Hvor, Montreal

Posted: January 27, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Hvor (Addr: 1414 Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal, QC ; Phone: 514-937-2001 ) has been in my top 3 in Montreal since its opening in 2016. Despite the Scandinavian name, their  focus is on contemporary Franco Japanese cooking (French technique with Japanese sensitivity) . They now have one “surprise” tasting menu and clearly lent an ear to those who need not to be surprised as, on the evening of my visit, the wait-staff explained that  an A la carte menu (only verbal, not written) was also available. This is a kitchen brigade capable of great creativity (but not a creativity that will shock as the flavours remain familiar/comforting for  anyone accustomed to the contemporary cosmopolitan restaurants of any big city of the western world), therefore I chose the “surprise” tasting menu.
01Their  take on the japanese okonomiyaki savoury pancake, cabbage, black trumpet, truffles, foie gras mayonnaise  – inventive take on the okonomiyaki with superb ingredients, served at  a warm temperature that did add  a lot to the enjoyment of this  delectable   take on  the okonomiyaki  9/10
 02Hirame fish (fluke in this case,served raw), marinated in a  citrus vinaigrette, served with a dressing of   japanese pickled red radish (daikon), white radish, persimmon, habanero chilli – the quality of the fish high, the pickling of the red radish excellent,  the hint of sweet persimmon,  spice  red radish / habanero chilli  are well matched to give this dish  great complex layers.   8/10

03Jerusalem artichoke velouté (the velouté was mixed with  white beer), shrimp from British columbia, mushrooms, sunflower seeds (the mushrooms and the sunflower seeds having the look  of a mini  tartare in the middle of the velouté, the shrimps atop) – the velouté  rich, dense with a necessary kick of salt that lifts up the flavor of the velouté. Oftently, kitchen brigades and diners confuse “too salty” with a necessary bold kick of salt. A talented Chef should never be afraid to use a  bold  “kick” of salt where it is really necessary. That is the sign of intelligent and inspired cooking, which is  what they have accomplished with this dish. A first-rate velouté. 9/10

Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto of that same lamb, a bit of tarragon oil (which blended remarkably well with a touch of sweet onion confit), a pesto made of jalapeno/mint/delicately crushed almonds. The dish also featured some marinated chanterelles and drops of mayonnaise of Japanese sardines. For many kitchen brigades, that collection of endless ingredients would lead to a lack of synergy between the components of that dish. Not here. The top quality lamb from Quebec was not the sole star: the pesto was a benchmark of its kind,  exciting on the palate. Exciting could also be said of the mayonnaise, every single ingredient of that dish as well as the dish as a whole. The parts and the sum of all parts dazzled. Exciting is generally a word I do not use profusely in my reviews (not that I would not like to, not at all, but only because most restaurants are just replicators of generic recipes) but this dish forced me to do so. A dish pertaining to the big leagues here and abroad. 10/10

04Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese – the aldente texture of pasta faithfully replicated in the superb crunchy texture of the top quality rutabaga. It is true that top quality produce is one important aspect of such perfected dish. But then, that is a tool and you need to know what to do with it. What they did with the superb produce they had in hands is a dish that expressed a really high level of technical execution (precise cooking, perfected textures) ,  and superlative flavors. Lots of wit.  It is hard — by any level of cooking, here and abroad —  to improve upon such dish 10/10
05Cod, celeriac, Vermouth flavored sauce – The flesh  kept properly moist. Fine sear of the cod’s skin. Ok  6/10
06Rabbit wrapped with speck (beacon fat) and chocolate sauce – The speck adding necessary fatty and meaty flavor to the rabbit, the chocolate sauce having the necessary delicate cocoa bitterness to cut through the fat of the speck while still complementing very well a meat of restrained flavor such as the rabbit. Technically, this pertained to a very high level of cooking as they nailed it where …. even highly regarded kitchen brigades do sometimes fail by misjudging  the right percentage of cocoa that is needed in chocolate sauces that are used in combination with meats. That percentage of cocao is obviously important as it determines the intensity of bitterness to be found in the chocolate sauce. Less bitterness from the cocoa would have led to a flavor profile that is generic/ordinary . A tad more bitter and you may as well remove the rabbit as its presence would not be pertinent anymore.  They made something  tricky look effortless.   8/10

07The dessert was a technically assured interplay of textures around (essentially) white chocolate and citrus fruits: White chocolate mousse/powder/meringue, sorbet of bergamot orange / lemon and some drops of vodka gel – a dessert that would not be out of place in a serious michelin star restaurant with meringue, mousse, gel, powder and a sorbet of sheer perfection (striking textures). Glamour in the form of a dessert 10/10

PROS: the world class cooking of the Rutagaba fettucine and lamb carpaccio of this evening

CONS: N/A

Overall food rating (Category  Top tier restaurant in Montreal): 9/10 Culinary-wise, I found this meal more  exciting  than  what I ate the other day at Atelier Joel Robuchon Montreal (both kitchen brigades happen to be inspired by French and Japanese cuisines). This is also one of  the very best meals I had in Montreal in a long while. Hvor’s kitchen brigade takes the risks that many Chefs are afraid of (for eg, using a vast array of  ingredients ), turn them into successful creations and ensure to cover all aspects that great cooking should go through: tasting great, inventive, technically strong. Excellent service, inspired wine pairings, first-rate ingredients and a pretty restaurant. Hvor is in my top 3 in Montreal in good company (La Chronique and Le Serpent).

What I think days later – I do not use ratings for the fun of it. I use them to underline how far a dish expressed a deep level of inspiration (going beyond and above the basic act of replicating a recipe). I realized, with time, that most of the dishes that I have rated with a 7/10, despite being good dishes, were essentially just the work of a chef replicating a recipe for the sake of replicating it (there are, of course, exceptions to this rule). The “industrial” or “factory”  effect, if you want. I am polite, so I do usual define the “factory” effect ..when the food is still decent…in terms such as “this was good execution rather than benchmark craftmanship”, it was “fine”, it was “pleasant”, it was “correct”. Yep, read between the lines! But that is not the “effect”  I deem worthy of leaving the comfort of home for. Anything above an 8/10 is not an applied recipe. It is the work of a talented Chef expressing true cooking skills, a touch, some wit. When I look at the reviews of my meals at Hvor, I see a lot of those 8/10, and  even dishes largely deserving of higher ratings. Of course, it helps that I appreciate both French and Japanese cuisine, but without true skills, you won’t win my heart. Hvor won it and I hope it never stops to excel at what it is doing right now.

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