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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Best restaurants of Montreal: La Porte

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

 

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corner Saint Arthur:

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

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

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

Elegant with candles on the tables, white table clothes:

Banquettes and alcoves:

Ideal dim-lit setting for romance:

Great presence of wood and glass:

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

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

View on the bar, leading to the kitchen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA PORTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bouillon BILK, Montreal – Novelty in gifted hands

 

UPDATE

2ND MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON AUGUST 2013 – CLICK HERE FOR THAT REVIEW

 

THE FOLLOWING IS THE REVIEW OF MY MEAL AT BOUILLON BILK ON JULY 2011:

This Month’s featuring review is the one I wrote about Bouillon Bilk, a restaurant that unsurprisingly (Chef Nadon was trained by the Mercuri brothers, Joe and Michelle,  who count among my favourite Chefs around the globe) found itself in my top 3 bistrots in Montreal (along with Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché). Chef Nadon was cooking on this meal, and when this gentleman is in his prime, he is as equally remarkable as Chef Alexandre Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne) and Chef Lenglet (Au 5e Péché), although what he is doing is more eclectic than the former two grand Chefs. When I wrote this review, I received many emails reminding that my title ‘Novelty in gifted hands’ was exaggerated since some found this not to be that ‘novel’. Interestingly, one of those emails came from a long time experienced foodie that I admire a lot and who I won’t name, but my answer to him was a reminder that novelty, as with anything else, is a relative assessment: ‘Dear xxxx, you once raved over the novelty of a dish of yucca you  had at Mugaritz and bragged that it was unique..guess what my friend: all along my childhood, I used to have that same dish and that was over 3 decades ago…”.  Bottom line, Novelty, when I use that term, is relative to a given location/circumstance. As a Bistro, and even at the time of writing this (almost 1 yr after my reviewed meal there at Bouillon Bilk), BB remains the breath of fresh air Montreal badly needed in its restaurant scene. I have written this only about a few Chefs and I’ll re-iterate it, here: Chef Nadon is a gifted Chef.

Event: Dinner @ Bouillon Bilk
When: Wednesday July 20th, 2011 17:30
Type of cuisine: Mdern Cosmopolitan/French
Addr: 1595 Boul Saint Laurent (close to Metro Saint Laurent)
Phone: 514-845-1595

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

  (English review will follow)  Plein de Chefs ouvrent des restos pour finalement offrir du déjà vu dans le contexte de leur propre délimitation géographique. A tel point que je   renommerai leurs restaurants ‘copie 1’, ‘copie 2 ‘, etc.. Le Chef Nadon du Bouillon Bilk coupe court à ce désolant scénario: il apporte la formule de fraicheur tant espérée depuis des lunes sur la scène des restos Montréalais, la créativité, l’audace de sortir du lot en insufflant  une touche unique (dans les standards locaux) et tout cela agrémenté  d’excellence technique, d’un travail des gouts qui est remarquable . Bouillon Bilk,  c’est tout simplement brillant (dans mon top 3 de mes meilleurs bistrots à Mtl). Le Chef Nadon, bien au delà des standards locaux, c’est un   grand talent dont les actuelles  créations culinaires au Bouillon Bilk n’ont souvent rien à envier à ce que l’on peut trouver dans un excellent 1 Étoile Michelin en France. Allez, hop dans la liste de mes coups de coeur!

Montreal is getting all excited with the future opening of Gordon Ramsay’s  (I don’t get that one!) and Daniel Boulud’s ventures, but I would not. GR and DB will put Mtl on world’s gastronomy map, perhaps, but Montreal has some serious homework to do before feasting: this city has thousands of restaurants ..thousands…and yet, I can count on  the fingers of my hand the number of restaurants that I would care for. A handful! That’s yet. There are many that are decent, indeed. But just a handful that worth the hype of international consideration we seem to seek through big names like GR and DB. Talking about GR and DB…you won’t see one review of their restaurants on this site. I know this will change nothing in their life, but it won’t neither in mine. GR and DB are welcomed in Montreal though. They will ensure more mileage to the  remunarated fooc critics, but I beg to stay away from mutton’s folly land!   For the record, I am not the type to encourage celebrity chefs in their quest for perpetual expansion through name bearers: Pacaud, for ie, is a 3 star Michelin Chef who is way more talented than the likes of GR and DB. Pacaud is of the level of spectacular legendary Chefs like Robuchon, Fredy Girardet, and although on the verge of retirement (that  ‘real genius‘ is 65+ if  I recall properly) ..he was there, behind his stoves, kicking a spectacular 3 star Michelin meal  on a Friday lunch: this one. Now, imagine what I may think of name bearers promoted by some…

Which brings me to what I like to do most: discovering the food of the artisan Chefs who stand as true gems. I remember Chef Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant. I remember Chef Rouyé at La Porte. I remember Chef Navarrette Jr at Raza. I remember Chef Lenglet at Au 5e Péché. I remember Chef Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne. I remember Chef Belair at Le Marly.  I remember those ones, because I truly think they stood out in their own ways. I know there are few more (Toque, Club Chasse et Peche, etc), but not so much more. Still, my doors are open: just bring some true talent…make sure it’s true talent though…and I’m the first who will be enthused by  the idea of discovering their Chef d’oeuvre. You won’t fool me: I know what is pure empty buzz, and I know what is worthy of  the buzz!  When I heard that Chef François Nadon has opened his restaurant, that caught my attention: this gentleman is more busy expressing his cooking talent where it needs to rather than parading on TV cooking shows!  He is more substance than fla fla. If I could say of a Chef that he went to the right school, then it would be of Chef François Nadon. Given  his past experiences at ex-Bronte, XO Le Restaurant and Globe (those three restaurants have always welcomed raw talents..just think of the Mercuris, Eric Gonzalez, Frédéric Morin), I had to pay a visit to his new venture ( Personally,  I would tend to play more attention at any Chef who has evolved at those 3 restaurants than   most cooks who would pretend having spent times in 1,2,3 star-Michelin kitchens).

Off to the food report:

Linguini, bacon, roasted almonds, blue cheese, mushrooms – Write  this down: roasted almonds and blue cheese …done this way, cooked this way, tasting this way….mixed with pastas..is a hit! It might not be a benchmark (my 10/10) dish  but  this is simply excellent (a rich and memorable mouthfeel that deserves that I leave the comfort of home for. This could be easily a 10/10 (the taste, the flavor combinations were amazing) , but with respect to my strict rating standards, I’ll give it a fair 9/10 (which means EXCELLENT, by the way!)

Next offering:

Grilled shrimps, bone marrow, orange, miso, céléri and thyme   – An 8 over 10 (which means ‘very good’ in my standards), but here again … be careful: this could be easily  a 10/10 since I don’t see how you can improve on this dish: the taste is irreprochable, textures are perfect, cooking technique right on point, the addition of subtle orange, miso, thyme and celeri flavors so inspiring. So why 8/10 and not 10/10: simply because I  know the potential of this Chef. He is not an average chef and in his own standards, this is great but not stellar. This Gentleman can be stellar….trust me! The other reason is this: for someone like me who was born in front of an ocean of stunning seafood, the standards are very high when it comes to seafood. Not bragging here, just a reminder about how strict  you become in such circumstances.So, take that 8 over 10 as a perfect score.

Braised pork (as a ragout), green peas ravioli, olive oil emulsion, pistachios – This is of pure benchmark material: the level of deliciousness being so high, the raviolis well done, the braised pork faultless. Each  ingredient shining on its own is something we oftently see. But this went beyond: the rich and memorable individual tastes paired so well together. This is what I am willing to pay for when I dine out!  10/10

Duck Magret is my secret ‘testing-weapon’  when I visit a restaurant. It’s those ‘hey..this is easy thing to do‘ that most Chefs will tell you. Love this…because the easier things tend to route Chefs in Easy-Land…and I … in Strict-Judging Land…Here again, this would be easily a 10/10 at most tables in Montreal…the most important task being fullfilled: the duck magret was superbly well cooked and tasted so great. The lentils, delicious with great mouthsome. But since Chef Nadon is not our average chef,  we’ll roam within his standards: Chef, elevate those two portions of duck terrine to stunning levels (they were great, don’t get me wrong…but I know you can make this as stellar as let’s say the terrine of foie I had at Biron, for ie) and this is an easy 10. It is an 8.5 over 10 for this occurence, but that’s being insanely picky….which I can afford to be, knowing well the talent of Chef Nadon. Notice that there’s no technical fault and no serious reproach, here!

Chocolate ganache, tia maria, black raspberry, hazelnut ice cream – A 9/10 of my standards (which is no benchmark, but excellent) for the delicious top-tier ingredients (the chocolate was of impeccable quality, same could be said of the raspberry). There’s really nothing not to enjoy here, each component being perfectly well executed with taste to match!

Cheese cake, strawberry, basil, balsamic – I thought I had my share of cheese cakes with most of them being of top marks. Chef Nadon had a surprise for my palate: what about pushing the boundaries a bit higher? Which he successfully did…but the amazement of this one cheese cake can’t be summed up in just those few words…Grandma used to tell me ‘succulent dishes can’t be described….they only can be tasted!”.  .10/10

Menu:  The dinner menu on this given evening is small but   varied. Six  starters priced from $12 to $14 (well balanced between veal carpaccio, crab, fish, shrimps, etc). Five main courses (Pork, trout, scallops, lobster, duck) from $23 to $28 and 6 desserts (from $7 to $12). A rare occurence: they do excel on savouries as well as on desserts. An enticing menu, lots of  combinations you seldomly find at other Montreal restaurants  and  a sense of detail/creativity  that’s among those few that stand out in town.

Wine: On this given evening, a  small list of wines (1 sparkling wine which was a Prosecco Bisol $40 the bottle, $8 the glass/ 2 champagne which were Champagne Barbichon  and Bollinger )  + 6 white wines, 9 red) that was smartly conceived and balanced with reasonable prices ranging from $35 (Beaujolais 2010, Raisins Gaulois, M. Lapierre / Coteaux d’Aix en Provence 2008, Chateau Revelette)  to $120 (the bottle of  champagne Bollinger). In between, lots of nicely priced bottles: for ie,  an Anjou 2008, Chateau de la Guimonière was priced at $40 (8$ the glass), a Monferrato Freisa 2005, Canone Inverso, Cantine Valpane at $48 (9.5$ the glass), a Coteaux du Languedoc 2010, Mas Jullien at $42 (8.8 the glass), etc The wine was skillfully paired all along our meal (we basically paired each dish with a glass of wine, with some glasses of the Prosecco Bisol at the very beginning).

Service: Wherever and whenever you put someone open minded, who has travelled a lot and who is well mannered on my way, I am in heaven! The young woman who served us works for Air Canada, has travelled a lot and is as refreshingly interesting as a fun classy globetrotter! A 10!

Conclusion: Of this restaurant, food critic Marie-Claude Lortie writes  that it is refreshing to see, finally, a table that refrains from re-editing what we see everywhere in town. Chef Nadon’s unusual but mostly exciting combinations seem to appeal to her taste. Food critic Thierry Daraize underlines Chef Nadon’s tremendous talent in his article, but wished the portions were more generous (Although not a big concern…I shared his feeling only with the  the duck magret dish where I’d have requested a tad more lentils and a slightly bigger portion of those foie gras, but the portion of duck magret was fine. They were generous with all the rest, though! Even the wine was generously poured!). Both food columnists seemed not to feast on  the ‘crabe de gaspésie, fraises, fenouille‘ appetizer….and I presume Chef Nadon has good ears since this dish is now off the menu!  Some little corrections here and there for those this might interest: Chef Nadon has never worked at Lemeac. Her business partner has! Chef Nadon’s cooking, for now, is closer to Ex-Bronté’s (the fans of the old Bronté, now closed, will be happy to learn this) cuisine. Bronté was easily among Montreal’s top 5, btw! Both my wife and I had 3 courses each, wine pairings to each item  for me, 2 glasses of wine for her and this came around $170. I honestly think that this was largely fair for such inspired cooking. I have experienced, in Montreal, dinners that did cost at least $80 more than this with some food items deserving nothing less than 0/10 …………….

In Montreal standards, Chef Nadon stands among those who brings novelty (it might not be novelty abroad, but what he is doing remains new on current Montreal restaurant scene). I am a big fan of great classics superbly executed with taste to match (Les Mas des Oliviers, Le Bonaparte, Le Margaux, Chez la mère Michel), but would never run away from novelty that stands out. Here’s a Chef who has not yet embraced the nonsense quest for fame. He is where it makes sense to find him: in his kitchen. He is where, as a patron, I do expect his talent to shine: in his kitchen, not on TV ..because he, at least, understood that a diner should bother with what a Chef is serving to his guests and not to what a cook is selling on TV!

Admittedly, although I value true artisan Chefs (as opposed to TV-boosted cooks), it has to be a talented Chef as well, or else I won’t be enthusiastic. Chef Nadon does have such a  superb talent  that I can state, in total confidence,  that he stands among Montreal’s very best Cooks at this moment. As long as he does not follow the nonsense practices  of some  talented Chefs who lost the respect of some of their patrons because they were more interested by fame rather than efficient and effective great work,  I can see Nadon marking memories of Montreal’s gourmands for a long time. Nadon was cooking on this dinner (I am realistic: I have no clue how this amazing Chef will work his schedu;e, but I am not expecting him to work days and nights. If he does so, good for him..but it would be stupid to expect this. Personally, with such talented Chef, I’d rather opt for dinners, especially on Fridays and Saturdays: after all, lunches — although  affordable —  is always  casual at most tables).

Chef Nadon, you have got a new fan as long as you shine where I expect you to excel, because YES.. TREMENDOUS TALENT (amazing techniques, a sense of taste that’s impressive, and one of the few Chefs who  reconciles me with  sous-vidé cooking technique — he masters this technique so well — a cooking technique that is usually not my cup of tea in other instances)  …  YOU HAVE!!

PROS: This was INSPIRED work all the way! Easily in my top tier tables in Montreal, and it vindicates Chef Nadon in my top 10 Chefs in town. I shall go back !

CONS: As far as I am concerned, Nothing to complain about

PS: A reminder before I go -> a review with at least a 9/10 and one 10/10 worths your upmost attention. There are, on this reviewed dinner,  two 10/10, a 9/10 and other marks that would easily be 10s in other circumstances.

BOUILLON BILK
Overall food rating
: 8.5/10 In between VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category.For Montreal standards, as of lately, this is refreshing top stuff. I personally was not surprised: their Chef was trained alongside the Mega talented Chefs Joe and Michele Mercuri.
Overall service rating
: 8/10 nice, Really nothing to say here. And on that day, I even met a waitress who share my passion ofTravel, so whatmore can I ask, lol.
Décor
: 7/10  The décor is very simple. Twotones of color from what I remember: white and grey. Basta, but  this is perfect: it sends you back to the very food itself. No distraction needed.Hey..who is complaining about the décor at the Fat Duck in Bray, btw???    


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Au 5e Péché: could this be the best Montreal Bistro?


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

Au 5e Péché
Type of cuisine: Modern French Bistro
Addr:  4475 Rue St Denis (this is their new addr)
Phone: (514) 286-0123

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

Mon bistrot #1 en ce moment en ville (avec le Bistro Cocagne). Quel talent, ce Chef Lenglet! Quoi dire de plus? Sinon que j’y retournerai en courant et que…ah oui…que c’est rafraichissant de voir 1 chef de qualibre 1-2 étoiles Michelin..je parle d’un VRAI, ici….s’activer aux fourneaux meme en pleine tempete de neige (lisez mon ‘update’ du 13/01/2012)…à une époque ou des pseudos ‘cooks’ de circonstance, avec meme pas le 1/10e de son talent…se ridiculisent à parader à la télé sous pretexte qu’ils se sont imaginés en nouveaux ‘roi des fourneaux’. Seul BÉMOL de ce restaurant: c’est un péché dont il est difficile de s’en passer!!!!Ha..Ha..Ha

UPDATE Sat September 29th 2012, 19:30 – Dined here with my wife on this  Sat September 29th 2012 evening. We picked a multiple-course tasting menu. “Pressé de courge” was a good creative idea, the butternut squash having interesting complexity with mustard and maple leaf syrup matching so well on this dish. The overall was topped with prosciutto. All of top quality as it’s always the case here, the overall really pleasant (7/10), a nice fresh piece of salmon  paired with mushrooms was enjoyable but not in the league of the better dishes of this tasting menu (6/10), a piece of foie gras au torchon showcased  great work of the texture, great depth of taste, appealing presentation  (9/10), guinea fowl legs were comforting in taste, its accompanied beet purée of excellent texture (7/10), mackerel in vin jaune sauce was a good idea with the successful and delicious vin jaune sauce moderating the natural strong taste of the mackerel , a good joyous and tasty dish (7.5/10) and as dessert, we had iced nougat/granité of basil/tomato confit, which both Jannice and I found exciting in mouth, with the contrasting ingredients blending surprisingly well together (9/10).  A pleasant meal, with the  staff as fun as usual and wine pairing still among the most interesting in town. Overall food rating for this Sat Sept 29th 2012 meal: 7/10

 UPDATE Thurs Febr 23rd, 2012 17:30 – 3rd dinner at Au Cinquième Péché on this Thurs Febr 23rd evening and as you will see from this quick report, the cooking here keeps shining with consistency. A very reliable restaurant, indeed and even with courses that I rated lower than 8/10, you’ll see that it was not because of technical fault nor any sort of letdown. Far from that: I started this dinner with ‘carpaccio de veau, gremolata‘. A bargain at $9, especially for the stunningly fresh and remarkably sourced veal. Less would be more here, though: way too many ingredients in there made this dish unecessarily too ‘busy’ to put it boldly. A 7.5/10 for me, but again, there’s nothing technically wrong with the dish and this goes down to a matter of personal preference: I tend to be more excited by dishes  that manage to bring so much out of very little, for ie the carpaccio on this dinner at Le Marly is a great example of what I do expect. Followed by “Carré aux dattes, canard confit, foie gras” $18 featured a square of duck confit and date fruit (work so well together) and the usual top quality duck liver (au torchon in this case) that I’ve always found at 5e Péché. 8/10 for that dish. Then one of my favourite dishes at Au 5e Péché: their ‘onglet de boeuf‘ (hanger steak) $28 that I have tried for the 1st time in Febr 2011 (you’ll see its review at the bottom of current article). This time, the steak is complemented by gougères. Here, a lot of dazzling features showing the superb talent of Chef Lenglet: on its own, the mastered work of the gougère’s texture stole the show on this dinner. The meat, successfully cooked and worth of praise. Even my quibble over the piece of pork that was underneath the beef (that piece of pork seemed out of place on this hanger steak dish;  I’d personally replace it with something like a bold rework of  a ‘tartiflette’ for example) could not stop it from deserving a 10/10 mark. Crème caramel, apple and dulce de lecce brought this dish to its end: an 8.5/10 dessert with nothing really wrong (the mousse of dulce de leche had superb flavor, the crème caramel so appetizing), although I suspect that  a different choice of fruit would have bring more excitement than the apples. Bottom line, a very enjoyable meal as au 5e Péché continues to deliver with reliability. Service was marked by the genuine hospitality and usual professionalism that I have always found here: on this evening, my waitress was the same amazing mulato young woman who was on duty during the last dinner in January. Wine pairing as thoughtful as I have always noticed  it at this table. Overall food rating for this Febr 23rd 2012 meal: 7.5/10
UPDATE Fri Jan 13th, 2012 19:30 – For the record. my ‘project” of text & photo reporting on Montreal’s very best  bistrots and fine dining ventures is over. The only Montreal restaurant updates you will see on this web site will cover re-visits at tables already reviewed here (no more photo reporting but a text summary of the meal ). This Fri Jan 13th, 2012 meal is my only  second visit  at au 5e Péché, now located on Saint Denis, right at the corner of Mont Royal on the premises of the previous  Le Vintage Tapas Et Porto restaurant: the small stone-wall bistrot has a warmth that I now really enjoy (I say ‘now’, because their old location on Mont Royal was as attractive as a card board box…). I sat at the bar (a comfy bar, btw!) overlooking the kitchen. The meal started with an amuse of white beans purée with lime (10/10): as my readers already know, I do not force my imagination to unecessarily relativize things or partake in theorems such as ‘nothing is perfect’ – for some, a creme caramel or a purée can’t deserve a 10. I don’t agree. If it’s flawless as this amuse was, I don’t see why it won’t deserve a perfect score. The $14 starter of  ‘foie gras terrine, jarret de porc fumé, confiture poires/raisin‘ had fabulous foie gras terrine with texture and taste  that left no room for reproach, and yet the pear/grapes marmelade brought this dish to  benchmarking levels that pertained to what you would expect on a solid 3 star Michelin level. I am not saying that Chef Lenglet is a 3 star Michelin capable Chef (It’s hard to go all the way to such conclusion when bistrot food limits you to a certain level of relative restraint compared to fine dining – I’d need Chef Lenglet to cook couple of food items I value as 3 star Michelin worthy before jumping to such conclusion,  but it’s clear that Chef Lenglet’s cooking is anywhere in between 1 to 2 Michelin firm star level). Another 10/10 for the foie gras terrine/pear-grape marmelade.  Next, I took ‘Canard, pain perdu aux chataignes, jus de veau, fleur de sel, pleurottes, choux de bruxelles‘ ($27): a 9/10 dish. In Montreal, from what I can talk for, few magrets ever came close to the dazzling taste of this duck, its superb quality and remarkable construction. Only reason it’s not a perfect 10 has to do with my only qualm: the trio of small pain perdu  (chestnut-flavored portions of bread pudding that would benefit from a greater depth of flavor, so perhaps replacing chestnut by another ingredient). Cheese cake, confit de prune (10/10) was another 2 star Michelin capable dessert (of course, not your usual cheese cake) with not one single quibble but a reminder that even at the very top bistrot level (Au 5e Péché is clearly Montreal’s top #1 bistrot along with Bistro Cocagne at this very moment), it’s rare to see such top performance from the very 1st nibble up to the dessert. Although Bistro Cocagne is, in my view, the other top Montreal Bistrot, I have got to admit that Au 5e Péché has offered (on those two meals I’ve sampled there) a slightly more ‘complete’ top level bistrot performance (even the less significant items such as  desserts, have been impressive at au 5e Péché – always varying in between 9 and 10/10, a rare occurence at top bistrots here and abroad). It’s interesting to see a CHEF like CHEF  Lenglet with such amazing talent (clearly a 1 to 2 star Michelin level European standard, I re-iterate), c o o k i n g    for real there…right there…behind his stoves on a harsh evening of snowstorm (A major snowstorm blanketing Montreal on this Friday Jan 13th) where other half-accomplished  cooks believe that it is a priviledge for you to enjoy their presence on ..TV!..and then pay the big bucks to indulge in lacklustre dinings cooked by their name bearers at their name-bearing restaurants while they are ….   Au 5e Péché has  excelled far away from that questionable practice and established itself efficiently, in my opinion, as Montreal’s  #1  bistrot (along with Bistro Cocagne, ahead of my two other bistrots favourites: Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon and Bouillon Bilk). They are even careful with the bill: sweet prices for such top level of food and cooking skills. The service was flawless too (I had a superb waitress at the bar, a young mulatto woman , who will quickly become one of Montreal very best waitress and sommeliere — wine pairing was simply superb and inspired all along this meal  —  no doubt about that!). On this Jan 13th dinner, if I am not mistaken, I also saw a young woman who I think was one of the finalists of les Chefs, Laurence Frenette??, in their kitchen. This young woman is super talented , but for now, she is lucky to work along one of the most talented Chefs in North America! Real talent. This meal, from start to finish, was as strong as any 2 star Michelin level of cooking performance in Europe. Forget the tablecloth, forget the stuffy grandeur of some fine dining ventures, remember that it is a bistrot , its menu displayed on a wallboard and enjoy the cooking of this amazingly talented Chef. There are sins that I’ll always forgive!  Overall food rating for this Jan 13th  2012 meal: 10/10

The following covers the 1st dinner there. That occured at their previous location (on Mont Royal street) – Dinner on Saturday Febr 12th 2011  20:30 ; the table you see on those photos are those they had on Mont Royal. On St Denis, at  their new location the tables are made of  darker wood ->

Kicked off with an irreproachable home made lentil hummus ( with a kalamata olive tapenade): light, tasty and refined. Very good. 8/10

Before I go ahead, I have to pay special mention to the young French sommelier. I chose wine pairing by the glass for each course, and his picks were inspired, well thought. The Gentleman is skilled: at the beginning of the meal I purposely abandoned him to a tricky challenge: a terrine of foie gras and oysters. Find the perfect wine for that. Most would say ”this patron is an imbecile’. He was smarter than most: he found the perfect wine pairing for it.

The oysters were fine.  8/10

The terrine of foie, a master piece. It was a skillful conception where a top quality terrine of duck liver was surrounded by tasty meaty duck meat A 3 star Michelin caliber terrine of foie where execution, taste and outstanding precision in details (texture, moisture of the meat) were met. 10/10

Onglet de boeuf, paleron  à la flamande, endive au jambon – I rarely rate a piece of meat (‘Onglet de boeuf’ is ‘hanger steak’) higher than an 8/10, as perfect as it might taste. Sure, any decent Chef should not miss his meat (still, many do!) …but here, Chef Lenglet reached newer heights:  this meaty marvel was an outstanding demonstration of balanced texture, flavors and cooking precision. Another 10/10, a rare rating for me when it comes to rating grilled or braised red meat.

Ris de Veau, Soubise de betterave, pleurotte – Many consider Chef Lenglet’s sweetbreads as the best in town. I will surprise you: this dish was perfect in my opinion, but for its accompaniments rather than for the sweetbread. Yes, it is among the best sweetbreads in town. But No, it is not ZE  BEST sweetbread in my opinion. Why? Simply because I had better sweetbread at Club Chasse & Peche for ie. Let’s continue with this very odd discussion: on its own, was this sweetbread perfect? Response: YES! Yes, because this is what sweetbread should be all about, in my view: successful golden exterior, nice moist meaty consistency within. But sweetbread is a bit like soya chunk: it is as tasty as what you’ve decided to mix it with. It was mixed with nothing here. But wait…it was perfect: tasty, well cooked. Now the real deal: I am fed up of those fake Chefs who pretend elevating veggies to newer heights. Most of the time, the concept outweighs the promised magic. Chef Langlet delivered that magic so oftently announced: he cooks veggies better than most of the supposedly world reknown magicians of the greens. I told you, this dish was perfect: a 10/10. Yep!

Concluded with a cheesecake  (Cheesecake aux marrons, Argousier) that paired creativity and delicious taste. Another perfect 10

With, for me:

Gateau Susie, Chocolat blanc, courge – Here, total surprise..again! Usually, most Great Chefs are kings on the savory department and leave the desserts to a pastry Chef. To my surprise, this — a work of a very talented pastry Chef — was the work of Chef Lenglet himself. This was a mix of tasty chunks of choco and delicious fruity creations. ‘Courge’ means ‘pumpkin’ and on this dessert they are discovered under a totally curious and enjoyable angle. A 9 over 10.

Even the Brazilian coffee @ Au 5e Péché was among the best ones I’ve enjoyed in Montreal………

Service: efficient, accomodating, pleasant.
Decor: It is a small bistro. So do no expect tablecloths and hush tone ambience. The menu is on two boards strategically located.
Price: $29 for the sweetbreads, $27 for the beef, $9 for the gateau susie, $8 for the cheese cake to give you an idea. With the quality of ingredient, skillful cuisine at play and relatively generous portion of the food, I found this to be of good value. 
Menu: Short but smartly varied. This evening, they had 5,7 starters (foie gras, oysters, marinated fish, etc),  couple of  main courses (wapiti meat, gnocchi, guinea fowl,  sweetbreads, hanger steak, scallops), 3 desserts.

PROS: In my assessment, this is easily the #1 bistrot in this city at this moment
CONS: As far as I am concerned, Nothing to complain about

I know. It just sounds too good to be true. I myself have hard time believing in the ‘real deals‘ being so oftently ripped off by PR BS or buzz that’s never backed by effective realisations. But  Au 5e Péché does not suffer from that and reached out to its well deserved reputation: one of the best bistro in town, indeed. Even more revealing to me, I consider it as my top #1  best Montrealer Bistrot along with Bistro Cocagne and Kitchen Galerie.  One of those few restaurants  where I’ll go back for sure.

AU 5E PECHE
Overall food rating
(febr 12th 2011): 9/10 Excellent from what I am accustomed  at this level, at comparable dining level
Overall service rating
: 8/10 How are they doing this: despite being buzzy busy busy, they maintain a really good standard of service.
IMPORTANT: ‘Overall food rating’ HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation
of all dishes. It is my personal subjective rating of the overall food performance 
on the specif meal I am sampling  only.

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Aromes restaurant reviews (Montreal) – A recap

 ***This is an anonymous private and personal initiative: I went to all the restaurants that are known to stand out in Montreal (this naturally explains the general positive reviews you will read, and yet ..even the best do sometimes fail as you will realize on a few occasions through your readings) and found for myself. , Enjoy!
***Click on a restaurant’s  name to read its  full detailed photo text   review
***The   * sign signifies that the meal had potential of  top level for enjoyment and cooking (
worths passing by if you happen to be around),  the ** means it was of the highest level one could find in Montreal at this moment ( worth leaving the comfort of home  to attend the dinner).
***What to look for in my reviews? I apply myself to be as concise as possible. Even if I do not like a meal, if it is well cooked, for ie, I’ll have to be honest about it. So, you should look at  the rating over 10 for my ultimate opinion on a dish, since that rating goes with the level of enjoyment detected by my taste buds (8 is very good food, 9 is excellent and 10 is food that would be hard to improve upon) . Meals of top level are those with at least two 9/10, or one 9/10 and a 10/10. Click here for more on my rating system.
***Last but not least: to maximize your chances of enjoying a good meal, chose to dine on a Friday or Saturday evenings (more likely to get the good Chef working on those evenings), start earlier rather than late (food is fresher). In Montreal, currently, there’s no big change at the upper level of dining (fine dining, top bistro): Chefs
Mercuri,JF Belair, Navarrette,Laprise,Loiseau,Lenglet,Belair,Rouyé,Axel/Cloutier,PelletierFerrer, Juneau , Derek,  Chef Eric Gonzalez at Auberge Le Saint Gabriel are still the reigning kings of what stands out in Montreal.
 
My top tier favourite restaurants in Montreal:
XO Le Restaurant (Fine dining, Modern European) **         
Restaurant Raza  (Fine Dining, Modern Latino/French Fusion) *
Restaurant La Porte  (Fine Dining, Modern French) ** 
Restaurant L’un des Sens (Fine Dining, Modern French/North American) ** 
Bistro Cocagne  (Bistro, North American) **
Le Marly (Fine Dining, North American/French – Closed)**
Kitchen Galerie (Bistro, North American) ** 
Au cinquième péché (Bistro, Modern French) **   
Bouillon Bilk  (Bistro, Modern French/Cosmopolitan) **
M sur Masson   (Bistro, North American) *  
Kazu (Japanese Bistrot) **
Lawrence (British/Intl Gastro pub)**


Montreal: Sushi-yas, ethnic food, macarons that stood out
+Review of Montreal sushi places that stood out during my latest tour of all major Mtl sushi-yas
+My top 15 best dinners in Montreal & Surroundings
+Montreal major macarons boutiques that stood out
+My top 10 best food items of all my Montreal dinners
+Montreal’s best roasted chicken
+Best Pizza in Montreal
+Montreal ethnic food by Aromes

My Favourite classic French tables in Montreal:
They are those restaurants where I love going back, because classic French cuisine is my favourite food and they do it better than most: Le Bonaparte (all Chefs missing filet mignons, bisque..etc..please pay a visit here ..you will understand what I’m looking for) , Le Margaux, le Mas des Oliviers and Chez La Mère Michel. Had one of those three tables decided to close, I’d be saddened! Simply the best classic French in town! Please never ever let modern trends distract you: you are simply the BEST!

Mtl restaurant reviews by categories:
Fine dining:
XO(** ), Toque(**)!, La Porte(** ), Club Chasse & Peche (** ), L’auberge Saint-Gabriel (*), Europea (* ), DNA (*), La Chronique( *) , Nuances (*  closed for renovation)Restaurant L’inconnu (Closed*), Raza (*),La Maison Boulud (*),  Osco!, RenoirNewtown.
Bistro:
Bouillon Bilk (**), Bistro Cocagne (** ), Kitchen Galerie (** ), La Montée (** closed), F Bar (*), Comptoir charcuterie & vins (*), Café Sardine (*), Cuisine et Dependance (* closed), Brasserie Central, Mezcla, Hotel Herman , Chez Victoire, Joli moulin (closed),   Au Pied de Cochon, Lucille’s oyster dive, Mas Cuisine, Le Quartier General, Le Filet, Le Chien fumant, KG Poisson ,Restaurant Helena, Le Margaux, Hambar, Brasserie Centrale, Kazu, Lawrence, Park  , Hotel Herman,    Laloux,
Oriental, Fusion: Jun I (**), Biron  (Closed)

Outside of Montreal:
L’Eau a la bouche ** (Perfect 10 on a  first dinner there,  slightly less impressed by a second dinner, but I could easily  name a good dozen of  1 star michelin tables that  have not done better than EAB), Poivre Noir ** (they can hit highs pertaining to solid 2 michelin potential), Restaurant L’initiale * ( One of the very few Relais & Chateaux of Eastern Canada: I was not blown away, but the food was skillfully well done and I am sure that a dinner there might fare better), Restaurant Quintessence * in Tremblant (That reported last dinner there was of world class material. I’d say that specific dinner  was easily of 1* Michelin potential), Les Zebres * (Val David, a bistro that stood out).

Non-Montreal contents:
My 3-star Michelin website is now available (click on the following picture to access the site):

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