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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawrence, Montreal – A coup de coeur for me too…but READ the ‘service’ section …

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



PS: MANY FOOD BLOGS REVIEW THE BRUNCH AT LAWRENCE. I  CAN’T STAND BRUNCHES AT RESTAURANTS (CUZ  I USUALLY DO FAR BETTER BRUNCHES AT HOME) , SO PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THIS  REVIEW OF MINE COVERS ONLY THIS EVENING’S OFFERINGS  @ LAWRENCE.
 
In the series ‘coup de coeur of  our YUL’s star food journalists ‘, I went visiting Lawrence, the coup de coeur of Le Devoir’s star food journalist Phillipe Mollet. Food is subjective and there’s no judgement to make over other people’s opinion, but if there’s a food journalist with whom my experiences did differ widely from, then it would be Phillipe. This should substract   nothing from Mr Mollet’s opinions, a man that I actually dearly respect. Lawrence is anyways a “coup de coeur” of  many other food journalists as well as the big majority of gourmands in Yul. Lawrence, on this evening, turned out to be my “coup de coeur”  too, which is a feeling I have failed to experience since Bouillon Bilk….in  …July 2011…. BUT  let me be clear about this: if the service remains as uneven as on my visit on this evening, many will leave heartbroken ……which is a shame, because Chef’s Cohen food and some of the staff in this house really deserve better faith! A shame, because this is one of the very rare places that I am adding to my top  tier favourites in YUL. With over 5000 tables in Yul, and only less than a dozen in my top tier favourite, I feel confident to repeat this: Lawrence deserves perfection all the way!

British Chef Marc Cohen quickly became a Montreal favourite for his widely acclaimed cooking  at the Sparrow in Montreal, and has since moved to Lawrence. Some serious job is done in this house as can be demonstrated by charcuteries and bread made on the premises.  

The decor/feel/ambiance is a take on British gastro pub. In my view, the best rendition of that style in Yul. Grey is the dominant tone here: grey-painted wooden floor, some parts of the walls are grey. When you enter the small room (surprisingly, they exploit such mini space better than at spacier restaurants), you have a sofa right at the entrance, a bench at the end, plenty of relatively well spaced tables, a bar towards the end and a “post-industrial” mixed with gastro-pub feel and look. I love this place, the amazing penetration of light provided by the glass windows, the cozy atmosphere. Nothing here looks neglected. To the contrary, everything is thoughtful, meaningful, useful in its sheer simplicity.

SERVICE: Was this…a meditation  on the theme of the ‘ying’ and the ‘yang”? I do not know. Let us see. ”Ambiance”…as we say in  French: first, Wow…here’s one restaurant that carefully respects your requests. I asked for a table by the window. Most restaurants, unless you go for the fancy fine dining ventures, do not bother remembering such detail when you dine solo. They did. I even told them that if the room gets busy, I was willing to move to the bar. They insisted to respect my initial demand. Strike #1: World class! Strike #2:  Sommelière Etheliya Hananova was in charge of the wine, an  amazing woman who could give ‘a run for their money” to most of the 3 star Michelin wait staff out there. Although  not really a slip on her part (there is a limit to find trouble where there are none) , I have to write this: ppl have widely reproached to the older generations of French, in France, their snooty service. But those  same ppl do the exact same thing ..just  in a different way. YES! In a different way! But same sh?&*. For eg, it is a trend nowadays in Nyc, Montreal, and many other places who have widely embraced  the ‘Let’s ditch the old snooty French service‘ to offer a supposedly alternative  that’ s actually a replica of what they have decried! So, why am I writing this? Because my fabulous sommelière played that card at some point, although I insist on  seeing the bigger picture: she is human, and above all spectacular! So what card? Well, this one: ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’. Perhaps ”For this food , I’d suggest this wine….”” would pass as less lecturing.  It reminded me of what most have decried. It reminded me of Monsieur Henri V  telling me what should be good for me. Only, it was stated in English and in  less snooty manner, Rfaol!   I mean I do not need to know what wine I need for the course. I gave you carte blanche to embark me on a wine tasting journey, so go ahead. This is nitpicking, I know, and I am writing this not as a reproach to this wonderful woman..trust me, she is wonderful..but more as an opportunity to remind others that ‘hey…you are … using the very tactics that you decried…”” . I am insistening on this, also, because this has been a widely spread reproach to the old French guard…only to get to the exact same point.  Regardless,  Etheliya Hananova  is a world class woman with spectacular service that would be exemplary to  many staff  at  many  serious tables out there  !  Let’s continue on this pattern because we are getting to the part where I was left with more questions than answers.. Strike #3: the woman  who took my order, then served most of my dishes, wow..wow! Great service, very attentive. BUT then..Strike #4, the ‘yang???”…I need to know…: Another waitress, whom I’ll nickname the ‘skinny lady with a high top hair cut’, was at least smiley…but never ever described the dishes she laid on the table! I think she mumbled something at some point. ..then the woman who served  the coffee … she was utterly silent (??). I honestly thought that somekind of mechanical system has left a cup on my table. A robot would have more warmth. Now, notice that I am using caution here, and you’ll now understand why: if both ladies can’t talk, I am deeply sorry.  I come from social backgrounds where it is mandatory that ALL kind of people are included in normal social life. If they can’t talk, then this is a 10/10. The restaurant having my highest respect for including everyone with no discrimination.  BUT….if the reasons are found elsewhere, then I couldn’t careless: it’s a restaurant, a place where hospitality standards should prevail. Point blank! With that said, this is no dramatic neither: no one was un-pleasant nor rude and the best parts of the service pertained to world class standards.  I’d not return anyways to a place where I was disgusted by the service. Here,  I’ll run back, anytime, which tells you how I was not that offended at all.

WINE: For sure, with Sommelière Etheliya Hananova, you are in great hands (she is one of the very best  sommelières of Montreal), a world away from some restaurant celebrities (Chefs, sommeliers)  hiding behind stardom BS. Here’s a pro working hard right on the field, with efficacy. An artisan sommelière if I can say so. The kind I highly respect. Of course, I had that little ‘resistance’ to her phrase ” ”’for this kind of  food, the wine  you need  is …’, but hey, this is no big deal at all. As a a matter of fact, she is not snooty at all, neither. On the other hand, you see this  kind of remark on my blog because I am not a satellite of  the industry, therefore things  are brought to you the way they appear to me, as opposed to the way …they should appear to you!   Anyways, the way things appeared to me is this as well: on top of fabulous wine recommendations, Etheliya showed world class hospitality all along this evening. Some star Sommelier-e-s have the big head, not her: she brought the bill, worked like any other element of the wait staff, sometimes pouring water, at other times clearing a table, etc. I am telling you: an amazing down to earth person! I am taking time to write this because I have rarely seen a star sommeliere as down to earth  as Etheliya. Now, here’s a sommelière who ‘reads’ in the mind of the big majority of his customers: approx 140 bottles squizzed on a two-sided page, easy to consult by price range (unless you are Rockefeller, don’t you look at $$$ first when perusing a wine list??), and the ‘tour de force’  of reaching out to most tastes and pockets where other sommeliers  would need hundred of pages to get to the same results. The red wines, for eg, start from a $35 Carignan Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Three Trees,  2009, Domaine de Majas & Tom Lubbe, then the red wine listing goes, thoughtfully,  by ranges of price: some in the 30+ range, then some in the 40+, 50+, etc, up to the priciest of the red wines, which is, on this evening’s list, a $207 Cornas, reynard, Thierry Allemand (2008).  I was talking about a list catering to  everyone’s tastes, so the classic big guns are there, too: for eg, a Vosne-Romanée, Domaine D’Eugénie 2008 at $127, a Cote Rotie, Domaine Clusel-Roch, 2007 at $154;  a Barolo, Az.Agr.Bovia 2007 at $134. But you have plenty of little gems in all price ranges, from Italy/France/California, many imported wines, plenty of wines by the glass,  etc. Some other examples of red wines, before I move on to the white ones: Cotes du Roussillon Tradition, Domaine Ferrer-Ribeire2010 at $37, Vino de la tierra de Castilla, Bobal Calabuig, Pequenas bodegas del Levante, 2010 ($38), Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil L’Hurluberlu, Sebastien David, 2010 ($48). White wines are priced from $34 (M-S-R, Riesling QbA, Selbach, 2011) to $147 (a classic big gun, Meursault 1er cru ‘Poruzots’, Francois Mikulski, 2008). In between, the same thoughtful idea of offering choices in the $30+, $40+,$50+, etc price ranges. For eg, Cantons de L’Est, Seyval/Chardonnay, Les Pervenches (2011) at $35, Jasnières Cuvée des Silex, Pascal Janvier, 2011 ($45), Cotes du Jura, Chardonnay Bardette,Domaine Labet, 2008 ($73), etc. Sparkling wines comprised of Cava, some Crémant du Jura and D’Alsace, as well as Moscato D’Asti, Champagne and a Spumante. Of course, I am no Rockefeller, so I chose the wine pairings by  the glass, and each pairing were at the heights of the talent of this fabulous sommelière: simply stunning! Yep, when I am pleased with a performance that’s well done, I take the freedom to rave. So, stunning as I said! 

FOOD:  Chef Cohen …the British Chef…. well, I love this Gentleman. When I was young, in France, we used to joke about our neighbors, the British, to never be able to cook stunning food like what our Chefs were able to deliver in France. Particularly the pastries, etc. Of course, nowadays, this is not the case anymore  but as a French I love seeing a British Chef re-affirming the currentlys widely acclaimed fact that the British Chefs are a force to  to be reckoned with, although I am  not including Gordon Ramsay in this equation…Lol..Marco Pierre-White, Yes. Gordon…Nah. Rfaol. Cohen…seduced me on this evening. Ah..if only the overall service, tonight, could have shone at  those heights ………

Crab /  potato bread $15 – Very good crab that they thoughtfully mixed with fresh home made chives/mayo/piment d’espelette. This was virtually faultless and really tasty. .Only reason I keep this dish under the 10/10 bar has to do with the fact that, right here in YUL,  I had  crab-based dishes which souvenir commands that I calm down before letting myself  go, Rfaol: for eg, a 10/ 10 dish  like this one “crab tourteau “at Cuisine & Dependance, was simply  as spectacular as receiving an invitation to land on the moon, Rfaol. Whereas this one, in comparison, would be Very good, nevertheless  8/10

Pig’s cheeks and Apple tart $12 – This is the moment when I realized that I was going to fall for this kitchen. Again, if the service is as uneven as on this evening, the love story will be really short…but, in the meantime,  to ceasar what belongs to him: Strike #1 .. It looked like any piece of pork, but it had the taste of the most flavorful of them all! I must admit that it is hard to miss this one, but few talented Chefs can pride themselves of pulling off as much bewitchment as what this kitchen has managed, on this evening, to extract from this memorable piece of pig’s cheeks    9/10 for that delicious piece of porky marvel.  Strike #2:  the Apple tart ..I could use all superlatives available and would still not pay justice to this benchmark deeply fruity and sensational piece of Apple tart. The pastry, simply of world class perfection.   10/10

Lamb’s brain, Kohlrabi, brown butter $13 – The meat, superbly buttery as it should, packed with deep enjoyable flavors. Potatoes would need more cooking and less salt (the level of cooking being so high on this evening that this passes as an afterthought..still, avoid this….  ) …but who cares when the overall is as delicious as this? 8.5/10

Braised octopus $30- Some eat octopus like you drink water. A”no big deal’ affair, rfaol. For me, the humble son of the sea..Rfaol…cooking Octopus sets apart the great cooks from the rest. One of my lifetime best Chefs has served me only..octopus!. Rfaol! But what an octopus that was!  Since then,  all Chefs who have served me stunning octopus meals have invariably counted among my favourite Chefs. The two very best octopus dishes I was served in YUL remain those I had at Kazu and Biron. This one is really not far from the aforementioned. This was clearly some very skillful cooking: The fresh cephalopod mollusc was cooked enoughly slow to maintain that perfect balance between the chewy and the tender, which is exactly what a prime octopus  should be about. If you think this is an easy affair to master, then let me know: I have a list of at least 30 very serious restaurants (in Montreal and abroad) who seemed to have never understood the art of cooking the octopus, laughably confusing the rubbery with the chewy. This was a solid 9/10 dish, and where I scored a 9/10  when all was technically excellent  eventhough not necessarily exciting, here it is a case where  both the technique and the palatable excitement shone through. In the top tier of all my 9/10 dishes, and almost a dream dish for a top level 2 star Michelin table in Europe. I feel a bit embarassed to not score this dish  with the full 10/10 it largely deserves, the only reason I am refraining from doing so is because  I was born and raised on the shores of an ocean where seafood dishes were naturally centuries ahead  of the top seafood dishes that many are raving about nowadays  (last year, while dining with a friend who knows 3 star Michelin ventures as much as you and I are are familiar with our two hands, he insisted that I sample his lifetime favourite 3 star Michelin seafood dish. A dish that “”will make you reconsider everything you ate before“”, he insisted. I politely finished the dish and told him: ”’you are a friend, and I like you. Thus, I’ll be honest with you: if I’d bring this dish to the people with whom I was raised, they will laugh at me”. That dish was of course technically well executed, but there are comparisons you can’t make, unless of course  you know what you are talking about..the taste of the best seafood dishes I had on the shores where I grew up being way more divine  than what I was sampling.). When I see dishes like those, I realize how, abroad, many are laughably making lots of noise with way lesser ability than our most serious Chefs (we have pathetic  cooks, too, surviving only because they hide behind stardom BS, but Chef Cohen is not of that breed).   This was accompanied with a superb ragout (of exemplary tomatoes, beans, the acidity so beautifully controlled) and an outstanding aioli (those who think aioli is a granted affair will benefit from trying  this one).

Strawberry and goat’s curd dacquoise – Of course, delicious as everything that this kitchen has delivered all along this evening, and here is a case where goat cheese (I wished Jannice, a huge fan of goat cheese-based desserts was here tonight) is at its most palatable level, its freshness so amazing.  Had the meringue part  being better refined and delivering more depth of flavor as I have experienced with other dacquoise, I’d certainly have happily raved more  about this dessert. Nevertheless this  was still really good.     8/10

The coffee I had on this evening…I asked for an expresso…it was not an expresso…it was a failed attempt at a reflection on the expresso..it was actually just a poor cup of regular coffee…  far worst than an afterthought: utterly watery,  supremely insipid. I drank it …to be polite!  Perhaps the worst cup of coffee I ever sampled at a restaurant. 0/10

Lawrence’s daily menu is available on their twitter account, with prices, etc

PROS: A coup de coeur! Easily in my top 5 best bistrots in Yul. The delicious food, and solid cooking of course. Chef Cohen mixes  British gastro pub refined dishes with other  Intl inspirations: French, etc. He does that with uncommon creativity, too.  To Montreal standards, this is at the top of the ladder. Cohen rocks, the city knew that already. Now I know, too. A gastropub with elegance, thoughtful touches. This is not a cheapie gastro pub (I do not mind cheapie at all, to the contrary I love holes in the wall that deliver great food, but this is an elegant gastro pub). I visit restaurants just to find what’s best for me , so that I know where to go on special occasions with friends, my wife, relatives, etc. While at it, I share my findings with you. And I am always happy to find that little place I know I can rely on. Which is the case here, even if I still need to clarify the question marks I raised over the  service.  

CONS: The coffee…the coffee..the coffee.  Barista, please! And naturally, you have to describe all the dishes that you serve, not just some of them.

Overall food rating: 8.5/10 Solid cooking, top stuff indeed. An appealing creative  menu for this kind of restaurant. And in two years of intense searches throughout YUL’s finest… this is the only new entry in my top tier favourite tables. On an evening like this, they  managed to make me forget about my favourite bistrots   in town (Au 5e Péché, Bistro Cocagne, Bouillon Bilk, Kitchen Galerie Poisson on Jean-Talon, Kazu). That speaks volume about this evening’s meal.
Service: I won’t rate this. We have all we need to know in the service section and I would find it unfair to score this as a poor service  given the fabulous performance of the ‘ying” part of the service. Also, as I explained: perhaps what I think is the ‘yang’ part is actually not ‘yang’ at all (or who knows, it’s perhaps the ‘style’ that’s intended too?…although, if that is a style….for the prices that are charged, well nah…I do not need style, thanks..)  and bottom line, no one was rude here. 
Decor:   It certainly does not look like your typical laidback pub. Although the décor is clearly of the bistrot kind (wood floor, no tablecloth on the tables, a bit of the ‘post industrial’ theme, simple metal grey chairs), we are here in no neglected settings.

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Restaurant Hotel Herman, Montreal – Pleasant enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We ate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Mezcla, Montreal – Not blown away but seriously CHARMED!

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
Type of cuisine: Contemporary Mix of South American / French 
Addr: 1251, De Champlain Street
Montreal, QC
Phone: 514 525-9934
URL: http://restaurantmezcla.com/en

Mezcla, recently opened in the Eastern Montreal area of Hochelaga Maisonneuve (End of May 2012), has made the headlines as one of the  latest strong additions to the Montreal restaurant scene, and according to many, this is top level dining destination. Food journalist Thierry Daraize even rating Mezcla with a near to perfect 4,5/5.  I was not as blown away, but I’ll invite you to read on: this place has charmed me much more than  other places  which meals I had to score higher for technical reasons, not based on pure pleasurable grounds (I’ll explain later on, in the food review section + also have a look at the ‘overall rating’ section at the end of this article) .

The food here is Latino American Fusion food (Nuevo Latino), perhaps the only type of fusion cuisine that I appreciate the most, which, for someone like me who has always favored minimal interraction between different cooking styles, speak volume about how, when done really well, this fusion can indeed entice. Nuevo Latino is nothing new anymore this side of the border: Chef Navarrette Jr has been doing it for years in Montreal, and in Trois Rivières, Au Poivre Noir‘s Mexicano-Quebecer Chef José Pierre Durand has been, sometimes (not all his dishes are of the Nuevo Latino style), inspired by Nuevo latino cuisine. Perhaps, another proof of my admiration for Nuevo Latino food is that both Chefs count among  my favourite Chefs around the globe, as many Nuevo Latino restaurants do feature among my favourite restaurants around the world  as well:  Cobre in Vancouver, Ramiro’s 954 in New York (I was impressed by a recent meal there – New York is relatively not far from YUL, so whenever you pass by, give this one a shout!).

Service on this evening was a charm: my main waitress, Melissa, an amazing  French/Italian  woman being not only the type of waitress I would expect at a top dining destination, but oh my gosh..many, many, I repeat many .. would give her an award for fun, amazing, hospitable world class personality. Melissa, you’re simply an incredible world class woman!  Perhaps the only thing I would recommend is to always get the customer to taste a sample of the  wine first, before filling the glass (although I am pretty sure, given the amazing professionalism of Melissa, that this was a very minor omission) .   The rest of the team was superb, the two other women working alongside Melissa being so attentive, welcoming, professional. But many people I dearly love do read my blog and I owe them the truth and only the truth: Yes, there was something that could have perhaps hit on some nerves, but trust me, it’s not a big deal: the only  Gentleman of the wait staff squad  did not change my fork and knife between two courses. Ah..ha..Ah..Ha..He even asked me whether he should change the glass of wine or not. Ben là..la, Rfaol!  ;p Drama? No. No. No, because this Gentleman was really amazing, pouring water on a more regular basis than at most serious restaurants, and really a cool man. No, because there are some serious restaurants where you sometimes keep your fork and knife. A hint? Well, what about 3 star Michelin Bras in Laguiole? Ca vous va? But for the wine, indeed…change the damn glass, Bro! …Rfaol!  Again, this was superb service despite Bro’s Laguiole’s standards. Allez, we have just one life to live, so Bro’s performance is to be taken with humor and in a very cool way. You will be surprised how I really liked Bro. Anyways, Melissa and the other women of this amazing squad will balance everything with the classic grand service you  are accustomed to when in a more serious mood. And Bro, remain yourself. Just change that damn glass of wine, I ‘m telling you!

Decor here is no luxury, but exotic and warm elegance: wood, wall bricks, plenty of light penetration due to the big glass window they have. It’s contemporary warmth, and cozy enough for all kind of dining events: romance, between friends, familial, etc.  Perhaps an exception to the nowadays restaurant trends: you have no bar around the open kitchen. One thing I found odd, though: they have two Chefs. One was in his section, the other in a separate area. I’d guess this was perhaps a temporary situation it would make sense to have both Chefs in the same kitchen’s area?? 

Food & Wine – On this evening, the menu comprised of starters priced in between $10 to $16 (for eg, Tuna/Aji amarillo, cancha/vermicelli $14, fish and seafood ceviche $15, crab/tuna tartare $14, Galette of Yuca/Chorizo of Charlevoix/chicha syrup $12, Blood pudding/corn bread/Jalapeno/ $14, Crab cake/Tartare sauce $12, etc), main courses priced in between $19 to $33 (for eg, Seafood rice $26, braised Gaspor piglet $33, Braised Cornouailles chicken $19, etc). Desserts were all priced at $6 ( Trilogie de sorbets from bilboquet, Crème brulée, chocolate fondant) . And they have their $34 tasting menu (5 courses), which is clearly a steal: I took it, and not only the courses were generous, but top tier items featured on that menu. At this moment, this is one the best value tasting menu you can have in YUL, all type of dining offerings included. I do not know how long this will pursue, but at this moment, if  you can manage to discard the fancy stuff like wine pairings and extra ‘bling blingos’, you’ll leave with a huge smile on your face for a while.
Wines were decently priced between $29 (an Errazuritz, Casablanca Chili 2011 – This is also offered at $6 by the glass / $19 he half bottle) to an $88 Perpetual, Priorat, Spain 2008. In between, plenty of well chosen bottles: a $54 Brazilian Merlot Fausto de Pizzato, Vale dos Vinhedos, 2009; a $40 Vouvrau Brut Chateau Moncontour, Loire, a Dreaming tree, North coast California, 2009 at $46 the bottle, a delicious Vina Esmeralda, Cataluna, 2011 at $34 (this was paired, by the glass, with my initial starter of Ceviche. This wine seduced me so much, that it would have cost $5 or $80 and yet my appreciation of it would remain the same: a superb ‘sensual’ white wine, if this tag would makes sense to you. Those folks are not crooks: they charged me 1 glass at $8….I’ll never forget this since I was charged twice this amount for 1 glass at lesser restaurants!!), a fabulous Grand Lurton Reserva Mendoza, Argentina 2007 $47 the bottle, $12 the glass (I love this wine).

My tasting menu kicked off with an item that many have raved about: their Ceviche. Usually, they use some daily fish and other seafood on that famous Ceviche. On this evening, fresh salmon, octopûs,  aji amarillo sauce. As much as I would like to join the bandwagon and tell you that this was indeed one of the best Ceviches I ever had, as much as I found this item to be the main reason I could not assign a full 9 or 10 over 10 as an overall score to this dish: this ceviche was really pleasant, it would make most restaurant ceviches in town pass as amateurish. the produce really fresh and well sourced (how..for god sake…do you do that on a tasting menu of $34…no wonder this has turned as one of the most successful dining destinations in YUL)…BUT this was certainly NOT a TOP Ceviche: it lacked the refinement and “éclat”  that  I am used to with far superior ceviches. Certainly tasty (the piquant and fresh acidity will appeal, for sure) … but I had better. far better, and right here, in YUL!   6/10

Then, Octopus, Cancha (Corn from Peru), Black olive sauce – The Octopus nicely tenderized, the grilled corn would entice the most especially for the novelty aspect coupled with lovely grilled flavor , the black Olive sauce a perfect foil to the octopus. Clearly, if you expect lively flavors from genuine Latino Cuisine, you may perhaps be a bit disappointed. Set your mind to  International cuisine, and this is as good as it gets. I am scoring this with a 7/10 since I can’t see how more of an excitement this could have been, but in total honesty: this was as good, not exciting,  as a delicious morsel of octopus could mingle with an accomplished olive sauce.

The 3rd item was one that I had ordered from the A la carte menu: the $16 pan sear foie, chicha (black corn from Peru), House-made corn bread and Jalapeno – Hourrah! Some serious work here: the excellent corn bread suggests that they should continue with whatever bread they do in house. Then again and again, some nice piquant (Jalapeno) Vs sweet flavors (corn) thoughtfully complementing the superb pan seared foie gras. This, I’ll tell you right away, is a 9 / 10 item, but there’s a reason I do not score this  with a 10/10 and they could fix this easily:  folks, a stunning piece of  pan sear foie gras needs HEAT! It needs deep livery flavor. Which I missed on this one. Sizzle it and serve right away….;p   Still, I know serious tables who could not even manage to deliver such amazing texture in their pan seared foie gras. Again, I was not teleported to Latin America here, something that Chef Navarrette Jr managed to provoke on numerous meals, but a  9/10 is well deserved, and where I had no choice but to give a 9/10 (excellent) to some dishes at other restaurants only for the technical mastery,  here is dish that pulled off excitement both visually (a dish crafted  beautifully) and palatably. I just can’t imagine how ‘epic’ that would have been had that deep livery flavor and last minute touch of heat been imparted.

Fourth item was part of the $34 tasting menu: Blood pudding, beurre blanc, chorizo from Charlevoix, nuts –  There was, next to me, a family of latinos. I love being discrete, but I wish I could ask them: so, what do you think?? Lol. Anyways, they seemed to appreciate their meal. I, for sure, appreciated mine: The blood pudding is one of the most successful ones I ever enjoyed in a restaurant in YUL. Spicy, tasty, meaty, deliciously bloody. Other praise-worthy element: this Beurre blanc, which  was not just nicely done by them, it was excitingly revised. I like that when an item (a simple beurre blanc in this case) is pushed to newer heights, serving as a remainder that you can still do a lot more with what’s usually “taken for granted”. Chorizo from Charlevoix: great!  This was an exciting piece of  International cuisine. Excellent! 9/10

Then their Braised ‘Cote de Boeuf ‘ , green beans, panais purée, chica sauce, pieds de moutons The mushrooms were world class, the green beans properly cooked , the ‘panais purée’ without reproach, but nowadays, braising meats is a ‘granted affair” that even home cooks are not missing, let alone professionals. It is a restaurant, thus we do expect nothing less than professionals. Which triggers this question: why an overcooked piece of braised  meat? Why some parts dry? Why were some parts chewy, others tough, other superbly edible? Why? I did enjoy this whole dinner  way better than my last meal at Brasserie Central, but because of items like this, I could not assign a higher overall rating to this evening’s meal. Brasserie Central  would not dare making a subpar braised beef. Braised meats, as we all know, depends on careful timing of the braising. This was braised too long.   5/10

The dessert of this tasting menu was in line with the philo of this house: generosity! It is hard to  assess things properly before such generosity, but it is a challenge that motivated me into sharing my side of the story. I pointed out what I had to, eventhough a $34 tasting of such calibre could have largely expedite my feelings in ‘Mr lover, Luva’ mood. My conclusion: indeed, one of the few best value tasting menus in town (I still believe that L’Un des Sens tasting menu, without wine and all bling blingos is the very 1st best value tasting menu). As for the rest, well. my assessment of each dish talk for themselves. Ah..Oh..zut…I forgot to tell: the dessert was a chocolate mi-cuit with some ice cream (7.5/10), of which I can say one thing: it was delicious, well done without teleporting me on the moon. 

I’ll go back to Restaurant Mezcla, way before even thinking about some tables that I had no other choice but to score higher (usually because they technically did a better job, not necessarily a more exciting one though..). Not to give shit to my buddy, Bro…Rfaol! I told you, I really liked the guy,  but  to keep scoring hard on that $34 tasting menu till it gives up. Again, a fabulous value for a $34 tasting menu, by Canadian standards. If you decided to splurge and went beyond and above that bar, then it is YOUR problem! As far as I am concerned: not blown away (No fiesta for me when a ceviche lacks optimal refinement, a braised cut of beef missing excitement) , but certainly charmed (I once said to a 2 star Michelin Chef ”’mais est-ce si compliqué de poéler du foie gras??”””” …Mezcla, even with a pan sear foie that needed more heat and more depth of livery flavor…did  better!!!!   ) … and their blood pudding course, on this evening, was simply something exciting. How often did I write the word ‘exciting’ in my reviews…..
PROS:  (1)Melissa, a superb host. My little quibble over the fact that I need to sample my wine before my glass is filled substracts nothing from her outstanding performance (2) The blood pudding and pan-sear foie gras came so close to outstand, the former being utterly delicious, the latter missing just that little heat and depth of livery flavor to catch up to its finest versions.
CONS: (1)The Ceviche: its juice  lacked the  refinement of the best ceviche I had (2)The braised cote de boeuf: braised way too long…thus taking away all the appeal of the successful nature of braised meats (3)Bro, Rfaol! ….change the glass of wine. Do not ask if it should be changed.  (4) I am nitpicking here, since Melissa was an outstanding host, but please..please: let me taste a sample of the wine first, before filling the glass! 

Overall food rating
: 7/10 (good) for what I am accustomed to at comparable dining level/style. I was more excited by this meal than at many  recent ones which were scored higher ONLY because they technically achieved an almost ”sans faute”” with accomplished work of textures and the usual culinaric ‘class act’ that comes along. But for the excitement, Mezcla’s has the edge over those. The reason I am NOT completely in an awe here is because technically, some of the dishes (for eg the ceviche,  the subsequent course of octopus, then the subpar braised cote de boeuf)  lacked the ultimate world class ‘refinement’ and perfection that would force me to think of an 8/10 or even better as an overall score. Interestingly, I found that world class refinement in the ‘blood pudding’ course and the pan-sear foie gras dish, despite needing more heat and deeper livery flavor,  would have not felt ‘out of place’ on a serious 1 star Michelin table.
Service: Melissa =  Wow! Bro = whatever you want..Lol…but change the damn glass of wine, Rfaol!
Decor: Simple, and yet versatile, which means  appropriate for a romantic dinner, familial , etc. It is warm, cozy.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – I haven’t re-visited Mezcla yet. The  blood pudding and pan-sear foie gras dishes (I had) suggest  that this is a promising brigade, but they need to wipe off  the inconsistencies found during that initial meal: the ordinary ceviche, subpar cote de boeuf. This is  a place that will undoubtly attract many rave comments over the web since they understood what most people want: affordable meals, in cool/relax ambience. But for me, a restaurant needs to rise beyond the simple observation that its lucrative goals are achieved, especially when my meal showcased some poorly executed dishes (a cote de boeuf has to be tasty! it is what any cook takes for granted right from the beginning, and this applies to  a ceviche,too!)…BUT I believe in this place and I know they can do better. Actually, whenever I start going back to restaurants in Montreal, I’ll pay a visit there.

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