***A Taste of the Caribbean was pure tropical fun in the beautiful location of the Vieux Port of Montreal. Food was delicious, people beautiful, ambience festive. My little ‘coup de coeur’ of the event went to the rum cake of Yum Rum cakes. Yummy, indeed, with refined texture and just the right amount of rum. The cake was not soaked in rum, which is perfect for me. It is easy to see that they have perfected their craft for so long.
***The Ribfest is an instant success with thousands and thousands of people attending the event. As expected, ribs, exactly like steaks, will always be crowd pleasers in North America.
There were so many people at the event that I managed to try only (up to now, June 30th) the ribs of Camp 31 (Southern style bbq. I wished there was more meat around the bones, and that the meat would be tenderer and a tad juicier,) from Alabama as well as Bone Daddy (Colorado. the sauce boasting a perfect balanced sweetness, which is my preference, the meat cooked longer therefore tender, alas the flavor not as meaty a I came to expect from my preferred ribs).
UPDATE 1/7/2015 : Tried Texas Rangers and Uncle Sam’s on July 1st. TR pulled off my preferred ribs of this event, with delicious caramel-tasting sauce with a touch of fresh acidity behind. The meat boasting tender consistency and nice meaty mouthfeel. This was even better than the finest local ribs that I have tried. I did sample Uncle Sam’s mainly because he was the only one using wood-fire. That made a difference, indeed, as the smokey wood-fired flavor is always a hit for me. I found the sauce a tad less dazzling than at TR (less complex), but the sweetness was not overwhelming, rather nicely controlled. The meat not too tender , not tough neither, just the right balance between tender and firm.
This is a very popular event, indeed, and my only (friendly) quip is that with such crowd, the organisers need to think about better ways to let people moving around (make the way clear to the various stands, so better queue and customer flow management). It was really hard, especially on the first day, to identify the right queues and move from one stand to another. It is their first event, so no hard feelings, and hopefully this will be long fixed on the next edition. It was fun to converse with our Southern neighbors about their passion for the smoked rib and I will remember the ribs of Texas Rangers for a while..the Rangers dazzled during this fest!
***I went dining at Cirkus, opened since October, and already considered as one of this city’s better restaurants. Its Chef, Julien Doré, has honed his skills at some of the major food destinations of this city. The food is North American/French bistrot-gastronomy with possible International influences (for eg, Italian). You have a mix of clotheless tables and some few tables with tablecloths, the restaurant simply but tastefully decorated.
The starter comprised of some homemade gnocchi (not the superlative pillowy textured gnocchi that can sometimes come from an Italian kitchen, slightly chewier than I would prefer, but admittedly decent by French restaurant standards) made of black cod, gently seared and sautéed in butter, the rich mouthfeel balanced with the fresh acidity of a vinegar called Xipister (pepper flavored vinegar). We are not used to that vinegar, in Montreal restaurants , so the element of surprise was present and added to the enjoyment of that dish. A bit more complexity came in the form of thin slices of wood ear mushrooms, mixed with the pasta, and which seemed, to my palate, to have been marinated (I did not ask if it was, but it felt like it) and stood as complementary to the dish – the flavor of the mushroom superb. All in all, a delicious dish with the richness of classic French cuisine and a great sense of flavor combination. Exciting mouthfeel. 7/10 (had the texture of the gnocchi stood out – again, it was fine, but no more – I’d not hesitate to rate this dish higher, but consider this as a very strong 7/10 as it’s becoming rare, nowadays, in town, to sample dishes expressing classic joyous flavors as ‘NOT tired’ and as beautifully mastered as what I was enjoying on this evening).
Duck Magret (slightly less rosy than I normally prefer, with my duck magret, but eventful in mouth) was served with one glass of red wine that I enjoyed a lot, a Chateau Ste Anne 2009. The duck magret came with a faultless purée of chestnut, a flavorful grenobloise (when was the last time a grenobloise – although not that hard to make as it is basically a mix of pasley/capers/brown butter / pieces of lemon — did taste this great at a restaurant in France, North America or elsewhere? For me, it has been a while and the last time happened at a fine dining table in France. Since then, I had my share of grenobloise but most were poorly executed. Proof that many cooks have really lost touch with the basics of French cuisine and I am happy to see this kitchen giving a second chance to the grenobloise! An exciting grenobloise, here mixed with pieces of rebaked bread ) atop some fresh romaine lettuce. Again, beautiful classic French flavors that I highly enjoyed 7/10 (here, same thing as with the previous dish. A very very strong 7/10, and certainly a dish that would deserve a higher score, but I’ll cross that bridge when the work of the texture of that duck magret will be as glamourous as the 8/9 or 10/10 duck magrets I had elsewhere – the texture was fine, btw, just not as superb as it could have been with beautiful rosy duck magret, though ……………who cares when food tastes this good!).
Vacherin glacé, rhubarbe (as a confit of rhubarb), oseille (leaves of sorrel), babeurre (buttermilk as an emulsion, tasty enough) – In this instance, a meringue cylinder (of the dry featherweight meringue type, its texture technically fine) was filled with the elements that I have just described. I was not floored by this dessert as, although not bad at all, it was not as particularly joyous in mouth as some of its versions I had elsewhere, or as eventful as a simple classic vacherin glacé dessert.
PROS: Delicious savoury dishes, great sense of flavor combination
CONS: I think that a classic vacherin glacé would have been a better ending to this meal + I’d prefer softer/airier pillowy gnocchis (even, if that means skipping the use of the black cod to make the pasta)..gnocchis are just much more enjoyable that way!!!!!!!
As ever with food, the more you know, the better you appreciate (being familiar and enjoying classic French flavors would obviously help, in this case). Then the closer the food to your finest souvenirs, the better. Food appreciation, one can’t stress enough, is personal. And indeed, for me, the savouries of this meal went beyond the simple fact that they were delicious: they brought back memories of the delicious classic French flavors of my childhood. Personal, subjective, I told you, lol! But not to worry: I can put emotions aside (the reason you see no 10/10 eventhough I was highly pleased by the flavors of the savouries served on this evening) and try to be as accurate as possible in the assessment of my food.
Overall food rating: 7/10 No spectacular work of the textures (perhaps not the intent neither, but hey…the pics of their glamourous-looking dishes on their facebook page forced me to expect something a bit spectacular ;p) , but food that’s relatively refined and more importantly tasting delicious. Apparently, based on the accounts of two local food journalists, a dish of Venison/pear/beacon as well as a dish of guinea hen were first-rate creations. Both dishes were not available on my visit, but on the back of what I have sampled under this roof, I am not surprised to learn that this kitchen can pull off an even better performance than this one. I loved Cirkus because it delivers what matters, to me, at a restaurant: joyous flavors and not pretention. The service, faultless (knowledgeable, patient). In my top 10 in Montreal, easily and a restaurant where I would love to go back.
What I thought days later: Only two major food journalists have reviewed Cirkus up to now. One Anglophone critic from The Gazette (experienced food critic, though not as experienced in French classic flavors as the other journalist) and a Francophone from Le Journal de Montreal (an Ex Chef of French cuisine, with plenty of experience with Classic French cooking). The former rated Cirkus with a 2.5 over 4, which is mas o menos pretty much close to my personal rating of my meal at Cirkus and underlined, that at its best, Cirkus can dazzle indeed. The latter, my preferred food journalist in town , was floored with a rating of 4 over 5, a bit more generous than the rating I deemed worthy of my meal. Either way, they were both right: as with any restaurant, expect the good, the great and the not so great. Restaurant kitchens have brigades (obviously 1 Chef can’t be alone cooking all the food himself for all his customers) and your mileage will vary depending on who cooked your food and in what mood that person was. One thing seems certain though, Cirkus is among this city’s finest and Jean Doré is a talented Chef. Hopefully, one day, I will, in my turn, get to sample his very best food. With a Chef gifted with such good palate, I am confident that can happen!