****The only time I did eat at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud was the sole Chef cooking as there were just 2 tables booked on that lunch and he was still cooking at noon,no more in the evenings as retirement was approaching for him. I gather that we all have our own definition of what a grand Chef is, and mine is very simple: you take that simple classic food and you make it taste way better than anyone else and bingo, you are my hero! Lol. I do not need trends, I do not pertain to the new gen of diners, I just want my damn food to simply dazzle in mouth. For me, Bernard Pacaud did it in a way that few of nowadays best Chefs would do. I come from very humble backgrounds, I am paying my restaurant bills with my hard earned money, not on the back of society or a newspaper, so charging me that much (the $$$ are strastopheric there) and still leaving an imprint on my palate …well, your food better taste damn great.That said, you are not me and I am not you, so your best restaurants Vs mine might simply be as comparable as water and fire ;p. More importantly, L’Ambroisie has changed a lot, since then as the son was in charge, then went opening a restaurant called Hexagone. So who knows, perhaps the L’Ambrosie of my souvenirs are something of the past.Perhaps Not. I won’t know as it is way too $$$ for me to go back there, but no matter the way things are turning out for them, my meal prepared by Chef Bernard Pacaud during my sole visit under his roof will be remembered as an exceptional demonstration great classic French food.
****A Taste Of The Caribbean will take place from June 26 to 28. Their facebook page here, web site here. Of particular importance, for me, the free live cooking demonstrations offered by some Chefs from the Carribean (that is free) which work I will discover for the first time. I am a huge fan of Carribean varied cuisines and do look forward to Carribean food we do not get to sample oftently in Montreal,.
I started with Maguro Tataki (seared Albacore, tuna sashimi with ponzu and garlic chips) – Albacore tuna has a natural mild flavor, so you need to rely on your marinade to make a tataki preparation of such fish worthy of mention, but the marinade lacked enough acidity to make this dish exciting. 5/10
Seaweed Tofu salad / marinated seaweed & tofu on greens – the texture of the tofu ‘normal’ / ‘standard’, with an Ok balance between the firm and the soft, but this was certainly not the result of long hours spent in finding the perfect balanced texture of a tofu neither. Since it is a bistrot, not a fine dining destination, I will pass on this one, although in Tokyo and elsewhere, I had better tofu at isakayas. Frying that tofu, in this instance, would have brought it a long way (again, nothing wrong here…just your usual/normal tofu type). The seaweed salad was tasty, the greens fresh . 6/10
Deep fried chicken (Karaage) featured a nice crisp, but this Karaage was short of the bold chicken fried flavor that I came to expect from fried chicken at isakayas, in Tokyo or elsewhere (this tasted way too mild, defeating the point of fried chicken, at isakayas, which rarely fail to express bold, joyous meaty chicken flavor). 6/10
Karubi (grilled miso marinated beef short ribs) – the grilling flavor coming through as it should, the meat not seasoned boldly but tasting delicious, the power of the miso well judged (which was one of my main issue with the next dish). Tasty 7/10
Grilled miso marinated black cod with yuzu miso sauce – one of my favourite fish preparations at Isakayas in Tokyo and elsewhere. In this instance, the black cod tasting way too sweet to let the fish flavor standing…imparting, actually,almost a fruity note to the flesh of the fish. This, whatever the excuse, is just misjudged seasoning of the marinade of the black cod. I do not hate sweetness, but when your fish taste almost fruity, like on this evening, my boat won’t float. It’s the first time that this dish disappoints me at an Isakaya. 2/10
Baked oyster with spinach, mushroom,garlic mayo topped with cheese is one of their most popular items, according to most online reviews as well as the opinion of their staff. Admittedly, baked oyster was never going to be the favourite item of the old school seafood purist that I am as I simply can’t appreciate oyster that is cooked (I had no other choice but to try it as it was part of the tasting menu that I picked). My palate interprets the baking of oyster as a way to diminish the best aspect of the oyster, its maritime flavor. Therefore,you can imagine how the addition of spinach, cheese,mushroom, mayo… just made it harder and harder , for me, to get excited about it. Gratinéed dishes are usually crowd pleasers and they please me too, but gratinéed seafood tend to oftently infuriate me, lol (why overwhelming the jewels of the sea in such manner? Lol…). I won’t rate this dish as it is not their fault if I simply can’t see baked oyster standing as an improvement over some nice raw oysters (at least, they did it right and indeed, restaurants cannot limit themselves to a minimalistic approach of preparing seafood, so long live to the baked oyster and to creativity ..but without me!).
Unagi Bibimbap is their take on the Korean Bibimbap. Bibimbap is relatively easy to make,but what interests me with such a simple dish are the elements that sets it apart. Koreans go the extra mile in flavoring their sauteed veggies and a good Bibimbap is way more than just an ordinary mix of rice and sauteed veggies in part because of the obsessive care that Koreans put in the pairing condiment of soybean or chilli pepper paste. What I was having tonight had none of the soybean or chilli pepper paste, so right there I was left with the Bibimbap in a much more basic form, with unagi that was of fine quality, indeed, but an overall flavor profile that was way too sweet for a Bibimbap to be enjoyable . 6/10
Black sesame ice cream was the best item of my meal, on this evening, with a taste that is a bit less lactic and rich compared to the one I had at Kazu, but texture was glamorous and the taste delicious. 7/10
Overall food rating: 6/10 – An Isakaya, with real Japanese Chefs: right there, Kinka did boot with an advantage over most of its peers. And yes, indeed, most of the food tasted as Japanese as an Isakaya can taste in Montreal. My problem was elsewhere: the leading Isakayas , nowadays, may it be in Japan or even in the US, will push the work of the texture of their tofu beyond the ‘just standard/normal’, fried chicken will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to dazzle, a salad of seaweed will not content itself with just ‘the nice acidity of its seasoning’. Bibimbap is a Korean staple, but in Tokyo, the US, Toronto, Vancouver, well…. there are Isakayas who are delivering startling takes of the Bimbimap…because such simple dish needs to stand out with either exceptional produce or exceptional Flavors. On this evening, I saw no evidence of what I came to expect from most Isakayas in Tokyo or elsewhere. For sure this meal was slightly above average for Montreal, but it is not rocket science to do better with such simple bistrot fares. That said, this is a fun place, restaurants are not consistent by nature,and they have a great variety of other items that may float my boat. So to be tried for a second time.