***Some of the most serious local restaurant openings in a while: one to watch closely is Le Diplomate of Chef Aaron Langille, expected to be opened in Oct, according to what’s been leaked out from the local medias. I had the opportunity to sample his food when he was working at Café Sardine, and yep, he is easily one of the most talented contemporary globe-trotting cooking’s local Chefs. With his subsequent   short period  at the helm of Orange Rouge, there was no doubt that the Chef was at  ease  with ingredients and techniques (for eg, he was very comfortable with  Modern Nordic ) from all over the world. Very creative Chef with a contemporary free spirited  approach of cooking but with a solid mastery of classic technique, which is why his food does not taste like some dull assembling of ingredients. The other widely expected opening is the one of Charles-Antoine Crête, a Chef who needs no introduction in Montreal. His years at Toqué is a reminder of his solid classic background. Expect tasty food from one of the better Chefs of Quebec, of whom I know just one flaw: at times, when he tries too much to be creative and new school (meaning less classic), he loses a bit of his ‘splendeur’. But there’s no denying it: a very talented Chef, indeed! His restaurant (Montréal Plaza, 6230, Saint-Hubert, Montréal 514 903-6230) is now opened as/per this article of nightlife.ca.  One Chef who’s  very capable of leading the pack of the currently skilled local Chefs is Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly. Chef Brunet-Benkritly went abroad, impressing the local New York food scene with his creations at restaurant Fedora. Certainly one of the few local Chefs who can, granted  that’s his intent, turn Montreal into a true foodie destination. Time will tell, but at least here’s a Chef who can ‘jump as high’ as he is willing to. The ball is in Chef  Brunet-Benkritly’s court! For now, little is known about his next project.  There’s also Chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard (whose restaurant, le Mousso, 1023 Ontario Est, 438-384-7410 is opening this month) who has teased us, online, for a while now, with eye candy pictures of some of his (future??) creations — see here. The dishes look really nice, by our local standards, indeed. I have never tried his food but I do mention his name  since he seems to be a social media super-star among local foodies, therefore his name and projects eventually caught my attention. Looking forward to discover this Chef, who seem, based on online reports, to be inspired by a mezcla of International influences (the foliage trend of the novel nordic cuisine, etc). Last but not least, chef John Winter Russell who used to work at (the now closed) restaurant Van Horne. His upcoming restaurant is called Candide. I haven’t tried his food yet, so another local star Chef that I am looking forward to discover. Bottom line, I am expecting no culinary revolution, rather some trends and themes ‘used and abused’  abroad, though  certainly some of the most interesting additions to the local restaurant scene since a long time.

***Oh dumplings! I was looking for some decent dumplings lately. A local foodie whose taste I trust did recommend Oh dumplings! in Chinatown.

ohdumplings1Pork chop noodle soup $8.99 featured a light broth and thin noodle, and came with pieces of pork of dazzling flavor as well as really good ingredients (cabbage, cucumber, carrots). Tasty and faultless (for eg, the saltyness is present but only because it is necessary in lifting the taste rather than distracting from the enjoyment of the soup). There are various types of oriental soups, therefore it is important not to confuse personal preferences (some prefer thick soups, others lighter ones, etc) with the good or the bad. This was a good soup of the non complex / light variety, done really well and tasting great. 7/10

ohdumplings2I ordered a take away (their beef coriander dumplings), which were homemade, simply boiled, the pasta looking rustic as to remind that it is made from scratch and not commercially prepared and I do certainly appreciate that effort, the filling of meat tasting of ..fresh meat (normal you think? Well, truth be known…. this is lost  on plenty of  restaurateurs in Mtl), the coriander not just a feature in theory but an evidence. Some classy dumplings by our local standards. 7/10

Ohdumplings! was a charm and the proof that the standard of chinese cooking in Montreal keeps improving. I came here for the dumplings but was surprised by the overall good food that they also cook (a neighboring table of American tourists made me taste a sort of beef curry sauce that they did order, and it was also consistent with the good standard of food that I have experienced with their other dishes. As ever, do not expect wowness. It is just food, but food done well (by the standard of Chinese food that we are accustomed to in Montreal). The only minor quip is that one of their waiters was particularly distracted: he told me several times that my order was available, then not available, then available, then not. In the end, I told him “could you pls stop going back and forth….just feed me with whatever you have….”! ;p Ohdumplings! 1050 rue Clark https://www.facebook.com/OhDumplings

LA BANQUISE1***La Banquise is the most popular poutine eatery in town, a local  institution. People from all around the world flock here. I was at La Banquise only once, around 3 years ago and went back this summer. La Banquise remains a fun place, lively but its classic poutine, which is the only type of poutine that   I have always ordered all along the 20 years ++ that I spent in Quebec, does not rank among the finest poutines I ever had in Montreal. Let alone in this province. And that is taking into account the fact that the general standard of the poutine  around the province went seriously down (20 yrs ago, even fast food chains like Lafleur was delivering some serious poutine). I will let the PROS and CONS section set the records straight:

PROS: Fun, lively place. I wish all eateries had such ambience.

CONS: The finest classic poutines in Quebec feature large chunky pieces of french fries full of lingering potato flavor. In contrast, in this instance, the french fries were half the size of your standard poutine french fries, the potato flavor unexpressed. Cheese curds were of the tiny type, therefore you need a mouthful of those cheese curds to fully enjoy the texture and the taste of the cheese (a sensation that big chunky pieces of fresh cheese curds will deliver way better than). The better poutine spots of this province will never fail to serve you the standard big chunks of cheese curds. Even in the local depanneurs, your cheese curds is of the normal chunky type. The sauce is one fine version of the poutine sauce, but there was not enough sauce for the quantity of french fries offered.

LA BANQUISE2My rating of this poutine: 6/10 (Categ: poutine in Mtl). I am not too sure why a classic poutine needs diminutive (relatively to the existing standards of classic poutines in Quebec) french fries and cheese curds (about 1/3 of the standard quantity of poutine’s french fries, and almost 1/2 smaller than the standard cheese curds)..but regardless of the reason, its inexorable fate was a diminished enjoyment of the poutine. If you go to La Banquise, you may as well order their other types of poutines (for eg, with peas, with pogos, etc) so that you redirect your attention on something else (other than the cheese curds and potatoes). La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel https://www.facebook.com/poutinelabanquise?fref=ts

BANH MI***The best Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwhich) in Montreal – To move forward, you gotta take risks. Here, the risk of proposing food items that are  usually cheap in ….their  upmarket versions (the current trend on the Mtl restaurant scene,lately – for ie  the recent  Vietnamese bistrots) . The leap forward? A better item. The requirement: trying hard to get the potential frustration of having to pay more for items you can find cheaper….not to overshadow the opinion about the quality of the food. The place is called Ômai prêt-à-manger, situated downtown Montreal, on Ste Catherine, near La Baie. Its Bánh mì costs $6.75. In comparison it costs around $3 to $5 anywhere else in town. But this is not cheating: for that extra $, the pork tastes fresher and tastier than at most places in town, its quality better. The bread is a nice pain baguette of better quality than usually found elsewhere. The quality of the veggies do also follow that pattern. BANH MI2My verdict: although I won’t run back there for my next fix of Bánh mì (because of the cost of that Bánh mì— and yet, some might observe that most sandwichesin MTL  will cost easily around $8 to $9 and that is true, indeed — A reminder that Mtl is one of this globe’s most over-priced  cities on the aspect of food) this is by far the best Bánh mì currently available in Montreal. That said, they have plenty of other food items (not just Bánh mì) that are actually relatively fairly priced. Ômai prêt-à-manger. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OmaiFood

JOE BEEF*** Joe Beef – JB is all the rage these days, here and abroad, ever since it was listed in San Pellegrino’s World’s top 100 best restaurants and I am glad for them as I have always been a huge fan of Chefs David Macmillan’s honest verbiage  as well as Fred Morin’s sort of humble personality. It was never going to be perfect in their world, however, as exemplified by their aversion to food bloggers – Dixit David McMillan ’’The foodies in control and the foodies that are blogging like crazy and putting these OCD chefs and pretentious restaurants on pedestals are very similar to what you see in Trekkies’’ (Source: Joe Beef’s McMillan & Morin on Montreal Cooking, OCD Chefs, and the Future; by Talia Baiocchi May 21, 2012, here for that article). David McMillan may be condemning the influence of food bloggers and other sources of social media visibility on the restaurant world, but he goes to great lengths to show just what kind of attention such exposure can buy: allowing Anthony Bourdain to make a TV show on Joe Beef, publishing books, etc. One wonders how JB managed to be successful enough to launch a mini restaurant empire (Vin Papillon, Liverpool House) without  the publicity that David seems to decry..  But they built a cult around them, which few managed to do, and it works. Furthermore, as Montrealers, we know well how hard they have worked to get there. The rage is so strong that a foodie acquaintance from NYC (whom I met through my food blog) had learned about the worldwide fame of JB  and has booked JB for July and did invite me to eat there with him. On the evening I was there, it was clear that foodies have invaded the place: plenty of ppl taking pics, etc. I mean, late in the evening, with barely no light, please ppl…. I do not mind taking pics in broad day light, but when the place is dark, guess what…you are using your flash, others too, and really it’s annoying!!!!!!!!!!!!! Regarding the food, I had, as my main course, their fable lobster spaghetti which pasta was slightly overcooked, for my liking (a tad passed al dente and precise al dente is a must in this instance), but the lobster’s quality was as fine as it gets in town, cooked properly, meaning with proper balance between tenderness and necessary chewiness. 7/10 for that spaghetti lobster, which is indeed not the most complicated bistrot dish to cook but they did it properly, served at adequate temp, the lobster carefully sourced and this dish tasted as good as your lobster spaghetti will taste in a restaurant in Montreal. My starter were oysters, which fresh maritime quality was a reminder that JB’s strength is the sourcing of their produce (by Montreal standards, this is great sourcing). My foodie acquaintance from NYC had smoked meat nuggets (innovative, by local standards, as you’ll rarely see this food item on Montreal restaurant menus – 7/10 in both his and my assessment, tasty nuggets) and the spaghetti lobster too (above average, 6/10 according to him, although, as he confessed, his point of comparison are some coastal eateries in Italy with artisanally crafted pasta and dazzling seafood from the nearby mediterranean sea. Well, I could do that too as I have fond memories of dazzling coastal trattorias in Italy, but JB is not on the Amalfi coast, it’s located in Montreal so I’ll keep the comparisons …local!!). Seeing beautifully executed zucchini flowers at the next table, he did order them and indeed, the zucchini flowers were a world away from its tired looking examples, those tasting great and looking photo-friendly (8 over 10 – easily the highlight of that meal).
Pros: (1) The quality of the produce (by Montreal restaurant standards) with the superb zucchini flowers coming to mind, generous portions (2) A sense of place
Cons: Because of the serious $$ at JB, I got to the same conclusion as my foodie acquaintance from NYC ->> at such prices, I needed the best spaghetti and the best lobster to come from Joe Beef…NOT  from some remote coastal trattorias in Italy, to take one example. Though, to be fair… that is not the fault of Joe.
My rating for this meal: 7/10 – The ingredients are of top quality, the food is generally consistently tasty/good by our local restaurant standards.
So, does Joe Beef deserve its current position among World’s top 100 restaurants in the World? As one should know better, such subjective topic as a top list is not to be taken seriously . That said, listen: Joe Beef serves comfort food, crowd pleasing items. So, a piece of steak, some spinach, some tomato on one plate. Another plate can be a piece of grilled fish, some cilantro atop, a scoop of crème fraiche over here, some lentils underneath. The next day, that steak will be paired with perhaps some onion rings, and some bone marrow, the fish will be replaced by some roasted poultry served with beacon. Desserts will be items like cream puffs, poached peaches, etc. You got the picture: it’s basically some very simple bistrot fares. All done properly (JB applies the original recipes of those dishes faithfully).
Now, some might say that there is no room for some simple bistrot fare among World’s best. I disagree: if your roasted chicken ranks among the finest I ever had at a bistrot, if that could also be said of your lobster pasta dish, if you did that simple straightforward / basic sauce way better than at tons of other bistrots around the world, you should be considered as a world best eatery no matter how simple your food is. But here lies my one significant quibble with JB’s being in a top 100 best restaurant list: its food is pleasant, good for Montreal, but there are bistrots abroad that pulled off far better versions of those bistrot fares, with exceptional ingredients, not just good, but exceptional, for …of course, less $$$ (but the $$$ is not a reproach to JB…Montreal restaurants, in general, are the most overpriced eateries of this globe, and there’s no secret about that!!).
Bottom line: JB divides opinions. There are those who seized the opportunity to impersonate Shakespeare and write love letters about it (read: Montreal’s Joe Beef Lives Up to Absurd Expectations / by Bill Addison, Aug 18, 2014, click here for this romantic write-up ), others who do not understand its fame, there are those who were impressed by the unique charm of JB (as/per Chefs McMillan and Morin: their idea of a home where they serve food to their guests) as well as those who instantly fall for whatever Bourdain and/or restaurant Magazine recommends. I side with none of those since, in my view, JB is not the bad restaurant that its detractors are trying to portray (it’s one thing to not like that kind of food, it’s another thing to suggest that it is bad), not the exceptional eatery that its fans try hard to sell (C’mon, this is some adequate — not dazzling — comfort/bistrot food). After all, Chefs McMillan and Morin are clear about it……they are just trying to serve decent comforting food and are  competing  with no one!

WYCLEF Wyclef Jean was in town and the hip hop fan in me could not have asked for better. Mr Jean’s performance was  one that can only be described in superlative terms, a performer of incredible talent.  The hip hop world is blessed with outstanding performers, from the Destiny’s child to Usher, but Mr Jean did, in this instance, way more with far less. This show was a reminder that spectacular effects and showcasing big means is just a way to show the container because there’s perhaps no content to offer: with just basic light effects, a guitar and a DJ, the crowd never stopped jumping, singing and dancing under the genius sense of festivity of one of this world’s most talented artists. If you are depressed, no need of any medical intervention…just go to concerts of such festive power.  Please do not come back for a while, Mr Jean…such highs need to be savoured for a very long time! It needs to transcend time. Magical, indeed (for those who like that style of music, obviously). WOW!

goatvscow La Référence is a Congolese (RDC) restaurant nightclub. I heard their Chef makes some decent Congolese food and seized the opportunity (of dining with a Congolese friend) to sample their grilled goat meat, which is one of my favourite Congolese dishes as I am fond of the way the Congolese (from the region of l’Équateur, but the baluba in the Kasai region do grill and season their goat in almost similar fashion, too)  do generally spice and prepare  their goat meat. Goat meat spiced and grilled by Congolese, when really well done, are among world’s tastiest food-street style goat meat preparations. I am not too sure if this was just a bad day for them, but the goat was goat only in the imagination, but beef in reality, on my visit. Trying to pass beef as goat is a practise that eludes me, especially given the obvious difference, in taste, between  grilled beef vs grilled goat. But worst, the grilled meat  —  of the special beast that once lived as a goat but ended on my plate as beef – was dry and tasteless (barely no seasoning), the consistency almost leathery, then, to complete the exceptional feature of messing with what’s supposed to be some basic grilled meat, it lacked the grilling flavor that is expected from such dish. I never thought that I would one day suggest  that perhaps grilling a simple piece of meat could be a daunting task . 0/10 for the  grilled goat meat that happened to be beef. This was served with a flawless chikwangue, which seemed to indicate that the Chef can indeed cook well (if it’s her who made the chikwangue), as well as fresh slices of onions (classic Congolese accompaniment to grilled meat). My overall food rating: N/A (I need to pay them another visit, to get a definitive idea  of  what they are capable of,  since this was perhaps — I hope — just a day? or just a dish?? ..to forget). La Référence, 808 Rue Beaubien Est, Montréal. (514)805-7606

LUCILLESince it’s summer,  I seized the opportunity to try couple of food trucks. One that caught my attention was the food truck of a restaurant that I have not revisited for years but that pleased me a lot when I dined there on that sole visit: Lucille Oyster dive. I recall that the quality of their seafood, by our local standards, was particularly good, though, as expected with seafood-centric restaurants in Montreal, pricey. Lucille’s food truck  had a crowd pleaser among its offerings: the lobster roll. The folks at Lucille do not mess with quality, thus, as expected, the lobster tasted as good and fresh  as a lobster roll can taste in town. The bread of the lobster roll is unaltered, for ie  not fried nor baked in butter, which is my preference as I believe that a bread that’s buttery would distract from enjoying the star ingredient, the lobster.  A lobster roll is admittedly no rocket science, and yet I oftently  tend to think that perhaps it is: plenty of lobster rolls in town taste mainly of buttery bread or mayonnaise, hiding the flavor of the lobster. In contrast, this one at Lucille’s food truck featured lobster tasting of the sea, the quantity of the mayo just right, meaning not overwhelming, so that the fresh maritime fragrance of the lobster can express itself. One fine lobster roll, indeed, which is a rarity in town despite online claims of the opposite (when you read online accounts  on our local lobster rolls, you would think that Montreal is a great if not better than serious lobster roll destinations like the Maine – the reality of Lobster rolls in Mtl  is nowhere near those standards), but charging $4 for some french fries, which although beautifully crispy and tasting great, SHOULD BE …included in the $12 lobster roll offering. Or else $16 for a  lobster roll and some french fries (which most ppl would certainly expect as the default accompaniment to their lobster roll)  is quite pricey for some street food. Clearly, Montreal food trucks are among this world’s priciest food trucks. My overall food rating: 8/10 by the standards of lobster rolls in Montreal. There are plenty of  supposedly fabled lobster rolls in town, most of them characterized by an overuse of ingredients and condiments as to mask the taste of the lobster, but Lucille’s tastes of what it should: lobster, lobster in its fresh maritime form.  Lucille’s food truck http://www.lucillesseafood.ca/en/food-truck

ATELIER ASIEAtelier Asie (situated in the Business district downtown Montreal) is a humble  eatery  serving pan-Asian food such as ramen soup, gyoza dumplings ,  braised pork steamed bun (Bao). I picked 1 serving of gyozas (5/10 – the chew fine enough, meaning the consistency was decent as it was not mushy, not hard neither,  but the taste of their filling— which consisted of pork, veggies and mushroom in this instance– was not apparent). The restrained flavor was also an aspect of the  Bao (what they call Bao is, to be precise, their take on the Taiwanese braised pork steamed bun / gua Bao): here, again, the pork belly barely tasted of pork, its usual bold and meaty mouthfeel — typical of most Bao  – was absent on my visit. The texture of the bun was not going to make up for the downsides of the pork filling, neither: part of the surface of the bun peeling off easily under barely no  pressure. A good gua Bao should always boast a soft surface and fluffy/smooth consistency, whereas this one was rather slightly sticky and a tad firmer to the touch.   5/10 for that Bao I was having. My overall food rating: 5/10 by Montreal pan-Asian casual food standards –  I gather that this is no dining destination given the low cost of the food, but food…should always taste of what they are made of! Atelier Asie, 453 Avenue Viger O Montréal.  (514) 508-9998

***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.

***Yum Rum cakes –  My  ‘coup de coeur’ of the Taste of the Caribbean event was  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. This shop seems to be staffed by a team of very ambitious and seasoned young women, doing what they have to do seriously, so long live  Yum Rum cakes ! Yum Rum cakes https://www.facebook.com/YumRumCakes?fref=ts 514-916-0183, 514-816-1383

RIBFEST***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.

01There 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).

02UPDATE 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.

01The 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).

02Duck 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!).

03Vacherin 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!

****The only time I did eat at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud was the sole Chef cooking as there were just 2 tables booked on that lunch and he was still cooking at noon,no more in the evenings as retirement was approaching for him. I gather that we all have our own definition of what a grand Chef is, and mine is very simple: you take that simple classic food and you make it taste way better than anyone else and bingo, you are my hero! Lol. I do not need trends, I do not pertain to the new gen of diners, I just want my damn food to simply dazzle in mouth. For me, Bernard Pacaud did it in a way that few of nowadays best Chefs would do. I come from very humble backgrounds, I am paying my restaurant bills with my hard earned money, not on the back of society or a newspaper, so charging me that much (the $$$ are strastopheric there) and still leaving an imprint on my palate …well, your food better taste damn great.That said, you are not me and I am not you, so your best restaurants Vs mine might simply be as comparable as water and fire ;p. More importantly, L’Ambroisie has changed a lot, since then as the son was in charge, then went opening a restaurant called Hexagone. So who knows, perhaps the L’Ambrosie of my souvenirs are something of the past.Perhaps Not. I won’t know as it is way too $$$ for me to go back there, but no matter the way things are turning out for them, my meal prepared by Chef Bernard Pacaud during my sole visit under his roof will be remembered as an exceptional demonstration great classic French food.

****A Taste Of The Caribbean will take place from June 26 to 28. Their facebook page here, web site here. Of particular importance, for me,  the free live cooking demonstrations offered by  some Chefs from the Carribean (that is free) which work I will discover for the first time. I am a huge fan of Carribean varied cuisines and do look forward to Carribean food we do not get to sample oftently in Montreal,.

KINKA ISAKAYA 1Kinka Isakaya is one of the latest hottest additions to the Montreal food scene with real Japanese Chefs at the helm, pretty settings and festive ambience.

KINKA ISAKAYA 2I started with Maguro Tataki (seared Albacore, tuna sashimi with ponzu and garlic chips) – Albacore  tuna has a natural mild flavor, so you need to rely on your marinade to make a tataki preparation of such fish  worthy of mention, but the  marinade lacked enough acidity to make this dish exciting. 5/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 3Seaweed Tofu salad / marinated seaweed & tofu on greens – the texture of the tofu ‘normal’ / ‘standard’, with an Ok  balance between the firm and the soft,  but this was certainly not the result of long hours spent in finding the perfect balanced texture of a tofu neither. Since  it is a bistrot, not a fine dining destination,  I will  pass on this one, although in Tokyo and elsewhere, I had better tofu at  isakayas. Frying that tofu, in this instance, would have brought it a long way (again, nothing wrong here…just your usual/normal tofu type). The seaweed salad was tasty, the greens fresh . 6/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 4Deep fried chicken (Karaage) featured a nice crisp, but this Karaage was short of  the bold chicken fried flavor that I came to expect from fried  chicken at isakayas, in Tokyo or elsewhere (this tasted way too mild, defeating the point of fried chicken, at isakayas,  which rarely fail  to express bold, joyous meaty chicken flavor). 6/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 5Karubi (grilled miso marinated beef short ribs) – the grilling flavor coming through as it should, the meat not seasoned boldly but tasting delicious, the power  of the miso well judged (which was one of my main issue with the next dish). Tasty   7/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 6Grilled miso marinated black cod with yuzu miso sauce – one of my favourite fish preparations at  Isakayas in Tokyo and elsewhere. In this instance, the black cod tasting way too sweet to let the fish flavor standing…imparting, actually,almost a fruity note to the flesh of the fish. This, whatever the excuse, is just misjudged seasoning of the marinade of the black cod. I do not hate sweetness, but when your fish taste almost fruity, like on this evening, my boat won’t float. It’s the first time that this dish disappoints me at an Isakaya.  2/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 8Baked oyster with spinach, mushroom,garlic mayo topped with cheese is one of their most popular items, according to most online reviews as well as the opinion of their staff. Admittedly, baked oyster was  never going to be the favourite item of the old school seafood purist that I am as I simply can’t appreciate oyster that is cooked (I had no other choice but to try it as it was part of the tasting menu that I picked). My palate interprets the baking of oyster as a way to diminish the best aspect of the oyster, its maritime flavor. Therefore,you can imagine how the addition of spinach, cheese,mushroom, mayo… just made it harder and harder , for me, to get excited about it. Gratinéed dishes are usually crowd pleasers and they please me too, but gratinéed seafood tend to oftently  infuriate me, lol (why overwhelming the jewels of the sea in such manner? Lol…). I won’t rate this dish as it is not their fault if I simply can’t see baked oyster standing as an improvement over some nice raw oysters (at least, they did it right and indeed, restaurants cannot limit themselves to a minimalistic approach of preparing seafood, so long live to the baked oyster and to creativity ..but without me!).

KINKA ISAKAYA 7Unagi Bibimbap is their take on the Korean Bibimbap. Bibimbap is relatively easy to make,but what interests me with such a simple dish are the elements that sets it apart. Koreans go the extra mile in flavoring their sauteed veggies and a good Bibimbap is way more than just an ordinary mix of rice and sauteed veggies in part  because of the obsessive care that Koreans put in the pairing condiment of soybean or chilli pepper paste. What I was having tonight had none of the soybean or chilli pepper paste, so right there I was left with the Bibimbap in a much more basic form, with unagi that was of fine quality, indeed, but an overall flavor profile that was way too sweet for a Bibimbap to be enjoyable . 6/10

Black sesame ice cream was the best item of my meal, on this evening, with a taste that is a bit less lactic and rich compared to the one I had at Kazu, but texture was glamorous and the taste delicious. 7/10

Overall food rating: 6/10 – An Isakaya, with real Japanese Chefs: right there,  Kinka did boot with an advantage over most of its peers. And yes, indeed, most of the food tasted as Japanese as an Isakaya can taste in Montreal. My problem was elsewhere: the leading Isakayas , nowadays, may it be in Japan or even in the US, will push the work of the texture of their tofu beyond the ‘just standard/normal’, fried chicken will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to dazzle, a salad of seaweed will not content itself with just ‘the nice acidity of its seasoning’.  Bibimbap is a Korean staple, but in Tokyo, the US, Toronto, Vancouver, well…. there are Isakayas who are delivering startling takes of the Bimbimap…because such simple dish needs to stand out with either exceptional produce or exceptional Flavors. On this evening, I saw no evidence of what I came to expect from most Isakayas in Tokyo or elsewhere. For sure this meal was slightly above  average for Montreal, but it is not rocket science to do better with such  simple bistrot fares.  That said, this is a fun place, restaurants are  not consistent by nature,and they have a great variety of other items that may  float my boat. So to be tried for a second time.

PHO BANG NEW YORKPho Bang New York is a very popular Vietnamese Pho destination in Montreal. At their old location, the pho was richer in flavor, more rustic in presentation, the place cramped. They have now moved to a new location, cleaner and spacier, the service is now better and the Pho better adapted to nowadays trends (not greasy as it used to be, more refined in its taste and presentation while remaining tasty). I was not a fan of the old PBNY, but that has changed: their new place deserves its enviable reputation. Do not go there expecting their Pho to be what it cannot be, meaning keep the expectations real (for eg, we are obviously NOT in Vietnam, a Pho that wows is a notion that is utterly personal/subjective, etc ), but by Vietnamese Pho standards in Montreal, this is one Pho by which I’ll judge the other Phos in town.

*MONDIAL DE LA BIEREThe Mondial de la Bière  took place at the Palais des Congres. I tried La Pitoune (www.troududiable.com) from Shawinigan  / the Imperiale Ale (Brasserie les Deux Freres), the Houblon libre (Micro Brasserie du Lac St Jean), a white wine from Les boissons du Roy, called sa Majesté (my coup de coeur of this fest), L’Église Noire ( Microbrasserie Kruhnen). Clearly, Quebec offers some world class beers and that white wine dazzled.

PROS: the variety of beers, obviously

CONS: One can argue that paying, on average, $4 for a glass of 3oz of beer is hard to understand, especially given that such event is an opportunity for those merchants  to be ‘visible’ to the most,….

AU 5E PECHEAu Cinquième Péché (Translation: At the 5th sin) http://www.aucinquiemepeche.com/stdenis/  is a long time favourite bistrot. It has been a while since I last ate there, but with the beautiful sun out I went back and sat on their terrace.

I ordered:

AU 5E PECHE3Demi homard de Gaspésie, lard confit, polenta, , tomates confites – the lobster poached as I like it, meaning cooked to tender consistency while boasting necessary chew, polenta as fine as a properly executed polenta would taste and look like the ingredients of good quality as it has always been the case here. It is unfair that someone who swears only by the spiny lobsters of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean (my case) –I am not talking about the frozen spinies that are sold at the super market, obviously, but of fresh spinies — would start telling you how he was not that impressed with  lobsters from colder waters as my perceived (as ever, such things are purely mental as,using the poaching or the boiling methods, unless the crustacean was snatched from the floor of the ocean just moments ago, is hardly the best way to compare the taste of crustaceans that are actually not even from the same species) superiority of one lobster over the other is just that .. personal/subjective (my palate just perceives tails from cold water lobsters, that is not grilled, as less tasty), so it would make no sense for me to assess this dish.

AU 5E PECHE2Terrine de foie gras. The terrine properly executed by classic French terrine standards, the fruity elements fine enough rather than dazzling (I have no clue how they did their confit, but I prefer a confit that tastes more of the natural sweetness of the fruit, whereas this tasted more of granulated sugar– again,not a fault, just what a matter of personal taste) , though, to be fair, the effort to make a fruit confit complex and dazzling is what I am expecting on a fine dining table, not really at a bistrot, but of course…dazzling it can also be at a bistrot. 7/10

-Deconstructed choco / lemon tart comprised of a tiny block of choco (good rather than great, for ie properly rendered, tasting fine, just not as exciting as some examples of deconstructed choco tarts I had at other bistrots), lemon cream (the best element of this dessert). I would take a classic choco or lemon tart, anytime, over this one. 6/10

In fine, I was not floored on this evening but there is nothing to reproach to Au 5e Péché neither: it is obviously not their fault if I perceive spiny lobsters as better than any other types of lobster. I did argue that the deconstructed lemon / choco tart could have been more exciting (to make it more sinful ;p), but here again…it boils down to what you are looking for, not necessarily to what is right or wrong: you prefer a choco tart with dark choco or not? You like the choco tart richer in taste or not ?Etc. As always, the cooking is consistently of reliable French bistrot standing at Au Cinquième Péché. The rare times I heard harsh comments on this place (I always read online reviews/comments on a place whenever I decide to visit it or revisit it), it was generally a matter of misunderstanding (For eg, diners assessing inaccurately textures and temperatures only because they basically are not familiar with what needs to be expected from certain type of food items based on some original French bistrots recipes – though, Au Cinquième Péché is not limited to French bistrot staples as they also cook North American bistrot food items). At least, with such a skilled kitchen, it can dazzle at times as proven on my last meal there (click here for that review ), and even on the evening of my visit, there is no doubt in my mind that I could have made better choices: the meat of Maitre Boucher Marchand du Bourg features on their menu in the form of a deluxe hamburger, the veal tongue / the sweetbreads (which have always been great here), the other daily offerings, etc.

The F1 grand prix week is in full effect. Check that out, here. This is the time of the year when Montreal is in its prime with people from all around the world invading terraces and partying all night long. I partied, this evening, under the sounds of Super Sonic (tomorrow on Crescent Street, this friday evening at Jardins Gamelin).It was free and the fun was mesmerizing. We are nowhere near the magic of a city like Tokyo, but at least it is the “relatively” fun Montreal that we all have heard about. Party on!

QDC BURGERA Cult Burger which cult I am not embracing, but that is just me  …. I finally tried the famous  QDC Burger of La Queue de Cheval, aka the Cult Burger.  I am a huge fan of  Peter Morentzos who went from a simple butcher to one of Canada’s most powerful restaurateurs and I do think that La Queue de Cheval, with or without its flaws, is Montreal’s best steakhouse. I heard great things about the QDC Burger and went trying it with great enthusiasm. It was not what I kept hearing about, for eg the best or one of the best burgers in town. Well, at least not in my books: for sure, the meat is of quality, the ciabatta-style bread too, but the kind of cult I am willing to follow, when it comes to burgers, is the one underlying big bold meaty flavors. This was ok, properly seasoned, cooked medium rare, and although decent … it would not be hard to replicate. Too bad my last burger at Goumet Burger did not live up to the highs established by my 1st burger there, but  my very first burger at GB did fit  with what I could comfortably elect as one of the best burgers I ever had in Montreal. Whether a burger is a  gourmet or not a gourmet burger…I could not give a  damn …I just want my burger to dazzle in mouth. The cult, in this instance, did not dazzle.

RED TIGER 1A tiger that did not fearsomely roar,but certainly charmed ….Red Tiger, a Vietnamese inspired bistrot,   was one of the most anticipated new restaurant openings in town. The floor checkered bistrot  is hip, its  staff is young and beautiful and they certainly know how to be cool / trendy. The big trend these days is to do like in Japan: no visible mention of the restaurant name. Come to think about it…when you have an address, why do you need the name too? Lol

RED TIGER 2I started with ‘cote de porc braisé aux cinq épices’, which boasted faultlessly braised pork, tasting fresh and meaty. The minimum that one should expect, indeed, but many eateries are sadly just reheating their braised meats, a laughable  mistake that Red Tiger did avoid during this visit. The  Nuoc mam  particularly inspired on this evening (great punch of acidity and spicyness, but perfectly balanced). Genuinely good 7/10

RED TIGER 3Pursued with ‘Boeuf et porc roulé dans des feuilles de bétel’ – the quality of the ingredients playing a role in the equation, perhaps, but cooking skills were also required and they shone through: the meat perfectly moist, packed with proper heat (not too hot to burn a palate, but enoughly warm to keep the meaty flavor alive),the taste delicious. Sauces are not an afterthought as the pairing sauce has an exciting depth of flavor, exquisitely sweet rather than cloying and uninspired. 7/10

Red Tiger is the ‘prescription.  to all the quibbles I kept finding with most Asian-style bistrots in town,lately : a grill that is too ‘shy’, food that is trying too much to please everyone, etc. Here, at Red Tiger,  the grill ..grills! The food tastes delicious. They may look young and beautiful, which are sometimes attributes that one would not associate instantly with serious cooking, but they made it happen: the cooking here is to be taken seriously. Imagine if they were allowed to grill on charcoal! Red Tiger is serious stuff (though, certainly not the cheapest Vietnamese-inspired eatery that I know in town). My problem is not with them, it is with our local standards…Montreal is a universe away from world class foodie destinations like San Sebastian or Tokyo..and yet  it is charging us 3 times more ..for food that is 3 times less exciting, and as to  complete the grand slam…portions have to be,  of course, smaller.. Better swallow that pill!

At the count of three, it crashed ……This was my 3rd visit at my favourite Haitian Casse Croute in Laval, Casse croute Casa Créole. Last time I ordered the Haitian bouillon here, it dazzled. Not this time as the bouillon was utterly salty. Who knows, perhaps the Chef was mad and poured enough salt in that Bouillon to showcase her hostility, lol. Regardless, Casa Créole continues to be my prefered Haitian Casse Croute in Laval as all the other dishes seem to be consistently well executed.

***Spring and summer seem to be the times  of the year when this blog is perused by an unusual  considerable amount of people. I do not need to thank you  as this blog is essentially for friends and relatives. Since it is on the web, it just happens to find itself in  your way as well. It is the food /wine/restaurant world that needs to thank you as food blogging  is ultimately some free advertisement for them.
So,  In April and May 2015, the most popular posts of this blog have  been:
(1) Montreal steakhouses- https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/montreal-finest-steakhouses/ -read by 28% of you
followed by
(2) Sawada, Tokyo – https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/sushi-sawada-tokyo-my-coup-de-coeur-but-not-flawless/ – -read by 23% of you
(3) Nice, Cote d’Azur – https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/nice-cote-dazur-carre-llorca-chez-acchiardo-chez-palmyre-la-petite-cocotte-bistrot-dantoine/ 16%
(4)Dons de la Nature, Tokyo – https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/dons-de-la-nature-tokyo/ 15%
(5) L’Arpège, Paris – https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/larpege-paris/ 13%
(6) Chef David Toutain https://michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/the-return-of-one-of-this-generations-greatest-chefs-chef-david-toutain/ 5%

Steaks are ‘high’ among your searches, Lol, as the posts on our local steakhouses as well as Dons de La Nature were actually the items that did consistently rank high among the most frequently consulted articles of this site ever since they were posted, but a year later (especially in the case of our local steakhouses),many things might have changed for the worst or the better…so take that into account. The surprise, for me, was the article on Sawada. Usually,on the web, the most popular articles are those with beautiful pictures and elaborate write-ups and this post boasted non of those enticing features (NOT my fault as Sawada fobids photo taking to normal diners,meaning those who are not linked to the food industry/food journalism, so members of the normal/anonymous 99% clientele ). As for the write-up, well I am not writing in my mother tongue and this is not meant to target any specific audience outside of close friends/relatives, so not much miracle that I can do here, lol. Anyways, good for Sawada and hopefully that article fulfilled its intent of trying to convey the appreciation of my meal at this sushi shop in a constructive manner. The posts on Nice and L’Arpège have always been very popular and a year later, that pattern has not changed.

 ***Montreal has now its Master wine steward (Master Sommelier) in the person of Elyse Lambert. This city has some skilled sommelieres and sommeliers, so it was a matter of time before a Montrealer would earn  the title of Master Sommelier . For those in the know, Master Sommelier is a relatively prestigeous achievement (Forbes qualifying it as ‘’ world’s most challenging wine examination “”) in the wine business. As most Montrealers interested in fine dining, I had the priviledge of enjoying Elyse’s wine pairings in the past and I will have to concede that I can see how she passed that exam: she is an exceptional  wine steward. What amazes me the most about  Elyse is that she seems more busy delivering consistent wine pairings of world class level  (which she never stopped doing wherever she stepped foot, for eg at XO Le restaurant, L’Eau à la Bouche, and now at Maison Boulud in Montreal) rather spending most of her time  parading on TV.  A rarity in nowadays food and wine industry.   http://elyselambert.com/

***World’s 50 best restaurants (for 2015) to be published this summer. We, once, had Michelin and Gault Millaut, running the show in the restaurant world’s review business, but the big trend nowadays is Restaurant Magazine’s World’s 50 best restaurants. In my imperfect subjective view, I think that there are just three restaurants that do truely stand out anywhere around the globe: The Fat Duck (tried around 5 years ago), Alinea (retried last year) and Noma (tried 3 years ago) are the restaurants that do truely set the bar. Does not mean they are my preferred tables, they are not actually, but they have perfected their craft in a way that the other top restaurants of the globe can just dream about mimicking. All the rest, however great they are, are setting no standard at all. As of the World’s 50 best restaurants listing, do not get your knickers in a twist about it nor about any review system or reviewer in general as you should know better that opinions on food/restaurants are subjective by nature. People try to find controversy about those systems, but at the end of the count, any promising alternative just ends up….tasting the same, lol. Which, of course, should not mean that we need to discourage progress/changes.

Anyways, here is (in French) a very interesting article on the World’s 50 best restaurants phenomenon as it covers virtually everything that needs to be learned about it.

***Joe Beef, in World’s top 100 according to San Pellegrino/Aqua Panna’s World’s best restaurant listing.   I am happy for Joe Beef, one of our most iconic tables if not the most iconic of them. But to me, this has more to do with popularity (it is extremely popular, indeed) rather than anything else. Do not get me wrong: the produce is generally of top quality (by our local standards), portions are generous, the cooking generally pleasant in its hearty/comforting style, but I am afraid the World’s top 100 feature will create further unrealistic expectations here.