-Second meal on Friday January 10th 2014 18:00
Please click here for the report of my first meal there.
I was happy with the first meal, so I went back the following Friday evening. This time with my wife, since she is also a huge fan of Chef Michele Mercuri ‘s cooking (again, we are not groupies and do not make friends with Chefs, but the reality is that a restaurant is worthy of your hard earned money ONLY if you have a serious /reliable Chef and /or brigade working hard where they need to. Or else, what’s the point of dining out? Chef Mercuri is known to work in his kitchen rather than parading on TV, so it sounds logic to both my wife and I to invest our hard earned bucks in what he is crafting. Of course, if we do not like something, we’ll be upfront about it, but as long as we are satisfied, there’s no reason to imagine troubles where they do not exist neither).
Before I go ahead, in an email sent to me (Btw: really sorry if I have the ‘comments section’ disabled. Since I have no time to manage it, I did not see the point of letting that portion opened. But contact me by email if you have questions – Thanks ) Raj K asked why they have a barber shop sign in front of Le Serpent? I did not ask the staff about it, but in French, a barber pole is also known as ‘un serpentin’, which intent, I would guess, was to correlate with the restaurant name (serpent).
On this evening, I did opt for the daily offerings, so those not featuring on the paper menu but announced verbally to all patrons (for the sake of being informative, I still took pictures of the menu and am sharing them with you all along this report – Just click on the thumbnails of the pics of the menu to get a better readable content):
Bucatini Pasta $18 cooked in pig’s fat, this was delicious as I’d expect from pasta cooked in fat, but it’s the details that showcase the skills of a kitchen that matters most to me, and that is where this dish shone: not a single sign of the heavy-ness that fat is oftently accused of, but to the contrary some quality refined pig’s fat adding body and enjoyable flavor. As good as you’ll get from Bucatini Pasta cooked in pig’s fat and executed by skilled hands. Good 7/10
My wife went for the ‘octopus, potato mousseline,.salsa verde” dish (you can see part of it on my pic of the bucatini dish)- Lol, I have that ‘psychological block’ where I tend to not order what others have reported about, whenever I can. This dish seemed to have been a big hit for the few foodies who have reported about their meals there, so it did not seduce me for some reason. Anyways, my wife took it and was highly satisfied. Took some bites, and I have to say that indeed, I can see why some have liked it. What I did particularly liked with this dish is the proper work of the octopus texture and taste. The octopus keeping its enticing marine flavor and the quality comparable to the stunning (by Montreal standards) one I just ate at Jun I, one day earlier — that report can be found here . And exactly as at Jun I, proper technique of tenderization was applied skillfully so that you get the best of both worlds: tenderizing it but still keeping a good sense of chew , which is my preference (I was born in a fishermen village and when I hear ppl expecting ultimate tenderness where it’s not supposed to, my blood heats up LOL! ) . Nowadays, more and more Chefs in town are now taking their work of the octopus more seriously, but few are delivering this kind of well balanced doneness between the right chew and proper tender doneness (I’d say Jun I, Kazu, Lawrence and Le Serpent do, for now, get this right). 7.5/10 for me, an excellent 9/10 according to my wife.
The second verbally announced daily offering is a black truffle risotto $19. Chef Mercuri spent some time at Le Calandre, the 3 star Michelin where the risotto is taken very seriously, especially in its contemporary renditions. Consequently, risotto is Chef Mercuri’s forte. As always, I insist on reminding that whenever I highly rate a dish, I am NOT partaking in the usual concepts of ”’this is highly rated so it should be special””’, NO! I do not trade with such concepts ( this blog is solely and primarily meant to share my adventures with friends, relatives, so sometimes they tell me hey…you’ve rated this or that dish with a 10/10..so it’s perhaps special/out of this world, etc“”” . That is why I take time to insist on such things. So, let us put aside meaningless notions like ‘special’ or ‘Wowness’ and focus on the essential: if you really know your risotto (Chef Mercuri risotti are comparable to what you’ll get from the current nicer kitchens in Lombardi and Veneto, delivering a contemporary twist on the classic risotto that nowadays diners mostly like, which means featuring a creamy consistency with soft /wavy (all’onda) texture, the rice grains conserving proper bite while remaining tender –as opposed to some of the thicker old fashion versions of the risotto (DISCARD any opinion about how a risotto should be. Such opinion come from ppl who messianically want to impose ONE universal way of doing things. There are preferred consistencies of the risotto, there are trends, but NOT one perfect way of doing the risotto!) – –as opposed to some of the thicker old fashion versions of the risotto – I found his truffle rissotto to actually be even better (Chef Mercuri has no 3 star Michelin, which is to me even more impressive ) than what Le Calandre‘s kitchen has served me on my last visit there —though I forgot, on that meal, to order Le Calandre’s famous Saffron risotto — , and equally as great if not better than some of the finest risotti I enjoyed in Lombardy and Veneto (the real intent behind that trip where Le Calandre and Dal pescatore were visited ..was actually to try some of the finest risotti of Lombardy/Veneto/Emilia romagna could offer, so risotti of winners of regional risotti competitions as well as other risotti favoured by locals were the main events of that tour — His risotti are NOT to be compared to some of the thicker classic Lombardian risotto like this one Risotto con pistilli di zafferano I had at Dal Pescatore — as a huge fan of risotti, I like all those styles, so no preferred ones for me, specially given the large variety of risotti found in Lombardy and Veneto / the complexity of the work of the stock, cooking execution and the taste being what matters most to me.), then you won’t fail to appreciate that Chef Mercuri delivers Montreal’s finest risotti. Another benchmark risotto by Montreal standards (the work of his stock, an essential element of the risotto, pertains to what’s better done on the lands of the risotti — I liked the fact that he kept things as it should, for eg the finest truffle risotti you’ll currently find in Lombardy and Venetto are usually packed with a nice kick of salty-ness and this one had indeed that sort of genuine salty kick —not to be compared to the work of lesser cooks who have mistakenly over-salted their risotto..NO…we are talking here about the necessary salty kick that is required for some risotti (like this black truffle risotto) to have a bolder dimension. Here, the bold salinity was necessary and its absence would have made of this risotto, an ordinary one, whereas the advantage of salt would obviously make not much sense on, say, a lobster risotto (which I have sampled on my first visit here, and which was indeed not salty). 10/10
Another daily offering (in their ‘à la broche’ daily verbally-announced offerings) was the porchetta/lentils/mozarella di buffala. Properly roasted and seasoned, with ideal moist consistency, the Mozza properly exploited as a necessary addition to the refinement of the overall taste (indeed, Mozza as one of the elements of Porchetta’s stuffing adds necessary enjoyable mouthfeel, while, of course, adding visually appealing volume to the meat’s moistness — a kitchen that thinks its Porchetta ) , tasting great. There’s no miracle to expect from a porchetta, though it’s a fact that as with anything, some will do it better than others. This was as great as porchetta can be, by any standard of dining, here and abroad. Well cooked and delicious quality lentils / spinach laid atop (the doneness of the lentils packed with proper bite and enough firmness so that its earthy dimension is well felt, which a ‘mushy’ consistency would not achieve — I have always said that a mushy lentil is no lentil anymore ;p…you’ll be surprised how some Chefs, even among the finest ones, do deliver some uninspired lentil….a reproach that I obviously could not formulate on this instance) , a flawless sauce (beneath), and a home made crispy pig ear that was, as expected at this caliber of dining level, a bit more than its already enjoyable supermaket pork crackling version (the difference is not really to be found in the work of the texture —though, obviously, homemade crackling taste and feels fresher — , here, rather considerable in the amazing taste of the pork — Quebec’s Pork does indeed count among the very best in the world as any real connoisseur of the subject will agree). Very good, indeed. 8/10
My wife took another dish that seemed popular with the few foodies who have reported about Le Serpent, at the moment of writing, which is the orzotto/veal shank/foie gras shavings (again, you can see part of her dish on the picture of the porchetta). There’s a mas o menos similar dish that they serve at Club Chasse et Peche (same owners of Le Serpent) and is popular there, so it makes sense that sister restaurant Le Serpent has something of that kind on its menu. I heard, from the staff, that this is a very successful dish here. I am not surprised by its popularity: Montrealers love this kind of dish. My wife rated this with a 10/10. I took couple of bites and would be comfortable with a 8.5/10 (indeed, flawlessly rich and delicious, of course no technical problem as expected from a kitchen of this quality unless one has no clue of what he/she is talking about, lol, BUT the sole reason I was not blown away — which of course takes nothing away from the greatness of that dish, has to do with something purely personal/subjective, therefore imperfect: I am fonder of the Lombardian use of rice). Obviously, given my high score, you’ll understand that I was not unhappy neither, LOL.
We concluded with the Tiramisu dessert, the affair of well known pastry Chef Masami Waki (Pastry Chef of the Club Chasse & Peche family of restaurants, which include Le Filet, Le Serpent). I have the highest respect for Chef Masami Waki, I have no doubt that she is a talented Chef and that the incredible shower of praises coming from most Montreal’s food journalists regarding her work is deserved/justified, alas we’ll have to wait a bit before I become a devotee of her work. Again, it is possible that it’s just ME… not understanding her work (who knows?? and why not??), BUT here, we’ll be as fair as we can: (1)I am not a robot, so I’ll tell what I think of this dessert, as imperfect as my opinion may stand and (2)I’ll leave a door opened to the possibility that I am wrong.
So (1) my wife gave a 0/10 to this tiramisu, but I gave a 5/10 (I am not a Tiramisu “purist’, I just know what a great Tiramisu should taste like). I rated the Tiramisu higher than my wife because I took into consideration the effort of trying something different /creative (this Tiramisu being a personal take of Pastry Chef Masami Waki on the Tiramisu) rather than sticking to the classic take on the Tiramisu and I also found it prettily presented. In a bowl which was mostly filled with the relevant whipped mixture of eggs/coffee, a micro piece of Tiramisu cake sat in the bottom. The problem is that the creamy mixture had no coherent flavors at all (I was tasting more cream and cloying sugary mix than coffee!!!), certainly nothing that was palatably anywhere close to genuine Tiramisu flavor . My wife is a ‘purist’ of the Tiramisu (;p) and if you do not make the Tiramisu as close to its original renditions, she won’t be happy (hence her harsher score). I am not Italian, so do not expect me to start a debate over authenticity, etc…but I expect ..from whatever take on the Tiramisu … that the mascarpone –or substitutes / eggs mix to always help enhancing the coffee flavor rather than overwhelming it (my main quibble with this Tiramisu). (2)I refuse to pertain to the breed of stupid peeps who see everything as either BAD or GOOD, and nothing else, ;p. NO! So I explained the situation to one of the waitstaff and invited her (she made me laugh when she told us that she hoped that our resiliency over the dessert did not mean that we were not satisfied about the rest…Lady, no worries about that, Lol! As long as a good Chef like Michele Mercuri is around, the rest is indeed not a problem, LOL ) to help me better appreciate the work of Pastry Chef Masami Waki. She said that Chef Masami Waki’s tarte au sucre (sugar pie) is something out of the ordinary. Another waiter adding that he was floored by her panna cotta,. Ok, Ok..I’ll try Chef Masami Waki sugar pie and panna cotta, then. Lol. BTW: Tiramisu is really an easy dessert to make, genuine Tiramisu flavors are not that hard to replicate (forget recipes over the web or in books, just get couple of nonnas to show you how it should be made, and more importantly, how it’s supposed to taste — once you master that part, you can do whatever fancy rendition you want of the Tiramisu, and it will taste great ), so I am confident that she does great ones, but that perhaps this time the creativity got the better of the palatability.
Overall score for this meal: 9/10 Excellent savouries with no quibble to raise, but great cooking skills to praise.
Service on this second evening: mostly a manly squad in the dining room (as opposed to the bar). Polite and serviceable. This is an experienced team, so no reproach at all. Mathieu, my main waiter, would make any great restaurant really proud (towards the end of the evening, I had to leave asap for personal reasons and he reacted so well). Service is a real charm, here and with time –yep, yep I know, no one is perfect, but still —- I realize how Quebecers are the coolest of all the Francophones around the globe, their love for life and dazzling humor mixed with great values are simply second to none in the Franco world.
Conclusion (in regard to this second meal): I do not expect a kitchen, as great as it is, to second guess what I like or not (that is simply un-realistic), so eventually there are things that I’d perceive as better than others, which is absolutely normal (you need to factor the diner’s prefs in all of that: for eg, I love risotto so naturally a well done risotto will tend to be scored higher, I grew up in a fishing village so I tend to expect a bit more from seafood dishes, etc, all things that is out of the control of a kitchen) , but the most important is that Chef Mercuri and his brigade has delivered another strong performance in view of what’s generally found in Montreal, with consistently well executed and tasty dishes. Some of Montreal’s most inspired Italian contemporary cooking. Their room on this evening was full, the bar too. Seeing such great restaurant and kitchen brigade enjoying the fruit of their well deserved success is the proof that sometimes in life, those who deserve the real praises are not forgotten, a true breath of fresh air in a world where too many unreliable restaurateurs are cashing in on undeserved popularity. This second meal confirms the addition of Le Serpent in my personal (tiny) list of favourite dining destinations in Montreal , those that I’m comfortable in safely recommending — all sorts of food style and dining levels taken into account — (La Porte, Au Cinquième Péché, Bottega, Jun I, Raza, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Le Bonaparte and Bistro Cocagne).
I can’t manage — because of a lack of time — the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you. Off topic comments will be discarded.
Q&A – Josianne K asks if Pastry Chef Waki is just not my type of Pastry Chef, and whether both my wife and I have ever been impressed by a new school take on the Tiramisu Answer: Josianne, it’s food. So indeed, it could be anything and ME not enjoying her style is a possibility. BUT as I wrote, I am not a robot, so entitled to my own opinion! New school takes on the Tiramisu, both my wife and I are all for that: In sept 2013, while visiting Paris, a Tiramisu at Officina Schenatti have impressed us while remaining very contemporary in its design.