Event: Dinner at L’Européa
Date/Time: April 16th 2014, 18:00
type of cuisine: French (Fine dining)
Address: 1227 de la montagne, Montréal, QC
Tél: (514) 398-9229
URL: http://www.europea.ca/

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Pursuing with my reviews of the major restaurants of Montreal (previous review was about restaurant La Chronique — click here for that review). L’Européa is  a popular fine dining destination in Montreal.  It recently became a Relais & Chateaux and is now part of Les Grandes tables du monde. Their Chef is Jerome Ferrer,  an amicable Chef with several restaurants in Montreal.  L’Européa is his stronghold. The food here is French gourmet.

The meal started  with many nibbles such as a morsel of beef jerky, cheese lollipops, a ‘cigar of cheese’,  cheese-flavored popcorn, a slice of scallop with a drop of mango purée atop so to give the impression of an egg, etc.  All amusingly presented but most  I personally found  surprisingly  ordinary (in light of what is generally served at a restaurant of this standing) :  for example, the popcorn lacked of the vibrant toasty flavour  of its    better versions, the  cheese lollipops had no problem at all on the aspect of the conception but it won’t be hard to find far  more exciting  versions of what I was having, the beef jerky as ordinary as anywhere else, the scallop with its drop of mango purée is certainly a good effort but such combo works only if the ingredients are exceptional;  they were good enough BUT  they were not the stellar specimens they had no other choice to be  and that pretty much sums up what was going to lie ahead (good intent, hard work but lack of  sparks) .  The best of those nibbles being  the ‘cigar of cheese’ and yet, its effect was similar to what plenty of  lesser restaurants would  serve in town.

Then:

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Lobster cream Cappuccino with truffle puree

 

 

 

 

Lobster cream Cappuccino with truffle puree  lacked  of the bold rich dimension it needed to make an impression.  This was way too mild tasting for a lobster cream   3/10

 

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Carpaccio of yuzu pecking sea bass

 

 

 

Carpaccio of yuzu pecking sea bass. Creamy crab salad and celery remoulade as a cannelloni. Slowly confited crab leg in a lime butter – The  cannelloni of celery remoulade was well done, but I found the sea bass leaving quite a generic impression as far as I am concerned (not bad, not good), as I have enjoyed far more exciting versions of it even in Montreal, the crab salad fine, but again nowhere close to the best I had even here in Montreal   5/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Tagliatelle of calamari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagliatelle of calamari cooked at low heat was the best dish of this meal.  This reminded me very much of Chef Jean Francois Piège  ‘calamar à la carbonara‘. The calamari retaining balanced doneness between the right chew (it is in the  proper nature of  the flesh of the  calamari to be packed with a certain chew) and ideal tenderness,  the overall  providing  enjoyable mouthfeel.  I’d not hesitate to score this  higher at a low end restaurant or a bistrot, but for what’s usually delivered at a restaurant of this standing, a 7/10 (Good) seems fair in my opinion.

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Pan sear foie gras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maple bark stewed pan-seared foie gras, caramelized on a river stone with Fire cider. Apple and cranberry crumble as a tatin. They first present you with a hot slab of stone on which the piece of foie gras continues to cook. Warm cider is poured on top of the foie gras and the dish is completed with apple and cranberry crumble. Pan seared foie gras is easy to get right, actually easy to excite in mouth (plenty of bistrots in town offer some dazzling ones) but the foie gras I was having  this evening kept all of that potential at bay: the deep livery flavor so typical of a startling version of this simple dish was replaced by barely any distinct flavor (a piece of foie gras relies heavily on  that dazzling deep livery/  minerally dimension that I was missing on this instance) .    3/10 (to be fair, there was technically nothing wrong with this piece of foie gras as the doneness was right  and quality good, but as already explained here, my score is related   to the DEGREE of excitement sensed by my palate. Purely subjective as it is the nature of any opinions, obviously).

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - sea bass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea bass filet cooked in breakable clay. Cook-ooning cauliflower and special tabouleh Green Asian salad’s leaves and stalk. Bright red “beurre blanc”. I certainly cannot fault the doneness of that fish (cooked right, which means neither overdone nor underdone) , but the baking effect of clay pot cooking has rarely been, for my taste, the best technique to impart excitement to a piece of sea bass filet (grilling, pan-searing make more sense to better appreciate such mild tasting fish) , unless, of course, you add a dimension of spectacular seasoning to it, or its presentation is something out of the ordinary. On this instance, there was no spectacular seasoning and presentation but the observation that my unexciting sea bass filet (ordinary tasting) could have been memorable with a simple ‘kiss’ from the grill and its skin left unremoved (a bit more tricky to achieve, compared to the clay pot cooking technique, but with far more exciting sensation. This should have been about a greater expression of the ingredients  3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Prawn risotto

 

 

 

 

Prawn risotto. Straw wine emulsion. Suspended prawn spring roll. For me, a passable take on the risotto. Risotto relies on complex deep  flavors, a dimension that this rendition lacked: at home,  when in the mood of something quick and basic but satisfying enough , I sometimes cook a quick (non elaborate) riz au lait by simply pouring milk over steamed rice. This take on the risotto had that  same ordinary effect, only it is delivered  with the savoury dimension that is required to call it a rendition of the risotto, and came with prawns in this case. Those  prawns, although not bad at all,   still got nowhere close to the finest prawns that I have sampled in a restaurant, even here in Montreal, and a take on the risotto needs texture (this was closer to a soup of rice than to a rendition of the risotto).   3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot

 

 

 

 

 

Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot. Root vegetables fondant, hen broth infused with galangal. Celery bulb entremet and béarnaise. In Alain Passard‘s style (this reminded me of  Chef Alain Passard   long time ‘chicken cooked in hay’ dish, the chicken is replaced by the Cornish hen on this instance) , the Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot is presented in its pot, at the table. This is a dish that’s simple to cook,  as well as one that can easily dazzle with barely not much.  The one I was having on this evening was nowhere close to what I wish it could have been:  simply put, the seasoning lacked spark (for my taste, Galangal —as the dominant aroma —  has never been  ideal   for poultry, as its flavor  wont complement  the poultry  taste in an exciting   way – The effect I was left with was one of a generic tasting piece of poultry with a soya-flavored sort of sauce (that’s how the sauce tasted), which was  hardly going to pay justice to the better  renditions of this dish).  I appreciate the work and effort that went into cooking this dish, which  a simple reading of its title clearly suggests (galangal, bearnaise, hay-lined pot cooking, etc), but unfortunately, for my taste, this was way too simplistic, not enoughly gutsy. 3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - L'AligotAligot with cheese Quebec Chef’s way. Basically, their take on the Aligot, using local Quebecois cheeses instead. The cheeses that were used were good substitutes to the Tome cheese traditionally found in the original versions of the  Aligot, but for my taste the Tome trumps. I personally prefer   the numerous takes on the  original rendition, this  being a bit too ‘soupy’ (the stretchy consistency is mandatory for me to call an aligot, an aligot) in texture in my view. I am still impressed that a restaurant in Montreal would try making an Aligot since this is the type of dish I value the most for one simple reason: the recipe being  basic, it is easy to underestimate the potential that lies  ahead (let alone the number of times I caught restaurants, abroad, confusing aligot with ..what it is not!! ) , but startling Aligots do exist. It’s the ‘magic’ of the Aligot: you can reach a surprising depth of textural and palatable complexity with barely not much. I am a purist, when it comes to the aligot,  hence my nitpicking but   what they’ve done on this instance is   not bad at all (for sure, I could admire the perfect balanced flavors between the ingredients that were used).  6/10

Then an array of sweets: macarons (good), fruit paste (the best of those sweets, very good), barbe à papa (of the quality of any barbe à papa I could had anywhere else), a dessert crafted around the coconut (for eg, coconut ice cream, coco-based meringue, etc — again, not bad but I had far more exciting coconut-based desserts at plenty of lesser restaurants).  All fine enough, but  the general level of the pastry at, say, the top 20  finer restaurants of  Montreal  is nowadays as good if not higher than what I was sampling on this evening and more is certainly expected from their Pastry work which has a MOF (Meilleur ouvrier de France) at the helm.  With the sweets came a glass  of pina colada which was not packed  with the  usual fresh startling punch that an exciting mix of coconut cream and pineapple flavor do usually rarely  fail to deliver – an underwhelming rendition of one of my lifetime favourite cocktails, mostly because none of its basic ingredients shone through as they were either discrete ( for the coco cream)  or felt average (pineapple).  It also failed on the aspect of the visual appeal (a glass of Pina Colada should always look sexy! ;p).

Service/Ambience: if you like theatre at a restaurant (not my cup of tea), you will have fun with acts like (on this evening)  a piece of salmon hidden in what looks like a book, you open the book, some smoke comes off and here’s your piece of salmon inside. At some point, a waitress came and served me some food directly to my mouth (It is clear that  they keep themselves up to date with what’s going on abroad and do want to offer to Montreal a panorama of what’s best done –in terms of dining experience — on the international restaurant scene). They brought the sea bass encased in a container made of clay. You break the container and here’s the sea bass. then you’ll fall for their generosity: plenty of nibbles throughout the meal and they really work hard in making the experience festive. Again, I am not a fan of such things, preferring a strong focus on the food experience itself, but the room was full and most patrons  seemed to love this kind of experience, so this seems to be a successful concept. Certainly a house with a great sense of festivity and high hospitality standards.

Overall score for dining experience and food performance:  3/10 for the overall food performance, 10/10 for the non-food aspect (dining experience, service).  I found  the food performance on this specific meal (I can talk only for what I have experienced with, which is the meal I was having) to be  very weak, by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, not just fine dining (even at a generic bistrot, the food I was having on this evening would make me frown and would get away with that exact same overall food performance score). This is a well-oiled restaurant (with world class service — they will take care of you in a way that few restaurants in this city can pretend to, the staff really great, the experience of being there is truly unique by Montreal standards),   so if they can get the food performance to match  their better aspects, then certainly I’ll be a fan.

What I think weeks later: I can understand the shower of praises of  L’Européa (the accolades, the enthusiastic appraisals on Tripadvisor, Yelp, etc) as you’ll be treated like a queen/king, so it’s humanly hard to not fall for  that, but ultimately I need my food to leave an impression.

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