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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Helena, Montreal


Before going ahead, here are some of the latest updated material related to current web site:
(I)A recap of all my reviews of Montreal’s finest bistrots & fine dining ventures
(II)My 3 and 2 Star Michelin web site

(III)Latest updated restaurant reviews:
ABROAD:
-Meal at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore  (June 14th 2012)
-Meal at 3 Star Michelin Le Calandre    (June 16th 2012)
IN MONTREAL:
-Meal at Maison Boulud (May 31st 2012)
-Meal at Café Sardine, Montreal (June 26th 2012)

Montreal’s top 3 Isakayas (Japanese Bistrots) – August 2012

(IV) SEE ALSO: the reports on VeniceCinque Terre, Milan & Parma. .

Food rating: Benchmark in its league (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Restaurant Helena
Type of cuisine: Contemporary Mediterranean/
Portuguese-inspired bistrot
Addr: 438, rue McGill – Montreal,
Phone: (514) 878-1555
URL: http://restauranthelena.com

Helena is an upscale Contemporary Mediterranean-inspired bistrot whose owner is the Executive Chef and also owner at Restaurant Portus Calle, a Portuguese fine dining destination on Saint Laurent Street. The bistrot, situated in the vieux Montreal,  has a very elegant/chic modern decor (with respect to other diners right to enjoy their meal in privacy and comfort, I try to never point my camera at a dining room full of people, or in the very rare cases I did so, it was done very discretely and faces were  blurred. The room was not empty, therefore I refrained from taking pics, but if you go on their web site, you’ll find plenty of pics showing how elegantly the dining room is  decorated). As it’s always the case nowadays when you dine solo, you are offered to sit at the bar. A trend you end up getting used to. 

I am fond of Mediterranean fares (for ie: Italian, Portuguese, Greek,  etc) but  do usually have hard time with  their upscale versions since I tend to expect the latter to be more than just the act of laying down elegantly  what  I would have sampled at lesser fancy restaurants. Furthermore, when you have been cooking since your tender age, you tend to be impatient when you are served with restaurant food you could have done yourself. All normal reactions especially given  you can have great Italian or Portuguese food in their more humble restaurants, one fresh example  was my recent trip to Northern Italy where the laidback trattoria A cantina de Mananan‘s savoury dishes in Corniglia outshone, in my view,  those of my 3 star Michelin meal at Le Calandre (Rubano). And I’ll let you guess the difference in $$$ between both.

The other thing about Portuguese cuisine is that it is a very ‘accessible’ cuisine in the sense that you do not need to be Portuguese to ‘understand’ Portuguese food, nor to appreciate it. And although it is always a good thing to know what authentic Portuguese food tastes like (Montreal is blessed with a strongly present Portuguese community and great authentic Portuguese food can be sampled at some of their close-to-traditional eateries in town), you won’t really need to be stuck with  those notions while eating at some of the  contemporary Portuguese dining  ventures, a feature that I do appreciate since I was born in a country where some of the most delicious food pertain to the topic of acquired taste. Portuguese food is accessible, indeed, since even the most traditional fares (make friends with Portuguese and ask their grand parents  to cook for you. It’s the way to go!) are not challenging at all (not drastically at the opposite of what our Western palates have been used to).

In Montreal, Portuguese restaurants represent just a fraction of the restaurants that are opened in town. After 15 years in YUL, you end up knowing them pretty well. My appreciation of Portuguese restaurants went through various phases: once, Ferreira Café (think of a contemporary and refined take on Portuguese food as opposed to Traditional Portuguese) on Peel Street was a favourite but I gradually lost interest in that place. Then I was once charmed by Douro (Think of an updated take on traditional Portuguese) on St Laurent Street before, again, giving up on it. In both cases, the ‘value for food’ aspect  was  the main issue I was personally having and  I also, at times, had some minor  qualms about the service at Ferreira Café (as usual, your experience might be completely different). Between the two, if I had to go back to one of them, I’d probably return to Douro (the food at Douro is closer to my ideal of what Portuguese traditional fares should taste like) way before thinking about Ferreira. Again, a matter of personal prefs as usual.

A restaurant that I did appreciate and still do, without particularly ‘knocking my socks off’,  is  Portus Calle (the big brother of Restaurant Helena). I kinda liked Chez Doval for its traditional fares (wished I would be as equally impressed by the service, though), but my personal long time favourite (unfortunately, a bit pricey in my opinion) has always been the very traditional Casa Minhota on St Laurent (I am not saying that you should all flock there and that it is particularly special; all I am saying is that it is the Portuguese that, in Montreal, has pleased me the most up to now) . The rest are mostly rotisseries with some other eateries that you certainly do not want me to elaborate about, since they just do not worth one single second of my time.

The thing that I have always found laughable is when people sample Mediterranean fares with the fear to stumble upon predictable food. You know, the kind of simplistic suggestions  like ”nothing here you probably haven’t tasted before”. Rfaol! A bit as if I go to the beach and suggest that I saw nothing here you probably haven’t seen before! I am afraid that this is the kind on non sense that is driving lots of cooks away from mastering the basics of real good cuisine. I am not against modernist food, but it has to be mastered properly, and for such you need to get the basics done right in the first place. And basics done superbly well translates in  the type of food that catches my attention, it is also the only expectation that I have for Mediterranean cuisine.

Last but not least, I have always maintained a certain ‘reserve’ in my appreciation of most contemporary interpretations of Mediterranean cuisine: I find that many Chefs tend to believe that they can convert to Mediterranean cuisines on a split second decision, just because it looks so easy to cook. Wrong move! This is food that only shines in the hands of Chefs who have gathered long years of practice and cooking memory alongside those who have traditionally cooked this very well with no need of written recipes

The FOOD
There is no menu currently on their web site, so I’ll explain: it is divided between several sections, for ie a section of soups and salads (between $7 to $10, the popular Portuguese soup  caldo verde being available), cold starters (in betweeen $15 to $35; octopus carpaccio $15, Asparagus salad $13, plate of charcuteries $10 per person, Alaskan crab salad $35 for 2), warm starters (between $6 to $15, examples are cod croquettes, blood pudding, fried items like  sardines) a section of meats (Between $25 to $30; for ie, Gaspor farm suckling pig, clams, fresh coriander at $30, a Francezinha sandwich Porto style with beef, ham, San Jorge Cheese at $25, Osso Bucco, etc),  a section for seafood (between $30-$60 for ie, cod confit brandade at $30 — I’ll observe that we are in serious fine dining league’s price tags in this seafood section, probably due to the top quality produce being imported). The menu features French/English/Portuguese brief description of the courses.

Tabua de grelhados lulas plovo e chourico $15 – Grilled squid, octopus, chorizo. All grilled to the point, the quality of the ingredients fautless, the octopus superbly tenderized, seasoning well judged. We are not on the on the shores of the Mediterranean sea, and yet this young team of cooks did quite a nice job in these circumstances in pulling off  appealing  flavors, well timed cooking. Better than this, it’s cooking brought to you by an experienced Portuguese cook who has spent decades at home piling up the entire culinary tradition s/he has inherited from previous  generations, Rfaol! This is exactly what I wished I had experienced on my meal at  F Bar in December. Good 7/10

Then another classic of the Portuguese, The grilled sardines $7 – Clearly, they do not joke with the quality of the produce here. Generous plump fresh sardines of remarkable quality, atop a superb ‘tapenade’ of black olives. Again, for better, you take the plane and land on the Mediterranean coast!   7.5/10

Ameijoas gratinadas, milho, chourico e sao jorge $10 – Gratineed clams (gratineed with Sao Jorge cheese), a fabulous cream of corn underneath (on its own, this cream was so well executed both in textures and work of flavors – a benchmark cream of corn if there’s any), red onions. It might not be rocket science (we are, after all, miles away from Ferran Adria’s or Achatz works of shapes and tastes), but this is a great refreshing example of beautiful creativity when it comes to a contemporary interpretation of Mediterranean fares: mingling lightness of flavors with thoughtful plating that adds to the former intent. Perhaps the tiny clams will hit on some nerves, and it’s important that the wait staff ensures that the diner is sampling this dish before any other items (I didn’t play attention at the fact that it was at the table, so I sampled it after the two other courses it was served along… you have guessed it: gratineed clams, not eaten on the spot, it’s a recipe for defeat, Lol) , but nothing  should distract from the observation that its conception is thoughtful. I found this one impossible  to score since the clams were so tiny and the remarkable corn cream not quantitatively significant.Rating this would be more accurately an assessment of glimpses of what this dish is really is. Perhaps 3 big clams (instead of multiple tiny ones) and more of the fabulous  corn cream would pave the way to a better appreciation of this course.

Feijoada de Mariscos $30  – A seafood ragout with lima beans, squid, shrimps, clams. There’s usually pork in similar Portuguese ragouts. This being closer to what a Brazilian version  would tend to be like (using seafood). They kinda cook this too in the Acores. I need something a bit more Mediterranean here, for eg: add some mint like what they do in Portugal. At this point, I concluded that this team of young Chefs, although offering something clearly different from what an experienced Portuguese Chef fond of his homeland  traditional cuisine would perhaps cook, had managed to showcase beautiful skills with respect to the contemporary genre they have adopted: dish after dish, the food was delicious, remarkably well balanced and the cooking always carefully mastered. This Feijoada de Mariscos was no exception to that rule. Delicious, and in its contemporary style, really well done, but this, I have to underline, did not feed my mind with some flashbacks of Mediterranea . 8.5/10

  Wine choices on this evening were flawless, for my taste: A glass of  Soalheiro Alvarinho 2011 had the necessary appealing depth of mineral aromas to balance perfectly with the starters I had. The Feijoada de Mariscos was served along another beautiful wine: a subsidio 2008 of fantastic taste. You have right there, with both previous wines, great examples of affordable (on the market) wines, both of private import,  packed with chararacter. All wines were properly introduced, their bottles presented as it should, except for the very first glass of wine, and without wanting to sound too picky, it’s worth couple of words because I found it amusing, funny (although I’ll recommend it is avoided ) :  to boot, I asked if they had some Portuguese Sparkling wines. The gentle young woman at the bar responded with an enthusiastic YES! I started to build expectations in my mind: would that be one of the little sparkling gems of  Murganheira or Quintadalixa? Both being excellent Portuguese wine producers (of sparkling wines as well).  The glass is filled, but no bottle shown. I insisted to see the bottle: bingo, it’s a Freixenet cordon rosada from Spain. Ha! That’s why I didn’t see the bottle, Rfaol! A bit embarassed, the young woman at the bar was sorry and explained that it was an exception and assured me of all following wines being Portuguese as I requested. Not a big deal, and I really find this more amusing than anything else, especially with such a delicious Spanish Cava, but please, do not hesitate to be upfront: if there is no Portuguese Sparkling wine, then there’s none. There’s no problem with that, Lol. PS: Not really a complaint since we all know that it is mainly on  wines that restaurants make their profit, but it would be also fair to observe that prices of a glass of wine are on the steeper side  here ($11 for the glass of subsidio 2008, which at least is privately imported;  $12 for the glass of Freixenet cordon rosada, a wine I can find at the SAQ for $14.25, but again, this is normal restaurant prices for such; $14 for the glass of imported Soalheiro Alvarinho 2011. The logic I could see here would be that imported Portuguese wines cost more to be imported. Regardless, those were at least  fabulous wines).

The little things I really loved...delicious food, well balanced. There’s definitely real talent in this kitchen brigade. For sure I do not expect miracles from a kitchen brigade that’s miles away from the Mediterranean coast, but with what they have in hands, they’ve accomplished the essential: showcasing good skills, delivering tasty food, and offering an interesting North American interpretation of Contemporary Mediterranean fares.

The little things  to improve upon …. Nothing is perfect and life goes on, Yep, I know and I also know that  I may sound not enoughly cool here, but as usual, to be taken constructively (for sure, nothing dramatic here, just those little details that bring you a long way) :
***When the patron has the wine list opened by its side, ask him if he is done with it before whisking it away. I may sound picky here, but with the elegant layout, the big efforts done by the rest of the wait staff, ….
***Never hesitate to be upfront with the customer: again, not the end of the world here, but that little episode about the cava should be avoided. Just tell the customer that you have no Portuguese bubbles. That this is an exception.
I am going to insist on this since I would like to convey as much accuracy as I can : I am being really picky here since the overall service was fantastic (the ladies at the bar were amazing, really cool and accomodating; the gentlemen serving me were all great professionals ), but on the other end, when I decided to write my side of the story about restaurants, it was mainly because I wanted to portray things the way they appeared  to me  instead of serving as simple advertising proxies or trying to sound cool / pleasant (as I have always maintained: Not meant to be mean here, not at all, but I do not care about what ppl think on what I write, I do not care about raving wherever I judge necessary, doing the opposite wherever I believe it has to, as long as I reach out to my own principles of bringing things the way I am experiencing them).

As for this one specific dinner at restaurant Helena, all I can say is  that their mission of bringing an interesting North American take on Contemporary Mediterranean-inspired bistrot fares is accomplished. All simple stuff, but well done and tasting good. Blown away? Nope. Satisfied? Yep, this team knows how to cook. Did I feel transported on the shores of Mediterranea? Nope, but that is a tough task to accomplish, virtually impossible when you are not in  Mediterranea.
PROS: Tasty food, technically without reproach. I prefer this over Fbar, but I prefer more rustic Portuguese.
CONS: Next time, get me a bit closer to Mediterranean shores. Learn from those who have cooked traditional cooking for long and pick couple of tricks from them. Add some of those tricks to current  offerings and many will fall for this place.

Overall food rating: 6/10 Above average for what I am accustomed to at comparable restaurants/dining category
Overall service rating: 8/10 Mostly young, professional on this evening.
Décor: 8/10  Elegant, colorful, contemporary. Go on their website, WYSIWYG!
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.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  That 6 over 10 as an overall food rating for that meal seemed accurate to me, based to what I came to expect from this type and standard of eatery. It was not an average (5/10) meal for sure, not a 7/10  neither (in my view), but a meal delivered with flawless technique and they went as far as a non-portuguese team outside of Portugal can deliver on an above average basis. I read a review of my favourite food critic in Montreal, Marie-Claude Lortie, one she wrote about Helena bistrot where she criticized the lack of spicyness of the food as well as some inconsistencies in the cooking. The spicy-ness, yeah perhaps. Well, it is more of a North American take on Neo Portuguese bistrot, so I knew that it would be hard to be transported on the shores of the Mediterranean (a point I actually clearly made in my review). But the inconsistency in the cooking…well certainly not on the meal I sampled there. She might be right, perhaps there were inconsistencies in cooking when she ate there, but it is important, before talking about cooking inconsistencies, to really put things in their context. The latter being only possible when you first get to know what you are talking about (that is why you won’t see me reviewing food that I am not familiar with). Surreal complaints like the pizza was not enoughly cooked at an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria  or the seafood is  raw at a sushiya are  thankfully less and less of an occurence nowadays, but I still suspect many people to carry  cooking standards from their part of the world to food that has nothing to do with those standards. And you might be surprised to find relatively knowledgeable persons indulging in such mistakes: a while back, I was seating not far from a food journalist (no, it was not Madame Lortie if you ask, it is a gentleman and it was in the US) who was complaining about his meat not being at medium rare temp. Wrong call: medium rare is not the way meats are cooked in the cuisine covered by the restaurant where we were eating.

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Chef Eric Gonzalez’s Auberge Saint-Gabriel – Un peu de folie svp, Chef!


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

Dinner at Auberge Saint-Gabriel
Type of cuisine: French (a mixed of Contemporary and Classics fares)
Thursday November 24th 2011, 18:00
Addr: 426 rue St-Gabriel  Montreal, QC H2Y 2Z9
Phone: (514) 878-3561
URL: http://www.lesaint-gabriel.com/

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

(English review to follow) – Il va de soi qu’un Chef comme Eric Gonzalez (a–t-on besoin de le présenter? Rfaol) part déjà avec des avantages: une maitrise des textures irréprochable, un travail technique  de solide calibre. Rien à redire sur ces aspects  que je viens d’énumérer. Parcontre, il faudrait des portions plus généreuses dans l’assiette et le Chef doit absolument trouver une facon de faire ‘pondre’ des  saveurs plus explosives en bouche.

Chef Eric Gonzalez is one of the most influential top Chefs of this province, alongside other great Chefs like Laprise, Anne Desjardins, Alain Labrie. He used to work for 3 star Michelin Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, went on earning a Michelin star with Clairefontaine (Luxembourg). In Montreal, he was at the helm of famous restaurants like Laloux, Xo Le Restaurant, Cube.

His current work at Auberge St Gabriel (a trendy neo-rustic chic inn, marked by stonewalls) is widely praised as featuring among this city’s very best.

Whatever meal you take starts with an amuse – bouche and ends with mignardises, a feature you only see at very few tables in town (even among the high end tables, you see this on few tables). My main waitress was a woman of tact and great sense of professionalism. All the rest of the staff, on this dinner, offered impeccable service. If I had to be a bit picky, I’d recommend some slight adjustments: the gentleman who took care of my wines should first pour a bit of wine, let me sample it, and inquires about my impression of it. Instead, he poured the wine and just hoped I’d like it. This is a minor slip that I’ll put on the fact that he is not a sommelier..and yet, this should be avoided at a restaurant of this standing. Another very minor note: when I was leaving, a concierge to whom I said ‘je vous souhaite une belle soirée“, replied with a very casual ‘à toi de meme“. I don’t want to replay the now widely refrain that ‘vous‘ is now passé and it’s cool to say ‘tu“…Rfaol…but at such high end place…, I am sure the owners would expect a bit more formality from their employees. Again, no drama here but a nice little touch to keep constructively in mind.

Braised beef / confit tomatoes / shrimps, aromatic spices, shellfish bearnaise – Naturally, there’s little to complain about in the cooking aspect, when a Chef like Gonzalez is behind a dish: the bearnaise sauce for ie, was superbly flavored and it was clear that a technically capable hand was behind it. This is, to me, anywhere in between good (7/10 – shrimps were nicely cooked, braised beef of ultimate terderness)  to very good (8/10 – the bearnaise sauce was stunning, both in texture and taste) dish. But of a top Chef like Gonzalez  I expect startling 9 or 10/10  food performance as he sometimes did  when he was at Laloux and at Cube.  Could that be possible with items as straightforward as couple of cubes of braised beef, some shrimps and tomatoes confit. I’d say Yes (perhaps not for the shrimp…I don’t see how far you can make a shrimp stellar…but the braised beef could have been beefier). 

Shoulder of lamb confit, cooked like a tajine, carrot and dried fruits, cauliflower semolina, chickpea flour pancake, jus with Oriental flavours – There’s, I felt, some kind of restraint in provoking the palate of the diner.  Flavor was clearly under control. This could be pleasant to some, but a pain for  me: I love rich, eventful flavors. This dish offered good, but carefully surveyed ones. The way he worked his carrots was another reminder of his great depth of culinary artistic skills. You should also see the fries: only three of those, but backed by a  solid technical prouesse (consistency and texture of the fries being remarkable). This, I am sure, will remain a divisive dish given the small portions at such price ($35).  But for its skillfull conception (you can clearly see that Chef Gonzalez belongs to the big leagues. Chefs like him, Laprise, Navarrette Jr, Rouyé, Michelle Mercuri, Lenglet, Alexandre Loiseau…I don’t even compare their work anymore to local standards but to what’s best done abroad. ALL I am asking Chef Gonzalez has nothing to do with the conception of this or the previous dish. It has to do with the flavors: make them  more eventful, mode delicious if you prefer! I’ll come back on this at the end of this review), I’ll give it a  8/10

I’ve tried in the past  many dishes of Chef Gonzalez (Cube, Lutetia, etc). I can tell you that it would be unfair to limit  myself to  this dinner’s performance  (those two dishes don’t pay justice to the great talent of Chef Gonzalez). With that said, I have got to judge this dinner and not his past works. And as such, I did expect more from Chef Gonzalez, hence the title of my review ‘Un peu de folie, svp, Chef!’. In nowadays restaurant standards, you stand out with extra mileage over what your competitors are doing. A good example of an opporunity that needed to be seized for that ‘extra mileage’  to materialize itself would have been to take the concept of  that lamb confit dish further: it’s mentioned Tajine in its description. So why not building memorable flavors around the stunning aromatic feature of a Tajine? The flavors were definitely good on that dish…but not stellar! 

PROS: Original neo-rustic chic environment. Top class service from the wait staff . Top quality produce and the chance of having such a great Chef in the kitchen…BUT Chef, un brin de folie svp!
CONS: As always, my quibbles concern only the specific meal I have sampled. (1)Even if you are not a sommelier, wait that the customer tries the wine first…and make sure you provide a short description of the wine. 
(2)Chef Gonzalez has talent. No one will deny that and he has proved it for years. BUT a Chef needs to take risks and impart excitement in his work of flavors.And they need to be a tad more generous with their portions on dishes like the two that I have sampled.
Overall food rating: 7/10 for what I do expect from a Chef like Gonzalez. he can do way better. Of course, I am not stoopid neither: this was technically  well done, as expected from a Chef who already had a Michelin star in Europe. But food needs excitement!!!!

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER : Chef Gonzalez is a talented Chef. And if you are into the usual standards of presentation and techniques found at most great fine dining ventures, you would have appreciated my meal here. Obviously, the pics of my dishes testify to that (pretty platings). But I was missing what I pay for when I go to a restaurant: mouthfuls of bliss, delicious bites, exciting food.

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Restaurant DEREK N’ ALEX (DNA), Montreal

This Friday (April 23rd 2010), I went to pay a visit to two major tables considered by the most as Montreal best: A Lunch @ DEREK N’ ALEX, then I completed the day with a dinner at L’Inconnu (See next review for the review on L’inconnu).

DNA Restaurant
355 Marguerite D’Youville St. (Vieux Port / Old montreal)
Montreal, QC 
Phone: 514-287-3362
URL: http://www.dnarestaurant.com
Type of Cuisine: A Mix of Modern French/Mediterranean/Italian

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

DEREK N’ ALEX (DNA) is widly known as one of Montreal hottest and most popular
restaurant of the moment. Located in the Old Montreal, at a stone trow from the
harbor, the restaurant is hosted in a beautiful  building:
  What I like with DNA is it’s commitment to a cuisine that goes way beyond the usual  monolithic same of the same usual Bistro/North American  fares that’s spreading all around this city,  thanks to it’s mediterranean touches and original takes on game meats, seafood,
thoughtful ingredients. Ironically, during for this Lunch  @ DNA, I did not pay justice to their own unique dishes (Sorry DNA! ;p). More on this later on.

Upon arrival, on this Lunch, I felt transported in an oasis of beauty: their rooms (a lounge section on the
Left of the reception area dominated by warm orange touches):






the main dining room on the right  (dominated by glass and an overall light-penetrating modern and trendy looking area) are beautiful  renditions of attractive design:


In it’s genre, perhaps one of the most beautiful restaurants of  this city (with La Porte remaining my personal coup de coeur for it’s Milles & Une Nuits decor / But both are from 2 different styles, obviously).

I first thought about paying tribute to their usual classics (sweetbreads in agro dolce, etc),  but the beauty with most of those fresh Market-focused Montreal restaurants are the little surprises they just brought from the market. So the waitress informed that they had also snow crab salad and fresh halibut. Sorry Chef Dammann for not paying a tribute this time to your classic own creations,  but I am a son of the Sea (born and raised at a stone throw from the Indian Ocean surrounded by the freshest  mass of seafood in the warmest waters;p…perhaps one of those rare moments I didn’t fear to surrunder to the mass! Rfaol!) and was seduced by the Seafood offerings.

Choice #1: Snow crab, Meyer Lemon, Aioli
Disposed on a fresh piece of bread, the crab salad was drizzled with aioli. Oozing of freshness,  the Snow crab meat was of impeccable freshness. With a more upfront punch of marine robustness,  this crab meat would have been pure joy in heaven. My second best crab salad in this city after the one I had at Cuisine & Dependance. 7/10

Choice #2: Halibut, Salsa rustica.
Topped with a perfect golden crust, the fish was ideally moist and had an unbelievably  beautiful snowy white texture (within) that made no doubt about it’s impeccable freshness.  It’s cooking, it’s tempting taste, it’s balanced texture and precise spicings made of it an impreccable piece of fish. We may not, in Montreal, be as gifted as in Japan or on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea and yet some restaurateurs are doing miracle in managing to catch up with great fresh seafood. I tend to lower a bit my expectations with seafood in Montreal since it’s unfair to compare the level of stunning fresh seafood I was surrounded by on the banks of the Indian Ocean (totally on  a different scale, there), but honestly I know many cities who would envy Montreal for that. To conclude on this dish, underneath the fish there was wheat seeds replacing rice. Cooked at enjoyable al dente consistency and packed with it’s pristine flavors, this was a masterfully well thought addition. The accompanied salsa rustica was good, light and precise. 8/10

The overall was accompanied by a wine that I asked the waitress to chose from her own inspiration:  Pinot Blanc Lake Breeze 2008. Her choice turned out to be an ideal spot on match to the seafood and the  wine on it’s own was without reproach: nicely balanced, enjoyably aromatic with remarquable freshness, enjoyably fruity (sensed perfectly well the subtle aromas of pears +citrus). Excellent.

The welcoming and the service was also of admirable mention: the several ladies who served were impressively patient, attentive, efficient. Their class and quality of service is of  high mention.

The dominant festive music (varied rythms of Jazz, Reggae, French and more), the beautiful layout,  the remarquable charming and impeccable service, the great food, the proximity to the waters/harbor (I can see lots  of couples enjoying a nice roamantic walk on the water front after their meal there)…DNA is unarguably a HOT spot!

I hope you do not limit yourself to my two simple meals there (make them sound like a seafood place ;p).
For something more elaborate, I’d suggest you go with their dinner. From a past dining experiences there, a while back,  I recall a level of gastronomic coup de force that skyrocketted this restaurant easily among the very top best dining experiences I had the good fortune to enjoy in this City, not to mention how creative and original they can be!

Standard

XO Le Restaurant: Take Two

 

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

Event: Dinner at XO Le Restaurant

Type of food: Upscale Fine dining (Modern European)
Date and time: Friday March 19th, 2010  6:00PM
Location: 355 St Jacques, Ouest. Montreal, QC
Arome’s New Ranking of XO: #1 (Categ Upscale Fine Dining)
Arome’s Mention of this latest dinner: Excellent++
Read: My review of the 1st dinner there on Friday Oct 9th, 2009  8PM

URL: http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/the-restaurant.asp

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

(English review will follow below) – Présentement, à Montréal, c’est ce qui se rapproche le plus du calibre d’un 3 étoile Michelin à tous les égards (service, décor, expérience gastronomique, etc). Ici, on est vraiment dans le calibre Intl des 2 à 3 étoiles Michelin. Tant que le Chef Michelle Mercuri exposera son immense talent tel que j’en ai vécu l’expérience lors (surtout) de mon dernier repas au XO Le Restaurant, cette grande table sera toujours un 3 Michelin ‘officieux’ (puisqu’il n’ y a pas de resto Michelin à Mtl) à mes yeux.  Allez y un Jeu/Vendr/Samedi soir, gardez l’esprit ouvert, et laissez le Chef Mercuri vaguer à sa créativité.

This is only my second dinner at XO Le Restaurant (restaurant of Montreal’s Hotel St-James in the Vieux Port of Montreal). Last time I was at this fine dining gourmet hot spot (ref: click here for a report of my previous dinner there ), what I’ve experienced was an overall dining experience that did set the bar for all Montreal restaurants: a stunning world-class dinner with an easily 2 Michelin star level food item (the Free Form Lasagna that I had on that dinner was perhaps the most memorable food item I ever enjoyed on any upscale fine dining table in Montreal & Surroundings), world class service (orchestrated by my personal choice for best waitress in 2009, Sidonie), luxurious decor and ambiance. But I felt bad because such upscale table is one that I should have more accurately reviewed through an epic gastronomic journey, the tasting menu! 5 Months later, here I am back: I learn that Sidonie is not on duty this time (a bit of a heartbreak for me since she was one kind of exceptional great  waitress you seldomly get to meet. In my personal opinion, Sidonie is –along Christiane Lamarche at Toque! and Christina Garcia at Osco!  among the very top best professionals of the restaurant scene in Montreal) but I should not worry since top service is their trademark.

This time, I can free myself from the photo session part of the restaurant’s interior settings: already done on the 1st report  but I still brought my camera for visual accompaniment to my multiple couse tasting menu of the evening.

The Dinner of this evening: 9 course tasting menu ($135) + wine pairing ($80)
PS: You have many other options of tasting menus at various prices (3 course, 6 course If I recall properly and 9).

Started with a nice cocktail of lemon pétillant (their cocktails are expertly concocted, so this one was naturally a hit):

Went on with the 1st dish:

Course #1: Oyster in Soya jelly, Cucumber emulsion & Saké
The dominant  fresh enjoyable flavor of the cucumber emulsion came through nicely on this course. That foamy emulsion was remarquably airy, refreshing and was topping a visually appealing dice of Soya gelé in which was inserted a meaty piece of delicious fresh oyster. At the bottom, couple of thinly minced morsels of beets that were fresh and tasty. Neither my pictures nor my description will manage to give justice to this world class food item: It was technically very modern and skillfully concocter both in terms of presentation and execution. One course of a level that I wished I could see more oftently on this world’s best tables: daring, complex, unique in all aspects. Chef Michelle Mercuri — and that is actually not a secret —- walks on the same tracks as any of our great 2* Michelin Chefs out there and the perfection of that little tastebud marvel is largely one proof among many others of how highly skilled he stands. Excellent++  10/10
This was paired with a Bruno Paillard Champagne, 1ere Cuvée. It was exceptionally aged (30 Months) in barrel. Nice body, great structure, with an enjoyable taste of brioche bread. Elegant and classic as I love my Champagnes. Paired well with the Oyster course.

Course #2: Fresh Florida Shrimp, Razor clam, Compressed melon, Jicama, Pomegranate lemon grass granita, Ginger Yogurt Spuma – This was served in a  Caviar metal container, that was itself disposed on crushed ice, in order to preserve the freshness of the course.

In the container, several concoctions:

first, the citrus granita was a Hit: decadent, delicious! Then the emulsion of yogurt: extremely tasty and of impeccable freshness.I liked the inspirational touches found on this food item: for example, some discrete pieces of thinly cuted delicious fresh radish paired with the yogurt turned out to be perfect tastebud wonders.The chunks of shrimp were nicely boiled and kept a perfect depth of flavor. This is a course that reminds us of how seafood and sweetness can be a fun exciting refreshing mix. The seeds of pomegranate added enjoyable crunchy-ness. So playful, exotic and interesting, although in full constructive honesty, I would change two things here (to be taken constructively):
(1) I would work the shrimp differently. Perhaps lightly frying/pan-searing it, just to elevate the textural robustness of  the shrimp. It would also be interesting to see, on most Montreal tables,  more of the black tiger sort of shrimps (whether it is or not a luxurious product is not the question. It is it’s taste that interests me) . I am being picky here, I know, but if you take this to that level of textural level, I am confident that it’s an extra that will please to all. Of course, the presentation would have then to be rethought (pan-seared shrimp would then requirre warmer accompaniments too). So, come to think about it,  this is a matter of pure personal preference: that shrimp was of the highest quality and tasty / and this is not a complaint at all!
(2) A re-adjustment of the conceptual presentation of it all: perhaps skipping the pieces of fresh lettuces + laying all the rest separately in somekind of visually artistical ways (I ‘d steal couple of tricks from the Japanese food visuals here). With that said, do not fool yourself: Chef Michelle Mercuri cooks extremely beautiful food, as you will quickly realize from all the next food items. Good. 7/10
Pairing wine: Ostertag 2008, from Alsace. Exotic and Fruity, medium bodied white wine.  Just ok for me.

Course #3: Charlevoix veal tartare, poached calamari, pumpkin seeds, Chorizo smoked mackerel, veal tongue:
Impeccable freshness of the veal, a fantastic tartare, exceptionally tasty with skillfully balanced flavors: not one hint of overpowering flavors, evenly spiced. The poached calamari was flawless, same could be said of the Chrorizo smoked mackerel and  decadent veal tongue. Of modern visual presentation, this is the type of daring food Item I expect on a great 3* Michelin star table. The kind of marvel that reminds us of how greatness can be found in a plate and you just can’t describe it. You’ve just got to taste it, enjoy and feel fortunate that you were blessed by such. Genius on a plate. One notch above Excellent: Exceptional! 10/10
Here’s a flashless picture of that wonder, offering it to you through a different angle and visuals:

Pairing wine: A 2006 Clos Jordanne. An ok Chardonnay’s white wine (to me), dense, with a classic structure.I prefer wines with more depth.

Course #4: Guinea-hen, Morels, Black Truffles
Excellent fresh tasty black truffles (came from Italy’s region of Alba). Amazing earthy taste and flavors and as with all previous dishes: very well balanced/harmonious. The meatiness of the fowl and it’s excepional depth of flavor were remarquable. What’s even more remarquable about this dish is how classic flavors were brought up in a daring/re-juvenating way. Excellent, not only for it’s exceptional daring amazing tasty-ness but also for it’s inspired touches: the fowl’s meat was stuffed in delicious raviolis, meaty and daringly superior in terms of deliciousness. The intense jus beneath was rich and exceptionally tempting. The crunchy fresh green beans were pure genius add-ons to that dish and the fresh chunks of parmigiano cheese were pure tastebud wonders. This course pertains to World’s top meal courses, there is no doubt about that. Wowed! 10/10
Pairing wine: Clos Jordanne, Le grand Clos, 2006. This one fared better to my tastebuds than the previous. It’s also a Chardonnay. Nice minerality, nice structure and I sensed the expected enjoyable stone fruit aromas, as well as those of the white flower. Ok for the pairing.

Course #5: Organic Salmon confit, Pan-Seared foie gras, Salsify purée
Excellent fresh salmon with an impeccable pinky-ness to it, nicely cooked (sous-vidé), deep in flavor (10/10). Topping the salmon was a piece of foie gras that kept it’s  perfect enjoyable livery flavor, perfect <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> bouncy seared surface and flawless meaty mouthsome (10/10). Salsify purée was tasty.  The piece of pork belly that you see on your right was proof that when put in the hands of a great Chef, that piece of meat never fails to be a wonderful thing. It was. Ironically, this is usually the type of dish that I am reluctant about, since most Chefs, as talented as they might have been, ended up offering it to me as a dull montage of food items rather than an harmonious juxtaposition of wonders that complement themselves. When you think about it, how harmonious and complementary can this sort of take on Surf (Salmon) & Turf (Foie Gras/Pork) be? Virtually unlikely. But here again the Genius of Chef Mercuri unleashes some outstanding magic: in a way that only my tastebuds could understand, the rich succulent eathiness of the foie was pure enlightment to the deep flavor of the Salmon, and this was mutual. The Pork Belly continued on that same trend: it shared outstanding kick and palatable amazement with the two others. There was in there an undeniable commitment to make flavors reaching newer dimensions of complexity (may it be the Foie, the Pork Belly or the Salmon…all three were oozing of an unusual work of deep, rich and tastebud-blowing flavors) and complement each other to perfection. He manages here to do the impossible: Another dish that goes to world’s best hall of fame. Excellent ++  10/10
Here is a close up picture of it:

Pairing wine: 2005 Beaune Clos du Roi, 1er Cru, Maison Rapet. A great red wine with aromas of white pepper +
black cherry, great tannins, with an enjoyable finish. Paired really well with the dish.

Course #6: Gaspor Pork, Sweet potato gnocchi, black garlic purée
That Gaspor pork is known for it’s high quality and it was stunningly well concocted on this one -> ideal tender mouthsome with it’s  enjoyable porky depth of flavor that was heavenly succulent. The sweet potato gnocchis were decadent. The black garlick purée was sublime. It’s not a dish for the glutony-hulky buddies of this world (Go to a fastfood joint for that! ), but an impeccable showcase of modern food item at it’s best. I would say of a level that’s anywhere between a 2* to 3* Michelin Star’s great meal. Exceptional! 10/10
Pairing wine: Brunello di Montalcino, 2004. Great red wine, nicely aged, with enjoyable deep aromatic flavors of black cherry , black olive, raspberry. Great pairing wine to that dish.

Course #7: Venison, cippolini
The venison was impeccably rosy within, juicy, full-flavoured throughout, fork-tender and daringly tasty. The accompanied veggies were remarquable too: cippolini onions were nicely marinated and tasted great, oyster mushrooms were earthy and delish. 9/10.
Pairing wine: Las Rocas, Garnacha 2007. Excellent wine, with nice structure, balanced tannins, smooth texture and enjoyable aromas of Black cherry + Black raspberry. Paired well with the gamey-ness of the venison.

Course #8: Basmati rice jelly, Apple & Lavender broth, Melon Jelly, tangerine.
Genius work of the Basmati rice flavor here: not overwhelming, but in ideal subtility. It formed an enjoyable light, glutinous mass that was very refreshing and very pleasing in-mouth. Lots of great technical mastery here: balancing the flavor of the Basmati to ideal tastebud appreciation is of high mention. But this was not all: the precision of it’s sweet taste was remaquable: not overly sweet, not underly sweet but a well measured contained and yet very enjoyable sweetness. I might sound a bit too descriptive, but this translated  in practise into an outstanding exercise of great  mastery in taste and execution that is worthy of high mention. The broth (apple, lavender) added a welcoming light addition of acidity from the apple aromas (well thought, since it added sufficient kick to the lightness of the jelly) whereas the lavender subtle elegant flavor added an extra dimension of exotic freshness. The tangerine complemented ideally well the overall, with it’s lovely fragrance, not to forget the envouting freshness of the melon Jelly. Modern in it’s presentation and execution (cute little flowers, beautifully disposed fruits, technically contemporary in the way it is concocted), this dessert is an impressive work of passion, patience, intelligence (in balancing well that much complexity coming from so many ingredients) and inspiration. It was remarquably inventive, exotic and delicious. Very good. 8/10

Pairing wine: Jean-Luc Colombo, Muscat de Rivesaltes Les Saintes, 2003.

Full bodied, intense, fruity wine. That wine was a well thought choice on elevating the lightness of that delicious dessert.

Course #9: Ricotta mousse, Coriander Sorbet, Pomelo marmalade, Pecan foam cookie, Ivaory Sechuan peppercorn – The coriander sorbet, ideally frothy in texture, was stunning by it’s freshness and moving decadent rich taste. Pomelo marmalade was delicious, and the ricotta mousse was dense, airy, creamy and nicely done. This is a complex dessert that would actually move lots of   fans of inventive desserts. The sorbet was not the only coriander-flavored tastebud marvel in there -> there was couple of amazing tasty sweet coriander-flavored chips that were remarquable.
The wait staff informed me that they have now a Pastry Chef. Chef Mercuri was doing a nice job on that department, but it is a great idea that he leaves the dessert part to a specialist of such. Too bad I was a bit tired at that point and was not in the mood of finding out more about that Pastry Chef, but I would be interested to learn more about her since her desserts are daringly modern and inventive. 8/10

Pairing wine: Monde, Vin de glace 2008, Vignoble de la Rivière du Chêne – Great ice wine, enjoyably fruity with aromas of peach, lemon confit, pineapple and honey. Went well with the dessert.

Mignardises comprised of chic quality sweets, all memorable:

Concluded this fantastic dinner with an enjoyable Brazilian Coffee:

Overall, what a spectacular inventive and daring tastebud showcase of modern high end fine dining! In a world where some other Chefs around the world need to play with their little nitrogen tubes in order to elevate food to a trend, I will always admire those who dare elevating food for what it is: a joy for the tastebud! And Montreal is lucky: Chefs like Michelle Mercuri (XO Le Restaurant) or Normand Laprise (Toque!) cook some very beautiful high end modern food  that taste heavenly!

Service as usual was first class, very service-oriented, charming, attentive, focused.
You feel treated like a princess/prince (look around you and all acquaintances are receiving that same gracious service and remarquable magical sense of hospitality you wish to experience at ALL restaurants!) at this fine high end gourmet hot spot and the food is of world class mention.
Delay: Set your own delay, especially at such place where accomodation/flexibility is present. Talk to them and tell them how fast you want it to unfold. Timing is something purely personal and no one will agree on the perfect delays, so common sense: inform them of how in a hurry or not you are.

Chef Mercuri is not just ready for world’s big leagues, he is already there! Only reason he is not officially a 2* Michelin Star Chef is because Montreal has not got the same vibility of cities like Tokyo, Paris.  Had Chef Mercuri evolved in those cities, that would have been a done deal. With Chefs like Normand Laprise (Toque!), Pelletier (Club Chasse & Peche), Navarrette (Raza), Rouyé (La Porte) and many more, I strongly believe that the next big surprises of World’s high end gourmet could come from here. Tonight, Chef Mercuri had not only proven that he is one of Mtl’s top best Chefs but that the world, too, is easily at it’s reach.

This tasting menu was daringly exceptional, and has actually reached the ultimate top Marks of my 2009-2010 Top 15 best dinners in Montreal & Surroundings, surpassing the exceptional fine dining  dinner I had at Toque!. Which is quite an exceptional accomplishment.

PROS: this was of a level of a 3 star Michelin meal!

CONS: Nothing to complain about

Standard

XO Le Restaurant: Take Two

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

 

Event: Dinner at XO Le Restaurant

Type of food: Upscale Fine dining (Modern European)
Date and time: Friday March 19th, 2010  6:00PM
Location: 355 St Jacques, Ouest. Montreal, QC
Arome’s New Ranking of XO: #1 (Categ Upscale Fine Dining)
Arome’s Mention of this latest dinner: Excellent++
Read: My review of the 1st dinner there on Friday Oct 9th, 2009  8PM

URL: http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/the-restaurant.asp

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

(English review will follow below) – Présentement, à Montréal, c’est ce qui se rapproche le plus du calibre d’un 3 étoile Michelin à tous les égards (service, décor, expérience gastronomique, etc). Ici, on est vraiment dans le calibre Intl des 2 à 3 étoiles Michelin. Tant que le Chef Michelle Mercuri exposera son immense talent tel que j’en ai vécu l’expérience lors (surtout) de mon dernier repas au XO Le Restaurant, cette grande table sera toujours un 3 Michelin ‘officieux’ (puisqu’il n’ y a pas de resto Michelin à Mtl) à mes yeux.  Allez y un Jeu/Vendr/Samedi soir, gardez l’esprit ouvert, et laissez le Chef Mercuri vaguer à sa créativité.

This is only my second dinner at XO Le Restaurant (restaurant of Montreal’s Hotel St-James in the Vieux Port of Montreal). Last time I was at this fine dining gourmet hot spot (ref: click here for a report of my previous dinner there ), what I’ve experienced was an overall dining experience that did set the bar for all Montreal restaurants: a stunning world-class dinner with an easily 2 Michelin star level food item (the Free Form Lasagna that I had on that dinner was perhaps the most memorable food item I ever enjoyed on any upscale fine dining table in Montreal & Surroundings), world class service (orchestrated by my personal choice for best waitress in 2009, Sidonie), luxurious decor and ambiance. But I felt bad because such upscale table is one that I should have more accurately reviewed through an epic gastronomic journey, the tasting menu! 5 Months later, here I am back: I learn that Sidonie is not on duty this time (a bit of a heartbreak for me since she was one kind of exceptional great  waitress you seldomly get to meet. In my personal opinion, Sidonie is –along Christiane Lamarche at Toque! and Christina Garcia at Osco!  among the very top best professionals of the restaurant scene in Montreal) but I should not worry since top service is their trademark.

This time, I can free myself from the photo session part of the restaurant’s interior settings: already done on the 1st report  but I still brought my camera for visual accompaniment to my multiple couse tasting menu of the evening.

The Dinner of this evening: 9 course tasting menu ($135) + wine pairing ($80)
PS: You have many other options of tasting menus at various prices (3 course, 6 course If I recall properly and 9).

Started with a nice cocktail of lemon pétillant (their cocktails are expertly concocted, so this one was naturally a hit):

Went on with the 1st dish:

Course #1: Oyster in Soya jelly, Cucumber emulsion & Saké
The dominant  fresh enjoyable flavor of the cucumber emulsion came through nicely on this course. That foamy emulsion was remarquably airy, refreshing and was topping a visually appealing dice of Soya gelé in which was inserted a meaty piece of delicious fresh oyster. At the bottom, couple of thinly minced morsels of beets that were fresh and tasty. Neither my pictures nor my description will manage to give justice to this world class food item: It was technically very modern and skillfully concocter both in terms of presentation and execution. One course of a level that I wished I could see more oftently on this world’s best tables: daring, complex, unique in all aspects. Chef Michelle Mercuri — and that is actually not a secret —- walks on the same tracks as any of our great 2* Michelin Chefs out there and the perfection of that little tastebud marvel is largely one proof among many others of how highly skilled he stands. Excellent++  10/10
This was paired with a Bruno Paillard Champagne, 1ere Cuvée. It was exceptionally aged (30 Months) in barrel. Nice body, great structure, with an enjoyable taste of brioche bread. Elegant and classic as I love my Champagnes. Paired well with the Oyster course.

Course #2: Fresh Florida Shrimp, Razor clam, Compressed melon, Jicama, Pomegranate lemon grass granita, Ginger Yogurt Spuma – This was served in a  Caviar metal container, that was itself disposed on crushed ice, in order to preserve the freshness of the course.

In the container, several concoctions:

first, the citrus granita was a Hit: decadent, delicious! Then the emulsion of yogurt: extremely tasty and of impeccable freshness.I liked the inspirational touches found on this food item: for example, some discrete pieces of thinly cuted delicious fresh radish paired with the yogurt turned out to be perfect tastebud wonders.The chunks of shrimp were nicely boiled and kept a perfect depth of flavor. This is a course that reminds us of how seafood and sweetness can be a fun exciting refreshing mix. The seeds of pomegranate added enjoyable crunchy-ness. So playful, exotic and interesting, although in full constructive honesty, I would change two things here (to be taken constructively):
(1) I would work the shrimp differently. Perhaps lightly frying/pan-searing it, just to elevate the textural robustness of  the shrimp. It would also be interesting to see, on most Montreal tables,  more of the black tiger sort of shrimps (whether it is or not a luxurious product is not the question. It is it’s taste that interests me) . I am being picky here, I know, but if you take this to that level of textural level, I am confident that it’s an extra that will please to all. Of course, the presentation would have then to be rethought (pan-seared shrimp would then requirre warmer accompaniments too). So, come to think about it,  this is a matter of pure personal preference: that shrimp was of the highest quality and tasty / and this is not a complaint at all!
(2) A re-adjustment of the conceptual presentation of it all: perhaps skipping the pieces of fresh lettuces + laying all the rest separately in somekind of visually artistical ways (I ‘d steal couple of tricks from the Japanese food visuals here). With that said, do not fool yourself: Chef Michelle Mercuri cooks extremely beautiful food, as you will quickly realize from all the next food items. Good. 7/10
Pairing wine: Ostertag 2008, from Alsace. Exotic and Fruity, medium bodied white wine.  Just ok for me.

Course #3: Charlevoix veal tartare, poached calamari, pumpkin seeds, Chorizo smoked mackerel, veal tongue:
Impeccable freshness of the veal, a fantastic tartare, exceptionally tasty with skillfully balanced flavors: not one hint of overpowering flavors, evenly spiced. The poached calamari was flawless, same could be said of the Chrorizo smoked mackerel and  decadent veal tongue. Of modern visual presentation, this is the type of daring food Item I expect on a great 3* Michelin star table. The kind of marvel that reminds us of how greatness can be found in a plate and you just can’t describe it. You’ve just got to taste it, enjoy and feel fortunate that you were blessed by such. Genius on a plate. One notch above Excellent: Exceptional! 10/10
Here’s a flashless picture of that wonder, offering it to you through a different angle and visuals:

Pairing wine: A 2006 Clos Jordanne. An ok Chardonnay’s white wine (to me), dense, with a classic structure.I prefer wines with more depth.

Course #4: Guinea-hen, Morels, Black Truffles
Excellent fresh tasty black truffles (came from Italy’s region of Alba). Amazing earthy taste and flavors and as with all previous dishes: very well balanced/harmonious. The meatiness of the fowl and it’s excepional depth of flavor were remarquable. What’s even more remarquable about this dish is how classic flavors were brought up in a daring/re-juvenating way. Excellent, not only for it’s exceptional daring amazing tasty-ness but also for it’s inspired touches: the fowl’s meat was stuffed in delicious raviolis, meaty and daringly superior in terms of deliciousness. The intense jus beneath was rich and exceptionally tempting. The crunchy fresh green beans were pure genius add-ons to that dish and the fresh chunks of parmigiano cheese were pure tastebud wonders. This course pertains to World’s top meal courses, there is no doubt about that. Wowed! 10/10
Pairing wine: Clos Jordanne, Le grand Clos, 2006. This one fared better to my tastebuds than the previous. It’s also a Chardonnay. Nice minerality, nice structure and I sensed the expected enjoyable stone fruit aromas, as well as those of the white flower. Ok for the pairing.

Course #5: Organic Salmon confit, Pan-Seared foie gras, Salsify purée
Excellent fresh salmon with an impeccable pinky-ness to it, nicely cooked (sous-vidé), deep in flavor (10/10). Topping the salmon was a piece of foie gras that kept it’s  perfect enjoyable livery flavor, perfect <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> bouncy seared surface and flawless meaty mouthsome (10/10). Salsify purée was tasty.  The piece of pork belly that you see on your right was proof that when put in the hands of a great Chef, that piece of meat never fails to be a wonderful thing. It was. Ironically, this is usually the type of dish that I am reluctant about, since most Chefs, as talented as they might have been, ended up offering it to me as a dull montage of food items rather than an harmonious juxtaposition of wonders that complement themselves. When you think about it, how harmonious and complementary can this sort of take on Surf (Salmon) & Turf (Foie Gras/Pork) be? Virtually unlikely. But here again the Genius of Chef Mercuri unleashes some outstanding magic: in a way that only my tastebuds could understand, the rich succulent eathiness of the foie was pure enlightment to the deep flavor of the Salmon, and this was mutual. The Pork Belly continued on that same trend: it shared outstanding kick and palatable amazement with the two others. There was in there an undeniable commitment to make flavors reaching newer dimensions of complexity (may it be the Foie, the Pork Belly or the Salmon…all three were oozing of an unusual work of deep, rich and tastebud-blowing flavors) and complement each other to perfection. He manages here to do the impossible: Another dish that goes to world’s best hall of fame. Excellent ++  10/10
Here is a close up picture of it:

Pairing wine: 2005 Beaune Clos du Roi, 1er Cru, Maison Rapet. A great red wine with aromas of white pepper +
black cherry, great tannins, with an enjoyable finish. Paired really well with the dish.

Course #6: Gaspor Pork, Sweet potato gnocchi, black garlic purée
That Gaspor pork is known for it’s high quality and it was stunningly well concocted on this one -> ideal tender mouthsome with it’s  enjoyable porky depth of flavor that was heavenly succulent. The sweet potato gnocchis were decadent. The black garlick purée was sublime. It’s not a dish for the glutony-hulky buddies of this world (Go to a fastfood joint for that! ), but an impeccable showcase of modern food item at it’s best. I would say of a level that’s anywhere between a 2* to 3* Michelin Star’s great meal. Exceptional! 10/10
Pairing wine: Brunello di Montalcino, 2004. Great red wine, nicely aged, with enjoyable deep aromatic flavors of black cherry , black olive, raspberry. Great pairing wine to that dish.

Course #7: Venison, cippolini
The venison was impeccably rosy within, juicy, full-flavoured throughout, fork-tender and daringly tasty. The accompanied veggies were remarquable too: cippolini onions were nicely marinated and tasted great, oyster mushrooms were earthy and delish. 9/10.
Pairing wine: Las Rocas, Garnacha 2007. Excellent wine, with nice structure, balanced tannins, smooth texture and enjoyable aromas of Black cherry + Black raspberry. Paired well with the gamey-ness of the venison.

Course #8: Basmati rice jelly, Apple & Lavender broth, Melon Jelly, tangerine.
Genius work of the Basmati rice flavor here: not overwhelming, but in ideal subtility. It formed an enjoyable light, glutinous mass that was very refreshing and very pleasing in-mouth. Lots of great technical mastery here: balancing the flavor of the Basmati to ideal tastebud appreciation is of high mention. But this was not all: the precision of it’s sweet taste was remaquable: not overly sweet, not underly sweet but a well measured contained and yet very enjoyable sweetness. I might sound a bit too descriptive, but this translated  in practise into an outstanding exercise of great  mastery in taste and execution that is worthy of high mention. The broth (apple, lavender) added a welcoming light addition of acidity from the apple aromas (well thought, since it added sufficient kick to the lightness of the jelly) whereas the lavender subtle elegant flavor added an extra dimension of exotic freshness. The tangerine complemented ideally well the overall, with it’s lovely fragrance, not to forget the envouting freshness of the melon Jelly. Modern in it’s presentation and execution (cute little flowers, beautifully disposed fruits, technically contemporary in the way it is concocted), this dessert is an impressive work of passion, patience, intelligence (in balancing well that much complexity coming from so many ingredients) and inspiration. It was remarquably inventive, exotic and delicious. Very good. 8/10

Pairing wine: Jean-Luc Colombo, Muscat de Rivesaltes Les Saintes, 2003.

Full bodied, intense, fruity wine. That wine was a well thought choice on elevating the lightness of that delicious dessert.

Course #9: Ricotta mousse, Coriander Sorbet, Pomelo marmalade, Pecan foam cookie, Ivaory Sechuan peppercorn – The coriander sorbet, ideally frothy in texture, was stunning by it’s freshness and moving decadent rich taste. Pomelo marmalade was delicious, and the ricotta mousse was dense, airy, creamy and nicely done. This is a complex dessert that would actually move lots of   fans of inventive desserts. The sorbet was not the only coriander-flavored tastebud marvel in there -> there was couple of amazing tasty sweet coriander-flavored chips that were remarquable.
The wait staff informed me that they have now a Pastry Chef. Chef Mercuri was doing a nice job on that department, but it is a great idea that he leaves the dessert part to a specialist of such. Too bad I was a bit tired at that point and was not in the mood of finding out more about that Pastry Chef, but I would be interested to learn more about her since her desserts are daringly modern and inventive. 8/10

Pairing wine: Monde, Vin de glace 2008, Vignoble de la Rivière du Chêne – Great ice wine, enjoyably fruity with aromas of peach, lemon confit, pineapple and honey. Went well with the dessert.

Mignardises comprised of chic quality sweets, all memorable:

Concluded this fantastic dinner with an enjoyable Brazilian Coffee:

Overall, what a spectacular inventive and daring tastebud showcase of modern high end fine dining! In a world where some other Chefs around the world need to play with their little nitrogen tubes in order to elevate food to a trend, I will always admire those who dare elevating food for what it is: a joy for the tastebud! And Montreal is lucky: Chefs like Michelle Mercuri (XO Le Restaurant) or Normand Laprise (Toque!) cook some very beautiful high end modern food  that taste heavenly!

Service as usual was first class, very service-oriented, charming, attentive, focused.
You feel treated like a princess/prince (look around you and all acquaintances are receiving that same gracious service and remarquable magical sense of hospitality you wish to experience at ALL restaurants!) at this fine high end gourmet hot spot and the food is of world class mention.
Delay: Set your own delay, especially at such place where accomodation/flexibility is present. Talk to them and tell them how fast you want it to unfold. Timing is something purely personal and no one will agree on the perfect delays, so common sense: inform them of how in a hurry or not you are.

Chef Mercuri is not just ready for world’s big leagues, he is already there! Only reason he is not officially a 2* Michelin Star Chef is because Montreal has not got the same vibility of cities like Tokyo, Paris.  Had Chef Mercuri evolved in those cities, that would have been a done deal. With Chefs like Normand Laprise (Toque!), Pelletier (Club Chasse & Peche), Navarrette (Raza), Rouyé (La Porte) and many more, I strongly believe that the next big surprises of World’s high end gourmet could come from here. Tonight, Chef Mercuri had not only proven that he is one of Mtl’s top best Chefs but that the world, too, is easily at it’s reach.

This tasting menu was daringly exceptional, and has actually reached the ultimate top Marks of my 2009-2010 Top 15 best dinners in Montreal & Surroundings, surpassing the exceptional fine dining  dinner I had at Toque!. Which is quite an exceptional accomplishment.

PROS: this was of a level of a 3 star Michelin meal!

CONS: Nothing to complain about

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Montreal’s Luxurious tables: XO le restaurant

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


Event: Dinner at XO Le Restaurant
Type of food: Fine dining

Arome’s ranking: #4 (Categ: Fine Dining)

Date and time: Friday Oct 9th, 2009  8PM
Location: 355 St Jacques, Ouest. Montreal, QC
READ: March 19th 2010 Tasting menu at XO
URL:
http://www.hotellestjames.com/the-life/dining/the-restaurant.asp
Aromes’s mention: VERY GOOD

XO LE RESTAURANTThe first time I had heard about XO, it was the very first time I had sipped a cognac!  Lol..Just kidding. I had heard about this restaurant a while back through my buddy Lionnel. Lio is a childhood pal who went studying at one the world’s best culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu. He successfully completed his studies and was going to work as sous-chef at a high end restaurant in Cannes when he decided to take 1 yr off and tour North America + Europe seeking for the greatest tables and/or most popular ones. Basically, he goes from city to city discovering each best well known tables of the moment. After his 1 yr of gourmet touring, he is planning to open his own restaurant either in Australia or in the Caribbean. So, Lionnel is in Montreal since February and has been to several local high end tables +  popular tables (Toque, Nuances, La Chronique and so on). I do, whenever time permits, accompany him since I love touring restaurants as well and seize that occasion to update my opinions of those restaurants. So, months ago, while talking to Lionnel, the name XO stepped in our discussions. He told me that he would give no opinion about it but would recommend that I book a table there and was curious to get my feedbacks. At that time, I had never heard of XO, so I did my homework and went informing myself on this restaurant. From what I gathered (while exchanging with lots of foodies during recent foodies meetings/get2gethers/web forums and so on), the opinions were mixed: some raved about it, others were less enthusiastic. Perfect scenario to go and find out for myself! lol.

I.Upon arrival
Jannice and I simply parked the car in front of the hotel (it’s the restaurant of Hotel St James in Montreal’s Vieux port, as most already know) and a valet took care of it. We passed the front door, continued in an all luxurious wooden small but beautiful hallway and hop…you are at the entrance door of the restaurant:
HALLWAY TO THE RESTAURANT(2) XO RESTAURANT DOOR

We were welcomed by a young courteous and well behaved hostess, then handed to our main waitress of the evening, Sidonie.

II.The Decor
For the long time passionate of architectural wonders that I am, this hotel is the epitome of all I like architecturally-wise: not huge, it is a beautifully condensed artful master piece of chic wood, luxurious stones, marbles and all other wonders of of the stylish 19th century Victorian’s era  second-empire decor. The restaurant itself continues in that same trend of course: the large crystal chandeliers, banisters, alcoves. It used to be a bank (the old Merchants’s bank of Canada), back in the days and it shows with their mezzanines and colonnades. Personally (this is by pure personal taste, so no need to take my opinion for a collective one ..lol) not the most impressive decor out of the luxurious Victorian decorated type of restaurant I have been to, but definitely very pretty to the most. The restaurant was closed since mid August for redecoration and is now re-opened: gone is the big XO sign in the middle of the restaurant. It is now replaced by an elegant long rectangular stand:
CENTER RECTANGULAR STAND REPLACING THE  BIG XO SIGN
When you enter the restaurant, you have a beautifully decorated small bar on your left:
THE BAR
…couple of alcoves on your right  (we chose to seat  in one of them, both Jannice and I):

ALCOVE(2)

You have a tiny lounging area right at the entrance, facing the bar:
LOUNGING AREA IN FRONT OF THE BAR
In the middle, you have that rectangular stand replacing the old XO sign and then you have a larger restaurant area when you pass that centered rectangular  stand. On both sides, you have two classic and elegant stairways leading to the mezzanines. I liked the chic bistro elegant touch of our alcove’s table: strong dark chic wood, without the white linen tablecloth. Exactly in the bistro elegant stylish type. The rest of the restaurant’s tables  have the usual white linen tablecloths:
WHITE LINEN TABLECLOTH TABLES
Overall, a very charming chic elegant decor with a remarquable cozy feel with visual architectural elegant touches
that will please the folks who are passionate about arts, architectures and luxurious materials.
Arome’s rating for the overall decor: 8.5/10

III.The Food
We started off with two cocktails: their “pétillant citron”‘s martini for me and the “envoutant litchi” for Jannice.
The martini had a well balanced enjoyable mix of lemony vodka, lemon juice and sugar can juice. The litchi cocktail was equally enjoyable (right amount of alcohol, perfect enjoyable delicate sweetness): it was a mix of vodka, soho, litchi juice and litchi syrup:
THE TWO COCKTAILS
Then two starters: beef tartare for me and a shrimp cocktail for Jannice ->
BEEF TARTARE The beef tartare was a small rectangularish  artfully presented tartare, amazingly fully flavoured, topped by a poached egg (break that poached egg at the very end, since you will lose all the amazing taste of that very tasty tartare  once it’s  bathed in the broken yolk), cute little leaves of baby arugula. This tartare is one of the top best I ever had in a city..where god knows…tartare is so popular: as far as taste, freshness, complexity of execution and supreme well balanced flavors go, this was simply impeccable. That truffle mayo master taste behind this tartare was simply heavenly to my tastebuds!
Arome’s rating: 10/10

Jannice went for a shrimp cocktail ->
SHRIMP COCKTAIL She had the choice of the usual classic shrimp cocktail, or the nuggety/tempura-alike  shrimp cocktail (10/10) . She chose the latest. They were filled with  smooth juicy and lightly sweet shrimps. The shrimp were nicely meaty, the taste perfect and the excution flawless (not one 1oz of oily feel! lol)…BUT at $27, I found them a bit pricey for what they were. I know it’s a high end table and I am not stingy about food (I am one who thinks that great food is priceless) but….

Went on with the 6oz beef rib eye for my sweetheart and a lasagna for me ->
6 oz RIB EYE Jannice’s had requested her rib eye to be cooked blue. Although it was not perfectly blue (closer to medium rare), the rib eye was good, nicely spiced, had a perfect smooth inside and was well flavored. Personally, I would not serve a steak alone in it’s plate. I’d add probably some beans or anything else on that steak’s plate. There was an accompaniment, but on a sepate plate:
the accompaniment was a vegetable gratin ->

VEGETABLE GRATIN The veggie gratin (basically a cousin of the tartiflette) was flawless as far as texture and taste go. Very tasty high quality cheesy gratin. 8/10 for the steak and 10/10 for the gratin.

My lasagna was one lasagna you might not see anywhere else:

FREE FORM LASAGNA OF CHEF MICHELE MERCURI Called “Free form lasagna“, this dish — I predict — will quickly become (whether he wants it or not) the signature dish of their chef, Michele Mercuri: although, at first glance, it might not look like your typical lasagna…it is  packed with all technical goodies of a lasagne: cheese, pasta and so on. But this is a unique high end different and creative version of the lasagna -> as you can see on the picture, it’s more of a “deconstructive” version of it. What the picture wont tell you (and that is why I do predict that this is a signature dish to come) is about the remarquable work that is done in terms of savourishness:  from the small tasty chunks of lobster, succulent braided sweetbreads, enjoyable lobster emulsion, fresh tender baby spinash and oh so lovely stracchino cheese….every little element of that dish was a blast in terms of taste. Impeccably delicious. 10/10 and more if I could!

For desserts, Jannice picked the mignardises and I went for the mascarpone/berries/lemon curd’s trifle diplomate dessert ->
MIGNARDISES Jannice’s mignardises: nothing out of the ordinary here, but a nice selection of high quality sweet delicacies -> biscuits were definitely tasty, well made, with perfect light enjoyable buttery flavor. Chocolate truffles were first quality and tasted good. Same could be said of the white snowy enjoyable marshmallows. I always have a discrete smile when I see mignardises on a high end table: I recall those long hours of chit chatting with foodies from all around the world about the “pertinence” of mignardises on the finest tables. It’s a widely elegant touch to some. To me, it’s another story! But as long as it’s some high end quality mignardises, I am still fine with this (also, it’s a classic touch on most fine gourmet’s tables..so why not!)

My dessert, the ‘Diplomate trifle”:

DIPLOMATE TRIFLE That was an enoughly good unctuous creamy ‘pot de crème” alike (I know, a trifle is not exactly a pot de crème, hence the use of  ‘alike’ in my previous sentence) mix of berries, lemon curd and mascarpone. Although nice, I was left more with an impression of having enjoyed a casual heavy creamy dessert rather than a refreshing savourish delicate creamy marvel. Good, but not great.
My choice of  the “Diplomate trifle” dessert was my discrete personal challenging test for chef Mercuri’s desserts:
To each, their own -> some will rave about  the dessert grandeur of a chef over  a great crème brulée (never ever count on me for this one), others over complex combinations of desserts/pastries/fruity delicacies (absolutely!), and others, like me, will have very specific type of dessert they will use as dessert testing reference point: to me it’s the pot de crème or any it’s remote or close similars. Pot de crème is an interesting trap: so many grand chefs will tell you that there’s no big deal with conceiving pot de crème. Indeed, it’s fairly easy to make a decent or good pot de crème. BUT very few have yet delivered a GREAT pot de crème at  my table! Very few!! 7/10

Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004)Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004). I personally chose my wine, as I always do. This time I picked the $83 Chateau tour Haut-Caussan (2004). This Medoc’s full bodied red wine, is a personal favourite: I am fond of it’s complex and intense brillant mix of fruity, spicey and enjoyable slight smokey flavors (if you have it at home, make sure you drink it on the very short term. It’s a nice wine on the 1-2 hrs you’ve just opened it, but tend to lose it’s interesting aromatic strengths on the longer run).  Adorable (although..aouch..the profit margin is big, here ;p)!

IV.The Service
Let me preface this: if I could give 10 over 5, I would!
The entire staff was world class impeccable-> friendly, knowledgeable, courteous, well mannered and very attentive. Sedonie, our main waitress, was the ideal waitress: soft spoken, she is the perfect balance between beeing professional and yet accessible/attentive/careful on top of carrying a touch of the wisdom of a sage. She once worked at Joel Robuchon and it shows: world class! Sedonie is also amazingly very well informed about the restaurant scene here and abroad, the sign of someone who is passionate about the domain she works in. World class is the proper designation to the entire staff (Somelier Sebastien did a beautiful elegant job at decanting our bottle of wine, and what an enjoyable gentleman!, the various waiters who came at our table were all very classy and amazingly well trainned).

V.Afterthoughts
The top dishes of this dinner were  of world class material and would make any top tier 3 star Michelin table in Europe very proud. We can perceive things the way we want, but the facts remain that the 10/10 dishes on this specific meal (I never rate restaurants, only specific meals as to remind people that food performance is not something you can emulate endlessly. It’s not a robotic act, it’s not cloning. A great dinner just happens at a given moment and does not mean that it can be repeated) are food items that would be expected expect on a tables pertaining to the world’s top 15 best tables, if such list makes sense to you. Is this some kind of unecessary or un-realistic big  pressure on this beautiful grand table? Absolutely not: I am just talking about this one meal I just had, in relation with what I have experienced elsewhere. And for having experienced the cooking of Chef Mercuri (he was cooking on this evening) before at Bronte (now closed), I know that this Gentleman is among world’s very best Chefs.  I’ll come back to see if they consistently perform at this level.

Full galleries of our XO Le restaurant’s dinner on Picasa:
http://picasaweb.google.com/comorosislands/XOLERESTAURANT#

 

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