02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-grasCreamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence all along this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still, I have no quibble to raise as the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual petits fours (first-rate petits fours).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM. In fine, just in case  you ask: YES, for Montreal,  this is already a top tier / destination restaurant.

What I think days later – Some may  complain about the  “summery”  ingredients in the desserts (coconut, lychee, etc). I can live with that. The International flair. I am fine with that.  What  I care about is this: add a bit more punch to those flavors. Lift them up! Do not get me wrong: they are fine. Just lift them up! AJRM has a squad offering a superb service. It has a beautiful restaurant. The food is technically capable.We all know that. Just add some pep to that food exactly like what they are doing at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile.

 

 

 

 

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01Escondite (Addr: 1206 Union Ave,  Montreal; Phone: 514-419-9755; URL:  http://www.escondite.ca)  is a popular  tacos and tequila bar  revisiting some staples of tex mex cuisine , adding  their  own twists such as the El general Chapo dish, which is their  mexican take  on the general Tao or combining  familiar local ingredients such as the maple syrup with  ingredients typically found in Mexican food, or, to take another example, by adding Mexican twists to some local staples.

Mexican food as well as its Tex Mex Americanized rendition is not unfamiliar to most of us, North Americans. Mexico being one  neighbor we tend to visit when trying to escape our harsh  winter. So, this is food  of which most of us   know what to expect. I am talking about realisitic expectations – For eg, I do not expect Mexican food outside of Mexico to taste exactly the same as in  Mexico as, obviously …  the tacos were not made with the exact same water, flour,  their  fillings not with meats coming from the exact same purveyors.  The diners are not the same neither, therefore not opened to the same depth of flavors. I doubt that diners outside of Mexico are ready to feast on some of the bold flavors found in Mexico or on some chapolines anytime soon. That is why I refrain from comparing  Mexican food in Mexico to its incarnations abroad. It would be nonsensical.

On this evening, I ordered:

 

03Their fish tacos (All their tacos are served as  a pair of  soft tacos made of 6 inches snack flour tortillas  for $8) are made of  battered deep-fried cod, a cream of avocado (in place of the common white creamy sauce that is usually found in baja-style tacos — which these tacos took their inspiration from) and cabbage slaw. I prefer this simple combination of ingredients in my tacos to the overhelming display of ingredients that can sometimes be found with fish tacos elsewhere. The battered deep-fried cod   featuring  a delicate  crisp. Although I tend to prefer the bold and rustic flavors of some traditional tacos, I have to admit that Escondite’s  refined fish tacos were still  very enjoyable 7/10

04Al pastor soft tacos, pork belly al pastor, grilled pineapple, onions. They use quality ingredients and that was key to this  taco as, to take an example, their pork was of better quality than at your average taqueria. They have marinated the pork belly exquisitely  well. 8/10

Guacamole: prior to my meal, while reading the online reviews on Escondite, I found that their guacamole is praised by some as the best guacamole they ever had, others finding it lacking in terms of seasoning. This one I was having was  judiciously seasoned,  the avocado perfectly ripe (essential for a good guacamole), the splash of acidity coming from the lime not overwhelming at all (the mistake you do not want to make with a guacamole) and yet vivid /  exciting on the palate. 8/10

 

steak-koreano-e steak koreano & nopal – sirloin, oaxaca cheese,  grilled cactus, pickled jàlapeno, spicy orange crush crema- this had a complexity of flavors that were very exciting.   This as well as the el pastor taco are my preferred bites at Escondite.  8/10

la-tinga-la tinga (tomato and chipotle chicken, queso oaxaca, lime crema ,  lettuce) hard shell tacos were the least interesting of the tacos I have tried as the flavors did nothing for me, and the hard texture of a tortilla is something I can live without   6/10

 

quesadillas-Quesadillas ($14) were as tasty as you would expect from good quality melting cheese (oaxaca and cheddar, in this case) in flour tortillas. black truffle paste and mushrooms were added for complexity. Oaxaca and cheddar were thoughtful and stood as the right choice of cheeses for the quesadillas. 7/10

 

05-Nachos 2.0 ($12) – Gyozas au monterey Jack, jalapeno, pico de gallo aux grenades, guacamole, queso fresco, crema au poivre noir (black pepper  crema).  Gyoza nachos are nachos shaped like dumplings. Rustic, in presentation, rather than sophisticated but that is normal for taqueria food. The mild flavor of the monterey jack cheese  complimenting well the guacamole and salsa fresca laid atop the nachos. The enticing blend of flavors perpetuated with the addition of the queso fresco and black pepper crema. This was a  highlight for me.   8/10

06-Pepper/Cinammon coated churros – There are many types of churros around the globe, therefore the suggestion that one churro is superior to another one is generally a misconception as it is more likely a matter of personal preference (talking about preference, I prefer the churros that are simply coated in sugar to the ones that are filled with either chocolate or dulce de leche – Escondite’s are of the coated sort ) … unless, of course, your churro is carbonized or drowning in a pool of oil.  I have heard  great things about  Escondite’s long ridged donuts, but they  were flawed on this evening:  they were surprisingly dry and hard  in texture and consistency instead of  boasting a nice crunchy exterior. I wish I could tell you about the interior, which — regardless of  the type of churros —  is expected to be soft,  but the churros I was having in this evening were way too  thin, making the interior so tiny that it would be hard to describe to human eye. It is not hard to find far better freshly made churros than these in Montreal   5/10

The cocktails (I took a cafe/tequila as well as a mezcla  based cocktail) I had on this evening were all memorable.

 

Upon its opening, Escondite took the local  restaurant scene  by storm. Since then,  not one single  local food blogger/journalist has missed the opportunity to shower the place with superlatives such as “the best tacos in town”, the “most authentic of them all”, “the best churros”,  etc. Of course, the “best of” has never meant anything, but I was curious to see if  this taqueria could better its competitors on the culinary front. For traditional tacos,  it is El Rey Del Tacos that will pull flavors as close to the motherland’s as it is possible to find in Montreal. Maria Bonita  and Caifan are great at that, too. Maria Bonita and Caifan are not to be missed, btw. But this should  take nothing  away from Escondite which has opted to voluntarily add a their own  twists to tex mex cuisine. And it is doing it well. The best tacos in town? There is a myriad of taquerias here in Montreal with the big majority of them being fine and performing at virtually the same level. There is no benchmark tacos in Montreal. Just plenty of fine and some (very rare) bad ones. To the contrary of popular  belief, bad taquerias are rare. What is common is the unfortunate propensity  to perceive food as what we want it to be instead of accepting things the way they are supposed to. Most ppl  think that greasy mexican food equals badly executed food. It is certainly not healthy, but that does not mean that it is not delivered the way it should . Then we have preconceived notions about what temperatures are supposed to be right or wrong, what textures should prevail. Take the abalone or the squid. We have denied them the right to be what they are…they should be tender, that is what we want them to be. They are not tender by nature…but dare serving them a bit  chewy (which is their ideal texture for palatability ) and you get an avalanche of inaccurate views. Soon, we’ll have genetically modified abalone and squid, they will born tender like a kiss,  just to fulfill our fantasies, and everyone will talk about the squid and abalone of their incredible dreams.
Bottom line: Mexican food is flavor-packed by design  (who can’t make something tasty out of an avocado? strips of pork belly and pineapple? ground meat with grilled cheese? ) , therefore I do expect much more than just  tasty food at this kind of eatery. I expect good drinks, fine ingredients, good work of the textures of the food, the appropriate technique and a great sense of timing. Bad timing (who wants his ground meat served lukewarm?) and bad ingredients are the common culprits when people tell you that they had bad mexican food. I did not find those  usual culprits of bad Mexican food at Escondite, but good drinks/technique/timing/textures. And delicious food.  Escondite is doing well for a  tex mex inspired bistrot in Montreal.
Overall rating for the food: 7/10 (Category : tacos and tequila bar in North America)  by Tex Mex cooking standards in North America. I found the food generally well executed, always refined and yet full of  gusto. One fine taqueria, for sure. And it’s hip/lively.
What I think days later: One fun local taqueria that deserves its popularity. One important thing to know, though, but that virtually no one seems to have mentioned online is that the portions of the tacos are not sizeable (6 inches snack flour tortillas), which is starting to be the norm at many local taquerias, but those (like me) who are used to larger tortillas at tacos bars will need to know that.  With that in mind, the average diner will do fine with  two servings of their tacos if he is not hungry. At least three tacos may  be necessary to feel satiated.

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AA Gill dies at 62 – He was a food writer with unrivaled wit. A divise character (you definitely  need a sense of humor to appreciate AA Gill’s hilarious writings) , for sure, but one of world’s most  captivating food writers (He was also a professional journalist covering various topics for the Sunday Times and Vanity Fair). The kind that you are unlikely going to praise in public (certainly not a critic  favored  by the restaurant industry, an industry that he oftently  tore to pieces –a good example of that can be found in his review of L’Ami Louis in Paris —  ) , perhaps, but whose  rants will not  leave the most  indifferent. To the contrary of many food journalists who run after public relations activities  that promote the restaurants they review,  AA Gill has always expressed disdain at the  restaurant world / food writers “bromance”.

 

Gault et Millau  “Palmares 2017”  for Quebec  –  Yvan Lebrun from L’Initiale is their Chef of the year. Their “Chef of the future” is John Winter Russel from Candide. I ate the food of Yvan while visiting Quebec city once for lunch in 2010 (that review can be found here) , then for dinner in July 2015. Chef Lebrun is one of the best French Chefs of this province (Dinner was stronger than lunch, though), and I have no problem with his best Chef award. As for John, I  never ate at his restaurant. The “Palmares 2017” shows that G&M is slowly but surely getting familiar with our province’s restaurant scene, but it will be hard to explain to the local food experts, those truely familiar with our restaurants, how talented Chefs  like Mercuri (Le Serpent), De Montigny (La Chronique), José Pierre Durand (Poivre Noir), Jean-Francois Belair (who used to work at  Le Marly, ), Marc Cohen (Lawrence), just to name a few, do not count among G&M’s cream of the crop .

 

Restaurant Marconi, Montreal – Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly is back in Montreal. He was at Au Pied de Cochon when APDC was in its prime and that is where I had the opportunity to sample his food for the first time. Back then,  I was impressed by what Mehdi was doing because he was an excellent interpretor of APDC’s Martin Picard neo-rustic North American/Quebecois bistrot cooking which can be remarkable in skilled hands, indeed, but utterly forgettable  in lesser ones (I have experienced both incarnations of ADPC and trust me…) . In those days, most foodies argued that Mehdi’s skills were second only to Chefs Picard/Dufour. For anyone who was lucky enough to have tasted the food cooked by Dufour and Picard in their heydays, that is no ordinary feature by any restaurant standard, here and abroad. He also worked at celebrated Montreal fine dining destination Toque!. Mehdi left the Montreal restaurant scene for many years pursuing his career as a Chef  in New York (Fedora, Chez Sardine).

This article of Tastet.ca  contains  beautiful pictures of the interior of  restaurant Marconi –

menuWhat  I ate:

 

mackerelNigiri maquereau fume (mayonnaise épicée , riz croustillant) – Nigiri of smoked mackerel /spicy mayonnaise/ crispy rice $6  Marconi is not a sushiya, therefore its nigiri is not a food item  that I was going to sample with the same expectations I would have at a sushiya, obviously, but this was delicious (a benchmark spicy mayonnaise, joyous flavours) and well executed. The excellent smoked mackerel from Gaspesie, a highlight 8/10

langue-de-boeufLangue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre $13 cabbage and apple wrapped in slices of exquisitely flavored beef tongue. The vinaigrette packed with enticing fresh acidity (fresh acidity being an aspect of this evening’s meal  that is used to great effect on this dish as well as the subsequent one). Plenty of fun on  the palate. 8/10

duckPoitrine de canard/ble/abricots/melasse (sauce de melasse et citron) – Duck breast/wheat/apricot/molasses  $23 Enjoyably richly flavored  wheat, nicely rosy duck breast and a dazzling molasses/lime reduction. This was another creative and well executed delicious bistrot dish but I would incorporate perhaps  some veggies to that dish  7.5/10

panna-cottaPanna cotta/creme d’argousier/biscuit graham –  Delicately sweetened panna cotta, competently thickened, covered by a first-rate cream of sea buckthorn berries.  Tasty, with enticing flavor contrasts and as with the other dishes, when an ingredient is used  for textural contrast(in this case, the graham cracker crumbs) , it really  ADDS to the enjoyment of the dish 7.5/10

Pros: Inspired bistrot cooking using quality ingredients, friendly  service, interesting wine list.
Cons: N/A

All in all: 8/10 (Categ: North American/ Cosmopolitan bistrot ) – Strong level of local bistrot cooking with joyous  and creative combinations of flavors. My main waitress told me that her personal top 3 are the egg mimosa (with miso), the bone marrow (and she usually does not like bone marrow) and the homemade gnocchi. That is exactly what I am going to try next time I will eat again at Marconi, if those items are still on their menu. A coup de coeur, for me.  Marconi Addr: 45 rue Mozart Ouest, Montreal, QC. Phone: 514-490-0777

What I think a week later:  In the recent years, most  of  the restaurants I regarded as the very best   in Montreal and surroundings  have closed (Le petit plateau, le marly, bistrot cocagne, cuisines & dependances, la porte, au cinquieme peche  in montreal, Les zebres in val david), some  are not what they used to be (au pied de cochon, bouillon bilk, bottega, etc), others have Chefs I admire and will always do … but which transition from what they excelled at … to what works  best for their business ..did translate  in less  sparks on the plate (compared to the heights that their chefs have proven  to be capable of), as far as I am concerned (hoogan & beaufort, pastaga). People do what they have got to do, and I have to respect that, but for someone like me who values  true talented artisan Chefs, seeing so many talents “reduced to silence” only served to be even more  cynical. Abroad, people buy into the idea that  montreal is  a foodie destination. I would join that “bandwagon of positivity”  if montreal  was able to keep its best talents motivated. I am sure that in a city like Tokyo, Paris or San Sebastian, Chefs like Martin Picard, Jean-Paul Giroux, Jean-Francois Belair, Martin Juneau or Benoit Lenglet would still have the motivation to work hard behind their stoves.  But as ever, with montreal, the boat will “never sink” as there will always be some few great Chefs who continue to  believe in this city and who are proud to continue to work behind their stoves : Michelle Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Marc  Cohen (Lawrence) are still around. Eric Gonzalez, too.  And now Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly.

 

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restaurant-m-la-nuitRestaurant Mimi La nuit (Addr: 22 Rue Saint Paul E, Montréal, QC; Phone: 514- 507-5449 URL: http://mimilanuit.com) is located in the Vieux port. We sampled their kefta (on this specific evening, the kefta more refined and slightly less spicy than what you will experience with some of its traditional renditions, but the flavor is genuine), salmon tartare (Ordinary – It may sound exaggerate to expect more from a basic mix of salmon and avocado, but such basic combination can and did dazzle at other bistrots ), sausage (Ok, but sausages need to truely stand out in order to make an impression when dining out whereas the effect of this sausage was as fine as the numerous sausages that most ppl are grilling in their backyard), lamb chops (the quality of the lamb high), crostini (a safe bet as expected), crab cakes (a gourmet take on the crab cake, with the cakes shaped like ping pong balls / this was pleasant on the palate and pretty to espy).

All in all : 6.5/10 In light of what I am used to in the category “french/north american/ cosmopolitan bistrot food”. It is hardly the best or one of the very best in that category, but it delivered pleasant food and sometimes, the food was more than just pleasant (the kefta, their condiments).

ntNos thes (215 Rue Sainte-Catherine Est Montreal, Quebec Phone: (438) 289-0418)- Tried NosThes, a Taiwanese-style restaurant which speciality is tea but that serves food too.

Braised beef tendon slices in thickened spicy soy sauce braising broth is what I had here on a first visit, the overall tasting genuinely fine with well balanced seasoning. That was a lunch special which came with a starter of marinated carrots (excellent marinade which complex sweetness did lift the natural fruity-ness of the carrots in a way that not many cooks can do). Soup was made of seaweed and eggs and this, too, was a properly executed version of this popular soup.
All in all : 6/10 Above average Taiwanese food by our local standards, offering decent Taiwanese-inspired  classical fares. Seems like a place where you are unlikely going to stumble upon cooking slips such as dry food, overcooked rice, unbalanced seasoning. And if someone does not find this place Taiwanese enough, then locate the country where this restaurant is located on a map and ask that person to say loudly where NT is situated. Not in Taiwan, but in Canada. Exactly… But certainly as Taiwanese as your food is going to taste in MTL.

 

La Caye (Address: 35 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, USA Phone: +1 718-858-4160 URL: http://www.lacayebk.com/) – I went back to my (current) preferred Haitian-style bistrot in North America, La Caye. Like many, I am not too enthused at paying a lot of money — La Caye is pricey—- for casual food (although, if you are not the kind of person who tends to overlook ethnic food, it should not be hard to appreciate that La Caye elevates this food to adequate restaurant quality) but there are few tropical eateries that are appropriate for a date (the reason I picked La Caye in the first place…but ensure you do not go there for a date during peak hours as it is small and can be packed).

akraAccra– most ethnic eateries will serve you their tired looking accras they could not sell the day before (apparently, based on reports of many North American foodies,  this is more common in Montreal than in New York) . Not here. Freshly fried, with superb golden texture. There are many types of accras (Haitians tend to favor malanga as the star ingredient for their accras), but this is one example of a benchmark accra (easy-on-the-eyes refined exterior, exciting  seasoning, not greasy at all) . 10/10

lanbi-boukanenLanbi boukannen ( Grilled conch) In some tropical islands, they grill the conch in its shell, paving the way to some great flavor enhancement. But that is, of course, not possible for a restaurant that is miles away from any tropical sea. So eventually, the texture and the taste of your grilled conch is different at a tropical eatery in a city like Brooklyn. And that was not going to be an exception at La Caye. However, the conch was as good as your grilled conch will fare at any Haitian restaurant in North America, just not of the exceptional ‘freshly snatched from the sea’ sort of conch (as one would expect). Seasoned and grilled adequately, but I am not a fan of grilled conch (I prefer eating it raw or in a sauce — it appeared at my table only because my girlfriend loves grilled conch).

lanbiLanbi (conch) in sauce was as great as on my last visit here, the sauce exquisitely prepared, the conch boasting a superb chew. As submitted earlier, the quality of the conch itself is the same as what you will find at most Haitian eateries in North America, but this is still as great as it gets in a Haitian restaurant this side of the world (I can think of, perhaps, 2 or 3 lanbi sauces that did tantalize a bit more, but they were cooked by exceptionally talented Haitian Moms). 8/10

goatGrilled goat (pictured above) and goat in sauce featured goat of fine quality, and seasoning that was — again and again — packed with punch. My preferred grilled goat remains the one from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Ntaba, but this was another example of flawless classic caribbean cooking. 8/10

Fried pressed banana plantain  is easy to make, according to plenty of Chefs, and yet it is oftently leaden at most   ethnic restaurants. Here, no such issue but  freshly fried press banana plantains of perfected texture (light and crisp)  and flavor (10/10).

Black mushroom rice (Diri ak djon djon) expressed enticing aromas (8/10), the condiments were all first rate items.

All in all: 8/10 Consistently great Haitian / Caribbean cuisine by North American Caribbean restaurant standards, but La Caye is not cheap and at those prices, I need the litchi of my litchi sangria to be of the non-canned sort and to be available only when it is in season. Furthermore, La Caye really needs to make more exciting cocktails (the prosecco/ mango juice cocktail as well as Litchi sangria that I had were not exciting drinks).

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gaGracia Afrika has a lovely Congolese (RDC) Mom at the helm. She cooks some staples of her native RDC (grilled coat?? goat in sauce), digs in other cuisines (The Ndole of Cameroon, the Haitian riz colle), and will feed you with some of the most popular African/Carribean casual food items (fried tilapia, etc). Things went exactly as expected: since I told her that I was African and given that I was alone, she asked me if I would kindly accept to give my seat (ideally positioned by the window) to the group of clients that came right after me. Hospitalité Africaine oblige, I obliged. Then came the food: it is a tuesday evening, quiet evening, so hospitalite Africaine oblige, I was the one who would have to eat the reheated goat en sauce of the day before. The group of clients that came after me,  are, of course, going to be fed on the fresh food of the evening. Frustrating? No, not at all. It is typical, it is cultural. Can the lovely Mom cook? Yes, of course: the dishes at the other tables looked freshly prepared and seemed well done. Furthermore, the chilli condiment and the fried banana served with my goat curry were proof that this lovely (because, truth be told, she is lovely) can do well. Any problem? Well, the lovely Mom and myself agreed on feeding me with charcoal grilled goat. I saw no sign of charcoal in her small kitchen, no sign of a grill neother, so not sure how she can grill on charcoal. Anyways, charcoal grilled goat was never going to make an appearance at my table, it was goat in sauce and goat in sauce that was reheated from the day before was never going to excite, as expected. So, will I go back? Yes, but on a saturday evening when this lovely Mom is so busy that only fresh food can come out from her kitchen. Food rating for what I had on this evening: 4/10 Gracia Afrika 3506 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal, QC  Phone:  (514) 713-1061 URL: http://www.graciaafrika.com/ang/accueil.html

 

Quick little tour in Ottawa, with a foodie whose palate I highly regard. Her “not to be missed” suggestion, Host India was  spot on. I did not take any pictures as I was dining with ppl I just met for the first time, and who have nothing to do with the foodie world,  consequently starting shooting pics of my food would have passed as odd.   Their relative weakness at Host India would perhaps be  the chicken kababs (I had more flavorful kabab elsewhere).  Also,  why that confusion between a dal makhni vs a dal tadka..?? …it is not the same dish at all. Anyways,  all things considered, I cared enough for Host India to  look past its minor flaws.  Not to be compared to  any of the best   Indian restaurants of Toronto (Toronto  has the very best Indian food in the nation), but definitely as fine if not better than our best Indian restaurants in Montreal. Some of the finest Indian    flavors (delicious sauces, the beef madras as well as butter chicken particularly well executed) I ever  tasted in Ottawa. Food rating: 7/10 Host India, Addr: 622 Montreal Rd, Ottawa, ON Phone: (613) 746-4678 URL: http://hostindia.ca/

fpAt footprints cafe, clarendon, brooklyn, we sampled    chicken wings (jerk) $8.25,  crab cakes $10.25 (one legit version of the crab cake, though …in a country where crab cakes is all the rage..this felt underwhelming for my taste and to my eye — this  crab cake needed more crab flavor / the the taste of the breadcrumbs was dominating the flavor of the crab ), curried goat $15.95  cooked with ginger and onions, salmon and shrimp combo (grilled) 26.95 (Grilled Salmon was executed properly, but not exciting – I had more flavorful caribbean-inspired grilled salmon dishes elsewhere).  All competent, exactly as the Jamaican friends who recommended me this place did suggest. The goat curry, the highlight of this evening alongside a flawless jerk chicken (both respecting the flavors of the Jamaican traditional recipes of the jerk chicken and goat curry).  FP was fine, the line up of Jamaicans at their door certainly a reminder that this restaurant feeds them with flavors that are as close to home as a Jamaican  chain restaurant can deliver in NY,  my (relative) small quips (??) having nothing to do with the restaurant but with some specific Jamaican dishes: the Jamaican dish of rice and peas  has always tasted bland to my palate (some well travelled foodies came to the same conclusion in this article ) , especially when compared to the far more delicious Haitian riz collé. And that grilled salmon and grilled shrimp is basic food, indeed, but  I swear, it dazzled … elsewhere! Sometimes I wished I had just discovered food just hours ago, lol, as  …the fact that I am  familiar with other types of  ethnic food ..does eventually affect my appreciation of certain dishes as that is exactly what happened with that crab cake and grilled salmon. Even the Jamaican lamb curry, although done the genuine Jamaican way here at FP, is not among my preferred ethnic lamb curries (I just prefer other types of seasonings with my lamb curry…but well, it is the way the Jamaican do, so I have to respect that as I was obviously at a Jamaican restaurant). Personal taste, for sure ..BUT at least..I have the decency of refraining from assessing it with numbers (which would be utterly inaccurate in this case). As for their rasta pasta (their signature dish), no thank you: I’ll fall for it the day you will make your own home made pasta. Or else, what is the point? Footprints Café, Addr: 5814 Clarendon Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11203, USA Phone: +1 718-451-3181 URL: http://footprintscafenyc.com/

fhsFuji Hibachi Steakhouse (NYC)  faces port authority, a few blocks away from Time square. They opened around 3 weeks prior to my meal (I ate there in sunday Oct 30th). Service was good, the small restaurant having a touch of relative elegance to it (its rest room, contemporary). The Miso soup and edamame I had were good,  but they will have to play attention at tiny details such as the proper doneness of their cooked meat (my girlfriend wanted her red meat to a certain doneness, I wanted mine to a different one but we both ended up with meat cooked to the exact same doneness) as well as lifting up the flavors (it was ok, but there are Japanese eateries offering this style of food with much more flavor). Given the not-so-high prices (relatively to NYC, especially in such centrally located spot) that they charge, it is normal that they do not use prime quality ingredients (veggies, for eg), though fine enough (veggies and meat are of the quality  you will find at most supermarkets) but that ultimately  took away from the full enjoyment of my food at FHS:  simple food like sauteed/grilled veggies or meat have always pleased me more than their sophisticated versions  but then you need exceptional produce and great flavors to get away with it. And that is what I was missing during this visit. Food rating: 6/10  Fuji Hibachi Addr: 321 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036 Phone: +1 212-757-1820

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After a highly satisfying visit at Hvor, one that propulsed it in my top 3 in YUL, I went back, curious to see what they had to offer now that autumn is approaching.  I was a bit reluctant, though , after the non enthusiastic review of my preffered local food journalist, Marie Claude Lortie, who used terms such as “unaccomplished” to convey her experience at Hvor

hvor01My second  journey at Hvor did boot with a home made prosciutto of local quebec lamb that was not a pale copy of what the finest charcuteries of Europe has to offer. Superb dry-cured charcuterie, indeed, though not surprising given that Quebec has some of the finest lambs your palate will ever have a taste of.  Still, there is some serious technique to master, if you want to deliver serious charcuterie,  and that technique they nailed it. Superb!
Then a  mini, minimini miniature (as to convey how mini that was)  veggie tartlet.  The Chef purposely not overwhelming his minimini mini miniature tart with seasoning as to allow your palate to enjoy every single ingredient  at its peak (as fresh as you’d have handpicked them from the garden just moments ago). Nice touch, but I am not a fan of miniature food (which was fine, here, as it was the only miniature item of the tasting menu and it was part of some amuses….I know some restaurants that would serve it to you as the sole amuse!). Still, I considered that miniature veggie tartlet  as a perfectly well executed clin d’oeil to Alain Passard’s  tartlets. In the medias, only Marie Claude Lortie did mention that the Chef had, once, trained at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege. Passard’s touch could truely be felt in that miniature tart of veggies which intent was to mimmick a pizza. Mission accomplished as it tasted of the better aspects  of a pizza.
hvor02Choux bruxelles, fourees au foie gras torchon, reduction vin rouge, crumble cacao. this was amusing: only couple of brussel sprouts were stuffed with their home made foie gras au torchon, but what a foie gras au torchon that was! A benchmark of its kind (I am talking about the foie gras au torchon)   9/10
hvor03Then foie gras de lotte (burbot fish’s foie gras),  Yuzukoshō  – first rate  burbot fish’s foie gras. The Yuzukoshō  condiment showcasing outstanding skills (the effect of its heat  entincingly complex) as it was as genuine as your reproduction of  the Yuzukoshō   will feel and taste out of Japan.  8/10
Then another first rate item, a tartare of duck that did benefit from Japanese accents (mixed with rice, seasoned with Japanese seasonings).  Then a dazzling piece of  kinmedai  fish elevated by superb seasoning  and condiments.
hvor04Grilled guinea fowl  (pictured)  was also excellent, and, clearly ahead of what most would do with their guinea fowl in town (meaning, dazzling taste,  accompaniments that were packed with superb textures) .
To wrap up the meal, some excellent desserts (sorbet au pommes, brioche a la canelle, Etc)
Bottom line: So, still in my top 3 in  Mtl? Absolutely. Enticing Franco-Japanese flavors (Despite the scandinavian-inspired name,  the Chef  is inspired by Franco-Japanese cuisine) on this particular evening. Just keep in mind that the way I assess the skills of a kitchen is by “micro analyzing ” some very specific aspects of what I am fed with. Here are examples  of just that: (1)the miniature pizza. Some may say ” ah, it was way too mini, so not much to talk about”, but I say “when it is miniature, but done with such skills, then why not? as long as you do not feed me with just that, which is a mistake that they did avoid at Hvor”. (2)the brussels sprouts of which some may say “hey, why that display of plenty of brussels sprouts, but only a few of them are filled with the foie gras” … to which my answer would be “it is one of those amusing tricks of the nowadays contemporary cuisine, found at plenty of contemporary restaurants around the globe, but what I do care about  was that foie gras au torchon and how well it went with the red wine reduction, that particularly great quality of brussels sprouts, a bit of cacao crumble… it is a lot of risks to accompany brussels sprouts… cuz they can be bitter..with cacao…another ingredient known to be bitter, obviously..to  foie gras  au torchon. But they nailed it where many would inevitably get either the cacao crumble or the brussels sprouts to overwhelm the foie gras. That (fabulous skills that allows my food to taste great, especially after NOT taking the easy road, which they do at Hvor) is all I need to know about the skills of a kitchen. I grew up considering great cooking as that ability to make what’s tough to get right (condiments, sauces) sublime, which, to my palate, is what Hvor delivered. This is a kitchen that has the potential to elevate franco-quebecois-japanese combinations of food ideas to another level. I can imagine some witty stuff with, say, a tartiflette, a six pattes, etc…but with Japanese accents. The ball is in their yard. All I know is that the skills are there. URL: http://hvor.ca/en HVOR 1414 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal, QC  (514) 937-2001 Subjective personal overall assessment for the food: 8/10, Service: 10/10, Ambience: 10/10
01Tiradito is the new kid in town. It is  a (contemporary) Peruvian bistrot bathed in an attractive contemporary interior. You basically sit at a long bar surrounding the Chef (another trend, in town,  nowadays).

Peruvian cookery is “en vogue” (to the point that a simple marinade like the “leche de tigre” is a very  trendy term) these days, thus a winning formula a bit everywhere in North America. As explained elsewhere on this  blog, I never review food that I am not familiar with or simply can’t appreciate for reasons that have nothing to do with the food itself.  For eg, you will never see any review of Romanian, Brazilian, Polish food on my blog. They are great cuisines that I do respect but my palate simply can’t appreciate them. So instead of laying down inaccuracies on paper (things like ´there was fish in my sushi’ or ´my neapolitan pizza had burnt edges, therefore it was bad’),  I always ensure to familiarize myself with the food first, then I will assess it. By familiarizing myself with the food I am assessing, I mean getting to taste how the food is cooked by those having the proper kno- how, understanding the genuine flavors of my food. So Tiradito was going to be a restaurant from which I knew what to expect.

02Tiradito de thon albacore ($12) would be the sort of dish to look for, here, as the name of the restaurant implies (tiradito is basically peruvian crudo).  This featured fine fresh tuna, and accentuated heat coming from the amarillo chilli of the leche de tigre. I appreciate the fact that the Chef opts  for the bold genuine spicy flavors of his motherland.  This came with bits of cancha corn. Fine
03Papa rellena $5  (1 papa rellena for 1 person is enough as the portion is sizeable) was properly executed – the potato flavor present, as it should, the taste of the ground meat enticing (which is a sign  of fine  quality meat and proper seasoning) the accompanying sweet sauce having its  sweetness nicely balanced.
04Empanada of blood sausage was also correctly executed, the accompanying coconut curry  went really well with the empanada  –
Bottom line: Expect dishes that are done as it should, in the spirit of a refined Peruvian bistrot, the flavors and textures properly rendered. Perhaps some nice grilled charcoal-grilled meat would have boosted my level of enthusiasm, but this place is not designed for that. So no charcoal-grilled  anticucho, at least not for now. In the category  “Peruvian bistrot” food, I had my share of dazzling as well as pleasant food and these were pleasant bites. Tiradito has  no issue with the fundamentals (seasonings are mastered –it will be spicy where it should, balanced where it needs to be),  which is a good start. It is also perfectly fine the way it is right now. I just need a little bit of wittiness ***  (though, to be fair, restaurants do sometimes have  menu items that do not feature on the standard menu  and those are generally more exciting — I did not ask for those. I think you should,  as, based on the pics that I can see on their facebook page, there seem to be  items that could be of better interest, under this roof, than what I chose ) to get this whole thing to spice up my enthusiasm (Tiradito is young, so it has plenty of time to switch from “perfectly pleasant” to “dazzling” ).  Overall food rating: 6.5/10 Tiradito 1076 Rue de Bleury, Montreal, QC, Phone: (514) 866-6776 URL: https://www.facebook.com/tiraditomtl/
***People oftently ask me “Hey, what do you mean by wittiness?”. I’ll answer, as truth  be told, we tend to “lay down” words but do not take time to explain what we truely mean. Everytime you see me using the word wittiness, I mean any of these : a work of flavors and or textures that went above an beyond what is usually found for the kind of food that I am assessing. Furthermore, food is about little details: If I bake something and serve it right away to you, it will never be the same as I bake the same thing and serve it 10 mins later. Flames tend to bring more enjoyment than by other methods of cooking. Crudo is generally fun, but it relies a lot on exceptional quality produce (which of course is costly, sadly) to make an impression. So when I talk about wittiness, it is the ability to bring all those little details together.

 

 

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***Marie-Claude Lortie’s write-up on Hvor is the best article that a local food journalist has ever written – Yes, she is one of my preferred food journalists of all time. No I do not know her. No, I am not in love with her. And I am sure I am not her type neither: I am ugly. No, I do not agree with every single statement of hers. And that is normal as we share nothing in common. But I know one thing, though: “suckling pigs” is not her favourite dish….my way of saying that she is not biased, not there to make friends in the restaurant industry. And she writes well,  she is  not your usual  “shakespeare wanna be”  or “I  feel smart” type of food  journalists.
Marie-Claude’s article on Hvor is a reminder of how this woman is capable of unusual impartiality, where many so-called  food journalists are just there to   serve as advertisers for their friends of the food industry.

You know that a food review is exceptional when the reviewer sees things that most did not (not  to be confused with …things that do not exist….sadly, the mistake that most food journalists make) at a restaurant that you really liked (Hvor is in my top 3 in Montreal alongside La Chronique and Le Serpent ).

Eventhough Marie Claude’s article has no impact on my opinion of Hvor,  I’ll concede that I had “flashbacks” (lol) of the duck magret I had there  when  she was  reproaching to Hvor… a feeling of unaccomplishment..a feeling that she did observe at times during her meal there.

But aside from that duck magret, there was no other sign of “unaccomplishments” during my meal. To the contrary, there was lots of finesse, a very high level of technique as well as some superb combination of textures and flavors.

Marie-Claude argued that  the desserts at Hvor are “deja vu” creations for her. Well  …Montreal is unlikely the place that one should look for when it comes to reinventing the wheel. Desserts at a restaurant in Montreal, however great they can be, they are certainly not going to be thought provoking!  And Marie Claude should know that. I do not expect restaurants to reinvent anything, anyways. I just want them to excel at whatever they do whether the food is classic or not.  And that is exactly what Hvor was about during my visit.

As for Marie-Claude’s review, that is a master piece (written in French) that you can peruse here.

 

***Le Tonkin as well as Pho Bang New York are (and still are) my preferred spots for Pho in Montreal. Not only is the pho good at the two restaurants, but cleanliness (especially in the case of Le Tonkin)  is another attribute you can append to their respective descriptions, which is not a common affair at our local pho restaurants. But I love phos, so I went trying some of the best picks of other local Vietnamese foodies (Vuong and Han,) that I know and trust. For Vuong, Ho  Guom and Tay Ho rule (he is from Hanoi, and unsurprisingly his preferred phos are of the Hanoi style). Han is a fan of Pho Lien and Lyla  (phos from her native south).

restaurant-lylaRestaurant Lyla 431, Jean Talon W, Montreal, 514-272-8332 http://www.restaurantlyla.com/    The broth a tad sweeter than at Pho Bang NY and Le Tonkin, (which is not a quip, rather a feature of this type of pho) as well as a tad less complex in its nuances but definitely one legit version of the Pho. The ingredients were fine, the quality of the meat good. Unarguably one genuine version of the Pho, but I’ll take Pho Bang NY (which uses  a tad more star anise than its local competition  in  the soup, but to great effect) and Le Tonkin’s more complex (meaning: having more nuances in taste, textures)  / therefore seemingly more exciting Phos anytime over this one.
ho-guom-montrealI then tried one of Vuong’s top picks, Ho Guom, which is a  stone’s throw from Iberville metro station.  Lots of depth/nuances of flavors (that are well balanced, btw) in that broth, and yet a broth that is very clear (what you should look for, the experts will tell you). Bring your own lime, though, as the piece of lime they did serve to me  was incredibly dry! And consider yourself as deprived from any sense of humor if what I did submit about that piece of lime is all you needed to know. Easily in my top 3 local phos (you know your pho dazzled when you can afford complaining about useless things such as a dry piece of lime ;)). Ho Guom, 2035 Rue Jean-Talon E, Montréal http://www.hoguom.ca/
Bottom line: you want your pho to taste/feel/smell like in Vietnam? Then fly to Vietnam! Lol. That said, Le Tonkin, Pho Bang New York and Ho Guom are making superb phos and despite the never ending list of decent phos in town, I have yet tasted a better pho than at the above mentioned  trio of preferred phos.
***Morgan’s bbq is touted as offering one of the finest texas style smoked briskets in nyc. Order them (the briskets) fat, not lean, as to savor your brisket in its more flavorful rendition – which is exactly what I went for. Can’t agree more about Morgan’s bbq reputation: their brisket is as enticingly smokey and tasty as your texan style brisket will get in NY. Coleslaw and potato salad were equally delicious. So did the chicken (you go to a Texan style smoke house for the briskets…yeah, I know, but my sweet half wanted to taste the smoked chicken).
Pros: briskets that would send the ones we have in Mtl to shame, though in the US..the competition is fierce, obviously. Still, some fine Texan style briskets, and not just the briskets as the smoked chicken seemed to have tantalized my girl friend’s palate, which is no light exploit as the lady is a picky eater
Cons: Not too sure if this was an isolated situation, but the brisket I was having was super salty.Because it was as tasty as it was salty, I did not make a fuss of it. I trust that was isolated….
morgans-bbqBottom line: 7/10 (categ: Texan style bbq) – Morgan’s BBQ may not be a standard bearer at what it does, but they are the next guy you are looking for when the standard bearer is not around. For the sake of comparison, our smoke houses in YUL are not there yet (in YUL, our finest texas style brisket’s taste is unidimensional – in comparison).  Morgan’s Barbecue Addr: 267 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States  Phone: +1 718-622-2224  https://www.facebook.com/morgansbrooklynbarbecue/

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