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
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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
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
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
–Aligot 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 with 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.