Type of cuisine: Contemporary Cosmopolitan cuisine (Fine dining)
Date and time of the events: May 27th 18:00
Addr: 645 Rue Wellington, Montréal, QC H3C
Phone: (514) 394-3444
IMPORTANT: They have two dining areas, a fine dining area as well as another part of the restaurant that they call ‘bar Mercuri, the former obviously focusing on elaborate meals while the latter covering more casual fares (for eg, bistrot type). Current review is about my fine dining meal.
The Mercuri family is one of Montreal’s most talented families of Italian Chefs. Michelle is now working at Restaurant Le Serpent and his cousin Joe has opened restaurant Mercuri.
Before heading there, I read couple of reviews on Joe’s new establishment. The review that intrigued me the most is one of a local food journalist who praised most of Joe’s creative creations, but found the wine offerings pedestrian, and was less impressed by some of the desserts as well as the venison (cerf de boileau). That journalist as well as other foodies have complained about that venison being too gamey in taste. On my visit I wanted to try that venison, but they had beef instead. I was also going to try the desserts but I ate too much savouries, so that will be for another occasion.
Upon entering the room, I knew I was in Joe Mercuri’s world: I do not know him in person, but if you remember Bronté (his last restaurant), then you’ll notice that Joe’s soft spot for highly stylish contemporary and colorful décor remains intact . A simple visit on their web page sets the mood for the elaborate contemporary interior design that awaits (in the fine dining section). When you enter, you have the fine dining area on your right (with his beautiful bar that will remind a bit of L’Atelier Robuchon / I sat at that bar) and a casual dining section (which decor is less flashy) right in front of you.
On to the food:
Joe and Michelle are the few rare Chefs in Montreal who incorporate well a considerable quantity of ingredients in their courses. On average, it’s oftently about 8,9 ingredients. For a traditionalist foodie like me, huge fan of classic menus of 2 to 3 ingredients, no more, there is only one way out for this kind of complex combinations and it’s called SKILLS. Skills, both Joe and Michelle have plenty of that.
Chef Joe Mercuri international influence is clear: there are oriental as well as pan-european and even latin american influences on his menu.
Snow crab, grapefruit jelly, macadamia nuts, yogurt, galanga mousse $21
The snow crab was of superb quality, but that is sourcing, not cooking skills because honestly, at the art of juxtaposing or combining the right ingredients, this was a failure: as expected, the grapefruit clashed severely with the crab. Neither the mousse nor the yogurt added any cohesion to the main ingredient (the crab) in terms of palatable enjoyment. Yes, the galanga mousse was perfect, yes each individual element was of impeccable quality, but such contemporary dish is a hit only when the ‘sum of all parts’ impresses by either a dazzling juxtaposition or combination of ingredients, which was far from being the case on this instance. Chef Joe Mercuri was present but I doubt he made this dish. This is a list of ingredients that sounds over the top BUT Chefs like Joe Mercuri can make the miracle happen. OBVIOUSLY, that is why I highly regard him. Whoever assembled this dish needs to stick to classical cooking, contemporary cooking is not his/her thing. I admire great sourcing, but I pay to enjoy what you can do with those superb ingredients! 5/10
Abalone, egg yolk, miso, truffle, shitake mushrooms, purée of celeriac $17 – The shitake having fabulous taste (go and ask most Chefs in town how come they can’t make shitake tasting this good??) , the abalone (the mushroom, not the seafood) sautéed properly, and indeed it almost emulates the texture of tenderized abalone as well as getting as close as a vegetable can get to the seafood of the same name, the superb ingredients continue to be the highlight of this meal, and it’s clear that this kitchen knows how to cook (the really nice purée of celeriac and superb shitake taste). It takes balls to serve such a simple dish (basically grilled mushrooms with an egg yolk and a purée of celeriac), but it succeeded in its intent to showcase the quality abalone mushroom and as simple as it might look, virtually no restaurants in Montreal has thought about offering a mushroom-centric dish like this one. I am not saying that it was special, I am just stating that it was thoughtful in light of what is found on the Montreal restaurant scene. Fans of Mushrooms will found this to be a really good dish, the produce of top quality. 7/10
Pappardelle, rabbit, porcini, madeira, parsley, carrot emulsion $21 – The homemade pasta flawless, with nice firm bite, the rabbit nicely braised and tasting good, the sauce exciting (well calibrated mix of veal stock and madeira wine). This was a superb dish (great work of both the taste and textures), probably cooked by Chef Mercuri himself (certainly at the heights of his talent and not far from the amazing pasta dishes he was cooking at Bronté). Excellent 9/10
Risotto, english peas, stracchino, fried zucchini $31 – The rice timely cooked to the bite, the peas of great quality, the overall pleasant but not as flawless as his cousin’s risotti: Michelle is cooking far better risotti (than this one I was sampling) at Le Serpent. Furthermore, the quantity was laughably meagre for a $31 dish of risotto. Good but not great 6/10
Service: Pro. Some of the front house managers and staff have past experience in big restaurants, some having even worked at Bronté before.
PROS: Oh Pappardelle, sei bella!
CONS: The snow crab dish, not the crab since it was a top quality crab, but what was surrounding it.
Overall food rating: By finest fine dining standards in Montreal, I find a 7/10 reasonable on the back of that excellent pappardelle, flawless purée of celeriac, exciting shitake. It takes great skills to make shitake that exciting + that thoughtful abalone dish was not short of interest. Even my pet peeve, the snow crab dish, featured a highlight that plenty of restaurants in Montreal fail to deliver this well: a spectacular galanga mousse, though that dish needs to be assessed in its entirety and that is where the mousse was long forgotten, alas. They just need to avoid the sort of ‘ confusion on a plate” that was found at the heart of that snow crab dish (my review of that dish has everything you need to know) as well as the ridiculous small portion of that risotto. If the peas is what makes that dish so $$$, they were indeed of superb quality (better than the average peas found on most tables in town ), then find a less costly alternative…risotti should not cost an arm and it should not be served in such small quantity especially when it features among the main courses!
Conclusion: Chef Joe Mercuri is a superb Chef (At Bronté, I remember dishes varying in between 8/10 and 10/10,
nothing below + at Rosalie he also impressed with casual cooking that really stood out), but this meal did not pay full justice to his talent. It’s a brand new table, though, so it would be unfair to jump to hasty conclusions. I went back one day later to eat at the casual dining area (Bar Mercuri) — reviewed here.
What think weeks later: As ever, opinions about food are ‘blurred’ by personal experiences and other factors that are out of the control of a kitchen (for eg, expectations based on what the Chef has cooked in the past) , which is why this whole thang (of submitting a judgement) is obviously subjective. The reason I am reflecting on the later reminder is because I would be curious to hear about someone who has never sampled Chef Joe Mercuri’s past dazzling fares at Bronté or, at some point, at Rosalie. The ratings might surely be very different from mine. My appreciation of this meal was largely influenced by the expectations that Chef Joe Mercuri’s past dazzling food have set with the Pappardelle getting close to those standards, the snow crab distancing itself from them. But you have a brilliant Chef, present where he needs to be, so I am confident that the general experience will feature more highs than relative lows .