Controversial food writer AA Gill dies at 62, Gault et Millau Quebec 2016 top Chefs are L’Initiale’s Yvan Lebrun and Candide’s John Winter Russel, Coup de coeur for Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly’s Marconi (Montreal)

Posted: December 11, 2016 in Uncategorized
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AA Gill dies at 62 – He was a food writer with unrivaled wit. A divise character (you definitely  need a sense of humor to appreciate AA Gill’s hilarious writings) , for sure, but one of world’s most  captivating food writers (He was also a professional journalist covering various topics for the Sunday Times and Vanity Fair). The kind that you are unlikely going to praise in public (certainly not a critic  favored  by the restaurant industry, an industry that he oftently  tore to pieces –a good example of that can be found in his review of L’Ami Louis in Paris —  ) , perhaps, but whose  rants will not  leave the most  indifferent. To the contrary of many food journalists who run after public relations activities  that promote the restaurants they review,  AA Gill has always expressed disdain at the  restaurant world / food writers “bromance”.

 

Gault et Millau  “Palmares 2017”  for Quebec  –  Yvan Lebrun from L’Initiale is their Chef of the year. Their “Chef of the future” is John Winter Russel from Candide. I ate the food of Yvan while visiting Quebec city once for lunch in 2010 (that review can be found here) , then for dinner in July 2015. Chef Lebrun is one of the best French Chefs of this province (Dinner was stronger than lunch, though), and I have no problem with his best Chef award. As for John, I  never ate at his restaurant. The “Palmares 2017” shows that G&M is slowly but surely getting familiar with our province’s restaurant scene, but it will be hard to explain to the local food experts, those truely familiar with our restaurants, how talented Chefs  like Mercuri (Le Serpent), De Montigny (La Chronique), José Pierre Durand (Poivre Noir), Jean-Francois Belair (who used to work at  Le Marly, ), Marc Cohen (Lawrence), just to name a few, do not count among G&M’s cream of the crop .

 

Restaurant Marconi, Montreal – Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly is back in Montreal. He was at Au Pied de Cochon when APDC was in its prime and that is where I had the opportunity to sample his food for the first time. Back then,  I was impressed by what Mehdi was doing because he was an excellent interpretor of APDC’s Martin Picard neo-rustic North American/Quebecois bistrot cooking which can be remarkable in skilled hands, indeed, but utterly forgettable  in lesser ones (I have experienced both incarnations of ADPC and trust me…) . In those days, most foodies argued that Mehdi’s skills were second only to Chefs Picard/Dufour. For anyone who was lucky enough to have tasted the food cooked by Dufour and Picard in their heydays, that is no ordinary feature by any restaurant standard, here and abroad. He also worked at celebrated Montreal fine dining destination Toque!. Mehdi left the Montreal restaurant scene for many years pursuing his career as a Chef  in New York (Fedora, Chez Sardine).

This article of Tastet.ca  contains  beautiful pictures of the interior of  restaurant Marconi –

menuWhat  I ate:

 

mackerelNigiri maquereau fume (mayonnaise épicée , riz croustillant) – Nigiri of smoked mackerel /spicy mayonnaise/ crispy rice $6  Marconi is not a sushiya, therefore its nigiri is not a food item  that I was going to sample with the same expectations I would have at a sushiya, obviously, but this was delicious (a benchmark spicy mayonnaise, joyous flavours) and well executed. The excellent smoked mackerel from Gaspesie, a highlight 8/10

langue-de-boeufLangue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre $13 cabbage and apple wrapped in slices of exquisitely flavored beef tongue. The vinaigrette packed with enticing fresh acidity (fresh acidity being an aspect of this evening’s meal  that is used to great effect on this dish as well as the subsequent one). Plenty of fun on  the palate. 8/10

duckPoitrine de canard/ble/abricots/melasse (sauce de melasse et citron) – Duck breast/wheat/apricot/molasses  $23 Enjoyably richly flavored  wheat, nicely rosy duck breast and a dazzling molasses/lime reduction. This was another creative and well executed delicious bistrot dish but I would incorporate perhaps  some veggies to that dish  7.5/10

panna-cottaPanna cotta/creme d’argousier/biscuit graham –  Delicately sweetened panna cotta, competently thickened, covered by a first-rate cream of sea buckthorn berries.  Tasty, with enticing flavor contrasts and as with the other dishes, when an ingredient is used  for textural contrast(in this case, the graham cracker crumbs) , it really  ADDS to the enjoyment of the dish 7.5/10

Pros: Inspired bistrot cooking using quality ingredients, friendly  service, interesting wine list.
Cons: N/A

All in all: 8/10 (Categ: North American/ Cosmopolitan bistrot ) – Strong level of local bistrot cooking with joyous  and creative combinations of flavors. My main waitress told me that her personal top 3 are the egg mimosa (with miso), the bone marrow (and she usually does not like bone marrow) and the homemade gnocchi. That is exactly what I am going to try next time I will eat again at Marconi, if those items are still on their menu. A coup de coeur, for me.  Marconi Addr: 45 rue Mozart Ouest, Montreal, QC. Phone: 514-490-0777

What I think a week later:  In the recent years, most  of  the restaurants I regarded as the very best   in Montreal and surroundings  have closed (Le petit plateau, le marly, bistrot cocagne, cuisines & dependances, la porte, au cinquieme peche  in montreal, Les zebres in val david), some  are not what they used to be (au pied de cochon, bouillon bilk, bottega, etc), others have Chefs I admire and will always do … but which transition from what they excelled at … to what works  best for their business ..did translate  in less  sparks on the plate (compared to the heights that their chefs have proven  to be capable of), as far as I am concerned (hoogan & beaufort, pastaga). People do what they have got to do, and I have to respect that, but for someone like me who values  true talented artisan Chefs, seeing so many talents “reduced to silence” only served to be even more  cynical. Abroad, people buy into the idea that  montreal is  a foodie destination. I would join that “bandwagon of positivity”  if montreal  was able to keep its best talents motivated. I am sure that in a city like Tokyo, Paris or San Sebastian, Chefs like Martin Picard, Jean-Paul Giroux, Jean-Francois Belair, Martin Juneau or Benoit Lenglet would still have the motivation to work hard behind their stoves.  But as ever, with montreal, the boat will “never sink” as there will always be some few great Chefs who continue to  believe in this city and who are proud to continue to work behind their stoves : Michelle Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Marc  Cohen (Lawrence) are still around. Eric Gonzalez, too.  And now Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly.

 

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