a coup de coeur as far as I am concerned (nothing, on this meal, went above an beyond what I came to  expect at comparable top bistrot eateries, nothing surprised, nothing particularly knocked my socks off), but certainly one place  delivering the charming little things that will inevitably appeal to the most such as the beautiful plating, a cool ambience, interesting choices of  biodynamic wines, contemporary bistrot food executed with  logical ingredient combinations. In a nutshell: the usual stuff I do expect  from a good bistrot that does at least enough extra efforts (especially in the attention to details when it comes to showcase beautiful contrasting textures on a plate)  to make things  interesting. Nonetheless,  the food here is delicious and comes with a sense of excitement (even when it’s expected: for eg, the corn cream with pan-seared foie gras). And the concrete reality that many Chefs are not  capable of such beautiful sensuous pan-sear foie and exciting sauce hollandaise…that remains a mistery in my books! This meal tonight is no benchmark, but it was a revelation in that aspect. The prices are relatively decent, here, especially given the beautiful produce on display. Marc-Alexandre, scrap the little flaws and make it happen, buddy!
PROS: Not many Chefs could get their pan-sear foie gras the way they delivered it on this evening. Tasty food.
CONS: Most dishes I had would have been stunning by avoiding the ‘avoidable’, for eg: there’s nothing appealing with a  a brioche under some cream, there’s hardly any control if you cook a big piece of duck magret, etc
Overall food rating: 6/10 Jannice would have give it a 5 from what she told me. Anyways, I thought that we must remain realisitic when it comes to restaurants. Quebec is, at this moment, not a world gourmet  destination,and yet many big cities around the world do enjoy gourmet fame for generally far lesser Chefs. I mean, I am not here to distribute unecessary flowers, but seriously that sauce hollandaise, that fab pan-seared foie, not many Chefs around the globe do this in such spectacular manner found on this evening’s meal. On the other hand, I’d fool this beautiful and promising restaurant if I’d suggest that everything was perfect on this evening. Re-read my review, 3 times if that is required,  and  you’ll see that there’s some homework to be done. It is not a drama to improve upon misteps. Some of todays’  best Chefs are among the best..because they accepted critics and improved upon!
Service: a 10/10 for the ‘moustache man’ and ‘Surfer man’ performance on this evening. But I have a question: is  Madame, the owner, happy to host guests? She was not mean at all, really not, but  ppl pay to visit your restaurant,  thus I’d expect a minimal sense of welcoming..no????  Anyways, nothing drastic here.
Decor: what’s not to like in such a beautiful urban, post industrial decor? Lively and fun as far as I am concerned

WHAT  I THINK MONTHS LATER – The  local food journalists seem to have been impressed with this place. Great for Hotel Herman, and the generous portion Vs sweet prices will inevitably
translate into raves (good value is what people are looking for, after all), but a dish like that revised version of the  magret de canard was simply about bad understanding of the basics of  cooking duck meat -hopefully, they are doing  better ones by now–, the foie gras dish showcased bad conception (pain brioche under corn cream..so what am I supposed to appreciate here: the corn cream? Ok. The pain brioche? How?? It is covered with corn cream…The concept of the pain brioche soaked in corn milk: No, thanks…it was a waste of pain brioche, then!). If the idea is to bring new concepts, fine. But they need to make sense. Judging by the excitement of the food journalists and loads of raves on the foodosphere, my meal is perhaps just a bad day.  So, I’ll drop by one of those days –way, after having tried world’s most serious food cities, to be honest with u — and see if things are indeed better.

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Brasserie Central, Montreal – The Rouyé’s touch but I miss the sweets of ..Valentin


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
Restaurant Helena, August 2012
(IV) SEE ALSO: the reports on VeniceCinque Terre, Milan & Parma. .

Food rating: Benchmark in its league (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Brasserie Central, Montreal
Type of cuisine: Updated classic French  Bistrot / North American
Addr: 4858 Rue Sherbrooke West (Montreal)
Phone: 514 439-0937

Click here for the URL

This is the second eatery of Chef  Thierry Rouyé (La Porte), opened since July, a venture that he co-owns with Paolo Oliveira of Café Méliès. The place, situated in the very wealthy neighboorhood of Westmount (how come there are so few great tables in such wealthy place??? I don’t get that one),  is simply but elegantly decorated (a mirror-lined wall on one side, omnipresence of white and black tones with the contrast of brass fixtures, dark wooden chairs, a ‘glimpse’ of what could have been some partial checkered floors — the room was full, so by respect to the diners privacy, I refrained from taking pics of the dining room but browse the web and you’ll find some pics of the place) , with  emphasis clearly on the food rather than on the distraction of bling bling decor.

This is a very classy place: when I called for a solo dinner, instead of telling me right on the spot that I’d have to sit at the bar — an annoying trend nowadays (hey..I am paying like anyone else, so why are the other places instantly proposing the bar to solo diners even when the place is emply  ) —  they offered me a nice table as it should at any restaurant! I chose to sit on the terrace….With the beautiful Westmount  by a nice sunny day… Oh my..Oh my…

The Chef is Chef’s Thierry Rouyé’s son, Maxime, and I was looking forward to get a taste of his own creations, now that he is not at the side of his dad (he was working with his dad at La Porte). 

As it’s the case of most tables nowadays, they put plenty of emphasis on locally sourced produce and seems to invest lots of efforts in even the little details sometimes overlooked by  the most serious bistrots: for ie, they bake their own bread, have hired a star bartender, make their  pastries on the premises . The place has enjoyed instant success since its opening, and you certainly need to reserve especially on weekends. 

Menu & food
On this reported evening, starters ($8 – $18) comprise of items like beef carpaccio ($13), salade noicoise ($16), foie gras terrine ($18), main courses ($19 – $45) have items like Black angus short ribs $45, lobster club sandwich $19, a daily risotto $19. Desserts were all priced at $10.

When you’ll read  comments about this place over the web , play particular attention at what the commentator has opted  for, because there are various type of dining offerings here: for ie, the bar menu comprises of cocktails, ham, oysters, but they also have a multiple course tasting menu which is closer to fine dining than bistrot fares, and they also have bistrot fares as well such as burgers, etc. Naturally, the person who went there sampling couple of oysters and munched on some hams at the bar might not have the same overview of this kitchen as the one who went for the tasting menu for ie. I picked the multiple course tasting menu because I went there to see how far Maxime could go now that he is on his own , therefore I can  talk only for this particular menu.

$60 for 5 courses of this dining level is definitely reasonable.

Terrine de foie gras, abricot, pate de sésame – As accustomed to, when the Rouyés are at the helm, quality of ingredient is at the forefront. The duck liver terrine was not going to be an exception to that rule: the finest duck liver terrine. Instead of offering a straightforward terrine, Maxime Rouyé worked it a bit by encasing   sparse pistachios ( not too much, just subtle enough to make it an interesting touch when you get to sample it) and the delicate sesame flavor was thoughtful. A perfect apricot ‘quenelle’ and scrumptious toasted bread complemented this excellentduck terrine.   9/10

Crème de chou-fleur, tabbouleh de chou-fleur, fromage mamirolle, chorizo, mousse de sardines – The cream of chou-fleur (cauliflower cream ), that’s as  perfect as you want your cream of cauliflower to stand like. Creamy, enticingly reach, beautiful texture. The mousse of  sardines, on its own: again, perfect texture, big great fresh sardine flavor (the remainder that fresh sardines is a world away from the fishy sardines at the super market and many top restaurants would benefit from incorporating such stunning mousse of sardines in some of their dishes). BUT Rouyé’s standards are no average standards so let me afford some ‘nitpicking’ observations here:  the cauliflower cream  mixed with the sardines mousse  seemed an uninteresting pairing to me, adding nothing particular as far as I am concerned and I could do without the mamirolle  cheese (again, not an item that elevates a cauliflower cream in my view)  a 6/10 (Overall, the bottom line effect is that this was just Ok but not great) seems fair, although the sardines mousse and cauliflower cream would score higher than that, as individual elements.

Pétoncle poélé, boudin noir, meunière de noix, rémoulade de chou, émulsion jus de pommes/cidre de pommes – Technically, there’s nothing to reproach to the Rouyés. They master their cooking, work the textures as most expect, generally balance the flavors as it is expected on any great table, and so on. Unless you set your imagination to find technical flaws where there ain’t, there is virtually nothing to say about that aspect. So, the scallop was beautifully seared, the flesh as impeccably rendered, although I must admit that I had sampled more exciting  scallops in town. Then you have the blood pudding, one of the Rouyé’s fortes: simply sublime. The emulsified apple iced/apple concoction is fine but has made its time. I’ll score it with a   7/10 for that superior  blood pudding, essentially.  And I’ll append a question to this paragraph:  why…pourquoi…bon dieu de bon sang…for god sake…using repeating elements (we’ll get to that later on …. the tip: the green apple!!!!) on the same meal?

Pintade rotie au four, morilles, pommes de terre grelots, petits légumes – Cooked like a charm (a beautiful moist consistency, exact amount of heat required, beautiful sear of its skin), this was as great as a top guinea fowl dish could be. Being not a huge fan of this bird, it just does not excite me as much as, say, a stunning piece of fish or an incredible marbled piece of beef, but it’s definitely gone as far as a guinea fowl can express itself at its best.  Morels, potatoes,  radish of exemplary quality and tasty sauce were  the complementary elements of this course. An excellent updated classic.   9/10  .

  Pop corn à l’érable, crème de mais, sablé breton, pomme verte en sorbet – Once upon a time, the Rouyés had a world class pastry Chef. His name was Valentin. Valentin Rouyé. His is one of the two sons of Grand Chef Thierry Rouyé. When I say ‘world class pastry Chef”, it’s not because I am under the influence of something, Lol. It’s because he proved it, on the field. Valentin Rouyé, when I got to sample his creations in 2010 (see the macaron, sweets, dessert of this meal), was..to put it boldly….at the same level of any 3 star Michelin pastry Chef out there. Nothing less, nothing more! Two months after that meal, a highly experienced  world gourmand  who visited me in Montreal and went dining at La Porte upon my recommendation, had to say this of Valentin Rouyé ”’are you serious? This guy’s macarons beats Hermé’s, his inventivity crushes many high profile 3 star Michelin pastry Chefs around the world””.  I am French, and do visit my homeland twice a year (Perhaps the Pierre Hermé’s reference is a bit exxagerated, although I have always considered Valentin’s macarons, for ie, to stand among  the very best I had) but  I can confirm what that gentleman was saying: indeed, Valentin..at his very best…he is something!   Even more amusing: Valentin never had any training in pastries at that time! Imagine. Valentin moved on,  completed his studies at Ithq , and now he works at Maison Boulud, downtown Mtl. I have no clue whether Valentin is at its top shape as he used to be, but what he was doing in 2010 was world class. Nowadays, the Rouyés have a new Pastry Chef and I was curious to sample his creations. Alas, the dessert I had (Sablés bretons, corn cream, maple-leaf flavored pop corn, green apple sorbet)   was ‘challenging’ to me: I am a huge fan of sablés bretons since it’s the kind of pastry creations that virtually every kitchen claims to do well, but only a few make the standout types. This sablé is probably a standout sablé, but I will never know because it was covered with the corn cream! Please, never cover superb sablés with anything else! Then again…slices of apples, a featuring element of the previous scallops dish. Why using repeating ingredients in the course of the same tasting menu??… It just takes the appeal of your menu away. For me, there were way too many things going on in there, but not cohesively: for ie, I’d rather have the apple sorbet and the popcorn  as the main elements of one single dessert. Leave the sablés as partners to your coffees (which they do really well, btw). And the cream of corn should be the base to a totally different dessert. I can’t judge this Pastry Chef on one dessert only, but  while I was sampling this dessert, I was  missing Valentin’s sweets. 5/10

WINE list – The wine list is short (approx 14 bottles featuring on the list available at my table on this dinner, presumably more gems available on the premises) with choices mainly from France, but also some few from California, Australia, Italy, New Zeland and Chile. Examples of great red wines found on that list: St Emilion Grand cru 2007, Chateau L’Armont ($87 the bottle/$17 the glass), Margaux 2007, Ch Paveil de Luze ($88), Sangiovese  Scabi 2009, Azienda agricola San Valentino ($52), a Californian Merlot 2010 Grayson Cellars ($54 the bottle, $11 the glass).
Among the white wines available on this evening’s wine list: AChablis Laurent Tribut 2010 ($98), Les petits QV Mas St Laurent 2011 ($52 the bottle, $10 the glass), Sonoma Rodney strong, chardonnay ($60).  Two rosés : a majolica cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2011 ($41), Château la lieue 2010 provence ($48). Bubbles comprised of a prosecco di valdobbiadene brut, crede, 2011 ($46 for the bottle, $9 for the glass); Cava cordoniu classico ($57),  Champagne Barnaut, grand cru de Bouzy ($97 the bottle, $19 the glass).

Service was impeccable. 

Conclusion:  All in all, Maxime Rouyé, on his own, has indeed managed to showcase serious skills. He certainly masters the technique, has proven  that he can cook classically-inspired dishes that has nothing to envy a michelin star restaurant with equivalent offering (exempli gratia, his guinea fowl dish was as great as a practically similar poultry dish my mum had during our meal at 3 star Michelin Ledoyen —that dish was not reviewed in that article, but it was the best dish of that meal) and his creativity can appeal as on that foie gras dish where the subtle addition of sesame paste was genuinely thoughtful.  I did not try his more bistro-alike material, for ie his burgers/club sandwich/salade noicoise, but I heard they are great too. We are in skilled hands, and this is is easily a top bistrot indeed (I personally would situate it right after my favourite bistrots in Yul: Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk,  Kitchen Galerie on Jean talon) although some details of this meal need to be fine-tuned: exempli gratia,  avoid repeating ingredients like those apple slices on the same tasting menu (I can understand that it is another story when the customer himself/herself orders the dishes, but that was not the case here), work on better exciting cohesion between multiple ingredients on dishes like that dessert of sablé/green apple sorbet/pop corn  or the cauliflower course I’ve just sampled. A suggestion: perhaps creating a perfected “show-stopper” course around that blood pudding or the sardines mousse. They do it so well.   

PROS: The blood pudding, the sardine mousse, duck liver terrine, the guinea fowl dish, the good service
CONS: some ingredient association needs to be rethought, others fine-tuned. That dessert also needs to be rethought.

Overall food rating (on this visit): 7.5/10 seems the most accurate rating for this meal I just had, although I am a bit torn about this overall rating. I’ll  explain: some items of  this meal would  be  big hits at even a 1 star Michelin level : stunning sardines mousse, the ‘as perfect as it gets’ guinea fowl dish, the sublime terrine of foie gras. Thus, anything below an 8 over 10 may sound mean.  But I was not excited by the association of ingredients on the cauliflower cream  course as well as a dessert that is clearly not right up my alley, which  makes me ‘wandering’ back and forth between a 7.5 and an 8/10. I’ll keep it at 7.5 since the better aspects of this meal deserve better reward although  I will observe that Maxime has not managed yet to make me forget about say, Bistrot Cocagne, Au 5 e Péché, Bouillon Bilk and even Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon I am comparing apples to apples here (top level bistrot in Yul Vs other top level bistrots in Yul).  and that this is more of a strong score for the technique showcased on this evening rather than for full excitement . 
Overall service rating
: 9/10  Professional, well trained. Connor, my main waiter on this evening, is a great example of the perfect gentleman: fun, accomodating, great listener, passionate about what he does and he does it well.
Décor
: Simple black and white theme, and yet elegant.
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance   on the specific  meal I am sampling  only.

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Café Sardine, Montreal – The day this kitchen will unleash its full potential….

 

UPDATE- MAY 2013  CHEF AARON LANGILLE IS NOT WORKING THERE ANYMORE. THIS POST IS THEREFORE KEPT ONLINE SOLELY FOR   HISTORICAL PURPOSE.

. Dinner @ Café Sardine
Addr: 9 fairmount, Montreal, Quebec
When: Tuesday, 26 June 2012 18:30

Type of Bistrot: Neo North American Bistrot
Ambience: packed, tiny, popular, laidback
Decor: rustic, plenty of dark wood, wall bricks, close-up tables
Phone: 514-802-8899
Website: http://cafesardine.com

  (English version, to follow) – Ca faisait belle lurette qu’on avait pas d’innovation relativement ‘tranchante’ du coté de la restaurantion Montréalaise. Il y’a eu Bouillon Bilk l’an passé, peut etre le filet dans une certaine mesure, puis plein de belles initiatives mais rien de vraiment différent. Café Sardine apporte donc quelques petites touches innovantes, par ci et par là. Pas étonnant, vu que le Chef Aaron Langille a déjà fait ses classes au restaurant Noma, temple d’une cuisine moderniste ultra innovante. Donc, meme si il y va molo (à Montréal, pas question de brusquer les us et coutumes –on est pas ultra conservateurs, Rfaol, mais certainement pas des plus aventureux non plus), sa cuisine est plein de petites découvertes peu ou pas du tout offerts à Montréal: travail poussé des herbes marines (par exemple, sa salade de pois de mer, laitue de mer), la transformation de ces dernières en meringue  par exemple, ainsi que bien d’autres éléments tel que le travail de tous les éléments de la plante de concombre (le plat ‘maquereau, purée de concombre) en textures peu courantes dans les restaurants de Montréal (par exemple: assécher certaines partie de la plante de concombre, un résultat qui est vraiment pas mal). Bref, un peu de Noma dans certaines créations. Mais encore? Une cuisine interessante, des touches innovantes (en regard de nos standards Montréalais) et certainement la plus interessante que j’ai eu l’occasion de savourer sur une table Montréalaise depuis l’ouverture du Bouillon Bilk.  Des prix doux, des ingrédients  de qualité, un rapport qualité prix qui est dur à battre. Bémols? Les défauts (bruyant, petit, tables hyper rapprochés) de ses qualités (ambiance électrisante dû justement à la superficie toute menue des lieux, des plats bien exécutés qui feraient palir de jalousie plein d’autres   tables offrant du moins bon à plus cher..ceci expliquant pourquoi plein de Montréalais investissent les lieux) , mais au final  ca vaut un petit détour entre amis amateurs de bonne cuisine et de bon vins (les flacons, au verre surtout, valent leur petit pesant d’or) , histoire de découvrir ces  petits plats plein d’intérêt, gouteux, bien faits, aux petites touches bien pensées et parfois quasiment suprenantes. Oublions les nappes blanches, oublions le coté guindé, oublions les décors sophistiqués. Après tout, n’est-ce pas ca un resto: avoir du fun, manger des bons petits plats et se laisser aller au petit coté ‘party” de la chose. Peut etre pas un coup de coeur, dans mon cas, mais  j’ai bien apprécié.

Café Sardine is the new hit of the Montreal restaurant scene. Its Chef,  Aaron Langille has spent some time at Noma in Copenhagen (this is the only reason that led me there: I have been waiting, for a while now, after  some kind of fresh new  culinaric creations on the Montreal restaurant scene. Especially if Noma’s ideas could inspire those..I am dreaming, I know..since I’d doubt that Mtlers will widely adopt Noma’s foliage standard bearing creations. But some inspirations, coming from Noma, adapted to Montreal scene…why not? )  before working for several restaurants in YUL.  Opened around the end of March, it is a popular tiny eatery that fulfills  its role of a café in the morning, of a luncheon destination  at noon, as well as a bistro in the evening.  They told me that they do not take any reservation when I called them and given how popular this place is, they certainly do not have to bother with potential last minute cancellations. I think Café Sardine is the most prolific restaurant concept  I ever saw  in YUL since a long time being  basically a ‘’compilation’’ of everything that works nowadays: low prices, shareable sized portions of food , short menu, flexible eatery (café/luncheon place/dinner) and avoiding loss of time with un-popular bistrot items (for ie, their dessert section is short…why losing time with creations that are not in big demand? ).

YUL is known for its myriad of eateries, it counts among North American cities with the most restaurants per capita.  Each year, hundreds of restaurants  keep opening …alas, it would be more appropriate to call most of them ‘replicas of  restaurants’. The 100th cote de boeuf, the 101th veal chop dish, another marinated beet, and so on. Not even the 100th cote de boeuf but one that would be a …stand out Cote de Boeuf. Not even.  Or when they sounded original, it was basically  about unexciting dishes just presented differently.  Aside from what I consider among my favourite in YUL,  and since the likes of Bouillon Bilk and Le Filet, now over 1 year,   I have seen many serious dining destinations opening in town,  with the will of doing really well, but virtually none that brought standout surprises. It is, as if, everytime someone is opening a new restaurant, that person’s existential question is the same:  How to survive? Although it is of course absolutely normal to think about profit, I seriously question the passion of  some of those restaurateurs. How come, in a tiny city like San Sebastian, they are all doing pintxos and yet finding thousands of  exciting ways to surprise your palate? How come, at a time when thousands of restaurants kept doing the same thing, Au Pied de Cochon found original ways to give a new exciting dimension to rustic QC’s cuisine, Kitchen Galerie (on Jean Talon) managed to pull out a neo-rustic bistrot cuisine  that’s more exciting than what others can deliver, Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché managed to stand ahead of  YUL’s very best bistrots . None of those are re-inventing the wheel but they are, in many ways (skilled cooking, food with an edge on the palatable aspect, etc)  at the forefront of current Montreal’s restaurant dynamic  . My intent is not to bash for the pleasure of bashing. It is a city that I dearly love, therefore  wished it could shine among world’s most exciting dining destinations. The intent is just to bring some food for thoughts that will hopefully end up somehow, somewhere, in new ears willing to push Montreal to a potential World’s exciting gastro city. As you’ll see below, Café Sardine is far from being just another restaurant. It is an inspired eatery concept that brings fresh new air to Montreal restaurant scene.

Décor:  Prior to visiting this place, I have read that it had a Parisian bistrot décor. Well, not really. First off, the majority of Parisian bistrots have mostly chairs and traditional tables,  whereas here you have bar stools and tall tables. Most Parisian bistrots (A la Biche au Bois , Au pied de fouet, Josephine “Chez Dumonet”, Bistro de Paris)  have tablecloth (more and more are putting the traditional tablecloth aside, for ie Bistrot Au Passage, Cartouche Café, Le Miroir..etc  but that’s not typical of classic Parisian bistrot style), which is not the case here. Also: even if things are changing a bit on that aspect, it was no custom to sit and eat at the bar or a counter at most Parisian bistrots (which you can do at CS). Café Sardine décor has more accurately a mix of  some elements from some English pub (the dark wooden floors, plenty of dark wood décor elements) and their own take on some neo-rustic bistrot style with ideas inspired from 1950s-era pop-art style (the Café Sardine solo wall painting), very interesting retro touches as that fun old-school phone in the gents room (wow..really really loved that all wooden retro décor in the gents room. Pick that phone in the gents room and listen to what they say..Rfaol!), 1930s hollywood glamour painted brickwork. You can seat at the bar counter, the few tall tables (mostly for 4 pers), or at another  counter close to the window.

Service: In such a tiny packed place, you can’t expect flawless synchronized service, but they did the best they could in being relax, cool, professional and friendly. A charm.

Wine list: At the table, they have a small list of wines divided in 5 sections: reds from France (14 bottles, with wines as low as a $34 for a 2009 Chateau Jouclary Cabardes Cuvee Tradition, then some few bottles in the $40+ range, then some in the $60+,  some in the  $70+, up to a $102 Vosne-Romanée Village Domaine Daniel Rion 2009. Worth noticing: a $78 2009 Domaine Amiot Guy et Fils Les Chaumes, Chassagne-Montrachet),  reds from other parts of the world  (11 bottles from $40 up to $88, for ie a $44 Igt Toscana 2007 Calviolo, Le Querce or a 2006 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe at $82), white wines from France (13 bottles, from $37 to $78 with some nice picks like a $45 Dom. Les Éminades Montmajou 2010, Saint-Chinian or a 2009, Pouilly-Fuissé  Maison JanotsBos at $75), as well as white wines from other parts of the world ranging from $44 to $62. Constant changes to that list are of course applied, so next time you go there, other wines might feature on that wine list. They do also have far more gems than those on that list, and I went with wine pairings by the glass (in between $8 to $10) which exposed far more treasures (plenty of amazing biodynamic wines). A little coup de coeur, in my case, for a lovely 2009 Toscana i.g.t., Cabernet Sauvignon, Calviolo.

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

The food
: The menu at Café Sardine is inspired by a trend: the menu just features quick  lists of the ingredients, for ie –tomato, basil, thyme-  (think Eleven Park Madison, L’Astrance). Of its time, obviously, but come to think about it, not a bad idea at all: you list the ingredients and that gives you the freedom of composing whatever you want with them. 

We started with a starter of baguette bread topped with tomatoes ($2). This is an item widely present   in the the mediterranea, but this version I was having on this evening lacked many elements to truely shine on par with its med counterparts: it needed more acidity, perhaps capers, a touch of olive oil and such starter needs stunnier tomatoes. But at $2, I guess I am asking way too much, Lol.  4/10

Then Boeuf, épinette, pimbina, consoude, rose, tournesol ($14) – Beef tartare served atop a leaf of  ‘consoude’. here, a first influence from Noma’s  foliage trend  with the use of consoude leaf. The tartare on its own was just ok (seasoned as it should, but certainly not a benchmark one – it lacked prime beefy flavor impact), but eating it with the consoude leaf did definitely turn this into an interesting experience. Talking about interesting, the dimension brought by the presence of the rose really kept  this tartare in worth-to-pay-for category. Lots of efforts and thoughts went in this tartare, enough efforts to forgive the otherwise just Ok beef tartare    7/10

Then Truite, caviar de poule de mer, sur pomme de terre confite et crème fraîche – Top quality trout, cooked to ideal consistency. Logical matching ingredients such as potatoes and crème fraiche completed this dish. Hard to fault such dish, and certainly not a dish that will make me leave the comfort of home for, but at $13 and with what lies ahead, this is certainly acceptable. 7.5/10

Next was maquereau, purée de concombre $13 – Mackerel and purée of cucumber had references to Noma with all parts of a cucumber being exploited: the cucumber itself came in purée as well as in its pickled version. There was also a noma-esque exercise of drying some parts of the cucumber plant, the latter being a total success of functional modern interpretation of foliage.  This could have been a 7/10 dish in other circumstances, but in this case, there were many glimpses of outstanding efforts as shown in the work of the cucumber. The mackerel itself, although packed with enticing grilling flavor, did largely benefit from the amazing work of its outstanding pairing companions. 8/10

Then Gigot d’agneau, purée de noix de grenoble, moutarde mariné, onions vert – Excellent lamb that did, again, benefit from the enticing flavor coming from the grill on which it was cooked. At $15, with such low $$$, you can easily see why this place is so popular. But it’s really in the glimpses of brilliance seen on some other dishes where my interest lies. Still, nothing to complain about. 7.5/10

Joue de boeuf, radis – $14  A delicious and tender piece of top quality braised beef cheeks. At $14, I have really nothing to pique at. I know places serving such dish at twice this price and the palatable impact is not as high. Had the sauce being as stunning as the meat itself, this would have been a benchmark of its genre. But on this occurence, I’ll rate it with a 9/10

Pois de mer, laitue de mer, sabline, cendre, huitre$10 – A salad of sea foliage was the reason I have full faith in the depth of skills that’s in that kitchen. For a  palate that’s focused, what I was having would be a treasure of interesting discoveries. If you do not like sea foliage, this will not be your thing. I love sea foliage and this was certainly a 10/10 salad as far as I am concerned. Noma foliage inspiration was strong here, too. Top marks for a little meringue made of sea foliage and oyster. That was world class meringue (I really hope that Mtlers will adopt such unusually -seen elements on the Montreal restaurant scene like for ie, sea foliage meringue, ashes mades from  elements of the sea. They add so much to the enjoyment of a dish, and that’s coming from an old-school gourmand like me). Adding oyster emulsion to that salad was one of those little touches that showcased the great depth of inspiration invested on this dish, and as with anything inspired, it brought emotions right up to the very last inch of the palate.

Gateau au citron, sirop de poire, violette$5- Usually, at most Montreal’s bistrots, desserts are an afterthought. And seen just 2,3 items on their dessert menu, I was ready to give up on the dessert part of this meal. But they proved me wrong:  this was largely one of the very best lemon cakes ever sampled on a Montreal table, with a depth of enticing lemon and pear flavor that lingers on the palate for long. Excellent 9/10

Chocolat blanc, fromage bleu, thé du labrador, rhubarbe $7 – The staff explained that the desserts are made by a pastry chef during the day. This gentleman needs more visibility as dessert after dessert, his creations are certainly not your usual ordinary Montreal restaurant dessert creations. His style is definitely not boldly modern but  its shows a great sense of taste and unusal inspired work. 9/10
 

Bottom line: the best dishes of this repast were refreshingly novel to Montreal restaurant standards and revealed a great potential in this kitchen. I can’t say that I was blown away (always a subjective thang, right?) , but I’ll have to concede that it is the most interesting restaurant meal I ever had in Montreal since a long time, with ingredient quality that’s high, cooking techniques on point, a Chef who’s obviously talented, and the dessert creations sampled during this meal might appear ‘normal’ at first glance but they unveiled a sense of taste that is certainly superior.  To an attentive eye / palate, plenty of little details will not fail to catch attention. Don’t expect perfection all the way though: the charm of this tiny eatery really lies in balancing its strengths (busy popular ambience, surprising culinaric highs here and there such as the 9/10 and 10/10 dishes of this meal) with its weaknesses (such a popular place has inevitable downsides such as being too noisy, having the tables too close to each other, etc).  In the end, it is a refreshingly interesting place that has a lot to offer. And the day this kitchen will unleash its full potential, oh my …my…

PROS: A braised beef cheeks course of world class execution, even if its sauce was not as spectacular. Very creative by Montreal standards. Desserts were also of solid level.
CONS: That tartare and tomatoes on baguette bread ..were surprising not at the level of the rest. Way below a general level of cooking that’s quite good, and more importantly interesting.

Overallfood rating: 7/10 Really good for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparablerestaurants/dining category. Closer to an 8 over 10 btw, because the hits here (although sparse on this meal) are bold, veryexciting! And when such an unassuming hole in a wall makes you doubt aboutsome top gunners, you know that when the lion will roar, only the sky will bethe limit! I still can’tbelieve that only a handful of the numerous 2 and 3 star Michelin  I madein the past decade have been able to offer dishes with the stunningimpact that their joue de boeuf (it’s a market cuisine, so no signature dish) was oozing of! Of course, it’s not a grand luxe place, but there’s alion in the house ;p If it roars ….
Overallservice rating
: 7/10 Professional. They do their best, but what can you do: its is so busy, packed,electric, so ….they do their best in the circumstance.
Décor: 5/10  laidback,shoulder to shoulder. But hey, it’s FUN!  Trust me (even with the bunch of stoopid susceptible characters we had next to us on this evening–Lol, they wereshocked because I was caressing the hair of my wife. Sad characters of thepaleolithic age, Lol)

IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation  of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall foodperformance  on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

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Le FILET restaurant, Montreal – The new excitement in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@ the new restaurant of Chef Mario Navarrete Jr: A TABLE , Montreal


Dinner @ Restaurant À Table
Friday July 16th 2010 17:30PM
Addr: 124 Fleury West, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-439-1966
Web site:
http://www.groupemnjr.com/

Arome’s the food blog: Q&A’s, Guidelines, Ethics, Vision

This week is marked by two restaurant openings in Montreal: Bistro Lustucru opened this Wednesday on Avenue du Parc, in Mile-End (on their Facebook page, I see Guilllaume Vignola as part of  their culinary team. If this is the same Guillaume Vignola who was at ITHQ around 2006, then they have a potential world class Chef who could push QC’s gastronomy to newer heights — IF he wants to, of course)  followed by the opening of Restaurant  A Table  in Ahuntsic neighborhood this Friday July 16th. 

I have now a great reason to enjoy Ahuntsic: the latest restaurant of  Mario Navarrete Jr., a Chef I already described as “a genius of creativity, an architect of stunning refined and researched tastes”. Quite simply in my personal  top 10 Canadian Chefs, top 5 Chefs in Montreal. I remember being blown away by a dinner on  December 4th 2009 at his upscale Latin/French fusion table, Raza. A souvenir that is still ranked high in my  2009-2010 top 15 best dinners in Montreal. 


Raza, Navarrete Jr’s  flagship restaurant, offers a cuisine known as Nuevo Latino, a modern blend of Latin American cuisine that’s inventive and exciting. I’d define it as a superbly well done take on upscale French/Latin fine dining (lots of the cooking techniques are French,  some of the ingredients are tropical, most are locally sourced). The thing to keep in mind is that this is food that appeals to our occidental palate: no shocking tastes. This evening, for this opening, the essential of the team behind Raza  was working at A Table:  the mastermind in person, Chef Navarrette Jr, was cooking alongside Chef de cuisine Rodrigo (Chef Rodrigo will be the main Chef at A Table / Find more about Chef Rodrigo at the end of this post). The food this evening, as you will see in the upcoming descriptions, were in pure Navarrete/Raza style: inventive, exciting, varied, tasty and backed by top quality ingredients .

First, some photos of the overall decor (as I usually do, whenever possible, I went there a bit earlier right before people start arriving, in order  to take those pictures). :

As opposed to Raza, the restaurant A Table, a charming 24 to 28 seats eatery, opts for the Bistro trend with no tablecloths

 

And a menu written on a chalkboard:

 

The overall design includes warm neutrals (brown leather chairs), and  bright accent colors as with the blonde wood tables:

light colored hardwood flooring,  elegant touches of a few dark wood furniture

 

great penetration of natural light, thanks to the front glass window:

 

At the back, a tiny corridor with couple of tables for two:

 

As with most market cuisine restaurants, the menu will naturally vary. Today’s menu  (as you can see on the picture of the chalkboard below) can still give you an idea of what could be on offer:

 

This evening, appetizers (Ceviche of tuna, corn soup, duck carpaccio, etc)  were priced in between $10 to $15, main courses (filet mignon, artic char, scallops, shrimp risotto) in between $24 to $28 and desserts (chocolate cake with Dulce de Leche Ice cream $7, caramelized peaches/orange mousse/fennel for $6). I found the prices to be reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients + what accompanies each dish (carefully look at what is on that chalkboard and you will notice that each food item comes with a variety of accompaniments).

I went for the tasting menu, a bargain at $50 for 6 courses (wine not included):   

Salad of spinach, tomatoes,jicama – Fresh veggies of remarquable quality. Loved the playful interraction between the gentle sweet / subtly sour / delicate acidic flavors. The overall was dressed in  a pear balsamic vinegar. The jicama was a well thought addition to the salad: tasty and enjoyably crunchy, the jicama is actually an ideal alternative to green apples in salads.  For those who have not tasted jicama yet, it is a bit reminiscent of a green apple but without the upfront sour taste.  Simple at first glance, but a lot of work and punch in there. Well done. 8/10
Pairing wine: 2008 Pircas Negras Torrontés. Excellent light and sweet refreshing white wine, with discrete floral consistency +  aromas of green apple that reached out so well  to the jicama. Nice match to the overall salad. 

Tuna ceviche, Mango purée – This dish is a showcase of precision and exceptional skills. Why? Because in the hands of an average cook, a mango purée is the ticket to overwhelm anything that it is mixed with. In the hands of a genius cook like Chef Navarrete, it is a revelation. The purée, of outstanding light consistency and delicious taste, was of ideal combination with that fresh morsel of tuna (here again, a lot of brilliant work in balancing well the peppery/spicy/acidic marinated  taste of the tuna ceviche). Genius work to let each ingredient oozing in their pristine purity  and yet complementing themselves. This is of Michelin star caliber. 10/10
Pairing wine: 2006  Medalla Real  Sauvignon blanc – Nicely balanced, great acidity, refreshing white wine with tropical aromas that reach out to the mango purée and the ceviche.

Corn soup, Potato salad, chives, aioli, crab meat

This soup, served cold, had a succulent rich milky buttery taste with an  agreeable consistency  that was neither too thick nor too light but rather harmonious. In the soup, a pristinely fresh morsel of crab (tasted wonderfully of open sea)  that was incredibly tender, meaty and juicy woke up my taste buds. The warm potato salad, nicely cooked, tasty and earthy, added smartly well to the appreciated contrast of warm and cold temperatures. Again, in line with Chef Navarrete’s well known ability to cook food that beautifully stays imprinted in the mind.. Excellent 10/10
Pairing wine: Santa Julia chardonnay 2008 – This fresh and crisp white wine matched well with the earthy potato + corn soup. It’s elegant and subtle fruity aromas complement with the subtle sweetness of the corn. Smart pairing.

At this point, I moved to an another table. So the next pictures will not benefit of natural light as the previous. They are still taken in good conditions:

Artic char, caviar, quinoa, avocado, salsa verde – On top of the morsel of fish, a delicious light airy purée of fresh avocado. When mixed with the caviar, the taste and texture were simply outstanding . The tangy, zesty flavor of the salsa verde is remarquable. The fish, a morsel of superior quality and of outstanding marine freshness, was cooked with care and tasted great. Quinoa was ideally cooked and packed with flavour. The overall stood as a well structured and delicious dish. Another scrumptious meal. 9/10
Wine: Swan Bay Pinot Noir 2008 – In line with the meal, it has structure and character. It’s an interesting wine that I kept rediscovering on each sip. It’s earthy tone and firm enjoyable acidity + charry oak finish reach out so well to the seared morsel of fish. My type of wine and another clever match to the food.

Filet mignon (Angus AAA), chorizo sauce,mushrooms, butternut squash purée – Quality, quality, quality. Freshness, freshness, freshness. I kept repeating those words like prayers to myself upon savoring each bite of this lovely executed  fork tender and intensely flavorful filet mignon.  The cooking was masterful with a strong focus on optimizing the beef flavor . That is how I want my beef! The chorizo sauce was beefy and delicious. The butternut squash, nicely done. The green beans served along the filet mignon were barely cooked, paving the way to  upfront freshness of the veggie. 8/10
Pairing wine: 2007 Cousino Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon  – Excellent red (I highly recommend this one), with dark fruit aromas, great intensity and savory flavors that are perfect match to the filet mignon. 

Concluded with the dessert:

Dulce de Leche ice cream, Chocolate cake – I think I’ve scared my main waiter, Jean-Francois, when I told him — right  before the dessert was served — that my years in France is the result of me being extremely picky with desserts! Jean-Francois, no worries : although my palate was used to the mostly superb rich desserts of France, our beautiful province does great too: come to think about this, all desserts of Chef Navarrete have highly satisfied me and this one is no exception: a delicious milky rich flavorful ice cream of superior quality with a chocolate cake that was really well done. 7/10
Pairing wine: 2003 Cosecha Tardía Ocucaje – A lovely Peruvian white wine, made of Muscat grapes, marked by it’s expected  musky fresh-grape flavors,  that I was discovering for the first time. It has the typical sweet floral  aromas you expect from most Muscat based wines. The sweetness here is moderate (I can’t stand overwhelming sweetness in white wines)  and  the overall is  elegant/ well structured, characteristics that I seek for in my dessert wines. Balanced so well with  that Chocolate cake/ice cream duo. 

I’ve promised myself to cut a bit with the raves and superlatives when faced with excellent food. As we say in French “Trop, c’est comme pas assez“! But I can’t: when food is that outstanding, my heart has to express it’s full enjoyment. Mind you, unless a catastrophe occurs (of course, even the greatest  have sometimes their weaknesses —  we’ll cross that bridge whenever we’ll get there), it’s virtually impossible to find flaws when your reviews are focused on the works of Chefs like Laprise, Navarrete,Alexandre Loiseau, Pelletier, Mercuri..etc. Another saying in French goes like this: ”’prends le pendant que ca passe!”’

Now, it’s your turn to play, Chef Rodrigo!
There’s lots of pride in Navarrete’s cooking and it’s impressive. So impressive that I can’t see many Chefs being able to fill his shoes.  Luckily for us, diners, Chef Rodrigo (the man who will be the permanent Chef at A Table) has an impressive background too: many years alongside Chef Navarrette Jr (he was his Chef at Madre), and strong experiences at  Daniel Boulud‘s and Spain’s Xavier Pellicer Abac restaurants. I’m excited at the idea of going  back to A Table and this time enjoying chef Rodrigo’s take on Navarrete’s Jr high standards. 
Also of high interest: a visit to Raza, Navarrete’s stronghold (I personally compare Navarrete’s creativity and talent to an open sea of discoveries…it never ends!).

Service:
Jean-Francois (he told me that he usually works at Raza), my waiter and sommelier of the evening, went with smart wine pairings. Service from his part was very attentive, knowledgeable, professional and courteous. Same could be said of the entire staff (amazingly in full control despite this one busy night).

Bottom line: This evening was of exceptional mention (the food was great, ambience was relax, service was focused and friendy). I am confident that Chef Rodrigo understands very well  the importance of perpetuating Navarrete’s high standards and look forward to indulge in Chef Rodrigo’s talented cuisine.

Thanks for reading, Aromes

ADDED    ****BRUNCH @ A TABLE***

Brunch @ A Table
Sunday July 26th 2010, 11:00AM
NOTE: This brunch was cooked by the Mastermind, Chef Navarrete himself.
So, up to now I haven’t had the opportunity to review the cuisine of A Table’s permanent Chef, Rodrigo Flores. It will take me a while before I can  review Chef Rodrigo Flores cuisine since I have couple of restaurants to visit in the short term (including a romantic dinner I want to book @ Raza with Jannice).
PAIN DORÉ, CHOCOLAT NOIR, PECHES CARAMÉLISÉES – This is the choice of my daughter. I had some bites of her french toast: I like the fact that for once, a Chef understands the importance of not cooking something his patron could have done at home. Instead of the common bread dipped in milk and egg, we have here a bread that is of outstanding quality with an eggy presence that is deep and remarquable (I need to know where he buys those fresh eggs!). In mouth, this was definitely  not my common french toast. More accurately a gourmet french toast (the delicious sweet sauce was of high marks. Same could be said of the top quality chocolate with it’s deep cocoa taste). Caramelized peaches were successful (well cooked and tasty).   

My pick:

BAVETTE AUX ÉPICES, OEUF, PATATES ROTIES ET AIOLI – Flavorful, juicy and meaty, the flank steak  was cut in several tender pieces instead of one big steak. Nicely cooked potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans and a delicious meaty sauce completed this excellent dish. Chef Navarrete added his own touch of chorizo foam on top of the egg: 

 

A Table brunch menu is short but smart: instead of a huge list of redundant ingredients and menus that unecessarily pertain to the book category, their menu ,on this brunch, was composed of 8 main courses covering the essential of a brunch meal: some with meats (”smoked salmon, salad of eggs, aioli, tomatoes”, ”smoked salmon with poached egg, potato crepe, caviar”, ”bavette aux épices, sunny side up egg, roasted potatoes“), some with french toast, some with crepes and one omelette accompanied by mushrooms, roasted potatoes, onions, sauteed tomatoes. You also have the usual juices and coffees + some aside offers like the soup of the day, sauteed chorizo, roasted potatoes.

I must admit that I am too picky with brunches and breaksfasts: in 5 years, very few brunches made it on my repeat list. Mtl’s long time popular brunch / breakfast tables like Cosmo’s, L’Avenue, Beauty’s have not seduced me. It took 3 visits at the Sparrow, perhaps one of the latest most famous Mtl tables for it’s amazing brunches, to get me enthusiastic about their brunch (I’m a fan of the Sparrow now. The 3rd visit there truely made a great impression). Even my all time favourite breakfast place (Le Cosmopolitain in Laval) has sometimes been challenged (bottom line, their breakfast at Le Cosmopolitan fare better on weekends, I found) by your host.  For now, only 3 brunches are getting away with favorable opinions from my part: the one at XO Le Restaurant (a luxurious take on the brunch), this one at A Table (delicious, creative and refreshingly different), and the very last brunch I had @Sparrow (varied, homey,copious).

2009-2010 AROMES     TOP 15 BEST DINNERS IN MONTREAL


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