Time for a long break. I shall be gone till November. Leaving you on the following notes:

***My recent restaurant reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon, Callao , Shinji, Mochica.

***In June, the  most popular (among the readers of this blog) reviews  have been the ones on Le Louis XV,  the one on the city of Nice, L’ Ambroisie, L’Arpège, Le Serpent , Kam Fung as well   as my humble article on Montreal steakhouses (folks, it’s summer, enjoy a good steak in your backyard…far more fun, lol!).

***Shinji’s report, already the most popular among the readers of this blog -  I have just updated this current post on July 17th and shall observe that I was surprised by the popularity of the recent post on Shinji (which can be found here). Published on July 3rd, so only couple of  days prior, that post topped the charts on each day, since then. It’s rare that I see a restaurant’s review  attracting that much attention on this blog as soon as it was posted — the sign that the web is googling Shinji a lot, these days  (last time this happened, it was following the first review on Le Serpent — interestingly, the second report, which was more detailed and covered more meals, never got to enjoy the popularity of the first one. Even months later, the initial report on Le Serpent is the one that you have mostly perused and are still perusing).  Great then for Shinji, which managed to pull off benchmark sushis (by Montreal standards), the second best sushis I ever had in Montreal, second only to Jun I.

 

***Jun I remains, for me, the standard that all sushiyas of this province should be aspiring to reach – I just came from enjoying another dazzling sushi meal at Jun I , a sushi meal that was a superb display of intuition and skill. It’s amazing to see them consistently perform with belief, years after years, days after days.

***Glad to hear that one of my all time favourite bistrots  in Italy is still doing great: A cantina de Mananan is still as excellent as ever as/per the report of a very picky foodie friend who went there in early  June 2014.  I did recommend Cinque Terre to him, a place that’s simply a ‘ gift from the above ‘as far as its visually stunning scenery goes. While there, he also tried A cantina de Mananan upon hearing great things from my part about this little jewel. He was floored and ranked A cantina de Mananan as his favourite discovery in a trip where there was no shortage of great restaurants:  he tried Osteria Francescana, Pipero al Rex , Piazza Duomo,   . He stressed that  A cantina does not compare, in terms of culinary sophistication, to all those places, but that  in hindsight,  the great  cooking of A Cantina de Mananan is what blew away his palate because it was the most delicious food of them all. Well, I haven’t visited OF, PR and PD, but I certainly can  understand such conclusion as I myself found the finest bistrots in Italy to be quite stellar.  So, A Cantina, I hope you will be as great as my first date with you, next time I’ll go back to Cinque Terre, lol. My humble quick notes on my trip in Cinque Terre in summer 2012, here.

***Everyone should go and peruse the twitter account of L’Arpège: https://twitter.com/ArpegeLive. Once you do that, keep in mind that all the beauty your eyes will have the priviledge to espy  is most likely backed by an exceptional work of flavors and a spectacular sense of creativity. Alain Passard, you are a Chef like we do not see anymore!

***La Queue de Cheval, Montreal finest steakhouse will open soon. Very soon. Check their facebook account for any update. For now, you can enjoy their burgers at QDC Burger (check that out here). The folks at QDC are also planning the opening of the Angry lobster bar (check all of that on this link).

***You remember Thursdays, Montreal iconic bar/bistro/club  on Crescent?  It is now reopened. The bistrot‘s  Chef is Jean-François Vachon. I first discovered Chef Vachon’s cooking when he was at the helm of Club des Pins (now closed), then at restaurant  M sur Masson, many  years ago and at both restaurants, it was an instant success back then:   food was delicious, cooking skills really sharp and both restaurants  reigned supreme on my list of favourite tables of Montreal during Vachon’s tenure. Then he went opening restaurant Projet soixante-sept (now closed), which I tried but that I found less  impressive compared to what he managed to pull off in his prime at Club des pins, then at M sur Masson.  I have not tried Bistrot Thursdays yet but I hope I’ll find the Jean-François Vachon of the great old days. I’ve perused their  online menu and found it appealing with items such as ‘guinea fowl cooked in hay’ (an old fashioned cooking technique that’s  common in Europe and that I favor but it’s rare to see a restaurant doing this in Montreal) , ‘rack of lamb à la provencale’, ‘spinach malfatti”, etc. Thoughtful bistrot menu for Montreal as it seems to take seriously the concept of a true French bisrot (for eg, on their menu, I can see that they have days where they offer the bouillabaise, or the coq au vin, all French bistrot staples that few French bistrots in Montreal do mind offering – you’ll see this in the ‘promotions ‘ section of their menu)  . In his prime, Jean-François Vachon is certainly one of Quebec’s most talented Chefs, so I’ll surely try his bistrot hopefully in a near future.

***Tapas 24 MTL will open to the public on July 19th 2014. It is a restaurant that is owned by Barcelona’s highly regarded Chef Carles Abellan as well as two other local Business partners (Journalist  Sébastien Benoit and restaurateur Jorge Da Silva), so a sister of Barcelona’s Tapas 24. According to the facebook page, the Chefs are  Haissam Souki Tamayo as well as another Chef who goes by the  name Ildemar, both names sound  unfamiliar to me, so this will be opportunity to discover their craft.  I saw couple of Public relationship write ups on their pre-opening activities and have decided to not try it on its official opening first weeks. It would have been tempting to dine there while Chef Abellan is still around (he’s there, these days, according to the reports I’ve perused) , but I’ll wait couple of months and see how it will fare while Chef Tamayo and Ildemar will be in full control of the house. When I’ll head there, I’ll do it with realistic expectations, though:  I still have fond memories  of my foodie trip in San Sebastian. A year later, I had the good fortune to repeat the feature in Madrid and the tapas adventure was also memorable (low cost, spectacular  flavors).  I do not expect those dazzling tapas of Spain to be replicated the other side of the globe as the produce of the Mediterranea is hard to compete with, the value simply not something that can be matched this side of the world (especially those of the Pais Vasco where I remember having two divinely-tasting  servings of tapas with a glass of txacoli for less than 5 euros (around $7). In comparison, a similar serving of tapas in Montreal would cost at least $16, and the glass of wine would range in between  $12 to $15 on average, so my $7 tapas serving in San Sebastian (with the glass of txacoli included) would cost me around $31 in Montreal, and I am being generous here. Restaurants are there to make Business and I do understand that, but it’s tough to justify bite-size food of such price tag.  I do not know the prices/menu at Montreal’s Tapas 24 since it’s not online yet, but hopefully, they will offer enjoyable food of great value (the point of tapas, in the first place). As for the flavors, I am confident that they can’t go wrong:  the tapas currently served in Montreal are decent  but nowhere close to the quality of the tapas of Spain.

***Abroad, one of France’s most brilliant Chefs of the recent decade, Chef Nicolas Lebec has resurfaced in Shanghai, China. Nicolas is incredibly talented, think world class skills, and it’s great to see him around after years of absence. Villa Le Bec – http://www.smartshanghai.com/wire/dining/villa-le-bec-is-finally-happening  Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu – Shanghai

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014

 

 

On a non foodie subject, the world cup was full of surprises (Costa Rica and Colombia have impressed, Spain’s early exit)  , but in the end it was a finale between  two giants of the game, Argentina and Germany. I think Germany largely deserved it, but the title of best player of the tournament (Messi won it) was a big joke akin to believing in Santa ;p  // The Dutch –by now, eliminated  — had to attend a penalty shootout session in their semi finals against Costa Rica and their coach, Louis Van Gaal chose a substitute goaltender (Tim Krul) just for the shootout , which is a rare move for those in the know.  As an analogy to the world of food, this reminds of what they have been doing for so long in Japan: you have a specialist of this, another specialist of that, etc. Just to master the slicing of a piece of fish, you spend an entire year or years focusing on that sole task. Then the same to master the art of cooking some rice. It gave what you’d have expected:  artisan Chefs, and not just generic cooks, pulling off perfected crafts to be enjoyed and not just generic food to be washed down. So, Louis Van Gaal is obviously of that same mold, only he is transposing the theme into soccer. Simply amazing. //Brazil suffered an unbelievable defeat to Germany (7-1!), but that came as no surprise as their two main leaders, Neymar and Thiago Silva  were not playing. I do not understand their coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari: I know he is  a great coach and has won a world cup in the past,  but it was hard to be appreciative of his decisions this time around -> the spectacular (and best replacement for Neymar) Willian coming on around the 69th minute (what the heck??) , Hulk as a winger rather than as a striker, position that suits him better (??).  ///   Last but not least, the now famous Luis Suarez bite has earned  him national hero status in his country, Uruguay (check that out here).  The jokes about the bite are funny, though.

 

VACANCES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing an amazing summer to all of us!

Restaurant Mochica
Cusine: Peruvian
Dinner on tuesday July 15th 2014 18:00
Address: 3863 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal, QC H2W 2M1
Phone:(514) 284-4448

http://restaurantmochica.com/

***Recent restaurant reviews:  Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon, Callao , Shinji, Mochica.

It’s  my first visit at Mochica. The place is  simply, but prettily decorated. They have a terrace too, which is where I sat. The location is  on Saint Denis, in the Le Plateau area. The cooking here is Peruvian.

MOCHICA, MONTREAL - PEGASUS FISH CEVICHEStarted with a Pegasus fish ceviche ($12)  The fish, on this instance,  was of ok quality. Its leche de tigre (the marinade) was nice, having expressive fresh lime fragrance and a nice piquant to it,  done as it should (it got close, indeed, to what the  Grandmas of my Peruvian friends at whom I have enjoyed ceviche,  in the recent years, have offered to me). Sweet potato was not as  impressive as those I am accustomed to, certainly less enjoyable than the one I had last time I ate at  Las Tres Conchitas, another Peruvian restaurant of Montreal. Fried corn was Ok, but I had better corn of this sort at other Peruvian restaurants. All in all a 5/10 ceviche, for me, as I found the fish not as exciting as I am accustomed to  at some  various Peruvian eateries I ate at in Montreal, its marine robustness less evident.

MOCHICA, MONTREAL - ARROZ DE MARISCOSArroz de Mariscos ($21) was akin to a paella of seafood, the rice properly cooked in fish stock, turmeric and saffron were present but did not lift the dish with the usual aromatic dimension that’s expected from them. They were too discrete in terms of flavor. Not bad, not great.  5/10 for my taste.

MOCHICA, MONTREAL - LOMO SALTADOLomo saltado ($25) is a Peruvian beef stir fry dish.  This dish is one of my favourite Peruvian dishes as it is one of those dishes that lures you into believing that it is easy to cook, and in a way it is (stir fry beef), but in reality it relies heavily on the quality of the meat as well as the touch of the cook (for eg, on this instance, how far he can push the seasoning to make it taste genuinely Peruvian).  The meat (angus beef) was unfortunately  dry, not tender, and its seasoning not as distinctively Peruvian as I am accustomed to with the fine lomo saltados I had in Montreal within the past recent years.  There was also red and green onions, garlic rice (ok), huancaina salsa (mixed with parmesan  and goat cheese — this, for my taste, was unappetizing / the mix of parmesan and goat cheese stood, as expected, as way too pungent to match the french fries that came with this dish). 4/10 for my taste.

Overall food score: 5/10, for me, by the finest Peruvian cooking that I am accustomed to in Montreal. It was not a bad meal, but I had better Peruvian meals in Montreal.

Conclusion:   It’s a restaurant that I wanted to like as the decor pleases me a lot and the service was nice, Peruvian food is a cuisine that I like a lot (there’s just the Jalea that’s not my cup of tea) especially because they deal extensively with my lifetime sacred ingredient which is seafood, but my first rendez vous with Mochica  was unfortunately unsuccessful. Perhaps just an off day, so I’ll give it another chance.  Hopefully my next visit will fare better, but for now, on the back of this sole meal, I personally found Las Tres Conchitas and Solymar (equally Peruvian) to have the edge.

michelinstarfinedinings:

How to cook Wagyu – A very inspiring write up on how to cook Wagy brough to you by Aly’s Blog. Check that out!

Originally posted on Aly's Blog:

A couple of weekends ago, I had the luxury of being surprised with a dinner at Sage, at the Gardens Residences.

Now, I walked away from that memorable meal immensely satisfied, but with a question that has been plaguing my mind since the day I picked up an apron and a frying pan. How do you properly cook a steak?

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Sukiyabashi Jiro

Posted: July 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

michelinstarfinedinings:

Sukiyabashi Jiro,Tokyo – one of World’s best sushiyas – Brought to you by Tokyo Food Diary. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Tokyo Food Diary:

I guess no blog about food in Tokyo would be complete without writing about this celebrated sushi place. Ever since David Gelb’s documentary film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi ” was released in 2011, the hype of this Michelin 3 star establishment hit a global high resulting in more foreign visitors than local. A highly publicized visit from President Obama a few weeks ago only elevated it’s status making reservations slightly harder to come by. Photo Apr 25, 17 12 20

The Japanese don’t really revel in such attention. It is definitely not easy to make a reservation. If you are staying at a hotel without a direct link to the restaurant, don’t bother asking. Calling them is useless. They never pick up the phone. Rather, get someone to go there in person. A 10.000 yen deposit per person is required to be made on the 1st day of every month for next month’s reservation. Come early to…

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Restaurant Shinji
Type of cuisne: Sushi/Asian-inspired contemporary food/Asian-French fusion/Refine Isakaya fare
Addr: 1726 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3J 1M3
Phone: (438) 384-1270
URL: http://www.shinjimtl.com/

***My recent restaurant reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon, Callao 

Japanese Chef Shinji Nagai is at the helm of Restaurant Shinji, an establishment that has opened, recently, to wide acclaim with some local food journalists regarding it as Montreal’s top sushiya/isakaya (Local star food journalist Thierry Daraize even scoring his meal, there, with a perfect 5/5). Jeff Stinco, from the band Simple Plan, is the owner. Jeff has opened several restaurants recently and the man made it clear (to the medias) that he is only interested by the finest ingredients he can get. Good then as I am also obsessed by ingredient quality.

As ever, I prefer to completely surrender to what the Chef deem worthy to feed me with, so I went for the omakase.

Lucky Lime Oyster

 

 

 

 

Lucky Lime Oyster was of dazzling quality, plump and tasting heavenly and freshly of the sea. It was covered by a delicious espuma of Yuzu/Grapefruit that served as a judicious flavor enhancer, not as a distraction, to the sublime oyster. I can’t remember the last time I had oyster of this quality in Montreal.  Very good 8/10

Tuna tataki, garlic chips, radish salad and fresh wasabi

 

 

 

 

 

Tuna tataki, garlic chips, radish salad and fresh wasabi featured first-rate ingredients, the marinade of the tuna not explosive in flavor, presumably to not shock local palates, but this was certainly a nicely balanced and well made marinade revealing, for my taste, proper level of acidity (meaning not too strong, not too weak, just right) , the tataki technique fine (lightly seared and finely sliced as it should as well as timely marinated) . Good  7/10

Shabu shabu Wagyu beef, enoki mushrooms and lime dashi broth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shabu shabu Wagyu beef, enoki mushrooms and lime dashi broth – The quality of the beef good, the dashi broth light in density but exciting in taste. One of the better dashi-based preparations I ever had in Montreal, this one balancing the dashi stock with lime. Very  good 8/10

Nigiris

 

 

 

 

 

Then a set of nigiris (Shima-aji, Tai, Hirame, Sake, Suzuki, Hamachi, Kampachi) – Here’s a list of sushi terms if you want to get the translations. A benchmark (by Montreal standards) serving of nigiris. Knife skills are impressively sharp by local standards. This is almost up there in the league of the other benchmark sushi I had in Montreal: those that Chef Junichi Ikematsu has fed me with , in his prime. Chef Shinji Nagai and his brigade applying classic Japanese sushi crafting standards, as you won’t fail to observe that this is not americanized sushis, which is my preference.  The rice served at body temperature, on the evening of my visit, which I find is ideal for sushis, exquisitely prepared (each piece judiciously seasoned according to its topping — this is one of the very rare places in Montreal where the rice and its topping benefits from deep mastery of flavor/ingredient interraction as nothing is done to distract, everything is there for the right reason, everything is there to enhance) and cooked to one preferred toothsome consistency (not too firm, not too soft, the texture of the grains vivid). No need of sauces when sushis are made this well (but you have the sauces served aside if you still need them) , the seafood of great quality. 10/10 by Montreal’s finest sushi standards.

Next, Miso marinated Alaskan black cod with seasonal vegetable – The black cod tasting fabulous, its sear perfect, the dimension of marine freshness enhanced by a kiss from the grill, the miso marinade was mixed with maple syrup (a reminder that the house also offers blends of Oriental/Western ingredient combinations) , quality carrots and zucchini retaining nice crunch with enjoyable grilling flavor, there was also some Chinese cabbage of prime quality with vibrant taste. Very good 8/10.

 

The highlight: Benchmark (by Montreal standards) serving of nigiris, almost up there with what Chef Jun I has served me in his prime.
The downside: N/A

Overall food score: 8/10 by current Montreal finest Asian/International cuisine restaurant standards, which means easily among this city’s better crafted   Asian-inspired contemporary food.

Conclusion: Most Chefs who used to work at  Le 357 C (a private club in Montreal) do count among my favourite Chefs in Montreal and its surroundings (Pelletier who was at Club Chasse et Peche, Éloi Dion who used to work for restaurant Van Horne, Jason Bowmer from Les Zèbres in Val David). They have talent, and Chef Shinji Nagai (he also used to work there) is another great example of that flattering pattern, his brigade up to par. This is a successful restaurant, hip and popular  (plenty of patrons on this Wednesday evening),  with a tasteful warm and original (by Montreal restaurant standards) decor. They also have a sidewalk terrace and seatings at the sushi bar (which is where I sat).

 

Restaurant Callao
Address: 114, ave. Laurier West, Montreal
Type of cuisine: Contemporary take on casual Peruvian cuisine
Dinner on Tuesday June 17th, 18:00
Phone: (514) 227-8712
Url: http://www.callaomontreal.com/

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon.

Last review before submitting this web blog to a long summer/autumn break (the activities of this blog shall  resume  in  November).

CALLAO, MONTREALOne of my all time favourite Chefs, Chef Mario Navarrete Jr has opened Restaurant Callao (opened yesterday June 16th to the medias, June 17th being its official first day of operation to the public so I went paying a visit on June 17th).  In my view,  Chef Mario Navarrete Jr has the skills of any of your favourite 2 or 3 star Michelin star Chefs out there.  On this evening, he was at the helm and what had to happen, happened: a dazzling meal all way through. Chef Mario Navarrete Jr came in the dining room and talked to his patrons, on this evening, and when my turn came we had  a very honest discussion. He explained that he is around for about one month, the time his staff masters everything he expects from them. He understands that it is never easy for one cook  to replicate  the exact touch of another one, so he wants his cooking at Callao to be approachable, easy to replicate by his brigade so that a good standard is maintained. We also covered the subject of  the foodie scene in Montreal: again, I was upfront with him, telling him what I really had in my mind. I told him that he could be a culinary god in some cities abroad and that I do not think that the foodie scene in Montreal can really appreciate what he is doing. Of course, as humble as ever he invited me to better appreciate the local scene, but politely listened to my suggestions. Listen, I never hesitate to praise Quebec wherever I find it accurate: they have the best singers of the globe, the best artists, and Quebecois are the most fun Francophones you’ll meet, BUT its foodie scene is CRAP! Yes, CRAP! When a wanna be cook who can’t even cook a risotto properly is praised like a god by most food journalists while a real Chef with word class talent is overlooked, when your foodie scene  does oftently that kind of silly mistake, then let’s call a cat a cat, it’s called CRAP (do not worry: I love Montreal, I just do not understand how laughable cooks who can’t even cook properly some rice are  praised like gods)!

Chef Mario Navarrete Jr cooked the dishes of this evening, so naturally the level of amazement was very high. But before I start  reviewing  this meal, I have one friendly reminder for the kitchen brigade that will soon have to perpetuate Chef Navarrete Jr’s initiative at Callao: seize this beautiful opportunity to learn from such giant Chef, folks! Seize it! Whatever the food actuality is trying to make us believe, there are not many Chefs of Chef Navarrete Jr’s calibre in town anymore. Mark my words….

UPDATE

 

I went back two days later, on Thursday June 19th,  with my wife (the review can be found at the bottom of the current report)

 

 

First, the review of Tuesday June 17th, 18:00  meal ->

Abadeche fish, Huancaína, cherry tomatoes – Top quality ingredients will persist through the entire meal, so Abadeche fish was packed with fabulous oceanic flavor, served as a ceviche, the citrusy marinade coming straight from very skillful hands as expected from anything crafted by Chef Mario Navarrete Jr. Huancaína is a typical Peruvian sauce consisting of yellow aji amarillo chile peppers, queso fresco cheese, milk, garlic, onion. The sauce featuring superb refined  texture, its taste exciting (it was mixed with tigre de leche, which is basically the citrusy sauce that comes with ceviches, but obviously one of the exceptional type) . A world class Ceviche (the brigade will need to focus seriously on plenty of little details  if they want to replicate this dazzling dish — as I keep repeating ever since I discovered the cooking of Chef Mario Navarrete Jr, his craft is so impressive in dazzling details that most Chefs would just catch half of his symphonies ;p)  10/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - SCALLOPS

 

 

Scallop ceviche, hibiscus, samphire, passion fruit – I had passion fruit served with scallop ceviches served to me, many times, even by very ambitious kitchen brigades but rarely meshing this well. Again, plenty of little details that the brigade will have to remember: first, Chef Mario Navarrete Jr explained that he had to turn down plenty of top quality passion fruits till he gets to the right one he needed for this dish. Then the scallop: again, he had to thoroughly select it, so that it had the ideal sweetness his palate deemed opportune to match the chosen passion fruit. Clearly, there’s no secret to great cooking: it’s a communion between a creator and its ingredient. How do you teach that to a brigade? I have no clue, but they will have to find a way, lol. Say whatever you wanna say, think whatever you wann think. but at th end of the round that is what real top level cooking is about: personal touch, a communion between a Chef and its produce, tremendous skills, all proper attributes of this dish (the top quality fresh U8 scallops from New Brunswick complementing excitingly the passion fruit). Another superb dish.   9/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - TORADITO

 

 

 

 

 

Tiradito, ginger sauce, soya, drops of sweet potato mousseline -Tiradito is a sort of carpaccio, this time using salmon. The quality salmon being a highlight, the judicious seasoning (the oriental ginger/soya sauce superbly accomplished)  another one, but the drops of mousseline of sweet potato blew me away. In my tender childhood, there’s a mid-eastern complex and exciting (for my taste, obviously) sweet potato purée flavor that was very popular where I grew up. I have rarely stumbled upon sweet potato creations as dazzling as those of my childhood, but this one was up there, trading head to head with those, so I asked what it was made of: the sweet potato was mixed with orange, Cinnamon, aniseed. Bingo: those of my childhood had those exact components. This, for my taste, is what I perceive as a benchmark sweet potato purée. 8/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - POTATOES

 

 

 

 

 

Potatoes, eggs, Huancaína sauce, olive oil powder, blue potatoes, aioli – Ah the aioli….so easy, that is what every Chef says in town and yet, and yet, and yet….here’s a benchmark one with texture and precise work of the flavor that I have rarely seen in town. Again, crafted by Chef Navarrete Jr on this evening, so not a surprise for me. The huancaina sauce continuing its fabulous demonstration of top level balanced flavor/texture, the olive oil powder technique simply superb, the quality potatoes simply boiled and not seasoned proving a point: when ingredients are of top quality, when they are skilfully handled, well….you do not need salt to mask their natural expression..they just express themselves beautifully. If you think that what I just wrote is geeky BS, then think twice! And more, if needed. For sure, if you look at this dish as just potatoes and aoili, you’ll miss the point as plenty of culinary prouesse are left to be admired by an eye for details. Sharp sharp skills and an impressive understanding of how to handle beautiful produce. 8/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - OCTOPUS

 

 

 

 

 

Octopus, black beans purée, beet emulsion, queso fresco. The quality octopus brilliantly braised, its chargrill flavor spot on. The beet emulsion technically, texturally and flavorfully perfect, re-affirming what I have always maintained: Chef Mario Navarrete Jr silky skills can trade head to head with this globe’s finest Chefs. Only the black beans purée suffered from a personal resistance, that has nothing to do, obviously, with the kitchen: I had so much black bean sauces / purées , etc throughout my entire childhood that I can’t appreciate it anymore, but objectively that purée was done as it should, smooth and creamy as it can get (though, if you are familiar with black beans purée, you won’t fail to observe that it tends to dry out easily. It is its NORMAL condition. I take time to mention this kind of stuff because I see too many people who assess food  without proper understanding of / familiarity with the nature of the ingredients  they are talking about ) , its taste as great as the taste of great black beans purée gets.  Very good. 8/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - LOMO SALTADO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lomo saltado (hanger steak, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions) – A contemporary take on the classic Peruvian lomo saltado. Dish as simple as this (sautéed hanger steak and veggies) depends a lot on what I call the  personal witty touch as well as palate of whoever cooks it. Chef Mario Navarrete Jr personal witty touch could be amply appreciated throughout this dish as the meat was profoundly delicious, the seasoning exciting, the veggies beautifully sautéed retaining a nice enticing crunch and their natural flavor expressing themselves in a startling way. Here’s a superb proof  that classic cooking can be revised in an exciting way with no need of futuristic hallucinations. Furthermore, the obsessive great sourcing is to be admired as even a simple onion is of the fine sort.  Excellent 9/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - SALMON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon, Coriander/beer aguadito, carrots – Superb quality salmon, cooked to perfect firmness/to tenderness balanced consistency, the taste great. Aguadito is a a sort of Peruvian soup, on this instance a  mix of  beer and coriander, its texture rendered fabulously here. The vegetables cooking continues to showcase sharp skills in keeping the crunch of the ingredients vibrant in mouth. We are a world away from the tired looking sautéed vegetables that sadly plagues our restaurant scene. Easily a  benchmark salmon-based  dish by Montreal finest restaurant standards.  10/10

CALLAO, MONTREAL - QUINOA CON LECHE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quinoa crust, Quinoa pudding, Chantilly, Chocolate ganache: I like this dessert because a spoiled palate will overlook plenty of superb details you certainly won’t find anywhere else in Montreal. First the quinoa crust. Easy hein? Well, no, not at all. Certainly not as fresh tasting and precisely textured as this. Quinoa pudding, easy hein? Just milk with Quinoa? Well, yeah, we all know how to make a Quinoa pudding, for sure, but how many can make its milky taste as dazzling as this one? Well, not many. The technical prouesse went on with a superb choco ganache of flawless quality as well as a Chantilly pertaining to ambitious pastry standards. So it’s really a showcase of superb technique, sharp skills, exceptional understanding of flavor combinations that led me to  elect Chef Navarrete Jr as one of my all time favourite Chefs and this  dessert epitomizes just that. 10/10

 

Service: Good balance between coolness and professionalism

CALLAO, MONTREAL - WINES

 

 

 

 

Wine pairing: Plenty of nice discoveries by the glass, on this evening with numerous inspired pairings with examples like a glass of 2011 Domaine des Entrefaux-Charles et Francois Tardy Crozes-Hermitage which leather tone balancesd so well with the chargrill octopus dish, a 2012 Gini Soave classico which elegant sweetness matched well with the passion fruit/scallop ceviche.

Pros: A Chef of world class skills. It’s a priviledge to get to enjoy the food of one of the last true skilled Chefs of this city.

Cons: N/A

 

Overall food rating (meal of Tuesday June 17th, 18:00): 10/10 by current Montreal finest International cuisine restaurant standards, for this evening’s meal. Benchmark cooking by Montreal standards as expected from anything that comes from the hands of this superb Chef. But as I wrote, and Chef Mario Navarrete Jr is clear about it: soon, his brigade will take over at Callao.  There is no doubt the brigade will do well and  hopefully they can replicate or get as close as possible to  Chef Mario Navarrete Jr’s cooking. No pressure, just a wish.

Conclusion (meal of Tuesday June 17th, 18:00) : A meal to never forget!

Next, review of the meal of Thursday June 19th, 18:00 ->

Impressed by the first meal, I went back two days later, on Thursday June 19th, 18:00  with my wife. I am of the honest/straightforward/down to earth type (when it dazzles, I see no reason to not express it enthusiastically; when it does not, you will clearly know) as I believe in honesty as the only way to be constructive. So as ever  I am upfront with my ratings, which I find to be  the best way of  (subjectively, of course) conveying the level of excitement sensed by my palate. The ratings of the two meals (reported in current post)  are not trading on the same level, I’ll admit,  but that does not mean that one meal was bad and the other was good. To the contrary they were both of good standard (by Montreal international cuisine restaurant standards) in their respective categories: the second meal is more representative of  the casual dining philosophy (his contemporary twist on casual Peruvian cuisine, to be more accurate) that Chef Navarrete Jr wants from restaurant Callao (in the sense that the dishes were less complex in depth of taste and technique) , whereas the initial meal was deeply rooted in formal dining (flavor combinations and technique were more elaborate as it’s common with  fine dining fares ) . Furthermore, it will be accurate to understand  that (1) both meals were sampled two days apart, therefore it’s normal that the dishes are almost the same, (2) that such exceptional meal as the earlier one is not easy to repeat , actually virtually impossible without the help of novelty (again, it would be utterly naive to expect the effect of surprise to impart its influence in the course of meals enjoyed two days apart). Now,  on with the review of the second meal – the dishes are virtually the same as on the initial meal, so needless to re-post the same photos over and over. I’ll stick to some pics here and there:

CALLAO, MONTREAL - Abadeche fish, Huancaína, cherry tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abadeche fish, Huancaína, cherry tomatoes - on this evening, the fish’s seasoning unbalanced in comparison to its Tuesday’s version as it was frankly too salty this time. The rest (huancaina sauce) as good. Certainly of good level by any Montreal restaurant standard, though,for me,  less remarkable (compared to what I had on Tuesday)  .  7/10 for me, 9/10 for my wife who did better appreciate it on this evening (for eg, the unbalanced salty-ness that did bother me was not a problem at all for her).

CALLAO, MONTREAL - TORADITO

 

 

 

 

Tiradito, ginger sauce, soya, drops of sweet potato mousselineFor my taste, the drops of potato mousseline, on this evening, were less impressive in texture and taste’s sophistication (mainly just sweet potato)  than the one I had on Tuesday (those on Tuesday had orange, Cinnamon, aniseed added to the sweet potato), though still delicious. The salmon I found more vibrant in taste on Tuesday, most likely because of the more expressive marinade, though, again, this is of good standard, the flesh fresh and its quality irreprochable. 7/10 for me, 8/10 for my wife (my wife was in a ceviche/raw fish craving mood at the time of this meal, and she did not partake in Tuesday’s dinner, therefore your interpretation of my perception of the food Vs hers needs to be synchronized to that reality) . At this point, it became clear in my mind that the current meal was going to be about what Chef Navarrete Jr expects from his restaurant Callao (rather than his complex fares of the precedent meal): fares that are easier  for the brigade  to replicate and that better represent the theme of restaurant Callao (their contemporary twist on   casual Peruvian cooking ).

 

CALLAO, MONTREAL - OCTOPUS

 

 

 

 

 

Octopus, black beans purée, beet emulsion.- Almost as identical  as its version of Tuesday with only the octopus a tad less impressive in texture (on Tuesday, I could really sense the nice chew so typical of octopus, whereas on this evening it was slightly leaning towards the  mushy consistency, though not mushy, just leaning towards it. It’s tough to reproduce the exact same precise texture with octopus, so I am just pointing out what my palate did sense, but rest assure that most ppl  would not notice that slight difference and that the octopus was certainly tasty). Perhaps another little quibble, though again nothing severe, would be the observation that the char-grill flavor seemed more present on Tuesday. The  rest  (beet emulsion, onions, black bean purée) as flawless as on Tuesday. 7/10 for both my wife and I .

CALLAO, MONTREAL - POTATO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffed potato came with a filling of hanger steak’s minced meat , the seasoning exciting, the taste delicious, the accompanying drops of ink squid as well as the ‘splash’ of avocado/ chlorophyll simply flawless on my plate (an amusing observation, so really not a quibble, far from that,  is that I suspect that  my ‘splash’ of avocado/ chlorophyll was made by Chef Navarrete Jr whereas his brigade did the one of my wife as the former had glamourous and precise ‘splashy’ lines, whereas the latter  looked like a splash that refused to look like a pretty splash ;p ) . They roll the potato mixture in corn flour instead of bread crumbs, which lends (for my taste) more exciting flavor. A successful contemporary and updated  take on the Peruvian papa rellena, one I suspect was crafted by Chef Navarrete Jr himself as not many Chefs can pull off the sort of precise exciting flavors that was shining through that croquette (yes, hanger steak tends to be more exciting on the palate than filet mignon, to take an example,  yes corn flour add an extra layer of surprise as it’s not usually used for potato croquettes, but it takes a great  palate and sense of food flavoring to truly bring all of that into such enjoyable bite. 8/10 for me, 7/10 for my wife (she’s not a big fan of potato croquettes in general, consequently the details that jumped to my attention were less evident to her, though she still found this to be very tasty).

CALLAO, MONTREAL - SALMON

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other dishes we had were the salmon (picture on the left, or at the top of current text, depending on your web browser’s display settings) which came with the same good aguadito (Jean-Francois, our waiter, explaining that they are using Jamaican red stripe beer for now, but that their intent is to use local beers  – their aguadito is a blend of beer and coriander / there was also couple of chives flower completing the salmon course, those flowers are indeed a perfect alternative to chives as they really taste of chives….it’s with ingredients like this that we better understand that food seasoning can do really well without the usual chemically-transformed seasonings that we depend on, and some drops of aioli)   that I had on Tuesday, the fish nicely cooked though less spectacular than two days ago (7/10 for both my wife and I),  Scallop ceviche/hibiscus/samphire/passion fruit (6/10 for me – on Tuesday, I was seduced by   the  exciting oceanic dimension as well as expressive natural sweetness of the  scallop, in comparison both the bold taste of the sea as well as sweetness  were   a tad less expressive on this evening, the passion fruit fine enough but not meshing superbly with the scallop as it managed to do two days earlier , but my wife found this good enough 7/10 as her rating), then hanger steak/potatoes,/carrots/tomatoes/onions (the meat as superb as on Tuesday, its medium rare doneness truly underlining the flavorful character of this cut, 8/10 for both my wife and I, the onions sautéed al dente as it’s the way Peruvians usually prefer their onion as explained by Chef Navarrete Jr. I already knew this as I eat a lot of the food  of the Mums and Grandmas of my Peruvian friends, but this  is good to share, indeed, as some cultures prefer mushier textured onions. I have always maintained this:  when people assessing food talk about textures, they really really need to make an effort to inform themselves about the intent/customs behind the cuisine they are enjoying as we, especially foodies from the West, tend to hastily assess food of other cultures with Western expectations…best way to be inaccurate! )  as well as the Quinoa crust/Quinoa pudding/Chantilly/Chocolate ganache (as dazzling as on Tuesday,  in my view. A 10/10 for me, a 8/10 for my wife).

By now, I have dined at many   Peruvian friends whose mothers and Grandmas have tried to replicate as accurately as possible (of course, within reasonable limits: they are using the ingredients they have here) the flavors of their beloved Peru and it’s clear in my mind and for my palate that Chef Navarrete Jr has an exceptional memory of such flavors as he perpetuates them within his contemporary take of Peruvian cooking. When his brigade will take over, soon, all they need is to do just that: ensure they, in turn,  have a tight grasp on the great flavors inherited by past generations.  From there, however crazy you want your food to be, you’ll most likely get it to shine beautifully.

Overall food rating for the meal of  Thursday June 19th, 18:00 7/10, for me a 9/10 for my wife,  by current Montreal finest International cuisine restaurant standards, . It’s fair that we have both my wife’s and my opinion as it better showcases the subjectivity of food appreciation (her 1st time here at Callao, my second time in only 2 days of interval, the virtually impossible task to repeat an exceptional feature day after day – there is simply no kitchen in the world that can do that, etc). What matters to me is that Callao has already a clear identity: they are offering Casual Peruvian dining with their own contemporary twist and where the  initial meal was spectacular, the second one did compensate with a demonstration of what lies ahead -> it will be casual cooking, with their own twist, approachable but  with care and refinement of course.

Conclusion for the meal of Thursday June 19th, 18:00 :  Technically, I should remove the report of the initial  meal and just keep the write-up about the subsequent one as I think the latter will be more representative of what lies ahead (meaning the cooking will be more approachable/simple/casual/less complex than what was on display during the initial meal ) , but I can’t read in the future (lol) and keeping the initial review is a way to appreciate that Chef Navarrete Jr hasn’t lost his Genius touch.  So, this second meal will be, indeed, easier for the kitchen brigade to replicate (technically less complex than the initial meal), which is the intent so that a good standard is maintained, regularity ensured. I am a hardcore fan  of Chef Mario Navarrete Jr’s personal explosive cooking touch, but a restaurant is first and foremost a platform to reach out to the most,  therefore it is perfectly understandable that the cooking is made approachable.  Wine by the glasses are reasonable by local standards (in between $8 to $14 whereas it starts at $12 at most restaurants), the service charming (Jean-Francois and Alexandra, the front house staff of this evening, applying so well the good standards of hospitality I came to expect from Chef Mario Navarrete Jr’s establishments ), the restaurant cozy, its interior decor simple but elegantly bathed in wood, glass, and warm colors. The prices can be found on their online menu (here).  I shall be back!

What I think a week later (June 24th 2014) : A welcoming and refreshing new addition  as it adds variety  to a local restaurant scene that is relatively conservative (most openings in town  seem to have the same recurrent keywords at heart: steaks, lobster rolls,  tartares, isakaya, tapas). I am confident about the ability of the brigade to  thrive  well with the cards that  Chef Navarrette Jr  laid on the table.

HOLIDAYS

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing a happy summer  to all of us! Shall be back in November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restaurant: Au Pied de Cochon
Type cooking:  Remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine+ Misc French classic bistrot fares
Address: 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montréal
Date/Time of the meal: June 13th, 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché.

 

I went back to a long time favourite bistrot, Au Pied de Cochon. Sadly, this is the 3rd visit in a row that leaves me disappointed. I am one of the earlier fans of APDC, with amazing souvenirs of its brighter days. I do understand that not every cook can trade head to head with super skilled Chefs like Picard or Dufour (the earlier kings of this house) but there is no excuse for  subpar cooking….especially for food as easy to satisfy as classic-based bistrot  fares. It pains me  to write this about  Picard’s stronghold, Au Pied de Cochon (APDC),  as I had some of the  most interesting restaurant remakes of  rustic/old school hearty Quebecois and French bistrot  food,  there in its early days when both Picard himself and Chef Hugues Dufour were  still at the helm, but it now  seems, to me, far, and each time further and further, from its  best days. On this evening, I dined with a friend who knows his food well. His first time at APDC.  His opinion is that he was impressed by the great service and loved the concept but sharp cooking skills is basically what he was missing.

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, CRAB SALAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab salad – Basically, well sourced fresh crab flesh mixed with a salad of cucumber. Not bad, but an $18 salad of crab certainly calls for a sign or two of ….restaurant quality effort. This was basically as decent  as any salad that  anyone would have made at home with quality crab and cucumber in his/her hands. Casual cooking does not mean easy / basic food….And btw,  most bistrots would deliver this with a bit more creativity, a witty touch. Want more? Ask Chefs Dufour and Martin Picard if they would have deliver this salad in such uninspired fashion (simply toss a mayo-based vinaigrette with cucumber and crab meat..the effect was as basic as that)   5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, POUTINE FOIE GRASPoutine au foie gras – There is a myriad of suggestions about what the perfect poutine should look and taste like, but such debate essentially pertains to the the usual subjective nature of personal preferences. What matters is that you are using real and quality potato, that your gravy is not of the soggy tasteless kind, that your fries feature a nice crisp, and that the cheese curds are of fresh springy quality. So, homemade French fries is the way to go, and homemade those were, starring proper cooked-potato texture and flavor. The cheese curds are, as expected from a place of this standing, of very high quality (perfect springy consistency), fresh. The crisp of the fries, decent enough . The accompanied lobe of foie gras having a nice sear, its livery flavor sadly not as deep and exciting in mouth as it once used to be under this same roof (disappointingly subtle, in flavor, during this meal) . The sauce is the secret, as they say in Quebec, and APDC’s creamy foie-gras based concoction has been for a long time, one one of the most appetizing poutine sauces you’d run across in town. On this evening,  its texture not as perfectly  smooth as you want your poutine gravy to be, its temperature judiciously controlled so that the cheese curds do not start melting, indeed, but the sauce used to be far more inspiring: I recall finding the texture of the gravy more spectacular/ the taste more delicious.  All in all, this fared , to me,  far less accomplished than its versions of the earlier days (The fries used to hold their crunch longer, the sauce more exciting during those days)  5/10 (oftently an 8.5/10 back in the days)

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, SEAFOOD PLATTERSeafood platter – Summer at APDC has the seafood platter as the star of the house. APDC seafood platter comprises of a mix of raw (oysters, clams, conch , whelks, mussels, calamari) as well as fried items (sometimes fish, but on this occasion, well…anyways, we’ll get to that later), served with condiments such as tomato sauce, aioli, spicy yoghurt. Everything was well sourced on this platter, but sadly…everything was overdone and in a nonsensical fashion: whelk was drowned in a sort of mayo-based concoction that I did not bother inquiring about since it killed the appreciation of the whelk with its heavy creamy overwhelming dimension. Poor whelks, one of my favourite seafood items…. – The brigade on duty this evening seems to really love anything that  pivots around  mayo or cream-cheese or whatever yoghurty look alike dressing:  the oyster not escaping from this pattern  as one of those nonsensical dressings did escort my oysters,   an aigrelette cream sauce   accompanied the oysters this time . Good lord, … that is a perfect recipe to turn the oyster serving into an unappetizing bite both texturally and palatably (the effect being exactly the same, on this instance, as pairing cream cheese to oyster…certainly, that was not going to do anything good to the oyster).   Mussels came in the form of small mounds of heavy-loaded brunoise of veggies mixed with mussel flesh, introduced within the mussel shells…so heavy on the stomach that I would hate mussel forever had this been my lifetime first mussel bite.  Calamari, were drowned in what looked like a squid-ink based concoction that managed to be cloying, …poor calamari!  As for the fried item..well, it  came in the form of what looked like tiny pieces of fish (??) tempura sitting atop  some of the sea shells offerings, and shall be remembered as yet another element too many in an already confusing seafood platter (this was the $60 seafood platter).  For me, this was nothing more than just a  waste of well sourced ingredients  2/10

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, LOBSTER RISOTTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster risotto featured rice that was properly cooked to the bite but the overall texture was   ‘cloying’ rather than creamy.  I do not expect them to compete with the finest Italian risotti in town but for me, this was cloying, not creamy and cloying is not the texture I need with a risotto. And at $42 the plate, I need the lobster morsels to benefit from more inspired work than just featuring as morsels of boiled lobster laid atop the risotto…  5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, VEAL TARTARE

 

 

 

 

 

Veal tartare was the best item of this meal, the veal seasoned judiciously, its taste really appetizing. The ‘asian’ touch of wrapping them in a nori sheet is an idea that never fails to entice as raw meat and seaweed sheets is one of those combinations condemned to pair well.  7/10

PROS : Popular, boisterous, it is never boring here. The service really great as always.

CONS: This (a remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine) is one kind of food that I am very familiar with (by very familiar, I mean about 2 decades of enjoying it…) and to which my palate tends to be partial to, therefore easy to reach out to my expectations, BUT their current cooks really need to  draw the line between enjoyable rich food (what made Au Pied de Cochon a widely praised foodie destination)  Vs overwhelming fares (what I have experienced all along the recent  3 visits). Today, I saw plenty of dishes, served at other tables, and that were lost amidst an unreasonable amount of ingredients and condiments. My past two visits starred a lamb shank confit that was so over garnished to the point that I could not tell the difference between the meat and its garnishes. On that same visit, a piece of delicate fish suffered from the same problem (why, on earth, do you associate a delicate piece of fish with that much reduction on the plate??).  As for the current meal, same old problems….

Overall food score for this meal: 4/10 You have all you need to know in the description of each of the dishes. Needless to add more …

Conclusion: Once upon a time, under this very same roof, the exact same items that failed today … were better conceived, and came with a very personal touch, because whoever was crafting them had a better sense of flavor combination, in my view and for my taste. APDC remains ‘unique’ / ‘original” by local standards, but, for me, the soul of this house has moved to their sugar shack (the souvenirs of the inspired rustic food that Martin Picard or Hughes Dufour were once crafting … they seem to have somehow resurfaced at their sugar shack). I do not  know if there is an  urgency of hiring a Chef of Picard’s or Dufour’s ilk, I just know that ADPC  seems, to me, to fail to thrive well.

Post thinking: I usually have a section called ‘what I think a week or a month later”.  With a meal like this, there’s no need for such section as it’s not a performance I want to think about. There are many things in life that we learn to cope with, and a forgettable meal is just part of life, even when you pay as much as what you would have paid at  a 3 star Michelin restaurant….  for a poorly executed bistrot performance, but I   have a friendly advise, just a friendly one:  seafood are a gift from the above, whoever cooks has no other choice but to  be gentle with them (the seafood), respect them (the seafood) because they (the seafood) are unforgiving when you treat them badly….they bite! (wink).  I know that, because I have yet stumbled upon a kitchen that cooks well without paying utter respect to them (the seafood). Seafood is the mother of all ingredients, trust that one….On an aside note, I’ll conclude by suggesting that as an old fan of Martin Picard, and knowing how proud and passionate this man is, I can safely presume that Martin would not be proud of what I was left with in the course of  the underwhelming past 3 visits.  The past 3 meals had more to do with testing my patience rather than getting the job done…Now, can we resume with  serious cooking???Is that too much to ask?

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014On a non-foodie subject, the magic of  the soccer world cup is now in full effect. So an exciting summer for us, fans of soccer. June 12, July 13, let’s play!  My WISH : a final between Brazil and Germany! ;p Though, I have a soft spot for Italy (would love to see Pirlo with the world cup in his hands, he’s my favourite soccer player ) as well as the UK (I grew up admiring Steven Gerrard). Regarding the recent games, my opinion is  that the defeat of Spain against the Netherlands should not be taken seriously. Spain knows how to win and their next games will reveal an unbeatable side. I really do not see Brazil going that far eventhough my wish is that they face Germany for the cup. Yes, they have some of the players that I do admire a lot, like Oscar and Willian, but I do not sense, from their part,  the fire or strong and deep passionate commitment  typical of a team that is on mission (It’s of course a bit too early to talk about such, but Costa Rica seems to have that fire up to now). I also think that the South American teams will surprise many during this WC! Ah, soccer, the beautiful game….