Position#1 La Chronique and Le Serpent – Ever since Chef Thierry Rouyé has left Montreal, La Chronique and Le Serpent are, for my taste, Montreal’s number 1 restaurants. Hard to beat Chefs De Montigny and Mercuri, in Montreal, at whatever they cook.
Position #2: Lawrence, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon and Jun I – Go to Japan, eat some serious sushis, come back here and if Jun I is still not your top destination for sushi in Montreal, then there is not much that I can tell you. Regarding Lawrence, they have a dictionary with just one word in it: FLAVOR. It is at the heart of their cuisine …a rare feature in a city where most kitchen brigades are just busy cooking food to cash in. Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, in the category “North American bistrot”, this place has been my #1 pick for the past 5 years. They are serious about what they do, still have the same line up of talented Chefs (Axel, Bourdages) working day after day behind their stoves, the food is simple (which is the nature of bistrot food) but far more delicious than anywhere else. Just avoid their tarte tatin…it’s a mistery, for me, that such a talented kitchen brigade has not been successful at pulling off a dazzling version of their tarte tatin.
Position #3: Tapas 24, Bottega, – Kanbai (the one on Ste Catherine street), The tiny portions of some of their dishes is a big frustration for me, and I did hesitate for a long time to declare Tapas 24 as one of my preferred tables in town, just because of that flaw…but on the strict aspect of the technique, no Tapas restaurant is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal. As for Bottega, it as close as you’ll get in Montreal to a perfect Neapolitan Pizza. For me, the benchmark pizza in town (the one on St- Zotique, I mean). Bottega has consistently perched high on my list of preferred restaurants in Montreal for at least the past 7 years. Regarding Kanbai, it is currently cooking some of the finest Szechuan cuisine, Cantonese, and Hunan food you will get in town.
Position 4: Reuben’s deli, Le Bonaparte – Montreal has the best delis in the world, so we can afford being particularly picky when it comes to the smoked meat. My preferred deli in Montreal is actually my top pick for reasons that go beyond the smoked meat. Whatever they do taste great and is done well and at times, some of their food items are benchmarks of their kind in Montreal: I remember one summer spent chasing the best sliders in town. The highly recommended spots for sliders in Montreal were visited and when I tried the sliders at Reuben’s deli … theirs were miles ahead of the supposedly top ones (meatier, far more flavorful). It is not hip to recommend RD, but I could not care less: RD is in my top 5 in Montreal because most of what they do ..is simply better. Le Bonaparte: once upon a time, my favourite classic French food in Montreal could me found at places like Le Mas des Oliviers, Chez la Mere Michel, etc. They are still good, but the kitchen at Le Bonaparte had the edge, for my taste. I do not know how the newer generation of diners as well as those not familiar with true classic French fares will cope with this ( if , as an example, you can’t appreciate the difference between a good vs great vs excellent simple filet mignon …then you should stay away from classic French food ) , but if you really know your classic French food , then Le Bonaparte does it …well, meaning ..the way it’s always been done.
Position #5: Fenetre sur Kaboul, When you read the reviews of local food journalists on FSK, it is usually written by ppl who have no clue of what to expect from Afghani cooking. That is perhaps the main reason I went there…expecting nothing. But FSK cooks delicious food, and when they grill your meat, it is not on gas but on charcoal. Quite a difference. Places like FSK won’t attract the hipster of the moment, which to me is not the point of real great cooking, anyways. But it will seduce you if you are into genuine delicious simple food (my case).
My disappointments in 2014/2015:
–Au Pied de Cochon – Once, my #1 table in Montreal. Alas, I am afraid that those days are gone. You’ll find the review of one of my recent meals at APDC here, a dinner over which I will draw a veil.
–Europea – Jerome is the most amicable Chef that I know, his restaurant is regarded among North America’s best, but what happened during this meal reviewed here …??? AN off day I hope…
There are many great tables in town, so this is my personal top 5 based on what we all should better know: no matter who you think you are, your choices of food are just subjective/personal. Furthermore, I did not visit the most acclaimed tables in 2015 (Mousso, Lili Co, Montréal Plaza). Last but not least, food for me is about classic rich / bold/ strong flavors. And, obviously, I do not dine out with trends in mind. You need to consider that when reading this post.
WARNING (YES, you ware WARNED!!!!): The reality of the restaurant world, nowadays, is that most of the good Chefs who are marketed as the masters of those kitchen brigades have a life, SO..some of them go to work on the busiest nights only ..and you / your pocket won’t fail to be the poor victim of that evidence. So, be wise, and try to eat at those restaurants during a weekend , to take an example. And if the food sucked, well…remember that the Master Chef may perhaps not be in the kitchen and that it is the REALITY of nowadays restaurants.
***Palermo is known as one of world’s top 10 street food destinations, but keep in mind that most of their street food is generally found near markets. If you are used to street food in Africa and Asia, which is my case, then you will quickly notice that grilled red meats (which is a must on the streets of Africa and Asia) is missing in action here. Certainly a different street food experience from what I grew up learning to appreciate as dazzling street food, but interesting nonetheless: superb arancini, delicious grilled goat intestines and sandwiches. If you are sold to the finest seafood of the Italian riviera ( Cinque Terre, Portofino) / Indian Ocean / Carribean, then I am afraid that the seafood in Sicily may not impress you (as it was my case), which made their street food’s prawns/octopus/squid…not as dazzling as I came to expect from their finer examples.
****I was impressed by the food at the Hurley’s Irish pub on Crescent street. For sure, do not go there expecting wowness: it is just food, not a lunar landing mission. But food tasting and done way better than at most restaurants in town. A simple platter of fried calamari featured seafood with an exciting mouthfeel that I have not experienced in Montreal in a while. Even the accompanying sauces were of a quality that is rarely found in town. Was that pure luck? I have no clue, and I am not a regular at the Hurley’s Irish pub, so I won’t be able to tell you if it is always that good under their roof. Furthermore, Montreal is not in the Mediterranea, so that was obviously not some calamari snatched from the floor of the ocean a few minutes prior to cooking. All I know is that what I had on that evening there was food which quality surpassed what you’ll get at most of our local restaurants. Hurley’s Irish pub 1225 Rue Crescent, Montreal Category: Pub food My rating for the food on that evening: 8/10
***A taste of Northern China at chez Chen – On my 3d visit here, I had “Pork ribs and sour cabbage stew” which was generous and heavy as one should expect from meat and cabbage as a stew, the pork tasting fine, the overall judiciously seasoned. In Asia, the flavors of this particular rustic dish would have been a tad more pronounced, but aside from that, this was a fine stew. All in all, Chez Chen delivers what they advertise, meaning some genuine flavors indeed. My observation about the flavors of the cabbage stew — being less strong than what you will find in Asia — substracting nothing from their good work … this having more to do with the caliber of the ingredients found in Montreal. That said, I noticed (based on 3 visits) that the popular items like wonton soup / fried rice are not the best I had in this city, though, to be fair, fine enough. I was not, to the contrary of some of my fellow chowhounders, floored …but I can see where they are coming from: the food is fine, the service too, and they go to great lengths to please the diner: some beans serve as an amuse bouche, sometimes some fruit to wrap up your meal …nothing life-shattering, obviously, but such nice gestures did certainly add to the raves because it is not that common in Chinese restaurants in Montreal. If judged by our local Chinese restaurant standards, perhaps a 6/10 when they cook the popular dishes like wonton soup/fried rice, but more than that (varying between 7/10 and 8/10) for the northern Chinese specialities and some of their menu of the day’s offerings. Capable Chinese cooking. Chez Chen Addr 1618 Avenue Lincoln, Montréal – Phone: (514) 933-6888