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).
Dinner at Restaurant Le Newtown Type of cuisine: North American /Market cuisine
When: Sat May 21st, 2011 19:00
Addr: 1476 Rue Crescent
Montreal, QC (Downtown)
Phone: (514) 284-6555
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)
UPDATE July 2012: Chef Juneau has now opened Pastaga (6389 Boul St Laurent). I went to Pastaga and it’s certainly one of the most interesting eateries (its a wine/Modern North American bistrot/brunch destination ) in Yul at this moment, although those who have been impressed by Chef Juneau’s culinaric magic when he was on Bishop Street will most likely tell you that this is a tad less impressive to what was offered on Bishop Str (who knows, perhaps different producers? Different team in the kitchen? etc). Regardless, this remains one of the most interesting eateries in town, only it is not in my top 5, an accomplishment that Chef Juneau is largely capable of (When he was at La Montée on Bishop, that place was my #1 bistrot in YUL for a long time).
Non, ce ne fut point la castatrophe cette soirée là, mais j’en suis ressorti décu et je n’y retournerai plus: Un Chef…Un resto! C’est comme ca la vie. On a beau dire que suivre un Chef c’est un peu de l’adulation exagérée, mais au delà des inutilités moralisantes (qu’on appelle ‘platitudes’ au Québec) ne soyons pas naifs: un resto est égal au Chef qui est aux fourneaux. On va au Newtown pour apprécier le talent du Chef Juneau, un point, un trait. Et si il n’y est pas, ca se ressent dans l’assiette! Et là, ce fut une soirée OFF, couteuse. Bref, une soirée qui m’a laissé perplexe.
Second dinner at restaurant Le Newtown, last evening. My first meal there was under Chef Jette’s supervision (click here for that review). This time, it is Chef Martin Juneau who’s at the helm; a clear sign that the folks at Le Newtown are serious about the restaurant’s offering of their ‘resto-bar’.
Chef Juneau: When he was awarded Canada’s gold Medal Plates champion Chef in February 2011, I was not surprised. I wrote it and I will repeat this: when he is at his very best, it is not exaggerated to state that Chef Juneau is of 3-star Michelin caliber. He proved it already on this reviewed lunch (March 2010) when he was at La Montée. Now, there are many reasons that can explain variation of opinions on the work of a top tier skilled Chef like Juneau: (1) the demand of his customers. You remember how I was slighlty less impressed with my dinner at his last location on Saint Laurent (click here for that review)? It is not that Chef Juneau was suddenly less impressive than he used to be, but because most of his clientele wants him to cook that kind of simple but reliable food that I was enjoying on that evening. (2) it depends on how far he can impose his own creations on their menu. I do not know about Juneau and his relationship with Newtown management’s team, but I saw elsewhere many talented Chefs suffocating under the pressure of their superiors. Something is certain: when his full potential is unleashed, Juneau is simply an outstanding world class Chef. If on that lunch of March 2010, he was paired with an outstanding pastry Chef, I’d consider that entire short meal as outstanding as any of the best 3-star Michelin meals I enjoyed. Sounds exaggerated? Certainly not when he is in his prime.
The bar section’s food Vs the restaurant’s offering: While reading web reviews/opinions on Le Newtown, I noticed a common mistake that some do -> they confuse the food served in the downstair’s bar section with food served upstairs at the main restaurant. It is not the same type of food that is served at both places (the bar serves more casual fares, whereas it is more refined upstairs). There’s also some confusion between the level of food on lunch time Vs in the evening: we all should know better that Lunch is mostly a more casual affair, whereas dinner is usually more refined at most high end Montreal tables. With that said, it is also important to note that although his food at the main restaurant remains of top caliber, it is not of the gastronomic type that was served previously by Chef Jetté (Refer to my 1st review of Newtown). Also worth of notice: they do have an event called ‘wine flight‘ (where the theme is about food and wine of a given country) that seems very popular and consequently widly documented on the web by numerous food bloggers. I haven’t tried those wine flight events, but I presume that they might differ from the standard dinner menu, which is another thing to take in consideration when you read opinions on their food, for the sake of accuracy. PS: my review is about my dinner at the restaurant, not the bar section.
The food that is served: A North American variation of the now widly popular modern type of bistro gastronomy that made top cooking here as great as what is offered at this moment in most of its European’s popular equivalents. For ie, there’s a lot of buzz in Paris around L’Astrance, Chateaubriand, Passage 53, but a Chef like Juneau can cook as good if not better than what those gentlemen are doing overthere. He is just cooking food that is different in their composition and conception (as I wrote, a North American version of that type of new era gastronomy) .
=>The A la carte menu, on this dinner, is short: approx 5 appetizers (ranging from $13 to $18) + 5 main courses (ranging from 23$ up to the 30ish). But it was varied enough: for ie, salmon, tuna, halibut, lobster from Gaspésie (for seafood), beef, quails, pork. It is a market driven cuisine, so the menu varies from day to day, season to season.
=>They also have a multiple course tasting menu (look at the little notice at the bottom of the A la Carte menu). We were interested by this offer. Our waitress asked us if we would like the 5 or 6 multiple course, but since the night was busy, she recommended a 5 course tasting menu, which we opted for. The 5 course tasting menu was priced at $75 on this dinner. The other reason I chose the tasting menu is because I remember how Chef Juneau was brilliant with his tasting menu offerings back to his days at La Montée (that one that was located on rue de la Montagne, now moved to St-Laurent Street).
Tataki of tuna, anchoiade, oysters, green beans, olives – Technically faultless: the tuna tataki is fresh and well executed. I saw no issue neither with the anchoiade sauce (all its ingredients blended well with the right proportions of garlic, anchovies, olive oil etc). The oysters on the Tatakis were pleasant and the small little boiled eggs added to an appealing contrast of textures and colors. All good, but certainly not of Juneau’s prime level. As we say in French “”c’était sage “”. Good but uninteresting. 6/10
Salmon, yoghurt mousse, cucumber, dill – (I forgot to take a photo of this dish) Basically a carpaccio of salmon (excellent quality, oozing of freshness), dressed with a yoghurt mousse, fresh pieces of cucumber (the quality of their ingredients on this meal were really impressive as with this cucumber) and the dill demonstrated a nice technical mastery in pairing well all ingredients. Although not bad, this is a simple recipe you can do at home and you won’t miss it. Certainly NOT of the level that Chef Juneau is capable of. 6/10
At this point, I got annoyed by the ‘just good enough‘ but not great cooking performance. The staff kept telling me that it is Juneau who was cooking, but what they did not know is that I know very well what Juneau’s cooking tastes like. A technique that many of my friends used to do, in order to force the main Chef to cook for them, is to return their plates to the kitchen on numerous occasions. That worked on many occasions: I remember, in Paris, that trick worked so well at the Georges V: Chef Briffard, as most connoisseurs of Paris dinings already know, is in a class apart when he is himself cooking for you. But he has a staff of a hundred people under his supervision, so the only way to catch his attention is to use that trick. I was tempted to serve this same trick to Chef Juneau because there was no way this food I was served was cooked by him. To force his attention, I went instead with a surprise ordering from the A la carte menu. Perhaps, it is the A la Carte (ALC) menu that suits him better, this time.
The ALC item I picked was :
Halibut, bisque, yukon gold mousse – The halibut, on its own, showed Juneau’s level of cooking: cooked to perfection, had perfect bite and amazing fresh marine flavor. I could kiss that halibut…tellement c’était bon! As for the bisque, I’d say that where the velouté de crustacés (it is a bisque, btw) that I enjoyed on this recent meal in Paris at L’Ambroisie would be a 10/10 (exceptional), my favourite one in Montreal at Le Bonaparte being a 9/10 (excellent), this reviewed one would be an 8/10. It lacked a depth of richness, but was certainly very good. But then a technical mistake that could not have come from a Chef like Juneau: cherry tomatoes, dropped in the bisque, which could pass as a tempting idea for appealing texture and color contrasts on that dish…but in mouth, any decent palate would have noticed the incompatible pairing to the bisque. This should have been tasted before served! I will still rate this dish with an 8 over 10 (very good) for the amazing halibut and good bisque, but an 8 over 10 is still not remarkable enough for such a talented Chef (Juneau’s prime level is usually of 9 to 10 over 10 in my evaluation scale). The bisque definitely reinforced my deep belief that Juneau had perhaps not cooked it since his real imprint on this type of dish (creams, veloutés, bisques, etc) pertains more accurately to the level of amazement found on this reviewed meal. Let alone the structural mistep of the cherry tomato’s incompatible taste against the bisque. Still accurately an 8/10
Braised quails, beacon – This was really tasty, with the bird’s meaty, moist and nicely cooked legs and breast shining with impeccable flavors. The layer of beacon underneath brought nothing, but I’ll take it more as a textural complement to the overall. Although fine, this is still a one-dimensional dish (it’s about the braised quails and nothing else), therefore a fair 7 / 10
Piglet belly, mushroom ragout, red wine jelly – They are proud of this dish which earned Chef Juneau the 1st place at the 2011 Pan-Canadian Gold medal plates championship in Kelowna. The piece of piglet was indeed delicious in its juxtaposition of the enjoyable rich taste of the piglet’s fat against the extra layer of flavor coming from the crispy roasted meat’s coating ( I know this pork belly is siometimes glazed with beet juice, but this one I had was glazed with red wine). If you take a nice piece of piglet (this piglet from the St-Canut’s farm is indeed of nice quality) , either you braise or roast it , then nicely season it, it rarely fails to be delicious as the most will concede, but honestly there was enough skillful hands behind this one creation to consider it as a noteworthy dish. I have no reproach over the ragout of mushrooms (well done) and the drops of red wine gelée were just ok. Since there is a lot of buzz around this dish, I’d recommend you lower your expectations (at a culinary event with my standards , it is his butternut squash velouté that would have earned him the champion title). Good, nevertheless. 7.5/10
Pine nuts mousse, chocolate ice cream, apple crumble – 6/10 Good enough with a mousse that was pleasant (6/10), a choco ice cream of good standard (6/10) and a correct crumble (6/10). Un dessert bien sage, as I’d accurately describe this in French. Chef Juneau is in charge of the savouries only, as they have a pastry Chef. Still, I’d expect stunning desserts especially at a restaurant where an exceptional pastry Chef has left his imprints……………PS: As the sun went down, the pictures started to lack clarity but you still can see enough visual details on them.
Wines: The wine by the glass offerings (we had) pretty much consisted of some pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chablis that I was already familiar with. But a quick glance at their extensive wine list shows an interesting coverage of a variety of vintages from France (mostly), and most parts of the globe (they have several Canadian wines) with prices starting as low as $42 and as high as some top markup wines (like a Romanée Conti I saw on their wine list) do command. But you will definitely find wines that reach out to all range of prices (unless, I presume, you arrive at the end of the evening and all the cheap wines are long sold).
Service: Ha..Ha..Ha..Guess who was our main waitress on this evening! The same young lady I found a little bit challenging on my previous meal there (Ref: the ‘service’ section of this reviewed dinner). Amelie? Emilie? Julie..sorry, I can’t remember her name properly…but not to worry: she has improved a lot. This time, she was actually very attentive, helpful. Absolutely no reproach on her service (I am not picky as to whether a wait staff did refill my glass of water or not, so those little details, although nice, are secondary in my view to, let’s say, being professional in your behaviour, showing the bottle of wine before you fill my glass, ensuring that the table and cutlery are clean, etc…and to that respect, Amelie/Julie/Emilie did a nice job). Or who knows..perhaps the fact that I was accompanied this time, made a difference. The maitre D’ and the other waiter who served us at some point were also without reproach.
Where is Juneau’s magic? In his prime, as I wrote earlier on, Juneau is truly an exceptional Chef. Food varying in between 6 to 8/10 is certainly weak compared to what he is capable of (usually, Juneau’s cooking has at least a 10/10 item, and would vary between 9 and 10). If Juneau has really cooked this food, then the Mayans are right: the end of the world is coming soon! The real Juneau is what food critic Thierry Daraize has reviewed here. ‘Pour monter au ciel‘ was the title of Mr Daraize’s review on Juneau’s magic cooking. As French, we usually refer to the above (monter au ciel refers to the sky) when we experience greatness / magic as with the title of my spectacular recent meal at 3-star Michelin L’Ambroisie in Paris (the title of that review being ‘A gift from the above! ‘). Juneau, the real magician, is the one who cooked the two spectacular 2 to 3 Michelin-star level of food items that you see reviewed on this lunch. Martin Juneau’s prime cooking pertains to the level found in the circle of what I do consider as the 11 current most talented Chefs of Montreal, the 11 Golden boys as I love to name them (Mercuri,Navarrette,Laprise,Loiseau,Lenglet,Belair,Rouyé,Axel/St-Denis,Cloutier,Pelletier). But this is unfortunately the second rendez vous (with Juneau’s magic cooking) in a row that failed to live up to what this great Chef can deliver (the first rendez vous was this one). There won’t be a third attempt (I know it is unfair to expect a human being to constantly perform at his best, but that is a reality that the hard earned money of a diner will never get to tolerate!..200$ and ++ for two is fine when you have a spectacular meal. BUT we are from from spectacular here! Very far……………………………. ).