@ 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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Mas Cuisine Restaurant, Montreal – Popular & affordable

Lunch @ MAS CUISINE
Date/Time: Friday June 18th, 2010 12:15
Addr: 3779 Rue Wellington
Location: Verdun, QC
Phone : 514.544.3779
Url: http://www.mascuisine.com

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

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

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2010: They do not serve lunch anymore as/per notice on their web site

(English review will follow) – Ce fut un repas vraiment ordinaire. Surprenant, étant donné la popularité de l’endroit et la renommée du Chef. L’on m’a dit parcontre que c’est vraiment mieux en soirée. Pourtant le Chef était là sur l’heure du midi, aux commandes des fourneaux. Bref, allez-y mais ne comptez pas sur moi pour en faire l’éloge!

Mas Cuisine is the stronghold of Chef Michel Ross who has made a name for himself behind the stove of his previous popular Montreal’s table, Brunoise. Moving away from the pricey downtown’s real estate was a smart move. Verdun, where it is now located, is still not that far from downtown Montreal. 

At lunch time, Mas Cuisine offers a  prix  fixe  three course meal menu

For the main course, I could chose between a salad (kill me next time I chose a salad at a restaurant, you will be forgiven! ), or a soup of the day. The soup of the day is a gazpacho on this Lunch:

  Gazpacho – The cold Iberic originated soup was nice -> perhaps not as authentic as some purists might want it to be, but who cares: it tasted  great, so fresh. Authentic or not, it has the merit of technically be well composed: olive oil (substituted by  pimenton oil in this case), pepper, garlic, tomato + an expected vinagary dimension. Good gazpacho (flavorful, zesty) A fair  6.5/10 (would have been a 7/10 with more refinement and better shrimps).

Second course:
Artic Char  Seared on one side (the skin was way too dry!) , it was accompanied by fresh green peas, oyster mushrooms (pleurottes)  with  an emulsion of tomato and saffron. The fish on it’s own — apart the disappointing texture of it’s dry skin —  was just ok  (tender, cooked ok) but lacking  refinement and depth of taste.  The presentation looks cool and modern, but the elements just do not bring excitement: this emulsion of tomato and saffron was a ticket straight to boredom!! 0/10

For dessert:

Vanilla panna cotta with Quebec’s stawberries – Enjoyable creamy consistency, balanced sweetness (I do appreciate), with the overall sugar/cream/milk being simmered well. Simple dessert that  tasted delicious.  The Quebec strawberries were fresh and sweet.  Good 7/10


Total cost:  $49 (the 3 servings, coffee + 2 glasses of Riesling gunmetal Hewitson 2009’s Aussie white wine***), Without the wine , the meal comes down to $49.11 – $18 = $31.11

There are a lot of affordable meals in Mtl:  for ie, the low cost lunche at Decca77 and many other top restaurants of this city do offer  surprisingly great meals in the $30 price range (of course, wine exclused)! At night, Bistro Cocagne offers a $20 two meal service after 9:30PM,  Milos and  Lemeac do offer bargain meals too, passed 10PM. 

Fyi: food blogs  like Evelyne’s Cheapethniceatz or Ariane’s Epicurbaine  have great suggestions of affordable meal offerings in Montreal.

Decor/Service/Ambiance:
It was packed, especially around 1PM . Most customers seemed to be regulars.
With respect to the patrons, I refrained from taking  pictures of the restaurant.
It is a very small room, simplistic,  with blond wood floors, tables and dark leather-covered chairs. 
Service was attentive, knowledgeable although I would recommend that they formulate some kind of appreciative words when the customer is leaving ……….this should not be an exclusive privilege for regulars………

Bottom line …. Nah, it didn’t do it for me
Overall, this Lunch at  Mas Cuisine was just ok.

I was not seduced at all. I expected more gustatory excitement, here, more punch.

Yes the gazpacho was fine and yet not that  perfect and  the main course of fish was simply  u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e! (how could one miss such a simple piece of fish??) .

The panna cotta was technically successful and tasty  in mouth…but not stellar neither.

Chef Ross was cooking on this lunch. I wish him the best, but it is a NO repeat, for me.

Thanks for reading!

***Riesling gunmetal Hewitson 2009’s Aussie white wine – Nice white wine with the usual upfront minerality of most Rieslings. Nice citrus aromas. Personal rate: 75/100


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Mas Cuisine Restaurant, Montreal – Popular & affordable

Lunch @ MAS CUISINE
Date/Time: Friday June 18th, 2010 12:15
Addr: 3779 Rue Wellington
Location: Verdun, QC
Phone : 514.544.3779
Url: http://www.mascuisine.com

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

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

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2010: They do not serve lunch anymore as/per notice on their web site

(English review will follow) – Ce fut un repas vraiment ordinaire. Surprenant, étant donné la popularité de l’endroit et la renommée du Chef. L’on m’a dit parcontre que c’est vraiment mieux en soirée. Pourtant le Chef était là sur l’heure du midi, aux commandes des fourneaux. Bref, allez-y mais ne comptez pas sur moi pour en faire l’éloge!

Mas Cuisine is the stronghold of Chef Michel Ross who has made a name for himself behind the stove of his previous popular Montreal’s table, Brunoise. Moving away from the pricey downtown’s real estate was a smart move. Verdun, where it is now located, is still not that far from downtown Montreal. 

At lunch time, Mas Cuisine offers a  prix  fixe  three course meal menu

For the main course, I could chose between a salad (kill me next time I chose a salad at a restaurant, you will be forgiven! ), or a soup of the day. The soup of the day is a gazpacho on this Lunch:

  Gazpacho – The cold Iberic originated soup was nice -> perhaps not as authentic as some purists might want it to be, but who cares: it tasted  great, so fresh. Authentic or not, it has the merit of technically be well composed: olive oil (substituted by  pimenton oil in this case), pepper, garlic, tomato + an expected vinagary dimension. Good gazpacho (flavorful, zesty) A fair  6.5/10 (would have been a 7/10 with more refinement and better shrimps).

Second course:
Artic Char  Seared on one side (the skin was way too dry!) , it was accompanied by fresh green peas, oyster mushrooms (pleurottes)  with  an emulsion of tomato and saffron. The fish on it’s own — apart the disappointing texture of it’s dry skin —  was just ok  (tender, cooked ok) but lacking  refinement and depth of taste.  The presentation looks cool and modern, but the elements just do not bring excitement: this emulsion of tomato and saffron was a ticket straight to boredom!! 0/10

For dessert:

Vanilla panna cotta with Quebec’s stawberries – Enjoyable creamy consistency, balanced sweetness (I do appreciate), with the overall sugar/cream/milk being simmered well. Simple dessert that  tasted delicious.  The Quebec strawberries were fresh and sweet.  Good 7/10


Total cost:  $49 (the 3 servings, coffee + 2 glasses of Riesling gunmetal Hewitson 2009’s Aussie white wine***), Without the wine , the meal comes down to $49.11 – $18 = $31.11

There are a lot of affordable meals in Mtl:  for ie, the low cost lunche at Decca77 and many other top restaurants of this city do offer  surprisingly great meals in the $30 price range (of course, wine exclused)! At night, Bistro Cocagne offers a $20 two meal service after 9:30PM,  Milos and  Lemeac do offer bargain meals too, passed 10PM. 

Fyi: food blogs  like Evelyne’s Cheapethniceatz or Ariane’s Epicurbaine  have great suggestions of affordable meal offerings in Montreal.

Decor/Service/Ambiance:
It was packed, especially around 1PM . Most customers seemed to be regulars.
With respect to the patrons, I refrained from taking  pictures of the restaurant.
It is a very small room, simplistic,  with blond wood floors, tables and dark leather-covered chairs. 
Service was attentive, knowledgeable although I would recommend that they formulate some kind of appreciative words when the customer is leaving ……….this should not be an exclusive privilege for regulars………

Bottom line …. Nah, it didn’t do it for me
Overall, this Lunch at  Mas Cuisine was just ok.

I was not seduced at all. I expected more gustatory excitement, here, more punch.

Yes the gazpacho was fine and yet not that  perfect and  the main course of fish was simply  u-n-a-c-c-e-p-t-a-b-l-e! (how could one miss such a simple piece of fish??) .

The panna cotta was technically successful and tasty  in mouth…but not stellar neither.

Chef Ross was cooking on this lunch. I wish him the best, but it is a NO repeat, for me.

Thanks for reading!

***Riesling gunmetal Hewitson 2009’s Aussie white wine – Nice white wine with the usual upfront minerality of most Rieslings. Nice citrus aromas. Personal rate: 75/100


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A visit to revered Chef Junichi Ikematsu, JUN I – Montreal

As I lately pride myself to orientate this food blog towards Montreal’s tables standing out of the pack, I naturally had to pay a a visit to a table that is highly regarded by most connaisseurs of the Montreal Sushi / Japanese food scene to fly ahead of it’s peers: Jun I, establishment of Kyoto’s born Star Chef Junichi Ikematsu.

Restaurant: Jun I
Addr: 156, avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal
Cuisine: Japanese/Fusion
Event: Thursday May 27th Dinner, 18:00PM
Phone: 514 276-5864
Url:  http://www.juni.ca
Pros: A humble Chef. A table that’s among the very best (top 10 easily) in this City.
Cons: The sushis did not blow me away (but they are famous for their Asian-Fusion food. So, I have got to try this next time). I found Mikado’s sushis far superior to my taste. Here’s a rundown I did on major Mtl’s Sushi-yas.

I’ve always reproached Sushis in Montreal to roam a bit in the boring lanes, always within the same uni-dimensional styles…and this reproach is going to the upscale sushi spots…let alone the myriad of soporific average sushi offerings of this city, with their laughable myriad versions of makis. C’mon folks: Sushis, YES..no problem, but with extra miles into the Japanese food repertoire please…use a bit of ambition: I do not know..find out..go travel throughout Japan once a year..see how it evolves there…Out of Japan, go pay a visit to Nobu, Masa, Urasawa and come back… do something….the Oshizushi style of Sushi once in a while ?  or any other style / create, revolutionize…stop using the same ingredients from the same suppliers…stop thinking just about the western style rolls, vary, surprise, do something for god sake!!

Luckily, Chef Junichi Ikematsu is known to be “hard to beat”, in Montreal,  when it comes to  innovation, creativity and superb cooking technique. But what really interests me with Chef Ikematsu remains in the fact that he is famous to outshine it’s peers on two keys of the sushi equation: the quality of it’s ingredients + the efficiency of his cooking techniques (which reminds me that I should expect perfectionism from his part in the cooking of the rice, an aspect where I stand firmly and deeply picky since rice is the perfect ingredient to measure  ambitious cooking talent  in it’s full purity, versatility and creativity).

This evening, I purposely focused solely on Sushis and went with some classics + some few items to be widly known for being among some of their best sushis.

Kicked off with:
Unagi Dynamite – You can’t go wrong with those caramelized-looking smoky textured eels. They just have a natural tempting taste. I wish their taste was more upfront/daring here, but they were still good though. 
The mix of rice (loved the semi creamy texture of this rice and it’s mastered subtle sweetness) mixed with the rice crispies brought a welcoming playful touch that was very pleasant in mouth. Very good.  8/10

Spicy Kani Age – Enjoyable crunchyness of the soft shell crab. The shell crab on it’s own was tasty, with a loveable fried texture. Soya and cajun spice gave a nice exotic touch to the overall. Technically well concocted, but it lacked the extra punch I am used with it’s equivalent I had elsewhere. Good. 7/10

Then the multiple sushis plate that I had ordered: 
On that plate: Maguro sashimi, Sake sushi, Tai sushi, Hamachi in sashimi, unagi as sushi, bonatebi as sushi, Tobiko + Kani + Rising sun (as Gun Kan Sushi), Arc-en-ciel futomaki + Dancing unagi temaki:

-Hamashi Sashimi: It was fresh, sported a perfect texture. Tasty. Excellent. 10/10

-Maguro: I love my red tuna in Sashimi shape.My personal favourite sashimi btw. This piece was fresh, had the perfect texture I expect in my top notch maguro sashimi. Without reproach. Very good. PS: Sorry, I forgot to clean my plate from the soya left over. I was way too busy devouring that maguro and completely forgot about picture-friendly presentation. Ironically, it’s the piece that I wanted to shoot in the best condition.  8/10

-Sake sushi: Another common sushi. Good salmon (Fresh, nice texture) + the rice ideally cooked (not too creamy, not too grainy). Good 7/10

-Unagi Sushi: My personal glaze-grilled favourite. As already written about the previous Unagi dynamite, that meat has it all: enjoyable sweetness thanks to the kabayaki sauced meat , smokyness, great flavors + enjoyable taste. Very good. 9/10

-Rising sun sushi: my other favourite of this dinner, along with the Unagi + Dancing Unagi temaki. I found the topped small quail egg (fresh and delicious!)  to mix so well with the tasty fresh fish roe. The scallops added depth to the overall. It’s also an amazing work of harmonious complimentary ingredients that never fault together. Excellent! 10/10

-Kani. Preferred it in it’s Gun Kan sushi shape. Tasty and fresh crab (snow crab). Ok 5/10

-Dancing Unagi in it’s temaki shape: A medley of what I like the most: red tuna + eel, filled with amazing flying fish roe (tobiko), complemented by avocado and cucumber. Rich and tasty. Excellent 10/10

The rest was good enough: Arc-en-ciel futomaki (6/10)  did not seduce me but was filling and enjoyable with it’s meaty richness (crab meat mostly). Botanebi sushi was ok 6.5/10  (similar to it’s equivalent at most sushi places in this city).

This overall sushi dinner lacked sparkles. I had sushi dinners, in Montreal, with mas o menos most of the same similar classic sushi choices and they reached higher notes.
Next time I go there, I will opt for his omakase so that the Chef can freely unleash his creativity.

Service was impeccable + I like the Chef humble and very welcoming attitude.

Decor:
It’s not a huge restaurant, and yet the layout is enoughly airy, well exploited:

Nice fusion between elegance, simplicity and a bit of the upscale bistroesque feel:

The bar, sports the perfect Zen deco, with blond wood and great lighting:

Pascale Girardin Ceramics
I found that cool that they encourage the work of a local ceramic artist, Pascale Girardin.
Here are some of her works, translated in cute ceramic plates that they use at the restaurant:

SO,  were those the BEST Sushis in Montreal?
Some of those sushis definitely pertained to the best that my tastebuds have sampled in Montreal (the Unagis ones + Rising sun), Indeed. 
The BEST? Hard to say. Since some sushis kinda matched those I had at Mikado and Sho Dan in terms of quality and freshness of ingredients +  technique of execution. Some few others were even surpassed.
With that said,
let’s remain rational: with such prices (they are relatively not that $$$ for such quality Sushis), NO one should expect Jun I to be the Masa or Ryugin of Montreal. Most would not accept paying for Masa or Ryugin material in this city. Not too sure if  a restaurant would dare offering such $$$ in Montreal anyways. But the point here is that those upscale top Japanese/Sushi spots of Montreal would gain from inspiring themselves from giants like Ryugin. Jun I is very good, in many ways truely at the top of the Montreal Sushi spectrum, BUT it needs to bring more in my personal opinion: perhaps going beyond the usual sushi fares + it’s fusion fares, and bring some traditional tastes of Kaiseki, Wa shoku too. And above all, truely outshining the Montreal top Sushi / Japanese fare scene by stepping up to newer unseen (not yet  covered in Montreal) levels. It’s not a reproach, but a constructive suggestion because if Montreal wants to surpass itself in terms of Japanese fares, it’s not the average joe blow Chef that will make that happen but hugely talented Chefs like Chef Ikematsu!
Back to the strict sushi fares, there are also ingredients I would like to see them serving:
this summer I’ll call them to see if there’s any chance they serve  Katsuo for example (I know it’s a tuna that’s a bit $$$ and rare, but absolutely worthy. A must on a good sushi table). I’ll check for Anago too (I personally prefer the sea water eel over Unagi). Also: amuse with say, a grilled shitake sushi for example. And when I talk of “Sushi Yes…and go beyond sushis too”,  I mean offering little treats like a favourite broth: the matsutake tobimushi? Serve a Yuba Chawamusha? Try Dried/Grilled fish (sakana-no-hoshimono/yakizakana), grilled Shishamo fish (it’s mostly shipped from Canada!), Inarizushi? Anyways, the idea is NOT to do an inventory of what could be added on this table…nor suggesting to bring Nantaimori/Nyotaimori to Montreal, that is not the point and by no means realistic, but to expand the experience to the larger Japanese food repertoire.
What about his French fares with oriental touches: I know, Jun I is also about fusion but it is for it’s Japanese touch that I went . SO, Let me know how your experiences with Jun I’s fusion fares turned out to be?
Looking forward to discover a lot more from Jun I’s: It’s rare that I left a restaurant with the need to go back and discover more from it. It’s the case of Jun I. I want to go back soon and try an Omakase there. This time, I would like to seat at the bar, contemplating the Chef at work. And why not: perhaps an another visit for it’s French/Oriental fusion. 
Food for thoughts to ALL the top Sushi Chefs of Montreal: Give a bit of break to the endless western re-interpretation of Sushis and Japanese fares. I do understand that the huge majority of your customers are fond of the latest cutie maki, which is fine and I encourage you to keep up with that too, but you can’t rely on just such: If I was a top Sushi Chef of Montreal, I would go right to NY and dine at Masa. I would then –no need to go way over to Japan — stay on this continent and pay a visit to  Urasawa, California. And next thing you know is that I would fall in full embarassment! Again, I know I would not be able to charge what Urasawa commands in Montreal…but the huge tri-decade apart gap between what is going on abroad Vs what we have here makes no sense!

ありがとう (Arigatō)!

PROS: Among the few most authentic and better sourced sushis you may in town
CONS: Re-read the entire article! Where I was less impressed, I clearly stated it. With that said. this is easily a top-tier sushi place in Montreal. In October 2011, after less impressive sushi meals at my past favourite sushi-yas in town, I came to the conclusion that Jun I was indeed in the top 3. In 2012, it became clear in my mind that Jun I is the best of all Montreal sushiyas.

Thanks for reading, Aromes.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: Upon publishing my review on Jun I, many fans of this restaurant wrote to me expressing their admiration for this well known place and also their disagreement with some of my views. I get it: Jun I is very popular and as such, I too do expect it to shine at the heights of his popularity. I was personally impressed by the humility and genuine personality of their Chef. A Great man that many would like to have as a friend, for sure. I was also impressed by the amazing courteous, polite, friendly and yet professional service. But I also went there for the amazing food they are well known for, and that this entire city is raving about. The best sushis, was I reminded, the most talented Japanese Chef, etc. I have no doubt about Chef Junichi Ikematsu talent. I am actually a big fan of him and I do consider him, indeed, as one of this city’s best Chefs. I have no doubt that he can cook among the best food in town. But my current report is neither on Chef Ikematsu’s talent nor his cooking in general. It is about this one specifically reported dinner and what had to be reported was: it was good, but not great! With that said, they have way more than just sushis and next time I visit Jun I, I’ll sample the French-Japanese fused fares + their tasting menu served at the bar.

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SEAFOOD HOTSPOT: Lucille Oyster Dive, Montreal

Folks,
Summer is at the Gates (ironically, it’s not warm at all here in Mtl, despite being in the middle of May..anyways..). Time for some seafood feast!

When it comes to seafood, I skip lots of  requirements I would usually look for in most dining situations such as  the best value for my money or the layout at my eatery: I just fly deep into my gustatory involvement of the quality of the seafood that is put before me. What brought me to food has always been my  lifetime sacred veneration for Seafood. The problem: being born and raised on the banks of the Indian Ocean with Dad, on his spare times,  fishing the freshest seafood one tastebud can imagine raving over from the warmest sea waters, and I devouring them right there on the beach with barely any long delays between fishing to eating…you just grow up with very high expectations about seafood. Moving far from my  memorable seafood pals, being in so many places where  seafood rose as pure jokes, I litterally hoped that I turned allergic to them. But for some reasons, I just could not stop myself to try seafood everywhere I went with some places truely giving the seafood of my childhood an almost close “run for their money”.  

Everywhere I go I knock at all possible doors that has seafood on their menu. Montreal is no exception.
Montreal is  a city that many regard as a great city for French/North American Bistro fares BUT only decent on the Seafood department. The reality is actually brigther than just “decent”: Lots of seafood tables  like Milos and La Mer offer seafood shipped from abroad (Mediterranea in the case of both previous mentionned restaurants) on top of some North American seafood products as well. In my humble opinion, there’s  in Montreal, a nice selection of restaurants who are truely serious about providing some solid quality seafood. It is just a matter of rigourously stepping into the field and finding them.

With time some few seafood tables in this city made their way among those I adopted  as personal frequent reliable seafood favourite tables, based solely on the remarquable high quality of their seafood  (Le Nantua when I want to be alone or with my sweat half in a quiet atmosphere of Classic French elegance, Milos — their lunch and late night dinner specials are un-matched bargains for such high quality seafood in this City –, Joe Beef when I am with a bunch of folks and feel like partying over high quality fresh seafood in a cool warm bistro-esque setting, Trinity when I feel the need of a touch of the stunning beauty of Mediterranea, La Mer once in a while, and — although I found myself at both places on very very few occasions — La Queue de Cheval, Rib N’ Reef. The latest are primarily Steakhouses BUT they do offer stunning Quality fresh Seafood.). And you have many more (Restaurant Les Crustacés is another one great seafood place that had served me top quality seafood too, Oyster Shack did a good job last time I was there about couple of weeks ago, and virtually the big majority of tables do offer seafood..so drop me a word about those that have emerged as your favourite seafood restaurants in Montreal) , but those I mentionned previously stand out of the pack as far as top quality seafood goes in this city

Naturally, one smart reminder would be this: you can’t buy top Caviar with Loonies!  As most will guess, for Seafood, you truely get what you pay for: do not expect stunning seafood in a $8 Lunch, or a $12 lobster please…I am not here to launch a debate over how much a lobster should cost. I am not here to debate over the best value for your $$$. I am here to talk about the best freshest quality seafood and to remind you that there’s a cost to it! And that cost, If one is well placed to have challenged it, it is your humble who used to pick the freshest top quality seafood right from the sea, for free! But I won’t. I wont because there’s no point for this: we are not at a stone throw from the Ocean, we are not fishermen and we need to be conscient that we have to pay for the cost behind a top quality seafood. Basta!

Event: Dinner @ Lucille’s Oyster Dive
Friday May 14th 2010, 18PM
Type of cuisine: Seafood
5626, avenue de Monkland (Montreal, QC)
URL: http://www.lucillesoyster.com/
Phone: 514 482-1471
 

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

Lately, I was curious about  this seafood eatery

that is attracting hordes of eaters in the Western side of Montreal  and where I never went to:  Lucille Oyster Dive.

I went paying a visit to Lucille Oyster Dive this Friday evening and I was warned by friends who went there: this is a small and very busy table, as busy  as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef,  Le St-Urbain. Exactly what I was seeking for: feasting as in seafood, feasting as in crowded! I went earlier than the 6PM opening to maximize my  chances of shooting photos before the rush hits the place.


I came at Lucille’s Oyster Dive

with pre-defined orders in mind (Rfaol): I was in for some oysters (I came close to ask if they could grill it like at Etxebarri in Spain…I am telling you, I just can’t take that place out of my mind. I need to go there, in this life or the next!) , Lobster roll (Heard that Lucille has the best ones in town: what do you think? Let me know. Not that I am a huge fan of lobster rolls — I prefer raw seafood usually and if cooked, I like them served on their own, with nothing surrounding them so that I sense them in their pristine purity or close to that  —but this place is known for it’s lobster rolls so I had to pick this item) and a Grilled Lobster (If you ask me what have been my most memorable lifetime meals, the answer my friend  are those tremendously fresh Grilled lobsters “‘with a bit of garlic butter aside” from my tender Childhood …Ah the beauty of the simple things, so delicious, so pure, that just make you so happy! ). And If I could humanly eat more without getting full, I would have surely asked for crabs, fish, and the sea too!

Kicked off with Blackberries Mojitos:

Sorry, but this was not a successful cocktail: more watery than memorable (rhum was muted and prdominance of lime would be better than those berries). Anyways, berries do not seem to be a friendly mojito ingredient. Just keep it classic (white rum, sugar lime, sparkling water and mint) and it will sing! 2/10

Jannice picked the Salmon tartare:

I stole some bites from hers: perfect fresh salmon, meaty, fully flavored, masterly spiced (kudos to the nice balance in spicings here). Very good 8/10

The wine I chose to accompany our diner:

2008 Simi Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County – Perhaps the most memorable white wine I ever enjoyed since a while: Oozing of unparralel freshness, it’s concerto of amazing fruity notes (guava, apricot. melon, apple) makes of this wine one that can be a crowd teaser particularly in summer with high quality fresh seafood. I now understand why this wine is highly rated among wine experts (it was the first time I was trying it). Lucille has identity, Lucille has personality as in hosting that heavenly wine in a an unexpected cute recycled Heinz Ketchup tin can:

Started off with my first order:

The Oysters:  
Although I have rarely came across bivalve molluscs of stunning quality as those the Indian Ocean pampered me with, I still enjoy my bivalve molluscs friends everywhere I go: Sometimes, I was amazingly satisfied  On  some rare occasions, they were the opportunity for me to crack some smart jokes at the wait staff like “It’s from the Sea and not the fridge that you should have picked it up!”’.
SO at Lucille Oyster Dive, I started my seafood journey with an order of 12 bivalve molluscs and while sampling them with the hightest respect I always pay  to anything coming from the sea, I scribbled some notes:
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the oyster: TOP
-Work of the shacker: 10/10
-Level of deliciousness: SUBLIME!
Their oysters come from various locations: New Brunswick, The Main, British Columbia.They offer some from the West (British Columbia), some from the East (Main, etc). Western ones were bigger in size, did I notice. Briny, with a remarquable depth of marine robustness, those oysters were among the best I ever had on any Montreal seafood tables and I am including the big names here! EXCELLENT oysters!  They were served with the classic mignonette sauce (expertly executed with perfect balanced acidity from the vinegar and an amazing freshness oozing out of the shallots), a Tabasco Green Pepper sauce (nice idea, try it! I prefer my oysters in their natural state but pick just one oyster, match it with that sauce and see if you like), and their in house tomatoey sauce:

You will never ever see me mixing oysters with sauces (I am a purist), but I had their in house hot sauce sampled separately from the oysters and that sauce rocks: it’s a delicious spicy tomatoey sauce, dense and instense, made of scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar. Delish! I know some friends who would love mixing up that sauce with anything, oysters to start with. 10/10 (the oysters, on this specific visit, were simply stunning!)

The Lobster Roll: I am not a huge fan of lobster roll. As you would expect  from someone who favors high quality seafood in it’s full pristine greatness, a lobster roll is just a comfort food item that can be undoubtly tasty when done well, so this is an exercice that I find pretty straightforward: I will judge my lobster roll not based on pre-defined expectations (just make it tasty and I’ll be a happy camper!) but solely based on how tasty it turns out to be.   
-Quality of the lobster meat: Top
-Cooking of the lobster meat: Top
-Quality of the Mayo: Top (not overhelming. gently spiced, still flavorfully enjoyable)
-Quality of the roll: (Fresh bun, nicely cooked hot dog looking bun)
-Type of roll:  it’s hot dog bun roll as you can see on the pic
-Level of deliciousness: High. I have no complaint here. Realy well done, but I am just not into lobster rolls in general being a purist in anything seafood.  7/10

@ALL– So where could your favourite lobster roll be found (New England, I guess)? Let me know! To me, my lobster roll should be an equation of: great quality lobster meat + mastered seasoning/taste + an appropriately thought bun (I am not a baker, but there is surely some fun evolutive work to do on this department) + a well balanced mayo mix (way too much requirrements for comfort food, hein?)  

The Lobster:
Poached? Grilled? After a slight hesitation I went with my lifetime favourite cooking of the lobster: grilled! Just put a bit of garlic butter aside, keep that lobster fresh, simple and I’ll walk away with a huge smile on my face.
In Montreal, you can get lobster virtually anywhere. The thing is to get it cooked the way I like it (yeah..yeah..ya..they all say it is easy to cook a lobster..sure..sure..sure…but very few have delivered the proper balance of nice cooking/great quality lobster/resulting memorable taste I search for. To me, a meal of Lobster is the epitome of the equation “talent behind a kitchen” + “top quality ingredient”).
So, here again, the notes that I scribbled on this one: 
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the lobster meat: HIGH
-Cooking of the lobster meat: SUPERB
-Level of deliciousness: PERFECT
-Work of the Fishermen: Lol..just kidding on this one ;p I highly respect fishermen, especially them!

Before heading to a location, especially for seafood, I always phone and enquire about where the seafood comes from: the Gentleman over the phone explained that the lobster currently served (at this moment) at the restaurant comes from Nova Scotia. Their lobster weight around  1.5lbs/Maximum 2lbs and cost between $can28 – $can 32 (In Montreal, you can pay in between $52 to $80++ for some top of the top lobsters of that size..but again, that pricing probably reflects the fact that those tables  are not seafood distributors/providers). Quite a bargain for  top quality lobster, imho, but they explained to me that they are also distributor/providers of their own seafood, which explains the low cost. Their lobster is of exact same high end equality as those I had at $80 elsewhere …! At barely $30, half the $$$ I would pay at some highly regarded seafood spots, this lobster was remarquable: perfect depth of flavor, tasty, well cooked and of top quality.  The classic garlicky aside sauce was superb too. Excellent! 10/10 (This one lobster, on this specific visit, soared so high in terms of exceptional quality ).

Seafood soup – This place has idendity/personality. And this soup is just one example of just that: done differently from your usual seafood soups -> instead of a bowl full of seafood broth, you have here the seafood morsels shining atop (crab, clams) and a bit of the broth seating beneath. The freshness of the seafood continues to impress here: delish, tatsy and oozing of enjoyable saline flavors. The bit of broth beneath was delicious and harmoniously flavored. 9/10

Even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone:
Impressed, I should concede: even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone as in very little details like  those that will follow — very little details, barely noticeable to the most, but that I am taking time to write about because they mean a lot in my own  appreciation of this seafood spot: 

Detail #1: At some point, while Jannice was talking to our main waitress, a young very tall charming lady, she ..the waitress…out of nowhere .. cut short to the discussion, dived in distraction, and hop la ..reappeared! I then said to myself  “Oh NO, I think Jannice will hate this move”…Jannice was a long time waitress, and such little details are noticeable to her. And she did notice it. BUT, the waitress came back, charming and focused as ever! From there on, she was shining on par with all best wait staff  I ever encountered in this province. When you come back strong like that, how to not fall under the charm of it all? Great come back ;p 

Detail #2: Before going there, the Gentleman over the phone told me they usually have lobster in the kitchen and that I could just request that one is grilled. The same main waitress, instead of verifying with the kitchen, told me straight that there was no grilled lobster available. I told her that I was informed they would have lobsters in the kitchen but that it’s fine, we could forget about it. BUT she smartly thought about the most important principle in a restaurant: pleasing your guests as she managed to find a lobster for me. Another GREAT come back!

I know those are little details, but they mean a lot to a guest: it shows ACCOMODATION and DESIRE TO PLEASE! All of a sudden, the little futile sorrows turn into MINES OF GOLD!

The wait staff in general was great (always made sure that water was available, wine refilled, table cleaned from water drops. One young charming Gentleman even came and promptly fixed the unbalanced table we chose) and I should say .. HANDSOME.
Lucille Oyster Dive has deeply seduced me: this charming tiny spot has seriously made it’s way to the top of my favourite seafood tables in Montreal for it’s stunning quality of seafood, charming service, and cute minimalist and yet warm bistro alike decor. And this place gets crowded very fast (make no mistake: my pics were taken early, as soon as they opened the doors, a bit before people arrived, but less than half an hour later it got busy), so book in advance (albeit you still can find seats at the bar if you haven’t booked and are lucky enough).
Service on this dinner had perfect  timing: we started at 6PM, were done by 7:40PM with no feel of being rushed and enough space in between services to digest before the next food item would hit the table.Furthermore, the staff was accomodating with regards to the timeframe we wanted to follow. But anyways, this is purely a subjective matter: you should not go to a restaurant to complain about delays JUST arrange your timeframe with the wait staff (I never understood people complaining about slowness in a restaurant…what about talking to the wait staff and telling what you really want..instead of expecting them to guess for you??)

Lucille knows how to be distinct
I do not know for you, but to me , as little as they may appear, I like little details that makes a table distinct from others. I know that the wine presentation (in a Ketchup  tin can) or the unexpected rendition of the seafood soup (focused more on upfront presence of the fresh and top quality seafood items with just a little bit of soupy broth underneath as opposed to be entirely brothy) will not revolutionize the Gastro world, but they sent to me a clear message: this table is passionate about what it does.

Bottom line: Seafood is not just seafood. At least, an iodized saline soul like me  can’t  think that way. Quality in seafood is priceless, and Lucille Oyster Dive impressed me with top quality fresh seafood like I wish I could find everywhere else. I will run back at Lucille’s Oyster Dive way before running back at any of my other favourite seafood tables in Mtl, because of the overall cool, charming, unpretentious mood and above all, for the freshest seafood that this city has to offer. This report is disproportioned, purposely reflecting my sacred epic lifetime fascination for seafood.
Respect to the sea!    Thanks for reading, Aromes.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – My initial meal at LOD was a superb one in regard of the seafood bistrot standards here and abroad. Not only the food was delicious, but it was technically well accomplished. It remains,  years later, one of the finest meals I ever had in a Montreal restaurant.  The typical kind of issue  that unfortunately awaits this type of place (quality seafood bistrot)  is this: people, when things are pricey (quality seafood can’t be cheap) .. they do not care about details  such as the cooking skills, the quality of the food. It is the price tag that dictates how good is your food. And I will  add that the nice looking wait staff at LOD may bother some with a very high level of jealousy ;p  Oh well, too bad for those. There’s also the fact that ppl tend to associate  a certain type of experience with a price tag:  for example, Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer is one  of world’s finest seafood bistrots. Consequently,  since it is quality seafood that is served there, there’s a price that comes with it. And yet, many flock there to complain about the place being a ..bistrot and that it’s too $$$ for a bistrot.  A way of foolishly suggesting that they expect a certain price tag to be associated with fine dining only … as if bistrots are condemned to earlier century’s  clichés with you know…the bottle in the hands…the hunter’s hat…It’s being a while that I haven’t re-visited LOD (it’s  far from where I leave),  but I hope they keep up with the standards I found on that initial visit (my second and third visits here  were not complete meals. I took oysters only, but quality oysters always leave a deep hole in a pocket when you pick them  at restaurants, so I’ll need to try another proper seafood meal here). But yes, it is not cheap as expected

Standard

SEAFOOD HOTSPOT: Lucille Oyster Dive, Montreal

Folks,
Summer is at the Gates (ironically, it’s not warm at all here in Mtl, despite being in the middle of May..anyways..). Time for some seafood feast!

When it comes to seafood, I skip lots of  requirements I would usually look for in most dining situations such as  the best value for my money or the layout at my eatery: I just fly deep into my gustatory involvement of the quality of the seafood that is put before me. What brought me to food has always been my  lifetime sacred veneration for Seafood. The problem: being born and raised on the banks of the Indian Ocean with Dad, on his spare times,  fishing the freshest seafood one tastebud can imagine raving over from the warmest sea waters, and I devouring them right there on the beach with barely any long delays between fishing to eating…you just grow up with very high expectations about seafood. Moving far from my  memorable seafood pals, being in so many places where  seafood rose as pure jokes, I litterally hoped that I turned allergic to them. But for some reasons, I just could not stop myself to try seafood everywhere I went with some places truely giving the seafood of my childhood an almost close “run for their money”.  

Everywhere I go I knock at all possible doors that has seafood on their menu. Montreal is no exception.
Montreal is  a city that many regard as a great city for French/North American Bistro fares BUT only decent on the Seafood department. The reality is actually brigther than just “decent”: Lots of seafood tables  like Milos and La Mer offer seafood shipped from abroad (Mediterranea in the case of both previous mentionned restaurants) on top of some North American seafood products as well. In my humble opinion, there’s  in Montreal, a nice selection of restaurants who are truely serious about providing some solid quality seafood. It is just a matter of rigourously stepping into the field and finding them.

With time some few seafood tables in this city made their way among those I adopted  as personal frequent reliable seafood favourite tables, based solely on the remarquable high quality of their seafood  (Le Nantua when I want to be alone or with my sweat half in a quiet atmosphere of Classic French elegance, Milos — their lunch and late night dinner specials are un-matched bargains for such high quality seafood in this City –, Joe Beef when I am with a bunch of folks and feel like partying over high quality fresh seafood in a cool warm bistro-esque setting, Trinity when I feel the need of a touch of the stunning beauty of Mediterranea, La Mer once in a while, and — although I found myself at both places on very very few occasions — La Queue de Cheval, Rib N’ Reef. The latest are primarily Steakhouses BUT they do offer stunning Quality fresh Seafood.). And you have many more (Restaurant Les Crustacés is another one great seafood place that had served me top quality seafood too, Oyster Shack did a good job last time I was there about couple of weeks ago, and virtually the big majority of tables do offer seafood..so drop me a word about those that have emerged as your favourite seafood restaurants in Montreal) , but those I mentionned previously stand out of the pack as far as top quality seafood goes in this city

Naturally, one smart reminder would be this: you can’t buy top Caviar with Loonies!  As most will guess, for Seafood, you truely get what you pay for: do not expect stunning seafood in a $8 Lunch, or a $12 lobster please…I am not here to launch a debate over how much a lobster should cost. I am not here to debate over the best value for your $$$. I am here to talk about the best freshest quality seafood and to remind you that there’s a cost to it! And that cost, If one is well placed to have challenged it, it is your humble who used to pick the freshest top quality seafood right from the sea, for free! But I won’t. I wont because there’s no point for this: we are not at a stone throw from the Ocean, we are not fishermen and we need to be conscient that we have to pay for the cost behind a top quality seafood. Basta!

Event: Dinner @ Lucille’s Oyster Dive
Friday May 14th 2010, 18PM
Type of cuisine: Seafood
5626, avenue de Monkland (Montreal, QC)
URL: http://www.lucillesoyster.com/
Phone: 514 482-1471
 

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

Lately, I was curious about  this seafood eatery

that is attracting hordes of eaters in the Western side of Montreal  and where I never went to:  Lucille Oyster Dive.

I went paying a visit to Lucille Oyster Dive this Friday evening and I was warned by friends who went there: this is a small and very busy table, as busy  as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef,  Le St-Urbain. Exactly what I was seeking for: feasting as in seafood, feasting as in crowded! I went earlier than the 6PM opening to maximize my  chances of shooting photos before the rush hits the place.


I came at Lucille’s Oyster Dive

with pre-defined orders in mind (Rfaol): I was in for some oysters (I came close to ask if they could grill it like at Etxebarri in Spain…I am telling you, I just can’t take that place out of my mind. I need to go there, in this life or the next!) , Lobster roll (Heard that Lucille has the best ones in town: what do you think? Let me know. Not that I am a huge fan of lobster rolls — I prefer raw seafood usually and if cooked, I like them served on their own, with nothing surrounding them so that I sense them in their pristine purity or close to that  —but this place is known for it’s lobster rolls so I had to pick this item) and a Grilled Lobster (If you ask me what have been my most memorable lifetime meals, the answer my friend  are those tremendously fresh Grilled lobsters “‘with a bit of garlic butter aside” from my tender Childhood …Ah the beauty of the simple things, so delicious, so pure, that just make you so happy! ). And If I could humanly eat more without getting full, I would have surely asked for crabs, fish, and the sea too!

Kicked off with Blackberries Mojitos:

Sorry, but this was not a successful cocktail: more watery than memorable (rhum was muted and prdominance of lime would be better than those berries). Anyways, berries do not seem to be a friendly mojito ingredient. Just keep it classic (white rum, sugar lime, sparkling water and mint) and it will sing! 2/10

Jannice picked the Salmon tartare:

I stole some bites from hers: perfect fresh salmon, meaty, fully flavored, masterly spiced (kudos to the nice balance in spicings here). Very good 8/10

The wine I chose to accompany our diner:

2008 Simi Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County – Perhaps the most memorable white wine I ever enjoyed since a while: Oozing of unparralel freshness, it’s concerto of amazing fruity notes (guava, apricot. melon, apple) makes of this wine one that can be a crowd teaser particularly in summer with high quality fresh seafood. I now understand why this wine is highly rated among wine experts (it was the first time I was trying it). Lucille has identity, Lucille has personality as in hosting that heavenly wine in a an unexpected cute recycled Heinz Ketchup tin can:

Started off with my first order:

The Oysters:  
Although I have rarely came across bivalve molluscs of stunning quality as those the Indian Ocean pampered me with, I still enjoy my bivalve molluscs friends everywhere I go: Sometimes, I was amazingly satisfied  On  some rare occasions, they were the opportunity for me to crack some smart jokes at the wait staff like “It’s from the Sea and not the fridge that you should have picked it up!”’.
SO at Lucille Oyster Dive, I started my seafood journey with an order of 12 bivalve molluscs and while sampling them with the hightest respect I always pay  to anything coming from the sea, I scribbled some notes:
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the oyster: TOP
-Work of the shacker: 10/10
-Level of deliciousness: SUBLIME!
Their oysters come from various locations: New Brunswick, The Main, British Columbia.They offer some from the West (British Columbia), some from the East (Main, etc). Western ones were bigger in size, did I notice. Briny, with a remarquable depth of marine robustness, those oysters were among the best I ever had on any Montreal seafood tables and I am including the big names here! EXCELLENT oysters!  They were served with the classic mignonette sauce (expertly executed with perfect balanced acidity from the vinegar and an amazing freshness oozing out of the shallots), a Tabasco Green Pepper sauce (nice idea, try it! I prefer my oysters in their natural state but pick just one oyster, match it with that sauce and see if you like), and their in house tomatoey sauce:

You will never ever see me mixing oysters with sauces (I am a purist), but I had their in house hot sauce sampled separately from the oysters and that sauce rocks: it’s a delicious spicy tomatoey sauce, dense and instense, made of scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar. Delish! I know some friends who would love mixing up that sauce with anything, oysters to start with. 10/10 (the oysters, on this specific visit, were simply stunning!)

The Lobster Roll: I am not a huge fan of lobster roll. As you would expect  from someone who favors high quality seafood in it’s full pristine greatness, a lobster roll is just a comfort food item that can be undoubtly tasty when done well, so this is an exercice that I find pretty straightforward: I will judge my lobster roll not based on pre-defined expectations (just make it tasty and I’ll be a happy camper!) but solely based on how tasty it turns out to be.   
-Quality of the lobster meat: Top
-Cooking of the lobster meat: Top
-Quality of the Mayo: Top (not overhelming. gently spiced, still flavorfully enjoyable)
-Quality of the roll: (Fresh bun, nicely cooked hot dog looking bun)
-Type of roll:  it’s hot dog bun roll as you can see on the pic
-Level of deliciousness: High. I have no complaint here. Realy well done, but I am just not into lobster rolls in general being a purist in anything seafood.  7/10

@ALL– So where could your favourite lobster roll be found (New England, I guess)? Let me know! To me, my lobster roll should be an equation of: great quality lobster meat + mastered seasoning/taste + an appropriately thought bun (I am not a baker, but there is surely some fun evolutive work to do on this department) + a well balanced mayo mix (way too much requirrements for comfort food, hein?)  

The Lobster:
Poached? Grilled? After a slight hesitation I went with my lifetime favourite cooking of the lobster: grilled! Just put a bit of garlic butter aside, keep that lobster fresh, simple and I’ll walk away with a huge smile on my face.
In Montreal, you can get lobster virtually anywhere. The thing is to get it cooked the way I like it (yeah..yeah..ya..they all say it is easy to cook a lobster..sure..sure..sure…but very few have delivered the proper balance of nice cooking/great quality lobster/resulting memorable taste I search for. To me, a meal of Lobster is the epitome of the equation “talent behind a kitchen” + “top quality ingredient”).
So, here again, the notes that I scribbled on this one: 
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the lobster meat: HIGH
-Cooking of the lobster meat: SUPERB
-Level of deliciousness: PERFECT
-Work of the Fishermen: Lol..just kidding on this one ;p I highly respect fishermen, especially them!

Before heading to a location, especially for seafood, I always phone and enquire about where the seafood comes from: the Gentleman over the phone explained that the lobster currently served (at this moment) at the restaurant comes from Nova Scotia. Their lobster weight around  1.5lbs/Maximum 2lbs and cost between $can28 – $can 32 (In Montreal, you can pay in between $52 to $80++ for some top of the top lobsters of that size..but again, that pricing probably reflects the fact that those tables  are not seafood distributors/providers). Quite a bargain for  top quality lobster, imho, but they explained to me that they are also distributor/providers of their own seafood, which explains the low cost. Their lobster is of exact same high end equality as those I had at $80 elsewhere …! At barely $30, half the $$$ I would pay at some highly regarded seafood spots, this lobster was remarquable: perfect depth of flavor, tasty, well cooked and of top quality.  The classic garlicky aside sauce was superb too. Excellent! 10/10 (This one lobster, on this specific visit, soared so high in terms of exceptional quality ).

Seafood soup – This place has idendity/personality. And this soup is just one example of just that: done differently from your usual seafood soups -> instead of a bowl full of seafood broth, you have here the seafood morsels shining atop (crab, clams) and a bit of the broth seating beneath. The freshness of the seafood continues to impress here: delish, tatsy and oozing of enjoyable saline flavors. The bit of broth beneath was delicious and harmoniously flavored. 9/10

Even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone:
Impressed, I should concede: even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone as in very little details like  those that will follow — very little details, barely noticeable to the most, but that I am taking time to write about because they mean a lot in my own  appreciation of this seafood spot: 

Detail #1: At some point, while Jannice was talking to our main waitress, a young very tall charming lady, she ..the waitress…out of nowhere .. cut short to the discussion, dived in distraction, and hop la ..reappeared! I then said to myself  “Oh NO, I think Jannice will hate this move”…Jannice was a long time waitress, and such little details are noticeable to her. And she did notice it. BUT, the waitress came back, charming and focused as ever! From there on, she was shining on par with all best wait staff  I ever encountered in this province. When you come back strong like that, how to not fall under the charm of it all? Great come back ;p 

Detail #2: Before going there, the Gentleman over the phone told me they usually have lobster in the kitchen and that I could just request that one is grilled. The same main waitress, instead of verifying with the kitchen, told me straight that there was no grilled lobster available. I told her that I was informed they would have lobsters in the kitchen but that it’s fine, we could forget about it. BUT she smartly thought about the most important principle in a restaurant: pleasing your guests as she managed to find a lobster for me. Another GREAT come back!

I know those are little details, but they mean a lot to a guest: it shows ACCOMODATION and DESIRE TO PLEASE! All of a sudden, the little futile sorrows turn into MINES OF GOLD!

The wait staff in general was great (always made sure that water was available, wine refilled, table cleaned from water drops. One young charming Gentleman even came and promptly fixed the unbalanced table we chose) and I should say .. HANDSOME.
Lucille Oyster Dive has deeply seduced me: this charming tiny spot has seriously made it’s way to the top of my favourite seafood tables in Montreal for it’s stunning quality of seafood, charming service, and cute minimalist and yet warm bistro alike decor. And this place gets crowded very fast (make no mistake: my pics were taken early, as soon as they opened the doors, a bit before people arrived, but less than half an hour later it got busy), so book in advance (albeit you still can find seats at the bar if you haven’t booked and are lucky enough).
Service on this dinner had perfect  timing: we started at 6PM, were done by 7:40PM with no feel of being rushed and enough space in between services to digest before the next food item would hit the table.Furthermore, the staff was accomodating with regards to the timeframe we wanted to follow. But anyways, this is purely a subjective matter: you should not go to a restaurant to complain about delays JUST arrange your timeframe with the wait staff (I never understood people complaining about slowness in a restaurant…what about talking to the wait staff and telling what you really want..instead of expecting them to guess for you??)

Lucille knows how to be distinct
I do not know for you, but to me , as little as they may appear, I like little details that makes a table distinct from others. I know that the wine presentation (in a Ketchup  tin can) or the unexpected rendition of the seafood soup (focused more on upfront presence of the fresh and top quality seafood items with just a little bit of soupy broth underneath as opposed to be entirely brothy) will not revolutionize the Gastro world, but they sent to me a clear message: this table is passionate about what it does.

Bottom line: Seafood is not just seafood. At least, an iodized saline soul like me  can’t  think that way. Quality in seafood is priceless, and Lucille Oyster Dive impressed me with top quality fresh seafood like I wish I could find everywhere else. I will run back at Lucille’s Oyster Dive way before running back at any of my other favourite seafood tables in Mtl, because of the overall cool, charming, unpretentious mood and above all, for the freshest seafood that this city has to offer. This report is disproportioned, purposely reflecting my sacred epic lifetime fascination for seafood.
Respect to the sea!    Thanks for reading, Aromes.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – My initial meal at LOD was a superb one in regard of the seafood bistrot standards here and abroad. Not only the food was delicious, but it was technically well accomplished. It remains,  years later, one of the finest meals I ever had in a Montreal restaurant.  The typical kind of issue  that unfortunately awaits this type of place (quality seafood bistrot)  is this: people, when things are pricey (quality seafood can’t be cheap) .. they do not care about details  such as the cooking skills, the quality of the food. It is the price tag that dictates how good is your food. And I will  add that the nice looking wait staff at LOD may bother some with a very high level of jealousy ;p  Oh well, too bad for those. There’s also the fact that ppl tend to associate  a certain type of experience with a price tag:  for example, Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer is one  of world’s finest seafood bistrots. Consequently,  since it is quality seafood that is served there, there’s a price that comes with it. And yet, many flock there to complain about the place being a ..bistrot and that it’s too $$$ for a bistrot.  A way of foolishly suggesting that they expect a certain price tag to be associated with fine dining only … as if bistrots are condemned to earlier century’s  clichés with you know…the bottle in the hands…the hunter’s hat…It’s being a while that I haven’t re-visited LOD (it’s  far from where I leave),  but I hope they keep up with the standards I found on that initial visit (my second and third visits here  were not complete meals. I took oysters only, but quality oysters always leave a deep hole in a pocket when you pick them  at restaurants, so I’ll need to try another proper seafood meal here). But yes, it is not cheap as expected

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Latest Montreal Restaurants on the rise: Le Quartier General

RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL (1)
LE QUARTIER GENERAL
1251 Gilford, Montreal, QC
(514) 658–1839
URL: http://lequartiergeneral.ca/
Dinner on Thursday May 6th 2010, 18PM
Type of Cuisine: Contemporary Quebecois/Bistro

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

Lately, some few newer tables appeared on the Montreal restaurant scene (Reminder: I am focusing mainly on French/North American food). Nothing to shake the Top Tier of  the upscale fine dining repertoire (Toque!, XO, La Porte, Nuances and to some extent Raza/LCCP have no new companions as of lately)  for now, Nothing neither to seriously disturb the top tier of the Star Bistros of this City neither  (La Montée, Le St-Urbain, Bistro Cocagne, APDC, etc), BUT  some rising stars already attracting hordes of eaters: Le Chien Fumant, L’un Des Sens and the subject of my current (Also: Note that Madame Lamarche and Chef Laprise, from Toque!, are expecting a new table to open soon) review: Le Quartier General

Le QG was opened very recently and quickly made the headlines of Montreal Gastro actuality. It is a Bistro type of restaurant with a cuisine essentially oriented to Contemporary Quebecois Cuisine/French. On my way there, I was very enthusiast, for once, to distance a bit from the beautifully presented upscale fine dining meals and indulge in a cuisine that’s known to be more focused on the work of pristine ingredients and flavors, elevating the food to what it should be on the first place: a delicious gustatory experience, L’Éveil des saveurs franches.

I started with the:
RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL  - CRAB CAKE Gateau de Crabe, Poivron roti – Perfect marine robustness to the crab meat. The crab cake was flavorful, moist,  and evenly spiced. The overall croquette had a nice crust, an ideal crispy consistency , was nicely fried (not one Oz of oily nor fatty trace) and delicately breaded. It was complemented by a roasted creamy delicious orange pepper preparation. This elegant gourmet crab cake was excellent!

Followed by: 

RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL  - PAN SEARED FOIE GRAS Foie gras, Fruits de la passion, Haricots Kenya, Purée de betteraves – There is no secret: MISS my Foie Gras or Seafood and I will kill your kitchen!   Stun me with the Foie or the Seafood and I will love you forever!!! I remember —  like a kid remembers his best candy store — the genius behind Toque’s Chef Laprise pan seared foie. I remember with dove’s feather emotions the Pan Seared foie of Chef  Alexandre Loiseau @ Bistro Cocagne. I remember the tears of joy before Chef Desjardin’s Pan seared foie @ L’Eau à La Bouche or the one that was topping my savourish Poutine of Foie @ Au Pied de Cochon. I remember what’s memorable and beautiful. And now, ADD le QG’s Pan seared Foie Gras to this selective list of my personal favourites: Sure, I could play the smart *#% and complain about the candy pinky beet purée (Perhaps a  purée of dates fruit, or a concoction worked out around walnut honey would have seduced me, BUT this is of pure personal prefs and that beet purée was tasty and well done, so no complaint at all. More of a constructive add on) that was accompanying my Star pan seared foie, but I WONT! I wont because nothing deserve to detract from this utterly savourish chunk of heavenly pan seared foie: keeping it’s enjoyable depth of livery flavor, seared to perfect golden texture, served at perfect temperature, remarquable for it’s high quality, this generous chunk of foie gras (here’s what I call a smartly thought proportionned chunk of foie) was pure heaven on Earth. Accompanied Green  Beans were barely cooked, keeping freshness and enjoyable crunchyness to upfront welcoming enjoyment. All was bathed in a delicious foie liquid saucy marvel concoction. 8/10

 

RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL - GASPOR PORK (1) Porcelet de Gaspor, Salade de Quinoa Royale – Here they caught me by surprise, and I appreciated that: Everytime I had the well known high quality QC’s Gaspor Piglet, it was usually in it’s version of a savourish fatty chunk of tender meat cooked usually through the Sous Vidé cooking Technique. And Oh God, that has always been the bar to reach, for it’s succulent daring deep flavors and tastes 8.5/10

RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL - GASPOR PORK (2)  Naturally, here, the dish has a different outcome, being from the leanier part of the Gaspor piglet. This rendition is interesting and surprising: it is presented like a Spring roll, cut in half, with the meat remaining tender, flavorful and the spicing well mastered (nothing overkilling here). The quinoa salad was  tasty! 8/10

 

RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL - RABBIT Lapin de Stanstead, Sauce Dijonaise, Carottes Nantaises, Topinambours –  The slight smoky chorizo flavored meat of this rabbit was of high marks (makes it distinct and enjoyable). Impeccable cooking mastery here: tender and yet, ideally firm. Quality of the rabbit is definitely of high praized. Those bunnies aint no joke! Carrots were fresh, of high quality, nicely crunchy, barely cooked and standing humble before nature in all it’s splendeur (I’ve rarely been impressed by the smart mastery of veggies served at a restaurant. I might give this to them: they know how to make veggies shine. Never too over nor under cooked and always upfront in it’s pristine pure expression. Loved this!). Topinambours (Jerusalem artichoke) came as a purée and had perfect soft paste consistency on top of being tasty. The bathing sauce (sauce Dijonaise, fond de veau) was simply divine. 8/10

Ended with a dessert:
RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL - CHOCOLATE MARQUISE Chocolate Marquise – Delicate, with an irreproachable dark chocolate of high quality. The marquise tasted good. The black raspberries topping that marquise were fresh, sweet. A beautiful fresh Physalis heterophylla (Lol..it’s just the other name for ground cherry aka, groseille du cap, aka  Cerise de Terre) was shining at the top of that Marquise.8/10

They have two services, one at 6PM, the other at 09 PM: smartly thought since in this city, people start massively piling up at restaurants at 6Pm in General. As for 09PM, why not?

The restaurant is the ideal clean, elegant bistro type:
RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL (2)

High ceilings, clean warm bright colors

The classic bistro chalkboard’s menu:
RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL (3)

Great penetration of light, thanks to it’s glass windows:
RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL (4) RESTAURANT LE QUARTIER GENERAL, MONTREAL (5)

In a city where BYOBs are kings, add some good food to this and attractive $$$, Le QG was assured of it’s instant well deserved success. Le QG is not revolutionazing the world of food nor setting the bar of this city’s Gastro scene,  but it is a smartly thought table that hits the right notes: Great value smartly and expertly well concocted bistro fares.

Service by Charles was cool, professional, charming, efficient, courteous and even fun. Same could be said of the rest of the staff. As for the delay, it was perfect: arrived at 6PM, left at 7:45PM with no feel of rush at all. All in perfect balance and timing.

This place is popular and gets packed easily, so book days in advance. Keep in mind that they have two services: a first one at 6PM, a second at 9PM.

Pros: This meal showcased some nice cooking, appealing playfulness, creativity. Indeed, a nice neighborhood bistrot. But be careful with un-justified over-enthusiasm: for some reason that I can’t point out, some seem to confuse this place with the very finest bistrots in town. It’s a good bistrot, but it is by no means a leading one like say Bistro Cocagne, Au 5e Péché, Lawrence, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie. For sure, when you surprise  those top bistrots on an average day, you may think that Le Quatier General is superior, but that is not the way to judge restaurants. A great restaurant is judged based on  its capacity to be way better than its peers when they are all performing  in their prime.

Cons: If I recall properly, they were not making desserts on the premises, on that evening I was there.  That, I do not appreciate: everything should be done on the premises! Again, that was what seemed to have happened on that evening. I can’t talk for anything outside of this occurence.

Thanks for reading, Aromes.

Overall food rating: 7/10 This was a good enjoyable bistrot meal on which I have no reproach to underline.  

What I think years later: I went back couple of times and it is still a good bistrot that I appreciate a lot. But as I wrote in the ‘Pros’ section, it would not be accurate to elect QG as the best or in the very finest bistrots in town as some seem to  suggest. The best ‘bring your own wine’? Certainly not if you have experienced Raza (it is now a BYOW), A L’Os, etc at their best.  Again, on a day when QG is in its prime whereas the other top bistrots in town are caught on an average performance, you could get the impression that QG is superior. But I doubt that QG at its best is as stunning as Bistro Cocagne/Au 5e Péché/Bouillon Bilk/Lawrence or Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon at their best. The most accurate way to compare two kitchens being to evaluate their top performances, and not just through the incomplete and superfluous exercise of  evaluating sparse dining occurences. It is only after several meals at those tables, meals that showcased their highest and lowest performances, that I was comfortable with my opinion about which  stands better than the other.

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