Chez La Mère Michel, Montreal (May 2017)

Posted: May 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

Chez La Mère Michel (1209 Guy St, Montreal, QC Phone: 514- 934-0473) is a classic French restaurant in Montreal that opened over 50 years ago. I could not make it to Chez La Mère Michel, 50 years ago, but here I am, in 2017, attending my first meal ever at this legendary house. The New York Times once submitted “”for dinner, you have to try Chez La Mère Michel, if only because it might just be the finest of Montreal’s more than 4,000 restaurants“.

The menu is concise, featuring great classics of French cuisine such as rognons de veau flambés a l’armagnac, homard nantua, magret de canard sauce aux agrumes, sole de douvres meuniere, the terrines, etc

I ordered:

Oysters “tresors du large” from Iles de la madeleine – Shucked like … it was shucked by someone who would be the defacto winner of a highly prized competition of the best professional oyster shuckers. There are restaurants specializing in oysters, with shuckers for whom, this level of precise shucking is a distant dream. The oysters were first-rate bivalve molluscs, tasting freshly of the sea.

Escargots, beurre a l’ail parfume au ricard (snails in garlic butter with a splash of ricard) – One proper traditional French Escargots beurre a l’ail. Snails of fine quality. To make it healthy, they did not add too much salt to it. I am fine with that. 7/10

The pan-fried dover sole of my friend was a true dover sole, not the pacific dover sole.  Carefully filleted, lightly cooked as it should. Great sourcing of the ingredients and a classic French preparation that was well mastered by the kitchen (seasoning, the work of flavors and textures, everything was of a high level) . 9/10

Coq au vin (that they translated as “genuine french chicken in wine sauce”)  -This classic from Bourgogne is one of my preferred French classics. The recipe, regardless of its variations, is not rocket science, just time consuming. And of course, as it is the case with all recipes, a great palate will make the difference. The best Coq au vin I had were made with wild roosters which flesh led to an intensity of flavor that was a world away from any coq au vin I ever had in Montreal. Chez la Mere Michel’s got close to those souvenirs, except that wild roosters are rarely used nowadays, here and even in France. They use chicken. Technically well executed red wine-based sauce,the french flavor profile on the forefront, the chicken timely braised (the meat not feeling dry). The use of wild rooster would have led to the sort of fuller taste that I came to expect from the best coq au vin I had, but in the context of Montreal restaurants, this was very good. 8/10

 Crêpe Suzette – the friend, I was dining with, is on the look out for some great crêpe Suzette  in Montreal. I think you can find satisfying crêpe Suzette in town, but I doubt you will find one that is done with the “tour de main” and passion of a good classic table in France. Still, I am expecting such house with long years of cooking classic French food to get me a bit closer to what a good crêpe Suzette  can taste at a fine classic restaurant in France. That is exactly what happened at Chez la mere Michel. No more of the tableside presentation that I am fond of (the city does not allow that anymore) , but a crêpe Suzette  that will, in the context of Montreal, get you as close as it can be, to the delicious traditional crêpe Suzette  that past generations of French have long perceived as the way a good traditional crêpe Suzette  should feel, smell and taste like (dazzling genuine flavors, with an exciting orange confit/grand marnier sauce). Beautiful nostalgy! 8/10

Soufflé grand Marnier – I would have liked it a tad airier, but this was done really well, properly risen, with enticing fresh eggy fragrance.  I could not fault the accompanying Crème Anglaise, mixed with a bit of grand marnier. 7/10

Pros: Easily among the best classic French fares I ever had in Montreal.
Cons: N/A

Overall food rating : 8/10 (Category: Best traditional  French restaurants  in Montreal) – The limitation, here, is … the evolution of trends. Since a long time, now, even in France, many are not cooking their Coq au vin in a certain old fashion way (braising a wild rooster, which I remain  partial to). In the case of the Coq au vin, this has been a major  change, a change that transformed this superb classic into an ordinary dish (chicken is nowadays widely used, but however tasty the chicken…it will never match the character of a Coq au vin made with braised wild rooster). That limitation aside, the sauce revealed how talented their Chef was.

That talent was also noticeable when the excellent dover sole was served. Then came the crepe suzette. The most ‘classiquement Francais” of the crepes  suzettes I ever had in town. Not many Chefs, in Montreal, do cook traditional French food this well. I can imagine how special   this house used to be with its service au gueridon (they dropped that).

Bottom line: Chez La Mère Michel may appear divisive (some have raved about it, but they have also been dubbed a tourist trap by others),  but  that has  to do with their desire to please their patrons. I realized it when my waiters told me that they adapt to the taste  of their customers. I immediately told them that I know and love traditional French food and do expect the Chef to express his classic French  cooking freely. They understood that I was not a tourist, and what came from the kitchen was one of the most inspired traditional   French meals I ever enjoyed in Montreal. To think otherwise, I would have to be utterly ignorant of traditional French cuisine, or some aspects of  it, or to confuse it with something else …

What I think days later – Montreal works really hard to ensure that food loses its soul and  should taste of ..nothing:  Fire (smoking, wood / charcoal grilling, flambeeing) elevates the taste of food? Forbidden! Continue like this,  Montreal! Lachez pas! Foodies around the world have long noticed that our city is the most overrated food city in the world, thanks to your ridiculous policies. As for La Mere Michel,  I have no doubt that it used to be even better when you could  flambée your crepe suzettes before the eyes of your patrons and when the “service au guéridon” was still a reality, but  in the context of a city like Montreal, you have worked wonders.

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