Type of place: Wine bar (Contemporary French savouries + Pastries), Pastry Shop, School (pastry and wine tasting courses)
Addr: 2360, rue Notre-Dame Ouest, local 104
Phone: 514 439-5434
Patrice Demers needs no introduction: he’s a star Pastry Chef in Montreal, with TV shows, books and an impressive pedigree at some of this city’s very best tables. I am usually not a fan of the Celebrity Chefs, preferring the consistency of a real talented Chef working where we need him to be, but Patrice is an exception to that rule: he is more accurately an artisan Chef, one of the few Montrealer Chefs who has managed to keep the standard of his delivered craft to consistently good levels. The reason of that consistency is simple: wherever he has cooked, and whenever I went sampling his food, I have always seen him hard at work in his kitchen. Certainly not one of those lazy cooks relying on name bearers that they can’t even train properly. Today was no exception: I looked into the open kitchen and he was there.
He recently opened a Pastry Shop which doubles as a wine bar and that also serves as a place where you can take pastry and wine tasting courses, or sample a quick lunch. There are also couple of tables on the premises. The setting is of course more casual than at his previous restaurants, which is the intent, and yet the room retains a certain bistro-elegance to it. I sat at the wine bar (wine bar offerings are available on Thurs/Fri/Saturday evenings starting at 17:30) since I wanted to sample some of Chef Demers current elaborate offerings of savouries and desserts.
Since he’s a Pastry Chef, it goes without saying that I went there expecting not much from the savouries, although, of couse, his savouries are of good standard as you’d expect from a Chef who’s obsessed by the quality of his craft and who has long partnered in this City’s most ambitious dining offerings.
For the savouries, we had:
A Cream of carrot soup came with high quality carrots,topped with a yogurt mousse, featured fennel and fresh citrus flavor. My wife praised the variety of textures such as the smoothness of the yogurt mousse, the crunch of some of the thinly sliced carrot pieces, as well as the fresh acidity of the quality lemon. But for me, this felt overdone: for sure there has been a lot of care and a desire to do more than just pulling off an ordinary velouté, and I do appreciate that (it’s the kind of place where you feel they want you to have for your money as a simple look at the carefully sourced ingredients will not fail to reveal ), but a simple unfussy velouté of carrot with a bit of butter would have fared better in my view. Furthermore, for my taste, I really do not need a citrusy dimension to compete with the flavour of the carrot, though my wife found this dazzling on this instance. As ever, with a quality kitchen like this one, it boils down to personal preferences (someone who would have eaten this velouté with a ‘cosmopolitan frame of mind’ would have better appreciated it ). An 8/10 for my wife, a 6/10 for me.
My wife picked the topinambour pancake (Pancake de topinambours, champignons, fromage de chèvre). She explained that she would rate it with a 10/10 for the creative twist that consisted of not lazily offering yet another classic looking take on the pancake. The kitchen did remodel the classic pancake theme opting for mini pancake rolls, presenting the whole dish in an elaborate contemporary fashion that looked nice (for a pancake dish) and, more importantly, worked well (chips of cheddar cheese and topinambour, as well as quality mushrooms covering the mini rolls of pancakes) . She added, though, that the taste was not startling, but still good and gave a 7/10 for the taste. I grabbed a bite and found my wife’s assessment spot on: originally constructed, a good pancake indeed, but topinambour, for my taste — although a logical ingredient for a savoury pancake (it’s a root vegetable) — will certainly not beat my favourite ingredients for savoury pancakes. A matter of personal taste, for sure, as someone who is not into intense flavors (topinambour has a mild earthy flavor) will certainly find this perfect. All in all, a 7.5/10 for me, but I’ll insist on the following: this, at the end of the count, is a dish pertaining to the big leagues, certainly not of the ordinary sort.
Tartelette à l’agneau braisé, oignons caramélisés, moutarde – It’s not common, in Montreal, that a restaurant’s kitchen would think about conceiving a tartlet this way, which means with a filling of braised lamb meat and covering it with a layer of mustard sabayon (clearly, a pastry Chef logic was behind this, lol). What mattered to me, here, was the work of the braised meat. That’s an aspect that is oftenly taken for granted as it’s indeed not hard to make a good one, but I expect better than just a ‘good one’ for food at a restaurant, which is exactly what happened: the meat of prime quality and I could easily appreciate that the flesh was timely simmered, its aromas not aggressive but certainly highly appetizing. The mustard was a logical touch and was well made, its flavour intensity not clashing at all. The pastry case was also timely baked, risen to a superb light consistency, its buttery flavour truely superb, as you’d expect from a team with great Pastry skills. A strong and thoughtful item by any Montreal restaurant standards. 9/10 for both my wife and I.
The desserts (and pastries) are the soul of the house, obviously, and I’ve always valued those of Chef Demers as ones pertaining easily to the standards of a star Michelin Pastry team. Although I do not know him personally (just the occasional ‘Bonjour Chef / Merci Chef’ when he came serving some of his desserts at Newtown), Chef Demers has always been one of my all time favourite Western Pastry Chefs for the following reasons: (1) He is one of the rare Western Pastry Chefs who understands and incorporate very well tropical ingredients in his Pastry works. Many great Pastry Chefs have no problem incorporating pineapple, mango, etc in a flawless way, in their works, but Chef Demers does it better than most. It’s as if he was born and raised in the tropics. And since I am a huge fan of tropical fruits (banana, mango, pineapple,lychee, etc), his depth of skills in the work of those fruits jump more expressively to my attention (2) He has dazzling skills and a superb palate. I will never forget his stellar contemporary desserts when he was the Pastry Chef at Newtown. (3)What is a risk-taker in the hands of plenty of ambitious Pastry Chef hands … seem so easy to accomplish in his hands. (4)He manages to do what few Chefs can: passing his knowledge on to his brigade in a flawless way (5)He is one of the few who is capable to impart the best of classic pastries in contemporary pastry (for eg, the superb flavors without the heavy rich feel of traditional pastry).
My choice, for the dessert, is the ‘crème citron et camomille, miel d’Anicet, pamplemouse, fenouil’ – Pot de crème has always been one of my favourite desserts of all times, because..well, they are usually taken for granted, lol. It’s the dessert that most restaurant staff have generally described as being the easiest / most straightforward. I love that they find it that easy, really do, lol….not because it’s hard to make a good one (of course, it’s not rocket science to make a good one), BUT… because as expected, most do not bother about perfecting it. In 15 years, I have enjoyed plenty of ‘pot de crème’ in all sorts of food destinations in Montreal, most good, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the ones that were of true restaurant quality. That’s what happen when you stick to your belief that what’s sounds easy is ..easy. Yeah, I know, there’s no need to build a commemorative monument over a pot de crème, lol, but still, dazzling ones do exist. This one I was having had its smooth texture beautifully rendered, the taste exquisite, the ingredients (obviously, quality egg and milk bring the pot de crème a long way) well sourced. An excellent pot de crème and, actually, much more (atop the pot de crème, some superbly textured meringues, quality pomelo, fennel, all brilliantly complementing the dessert ) . 9/10
My wife went for ‘Le Vert’ (Pomme, pistache, huile d’olive, coriandre, crémeux yogourt au chocolat blanc), a signature dessert (of Patrice) that many local food experts have elected as one of their lifetime best. It essentially comprises of apple granité, white choco-based yoghurt, pistachio, olive oil, coriander. Before trying Le Vert, I was a bit apprehensive by its popularity since this dessert is essentially about some apple-flavored granitée + a white choco-based yoghurt. I now understand its success as the two main elements of that dessert had both the quality of the ingredients as well as the exciting mouthfeel to back the fable. An exciting and flawless dessert, and indeed one of the best desserts I ever had in Montreal but what I admire the most with this dessert is the conviction that in other hands, the impact shall not be the same at all, and in most hands, certainly a disaster (I can see many misjudging some of this dessert’s ingredients, for eg, the touch of olive oil, which here was subtle and superbly exploited as an enhancer, not a distraction, to this harmonious concerto of flavors) . It takes remarkable skills to turn ingredients that could have easily overwhelmed this dessert (for eg, coriander, olive oil — most pastry Chefs who will emulate this dessert will mistakenly have either the coriander or the olive oil playing an overwhelming role ) into such perfect complementary elements. 10/10
We also enjoyed a thoughtfully Asian-inspired take on the cheesecake called ‘Cheesecake Japonais, sorbet aux fraises de M.Legault, fève tonka, fleurs‘ (9/10 Excellent; the cheesecake itself starring refined texture, the fresh strawberry flavors spectacular, the main difference when compared to the classic New York style cheesecake is that this one has its lactic dimension lighter in flavor, the consistency airier – I am a huge fan of the New York style’s bold /rich lactic mouthfeel, but still found this one excellent, certainly less heavy on the stomach / more health-conscious while retaining enjoyable taste – ) as well as their signature Pot de crème au chocolat, caramel, sel de Maldon (10/10 – A benchmark choco pot de crème by Montreal restaurant dessert standards. I have tried, throughout the years, many pot de crème au Chocolat at restaurants in Montreal, but the only other one that I found a tad more exciting than Patrice’s was a nutella-based version that Chef Mario Navarrete Jr had once crafted at restaurant Raza). All the desserts I was sampling would not be out of place at a 2 star Michelin venture, their top class textures an sublime taste having the edge over anything that’s currently been crafted by this city’s finest pastry teams.
The wine bar’s dessert tasting ended with some mignardises (couple of mini chocolate tartlets on this instance) which left both my wife and I speechless: there are pastry teams in plenty of 3 star Michelin restaurants across the globe that would dream about the dazzling chocolate taste, exceptional soft texture of the chocolate filling, sculptured appearance as well as superb technique on display. Of the mignardises I was having the other day at 3 star Michelin Le Louis XV, I wrote that I wished they were better …. well it is to mignardises like these mini choco tarts that I was dreaming about when I wrote that – some benchmark choco tartlets by any top pastry standard, here and abroad. 10/10
On our way out, I picked their Financier à l’érable (I’ll try the Chou banane, chocolat Bahibe et caramel, next time I’ll go there) which lived up to its good reputation (its interior as light / moist /soft as it should be, the classic recipe perfectly executed and yet in perfect sync with nowadays palates, the butter of top quality and not overpowering as it sometimes happens with old fashion takes of the financier, the flavor of the quality maple leaf syrup enoughly present to make an impression without overpowering the cake while allowing the fresh almond flavor to shine through appetizingly as it should, the crisp exterior of the small rectangular-shaped loaf starring a glamourous-looking golden brown color, ideally springy as a great financier has to and timely leavened, the cake not overworked by garnishes, actually with no garnishes at all, no extraneous flavours, which is what I prefer especially when the financier cake is as well accomplished as this) . Talking about their pastries, the folks on Urbanspoon have everything you need to know.
PROS: As expected from the star Pastry Chef that he is, Patrice (and his team) continues to craft some of this city better desserts/pastries and, more importantly, they do it consistently well. Also, the originality (by Montreal restaurant standards) of some of the few savouries available (I haven’t tried lunch at this shop, but I’d guess that the Wine bar’s Thurs/Fri/Saturdays dinner’s savouries are more elaborate, whereas the former are perhaps more casual), as well as the finesse that went into crafting them, is noteworthy to mention.
CONS: N/A – There’s no flaw to be found here, as everything from the food to the service is in perfect sync with what’s best done currently in town.
For the sake of accuracy: I read online reports portraying Montreal as a poor Pastry destination. I love Montreal and I am the first one who will defend its strengths, but I am also one who insists to be as accurate as possible in assessing its weaknesses. I believe that when you love a place, you should be able to love it through an accurate assessment of its good and its not so good features. So, I never hesitated to firmly underline that Montreal, advertised as one of North America’s better food destinations, let alone one of world’s finest food destinations, that can only serve to hurt this city because you are introducing it as what it is not. It is NOT a food destination. A city with 6000++ restaurants with only less than 20 restaurants than can REALLY compete with the ‘good’ food standards (I am not even thinking about the ‘very good’ and + ) that’s found in other good (I am not even mentioning the major ones) food destinations, like to hear this or not, that is NOT a food destination. But Montreal as a poor Pastry destination?? C’mon, that’s pure rubbish. Putting aside the debate over ‘chain pastry shop Vs artisan pastry shop’, do you really think that a city with shops like L’Escurier, Première Moisson, Patisserie De Gascogne, Mamie Clafoutis, Patisserie Rhubarbe, the latest macarons or top cup cakes shops, ..(and I am just being lazy, sticking to some few big names here..) is really a poor Pastry destination? If you do think so, then I do not want to know your definition of Pastry destination! Unless….and that is what I suspect…you are thinking about the finest pastry shops of France, Belgium or Switzerland (Listen, I do, too, fantasize the spectacular world class crafts of Pastry Chefs like Pascal Lac, Thierry Mulhaupt, Benoit Couvrand, Christophe Michalak, just to name a few, but as the French saying goes ‘chaque chose en son temps‘ or ‘à chacun son rang‘) . And that would be seriously ridiculous: those countries literally invented the kind of Pastries we are talking about. It’s like saying that any sushi outside of Japan is a poor sushi, any Pizza outside of Italy can only be a poor Pizza. Let’s be accurate, here.
Overall food rating: By Montreal finest food standards, 10/10 for the desserts/pastries, and the savouries also pertained to a strong level, 8/10 as my overall rating of the savouries.
Conclusion: this house’s kitchen showcased confident technique, by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, with, as expected (Chef Demers has long established himself as one of this city’s very best Chefs) , items that were either benchmarks of their genre (by Montreal standards, their pastry work is certainly among the finest) or (at least) of very good standard. Certainly not cheap as one would except from a place where quality (of both the produce but also the cooking skills) shines through, but well worth it. I had expectations and they were largely met. Here’s one rare shop that largely deserves its success.