***A first (??) for Quebec: a Michelin star Chef who’s Quebecois: Hughes Dufour (M.Wells Steakhouse,NYC). Michelin does not cover Canada, but many Canadian Chefs are as good as 1,2 and even 3 Michelin star Chefs in Europe. In Quebec alone, just to name a few, Chefs like De Montigny  (La Chronique), Navarette Jr (Ex Raza, Callao,Madre), Rouyé (La Table des Gourmets) or  Mercuri (Le Serpent)   can cook food worthy of 2 or even 3 star Michelin European Michelin stars. Some of them already had Michelin stars before.

***Michelin San Francisco has freshly awarded Saison as well as Benu as the new 3 star Michelin restaurants of the USA. I do not know Saison, but I know Benu as well as their Chef Corey Lee and thought that they deserved the 3 stars since a long time. Anyways, Chef Lee was the main artisan behind the 3 stars of the French Laundry, so he’s been there, done it and naturally knows how to replicate the feature.

Down to the main feature of this post, my Oct 25th dinner at Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon.

Kitchen Galerie
Dinner on Saturday Oct 25th 2014, 18:00
Type of Cuisine: North American, Market Cuisine Bistro
Type of place: feels homey, not fancy
60 Rue Jean-Talon Est, Montreal, QC
(514) 315-8994
URL: http://www.kitchengalerie.com/

This was  a romantic dinner, so devoid of the distraction  of phototaking. I will, however, try to report as much as my mental notes shall remember (which is not hard to do…as bistrot food is quite straightforward) -

I started with a dozen of fresh and flawlessly shucked oysters, with a (minor) quip: the mignonette had taste that was way too sharp to be enjoyable. Still, the oysters were superb and finely sourced and there are places dedicated to oysters that can’t even shuck their oysters properly….I am not kidding….(8/10)

We both had a ‘lait de courge‘ as an amuse bouche. This had texture and flavour that explained  why I have always regarded KG on Jean Talon as one of the very best bistrots that Montreal ever had: the delicious classic flavors of that pumkin cream were deep and far better than what most bistrots would do with as little as milk and squash in their hands. Of course it is simple,as bistrot food is supposed to be, but then you have got to make it as dazzling as what  they did on this evening—and this is not a case when imagination is half the battle….more accurately  an example of inspired cooking and witty cooking touch   (9/10)

She went on with a classic of the house ‘foie gras poélé,tarte tartin‘ – the top quality foie gras so fresh in taste, the searing fabulous. Only quip is that they do not elaborate too much on the tarte tatin part anymore (actually, they should remove the mention of the tarte tatin as it is not as evident as it used to be — the , but there is virtually no pastry dough). Still, when foie gras is seared as beautifully like this and taste this great, it’s not a battle that you won,it is the war! Not impressed? Then let me know as I’ll have no probem finding, for you, tons of bistrots in America and Europe excelling at delivering weak versions of pan seared foie (lesser quality, dry, overcooked,tasting of nothing, etc).  9/10 for me, a 10/10 for her.

On this evening, we ordered the cote de boeuf for two. It was not as spectacular as the previous versions I had under this same roof (the seasoning less life-shattering, the meat great as usual but a tad less remarkable than what I had here before — it is a market-driven table, so they depend on what is available at the market, which means the meat will always be good, for sure, but at times certainly better than just good) and yet, this remains one of this city’s better cote de boeuf, underlining how good the cooking is  here (by local standards). The accompanying vegetables and potato purée as delicious as I remember it from previous visits. (7/10 for me, a 8/10 for her)

Rounded the meal with a deconstructed cheesecake for her (both her and I love the classic sort, but this one was good,with blackberries/strawberries, a strawberry coulis –and the cheese itself — of fine quality.  What they did is to basically  lay separately  on the  plate, the various elements of the cheesecake instead of assembling all of them into a cake. Not a bad idea at all, eventhough the top quality ingredients were   half  the battle. 7/10 for both of us

I also ordered a flawlessly executed creme brulée (10/10)  and upon tasting it,  I wrote a note to myself that reads as follows ”next time someone tells you that a crème brulée is no big deal, tell him to start by doing it ….this well………..!!!!!!!!!!!!

Verdict: 8/10 – It has been a while since I last ate at KG on Jean Talon,but time did not alter this team’s consistent standards of joyous / flavourful bistrot cooking.

Food does not need to be a show, food does not need to be special (there is booze and its relevant special effects for that ;p), food does not need pompous settings, food just need to be executed by a serious kitchen, a focused and a committed team (you can’t do that with just name bearers and the greedy attitude to make money just for the sake of making money..nah, you can’t and KG is the proof that the ‘greed for glory’ formula can’t work as Chefs Axel,Bourdages and their team are the exact same dedicated folks as from years ago), food just need to be well done and to taste good and KG on Jean Talon has long sticked effortlesly  to that principle.

The tiny bistrot remains boisterous, the vibe festive (this is what I favor the most: no focus on pompous settings/no formal service/ no tablecloth/no dependency to trends). Its food as delicious as ever, simply executed as expected from bistrot food, but doneand tasting better than at most bistrots in town. Both my sweet half and I have been long time fans of KG on Jean Talon since our very first visit here, many years ago, which is a relative achievement as far as we are both concerned because, of all the restaurants where we’ve ate at,in Montreal, only 4 or 5 tables have been worthy  of our revisits and KG on Jean Talon is one of those few. Many bistrots have long disappeared from my list of preferred bisrots in town, thanks to their inconsistencies, a myriad of others have opened through the years, and yet KG on Jean Talon still reigns supreme in my top 3 bistrot in Montreal alongside Au Cinquième Péché and Bistro Cocagne.

 

 

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

-My recent restaurant reviews: Thursdays, Tapas 24 MtlVertigo StkBar, Gia BaRestaurant 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, Bottega .

-La Porte, a restaurant that I have always regarded as Montreal’s #1 (click here for past reviews of my meals at La Porte ) has recently closed. Chef Rouye’s food has always fared, to me, as one of the very  best that  Mtl has ever been able to offer and he was pulling it off on a consistent basis. Couple of weeks ago, Chef Rouyé has opened a more humble restaurant in Val David, called La Table des Gourmets (https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-table-des-gourmets/1463806720537762). It’s, apparently, already a big hit overthere,which, knowing Chef Rouyé’s talent, came as no surprise. Check that out: La Table des Gourmets 2353 rue de l’église, Val-David, Quebec (819) 322-2353

-La Queue de Cheval,  Montreal’s very best steakhouse,  has now re-opened. Lavish/luxury/pricey, whether you like it or not, it leaves no one indifferent. I’ll leave the debate over cost performance/price/tolerance to lavishness/perceptions based on price…  to your discretion (you’ll have a lot to say about it, trust me) and will stick to what matters to me: not one single steakhouse in Montreal masters the nuances of  its steak as well as QDC. Just remember, it is very pricey (though ,the Q is aware of that and is consequently also offering  affordable lunch and late night menus).   La Queue de Cheval 1181 Rue de la Montagne, (514) 390-0091 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queuedecheval  .

-I finally tried Tapas 24 Montreal, which is is affiliated with Barcelona’s reknown Tapas restaurant Tapas 24. I was very pleased with both the food and the experience, and if they pursue with the standards I found on the evening of my two visits, then Tapas 24 Montreal will easily rank among the few truely great  restaurants in  Montreal. Keep in mind that it is bite-size food (which is what tapas are), so obviously  not your usual ‘big eater’ destination .My review here. Tapas 24  420 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, Phone:(514) 849-4424

-I recently tried couple of places in Laval, a city North of Montreal: Enotecca Mozza did nothing for me, Pirate de Laval continues to be a decent restaurant by local standards, Le Cosmopolitain remains my preferred breakfast place in Montreal and its surroundings and my once preferred poutine place in Laval (Le Croque) is not what it used to be. You can peruse that report here.

-Went back to my other preferred Isakaya in town, Kazu, after a previous meal that was average. This time Kazu was in top form with the best Japanese-isakaya inspired roasted salmon that I ever enjoyed in a restaurant of Montreal as well as a spectacular soft ice cream tasting of the raw fresh cow milk of my tender childhood. I could have a bone to pick over the fact that their omnipresent secret homemade sauce lessens  (a bit, I find) the enjoyment of the food, and the more affordable offerings are  generally not what you should come here for, but Kazu continues to deliver the most delicious Isakaya fares of this city.

Couple of places visited this summer: (1)Bier Markt 1221 René-Lévesque Boulevard West (514) 864-7575- I tried their hamburgers as well as silders which I did both rate with a 4/10 as, for my taste,they lacked the deep beefy bold flavor that such basic fares have no choice but to deliver. Furhermore,  the meat was overcooked/border dry  on both instances. The  variety of beer is amazing, indeed, for a beer destination in Montreal but I wish the food could be up to par. The welcoming, at the entrance, could be warmer.  (2)Le Hachoir 4177 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal (514) 903-1331- It’s being a while that I wanted to visit Le Hachoir which  name aroused  the carnivore in me. Here, I tried their trio of mini burgers which was  certainly not bad at all, the quality of the meat really good, but I wish theirs had a beefier kick. The quality of the meat was also the saving grace of a nice fresh meaty tartare that I also enjoyed there, but the seasoning lacked  spark. I get their point though: they want the main ingredient to shine through, but in both cases a beefier kick for the trio of mini burgers as well as an exciting seasoning for the tartare, as long as it’s judicious…they would have brought those items a long way. A 5/10 for me,  but this place is popular, fun, the service amazing so consider this to  be a NO sour 5/10 (you can see that they are capable of better). (3)-Reubens Deli 1116  Ste Catherine  continues to impress me. It is the only other restaurant in Montreal, alongside Bottega on St Zotique, that you can rely on, in my view, in terms of consistency.It has been consistently good,for me, year after year. This summer I   had my share of sliders in town and theirs simply blew away any other serving of  sliders I have enjoyed in town. The beefy flavor as well as superb  moist meaty consistency of those sliders were ages ahead of the rest. Their 10 oz “famous super sandwich “continues to be the most refined smoked meat in town. This is not refinement sacrificing flavor, to the contrary it’s technical prouesse in demonstrating that you do not need messy smoked meat to pretend that it is good or authentic, you just need one that’s deliciously meaty, the meat of top quality, the seasoning exciting. Their Montreal-style cheesecake  is also one of the few tastier and better executed ones out there,with strawberry of spectacular fresh ripe /wild flavor. Overall, a 9/10 by Delicatessen standards. Reubens Deli’s refinement may hit on the nerves of those who believe that delicatessen should taste,look and be served in rustic settings –which is pure BS as food is well done or it is not, delicious or not…and nothing else—  , but ultimately it  is one excellent Deli, one of my few preferred Delis anywhere around the globe.

 

On a non-foodie subject, the habs have signed Pk Subban for 8 years worth $72 million. This is little money for one of the greatest athletes of our decade, an exemplary ambassador of his sport  . I think we are lucky, in Quebec, to have such inspiring  athletes such as PK, Georges St Pierre and of course, our latest rising star Eugénie Bouchard.

Thursday’s Montréal | French Bistrot | Addr: 1449 Rue Crescent | Url: http://www.thursdaysmontreal.com/en/bistro/

For those who knew Chef Jean-François Vachon at M sur Masson as well as (the now closed) Club des Pins, he is now at the helm of the kitchen of Thursday’s Montréal.

THURSDAYS, MONTREAL -DUCK  FOIE GRAS TERRINE Terrine de foie gras de canard – This was undoubtly of good quality, the technique perfect (timely cooked at proper low temperatures), the topping of excess fat having the kind of vivid yellow texture that a lesser terrine  can’t have,  but for my taste I found the duck foie gras  flavor way too subtle, and I suspect most people would find it underseasoned, which should not be interpreted as a reproach but a reminder that we  have enjoyed so much of the stronger flavored sort of foie gras terrine  that most might tend to  perceive the latter as utimately better, which would be a mistake as the point of this classically executed terrine is obviously to let the foie gras flavor as minimally altered as possible. Still, I wonder if this terrine was allowed to rest enoughly long to let the flavor develops.  With the terrine  came a flawless homemade fig jam of an exciting depth of fresh fruit flavor , some salad as well as toasted bread. Good 7/10

Panko crusted goat cheese beignetBeignets de chevre en croute de Panko featured superb fresh quality goat cheese flavor with not one single of the reproaches associated with goat cheese (for eg, too strong in flavor, not that pleasant in mouth, etc) on evidence, the panko texture spot on, the accompanying salad and its  dressing tasty. Where many would nowadays offer a single beignet (for..actually…the same price as 3) , they generously served three of those. By then, it became clear in my mind that this kitchen is, as far as the technique goes,  one that knows what it is doing and it is doing it well. Just make sure you know your classic French cuisine and you  should not fail to get to a similar conclusion. Very good 8/10

Carre d'agneauCarré d’agneau à la provencale boasted superb quality lamb from New Zealand, delivered rosy as it should, with plenty of enjoyable lamb flavor, the classic aromas of provencale seasoning genuinely well balanced with the thyme of particularly great quality . The ratatouille that came along is the finest  ratatouille that I ever had in Montreal, with first-rate  seasoning and ingredients as well as the joyous flavors that a great ratatouille rarely fails to express, only it’s done with refinement here, which means you won’t have to deal with the messy/oily looking sort of traditional ratatouille  that some do associate with rusticity. The vegetables timely sauteed, their fresh flavors brought forward. One of the very best carré d’agneau  of this city. Excellent 9/10

Baba au rhumBaba au rhum is one  of my favourite French desserts with the Louis Xv‘s being my benchmark baba in France as well as anywhere  around the globe, the one at La Chronique topping the chart among those I had in Montreal. What I was having on this evening fared, to me,  as less impressive (mouthfeel a tad less spectacular, textures less impressive) as those I have   just mentioned and yet, there was no technical fault to be noticed: the baba  raised properly, the creme chantilly  of great quality,  the fruits that came along were  nicely sourced, the overall holding to the traditional French recipe. Good 7/10

Chocolate tartChocolate tart was packed with quality cocoa, the ganache’s texture nicely balanced between the soft and the firm, its  taste fine, the overall done as it should, meaning that it applied the common proper  techniques of classic chocolate tart, and I like chocolate tart with a greater ratio  of cocoa, rather than one with a level of sweetness that’s more important than its cocoa counterpart,  so that the chocolate flavor is better expressed, which was perfectly applied to this chocolate tart I was having, but this was, for my taste, perhaps  not at the level of the world class chocolate tartlets  I had the other day at Patrice Patissier , so  not  unparralled (for eg no exceptional work of the texture of both the filling and the crust)  but certainly one of good level.   6/10

riz au laitRice pudding is one of my all time  favourite classic French desserts, with the one of Le Casse Noix topping  my chart. Although not as great as the one I have enjoyed at Le Casse Noix, this one remains a nice version made of quality cream and milk, the rice’s texture soft, the caramel featuring flawless texture and tasting delicious. Nice. 6/10

The service and ambience could hardly be bettered, the staff very accomodating and pro, and of course you have the bonus of people  watching as we are on crescent street.

My personal verdict: 7/10 Really good French bistrot food, using quality produce,  the house clearly interested by some aspects of Classic French cooking  that many, in town, do not have ‘the guts’ to think about because it’s financially too risky to roam away from the usual safe offerings.  Thursdays took that beautiful risk and the result is the rediscovery of true French cooking, albeit with a contemporary approach  (the ratatouille is the perfect example of just that: not the heavy-tasting old fashion sort, but a contemporary light creation  that carried on the better aspects of  old fashion ratatouille) so that both the old and the new can co-exist harmoniously.  As ever, the more you know, the better you appreciate, so ensure you really like / and are familiar with classic French cooking  of various eras. There are thoughts and a vision under this roof.

What do I think days later:  It’s being a while that  I haven’t experience with true French bistrot cooking of such good standard in Montreal. I wished the  desserts could dazzle, but those were proper classic French versions of  the baba au rhum, chocolate tart and rice pudding.

The Deli, Montreal’s forte (alongside other local staples like the poutine, cheesecake) as it is  virtually impossible to elect  the smoked meat by which you’ll  judge the other smoked meats in town:

You  need to try the major delis of Montreal, those most Montrealers usually consider as pertaining to their tier1 and tier2, which are the usual culprits: Schwartz‘s, Reuben’s, Smokemeat Pete’sThe Main, Jarry Smoked meat, Dunn’s, Snowdon Déli, Lesters, etc.

You have to try those since they can be really different from each other’s (the seasoning, the quality of the rye bread, some prefer rusticity, others opt for  refinement )  and the differences will tell you how inaccurate it is to hastily elect one smoked meat as the ultimate One.  As an example: isn’t that tempting to associate dry brisket with failure? Well, if you do so, you could be wrong because some have their dry brisket perfectly balanced by either seasoning or the perfect amount of mustard kick that would make the whole less exciting had that same  brisket been moist. The preparation can be completely different from a place to  another as some cover their brisket with spices, others do not, some have their meat easily breaking apart (considered as authentic to some), others do not (and that does not mean the brisket is less good..obviously),etc.  And examples of that sort abound and remind us  that you should not anticipate anything that sounds off-putting  as necessarily bad when it comes to the smoked meat.

I went back to one of Montreal’s major delis, Reuben (the one on 1116 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest) after two years of no show. As soon as you enter the place, the attention to details jump to your eyes: this will be about refinement (for a deli in Montreal) all the way -> the art-deco inspired interior design is not overly flashy but  this is clearly Montreal’s best looking deli as far as décor is concerned, the staff looks good and is dressed well (again, by Deli standards).

ImageSliders ($20) rank  among the priciest sliders that I had in Montreal, but they  were also the finest ones I ever had in town since a long time. Amazing  textures and flavors, the bun beautifully leavened, the beef expressing flavors like few sliders in town do. Not one single flaw to be noticed: dry? NO, try ‘savourishly juicy’ instead! Tired looking bun? NO, more accurately of the ‘beautiful glossy golden’ color kind  with soft fresh risen dough. I had my share of sliders since the beginning of the year  (Le Hachoir, Bier Markt, Boccaccinos , etc), but those at Reuben’s fared far better to me. I have  no clue if Reuben’s sliders are always as impressive on a regular basis but  you’ll hardly get better sliders than those I was enjoying, even on gourmet tables, in town 9/10

French fries came with the sliders (you’ll be surprised by the laughable number of places that serve their sliders with nothing else), and their texture was great. They were not served enoughly hot, but that could have been intentional as to not burn your tongue ….I don’t know, I did not ask. Just guessing. Regardless, those were good French fries that would have been startling ones with extra heat and more expressive potato flavor. 7/10

ImageI went on with their 10 oz ‘famous super sandwich” (that’s how it’s called on their menu) – Ordering the smoked meat been obviously the main reason I came here. On their web site, they state that ‘’ Each plate is expertly hand-carved to order and served steaming hot”””, which was not just a statement but also an evidence. The quality of the meat, fresh rye bread,  and the genuine artisan skills at play are admirable here, but I found even more impressive the fact that they managed to deliver a gourmet-quality sandwich (great mastery in refining every aspect of the smoked meat: for eg, no bold seasoning at all, no aggressive mustard flavor, no overwhelming rich fatty brisket even with their fattier  smoked meats..AND YET, the balanced and controlled flavors are very enticing, tasting fresh and delicious)  without losing the soul of  its rustic version. I am saying this because many fans of the smoked meat do sometimes associate genuine smoked meat with messy fatty brisket or with dry over-seasoned one (try all the major Délis in town and you’ll get what I mean…but again, as I wrote earlier on, what sounds off-putting is NOT  necessarily a failure when it comes to smoked meats). Well, Reubens proves them wrong. Excellent  9/10

Last, I had their strawberry cheesecake (of the North American sort, of course), the strawberry not overripe nor undeveloped, served at timely ripeness, its  taste consequently savourishly fruity, its appearance of the fabulous deep red kind,   the cream cheese packed with a great kick of fresh lactic flavor, gorgeously sweet and tart sensations mingling together.  This is a speciality of Montreal, so many places are doing a great one but Reuben’s is largely one of the finest strawberry cheesecakes you’ll get in town. A flawless cheesecake in terms of the technical conception  as well as for the palatable enjoyment  9/10

Pros:  The refinement of their smoked meat generates a mouthfeel effect that’s as enjoyable as those of any  rich and flavorful rustic takes on the smoked meat. Another admirable feature is to observe that doing more than just smoked meat (steaks, burgers, etc …which WE Montrealers usually do not want from our  Delis…we want our delis to just focus on the smoked meat)  substracts nothing to the quality of those smoked meats. Furthermore, they don’t just do an excellent smoked meat but they also perform well when it comes to the non-déli items as demonstrated by sliders that had the edge over other versions found at  places specializing in burgers.  This is one of the few places in Montreal that seem to suffer from virtually no inconsistency (Bottega do share that feature with Reuben’s ).

Cons: The gentleman (40ish, relatively short, bald) serving us was polite, but I felt a bit rushed. Now, I live in Montreal  since a long time so I know where such thing should be treated as perfectly expected/normal, which was the case here. The reason I do mention this is because some people, especially from outside Montreal, could have a different interpretation of this. So here we go: there’s nothing wrong to that and I could have just asked him to slow down a bit.

Verdict – 9/10 (Excellent) in  its category (Deli). It’s being a long time that I live  in North America, and delis I have visited and re-visited. There will always be plenty of contradictory opinions about what the perfect Deli should be, and mine is that  Reuben’s is the  perfect all-rounder deli : refined and yet enjoyable, great cooking skills, nice décor, etc.      REUBEN’S DELI   1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc 514.866.1029  http://reubensdeli.com/ – Visited on Wednesday March 19th 2014 18:00

Restaurant Gia Ba | Szechuan cuisine | Addr: 5766 Monkland Avenue, Montreal | Phone number (514) 564-7698

Chef Andy  Su has cooked Szechuan food in town, for years, at various Chinese restaurants. He  recently opened  Gia Ba on Monkland street.

The restaurant is tiny and casual, but to the contrary of most casual Chinese restaurants, its looks are closer to the ones of a conventional western-style bistrot than to your old school looking Chinese eateries. I did not take any photo of the room as it was full of people, but it’s essentially a casual bistrot interior, with colorful chairs (red, beige) and clothless dark wooden tables.

Dan Dan noodlesDan Dan noodles $8 comes in various versions, in China and abroad, so my rating will not take  “preferences based on the style/s I prefer ” into account. I am more interested by  the technique and of course the flavor, as well as how the texture played a role at enhancing (or not) the appreciation of the dish. The noodles featured a  moderate thick consistency which allowed for a nice chew but I find the  thinner noodles to elevate Dan Dan noodle dishes into much more enjoyable food . Still, thin or thick noodles is  not a problem here, just a matter of personal preference. My problem was with the flavor, which , while remaining as close as possible to its authentic traditional taste, left me under the impression that the kitchen did hesitate to go  bold  all the way (which KanBai, the one located at 1813 St Catherine St W, Montreal, did so well last time I ate there) by toning down a bit the flavor of  the component of the  preserved mustard green (which  was present, but   did not mesh  excitingly nor harmoniously  well with the rest as I came to expect from the finer dan dan noodles in town) . In other words, the overall taste was unidimensional , the overall lacking of the complexity of its  finer versions. 6/10

Mopo doufuMopo doufu $9 – Homemade tofu,  of ultra light consistency/not firm, set in a sauce made of beans/chilly oil. I have no preferred tofu textures (it boils down to the type of tofu dish…some fare well with soft tofu, others with firmer ones), but even the Mopo doufu versions using soft-textured tofu do feature tofu with a bit more texture than this one I was sampling on this evening. This was way too “melting” soft to be effectively appreciated as an important element of a Mopo doufu dish. Furthermore, the sauce lacked the complexity and exciting taste  of the finer Mopo doufu sauces I had elsewhere. 5/10

Pork bunTaiwan steam pork burger $8 – Basically a steamed  pork bun. The bun is ok (for eg, not doughy tasting) , but  the flavor of this bun  lacked palatable excitement of some other buns enjoyed elsewhere. The pork was more firm than tender, a little bit dry. I had better pork buns in town (deeper porky flavor, finer bun, more elaborate work of both the textures and seasoning).  6/10

The items I picked were not expensive, but you also have pricier dishes such as chilli soft shell crabs ($28), twice cooked oysters ($28), Szechuan style crawfish ($38). For drinking, you have couple of sakes, beers and wines.

Pros: The bistrot feel is, in the context of casual Chinese dining in Montreal,  a bit unique, with a  service that’s way better than at most similar eateries.

Cons: I wish the flavors (of what I was sampling on this evening) were more complex / had more depth as generally expressed by Szechuan cuisine.

Overall personal verdict: 6/10 for the food (by Szechuan restaurant cooking standard in Montreal) . I went there only once, so I have no clue whether  it’s different or similar on other days, but this specific meal left me with the impression that they are hesitating between adapting the dishes for non-Sichuanese tastes and keeping it as close as authentically Sichuanese as you can get to in Montreal. Do not get me wrong: the  Sichuanese flavors are present (for eg, the heat /spiciness is there / the chilly oil not at its finest depth of flavor complexity but still good enough), but they seemed — to me — as not fully expressed. I have enjoyed Chef Andy  Su’s food  before and I know what he is capable of, but this evening’s meal was not conclusive.

What I think days later: Obviously, this meal did not ‘float my boat’, but do not get your knickers in a twist about it…inconsistency is the normal condition of all restaurants. Who knows, it is perhaps with the pricier  dishes that I would better understand the buzz around Gia Ba. But for now, this was nowhere near my idea of a favourite fix of Chinese food in Montreal.

Vertigo Stk Bar | Steakhouse | Addr: 1235 Univertsity, Montreal | URL: http://vertigostkbar.com

Went to Vertigo Stk bar, a  new steakhouse opened in downtown Montreal.

The interior of the place is impressive by Montreal steakhouse standards (at the exception of the Queue de Cheval, which, based on the pics posted on their facebook  page, seems to boast the most lavish decor of any steakhouse in town), with leather and dark wood featuring heavily. The  ‘pictures‘ section of of their web site has everything you need regarding the looks of their decor. Those pictures will show you how pretty the place is (it is very pretty), but it won’t tell you how those chairs were ergonomic (I have rarely seen chairs this thoughtfully comfortable at a restaurant in Montreal).

01I ordered their Certified Angus cowboy steak (rib steak) as that is usually one of my preferred steaks  when dining at most  North American steakhouses.  The superb condition of the bone (Yep, I know, some ppl could not care about this kind of detail,  but then…why bother dining out if there is nothing to be expected from a restaurant??) revealing how well  the beast was treated, the doneness achieved as  requested (medium rare) . The seasoning spot on. The most  important, when I eat a steak at a restaurant (on top  of the quality of the meat, obviously — the quality is fine here,fyi) is how the aging effect of the meat manages to deepen the meat flavor and helps  tenderizing it. I do not buy into the idea that a meat shoud be aged over 50 days…beyond 50 days, the effect is one that my palate stops appreciating. It should  not be too short neither (in between 40 to 45 days is the ideal for my taste). There’s of course more (to just the number of   days of aging) , as I prefer the effect of   dry aging over the one of wet aging, the flavor of corn-finished beef, barely no seasoning as to allow the meat to express itself (though  an exciting steak seasoning that is well done will achieve that same great impression, too). The meat here is aged with a minimum of 21 days by their (US as well as Western Canadian) suppliers then wet aged in between 7 to 14 days by the house, the beef corn-fed and finished (our North American palates tend to generally associate meat of corn-fed and finished cattles with enhanced beef flavor and indeed, this tasted more flavorful, to my palate,  than most of their grass-fed counterparts),  the steak grilled on infrared gas grill, served charred, the effect in mouth (of the steak I was sampling) underlining  the character that I came to expect from well sourced and timely  aged cuts, which means beefy enough in flavor,   though, in this case, not as delicately tender as I came to expect from the sort of  prime-aged rib steaks that I am partial to (dry aging that beef instead of the wet age method would have helped achieving that tenderness I was looking for, in my personal imperfect and subjective view). 6/10

02

 

 

 

My wife ordered the beef tartare which was all about the quality of the meat: indeed, well sourced. It was hand cut and meat this fresh always make a good impression. Not  as boldly seasoned  or exciting as one would wish right from the first bites,   but bite ater bite it morphed into an enjoyable tartare. 6/10 for me, 7/10 for my wife.

03The fish tacos is an item that most online accounts have raved about. It was not bad, but two factors jumped to our attention: (1) the tortilla had a grilling  flavor that we  –surprisingly —  did not enjoy. It was not grilled  throughout (more accurately quickly laid on a grill ) , but the grilling flavor’s bitterness was a bit too present…so not   pleasant  for our palates. Taste is subjective though, so give it a try and see for yourself (2)the fried  fish that was in the tacos was of good quality, but the overall was standard/regular/normal western style take on the tacos..nothing more. The problem with tacos is that the Mexican influence is never far away, as we are in North America, so fine tacos is fresh in North American memories – for eg, while eating those tacos, I had the finer ones of El Rey del Taco (in Jean Talon’s market) fresh in mind, and the ones I was having at Vertigo paled a bit in comparison as they did not have the Mexican panache   I am expecting from a take on the tacos  –    5/10 for me, 6/10 for my wife.

I also enjoyed some first-rate fresh pickle point oysters,properly shucked,   from Prince Edward Island. These  were  beautifully sourced bivalves. The only minor problem is that this evening’s accompanying  mignonette sauce was sweeter than usual and that  clashed with the natural mild briny   flavor of  the pickle point oyster . Mignonette done this well (this starred the kind of vibrant fresh /exciting acidity that mignonette have long lost at most restaurants because the big majority of kitchen brigades are  in  auto mode  when it comes to execute it. This also revealed that even the quality of the lemon is not overlooked at Vertigo Stk bar ) needs nothing superfluous.

 

04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desserts went a notch above the performance of the  savouries,  with warm chocolate & croissant pudding of flawless execution and fabulous taste (superb classic pastry technique elevated with panache  in a way that even the new generations of diners will have their share of fun as,for eg, the pudding felt contemporary -meaning devoid from the heavyness of old fashion pastry — but kept the exciting rich flavor alive, and that was  also  the case for the crème anglaise). The donuts  featuring excellent  textures, their apple butter/lemon cream flavor not bold, rather delicately complex, which in itself is a sign of great technical mastery.   First-rate classically-based desserts.  8/10 in the assessment of  both my wife and I.

Pros: A classy steakhouse, a talented pastry team (no  gimmicks in its  game, but the fundamentals are  mastered really well).

Cons: (1)This evening’s tacos lacked the bold and joyous flavors of tacos  +(2)  this rib steak I was having should have been tenderer + (3) wine by the glass at most steakhouses is Mtl is priced agressively. There’s no exception here: 1 glass of a young (2013)  red Australian wine (19 Crimes, GSM ), costing $19.95 the bottle at the saq (see here) is sold $17   by the glass of 9 oz ……………..

Conclusion: 6/10 , Above average  by Montreal steakhouse standards. There are rarely  bad rib  steaks at a  steakhouse (unless the restaurant is really careless about the  meat),  there are just ones that get close to your ideal of a great rib  steak  or that simply distance themselves from that ideal. My ideal, these days, is one of a Certified Angus or USDA Prime corn-finished  (of course, there’s more to your steak than that, but this is in  summary) cut with effect similar to a 40 days dry aged meat. The one I was having on this evening at Vertigo  did certainly not distanced itself too much from  that ideal, though  in my personal subjective and imperfect view, it lacked a bit of the remarkable tender consistency of some  other rib steaks I had elsewhere.  I’d say that, for my taste, I find that  the one at  La Queue de Cheval has  the edge. Outside of steakhouses, an exceptional Steak shop like Le Marchand du bourg can sell you aged steaks which effect seems, to me, as being  even better than what I have sampled at La Queue de Cheval as well as here, at Vertigo. That  said, this was an enjoyable steak, the produce well sourced (even the vegetables are not an afterthought), the overall experience very pleasant, with great service, in a beautiful chic and modern interior.

What I think days later: The steak did not blow me away but appreciation of steak is identical to  judging colors, there will be  no consensus over the steak capable to please the most, so perhaps it will fare better with  you. What matters, here,  is that is  a classy steakhouse and it has great potential. It’s obviously not going  to be cheap when it comes to feast on their star items, but carefully study their menu and prices (they are available online), resist temptation  and you should  manage to keep the tab in check.

Tapas 24 Montreal

Tapas 24 Montreal is affiliated with Barcelona’s reknown Tapas restaurant Tapas 24.

UPDATE: I went back there  some few week  laters. At the end of the current post, please find my review of that second meal -

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 was the  opportunity to discover their craft.

As it is always the case with tapas outside of Spain, the ingredients can rarely ‘speak for themselves’ , so sticking to items relying heavily on the ingredient is a bit like expecting the sun to shine at night .  However great the ingredient, it simply won’t reproduce the effect of its Iberian counterpart. So, I picked couple  items where the skills of the kitchen would have to ‘walk the walk':

Kicked off with

Tapas 24 Montreal - Bomba de barceloneta

-Bomba de Barceloneta (potato croquette) $6 is, of course, not a big deal as every decent kitchen will not fail to deliver a decent one. But unless someone is devoid of any ‘sense for  nuances’, the appreciation of that croquette I was having had lots more to reveal:  the technique in keeping the croquette low in fat while maintaining the taste delicious/rich is not a secret but few are delivering it this well.  A fabulous croquette of the sort that only a handful of  the finest restaurants of Montreal  can  pull off. The accompanied aioli and salsa brava simply perfect. 8/10

Tapas 24 Montreal - Rabo de toro, queue de boeuf braisée

-Rabo de toro – braised oxtail $14 was another display of assured cooking technique coupled with superb palate , the braising perfect, seasoning exciting.  The meat was covered with a layer of an impossibly light ‘moussy’ take on the potato purée, tasting delicious. 9/10

Tapas 24 Montreal - Arroz Barcelones

-Arroz barcelones $24 featured carnaroli rice cooked to the bite, as it should, with four big plump shrimps as well as several fresh mussels.  This is as close as you’ll get, at a tapas restaurant in Montreal, to what’s done in Spain. Only one Spanish restaurant in Montreal, Casa Galicia, had once impressed me with a paella that managed to teleport me to Spain but that was years ago and I haven’t revisited Gasa Galicia since then, so I do not know if CG is as great as it used to be. As great (by Montreal standards) as this paella stood,  it could have been even  better if cooked, imagine, on straw for eg…but that is a different story (that’s not allowed in Montreal, anyways).. Still, a superb  paella by Montreal standards 8/10

I took no desserts.

Before heading there, I have read couple of online comments on Tapas24 Montreal and some of those did mention the slowness of the service as well as meager portions, but I saw no problem in both regards: the pace of the service was perfectly timed, with meals that take longer to cook taking the relevant time it needs to be served. As for the portions, it was in line with the quantity of food that is usually served nowadays at most contemporary restaurants of this sort in big western cities. Furthermore, they bill themselves as serving tapas which is bite-size food (obviously).

PROS: If you ever find a tapas place you believe is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal and would like to share with me, do not bother…I won’t believe you!

CONS: On an evening like this, with cooking this assured, we can cover an aspect (not a problem) that is proper to most tapas restaurants outside of Spain…the genuine flavors of the Tapas in Spain. For eg, paellas oftently  taste a bit ‘smokier’ in general on the Iberian peninsula, seasoning usually a tad spicier. I gather that this is to  reach out to the most, and few places in Montreal do take the risk of insisting on such exotical flavors (Casa Galicia  is the only place comes to mind, but it’s being 7 years that I did not go back so I do not know how it fares nowadays), but those who  have tried tapas in Spain will have the feeling that there’s a little something that’s missing.  With that said, make no mistake…this is  as close as you’ll get, at this moment, in Montreal, to what good tapas tastes in Spain.

My personal verdict for the food: 8/10. Strong performance by Montreal tapas standards. What I did sample is all I needed in order to assess the cooking  skills at Tapas 24 Montreal, which were items forcing the kitchen to ‘focus on the substance': personal touch of the cook, his sense of flavors,  his palate, his ability in extracting the most out of the least (maximum flavor out of simple ingredients or from simple  flavor combinations which is essentially the point of tapas) . I doubt I could have done that with, let us say, the pa amb tomaquet which is bread  with tomato, a lovely item to be enjoyed as a tapas in Spain, but oftently …outside of Spain….it is delivered as a pale version of  its Iberian counterpart.

Conclusion: I love tapas as it forces a good kitchen to extract a lot out of virtually very little, which for me is what cooking should  be all about. Coupled with the stellar ingredients of the Mediterranea, those can oftently turn into mouthfuls of bliss. But we are not in Spain, therefore I substituted expectations for one reasoning: when Tapas are moved from their original humble conditions (as well as relevant pocket-friendly tab)  and priced as up-market food, I want to see where my hard earned money is going and what I ordered did not disappoint in the sense that  good ingredients were used and the cooking was diligent. Still, there’s always the question of cost performance when eating tapas at an up-market restaurant,  and my bill helped to keep that debate alive. Tapas outside of Spain, as good as they can be, they are simply pricey for what they are,  I find. At least, what I was enjoying on this evening at Tapas 24 Montreal had the edge over all other tapas that I have tried in town and they are doing it in the warmth of a hip and elegantly / cozily designed establishment, located in the enviable location of Old Montreal.

What I think days later: If they continue to cook the way they did on the evening of my meal, then you can count Tapas 24 Montreal among the few dining destinations that can truely standout in town…not because of buzz (which is sadly the case of a myriad of bars/restaurants in town), but because of effective cooking (cooks with a good palate,good sense of seasoning) and a genuine vision of what a restaurant should be about (serving good food, delivering an overall nice experience). It’s hip, fun and already very busy. Based on this visit, I’d say that it is an amply deserved success.

UPDATE  – Went back on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 – Here’s my report about that second meal:

HAMBURGER

Hamburger/foie gras emulsion-  $15 will probably be divisive as it was tiny portioned by usual hamburger standards. From the usual burger, we expect  hamburger to be filling and this one might not. We expect the big fluffy /thick buns, this one was flattened round  thin bread. We expect big juicy patty of fat grounded meat, but this contained a small quantity of  meat.  So why am I still going to rate this hamburger  so high? Because I did enjoy it for what it is:  a creative and amusing twist on the hamburger, not a hamburger in its popular form. And at such, it was flawless: the meat (real filet mignon) of top quality, served as an effiloché on this evening, the taste delicious,  textures mastered  really well (for eg, the bun having the consistency of freshly baked quality buns, the meat cooked by a kitchen  who clearly knows when cooking should start and when it should stop…meaning far from the usual misteps of offering dry/overcooked meat).  The take on the hamburger came with a ganache of foie gras which unctuous texture was beautifully achieved, the flavors refined (the right ratio of foie gras to cream, which means none of the components overwhelmed/ everything was complementary)  8/10

Ceviche

Ceviche de Mero (grouper) $18 was not going to be criticized for its sze as it starred generous (relatively to what you`ll find at most tables of this category in big Western cities) morsels of fish of great quality, the fish seems to have been sliced just a few minutes before serving, such was its fresh effect in mouth. A healthy conscious cook thought about not saltying too much the fish (instead, it’s the acidity dimension of the ceviche that was intensified), which  was, in this case, the right thing to do. Quality onions and avocado completing the dish, which was seasoned with a bit of the ceviche’s leche  de tigre.   One  great (contemporary) version (there is a myriad of versions of the ceviche)  of  ceviche by Montreal standards. 8/10

Lamb brochette

Lamb brochette $10 – The big majority of skewers at most of our local restaurants always have a problem, sometimes overcooked, sometimes it’s the quality  of the meat  that’s questionable,  sometimes the meat is dry, sometimes the meat is not of the quality avertised, etc.  This skewer could be accused of none of those issues: well sourced lamb, timely grilled, the meat (on this evening) seasoned with a  flavorful curry-based marinade. At $10 for one skewer, I find this offering pricey…though, indeed, skewers are not oftently done this well in restaurants  of Montreal and here, they do not just advertise quality, they deliver it. Very good. 8/10 (Still, a skewer at$10 …however great it is,  it’s pricey by any standards that I can think of — fortunately, I am not rating cost performance but cooking skills solely…).

Conclusion regarding this meal sampled on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 It’s obviously hard to fall in love with  bite-size food at ambitious price tag, but Tapas 24 Mtl cooking is easily in the top 10 of this city,  the sourcing of their ingredients simply admirable, the technique too. Of course the portions of some of their items left me with the impression that there is an emotional limit to what can be justified by the quality of the produce (the Mc Foie Burger, the lamb skewer),  but at the end of the count the fact of the matter is that you won’t oftently,  in Montreal, stumble upon food benefitting from such good standard (flavors and textures have been flawless on each of my two visits here).  Regardless of  the shortcomings that I have just raised, the food here  is really well executed  and certainly in the leading pack by our local standards.

What I think days after the second meal : Yes, it’s tapas, food that’s supposed to be sold at low cost,which is not the case here, and I have to concede that it is not  place where I would go if I need something robust on the stomach,  but it’s not often, in Montreal, that you’ll come across food done consistently this well. When you’ll enquire about Tapas 24 Montreal, ensure that the person voicing his opinion is not mixing up proper proper assessment of the food (which is well executed here) Vs its perceived value.