UPDATE: I went back there some few week laters. At the end of the current post, please find my review of that second meal –
It is a restaurant that is owned by Barcelona’s highly regarded Chef Carles Abellan as well as two other local Business partners (Journalist Sébastien Benoit and restaurateur Jorge Da Silva), so a sister of Barcelona’s Tapas 24. According to the facebook page, the Chefs are Haissam Souki Tamayo as well as another Chef who goes by the name Ildemar, both names sound unfamiliar to me, so this was the opportunity to discover their craft.
As it is always the case with tapas outside of Spain, the ingredients can rarely ‘speak for themselves’ , so sticking to items relying heavily on the ingredient is a bit like expecting the sun to shine at night . However great the ingredient, it simply won’t reproduce the effect of its Iberian counterpart. So, I picked couple items where the skills of the kitchen would have to ‘walk the walk’:
Kicked off with
–Bomba de Barceloneta (potato croquette) $6 is, of course, not a big deal as every decent kitchen will not fail to deliver a decent one. But unless someone is devoid of any ‘sense for nuances’, the appreciation of that croquette I was having had lots more to reveal: the technique in keeping the croquette low in fat while maintaining the taste delicious/rich is not a secret but few are delivering it this well. A fabulous croquette of the sort that only a handful of the finest restaurants of Montreal can pull off. The accompanied aioli and salsa brava simply perfect. 8/10
–Rabo de toro – braised oxtail $14 was another display of assured cooking technique coupled with superb palate , the braising perfect, seasoning exciting. The meat was covered with a layer of an impossibly light ‘moussy’ take on the potato purée, tasting delicious. 9/10
–Arroz barcelones $24 featured carnaroli rice cooked to the bite, as it should, with four big plump shrimps as well as several fresh mussels. This is as close as you’ll get, at a tapas restaurant in Montreal, to what’s done in Spain. Only one Spanish restaurant in Montreal, Casa Galicia, had once impressed me with a paella that managed to teleport me to Spain but that was years ago and I haven’t revisited Gasa Galicia since then, so I do not know if CG is as great as it used to be. As great (by Montreal standards) as this paella stood, it could have been even better if cooked, imagine, on straw for eg…but that is a different story (that’s not allowed in Montreal, anyways).. Still, a superb paella by Montreal standards 8/10
I took no desserts.
Before heading there, I have read couple of online comments on Tapas24 Montreal and some of those did mention the slowness of the service as well as meager portions, but I saw no problem in both regards: the pace of the service was perfectly timed, with meals that take longer to cook taking the relevant time it needs to be served. As for the portions, it was in line with the quantity of food that is usually served nowadays at most contemporary restaurants of this sort in big western cities. Furthermore, they bill themselves as serving tapas which is bite-size food (obviously).
PROS: If you ever find a tapas place you believe is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal and would like to share with me, do not bother…I won’t believe you!
CONS: On an evening like this, with cooking this assured, we can cover an aspect (not a problem) that is proper to most tapas restaurants outside of Spain…the genuine flavors of the Tapas in Spain. For eg, paellas oftently taste a bit ‘smokier’ in general on the Iberian peninsula, seasoning usually a tad spicier. I gather that this is to reach out to the most, and few places in Montreal do take the risk of insisting on such exotical flavors (Casa Galicia is the only place comes to mind, but it’s being 7 years that I did not go back so I do not know how it fares nowadays), but those who have tried tapas in Spain will have the feeling that there’s a little something that’s missing. With that said, make no mistake…this is as close as you’ll get, at this moment, in Montreal, to what good tapas tastes in Spain.
My personal verdict for the food: 8/10. Strong performance by Montreal tapas standards. What I did sample is all I needed in order to assess the cooking skills at Tapas 24 Montreal, which were items forcing the kitchen to ‘focus on the substance’: personal touch of the cook, his sense of flavors, his palate, his ability in extracting the most out of the least (maximum flavor out of simple ingredients or from simple flavor combinations which is essentially the point of tapas) . I doubt I could have done that with, let us say, the pa amb tomaquet which is bread with tomato, a lovely item to be enjoyed as a tapas in Spain, but oftently …outside of Spain….it is delivered as a pale version of its Iberian counterpart.
Conclusion: I love tapas as it forces a good kitchen to extract a lot out of virtually very little, which for me is what cooking should be all about. Coupled with the stellar ingredients of the Mediterranea, those can oftently turn into mouthfuls of bliss. But we are not in Spain, therefore I substituted expectations for one reasoning: when Tapas are moved from their original humble conditions (as well as relevant pocket-friendly tab) and priced as up-market food, I want to see where my hard earned money is going and what I ordered did not disappoint in the sense that good ingredients were used and the cooking was diligent. Still, there’s always the question of cost performance when eating tapas at an up-market restaurant, and my bill helped to keep that debate alive. Tapas outside of Spain, as good as they can be, they are simply pricey for what they are, I find. At least, what I was enjoying on this evening at Tapas 24 Montreal had the edge over all other tapas that I have tried in town and they are doing it in the warmth of a hip and elegantly / cozily designed establishment, located in the enviable location of Old Montreal.
What I think days later: If they continue to cook the way they did on the evening of my meal, then you can count Tapas 24 Montreal among the few dining destinations that can truely standout in town…not because of buzz (which is sadly the case of a myriad of bars/restaurants in town), but because of effective cooking (cooks with a good palate,good sense of seasoning) and a genuine vision of what a restaurant should be about (serving good food, delivering an overall nice experience). It’s hip, fun and already very busy. Based on this visit, I’d say that it is an amply deserved success.
UPDATE – Went back on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 – Here’s my report about that second meal:
Hamburger/foie gras emulsion– $15 will probably be divisive as it was tiny portioned by usual hamburger standards. From the usual burger, we expect hamburger to be filling and this one might not. We expect the big fluffy /thick buns, this one was flattened round thin bread. We expect big juicy patty of fat grounded meat, but this contained a small quantity of meat. So why am I still going to rate this hamburger so high? Because I did enjoy it for what it is: a creative and amusing twist on the hamburger, not a hamburger in its popular form. And at such, it was flawless: the meat (real filet mignon) of top quality, served as an effiloché on this evening, the taste delicious, textures mastered really well (for eg, the bun having the consistency of freshly baked quality buns, the meat cooked by a kitchen who clearly knows when cooking should start and when it should stop…meaning far from the usual misteps of offering dry/overcooked meat). The take on the hamburger came with a ganache of foie gras which unctuous texture was beautifully achieved, the flavors refined (the right ratio of foie gras to cream, which means none of the components overwhelmed/ everything was complementary) 8/10
Ceviche de Mero (grouper) $18 was not going to be criticized for its sze as it starred generous (relatively to what you`ll find at most tables of this category in big Western cities) morsels of fish of great quality, the fish seems to have been sliced just a few minutes before serving, such was its fresh effect in mouth. A healthy conscious cook thought about not saltying too much the fish (instead, it’s the acidity dimension of the ceviche that was intensified), which was, in this case, the right thing to do. Quality onions and avocado completing the dish, which was seasoned with a bit of the ceviche’s leche de tigre. One great (contemporary) version (there is a myriad of versions of the ceviche) of ceviche by Montreal standards. 8/10
Lamb brochette $10 – The big majority of skewers at most of our local restaurants always have a problem, sometimes overcooked, sometimes it’s the quality of the meat that’s questionable, sometimes the meat is dry, sometimes the meat is not of the quality avertised, etc. This skewer could be accused of none of those issues: well sourced lamb, timely grilled, the meat (on this evening) seasoned with a flavorful curry-based marinade. At $10 for one skewer, I find this offering pricey…though, indeed, skewers are not oftently done this well in restaurants of Montreal and here, they do not just advertise quality, they deliver it. Very good. 8/10 (Still, a skewer at$10 …however great it is, it’s pricey by any standards that I can think of — fortunately, I am not rating cost performance but cooking skills solely…).
Conclusion regarding this meal sampled on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 It’s obviously hard to fall in love with bite-size food at ambitious price tag, but Tapas 24 Mtl cooking is easily in the top 10 of this city, the sourcing of their ingredients simply admirable, the technique too. Of course the portions of some of their items left me with the impression that there is an emotional limit to what can be justified by the quality of the produce (the Mc Foie Burger, the lamb skewer), but at the end of the count the fact of the matter is that you won’t oftently, in Montreal, stumble upon food benefitting from such good standard (flavors and textures have been flawless on each of my two visits here). Regardless of the shortcomings that I have just raised, the food here is really well executed and certainly in the leading pack by our local standards.
What I think days after the second meal : Yes, it’s tapas, food that’s supposed to be sold at low cost,which is not the case here, and I have to concede that it is not place where I would go if I need something robust on the stomach, but it’s not often, in Montreal, that you’ll come across food done consistently this well. When you’ll enquire about Tapas 24 Montreal, ensure that the person voicing his opinion is not mixing up proper proper assessment of the food (which is well executed here) Vs its perceived value.