The end of my discoveries of Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations

This is the end  of my discoveries of Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations. Current post  is my last post on this site.

In 2009, frustrated to never be able to rely on online restaurant reviews /opinions whenever I needed advices on where to go dining out with my wife/friends/family, I decided to  take the bull by its horns and went trying  Montreal finest Bistrots & Gourmets destinations.  In the process, I decided to share with whoever the findings might be helpful. Hence, this web blog. It was important for me to live the experience as a normal diner, which means anonymously, since the point was to experience things the way my friends, family, any normal diner would experience it in their turn.

I have nothing against those who have interest in the industry. If you want to be recognized, get favors, capitalize on the benefits of your visibility, then good for you. It is your choice and I respect that. I just have no interest in this industry (like any Business, it is generally more about making money rather than focusing on true skills, which again is  understandable, but   is simply not something that excites/appeals to me ), so having now my list of restaurants I deem worthy of revisiting, I decided that it was the end of the round as far as Montreal restaurants go (except, of course, if a particularly great Chef opens a new restaurant or I hear about a new restaurant that is shaking the restaurant actuality in town, Rfaol, in which case I’ll add that review to http://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/.

All reviews of my Michelin star meals will be listed  on the left, side of http://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com  from the higher to lower rated meals. But that blog, despite its name,  won’t focus anymore solely on my  restaurant reviews. It will, from now on, be the full expression of my own self with posts — in both my mother tongue (French) as well as in English – covering everything from my vision of the world, arts, cooking, literature, travel, etc. A  blog in its conventional definition, which means the expression of whatever I have on my mind and that I deem interesting to share.

Please also find here my sparse dining reviews at Montreal’s ethnic eateries, my humble reviews on bars/pubs in Montreal, and my reviews of couple of Parisian restaurants.

In fine, I love Montreal but came to the conclusion that its dining scene is over-rated. When, in 10 years, you have been able to spot only less than 30 really capable dining destinations over 6000 and more…the only conclusion that strikes is that it is an over-rated food scene. But is it is pretty cosmopolitan city, with anything…but food…as its qualities.You now have the  reason why I prefer saving my hard earned money and splurge on dining elsewhere!

STILL, where will Aromes go back then?
Bistro Cocagne, Toque!, Brasserie T, Au Pied de Cochon: No one is perfect in life, you know that.
So even for someone like me who fought hard for justice, impartiality, etc..well, I happen to be sometimes
very partial. And partial I am when it comes to most things taht come from Toque!, Montreal’s most revered
temple of haute dining. Bistro Cocagne, Brasserie T have Chefs who are  Toque’s alumnis and the standard
is usually consistently good, by Montreal standards, at those places. Au Pied de Cochon’s is owned by an ex Toque’s alumni,
Chef Martin Picard and his personal take on rustic quebecois cooking is one that seems to have found no competition in town years after he opened his restaurant. Delicious rustic bistrot food. Just make sure that is the type of food you like, as
you are supposed to do with all types of food.
Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon. I have been cooking for years, so I do not expect miracles. Just do something simple,  but better than most of your peers and I’ll be happy. KG on Jean Talon is making that happen: simple bistrot food  that is delicious and well made. If you think it is no big deal, arm yourself with a good sense for details and go ask  most bistrots how come they are not doing  it that well.
Au 5e Péché: Still in my top 5 of Montreal’s best bistrots. Had of course some great and lesser impressive meals there, as it is the case with all restaurants, but Chef Lenglet  is  talented, so the best dishes here will always pertain to Montreal bistrot finest.  He is always present in his kitchen, a miracle in nowadays world.
Bouillon Bilk: Chef Nadon, another great talent. The first time I ate here, he was at the helm and the food was superb.  Second visit was disappointing (he was away on that evening). Still, a good  restaurant with serious/reliable staff and owners.
Remains  a favourite of mine, but my second visit suggests that they need to find a way, when Chef Nadon is away, to keep  the bar high.
Raza: Chef Navarrette Jr, the Latino Genius. I had some of my most memorable lifetime meals at Raza and it is a restaurant that  has a special place in my heart (my type: simple, elegant, Chef Navarrette Jr deserving his place among my personal
best Chefs of all times). I just have one wish: his assistants need to live up to the challenge of having to work alongside such
a Giant Chef. It is a gift from the above to work with such a Genius like Chef Navarrette Jr…live up to that!
-La Porte: Chef Thierry Rouyé is something. I’ll never forget that one: Ppl in town kept raving about L’Européa, Toque!, Club Chasse et Peche,  etc.  Which are top tables I dearly respect. Then Boom..I discovered Chef Rouyé’s work and he impressed me even more.  La Porte is my personal favourite of all the high end dining ventures in Montreal. Even the decor moves me (beautifully exotic).
Bottega on St Zotique!. Read this review. I have nothing more to say, Lol
Queue de Cheval. Because it’s pricey, most (??) or some (??) will frown (??) . Listen, I do not have the means to go there on a regular  basis.  I went there just twice in 5 years. But like to hear this or not, I can deal just in facts and my recent visits of Montreal  top steakhouses confirmed that the Q! is still  the King! Just remember: it is pricey!  In town, there’s one steak that’s currently beating it though and you have to go and buy it and cook it yourself: Le Marchand du Bourg’s
aged steak.
Park: I am a fan of Chef Park for various reasons. He is one of the rare Chefs in town who is capable to surprise with flavors
and a creativity that is not that common in Montreal. True, the level of dining in Montreal is not high, but he is one who can set the bar. He  also  has a fresh open mind that lets him stroll the world for exotic flavors. When the focus is on that discovery of exotic flavors, his cooking is really top by Mtl standards. His kitchen just need to avoid
roaming away from that focal point.  It is seafood, so expect it to be pricey.
Kyo: My new coup de coeur in 2013. I know, it is new, so perhaps the imperfections will come with success/popularity.
But for now, I can only talk for what I know and the present is bright.
Lawrence: Sort of UK’s pub food and more. In that genre, Lawrence sets the bar in town. I was less happy with the service though

Jun I : Still the best of the sushiyas in Montreal, I was tough in my review, though  NOT  unfair…the proof is that I do  recognize that Jun I is the most authentically Japanese of all sushiyas in town. The master of them all, in Montreal.  Real Japanese sushi masters spend at least 7 years of training and Jun I has a REAL master at the helm, always present and hard at work.
That’s all.
Thanks for reading

Enjoy!

Aromes

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Le Margaux, Montreal


LE MARGAUX ,
classic French Bistrot, 5058 Ave du Parc, Montreal
514-448-1598
http://www.lemargaux.com/
Dinner there on Nov 29th 2012, 19:00

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

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

Le Margaux is a  French bistrot mostly inspired by  influences of south western France’s classic cuisine . Bistrots focusing on classic regional  cuisines of France do not abound in Yul, and  the few that I have tried passed as simply Ok to me (Paris Beurre being one that comes to mind). This is not to be confused with a a Bistrot like Au 5e Péché, which has indeed a Chef from France, but which cuisine  leans towards modern French bistronomy.  The cooking at Le Margaux is a cuisine  I am very familiar with for having spent many years in South west France. It (south western France) is also the other  place around the globe, after the Indian Ocean, where I have fine-tuned my cooking skills, both places having a strong influence on my long years of cooking and in my food likings, naturally.

We are not in Southern France, so I’ll keep my expectations to realistic degree and will apply myself to situate this meal to its closest local peers, if you can call that comparison… (as I wrote earlier on, real authentic French bistrot do not abound in Montreal).

The meal started with an amuse bouche of  creme de cepesAn exciting and refined  ‘crème’ with fabulous buttery and earthy mouthfeel. The best item of my meal, tonight.  9/10

 

Then crab cake/lobster bisqueThe good news: the price, $8.95. Who can do better? Another good news: tasty, generous (you had pieces of bread, with rouille atop and emmental cheese)… all of that for 8.95!!!!!!!! Can’t beat that cost performance. Now, as much as I like this place, as much as  I need to get down to business here: first, too many things going on … too busy as a dish! A simple stunning crab cake (this crab cake was forgettable,  its bread crumbs lacking the beautiful golden color of a winning crab cake, its expected meaty-ness and more importantly taste of the crab barely present) with a memorable bisque (‘passable’ is how I would describe that lobster bisque, since the crustacean never managed to express itself with this bisque. A world away from the one I had last year at  Le Bonaparte) would have been a blast.  Also: I did really not need the emmental cheese. It is a very generous table, and many will appreciate this feature, but oftentimes  I find dishes this generous to be mostly over-done, especially at Le Margaux. Le Margaux is at its best when it sticks to doing the classics in their sheer simplicity (I’ll repeat this oftently in this review) , not when it tries too much to please, in my opinion.  5/10

Ris de veau en persillade $25.99 – Those sweetbreads were done in proper classic French cooking traditions, seasoned as it should and I could see that the classic sweetbreads/persillade process was indeed applied beautifully (as we all know, the pre-cooking preparation being a key feature of the execution of a ris  de veau en persillade, and I could observe that this part was well mastered just by the fresh quality and consistency of the meat itself  ), but they lacked the excitement in visual appeal and depth of flavor that a place like Au 5e Péché, as an example,  manages to pull out from its sweetbreads.   Cooking is no miracle: a little detail such as an additional last minute addition of fresh parsley would have made a good improvement here.  Generosity is Le Margaux’s forte, so  the sweetbreads came with a flawless hachis landais,  bites of duck confit, and a spoon of duck  foie gras. The accompaniments were good, but I wish the sweetbreads would be packed with the beautiful plump texture of its better versions.  5/10

Joue de veau braisée à l’ancienne $ 23.99 – A generous portion of beautifully tender veal cheeks. Some would look down on dishes like this because it is more homey than gourmet, but that would be an error: this kind of classic dish is expected to have a homey feel. It is the way it should be. This had a really nice taste and showcased great respect of traditional French cooking methods. Those familiar with créole sauce rougaille (http://recettes.de/rougaille)  would particularly feel at home since the sauce tasted exactly like a sauce rougaille, with the fresh tomato tang and the parsley flavor being this time so well exploited . A well executed one, btw. It takes  dishes like this to  remind us how cooking is vast and the more you know, the better you appreciate. This, in its genre, was a successful classic French dish.  Just stop serving that spoon of duck liver crème brulée  dish after dish (it featured again as an accompaniment to this dish) . 7/10

Mousse noisette, sorbet à la manguehazelnut mousse was excellent confirming what I have always thought of Le Margaux since its very debuts, years ago: sheer simplicity  isbetter for them  (7/10), but I found the mango sorbet ordinary for its lack of vivid texture and color, although the taste was Ok, still far from the most successful fruitier  versions that abound in town or that I could have made at home  (4/10)

PROS of this meal: The crème de cèpes! The kind of item ppl would tell you that it is no big deal but ask them to deliver it, lol!  What a crème that was!  Still on the food aspect, I appreciated the bright homey flavors  brought by the rougaille tasting joue de veau. On a personal level, I have always liked the pristine all-white clean décor of Le Margaux. I feel so good here, in my element. It is, with the décor of La Chronique, the type of simple European setting that I am fond of.

CONS of this meal: On this evening, the crab cake, the lobster bisque, the sweetbreads, the mango sorbet, all done with great intent but lacking in palatable excitement. 

Overall food rating of this evening’s meal5/10 based on what I came to expect from a classic French bistrot outside of France.The overall score being low here because the crab cake and sweetbreads were essentially too weak. But Le Margaux can, at times, do better than this, especially when they stick to dishes oozing of sheer simplicity such as that crème de cèpes, the joue de veau à l’ancienne (remember, this was not the neo-bistrot version of the veal cheeks but one classic French interpretation of it), the simple but well executed hazelnut mousse.

Bottom line: Le Margaux is considered by many among Montreal top bistrots. I like this place, but I can’t confidently situate it among Montreal finest. Let me explain: this is my 3rd visit here in 5 years, and when Le Margaux sticks to sheer simplicity, it can indeed do great  as proven by the item of crème de cèpes, an item that even many grand tables can’t always deliver with equal panache. But as on my 2 other visits here, the amazement was unfortunately not always continual. Exactly as I have experienced this evening: crab cake and sweetbreads that seemed to me to have never shone at the heights of the crème de cèpes. Tip: when you go there, focus on their strengths which, based on my experiences with Le Margaux, have been their work of the duck (duck magret, for example). Foie gras is also king there. I am not too sure if they still do it as well as I have enjoyed it on my 1st visit there, but they also used to do some nice things with  veal kidneys (again, I have no clue if they are still  as good as those  I had on my 1st meal here since I never re-ordered veal kidneys ther for a long time).  This evening I seemed to have pushed them a bit out of their comfort zone (notice that I took no duck magret, ordered no foie gras, etc). Service on this evening was top! 

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Not much on top of what  I have already written. I don’t think that Le Margaux will ever be a top classic French bistrot (well, I hope for them, that they can prove me wrong), but it certainly can, here and there,  offer some pleasant traditional flavors

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Montreal Restaurants with the most BUZZ: Au Pied De Cochon!

Event: Dinner at Restaurant Au pied de Cochon , 536 East Duluth
Montréal
, QC H2L 1A9
(514) 281-1114
http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca

Type of cuisine: Rework of some Quebec’s classics + some very unique fares proper to APDC

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

(English review will follow) – Des milliers de restos et plusieurs années après leur ouverture, APDC continue à faire cavalier seul: unique avec sa cuisine rustique réiventée, inspirée des traditions locales, l’endroit n’a pas perdu de son lustre si je le compare à ma dernière visite ici,  il y’a plus de deux ans. Mon repas de ce 28/11/2012 fut composé d’une excellente vichyssoise aux oursins, excitant en bouche. Suivi d’un maki d’anguille exécuté tel qu’il se doit (bonne qualité de la feuille d’algue, le riz balancant parfaitement entre fermeté et moelleux requis, l’anguille de bonne qualité). Pour enfin conclure sur un péché gourmand, tellement riche en gout qu’il vous faut presque un appétit d’ogre pour parvenir à le finir: le pied de cochon fourré au foie gras, succulent comme ce fut l cas la dernière fois que je l’avais essayé ici, quoique moins excitant que sa version précécédente surtout à cause du manque de ‘punch’ acide dont bénéficiait celui de mon repas du  15 Decembre 2009.    

UPDATE Dinner @ APDC on 28/11/2012 18:30 –  I can’t believe I haven’t gone back  for that long. But I have been so disappointed by the latest new eateries in town that I find consolation in the old time favourites. APDC is Montreal’s most celebrated restaurant and foodies from all around the world flock here after all the rage generated by Anthony Bourdain’s no reservation show on APDC, naturally leading to leagues of anti and pro APDC foodies, Rfaol! Rule of thumb: go to a restaurant because it is your style of food, do not go because someone raved about it! And between you and me: you seek for gourmet suggestions from the greatest ones (JacquesMaximin, Eric Briffard, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon )…not from Tony B,Rfaol! Although a pleasant gentleman and certainly very interesting character, I certainly have no plan to rely on Tony to know where I shall go to eat. With that said, I think that for food as characteristic to its land as the one found at APDC, you should, before opting to travel all the way to Montreal, ensure that this is food that caters to your taste. I am insisting on this because I know many ppl who travel to Montreal and expect surreal things from Apdc whereas they do not enjoy rustic rich French food in the first place. Some ordering APDC’s foie gras poutine and they do not even like poutines. Others go there with the idea of finding some type of upscale food. Hey, c’mon folks…it is APDC’s take on RUSTIC RICH cuisine.

On this evening, I picked 2 items from the daily menu as well as their signature pig trotter au foie gras that was already reviewed on my last meal here (see below).

The 1st item off the daily menu was a Vichyssoise  (I ate it all way before thinking about picturing it, lol) mixed with sea urchin, one of the merely examples that reminds  of  why APDC appeals to many: there is always, somewhere on its menu, little creative gems that few in town dare trying because not many can turn them into the exciting creations that can sometimes comes from this kitchen. A triumph of texture and moutful bliss 8/10

Another item from their daily menu I picked was a maki of eel. It would be absurd to compare Adpc’s version to what a sushiya would do, apdc is not a sushi place, but here again Apdc shows the little fun and out of the ordinary things (to Montreal’s bistrt standards) that few other bistrots manage to achieve this well in town. Or when they do, it is not as interesting as at Apdc. It would be foolish  to compare it to sushis at sushi places, you certainly are not gojng to start evaluating the quality of the meshi, the number of rice grains here, rfaol,  but it  was certainly  tasty and refreshing to be found on a bistrot table in Yul. 6/10

Ended witthe pig trotter stuffed with foie gras, almost as deliciously rich as I remembered it from last time, only the dazzling tang of acidity of the last version was more subtle this time, making it a bit less memorable. Still, good and in its genre, a successful delicious rustic creation A 7/10

I like APDC because all that counts for me is how far a meal can be delicious. Yup, I know…people say that rich food is alwaysdelicious and things like that, but   you have to make it happen. And this is where theory and practice do clash. Listen, if you have that idea of spectacular food being what Ferran Adria was delivering, do not go to Apdc. If you will start complaining about greasy food, do not! Rustic rich delicious food takes butter, it takes fat.  Point blank. In its genre (a take on rustic rich cuisine), apdc is a treat. It is a well oiled eatery with classy service, fun ambience. Their wine choices are among the most exciting in town,  especially the little gems that are off the wine menu After all these years, thousands of restaurants later, it remains Montreal most unique and delicious table.

Overall rating of this meal of Nov 28th 2012: As always, divine delicious rich and rustic  food , although..hey mon petit cochon….you were a tad more exciting at the time of Chef Hughe Dufour (now in the US).   Now the scores: scoring individual dishes, I have no problem with that, even in the case of ADPC. I did it, actually and found it as fair as I could go. But  assigning an overall score to this meal, or even the previous meal at APDC would be a non sense. To what overall food rating … would that overall food rating at APDC be compared to? It’s just not, as an overall,  a dining experience you can compare to something else.You can’t compare APDC to anything else since it has its very own style of re-visiting classic québécois cuisine. It is unique even on its own land, so no comparison to make with what is done anywhere else. After all these years, APDC remains a huge personal favourite for  festive rustic rich food and I could assign it a 10/10, a 20/10, a 30/10 overall food rating…it just won’t mean anything and will serve nothing! So does it worth travelling all the way to Montreal to eat at APDC because it is unique? In my view, No. But if you happen to be in Montreal, and you are fond of rustic rich food, Yes, put APDC at the top of the list!

THE FOLLOWING IS THE REVIEW OF MY DINNER THERE ON  Tuesday December 15th 2009, 21:30PM

APDC!
As anyone knows by now, it is the Montreal restaurant with the most buzz. Zillions of restaurants would drool over the never-ending legendary popularity of APDC. Some few hate it, a LOT love it! 
Naturally, knowing my preferrence for classic fine french fares, most of my friends think I do sn0b APDC. Most actually never even mind asking, anticipating horrific responses from my part!
And some few, anticipating my rejection of APDC, plays the “anticipated accomodation” with statements like “It is way overhyped, way over this, way over that…”. 
Although it is a fact that I am more into fine dining classic French fares, and that APDC is indeed not a restaurant that I dream about at night,  I would like to seize this opportunity and set couple of records straight:
-To those who complain about APDC being overhyped, keep in mind that when you are fond of something, you will sound naturally overhyped. So, APDC appears overhyped just because a lot of people are madly in love with APDC. Or…is it overhyped to some, just because APDC doesn’t serve food that looks like at any other classic restaurant? If that is the case, recall that APDC was not meant to serve the classic white-glove presented dishes (everyone knows that this is wild and rustic food)!
-Some said that all of this hype has started because of Anthony Bourdain’s No reservations reportage about APDC. C’mon…Bourdain or Not…I do not know anyone enoughly stupid to fall in love with a restaurant just because someone else did like it. Bourdain helped with the visibility of APDC, but had APDC not pleased the tastebuds of the most, there would have been no buzz at all!
-Now, APDC … I cannot compare it to any other restaurant since it’s unique, on it’s own genre. It’s also a restaurant that I do admire a lot for it’s originality, daring approach to gastronomy and most importantly, for the enjoyment it is bringing to the most.

HOW IT ALL STARTED!
My love story with APDC  started years  back, by a hot summer evening, while sipping an enjoyable martini on a terrace of the Vieux Port with a bunch of friends. The name popped out from the mouth of one of the attendees. I had heard about it before, but this time it was making it’s way deep into my conscience: out of the 9 folks, 6 were raving about it as if it was the biggest thang of all times, with .. I am not kidding….multimedia presentations of their favourite restaurant live from their handheld devices. At some point, I thought it was fixed up! Then things went fast: a first dinner there at the invitation of one of the 6 devoted fans + an another one with his best friends (like a clan of APDC fans ). Those two first dinners did unfortunately not impressed me at all: the famous “duck in a can” I had on 1st dinner has not done the trick for me. Same for the baked apple + other items I preffered erasing from my souvenirs on the subsequent dinner there.

Then time passed. And I found myself playing the tape about one side of those 2 dinners that I kinda neglected a bit: the amazing collective happyness all patrons seemed to be bathed in. I have rarely seen that in a restaurant. On both dinners, it was packed…jam packed…of people who looked so happy to be there. So blessed to enjoy their food. There had to be something that I was missing! Then I kept asking myself “in the end, shouldn’t food be just that: putting a huge sunshine of happyness of people’s heart!”. So, I opted for a new approach: the curiosity level (strange hein? Usually you are curious then you try. BUT this time, it was the other way around: I tried it already, thought I would forget about it forever, and here I am offering a new eye on it). I started reading a lot about APDC, the philisophy of it’s Chef Martin Picard, the reasons behind the impressive success and buzz around this fairytale. In th end, I found myself  embracing the cult (lol): this food is making a lot of people happy and that is what counts the most! So, I decided to go to APDC for a 3rd time with a totally new angle, this time: just go and enjoy! Of course, it won’t stop me from describing things the way they are (I can’t do otherwise: if the fries are burnt, why would I say that they aren’t? If the meat is bland, well I will have to describe it as is: bland!) — but there was a new attitude this time: heading there with a relaxed approach. A festive one!

ok, ok the damn FOOD..!
POUTINE OF FOIE GRAS
– I started with the poutine of foie (yeah, no appetizer because I knew that I had to make it for my two heavyweight choices of this dinner: the poutine of foie + the pig’s foot with foie!). Although they are famous for their poutine of foie, I never thought about ordering it on the first two visits. This time I made that choice. After years in Quebec, needless to stress that poutines I devoured! For years, I can’t count anymore the numerous times I had enjoyed poutines at my QC’s buddies grand parents homes, I can’t anymore count the numerous spots that I have eaten at as soon as they would be known for their poutine by locals, I can’t anymore count the numerous times I have spent perfectionning that poutine gravy, fries consistency or texture, it’s taste (with all kind of oil and all sorts of techniques –from the most traditional to the most modern ones — and ingredients). The ONLY thing I never tried was just that: foie with poutine. My dish of poutine had a nicely seared hunk of duck liver (that fully earthy flavored foie was delicious in taste with perfect smooth inside consistency) sitting atop the poutine. The poutine’s fries were flawless. Cheese curds were perfectly fresh, enjoyably squeaky springy and delicious +  the gravy was to die for (the touch of the foie flavor in that already delish rich unctuous gravy was pure blast to my tastebuds)! SUCCULENT!    8/10

What a pig am I! Rfaol! I courageously went for the second heavyweight of the evening:

PIG’S TROTTER WITH FOIE GRAS – This braised then breaded pork’s trotter had the expected ideal tenderness and oozed of  addictive enjoyable fatty flavors that were shinning through the rest of the delicious meat. On it’s side, a delicious earthy creamy rich foie gras sauce with tasty fresh sauteed mushrooms, nicely sauteed fiddleheads (crunchy and tasty) topped by an excellent chunk of perfectly seared (awesome browny texture on the outside, nice meaty center on the inside) duck liver that kept an impeccable earthy flavorful taste. The extra lemon acidity note found in that dish complemented very well the overall, adding punch to an alredy savourish meal. Inspired, rich and excitingly enjoyable!  8.5/10

Chosen wine:
A Beaujolais: the 2007 Brouilly La Croix des Rameaux. Still a young wine (I have 2 bottles at home, and I will open them in between 6-8 yrs from now), and yet a solid choice:  a red wine without barely any flaw -> beautiful intense ruby red color, well balanced and enjoyable fruity and sublty spicy nose. Even the finish is well balanced: not a long, nor a short finish but a very enjoyable one. Solid elegant wine and one great value imho.

I wish I could devour some of the desserts, but humm..me belly full! I was also looking forward to devour one of their signature dish, la plogue à champlain, but it is now off the menu (the wait staff explained that it would now be served at their sugar shack. Makes sense to serve such sweet dish at a sugar shack.

amazing service!
I am amazed by the professionalism (of their entire staff) on this dinner: I recall a lot of places full of sucess, with staff that just could not keep up with the buzz (heads getting bigger and bigger, puffed by success), but at APDC this is absolutely not the case -> despite legions of admirers (on our way out, close to midnight, it was as festive and busy as ever!), they keep their cool, stand very professional and attentive: while waiting in line to be seated, the Maitre D’ recognized a of regulars that was behind us. I gently proposed that they are seated before us (a trap!), but the Maitre D’ never fell into the trap: she courteously sat us first. Small detail you might think, but you will be surprised by the numerous times I saw this trap closing on many staff at big restaurants. Such tact is admirable from the Maitre D’, and was in line with the impeccable service we received from the few  waiters who came at our table: courteous, helpful, attentive and all that in a casual cool atmosphere. Bravo!  

THE OVEN OF decadent sins!
The world already know about APDC. The web is full of pictures of this temple of savourish food, but how come barely anyone thought about an hommage to their magical wood-burning oven (as most already know, it used to be a pizzeria, and nowadays that oven is behind most of the savourish food we are all raving about):  

 

a decor for feast!
I have always been a fan of the laid back all wooden narrow rustic decor of APDC: proximity of chairs and tables, mirrors on the wall, all ingredients for cooling down and enjoying a festive meal

 

And do you know that many places, as busy close to midnight:

Packed!!

THEY LOVE THEIR MAN!
They have a big portrait of Chef  Martin Picard in the Gents room.

And a techno touch amidst the rustic decor, still in the Gents room -> 

An LCD  flat monitor displaying the Wild Chef’s TV show. Why not? I rather see the face of someone who is making people’s stomach happy than the picture of mad cows like North Korean’s Kim Jong il who makes my stomach vomit!

Bottom line: I have the highest respect for Martin Picard. The guy could have easily went with a safe fancy type of high end cuisine. Instead, he rethought the matrix and came out with an amazing rework with additional creative add-ons of some of  the French Canadian classic fares and his own creations. Food that is that heavenly deliciously tasty: ANYTIME! And it’s rebellious, different, creative, daring, indigenous and you name them…just what I like!

SEE the gallery of this dinner’s pictures on my Google’s Picasa online web album:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/AUPIEDDECOCHONRESTAURANTMONTREAL#

Check all my Mtl’s restaurant quick reviews on YELP 

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My top 3 Montreal’s Isakayas (Japanese bistrots)

When I read critics complaining that Montreal Isakayas have nothing to do with what is found in Japan, the only thing that comes to mind is that such statement can only come from clowns, Lol.

Comparing Mtl’s Isakayas to Japan’s. Euh…Seriously? Cool down buddy: you need Japan, fly to Japan! Rfaol!

Ok Ok , I know: Vancouver is making it happening and a good friend told me recently that NYC Isakayas are impressive. That same friend told me that when her aunt came here from NYC, she was turned off  by Montreal’s high $$$ for lackluster Isakaya food.  

I feel bad reviewing / rating Isakayas outside of Japan: for simple straightforward / simple fares like those, it’s naturally the fares  found where it all started (therefore perfected for so long)  that will always have the edge. I do not have the means to go all the way to Japan whenever I have a crave for some Isakaya food, thus I am sampling them in Yul (Mind you, NYC is not that far away  ) , and I am trying my best to write this little review of some of them here, but keep in mind that it would be unfair to expect Isakaya’s motherland fabulous fares to be replicated in Montreal:

Before I go ahead, a tip: Chose wisely (ask the staff for their daily and best offerings /  tell them you want things as close as possible  to authentic Japanese Isakaya fares /  do not just blindly trust the menu) when you try an Isakaya in Yul. Or else, you’ll experience  the dumb mistakes that I had to run into the 1st times I went visiting them (generic picks, food for tourists, Lol)

Also: the ratings you see next to the name of each Isakaya may change / evolve with future visits to those places. This is purely subjective and temporary rating that reflects an overall personal assessment of –NOT the restaurant — but the meals.

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


LATEST UPDATE: Meal at Kazu on November 26th 2012 (meals listed from the oldest to the most recent)

Kazu (8/10): Big line up. No reservations taken.  Addr: 1862 Sainte-Catherine Street West, Montreal, Qc   (514) 937-2333.  They have no web site – While Imadake has a more classy, elegant feel for an Isakaya, Kazu opts for the opposite  very laidback / tiny bustling ‘hole in a wall’ theme. I love Kazu because it sends me back to my very humble backgrounds, a life where a place like Kazu would actually be luxury. They take no reservations here, and it is easy to see why: hordes of people are all the time lining up at their doors days and evenings. All Isakayas  I am writing about are those with Japanese Chefs at their helm and Kazu is no exception: it’s as Japanese as you can get in YUL. Their Chef was working at Toque!, therefore do expect some  ‘western style’ touches here and there on his take of Isakaya fares (for ie, salad on some of his dishes + also hints of ‘western style’ plating  here and there). They are known for their ramen (had them twice. Only served at lunch time.  Rated both ramen with a 7/10. Montreal is not a city for remarkable ramen, but this was as good as I could get in town  — 7/10 is the highest rating that I have assigned to a ramen in QC), salmon tuna bowl (also a 7/10 – good. It’s hard for me to get excited with Isakaya fares in YUL, but again, this is as good as you’ll get in this city’s Isakayas from such a simple creation), okonomiyaki (the famous Isakaya pancake) was sampled once and it had good depth of delicious taste (7.5/10), 48hrs pork with rice was –given the incredible raves it gets all over the web — not the stunning dish I was expected (a remote cousin of the ‘Yashinoya‘ beef bowl for those who are familiar with the Yashinoya chain, but here at Kazu, you have the fine pork morsels on a bed of rice with  appealing gingery tones to it — not as bad as its detractors make it sound / not as stunning as its fans are selling it neither…just tasty / pleasant enough for me to rate it with a 8/10, especially to Montreal Isakaya standards. Abroad, especially in Asia I’d rate it with a 7/10.), and yet this was again and again one of those another delicious  items reaffirming the great sense of taste of Kazu’s cooking team (an 8/10 item, in my view, but still…d-e-li-cious!), Yakitori  grilled chicken  (7.5/10) was tasty (it has to, I know, Lol..but they did it well and it was worth paying for), and up to now (3 visits there), my favourite item has been their fabulous pork neck served in a big pristine white bowl of remarkable porky pleasure (10/10). We’ll get to that later on.  As I wrote earlier on,  If you are stucked with visions of an Isakaya in Japan,  you better fly to Japan. Montreal will certainly not match with your fantasies, but the thing about an Isakaya like Kazu is that they managed, throughout my 3 visits there, not to necessarily make me think of ..Japan (I’ll think about it when I’ll be there, anyways)…Lol..but more importantly to deliver where it needs to:  stunning flavors. On Aug 3rd 2012 at 17:30, my most recent visit there, I took for the first time their $15 grilled pork neck. Three big chunks of fabulous meaty and dazzingly tasty pork  that makes all equivalent in town (including the haute dining ones) pass as amateurish. A 10/10 food item which, once you forget about unecessary comparisons to what an Isakaya sounds and looks like in Japan, is simply one of those reasons why Kazu is (all type of cuisines included) in my top 5 best eateries in town! Their sense of taste, the palate of their cooking staff is simply of superior level to Montreal’s standards. And I have to say: even the service at Kazu is right up my alley: frendly,  super cool, fun! Kazu, my love…
UPDATE: 4th meal at Kazu on this Friday Aug 10th 2012, 18:30  Kazu is really not $$$ at all, so you can manage many meals here without any hard impact on the pocket. This time, I took again the okonomiyaki shrimp pancake and asked the staff to pick a daily course for me. While the Chef was preparing my daily pick untitled ”  Grilled octopus leg”, another member of the kitchen brigade had prepared the okonomiyaki. The Okonomiyaki, when the Chef does it, is an interesting item, usually well done. Not my favourite, but still delicious. But tonight, the other member of the brigade seemed to have taken this popular dish for granted: from its mushy un-interesting texture to a poor green salad sitting atop, it was an item that simply distracted from appreciating the huge talent of this kitchen (3/10 at best). But then appeared the “Grilled octopus leg”, an item that I did not see on my previous visits here and for good reason: it’s one of the daily offerings, not a classic (classics here seem to be the Okonomiyaki pancake, the BBQ’d grilled Pork Neck, the Salmon/Tuna bowl, etc). The ‘Kazu on top of the world’ show was about to be broadcasted: Grilled octopus, not chewy, well done and enhanced by charcoal grilled flavor, we all know it is an instant success that actually not that many skilled kitchen brigades do deliver as succesfully as they pretend. But Kazu’s went beyond all of that, ages ahead I’d say and would still confidently admit  zero hint of exxageration in my statement. Its surreal tender texture and divine mouthfeel, coupled with  a world class salad (yes, a salad of greens & carrots! I wish I would not rave about a salad, but there is simply no other salad like this one that was paired with the octopus) was of a level you would dream of finding at a fraction of the best 3 star Michelin restaurants around the globe. Even the presentation was world class (the Chef used to work at Toque!, so presentation is one of his many strenghts). It might sound like an over the top statement, but it was not. Epic..epic..epic…such was the magnitude of  this world class dish 10/10. Interestingly, had my recent 3 star Michelin meals at Ledoyen (Paris) or Le Calandre (Rubano) delivered one single savoury dish close –so not even of similar level — to the amazement of this one exceptional ‘Grilled octopus’ dish, they would have most likely ranked among my favourite 3 star Michelin restaurant around the world.   In Montreal, even my two top best bitrots (Bistrot Cocagne and Au Cinquième Péché, although capable of many 10/10 items as shown on my reviews of them, have yet blown me away with a dish of the ‘magnitude’ of this evening’s Kazu’s Grilled octopus).   Kazu did it again…..       
UPDATE: 16/10/2012 – My first time here with Jannice. She found her meal pretty impressive by Montreal top bistrot standards.
Grilled octopus $22 – This is the same item that I found remarkable in both execution and palatable excitement during my last meal here. Tenderized  to perfection, as delicious as I remember it from the last time, this remains a benchmark bistrot dish. Only, it was more ‘refined’ this time, whereas its previous version was more ‘rustic’ for its richer, deeper char flavor. Although I prefer last time version,  there is no doubt in my mind that this is a solid 10/10 item (many top bistrots here or in France would have caught my uttermost attention with a sense of taste like the one found in this kitchen) .

Grilled Pork neck – They did not have, on this evening,  the crowd-pleaser bbq’d version, which seemed to me superior to tonight’s version. And yet, this was by no means a disappointing item. To the contrary, the theme of delicious char flavor, cooking that’s on point  and deep enjoyable meaty mouthfeel were brought to center stage in a way that many, with the same tools in hands, seem not to pull off as easily as Kazu. It is easy for a grilled piece of meat to be tasty, we all do this at home, but rare to push it to a stage worth paying for at a restaurant, which is the case of most grilled meats I have enjoyed at Kazu, this one being no exception (BUT I insist: the bbq’s version is even more worthy of my hard earned bucks) . 8/10 and, despite the fact that I missed its stunning bbq’d ancestor (lol), a very enjoyable bistrot item.

Grilled toro (belly) tuna for two ($35) pursued  with the usual great bistrot cooking (not one single technical fault  to be noticed, a flesh cooked to  perfect moist consistency) and fabulous work of the taste that made Kazu a personal favourite. Grilling tuna is no rocket science, but getting all the nuances of a perfect grilled tuna  shining through (controlled timing of the direct and indirect cooking phases being obviously crucial for grilling tuna)  is another story, one that they have delivered. This was cooked by some members of the brigade, a great way to re-assure me after my disappointment over the okonomiyaki that this same brigade has prepared on the last meal. Simply excellent. 9/10

We wrapped up this meal with a flawless wasabi ice cream which had a depth of successful exciting  milky freshness typical of the better ice creams.

Kazu, like any favourite table around the globe, will of course have its ups and downs. And there are items that I do not see myself ordering, such as an eggplant paste dish, or very simple stuff like salad and rice, or even their beef cheeks which seem to me not in th eleague of Kazu’s best items . But the ups happen more oftently here and with almost 15  food items sampled at Kazu  over the months, only one went under the 7/10 bar (last meal’s okonomiyaki pancake), the rare ones with 7/10 could not be accused of lack of palatable excitement but were rather kept under the 8/10 bar simply because I had enjoyed equivalent dishes abroad with a slighter advantage, the big majority varying between 8, 9 and 10/10. Which can’t be said of most bistrots  here and abroad, that is why it is still my number one Isakaya in Montreal, as well as largely deserving its place in the top 5 best bistrot in town, for its delicious food. I see no drawbacks in the following, but it is is worth knowing that thre is a line up here, the décor   is laidback, rustic, proximity to other diners being a feature of its packed/busy nature. It is not of the grand comfortable elegant type, so you want to come here for the food aspect. Despite Kazu being constantly packed though, I did not find the noise level to hit on my nerves at all, and the service is  efficient here.  Overall food rating for this Oct 16th 2012 meal: 8/10 Delicious  bistrot food, that is all I am asking for, and that is what they do deliver. For food, easily a top 5 contender in Montreal and largely the best Isakaya in town as of lately. 
UPDATE 26/11/2012 18:00 – Kazu is one of my two Montreal coup de coeur of 2012 (alongside Lawrence), but on this evening,  it did not shine at the heights that, meal after meal, kept it as my 2012 best Isakaya in YUL. And trust me,  I gave it its chances, lol:  first, the $18 grilled beef with rice and salad. Tasty as expected from Kazu’s usual standards,  it unfortunately lacked heat. At least, its meaty appeal still shone through, but this was a 6/10 dish, no more,  which is weak for what Kazu do usually deliver. Kazu has that gifted charcoal grill in house, and I love meat,  so I pursued with a great kazu hit that I did rave a lot about on previous visits here: their classic pork neck bbq.  To my disappointment, it suffered from the exact same problem of the previous item: lack of char grill heat! 5/10 on this  instance, for a food item that I haved experienced in its very best version (a 10/10 the 1st time I had it here).  I was getting really  frustrated at this point since the problem here could have been easily avoided…just letting the meat a bit longer  on the grill! Kind of odd because Kazu was doing this so right on so many visits here. Take #3, I changed strategy and chose to forget the  …grill! Which was not what I had hoped for at a place where the main attraction is the magic that came from its char grill.  I was still hungry, so I ordered the signature 48 hrs pork bbq. At best a 6/10. It was certainly not bad, alas not great neither.  So, am I going to downgrade my overall rating of Kazu (the 8 over 10 you see at the top). Nope, it would be a nonsense to  wipe away all great meals I had here on the back of this lacklustre performance. Take any restaurant u think is top,
and it is a matter of time before we’ll find its weaknesses. It is more realistic and less naive to judge a restaurant by the heights it has  proven to reach out to. There is no miracle: Kazu would have never been one of my two coup de coeur of 2012 without the superb meals it has  delivered before. Since I insist on always being as accurate as I could as well as realisitic, the only suggestion that I would dare laying on the table is this one: could Kazu suffer from the syndrom of the damned Mondays? Many of our favourite tables do suffer from this problem: I remember one of my favourite all time African table, which I won’t name because it is closed anyways,  was a pale copy on its own self on Mon, Tues and Wed. But towards the end of the week, well …it was simply one of the finest
African gastro destinations. As a matter of fact, past meals at Kazu happened towards the end of the week and that was a totally  different story (just read my previous reviews). This is the weakest meal I had here, which triggers this suggestion from my part:  if you insit on going there, go on Thurs, fri, sat. Overall food rating for this 26-11-2012 meal: 5/10 But be very careful,  since this is not the usual Kazu standards that I am accustomed to! I doubt that Kazu will perform at the level of this evening’s meal on a regular basis. PS: AlthoughI was at the bar, I did not play attention at what was really going on (I was busy talking to someone), but I have  cooked enoughly long to suggest that on this evening, they were either suffering from a charcoal grill that was not at full heating power (this happens a lot with some charcoal grills, particularly in winter which is the case on this visit) or perhaps the meat was pre-cooked and finished up way too swiftly on the grill (which is a method that you see a lot nowadays and that I am not a fan of).

-Bistro Isakaya (7/10) No line up. Reservations taken.  Addr: 3469 Ave. du Parc Montreal, Qc 514-845-8226  http://www.bistroisakaya.com/menu.html      – An amusing thing I like to do is this –> In YUL, whenever I meet people who are familiar with Japan’s local food scene, I ask them what they think of this or that isakaya? What’s to them, the ones that gets closer to what is found in Japan?, etc. It is a fun exercise, and better than your own opinion, it brings fresh new views of what’s done in YUL to that regard. Bistro Isakaya is one of those that most connoisseurs of the real Japan have referred me to when it comes to a recommendation for Isakaya. It is a bit pricier than, say, Kazu for ie. One thing I really like with the Isakayas in YUL, however humble they might stand before their cousins of NYC, Vancouver and of course, the motherland (Japan), it’s that they do ensure to add something that the competitor does not offer. Take the traditional Japanese Daifuku   (a sweet, usually made of strawberry that I rated with a 8.5/10 the last time I tried it here ) or Chawanmushi (sort of Japanese egg custard – the one I tried was easily an 8/10 ):  they thought of offering them  here. A nice touch since I haven’t seen them  yet at the other Isakayas in town. To the contrary of  all the top Isakayas in YUL, they also have a full sushi menu here (to me, they were good sushis. Not great – For sushis in YUL, I’d head to the likes of Jun I, Sushi Volant, etc  instead ). The only way a Montreal Isakaya can, in my view, worth a little detour is to hope that their better known items shine while you are there. There’s no guarantee for the latter to happen (take the cow tongue I had at Imadake. Most people who had it  raved about it, but that was not my case at all. For sure, this was certainly just a bad luck and I doubt that my next cow tongue at Imadake will not pass the test, but things are what they are: I’ll have to wait a bit before joining the bandwagon of Imadake’s cow tongue fans), but all of this to tell you that when you go to Bistro Isakaya, on top of asking them for their daily/seasonal picks, give a try to items that they seem to deliver  well  on a regular basis such as their Miso soup (a simple item, indeed, but I haven’t had better one in YUL 8.5/10) . Again, this is a bit pricier than Imadake and Kazu and although it has some interesting choices , and this is a promising team (most of them come from Montreal’s ex successful highly regarded authentic Japanese dining venture, Katsura  ) I am a bit surprised that this ranks that high among the Japan’s food experts I met. Mind you, the Miso soup I had there is the finest I had in YUL up to now, and if you look carefully at the ratings of the food items I had sampled, they are doing some quite good job (which again, should not be that much of a surprise for anyone who knew how good Katsura was). Still, it’s not cheap. At least, the quality is usually on center stage. Preferably dine there (as opposed to lunch).

Imadake (5/10) No line up. Reservations taken.  4006, rue Ste-Catherine O   Montreal, Qc,  (514) 931-8833 http://www.imadake.ca/  – It’s the latest big Isakaya in town. For once, I’ll ask you to forgive the low ratings of some of the dishes I had there for reasons I’ll explain later on and go, try it for yourself with one condition: Ask them (as you need to do with all Isakayas in town) for their  daily / seasonal  best offerings and do not do like me: do not just rely on the menu. On my sole visit there, the food items I chose were a mixed affair: Grilled cow tongue  was chewy, lacked heat and had no grilling flavor at all (0/10), which was surprising especially since such simple grilled item  is hardly something I’d expect to fail. Then things were back on track with an item that’s simple, indeed, like most isakaya  fares actually, but that delivered appealing freshness, amazing produce and skillfully balanced dressing: a fresh salad of greens, carrots. A salad, I know, but a well done one.  Then another slip: An ordinary  beef tataki that would barely be a 4/10 (the beef ok, the overall taste only ok, but not worth the $$$, yep..even at $8). My heart was happy again  with a course of Takoyaki (a $6 little tasty lovely croquette of octopus 7.5/10  — This could have easily been a 8/10 or even 9/10 had the texture been remarkable, but it delivered that it needed to: delicious taste with nice moist consistency of fresh meaty octopus). All in all, I was obviously not impressed with the food performance but I tweeted my dissatisfaction to the restaurant and the way they reacted impressed: instead of hiding behind a wall of laughable big ego and annoying defensive arguments, they constructively proposed that I ask them for what’s best /seasonal, etc while dining there. An amazing reaction and given how they take their work at heart and showing how they want to improve, this is for sure  a place where I am   willing to spend my hard earned money.  Imadake deserves that I give it another chance, and you: just go (the ambience is so cool. So different from other Montreal eateries. You’ll love the loud cheers, the Japanese feel, enjoy the sake booooooooom boooomm ritual on the tables when people order the sake bomb..you’ll know what I mean once ther) ! 

 
I’ll stick to my current top 3 Isakayas in YUL. Whenever I stumbled upon one that I believe I should add to this top list, I’ll oblige. Subjective stuff, as usual but I really really find it hard to rate Isakayas in a city like Yul simply because I have sampled equivalent Isakaya fares abroad that went above and beyond the simple observation that since this is straightforward food, it needs to find a way to somehow shine enoughly well to justify leaving the comfort of home for. For ie, I don’t want my yakitori to simply stand as a nice little piece of skewered chicken. That, I can do that at home,Lol. I want it to be a standout one and that…well, that is possible. Just do not expect this  oftently in YUL,  but Kazu made it happen. That’s obviously why it’s my ‘coup de coeur’ and top pick of Mtl’s current Isakayas.  In the end, it all goes down to what you do expect. Just remember: it is not Japan! It’s Montreal. Forget about Japan, go and appreciate what’s delivered, for what it is: Montreal’s take on Isakayas. Chose wisely! Arigato!

Standard

Best restaurants of Montreal: La Porte

Restaurant La Porte
Addr: 3627 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal
Phone: 514-282-4996
Url: http://www.restaurantlaporte.com
Type of food: High end French fine dining

 

*****UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2014  Chef Rouyé did close La Porte and has now opened a more humble restaurant in Val David, called La Table des Gourmets (https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-table-des-gourmets/1463806720537762). It’s, apparently, already a big hit overthere,which, knowing Chef Rouyé’s talent, came as no surprise. Check that out: La Table des Gourmets 2353 rue de l’église, Val-David, Quebec (819) 322-2353



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
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman, Lawrence,
Park, Kazu, Hambar, .

UPDATE:  DINNER AT LA PORTE, SATURDAY OCT 26TH 2012, 20:00 – Romantic dinner with Jannice, therefore  no pictures taken, but you can find plenty of photos of the interior of the restaurant in the review of my last meal here (see below, in this same post). This is only my second visit at La Porte, and last time I was here it was over two years ago.That first meal shone, once the sum of all its parts assembled,  as a solid 3 star Michelin meal by European standards (which was no surprise: Brittany’s Chef Rouyé was already a Michelin star Chef back home) . On that first dinner there, even the petits fours were perfected to world class standards. They won Open Table’s 2012 diner’s choice for Montreal, which is in itself quite remarkable given that Open Table is about very serious diners of  this city’s elite high end  dining destinations like Toque!, XO Le restaurant, L’Europea, Club Chasse et Peche, La Chronique.

La Porte’s decor remains as beautifully exotic as I remember it from last time, the decor pretty much similar to the one you see on the photos below, with a major change since my last visit here: the color theme switching from some kind of orange  to the nowadays  omnipresent glamourous tone of  grey. La Porte’s decor is indeed very pretty in its genre.

On the food aspect, they still have nice deals on lunch (lunch prices: $30 for 3 services, starters at $10, mains in between $15-$23, desserts at $10 ), but I’d guess — like it is the case with most restaurants — that  the best way to discover the full potential of this kitchen (the cooking here is French from France but ‘updated’ with modern twists, the Chef calling his cuisine ‘franco-urban’ ) is to splurge on a dinner. Still, I heard that their lunch deals are among the best value in town. Dinner is more pricier (you have all their prices on their web site), with à La carte items as well as a $80 and a $100 multiple-course menu.

I went with one of the tasting menu, in order to fully enjoy the huge potential of this kitchen.

Carpaccio de pétoncle, radis, tapenade d’olives: Before going any further, let us be clear about this -> the ratings you will see concern only the category within  which La Porte is competing, which is haute French dining. For those familiar with Michelin star standards in Europe, this evening’s meal largely pertaining  to a strong 1 star Michelin in France, for example. With many items in strong 2 star Michelin category as well (those with the 9/10 and 10/10 ratings).  Regarding the carpaccio, this was a beautiful generous slice of top grade New Brunswick’s scallop, left in a sea shell, with remarkable marine freshness. When I hear chefs using the phrase “letting the produce expressing itself”, I am always disappointed, but here, they obviously have no time to lose with words, only the real action matters: this scallop carpaccio being better described as a  mouthful of bliss  9/10

Macaron de crème de sésame, chutney de courge, terrine de foie gras : I wish I had a top quality  camera or a HD video cam on me, this plate being so beautiful to espy, its colors so appealing. But the kitchen had obviously decided that beauty was not going to be its sole feature as  it comprised of a benchmark terrine of foie gras (competing comfortably with the finest in France), sandwiched in an equally flawless macaron of sesame seeds. In typical Chef Thierry Rouyé’s style: creativity, palatable excitement, beautiful presentation and superb technique intermingled. A world class dish  10/10

Langoustine, crèpe au sarrasin, crème de pomme, andouille – A  delicious langoustine, cooked and timed to perfection, sized to appropriate tasting menu’s proportions was wrapped in a crèpe au sarrasin, accompanied by two items that are true benchmarks  in their own categories: an impressive andouille as well as a superior apple cream. Top stuff.  8.5/10

Lotte, purée de pomme de terre, jus de daube  A piece of Burbot, oozing of memorable marine freshness, its flesh perfectly moist and its texture flawless, was paired with an equally faultless and delicious potato purée and a jus de daube masterfully executed. 8.5/10

Pigeonneau, Merguez, mille-feuille choux et beacon, foie gras poélé – Perhaps the only dish of this evening   that was the least impressive, and yet I’ll keep the overall score high because this was by no means an ordinary dish, and it certainly deserve its ‘very good’ tag even on a 1 star Michelin table. What made it pass as ‘less impressive’ is actually not a fault, but a touch of  familiar cuisine  that many may like: the addition of the Merguez and beacon/cabbage mille-feuille. They were of course tasty, but they took me by surprise since I do not have them in mind while attending such dinner. But again, they were done with refinement, and there is no strict rule about what ingredient should make it to a fine dining event. Thus, consider this as nitpicking. The other qualm I had was regarding the pan-sear foie gras: its texture and consistency could not be faulted, but I wish it had a deep livery sensuous punch I do expect from my favourite pan-sear foie. And yet, with a piece of squab as expertly cooked as this, its taste divine, consider this as a very strong 7.5/10

Then a platter of local cheeses, with one of my favourite being the 14 arpents. It is hard for any high end restaurant in North America to compete  with its France’s  counterparts when it comes to cheeses, but those were as good as you will get this side of the border. They were served with a nicely made home made prune marmelade.

Up to the desserts and petits fours. I was a bit saddened to learn that Valentin, their great pastry Chef had left for Maison Boulud earlier on (see this review). But I was in for a good surprise on this evening: he is back, for a short time though (he will go to work at Chez Rémi?? ..from what I gathered). On this evening, as I am now accustomed to, with Chef Valentin Rouyé’s pastry creations, the level of the desserts pertained easily to a comfortable 2 star Michelin level:  coeur fondant à l’anis étoilé (10/10), butternut squash sorbet (benchmark sorbet), visitandine, an old fashion financier which he updated brilliantly, not hard to do but hard to make a stellar one, which he did (10/10),  caramel macaron (Valentin’s macarons have always been my favourite outside of France, no exception here 9/10), fruit paste (Valentin obviously knows how to make world class versions of those).

My  ‘coup de coeur’ wine of the evening: CHATEAU HAUT MONPLAISIR 2007 CAHORS (MALBEC)

Service: Dominique, my main waiter on this evening, is the quebecois  version of the cool young fun classy Italian wait staff I have encountered this summer at 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano as well as 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio. Top class gentleman and easily among the very best waiters I ever met in Montreal. Fantastic service on this evening from Dominique. There was also another young waiter from France, a bit shy, but doing a pretty great job. As for Madame Rouyé, well, I guess that even with the best intent … I’ll just never be her  fan (on this evening, her exploit was to simply pour the wine in the glass with no offering of tasting a sampling of the wine first. At many lesser eateries they do not skip that one anymore) . Yep,  who cares since the rest, under this house, truely shines.

PROS (of this Saturday Oct 26th 2012):  Exactly the kind of excellent meal  I do expect at this level of dining. I am not the kind to naively expect miracles or anything special from food; I go to Walt Disney for the latter, or sip some booze. But to me, what needs to be done at this level needs to be fulfilled brilliantly..or else, what’s the point of leaving the comfort of home? And that is what they did: a brilliant food performance from what one should expect from a top tier dining destination in Montreal. Second visit and still a huge fan!
CONS (of this Saturday Oct 26th 2012): When a heart is happy, there’s no room to imagine trouble where there ain’t.

Overall food rating: For this Sat Oct 26th meal, easily a 8.5/10    – On the food aspect, by  the 1 star Michelin category I am accustomed to, in Europe, I am referring to the stronger ones, this was a superb meal, with perfect technique, superb flavors, beautiful creativity. Make no mistake: even by 2 star Michelin standards, this meal was perfectly in its element. And yet, Montreal has no Michelin stars. So imagine..I could easily give a 10 to this meal and  feel very comfortable about it, based on just the observation that far lesser kitchens are enjoying the beautiful parade under the stars . What also impresses me is that Chef Thierry Rouyé is not seeking stardorm BS: on my two meals here, I never saw him nor his sons touring the room. If you see him in the room, I’d bet that you are a VIP, a journalist, or have specially requested to meet with him. Which I do not need. I need to be a normal diner, in communion with the best of what a Chef has to offer. All my life, I have never understood why fans (or what some illiterate cooks have called ‘fanatics’) would need  to shake the hands of the creator of what they would have liked? The creation should be the star, no? Anyways,  when Chef Thierry Rouyé is paired with his son Valentin, the roof..the roof..the roof is truely on fire! In the “big guns league”  of fine dining in town (Toque!, Club Chasse & Peche, Nuances, La Chronique, L’Europea), this is my favourite along with XO Le Restaurant. This was a superb meal, and I hope you compare the ratings of each of its dish to the scores of the savoury courses of my latest meals at 3 star Michelin Le Calandre and Ledoyen in Paris. I compare meals to meals, never restaurants to restaurants, but this will, hopefully,  help you better understand how superb  this meal at La Porte was.  In case you are afraid of comparing apples to carrots: do not. This is comparison that makes utter sense.

WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE REPORT OF THE JANUARY 15TH 2010, 18:00 MEAL AT  LA PORTE:

(English version to follow) – Oh là là! Ce repas du 15 Janvier 2010, 18:00 fut marqué par des merveilles qui feraient palir d’envie les meilleurs 3 étoiles Michelin de ce bas monde: le tartare d’huitre, la raviole de la meme bete, et bien d’autres. Aux oubliettes les 2 plats qui ne m’ont pas emballé: ce repas du 15 Janvier 2010 fut 1 reve, meme pour les meilleures tables 3 étoiles Michelins! Celle ci fut une surprise car la pluspart des opinions semblaient situer cette table autour des 5 à 10 meilleures tables de la ville. Ce repas, en tout cas, avalerait tout cru ce qui semble etre généralement passer pour le top 3! Et vu que je ne me base que sur ce que j’ai vécu, je ne saurai vous dire autre chose que ceci: basé sur ce repas, La Porte est dans le top 3 des meilleures tables ‘gourmet’ de Montréal. J’ai d’ailleurs été personellement plus impressioné par ce repas que par celui au Toque, chez Nuances  et au Club Chasse et Peche.

After my Thursday Jan 14th stunning dinner at Cavalli (Yep..you read this very well: stunning, I wrote! And I am talking about the food!) with Jannice and folks of her work, here comes Friday Jan 15th in a completely opposite trend. For this Friday, I booked a table at  La Porte. I have always been curious as to where La Porte stands on the Montreal restaurant scene. We all know where Toque!, Club Chasse et Peche, Raza, Jun I, Nuances stand…but what about la Porte? Well, this fully detailed photo and text reportage will hopefully bring more light to that question. In the meantime, La Porte is highly regarded by many observers  as among the top 10 of Montreal’s tables. I will give you my opinion on that at the very end of the reportage after decrypting with you all the aspects of this latest dinner there. La Porte is a bit different from the latest restaurants I lately reviewed to you: it does not fully pertain to the bistro (Bistro Cocagne, M sur Masson) nor the latest North American Nouvelle Cuisine trend (La Chronique, Le Club Chasse et Peche, etc). It is  modern  French cuisine with Quebec’s local ingredients. His chef is from France’s region of Bretagne (note to myself: the second chef ever from that region, after Chef Sylvain Guillemot, whose food I sampled and highly enjoyed). Also different from what I reviewed here before: it has a familial touch with dad and son behind the kitchen + mum as the Maitre D’ in the dining room.

Restaurant La Porte is located in one of Mtl’s most busiest areas (restaurants, bars, cafes):
On saint Laurent Street (The Main):

Corner Saint Arthur:

From the outside, have a look at the classy elegant glass-fronted restaurant:

The overall decor of La Porte reminds me a bit of The “Thousand and One Nights” exotical decor.
Really pretty and to me, one of my personal  prettiest restaurants in Montreal.
You will notice in the pics below, the little touches of the same designer who also re-designed LCCP (chairs
are in the same trend of colors as in LCCP and there are here and there little traits of LCCP
decor, albeit, in my humble opinion — with all due admiration that I have for LCCP —, La Porte is far more
attractive).

So, the inside is very elegant, cozy, with a predominence of warm dark colors,

Elegant with candles on the tables, white table clothes:

Banquettes and alcoves:

Ideal dim-lit setting for romance:

Great presence of wood and glass:

Charming  decor touches like those long vases of flowers on the wall:

On the left of the picture, their famous door from Morocco:

View on the bar, leading to the kitchen:

Ok Enough with the pics. You can find more pics of this reportage on my online Google’s Picasa web Gallery.
Keep in mind that it is in Montreal, as far as ambiance + decor goes, one of the most romantic dinning rooms
of this city.

Now, down to the food. I picked the 8 course tasting menu with wine pairing

First, a mise en bouche:
Course #1: Oyster tartare, truffled scallops, Parsnip Velouté  – Finally a mise en bouche that’s daring/moving on a Montreal fine dining table. I have always reproached the big majority of Mtl’s finest tables to not be enoughly daring when it comes to mise en bouche. That is not the case of this one mise en bouche: The creamy parnsip velouté was of perfect creaminess, sporting an enjoyable subtly sweet taste . It was topping a meaty flavorful tartare of impeccably fresh oyster. Even the chip you see on that velouté was remarquable: very tasty, enjoyably crunchy.A mise en bouche that is not only stunning to Montreal restaurants but also to world’s best tables. A mise en bouche of a strong 3 star Michelin level! 10/10

Course #2: Oyster ravioli, borecole, serrano ham, duck foie emulsion  – The ravioli had perfect al dente mouthsome. The emulsion was light, and very well concocted. The fresh crunchy tasty cabbage was pure delish and the crunchy piece of samphire that was topping the overall was oozing of freshness. Another 5 star course with moving/daring/spectacular tastebud pleasing well balanced savors and definitely one that the majority of world’s best tables would steal from La Porte. It was that amazing! Another dish pertaining to a solid 3 star Michelin caliber. 10/10
Pairing wine: Vouvray 2008, domaine des aubussières cuvée silex
A medium-bodied wine marked by an enjoyable mineral note, light and dry that is a natural pairing partner to the seafood found in that dish. My tastebuds also captured the light citrus flavors shining through this overall well balanced fruity wine. I found it’s minerality to reach out so well with the the earthiness of the cabbage too.Good wine.

Course #3: Scallops, tapenade of blood pudding, apple cider, buckwheat sarrasin – The scallop was fresh, tender and tasty but the star ingredient there was definitely the blood pudding: I never had, in Montreal, all finest tables of this city included, a blood pudding that is as stunningly succulent and expertly concoted as this one. Kudos too for the apple cider reduction (on your right) which was heavenly delicious. On your right, a pink apple purée. Anywhere between a 2 to 3 star Michelin level. 9/10
Pairing wine:  Entre deux mer 2008 château les arromans
It’s the first time I was trying this affordable white bordeaux  wine. Nice blend of white sauvignon and semillon. Perfectly sensed the expected enjoyable grapefruit  notes from it, it is definitely of solid value: well balanced, pleasantly mineral. Great value and nice pairing especially to the scallop.

Course #4: Roasted pickerel, Black rice, Kari Goss lobster reduction, almonds – Another world class food item: the organic black rice was cooked with surgical precision and tasted really good. The chunk of fish had perfect moist inside consistency and was oozing of impeccable fresh seafood flavor. The touch of almonds on top of the fish is a welcoming nice touch in there. Lovely ane memorable inspired dish! 9/10
Pairing wine: Sancerre terre de Mainbray 2008 Pascal et Nicolas Reverdy
I barely focused on this wine but it was a decent wine. Found nothing wrong nor strong points from it.
Just good.

Course #5: Gaspor’s piglet cooked slowly, lightly seared red tuna and duck liver, squash, vanilla reduced jus
Heuh…what to think of this course? Let us decrypt this one: YES…each ingredient there was of high quality (the piglet from Gaspor is reknown for being a great meat and it is indeed a great piece of well cooked meat in there. That piece of foie gras was of perfect quality too. The tuna, cooked on one side was fresh and tasty. The squash really good and the vanilla reduced jus, a blast. The problem is that they simply did not add up as a whole. Basically, it came out more as an assembling of food items (a pile of ingredients if you prefer) that did not complement each other. Instead, make something elaborately more porky (since the Gaspor piglet seemed to be the central theme of this course). But I’ll forgive this one, since it is the only mis-step among so many other stunning courses! 5/10
Pairing wine: Bourgogne rouge En Bully domaine Rapet 2007
Great wine. Enjoyably aromatic, balanced and elegant with a nice finish.

Course #6: Curcuma melted sauvagine cheese on potatoes and chitterling sausage – This is the cheese course. This course, despite high quality ingredients, remains — whether they like it or not — a homey simple food item. Simply put, if I take camembert and let it melt on  a piece of oven baked potato, I am getting the same effect. So, Yes it was good but I know they have a huge talent in that kitchen and can surprise us with more daring cheese courses.  6/10
It was paired with a great 20 yrs Optima Porto.

Course #7: Citrus salad, hazelnut ice cream, Vanilla/Ginger/Coconut cream
The French from France are simply unbeatable when it comes to desserts! The title and the picture do not do justice to what stands by far as the best dessert I ever devoured on any high end fine dining table in Montreal & surroundings. Freshness of the ingredients, spectacular juxtaposition of tastes, vibrant and moving are among the superlative that come to mind and my tastebuds will drool over this one for years. PS: You do not see it well on this picture, but there was a greenie citrus jelly roll  in there that was simply heavenly as far as tastes go. Wowed! 10/10
Naturally, the light grapefruit tone of the pairing Sauvignon blanc Monkey Bay 2008 was perfect match to that dessert.
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Course #8: Mignardises
La Porte managed to keep me stunned till the very last. YES…that’s the type of mignardises I do expect on a fine dining table -> The macaron you see there was stunningly good (airy, fresh,decadent). The chocolate sausage is a nice touch and was delicious. That Pina colada fruity jelly-paste: I am simply in love with it. Simply superb!

This dinner at La Porte, despite my reserve towards the cheese + piglet course (they were not bad, just not daring enough), was simply stunning. I have never been to La Porte before and I can’t give a definitive opinion based on just one visit, but this reviewed dinner is the type of performance expected at a solid European 2 star Michelin establishment, with items like the dessert, courses 1,2 3 and even the mignardises flirting with a perfect 3 star Michelin caliber.

This dinner at La Porte is also a reminder that some need to do their homework properly: this dinner was of strong 2* Michelin caliber whilst many other tables supposedly superior to this one had offered food in between a no star to at best a 1 star potential.

Ambiance: What a cozy ambiance! It was half full of patrons at about 7pm, 1 hr upon my arrival.
Service: Madame Rouyé, the Chef’s wife, was paired with another woman for service in the dining room. All was ok (professional, attentive,helpful ), although Madame Rouyé could smile a bit more / be more relaxed…..

PROS: This was a dinner of solid 2 star Michelin level. Forget the little misses I wrote about, they were largely overwhelmed by excellence.

CONS: The wife of the Chef should smile a bit more. A restaurant is a place of enjoyment, after all! Allez, un petit sourrire svp! 

LA PORTE

Overall food rating (Jan 15th 2010’s meal): 10/10 Again,  I can talk only for what I have experienced on that solo visit. And YES, for those who feed themselves on huge spoonful of skepticism, there have been some lacklustre dishes. So why 10/10? Because the best dishes of this meal outshone by leaps the lacklustre ones that I can’t remember what was lacklustre, Rfaol!

What I keep remembering are courses, so impressive on that visit, that would make a top 3 star Michelin table in Europe melt with jealousy! As usual, I do not know if La Porte performs like that all the time, but again: I can only talk for what I have experienced! During my meals at Toque! and LCCP, I had some stunning courses, but the best dishes I had here at La Porte were easily ahead by a notch or two. I’ll go back and I want them to keep the bar this high on that next visit. I don’t know how they can do this….it was so high!

Overall service rating: 7/10 Professional. Fine, BUT their Maitre D’, Madame  Rouyé, although professional …. needs to show more warmth.

Décor: 10/10  Ah..Ah…look at the pictures. There are plenty of them in my review. Then if you like that style,you are in my club!

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

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HAMBAR, Montreal – This meal was perhaps too pricey for what was on offer

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

HAMBAR is one of the latest big entries on the Montreal restaurant scene.  The restaurant is situated inside the trendy Vieux Port’s boutique hotel St-Paul. It  has a pretty modern hip bistro feel, with no tablecloths, beautiful  use of wood and glass and a nice long bar right in the middle of the room. 

It was extremely busy on this thursday evening, which added to the lovely electric  ambience (For those in search of a hip 5 to 7 place, the happening is here on thursdays) I experienced during this meal, but the wait staff explained that this was a particularly busy night.

Food: I picked their star item, the charcuterie platter, along with a fluke ceviche, grilled octopus and a beef tartare.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

The charcuterie platter consisted of a  poultry liver mousse (stunning for both its remarkable palatability and fantastic texture), cauliflower, local ham (ok), prosciutto di parma (ok, although it does not help that I still have, freshly in mind, its far better version sampled at Salumeria Garibaldi in Parma this past June), okra, Iberian cheese (ok), sausage (ok). This is one Ok charcuterie plate (at the exceprion of the poultry liver mousse, an exceptional item on this evening), with perhaps the one at Comptoir charcuteries et Vins appealing a bit more to me. The components seemed, to me, as good as any ordinary restaurant charcuterie in town. A matter of personal taste, as usual.  7/10

 Fluke ceviche came with a cream of avocado, jalapeno, lime emulsion, crème fraiche and puffed rice.  I appreciate the efforts. They try hard as obviously observed by the thoughts put in their dishes and obvious determination to be creative. I just found it unfortunate that the results did not blow me away:  I mean, it is a good riff on the ceviche, and I can’t remember many tables being able to pull out such appealing intensity of acidity (either the citrus was an exceptional one or an exceptional palate was behind that brilliant ceviche marinade), but the overall was just decent to me. Pleasant enough ceviche yes, but alas, unremarkable as far as I am concerned. 6/10

 Beef tartare  came with home made chips (Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip; among the better home made chips I have sampled at a restaurant in Mtl), a topping of sunny side up egg, and horseradish. A decent tartare, imo. Simple dish   like a tartare has no other choice but to be stellar in order to be noteworthy, which means stunning ‘beefy’ flavor, remarkable work of the texture,etc. Which I failed to experience with this beef tartare. Again, pleasant enough but not great, and I found this pretty much frustrating for them…yep, not even for me, the paying customer.. ..but for them…given the amount of efforts they have invested (plenty of accompaniments, logical touches to elevate the tartare such as the addition of the egg, etc).     6.5/10

Grilled octopus – The octopus was tender, but overwhelmed by a puttanesca vinaigrette that was way too thick. The octopus was mixed with that vinaigrette, and that did not help the seafood at all. In this particular case,  the puttanesca  would have been a better idea as a side dipping to the octopus. I know, the idea is to mix it with the seafood..and I had far better ones made with just that theme of mixing the puttanesca with the octopus…but on this occasion,  it just took the appeal of appreciating the octopus away.   The octopus also lacked enough heat to be  enjoyed  at its best, especially since it is  grilled. A world away from the octopus dishes I had recently at Kazu, or  Lawrence in September. 3/10

Service was really cool with perfect attitude from young and fun wait staff, although  I should note that I did not appreciate that the priciest wine glass offering appeared to be the one which bottle was not presented to me.
 
Pros: A focused palate won’t fail to find the touch of acidity of that ceviche memorable. Alas, that touch never elevated that ceviche to what my palate and all other senses would have perceived as a great ceviche. This was also the case of that stunning poultry liver mousse, almost close to the better ones one would enjoy in France,  but again…not enough to save the rest of my evening’s charcuterie platter from passing as  just Ok , as far as I am concerned. Then there was the effort put in each dish, the very nice homemade chips,  the hip ambience.
Cons: I found this meal way too pricey for what was on offer. My meals at Lawrence, some of the finest I had at Bistro Cocagne or Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon were certainly not cheap, but I never mentioned prices because the food made the price an afterthought. In contrast, on this evening here, none of the 4 food items of this meal was remarkable, whereas the bill …was!  This evening’s meal of mine lacked better work of textures, it lacked mouthfuls of succulent bliss.

Overall food rating: 4/10 From what I am accustomed to at equivalent eatery in Montreal (charcuterie-based Modern Intl bistrot cuisine in this case). To me, this evening’s meal (I judge my meals, not restaurants)  was nothing more than  just some Ok food. In the genre, charcuterie-based eatery offering their takes on International modern bistro food, Comptoir Charcuteries & Vins fared better to me on the aspect of food.

Conclusion: I know Montreal is generally ridiculously pricey when it comes to food at restaurant, and yet I still found this meal overpriced for what I was enjoying on this evening. As a comparison, solo dining meals (I was dining solo there, on this evening)  with equal quantity of food items and wine by the glass   at restaurants that are among this city’s very best like Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon  cost me less than what I have just paid.  Yes, I do understand that I did splurge, but that was equally the case at the other mentioned restaurants. And just in case I did not make myself enoughly clear: even  without splurging (so no wines, just tap water), and at whatever price, I still would have found this meal too pricey for what I was having on this evening.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: When you have cooked for so long (which is my case), you are confident about certain things, others not. Of course, it happened that I stumbled upon average meals and had no doubt that the same brigade of cooks could surprise me with better meals on  subsequent visits (for example: Maison Boulud in Montreal gave me that impression. I had an initial overall average meal there, but I knew the next meals would be better, And I was right.  but in the case of Hambar, deep inside of me, with the same cooks that have cooked that meal, I doubt there could be a radical improvement. Still,  the beauty with  cooking is that you can indeed be a better cook. You need to find out how, though. I won’t return to Hambar because I do not believe in it, but see for yourself. Who knows, they are probably proving me wrong. Which I hope, for them. But I’ll tell you right off the bat: I am not going to find out and i just could not care less!
 

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