***Joel Robuchon, unleashes a restaurant in Montreal – In 1989, Gault Millau, once a major competitor of  the Michelin guide,  did not hesitate to name Joel Robuchon their “Chef of the century”. Since then, the legendary Chef has opened plenty of michelin starred restaurants around the globe and this year, Chef Robuchon will add Montreal to  “his map” as it was first  announced by the Journal de Montreal in April 2015 (the article can be found here). The restaurant will be located in the  Montreal casino . It will be an “Atelier Robuchon” (Think  of  gourmet French/Cosmopolitan food  served to you in a  tapas-bar inspired  contemporary chic dining room, in  black and red tones,   where you can seat at a square counter and  interact with the kitchen brigade. In general, at an Atelier Robuchon, you have table seating too )  and  it is expected to open this fall.  For those familiar with the reality  of the local  restaurant  scene, the idea of opening  an “Atelier” Robuchon instead of  a  formal Robuchon fine dining venture is certainly a no-brainer. But time has come for much  more than just “ideas that make sense”  as this is  the 3rd attempt of a  Michelin starred Chef in Montreal after Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud (Gordon’s adventure lasting not long and Daniel, which currently opened downtown restaurant, although  fine and popular,  never managed to overwhelm its local competition).  Atelier de Joel Robuchon,  Addr: 1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal

 

WOLFGANG1***Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (New York) –  I dropped by Manhattan which is situated couple of hours drive away from Montreal and ate at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Ave which owner (Wolfgang Zwiener) was a waiter at Peter Luger for four decades. If,like me, you are both a huge fan of North American style steakhouses as well as Arts, then this place combines both attractions  under one roof as the artfully decorated ceiling is worthy of attention. On to the point, I could not order their star item, the Porterhouse for two , because my dining companion insisted on ordering her sirloin, which I did not taste, thus cannot opine on, but she certainly was not unhappy about it.

WOLFGANG2I ordered the Bone-in rib eye steak  which, although not the best I had in North America, was at least not far neither from the (rare) better  ones, the 28 days ++  dry aged USDA prime cut packed with enticing robust taste sensation, featuring a well judged char  (charred enoughly long for a proper crusty exterior while leaving the inside perfectly buttery tender and juicy), the steak cooked  to the exact measure of doneness requested (medium rare). I also  had some excellent blue point oysters from Long Island, big, plump and tasting marvellously of the sea. The sides are also well prepared here: broccoli was timely sauteed with chips of garlic, the french fries packed with fresh  potato flavor and boasting attractive texture, with only the mushrooms failing to be enjoyable because they were  way too salty.  My verdict (Benchmark>Great>Good>Above average>Average): Great (8/10) – NY is a mecca for good steakhouses, so the fierce competition is obviously forcing  the chophouses to step up their game  and the diners to be particularly picky. But at the end of the day, at such  level of perfecting the steak, it boils down to personal tastes:  I like and I am perfectly able to appreciate the nuances of the “feel” of dry aged over wet aged meat, and this rib eye  steak met my expectations. I tend to perceive meat that is dry aged in between 35 to 40 days  to provide the mouthfeel I want, and the taste of that steak  had an effect on the palate that got  close to what I wanted  (perhaps short of  3,4 extra days of wet aging, for my taste, but I am nitpicking here).  There are perhaps two or three  exceptional North American artisan butchers as well as steakhouses that  did surprise me with rib  steaks that were a  tad superior to this one I was having at Wolfgang Steakhouse, but  WS  is a genuinely great North American chophouse.  That said, it is pricey and at those prices, I wished the service could be more consistent: it was not bad, actually really great in the beginning (not overbearing, very courteous) , but as soon as it got busy,  both my dining companion and myself  virtually stopped existing (our  glasses of water were  left empty for 45 mins…I can understand that you want us to  enjoy our meal and not be bothered by the  constant presence of the wait staff…but 45 minutes and not realizing that the glasses of water are empty…well, I can see no excuse for that) – Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue , Addr: 4 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016,  Phone:+1 212-889-3369

 

01***The best Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen in Montreal is at Yokato Yokabai – Usually  I am not a big fan  of Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen (just google it if you want to learn about the different types of ramen)  which is what they do offer at Yokato Yokabai, but this bowl I was having was the  Hakata style ramen by which I will judge all other Hakata style ramen in Montreal. Fautless texture, great depth of flavor, and well conceived toppings.  My verdict (Benchmark>Great>Good>Above average>Average): Benchmark (10/10) Hakata style Tonkontsu  ramen by Montreal standards, but even in Tokyo (yeah, I know, Hakata style ramen is not from Tokyo, still …Tokyo is a major world foodie hub offering  ramens from all parts of Japan) it would   be considered as a good bowl (though, …. a bit too small in terms of the portion – that is actually my only quip about that bowl). I just hope they do not change their current recipe as oftently seen at other ramenyas which started on the right foot (genuine bold flavors,  broth with depth) but turned into average ramenyas after trying too hard to please local palates (with lightly flavored broths).   Yokato Yokabai Addr: 4185 Drolet, Montréal  Phone: 514- 282-9991

Hoogan et Beaufort (opened to the general public on Tuesday December 22nd 2015)  is the latest  member of the four major recent  restaurant openings in Montreal  (Le Mousso, Lili Co and Montreal Plaza). Their Chef, , Marc-Andre Jetté is a well known Chef on the local restaurant scene with stints at restaurants such as  Laloux, Newtown, as well as Les 400 coups. According to this article of  Index-Design.ca, Chef Jetté  and Sommelier William Saulnier are the masterminds behind Hoogan et Beaufort. That article covers some very interesting details about the interior design of the restaurant. I went dining at Hoogan et Beaufort on December 31st  and picked their  New year’s eve 6 course tasting menu.

The NYE’s tasting menu’s first course consisted of three nibbles:

HB1Oeuf/Oursin/Pain brioché (not pictured)  was an exciting take on the classic French oeuf à la coque/mouillettes de pain, the egg of a quality that you do not find easily even on our finest local  tables, meaning not of the ordinary sort. Its freshness coupled with the equally well sourced sea urchin made of this Oeuf à la coque a benchmark of its kind. Oeuf à la coque, especially for us French people, is not something we tend to rave about as it’s an item that we have started to sample  way back in our tender childhood, but it can dazzle if you take the time to rely on exceptional produce, which was the case in this instance. No flaw neither on the technical front: the boiled egg’s cooking timed to precise soft consistency, the sea urchin mixed to the egg not too quickly, not too late, so that both the sea urchin and the yolk  form a  perfectly smooth creamy texture (this is, in theory, very easy to get right but at many restaurants, the upscale ones included,  mixing  sea urchin and egg yolk is rarely as flawless as what I was having on this evening)  .  In Montreal, I never had a take on the  “”  oeuf à la coque/mouillettes de pain  “”  executed this well, tasting this great. 10/10

Then pétoncles princesse / pamplemousse / poivre rose –  Scallops (pétoncles princesse –  a well praised type of  scallops), served raw, with pink peppercorn and grapefruit .   It is clear that there is an obsession for quality produce under this roof as pink peppercorn  is rarely found in our local restaurants. More importantly, the pink peppercorn went really well with both the scallops and grapefruit. 8/10

The last item of the series of nibbles was Mousse de foie de volaille / orange sanguine / craquelin maison. A first-rate chicken liver mousse (exquisite taste). 9/10

20151231_220740The second course was Crevette sauvage/panais/citron/bottarga/oseille – Wild shrimps came in the form of a soup, topped with an espuma (foam) of clam. The blend of soup/velouté and culinary foam  oftently fails to be exciting, but that was not the case here as the fresh maritime flavor of  this dish was remarkable. It takes a good palate to deliver exciting flavors of this sort. 8/10

HB3Third course: Ravioli au homard/topinambour/chanterelle/rabiole/vadouvan – Homemade lobster ravioli (the seafood  particularly well sourced) came with a perfected bisque showcasing a high standard of culinary skills (a bisque with superb texture and depth of flavor,   pasta executed with a high level of refinement, the use of the vadouvan blend of spices adding punch/surprise effect to a dish that was already hard to improve upon). A benchmark dish. 10/10

HB4Magret de canard de la ferme Canardière/salsifi/trompettes des morts/baie de genièvre – A benchmark purée of salsifi, a purée of black truffles that is also a standard bearer of its kind, and a duck magret with an intensity of meaty flavor that is not of the ordinary sort. An excellent duck magret. 9/10

 

HB5Fifth course: Renversé à l’ananas, gateau à l’amande, chantilly à la fève tonka – The pineapple  was cooked  on their fire pit, the almond cake and chantilly  properly executed. This was simple, indeed, but really well done. As with everything served all along this meal, the textures are vibrant (as an example, the almond cake is a simple cake, true, but where many almond cakes are ” tired loking”, here it looked freshly baked and  had that same effect on the palate, etc ). 8/10

HB6Sixth course: Chocolat Caraïbe / grué / thé pu-erh, glace à la vanille grillée . As mentioned earlier on, the sourcing here is top class, so that kept shining through the entire meal with, in this case, prime chocolate (in the form of a ganache), vanilla imported from Madagascar (rarely found in Montreal) that they grilled on the fire pit and made a perfectly well made ice cream out of it, some well made thé pu-erh meringue. 8/10

Pros: Skilfull kitchen brigade, cooking exciting French food,  with an obsession for great produce.

Cons: N/A

My overall verdict: 9/10 As ever, at restaurants, there are times you rave because the kitchen’s performance forces you to do so (the case of my meal at Le Mousso), and cases like this meal at Hoogan & Beaufort where the perf is top and your heart is happy. I was curious to see how Chef Jetté would do without his long time partner Patrice Demers, now that Chef Demers has his own Pastry shop (which I reviewed here, aready ), but I did not have to worry about that as this meal, by all accounts (the superb food, excellent service, great wine pairings, tasteful interior, first-rate overall dining experience), gave me no other choice but to consider Hoogan & Beaufort in my top tier of Montreal restaurants (The other two members of that top tier are La Chronique and Le Serpent). Hoogan et Beaufort, Type of cuisine: Contemporary French, Addr:  4095 Rue Molson, Montréal, Phone: (514) 903-1233, URL: http://hooganetbeaufort.com/

What I think days later: My coup de coeur  of 2015!

01Restaurant Le Mousso is one of the three most serious recent restaurant openings in Montreal(the other two are Lili Co and Montreal Plaza)   earning rave reviews from the local foodie community. There are some aspects of Le Mousso  that I really liked (some food items were stellar by local restaurant standards, the neo industrial decor is fun) and others that simply marred what could have been an otherwise wonderful experience (jump to the “CONS” section, below) – That said, I am not the type of person who will  allow his  emotion to trump  reason (I would not share my experiences if  my emotions would deter my assessment of the food I am eating) and that echoes in the very high rating of the food (see below)

02The tasting menu (they have just one menu, a tasting menu of 7 courses + 2 other courses charged as extras) started with an amuse bouche  that they had to charge as an extra, sadly not  first in Montreal. If you are going to charge an amuse as an extra, well fine…but then I need you to deliver an inspired one. Alas that was not going to happen: a madeleine cake had a tiny quantity of caviar atop  – in between, some creme fraiche. A surreal misconceived food item as the madeleine floury flavor is exactly what you need if you want to find an element that simply can’t be paired with caviar (it is, as one would expect,  a combination of flavor that makes no sense to a palate). But the frustration would not end there: the madeleine came with an oyster! Listen, if  I wanted to collect random items for the fun of it, I could have stayed at home and gather some toothpaste, a glass of wine, a piece of paper and a piece of wood….it would have been as pertinent as what was served  to me as an extra charged amuse. When the waitress asked if I did like this amuse, I answered YES!  …There is a reason for that: in cooking, you do not want to start contradicting the people who are feeding you. A contradicted cook can do mistakes, lose motivation. They are humans, not robots.  Feel free to voice your disenchantment if that is what you are at ease with. After all, that is just  my personal imperfect (if everyone does like me,the restaurant will not improve – obviously  ) view on that subject.  As for the Mousso….oyster and a madeleine…madeleine and a little bit of caviar…seriously, folks??

 

03Céleri/truite/foin – Celery/trout/hay. Hay is actually the translation from what appeared on the menu (foin). Excellent flavoring-technique with a flawless airy celery root mousse, the flavor of the mousse subtle enough (in a good way)  so that it compliments well the smoked trout. Atop, you had the ashes from the “hay” that was used to smoke the trout. Trout has never been a fish that I do particularly appreciate, but this was plenty of fun, showcasing faultless technique, and more importantly …. a  dish that stood out for its  focus on  refinement and clarity of flavours. 8/10

04Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules – Grilled leeks, crumble of hazelnut butter/ mussels. I know you will read this and perhaps suggest that mussels and a crumble of hazelnut butter was going to be another joke, like the one of that amuse bouche , but  make no mistake: this was a brilliant way to elevate the flavor of seafood (mussels in this case), the toasty flavor of the hazelnut butter crumble pairing  excitingly  well with the mussels emulsion.  Emulsions can be  tricky in lesser hands and even plenty of high end restaurants in Montreal do deliver tired looking ones,  but here it  was  startling to the view, the smell and on the palate. The overall serving as an exciting enhancement  to the beautifully grilled leeks. Here is a demonstration on how to get the land (leeks, hazelnut) and the sea (mussels) expressing themselves at their very best 10/10

05Carotte/épices/lait de chèvre – Pickled carrot (pickled in sunflower oil), ricotta mixed with goat milk (of superior fresh quality) , edible sponge of carrot and garam masala. Each individual element executed to perfection, and more importantly, this was  an appealing (to the smell  and the palate)  display of complementary lovely  flavors. 8/10

06Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras – Plum (“butter” of plum), seared scallop and a little bit of shaved frozen foie gras atop was yet another demonstration of the “cash in” mentality that kept transpiring here and there all along this meal. Again, a business is there to cash in, and we all expect that and that is fine … but when you charge a food item as an extra, guess what:  your customer expects some ..extra efforts!! Food that’s inspired! Or else, why bothering with extras…. ????  How  on earth can a  piece of scallop with some shaved foie gras atop pass as an extra worthy of the ..extra cost?? What’s extra about such insignificant food item (btw: they simpy list ingredients on their menu. In this case, it was Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras – Excited by the creativity expressed through their  “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules” dish, or even through the dish  of “Carotte/épices/lait de chèvre “, I would have never imagined that that “Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras” was just seared scallop and shaved frozen foie gras……

07Champignons/céréales/morue  (mushrooms/cereals/cod) – WAY WAY WAY  too much mushrooms on that plate, but this was still  a delicious dish with enticing smoky aromas coming from the toasted barley, roasted wheat, superbly fried quality cod.   8/10

08Pois vert / Agneau / Melisse:  First-rate  tartare of lamb BUT …… PEAS IN AUTUMN?? REALLY? If this was traditional cooking, I would not mind the peas (many traditional dishes, such as ragouts,  can involve the use of  peas and they are commonly served this time of the year), but this is not traditional cooking.  Respect the seasonailty of food, folks!

09Oignons/betteraves/boeuf  – marinated onions of a quality that you’ll rarely get in our local restaurants,  beets of fine quality, and a 72hrs braised piece of beef that paid justice to the long time it spent simmering.  That dazzling meat is a reminder that in cooking, patience is key. And I never had onions marinated/prepared/treated  this well in a local restaurant 9/10

10Petit lait/poires/poivre – Excellent buttermilk ice cream, delicious julienne of pear, sorrel, “syrup” of apple cider vinegar, and a benchmark pepper meringue. Top drawer dessert by our local restaurant standards   9/10

 

PROS: (1) The superlative “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules” (2) Sharp sharp skills – I do not know if Le Mousso is consistently as good as on this evening, but the skills displayed all along this meal were  very strong when compared to what we are accustomed to in Montreal .

CONS –  (1)The insulting extras!! Charging extra for an amuse bouche! At least, make an inspired one..!!    (2) On one hand, the service looks lovely – the staff looks  passionate, they laugh, they look good and they look cool, down to earth, etc. As an example, my main waitress seemed  fun and we even talked about her boyfriend, trips they would like to organize and I found that superb as it shows how human and real the service can be. BUT then, disaster: the same waitress promises to come back with more red wine – promise not kept. Then she collects the tab, but sends someone else to tell me that there was money missing. I am always prompt to acknowledge my mistake, which I did with tact  and I am always an easy customer –I am paying with my hard earned money, so I may as well have my share of fun, thus  I make no fuss about such things  at the restaurant…but at any serious restaurant, the person who collects the money goes back to his client and voices any  error. You do not send someone else to do that. It is not as if you had a difficult customer yelling at you, berating you in front of other people. No. Instead, we are talking about a very easy going customer, so clearly there is just no rational excuse to such  stone age  tactic of sending a messenger to tell your customer that there was money missing. With such mistakes, the customer ends up questioning the initial positive impressions, which could perhaps be tolerated at a tavern but certainly not at a restaurant serving this caliber of food, at those prices ….   (3)Serving a madeleine alongside an oyster…wtf?? Again, I  go to restaurants  to have fun so I won’t lose my time challenging you, but c’mon folks??!! (4) Peas …in autumn…really?? (5) at times, the impression that they  run out of effective  imagination (a scallop with some shaved foie gras on it….not only the foie gras brings nothing to that scallop, but this is as basic as trying to put butter on a piece of bread).

My verdict for the food: 9/10 (by Montreal contemporary restaurant food standard). There were many flaws, indeed, but the better items of this meal are the best I had in Montreal in a long while. And for me, that counts a lot.    As ever, with non classical food like this, you need to show up with an open mind, prepared for a display of unorthodox combination of ingredients. Well travelled foodies have seen this..and much more…time and again  (a bit of In de Wulf over here, a touch of Inaki Aizpitarte over there, influences from Japan and the rest of the world, etc), abroad, but for Montreal this is top stuff (except, obviously,  for the amuse that did not amuse, the scallop with some foie gras shavings atop, some oyster served with a madeleine…, serving some peas in..autumn). This is quite a gamble though: one single cook who does not get what the kitchen is trying to achieve, a misstep here and there, and the whole picture may look completely different. Le Mousso has all it takes to be in my top tier restaurants in Montreal…but for now, it also has all it takes to be out of that top tier. This was, for me, like landing on a beautiful exotical island but with plenty of things to worry about. Meaning that I would not mind going back, but there will be no 3rd chance. Le Mousso (Type of cuisine: contemporary cosmopolitan ) Addr: 1023 Ontario E, Phone: 438-384-7410 Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Le-Mousso-896950477044437/?fref=ts

What I think days later: According to the medias, Chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard told them that at his old restaurant, people used to drop by for a quick bite before  going to the nearby theater   but that with Le Mousso, the show would take place at his restaurant. He is right: by Montreal restaurant standards, even by its finest ones,  a dish like “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules”, that I had on that evening, showcases a strong level of   skills / creativity that is rare in Montreal. And the show went on: a spectacular “plum butter”, superb pickling technique, emulsions that  most restaurants in town would take ages to get a grasp of, marination that is rarely seen in town, a grill that … grills (I know, it should not be an exploit, but trust me…that is a miracle in Montreal), meringues that  would make most meringues at restaurants in town pass as “wimps”, etc. But then, they throw those extra charged food items from which  you expect so much .. in light of what they are  capable of …only to end up with uncreative creations like seared scallop with shaved frozen foie gras atop or a madeleine paired with an oyster…!!!!!!!! Why? Why? Why? Why peas in autumn, Chef, when you seem to be fond of Japanese cuisine, a cuisine that is so strict about ….SEASONALITY?!!! Why? Why? Why?

LeSerpent-LaChronique***My top 5 restaurants in Montreal in 2015 are:

Position#1 La Chronique and  Le Serpent – Ever since Chef Thierry Rouyé has left Montreal, La Chronique and Le Serpent are, for my taste, Montreal’s number 1 restaurants. Hard to beat Chefs De Montigny and Mercuri, in Montreal,  at whatever they cook.
Position #2: Lawrence, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon and Jun I  – Go to Japan, eat some serious sushis, come back here and if Jun I is still not your top  destination for sushi in Montreal,  then there is not much that I can tell you. Regarding  Lawrence, they have a dictionary with just one word in it: FLAVOR. It is at the heart of their cuisine …a rare feature in a city where most  kitchen brigades are just busy cooking food to cash in. Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, in the category “North American bistrot”, this place has been my #1 pick for the past 5 years. They are serious about what they  do,  still have the same line up of talented Chefs (Axel, Bourdages) working day after day behind their stoves, the food is simple (which is the nature of bistrot food) but far more delicious than anywhere else. Just avoid their tarte tatin…it’s a mistery, for me,  that such a talented kitchen brigade has not been  successful at pulling off a dazzling version of their tarte tatin.
Position #3: Tapas 24, Bottega, Kanbai (the one on Ste Catherine street), The tiny portions of some of their dishes is a big frustration for me, and I did hesitate for a long time to declare Tapas 24 as one of my preferred tables in town, just because of that flaw…but on the strict aspect of the technique, no Tapas restaurant is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal. As for Bottega, it as close as you’ll get in Montreal to a perfect Neapolitan Pizza. For me, the benchmark pizza in town (the one on St- Zotique, I mean).  Bottega has consistently perched high on my list of preferred restaurants in Montreal for at least  the past 7 years. Regarding Kanbai, it is currently cooking some of the finest  Szechuan cuisine, Cantonese, and Hunan food  you will get in town.
Position 4: Reuben’s deli, Le Bonaparte – Montreal has the best delis in the world, so we can afford being particularly picky  when it comes to the  smoked meat. My preferred deli  in Montreal is actually my top pick for reasons that go beyond the smoked meat. Whatever they do taste great and is done well and at times, some of  their food items are benchmarks of their kind in Montreal: I  remember one summer spent chasing the best sliders in town. The highly recommended spots for sliders in Montreal were visited and when I tried the sliders at Reuben’s deli … theirs  were miles ahead of the supposedly top ones (meatier, far more flavorful). It is not hip  to recommend RD, but I could not care less:  RD is in my top 5 in Montreal because most of what they do ..is simply   better. Le Bonaparte: once upon a time, my favourite classic French food in Montreal  could me found at places like Le Mas des Oliviers, Chez la Mere Michel, etc. They are still good, but the kitchen at Le Bonaparte had the edge, for my taste. I do not know how the  newer generation of diners as well  as those not familiar with true classic French fares will cope with this  ( if , as an example, you can’t appreciate  the difference between a good vs great vs excellent  simple filet mignon …then you should stay away from classic French food ) , but if you really know your classic French food , then Le Bonaparte does it …well, meaning ..the way it’s  always been done.
Position #5: Fenetre sur Kaboul,  When you read the reviews of  local food journalists  on FSK, it is usually written by ppl who have no clue of what to expect from  Afghani cooking. That is perhaps the main reason I went there…expecting nothing. But FSK cooks delicious food, and when they grill your meat,  it is not on gas but on charcoal. Quite a difference.  Places like FSK won’t attract the hipster of the moment, which to me is not the point of real great cooking, anyways. But it will seduce you if you are into genuine delicious simple food (my case).

My disappointments in  2014/2015:
Au Pied de Cochon  – Once, my #1 table in Montreal. Alas, I am afraid that those days are gone.  You’ll find the review of one of my recent meals at APDC here,  a dinner  over which I will draw a veil.
Europea –  Jerome is the most amicable Chef that I know, his restaurant is regarded among North America’s best, but what happened during this meal reviewed here …??? AN off day I hope…

There are many great tables in town, so this is my personal top 5 based on what we all should better know: no matter who you think you are,  your choices of food are just subjective/personal. Furthermore, I did not visit the most acclaimed tables in 2015 (Mousso, Lili Co, Montréal Plaza). Last  but not least, food for me is about classic rich / bold/ strong flavors.  And, obviously,  I do not dine out with trends in mind. You need to consider that when reading this post.

WARNING (YES, you ware WARNED!!!!): The reality of the restaurant world, nowadays, is that most of the good Chefs who are marketed as the masters of those kitchen brigades have a life, SO..some of them go to work on the busiest nights only ..and you / your pocket  won’t fail to be the poor victim of that evidence. So, be wise, and try to eat at those restaurants during a weekend , to take an example. And if the food sucked, well…remember that the Master Chef may perhaps not be in the kitchen and that it is the REALITY of nowadays restaurants.

PALERMO STREET FOOD***Palermo is known as one of world’s top 10 street food destinations, but keep in mind that most of their street food is generally found near markets. If you are used to street food in Africa and Asia, which is my case, then you will quickly notice that grilled red meats (which is a must on the streets of Africa and Asia) is missing in action here. Certainly a different street food experience from what I grew up learning to appreciate as dazzling street food, but interesting nonetheless: superb arancini, delicious grilled goat intestines and sandwiches. If you are sold to  the finest seafood  of  the Italian riviera ( Cinque Terre, Portofino) /   Indian Ocean / Carribean, then I am afraid that the seafood in Sicily may not impress you (as it was my case), which made their street food’s prawns/octopus/squid…not as dazzling as I came to expect from their finer examples.

HURLEYS****I was impressed by the food at the Hurley’s Irish pub on Crescent street.   For sure, do not go there expecting wowness: it is  just food, not a lunar landing mission. But food tasting and done way better than at most restaurants in town. A simple platter of fried calamari featured seafood with an exciting  mouthfeel   that I have not experienced in Montreal in a   while. Even the accompanying sauces were of a quality that is rarely found in town. Was that pure luck?  I have no clue, and I am not a regular at   the Hurley’s Irish pub, so I won’t be able to tell you if it is always that good under their roof. Furthermore, Montreal is not in the Mediterranea, so that was obviously  not some calamari snatched from the floor of the ocean a  few minutes prior to cooking.   All I know is that what I had on that evening there was food which quality surpassed what you’ll get at most of our local restaurants. Hurley’s Irish pub 1225 Rue Crescent, Montreal Category: Pub food My rating for the food on that evening: 8/10

CHEZ CHEN***A taste of Northern China at chez Chen – On my 3d visit here, I   had “Pork ribs and sour cabbage stew” which was generous and heavy as one should  expect from meat and cabbage as a stew, the pork tasting fine, the overall judiciously seasoned. In Asia, the flavors of this particular rustic  dish  would have been a tad more pronounced, but aside from that, this was a fine stew. All in all, Chez Chen delivers what they advertise, meaning some genuine flavors indeed. My observation about the flavors of the cabbage stew — being less strong than what you will find in Asia — substracting nothing from their good work … this having more to do with the caliber of the ingredients found in Montreal. That said, I noticed (based on 3 visits) that the popular items like wonton soup /  fried rice are not the best I had in this city, though, to be fair, fine enough. I was not, to the contrary of some of my fellow chowhounders, floored …but I can see where they are coming from: the food is fine, the service too, and they go to great lengths to please the diner: some beans serve as an amuse bouche, sometimes some fruit to wrap up your meal …nothing life-shattering, obviously, but such nice gestures did certainly add to the raves because it is not that common in Chinese restaurants in Montreal. If judged by our local Chinese restaurant standards, perhaps a 6/10 when they cook the popular dishes like wonton soup/fried rice, but more than that (varying between 7/10 and 8/10) for the northern Chinese specialities and some of their menu of the day’s offerings. Capable Chinese cooking. Chez Chen Addr 1618 Avenue Lincoln, Montréal –   Phone: (514) 933-6888

Daniel Boulud’s fame took off as the Master behind ex 3 star Michelin Daniel in New York (now 2 star Michelin) and he has  nowadays a mini empire of restaurants across America: Café Boulud in Toronto, Boulud Sud in New York, etc.

In Montreal, Maison Boulud is located inside the Ritz Carlton, a symbol of luxury that resonates well with the old time pal who did invite me to share this dinner with him. Coincidentally, one of my preferred French food journalists, Gilles Pudlowski, has published a rave review on Boulud Montreal. A meal, which for Gilles, was an awe-striking performance. The opinions of Gilles coupled with  the idea of a  meal  with an old time friend sufficed to fuel my enthusiasm for eating at Maison Boulud.

The dinner menu (you can find an example of that menu here )  is divided in several sections: a tasting menu,  food items to share, a section untitled “from the garden” and the A la carte items (fish, meats, pasta). Since it is white truffle season at this moment, they also have a white truffle menu. The influences of the cooking  are essentially Italian, and French. The ingredients are of very high quality by Montreal restaurant standards.   I ordered a starter of scallop ceviche, a main course of lobster gnocchetti as well as a dessert of Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon:

 

PRINCESSE SCALLOPSPrincesse scallop ceviche, sea urchin, apple and celery – the ceviche was served in seashells, but this was closer to a salad of scallops and apple than to a proper ceviche. Yes, I could taste a bit of the ceviche’s marinade under the scallop and celery/apple, but they  should have mixed all the ingredients together in the marinade.  Furthermore, it is hard to appreciate a ceviche of scallops that has more apple in it than scallops. The idea of serving a ceviche as separate tiny portions is fine in regard to the   presentation but I prefer having my ceviche served on a plate.  The way this ceviche was conceived needs to be rethought.  6/10

gnocchettiHomemade Potato Gnocchetti with Lobster, Leeks, Mushrooms and Coral Emulsion – There was  way too much of the emulsion for the quantity of gnocchetti and  Lobster that was served.  The Coral emulsion could have been more flavorful had its maritime fragrance better expressed. 6/10

Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemonPear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon – Pear of good  quality,  dazzling sorbet (of pear), excellent praliné parfait, the meringue not only perfectly executed but also packed with superb flavor. The base of the dessert needs to be softer though (it was way too hard).  Even if I take into account the issue with the base of that dessert,  this —by the standards of desserts found in Montreal restaurants — was a really nice  way of  revisiting a classic combination of ingredients such as pear and chocolate.  7.5/10

PROS: (1) Excellent service as you would  expect from both the Ritz and a Daniel Boulud’s restaurant (2) Thoughtful menu

CONS: (1)More coral emulsion than gnocchetti and  Lobster..is like serving a beer with more of its frothy foam than the actual beer. Meaning, there is not much that you will end up enjoying. For my taste, this was  a misjudged use of the coral emulsion. With a bit more lobster and pasta, a delicious creamier seafood flavored  sauce and  just a little bit of that coral emulsion, this dish would have fared far..far better. (2)In  a ceviche, if the protein element is not going to cure / benefit from its marinade, then it is not a ceviche anymore. It is a salad. And a salad served in sea shells –actually even a proper ceviche in sea shells — is hardly something that you can properly taste because the portion is way too small .. therefore it won’t last enoughly long in your mouth to leave any impression.

Bottom line: it is always a great pleasure to share a meal with a long time friend, so  that aspect of the  dinner was perfect. On the subject  of the food, it was no love, for me, except for the nice dessert and superb coffee.  Service was as great as it gets in town.  Maison Boulud Addr: 1228 Rue Sherbrooke O, Montréal, QC Phone: 514) 842-4224 Type of cuisine: Fine dining (French/Italian), on this evening, but they also have more casual fares. Date and time of this meal: 20-11-2015 19:30 My personal overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 6/10 Service: 10/10

#Pray for Paris. I am currently in the city of lights, Paris  and was dining out with close relatives and watching France-Germany soccer match when the phones started ringing informing us about the sad events of the Paris attacks that were taking place just 2 miles away. Paris is currently extremely quiet with a heavy military presence, especially around the 10th/11th arrondissements. Pray for Paris.

With the recent addition of Manresa, California  has now 5 triple  Michelin starred restaurants  (Benu in  San Francisco, The French Laundry in  Yountville, Manresa in  Los Gatos, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St Helena as well as Saison in San Francisco), which makes it the most triple- starred Michelin  state in the US. With its exceptional wines, superb weather and enviable terroir , SF keeps positioning itself as a true, not just marketed as such (hein Montreal?), world class foodie destination. Here is a list of Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco (quite impressive, I have to say).

Visiting   Rome and Sicily – As with any popular foodie destinations, Italy has its shares of misses and hits when it comes to  food. Do some search, lots of it ..or else, you may end up …like me….with your share of really  ordinary (just Ok)  meals.

ROME1Rome – In ancient times, the saying “all roads lead to Rome” basically meant that whatever you do, only the Roman way mattered. Rome may not be the so-called “centre of the world” that it was once dubbed, but  its glorious past  still resonates nowadays in the hearts of  the impressive mass of tourists that it keeps attracting even in November, a period  when tourism frequentation  is at its lowest level  anywhere else around the world. One of this globe’s most touristicky cities,  as one would expect, and deservedly so….though, for the food, I am not fully sold about Rome’s position among world’s best foodie destinations. Perhaps I should have done better searches, perhaps…but I recall that  cities lile Tokyo or San Sebastian  dazzled more with no specific planning. I have to say, I am frustrated by the level of the food in Rome. Of course it is a good food city, but its better food is as tasty as any fine Italian food eaten in  America. The food here is victim of something called GLOBALIZATION…and between you and me…it is a  shame because what you generally eat in Rome could have been served to you in New York…and the difference is not that huge anymore.On Rome, during this visit, Vecchia Roma led the pack of the eateries I have tried. I also ate at: Ciampini, Baia Chia, L’Angelo Ai Musei. Just make sure that you are really familiar with Roman cuisine and do enjoy it, or else I  can foresee some serious inaccurate opinions.

PALERMO - MONREALE Palermo, Sicily, was no love at first sight for me. But the more I got to wander in its streets, the better it fared. Quattro Canti, the Norman palace, their beautiful old town, the unique blend of Christian and Muslim architectures and arts…Palermo kept fighting back. In the end, I had no other choice but to surrender: yes, some  parts of Palermo was destroyed during the second world war and little of that was  renovated since then, but this city has way more to offer than its first impressions,  which is not a surprise when you start digging in its past: Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs…where else can you find such ecclectic influence?? Outside of Palermo, I had time to visit Monreale (sorry, I did not get the fuss.Yes, they have a beautiful church and a nice view over Palermo, but I had nothing more to bite into) and the very pretty seaside city of Cefalu. An island with such varied historical and cultural richness (few places in the world did themselves proud by proving to the world that Muslims and Christians can coexist together in such harmony…no  wonder Palermo, their capital city,  is a UNESCO  world heritage city) needs to be taken seriously (5 days in just Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu is clearly not enough). On the aspect of the food, with the surrounding Mediterranean sea in the picture, I was expecting the usual dazzling seafood I came to expect from  well, … the Mediterannea. But nah, that was not going to happen. Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera, which I visited two years ago, offered seafood and vegetables of far better quality than what I kept sampling in Sicily.

L’Oxygene (Paris) – is an African restaurant in Bois Colombes, with a Senegalese young Chef at the helm. To some, going to Paris is the opportunity to eat French food and that is obviously what I would recommend to the most. But the best African cooking outside of Africa is in Paris.  As   I “breath”/eat/cook French classic food since age 6,   it goes without saying that I do not need to eat solely French food in Paris. Given my familiarity with African cuisines, I do also eat at African restaurants whenever in Paris. On a first visit, I had the braised chicken which was as flawless as it could have been as well as their braised bass – nicely braised, but I was annoyed by the fact that the fish was not marinated for a long time. Furthermore, I ordered the braised fish for take out and it was mixed with a brunoise of tomatoes which diminished the flavor of the fish.  All dishes (there are just 4 or 5 items from what I recall) cost eur 15.  (My verdict: Very good>Good>Ok>Bad ): Good.  The best Senegalese restaurants in Montreal get  nowhere near  what you will find here.  Eventhough  I still prefer how ppl from the Carribean and the Indian Ocean do marinate and grill their fish (marinated longer, the seasoning a bit more elaborate ) —normal, as one tends to prefer the flavors he grew up with — , what you need to know is that the Senegalese do it a bit differently so consider than  when reading the aforementioned account. As for the brunoise of tomatoes altering the flavor of the fish..well, just ask to have your  brunoise served separately /  not mixed with the fish, if you order it for takeout. At the end of the day,  regardless of my personal taste, their talented young Senegalese Chef  is cooking good food.  Restaurant L’Oxyene, Addr:  241 Avenue d’Argenteuil 92270 Bois-Colombes Phone: 06 06 57 85 86

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – As explained elsewhere, on this blog, I am not a fan of visiting plenty of high end restaurants. Most upscale restaurants have kitchen brigades capable of  offering a  good standard of food, but no more. At the high end dining level,  it is rare, nowadays, to eat food that tastes “personal”  in the way the food of Chefs like Jacques Maximin or even, on my last meal at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud, to name those two Chefs, could taste like (certainly food that could only come from an “artisan Chef”). In other words, most upscale restaurants cook food that can be easily replicated by many kitchen brigades because their food  just taste “impersonal”. Impersonal cooking is obviously the best way  to  run a restaurant successfully, nowadays, and I can certainly see why, but I am not moved by such evidence. PG is a big business, but at least it can’t be accused of playing it safe. The  review of my meal at 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire can be found here.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

Source: Pierre Gagnaire, Paris