Archive for the ‘best food’ Category

Best Restaurants of 2019
IN MONTREAL, Pamika continues to be a genuine little gem I wish I could keep for myself but they already have
hordes of fans flocking there, which sucks as the place is small and that diminishes my chances to grab a seat on a weekend.

Ichigo ichie remains the best Isakaya in Montreal, and they have, next to their door, one of the better ramenyas in town, Yokato Yokabai  (there are plenty of ramenyas in Montreal, true, but rarely of this quality) – both Ichigo Ichie and Yokato Yokabai are owned by the same people.

In 2019, one food item  I particularly liked in Montreal was the fried chicken at  Roch le Coq. I hope Roch Le Coq maintains the  standard of their fried chicken as high as it has been on my last visit there (October 2019).

Also tried: There were some few new openings in Montreal, of which  I found  Le Boulevardier , Provisions Bar à Vin and Le Flamant  quite enjoyable (by our local dining standards).

Last but not least, I found the sunday brunch at the Queen Elizabeth’s hotel (my review here), to be one great value brunch.

IN NEW YORK, Red Hook Tavern is a remarkable bistrot deserving of its popularity.

Gallagher’s Steakhouse offered the best rib eye I ever had in New York city, World’s capital of the North American steak,  which makes it even more remarkable.

I also retried Peter Luger in 2019 and they still have one of the best North American porterhouse steaks money can buy.

Roberta’s Pizza is widely known to have some  of the best pizza in the USA, and all I can say is that it is  not hard to believe that  hype.

The Burger at Emily is a tasty treat not to be missed while you are in NYC and Sorbillo NYC turned out to be my preferred Neapolitan pizza in the Big Apple.

Other  restaurants that I tried in NYC in 2019:  the new restaurant of Chef Alfred Portale (the Chef who turned Gotham Bar & Grill into a legendary dining destination) , called Portale in Chelsea (that was a hit), the highly anticipated Llama San in Greenwich Village (which did not impress me as much as it did for most New York critics, presumably because I was already familiar with superior renditions of what they are doing, and not all ingredient combinations worked for me, but all in all it was enjoyable and  surprisingly “different enough for NYC” to deserve  its  current hype), Kochi (reviewed here – the Chef used to work at 3 star Michelin Per Se before. They were in their initial weeks, when I went there, so give them some time to blossom, as, for now, some food items were superb, indeed, but others were too ordinary and stood as reminders that a bit of fine-tuning would be necessary, which is normal as it is a very young venture). Last, but not least, I did also visit Jeju Noodle bar — my critic here — from another Korean Chef who used to work at Per Se. Jeju takes the instant noodle that we all know, they use a home made version of that as opposed to the commercial version that we all know, and elevates it as a  gourmet dish. And it is doing it extremely well. Some may frown (as in …why am I being served an elevated version of instant noodles?), but doing business is not about emotions (well, buddy, there are elevated versions of burgers and SPAM canned cooked pork, there are elevated versions of  pizza, etc. So why not instant noodles?? ) but about what works, and Jeju gambled and won (it is a very popular restaurant). Jeju has, of course, other offerings aside from their high-end noodles.

Best dishes, food items of 2019
The sea eel nigiri (as well as the cooked items) at Sushi Amane, NYC
The rib eye steak at Gallagher’s Steakhouse, NYC

Biggest dining disappointments of  2019
-Oiji has been a revelation to plenty of food critics in NYC, but their enthusiasm did not square with what I did experience at this restaurant. My meal at Oiji was a disappointment as argued here.
-Minetta Tavern‘s Black Label Burger enjoys an enviable reputation but  I am afraid I have got to question that.
-Quality Meats works hard to position its steak as one of NYC’s best, but my rib eye steak did not live up to its billing.
-Fuku’s Vada Pav was one of the most hyped-up food items in 2019 in NYC, but an epic failure when I went to try it.

To wrap up  this blog’s past year highlights, I will share with you the top 10   reviews that you have perused the most all along the year of 2019: The review on Peter Luger was the most popular among you (read by 15% of  all of you ), the closest second was the one on Docks Oyster House – Atlantic City (10.58% of you all),  then   L’Arpege – Paris (read by 10.44% of  you all),  Dons de La Nature – Tokyo (10.28% of you all),  Torishin – New York City (9.56%  of you all),  Restaurant Damas – Montreal (8.29 % ), Ishikawa – Tokyo (8.23 %  ), Hong Fan Tian – Montreal (7.4 % ) ,  the review of  Le Dôme Café – Paris (5.7% ), the one on Nice (5.28 % ) and the rest is scattered across various restaurant  reviews. For the first time in 5 years, the review about the steakhouses in Montreal is  NOT in the top 10 of the posts  that you have read the most (it used to be #1 year after year). It is always interesting to opine on what you have decided to be the most popular reviews, from the standpoint of the person who did write them: as an example, I can understand how the reviews on Torishin and Docks Oyster House did appeal to you as I cannot remember any review being that upfront about those two places (most online reviews about those 2 restaurants are romanticized), but there are reviews which popularity  I simply do not get such as the ones on Restaurant Damas – Montreal  as well as Le Dôme Café  – Paris. Particularly Le Dôme Café, which is not really a dining destination. Historical, true, and very pretty in its genre, but not a dining destination. I do not see why people would  read a restaurant review about a historical restaurant. A historical restaurant, you just go and visit it. That is it, Lol.  You do not need to read a restaurant review about it.

What I find interesting is that, based on the  write-ups that are the most popular to you, I will have to observe that some of the better restaurants that I have reviewed continue to slip under your radar (as an example, the current best rib eye steak that money can buy in New York, Gallaghers Steakhouse, had its review  perused by only 0.125 % of you all, the gem that Sushi Azabu is … seems to have been of interest only for  1.37% of the readers of this blog. Not that those places would lose a sleep over that, Lol, but it remains an interesting observation …).

Last but not least, it was nice to see some of the great restaurants of the world that  I have already reviewed here (the column that is on the left of this blog) featuring in the top 50 of La Liste. La Liste  takes  the majority of  the online restaurant reviews, and then ranks restaurants based  on that. Therefore if you take issue with  it, you are potentially  taking issue with  every single restaurant review that you happen to see online and that may concern yours, too. I gather that there is no perfect restaurant ranking guide, obviously, but this is the only system that is basically taking into account the bulk  of the online restaurant reviews and not doing its own ranking based on its own way of appreciating a restaurant. So, in a nutshell, it is the voice of the people, and that voice seems to have expressed plenty of love for the following restaurants that I have reviewed here – On la liste 2020,  L’Ambroisie is #10. I have no doubt that L’Ambroisie is the best classic French restaurant in the world, but I was afraid that its steep prices would never allow it to enjoy such visibility. I was wrong, then. L’Arpege is #5. There too, the surprise was great as L’Arpege is not into fancy food, it uses few ingredients and it is very pricey, but apparently I mistakenly thought that would play against them. Seems like the people did see what I saw there, which is the potential of Passard to blow your mind away with some of the HIGHS you may experience while eating there. Les Prés d’Eugénie are #19 in the world, based on what did result from the majority of all online restaurant reviews and they highly deserved it as this is indeed some of the few true benchmark classic French cooking in the world. Also reviewed here are  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits  at #20 in the world (Great for Chef Goujon, he works so hard to put his restaurant on the map of the gastronomic world and he is  getting the recognition that he deserves …just add more punch  to your amuse-bouches, Chef!) and at #29 in the world, Le Calandre (here,  it was the savoury dishes that lacked sparks, during my meal there, but I trust that it was an isolated situation and that took nothing away from the great dining destination that this place is).  The restaurant that I love the most in the world, Dal Pescatore, is at # 27 (Great! I mean this is classic food, and in this day and age,  I was not expecting the people to love their classics that much, lol).

Before I go, I have to say that I was very impressed by Michelin recently, which does not happen as oftently as the most would expect from someone who named his web blog michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com, Lol. Michelin removed the 3 stars that Jiro and Sushi Saito had in Tokyo. Now, you can say whatever you want about Michelin, but they are the only restaurant review sources that refuses to sell to you a “private club” as a normal restaurant. Go on any other restaurant review sources ( crowd-sourced review forums, etc) and they talk about “private clubs” as if those ventures are opened to the public, which consequence is just to fool people.

As ever with food, know what you want: you need authenticity, then go get it where it is supposed to be found. Do not expect genuine Thai, Japanese, African or whatever kind of food oceans and continents away from where it originates. Doing so would be utterly foolish. And remember:  when you read a review about a restaurant, look at the date the review was published! A restaurant was probably great years ago, but a total disaster years later. I know many restaurants that went from hero to zero within  2,3  months. So it is not hard to Imagine what a restaurant can morph into across the  years…! Set your expectations accordingly. A big part of enjoying the good things in life is … to be positive, indeed, but to …stay genuinely realistic, too. Wish you all  plenty of great food in 2020!

Pursuing my tour of some of the finest steakhouses of New York, having tried Peter Luger, Keens, Strip House, Quality Meats  and Wolfgang.

Dropped by Gallagher’s Steakhouse, a historical steakhouse, which, during the days of the prohibition, was the first illicit establishment selling alcohol where gamblers and stars of Broadway would meet.

In the incredibly competitive steakhouse market of NYC (perhaps, the steakhouse mecca of the world – I mean, do you know any other major city with that many world class steakhouses? Do you? ), you know you have reached the enviable status of a historic shrine at whatever you do when the NY Times writes romanticized write-ups with eye-candy photographs of this sort about you – .

At Gallagher’s Steakhouse,  I ordered:

Platter of 12 oysters – Dabob bay from Hood canal (Washington) and Canadian lucky lime. Nicely shucked quality fresh oysters. The lucky lime had the advertised citrus-tone finish in evidence. The intertidal beach cultured  Dabob bay oysters, quite briny for an oyster coming from the Pacific. The mignonette properly done. A platter of fine oysters. 7/10

The 20 oz rib eye steak (Grade: USDA Prime), dry aged for 28 – 32 days on premise in their glass-enclosed meat locker ( You can see it from the street – a sight to behold). The meat is grilled on hickory coals, a rarity in a city where most steakhouses do broil their steaks. Grilling meat over an open fire has always been my preferred grilling method for meats. The requested medium rare doneness achieved with utter precision. It delivered on flavor (the seasoning, exquisite –  the steak  as delicious as it gets) and was superbly tender throughout. The great grilling effect of the open fire in evidence to the eyes/smell/palate.  Dazzling crust. My steak had its juices settled within the meat, therefore timely rested. A steak is not a moon landing mission and one can do great steaks at home, indeed, but what matters here is that this is a steakhouse and it is doing one of the better steaks in NYC. Easily the best rib eye steak I ever had at all the top tier steakhouses of NY. 10/10

The creamed spinach. Here too, the G seems to have the edge as the creamed spinach had superb taste and great balance between the cream and spinach flavours. Superb texture too. Just some delicious creamed spinach like few — surprisingly, indeed – seem to be able to pull out at the NYC steakhouses. Vibrant fresh and delicious flavours. 9/10

Even the crème fraîche to accompany the baked potato was not of the ordinary sort. The baked potato managing, somehow, not to be just an average piece of tired looking baked potato simply because most kitchen brigades keep such simple things for granted (as most diners do, actually), when, in reality, the sourcing of your potato and how you timed its baking makes a big difference. Here, they did care about that difference.

Bottom line: A very beautiful steakhouse (the warmth of materials such as  wood and leather never failing to entice) in the classic genre. But the food was as great. Where many steakhouses seem to deliver  tired renditions of classic steakhouse food, the G seems to find a way to make it a bit more exciting in mouth (even their homemade sauce to accompany the steak, made of tomato/garlic/Worcestershire sauce, was well engineered as far as balancing flavors go, its taste great ). A commendable steakhouse, indeed.

Overall rating: Food 9/10 One of the very best steakhouses of NYC.   The steaks are great here, but everything else as well. For my taste, the G and Peter Luger are my No1 steakhouses in New York, with the G being a better all rounder, for sure. Furthermore, nothing beats the appealing  texture as well as memorable grilling aromas of a steak that is grilled on open fire (a broiled steak looks unappetizing in comparison). Service 8/10 (superb service in the typical classic NYC steakhouse way). Gallaghers Steakhouse Addr: 228 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 Phone: 212-586-5000 URL: http://www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com/

 

According to most connoisseurs of the Burger, New York has some of the very best burgers in the nation. It is an american food staple and you cannot visit NY without  trying its finest burgers. They have all sorts of Burgers from the gourmet to the classic ones. I know my classic burgers well, but when I go out it is to enjoy how far a Chef did push his craft. Not to content myself with a basic classic burger. Therefore, I maintained the focus on some of the elaborate burgers among the most celebrated burgers of  New York.

Admittedly, this is about the Burger. Not a landing mission on the moon. And we can all make world class burgers at home, too  . And Yep, prices are inflated as we came to expect from NYC. But this post is not about that. This post is about some of the best Burgers offered at the restaurants of NYC, which the below  mentioned burgers are reputed to be.

 

Emily – West Village‘s Emmy Burger Double Stack (LaFrieda dry-aged beef, EMMY sauce, caramelized onion, American cheese, & pickles on a pretzel bun – with curly fries).
-Did the house fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another? Nothing disproportionate (you take the bun and the patty -a big thick patty — and you put that in your mouth and you really feel the presence of the meat and the adequate quantity of bun that is necessary to call it a burger and not just a patty.
-Intensity of the flavour of the meat/patty when sampled with the bun and all the elements of the burger, without any condiments: ( ) barely noticeable ( ) Mildly beefy (x ) Densely beefy, and the flavor intensity is amplified by the delicious caramelized onions and aged Grafton cheddar cheese from Vermont.
-Doneness of the patty by default: medium rare
-How was the taste? Big chunk of patty that is more juicy than most of its competitors with a beefy taste that is at the fore. Amplified with their sweet caramelized onions and that cheese. Then the pretzel roll that contributes to the overall taste with its unusual (for a burger’s bun) pretzel flavour that’s actually adapted to a Burger in that sense that the bun is soft and the strong pretzel flavour that you came to expect from your classic pretzel is not in evidence (which is exactly what is required here as the normal pretzel flavour would have clashed with the taste of the patty) . So, as expected, lots of relatively (to your usual ‘white buns’) unique flavours.
-did it taste too ‘steaky’ for a burger given that it was dry aged? Well, it tasted of dry-aged beef, indeed. And I did not care about that. A quality  fresh meat’s taste is better, IMHO, than  the dry-aged flavour of meats used to make a burger’s patty. That said, this took nothing away from the top tier Burger that Emily’s Burger is. Indeed, one of the best Burgers of NYC.  Emily West Village Addr: 35 Downing St, New York, NY 10014, United States Phone: +1 917-935-6434 My full review, here.
Overall rating:  8/10

Red Hook Tavern‘s Dry Aged Red Hook Tavern Burger (American cheese, white onion, frites)
-Did the house fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another? There is just a big piece of patty with its bun. And Yep, here too, the burger is designed to have a reasonably balanced ratio of patty to bun.
-Intensity of the flavour of the meat/patty when sampled with the bun and all the elements of the burger, without any condiments: ( ) barely noticeable ( ) Mildly beefy (X ) Densely beefy
-Doneness of the patty by default: They did ask me what doneness I wanted. I told them to go with medium rare, which happens to be what they also recommend.
-Did the dry-aging of the meat led to a taste that is more adequate for a steak than to a burger? NO! And there was  no need for that, neither. Instead of annoying my nose and my palate  with that damn useless aroma of blue cheese (aka the ‘funk’ fragrance of dry aged beef  — yeah, I know, most want that nowadays), their dry aged meat  delivered what superb dry aged beef should focus on: some superb beef flavour!
-How was the taste? They did what needs to be done to intensify the beefy flavour of a burger: blending several cuts of meats. Dry aged New York strip and chuck, in this case. They did opt for the American cheese as the sole adornment of the patty, a cheese that had proven to be a fine companion to the patty. The result is that it was  flavour-packed with great pure flavour of beef enhanced by the fine slice of cheese. Apparently, this was inspired by the Burger at Peter Luger and the Burger experts of NYC do argue that the apprentice has surpassed the Master. I cannot talk to that because at PL, I always had the steaks. But RHT’s Burger had the bare essentials reviewed, covered and  perfected (a bun that’s a benchmark of its kind, a patty that is using prime quality beef, a delicious cheese designed to elevate the patty’s flavour and not overwhelm it, an overall taste that stood out among the finest burgers of the city). My fully detailed review here.  Red Hook Tavern Addr: 329 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, United States Phone: +1 917-966-6094 URL: https://www.redhooktavern.com/
Overall rating:  9/10

 

Bottom line: All the burgers of this round-up fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another. Of course, this cannot be always respected in an obsessive fashion (for example to the mm), lol, but common sense was applied in their judgement of the ratio of those components as to avoid to bury the flavour of the meat. The meat was always served medium rare (the ideal doneness that allows the meat flavour to express itself at its best– as per my request), as it seems ideal to our North American palates, generally juicy and beefy and seasoned with the welcoming (not distracting, in these instances) flavour enhancer kick of salt most burger fans in North America are expecting from their Burgers. When there was cheese, it was always melting soft and adequately served as a enhancer to the burger experience. The above 2 burgers were created with an attention to detail of world class mention for a Burger. 2 world class Burgers. Interestingly, their respective restaurants do offer some superb non-burger items as well. The overall /10 ratings are to convey the level of joy that was invading my palate at the time of biting into those burgers.

 

 

Tempura Matsui, NYC – TM is considered as  the best tempura restaurant  of NYC. Celebrated  NYC’s food journalist Pete Wells rating it with the highest score he is capable of for a non western restaurant, a 2 over 4. Not that Pete Wells knows anything about non Western food. He does not. I mean, the dude knows what is a benchmark restaurant, when it comes to Western food. But for Non Western Food, he has no clue of what is a benchmark restaurant (have you seen Pete Wells scoring a non Western restaurant higher than 2 or 3 over 4?? Exactly ….) – Anyways, Pete Wells is still a dude to reckon with when it comes to informing yourself about NYC’s dining scene and his rating of TM, although it reveals how he is not capable of properly assessing a non Western restaurant (he is basically assessing a Japanese restaurant with the same expectations that he has about a fine dining North American or French restaurant, if that was still not clear in your mind!!), is still an indication that TM stands out of the pack at whatever it is doing in NYC. I went to find out.

In Japan, the finest tempura restaurants will reveal how perfecting tempura is not an ordinary task.
They have nothing to do with the ordinary tempura found at the big majority of eateries around the world. They do thrive on paper-thin shells of batter (koromo,  in Japanese) coating top quality seafood and vegetables using the finest oil possible and skills they have perfected for years to turn the tempura into a revelation. I wanted to see how Matsui in NYC would fare.

As explained elsewhere on this blog, I am not going to do an inventory of every single food item that I ate. A blog like mine prefers focusing on the the technical aspect of the meal, what needs to be expected from such meal and if  that  was achieved.

At Matsui, NYC, they use   sesame (The main oil used in the Edo era 江戸時代, widely used by Tempura Chefs in Tokyo), peanut  and cottonseed oils. The fish is  fried in oil that is hotter than the one used for vegetables. As it is typical of high end tempura-ya, you are served the light flavored   food items (fish, shrimps) first, then those with a stronger taste (root vegetables, for eg) . Some top quality daikon is left on the table, its purpose is to be incorporated in the sauce ( made of mirin,  soya sauce, dashi  ) in which you can dip some of your tempuras – the daikon  adds to the flavouring of the tempura, and that helps the sauce to stick to the tempura and your tempura not to turn soggy. You also have some salt available.

The meal started with an array of non-tempura mini creations. Traditionally, non tempura items were not served at tempura-yas, but the Chef told the medias that he does this to please his NYC’s clientele.

From right to left: Snow crab jelly (the enticing fresh maritime fragrance and superb natural sweetness of the crab at the fore), then sea urchin and high-grade chopped tuna atop some rice (the quality of the sea urchin from Hokkaido even better than at some of the elite sushiya of NYC), then Toro tuna sashimi/shrimp/salmon roe (top of the range salmon roe that was even better than the one I had at Sushi Noz the other day), then lobster/okra, soya jelly – all first-rate ingredients with competently rendered textures. The okra came from the US and could hold a candle to the best okras of this globe. 8/10

Seafood savory steamed egg custard, with chunks of abalone (superb balance between a nice firm chew and enough tenderness for an enjoyable mouthfeel – this is the consistency that I came to consider as the ideal one for abalone since the days of my tender childhood in the Indian ocean, blessed with some of this globe’s best and freshest seafood such as the abalone.  I am not a fan of the utterly tender/soft consistency that is sometimes the case with certain preparations of the abalone), lobster, shrimp and a topping of Salmon roe (Ikura). Again, high quality sourcing as it would be the case all along this meal. Served hot in this instance, the custard highly enjoyable, its execution flawless (the trio of core elements soy sauce/dashi stock/ mirin perfectly balanced, the silky-smooth texture competently achieved). 8/10

 

The first piece of tempura arrived. It was the shrimp. Both the head and the tail of the shrimp are served as it is common at many  tempura-yas. Deep-fried shrimp coated with  crispy tempura batter crumbs  never fails to be enjoyable.  Particularly the head (which is not phographed). Good quality of shrimp, tasty tempura. No excess batter as to fully enjoy the taste of the shrimp.  The flour batter did  not soak up  oil. Which is essential to top quality tempura. An important skill that is not as easy to master as it may sound.

There was also the  highly praised  Matsutake mushroom, a luxury that had its distinctive  aromas (quite tough to describe. I could describe it as either spicy-aromatic, pungent, or woodsy, and yet it will never do justice to what it really smells like. Even experts cannot describe its fragrance  accurately. The best way to understand its taste is just to sample it. ) brought to the fore. As for the tempura itself, I could appreciate that this had  a delicate crispness to its batter (made of egg, flour, water  – the flour is a special flour imported from Japan and that does a better job at helping the  batter to be lighter )  and it’s clear that the oil that was used is immaculate. The control of the temperature is crucial, of course, and yes,  they got that one under great control, too.

Japanese Whiting fish (Kisu: きす): The fish is of utter freshness, as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing. Being a high end tempura Chef is not just about deep frying seafood and vegetables. It is about —- among other high level technical qualities, of course —- knowing what fish is best for the tempura cooking method. You realize that when you are in the presence of true great Tempura Chefs (In Japan, I did try Tempuraiwai , Sonoji , and 7Chome Kyoboshi , and if you try them solely for bragging about having eaten upmarket deep fried food, if you can’t appreciate such details as the effect of every single fish’s taste and texture in their tempura’s incarnation, if you can’t appreciate the nuances of high end tempuras, nuances that are largely detailed in this article, then it would be wise to refrain from investing your money on this, obviously. Yes, most fishes are great when deep-fried, but the  Kisu: きす will reward the tempura Chef not only with a great taste, but its texture is also perfect for a tempura (not greasy, holding perfectly well to the batter, etc). And of course, its spine, full of calcium,  is always a delectable treat when deep fried. Another display of impeccable frying technique. Here, the work of the seasoning is not what you should be looking for. Instead, the focus is on  the quality of the ingredients and their very own flavor. Which means that the house needs to be extremely good at sourcing its ingredients.  The sourcing was indeed of top level.

Hokkaido Sea urchin (uni)  tempura – the soft consistency of the sea urchin is the perfect counter balance to the crunch of a fried batter, adding textural excitement on the palate, and that is exactly what came out from sampling this piece of tempura. The sea urchin  was  wrapped in edible kelp  (kombu) as to stop the creamy sea urchin from falling apart during the deep frying process as well as adding texture to it.   As you would expect from fresh quality sea urchin, wrapped like a ‘sandwich’ in any leafy element (in this case, the edible kelp), then deep fried in top quality oil, not one single presence of oil to be found, but just the great fresh taste of the seafood, this was a piece of joy in mouth. Again, as with all the other pieces of tempura, the high level tempura skills (light coating, superb quality batter, swift deep frying, great control of the heat of the oil) was always in evidence.

Abalone – The distinctive maritime flavor of the seafood  brought to the fore (here, too, an essential technical aspect of high end tempura). Tempura is just a cooking technique that is perfect in unlocking the inner flavors of an ingredient. It’s supposed to do that better than through, boiling, to take an example. If a piece tempura does not do that, then it is better to  simply boil or grill that ingredient. Here’s an example of a restaurant where you can better understand how tempura cooking fulfills that task of doing a better job at unlocking the flavors of an ingredient than boiling or grilling. And, as already stated earlier on, their work of the abalone is superior to the one of many elite Sushiyas in NYC because they do a better work at retaining  the seafood’s inner flavour and tenderizing it to  the perfect balance between the right firmness and the right crunch (not an easy task as many do tenderize the abalone too much, sometimes to the point of allowing it to feel almost like a gel, which has nothing to do with the sea snail’s natural consistency. I understand that you need to tenderize the abalone, but when it is almost like a gel, you are distancing yourself from the point of eating a piece of abalone, which is to enjoy some …sea snail. Tempura Matsui did a great job at reminding us that it is a sea snail that we are eating and not some Jell-O ).  So, yes it is tender, but it is also firm and features a nice crunch. 10/10 for the superb preparation  of the abalone! The cottonseed oil that they use  is designed to enhance the flavour of seafood and vegetables, and judging by the taste of this tempura, that was not just an advertising suggestion but a reality as well (the natural flavor of the abalone  is truely enhanced) . I was observing the Chef during the frying: he uses the right motions so that virtually no oil stays in the batter.

Crab – scored and served wrapped in shiso leaves .  Light coating that was technically well achieved. Not oily at all. Sesame oil is advertised as imparting more umami and aroma to the tempura, and here, too, that was not just some advertising suggestion blowing in the wind. So, you had more aroma because of the oil, but zero sign of oil. Yep, that is the ingenuity  of high end tempura.

Maitake mushroom 舞茸 : perfect technique in keeping any excess of moisture at bay, so that the batter adheres to the mushroom better. The  natural robust woodsy sensation coming from the mushroom testifying to the perfect timing and heat control of the deep-frying, a second too long, an oil way too hot — or not enoughly hot,  and the  natural fragrance of the mushroom  would have been  just a wish, obviously. But, then  you have got to make that happen, a feature that is not as easy at it may sound even at plenty of ambitious tempura-yas. And here, they nailed it.

There were plenty of other tempura pieces (onion, okra, eggplant, etc), but I’ll stop the inventory of the pieces of the tempuras here. It is pointless to go on and on with this. You have everything you need to  know about their tempura. That’s all we need. I also did not rate the tempura items as, in this instance, they would mean nothing (convey nothing) – as an example, if I prefer the taste of crab to mushroom, I may be tempted to rate the crab higher. But that would convey absolutely nothing. The only time you will see me rating a piece of tempura is if the performance was weak, or of benchmark mention. At Tempura Matsui, the performance was uniformly of a very high level of technique and that is all we need to extract from the assessment of the above mentioned pieces of tempuras.

After the flight of tempuras, I had:

 

Tendon Tempura Rice Bowl – Traditionally, the meal gets into its final stages with a dish of rice. Here, I did opt for some shrimp kagiake (several kinds of seafood and vegetables are deep-fried in batter)  tempura served atop freshly steamed rice. This came with a tentsuyu sauce and a tempura shiso leaf. Fine quality shrimp, fine taste, the tentsuyu sauce flawless. 7/10

 

Also served with the dish of rice: Akadashi red miso soup. Its miso paste is made of roasted barley flour, rice miso, steam-cooked soy bean. In this instance, dashi (dried kelp, bonito fish flakes ) is added. All of that translating into an expected fully-flavoured miso soup expressing enticing fresh strong bursts of umami taste sensations (from the particularly long fermentation of all involved ingredients, essentially) as well as toasty (coming from the roasted barley flour, obviously) and earthy notes. 8/10

Some pickles were also served. The pickles kept confirming the assured technical skills found all along this meal, with flawless pickling technique in evidence, and, of course, the expected top-flight ingredients and precise timing in serving the pickles that you came to expect at this level of dining. 8/10

Good to know – 3 facts :

(1)At your typical mainstream tempura restaurant, the batter is usually texturally thicker, the color dense, its seasoning competing with the flavour of the the ingredient. At a high end tempura restaurant, the focus is on both the technique of the batter (how feather light, how utterly crispy, how almost transparent it can be) and the quality of the ingredient (it has to express its intricate flavour fully and not compete with the batter’s flavour. The batter is actually not flavoured. For that to happen, the quality of the ingredient has to be of supreme quality, and there should be NO  seasoning involved). Tempura Matsui being a high end tempura restaurant, I do expect them to fulfill the basic above mentioned expectations any Tempura connoisseur has for a high end tempura. Did they? Absolutely.

(2)Many Japanese food items rely on subtlety in both the texture and the taste. Therefore keep that in mind as to avoid the inevitable clash with the perception of textures and flavours that you would have carried on from eating other types of food. You definitely need to spend some time educating you senses with what needs to be expected from Japanese high end tempura as your usual notions of texture and flavours have absolutely nothing to do with it.

(3)We are talking about feather light batter and the sole expression of the flavour of the featured ingredient here. If such things pass as pure BS to you, if you prefer bold flavours and thick tempura batter, then clearly, going to a high end tempura restaurant is like trying to rely on the moon to get some sunlight. Ain’t gonna happen.

 

Bottom line:  (Category: High-End tempura in North America) – The  level of technique (good control of the temperature of the oil, precise heat and timing, competently lightly  rendered textures where and when need be, every single item perfectly steamed on the inside, crisp on the outside, the inherent flavours of the ingredients brought to the  fore, etc) on display that you came  to expect  from a proper high end tempura shop of this reputation  was always in evidence. I think that Michelin got it right on this one (They did award Tempura Matsui with a 1 star). As argued elsewhere on this blog, I do not always agree with the Michelin star rating (a blatant example of that is the 1 star that was awarded to Torishin), but TM is a first-class restaurant from the classy behaviour of every single staff member, to the luxurious and tasteful Japanese-styled interior (they even have a high tech Japanese toilet in the restroom), up to the well sourced ingredients and great level of tempura technique on display. And to top it off, just a few blocks away, the spectacular water view of  the East  river awaits you. Glad to see that NYC has, finally, a high end tempura restaurant of world class quality. So there is no need to go to eat in Japan, anymore, as all Japanese cuisines are now represented in NYC at the high end level in the form of genuine world class Japanese restaurants that would be respectable venues even in Japan. Tempura Matsui. Overall ratings for Food: 8/10; Service: 9/10 Tempura Matsui Addr: 222 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016, United States Phone: +1 212-986-8885 URL: http://www.tempuramatsui.com

Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard,
Type of Cuisine: Classic French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on September 3rd, 2017 12:00
Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France
Phone: +33 5 58 05 06 07
Email: reservation@michelguerard.com
URL: https://lespresdeugenie.com/en/les-tables/michelin-starred-restaurant-michel-guerard/

 

They have the best MOFs working for them (Chef Olivier Brulard, in the case of Les Prés d’Eugénie – Chef  Brulard  spent some time at La Réserve de Beaulieu where he earned 2 michelin stars, after years alongside real culinary illuminaries and legendary Chefs such as Alain Chapel, Jacques Maximin, Gaston Lenotre)  and it shows in the very high level of classic French cooking technique on display.

 

Service: 8 /10 Well trained young staff, unstuffy, professional as you would expect at a restaurant of this reputation.
Overall food rating: 9/10 All in all, this was some excellent  cooking  by existing 3 star classic French Michelin star standards. Of course, Les Prés d’Eugénie is capable of an overall food rating of 10/10. There is NO doubt about that. But I have got to assess this specific meal, during which the Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ was THE big “test” they had to pass as it requires lots of technique, precision, know-how, a great palate. I am afraid, they failed that test on my visit, as far as I am concerned (food assessment being obviously..subjective), of course.  Regardless, Les Prés d’Eugénie did pass plenty of other BIG tests,  as evidenced by the superlative pommes soufflées/gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel/amuse-bouches/pastries.
Overall dining experience :  See the section “My thoughts, days later” at the bottom of the current post.

Restaurant Les Prés d’Eugénie, located in a countryside’s spa resort in the  Landes, has 3 Michelin stars since the late 70s, one of the longest-running Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. It is the sole 3 star Michelin restaurant in  southwestern France, a historical gourmet destination where many great  Chefs of France have honed their skills (Gerald Passedat, Alain Ducasse, Michel Troisgros, to name a few).  Outside of France,  Chef Quique Da Costa of world famed 3 star Michelin Quique Da Costa in Denia (Spain) counts Les Prés d’Eugénie’s Mastermind Michel Guérard among the Chefs he drew his  inspiration  from (as he stated in this interview), and Chef Massimiliano Alajmo, the youngest Chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars, of 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano, Padua, Italy (which I did visit, my review here) worked at Les Prés d’Eugénie at some point  in his career.

Michel Guérard, now 84 years old,  is one of the iconic Chefs of France, for his many achievements such as promoting Nouvelle cuisine in the 70s, with culinary heavyweights Roger Verge/Paul Bocuse/Alain Chapel/ Pierre Troisgros, which signified a break from Escoffier‘s classicism (the heavy sauces, etc), then, later on, his cuisine minceur.

The ‘Nouvelle cuisine’ (a lighter way of cooking, for i.e, refraining from using heavy sauces/marinades, reducing cooking time to preserve the natural flavors of the ingredients, etc), that we are talking about is, of course, not ‘nouvelle’ (new) anymore, but it is THE movement that led to the type of classic French cuisine that we know today. Way before the concept of ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ became trendy in the 1970s, one Chef began his own revolution of French cooking: Chef Jean Delaveyne. Chef Delaveyne started to cook a lighter version of French food as early as in the late 50s. What Chef Delaveyne did not have, it is the sense of marketing that Chef Michel Guérard was gifted with. Chef Delaveyne’s revolutionary approach to cooking did inspire Michel Guérard, who, in his turn, did help popularizing the concept of ‘Nouvelle cuisine’.

Chef Guérard had another personal motivation in Nouvelle cuisine: according to him, Pastry Chefs were underestimated in those days, therefore he wanted to prove to the world of cooking that as a Pastry  Chef, he could play an important role in the evolution of cooking.

On the premises, they   have a very pretty old barn converted into a bistrot, La Ferme aux Grives,  that  I also tried (reviewed here). Chef Guérard’s mini-empire of restaurants includes La Bastide and Mère Poule & Cie

On the day of my visit, there were  several tasting menus, the A la carte menu, as well as some “special 40 years of Michelin stars” food items.

I did start the journey at their lounge bar, the Loulou‘s Lounge Bar, where I was served couple of amuse-bouches, which, on this lunch, were composed of:
-Caesar salad served with anchovies from Palamos (Spain), on toasted bread
-Shrimp “beignet” with verbena sauce
-a delicate pastry cone filled with a citrus flower mousse.

The Caesar salad was, as expected, not going to be your standard caesar salad but a creative take on it, delivered in the form of a mini “tartare” made of elements of a caesar salad mixed with first-rate anchovies (The anchovies from Palamos, which were served here, deserve their reputation as one of world’s best), atop a delicious piece of toasted bread. The kind of nibble that sounds simple, but which, once in mouth, do serve as a reminder that it is not …by chance…that some kitchen brigades managed to perform for decades at the highest level of classic French cooking (obviously, their case). 10/10

Shrimp “beignet” featured  shrimp of top quality, not one single sign of oil to be found, the batter delicately light, the fresh maritime flavour of the shrimp fragrant, the beignet was  served with a superlative verbena sauce. 8/10 for the shrimp beignet, 10/10 for that verbena sauce which brought incredible joy in mouth.

Then the pastry cone, filled with a citrus flower mousse of divine flavour, its impressive smooth texture stealing the show as well. 10/10

The amuse-bouches did really … amuse!

3 small breads are offered: olive, lemon and brioche. All, superb. The olives bread being the most popular during my visit. How do I know? Well, I asked.  Ferme Ponclet butter from the Finistere deserves praises, too. Perhaps one of the very best butters of this globe, boldly flavored but balanced,  with a fresh creamy finish that lingers gloriously on the palate.

Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ / Vichyssoise is composed of an unsweetened  floating island infused with black truffle coulis disposed on a bed of white truffle cream and Vichyssoise, garnished with black truffles and a parmesan crisp. The dish came with a beautiful poetic description, the textural contrast between the slices of black truffle and the snowy white appearance of the floating island /white truffle cream/Vichyssoise so pretty to espy. One can imagine the incredible potential of such creation: imagine a dazzling airy floating island, the stunning fresh flavour of whipped egg whites. Imagine the fragrance of truffles. Imagine the taste sensation of a superlative Vichyssoise. A dish like this one is designed to blow you away. Done, as it should, it will. Alas, the flattering potential of my Zephyr experience was expressed only on paper. The Vichyssoise had way too much milk in it, more milk than vegetables, actually, which made it taste more of a cream of milk than of a proper Vichyssoise. I had better Vichyssoise at casual eateries, and was surprised that this one I was sampling at Les Prés d’Eugénie was underwhelming. The floating island? It paled in comparison to the world class example I had at Bistrot Casse-Noix in Paris: not as airy, not as tasty. Some say that there is just air in a floating island…well, there is more than that in a benchmark floating island, whether it is sweetened or not. There is the precise skills that allow for addictive fresh whipped egg whites flavour (which was missing in action, during this lunch at Les Prés d’Eugénie), there is timing. Vichyssoise, floating island, some important — as well as   exciting —  food items of classic French cuisine… this is where a kitchen of this caliber should  nail it! Even the white truffle cream was not satisfying enough to lift up the overall dish. The black truffle, you ask? Its fragrance was muted! Quoi d’autre? This was “unidimensional ” (essentially tasting of milk, and milk, and milk) flavor-wise, I am afraid. The parmesan crisp, the saving grace, but by then, I could not care anymore. 5/10

L’Oreiller moelleux de mousserons et de morilles au fumet de truffe – A  ravioli (the “oreiller” is for the ravioli- “oreiller” is French for “pillow”) wrapped around a filling of morels and fairly-ring mushrooms, bathed in a sauce made of mushrooms, truffle, with some asparagus atop. The sauce was packed with the enticing earthy aromas of the top quality mushrooms, the pasta cooked carefully to aldente doneness, the filling of morels timely cooked too (not mushy), tasting as delicious as a filling of meat. Even a fan of meat, like me, would opt for mushrooms in place of meat if fillings of mushroom could always taste this great. After the disappointing “Zéphyr de truffe”, the ‘Oreiller moelleux de mousserons’ came to the rescue and made this lunch great again. 8/10

Le demi-homard rôti, légèrement fumé à la cheminée, oignon confit au four – A half lobster (clawed blue lobster from Brittany) roasted in an open fire, some sweet onions (filled with a purée of peach and onions, gratinéed with parmesan cheese) accompanying the crustacean and its saffron butter sauce dressing . The saffron-flavoured butter sauce  is a nice idea, the saffron flavour not overwhelming as you would expect from top flight saffron. But having eaten my share of fully flavoured beautifully-meaty freshly caught spiny lobsters (I know, not of the same family of lobsters as the one of Brittany), during my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean, I wonder if it is fair to expect a fine dining restaurant to do better with its lobster? Can it better the dazzling freshly caught clawed lobster of the Maine (Trying to be fair here, and not being partial to spiny lobsters) or of Brittany, that we can enjoy at a lobster shack? Well, it cannot because fresh lobster is just great …away from any fine dining intervention. I had no choice but to take the lobster as it was part of my tasting menu.  They did put a lot of thoughts in this dish and this was certainly not a bad food item at all, but it was hard for me to fully enjoy such tiny  pieces of lobster flesh (they do not look tiny on that picture, but in real life, they were).  The peach/onion purée with gratinéed parmesan cheese  was as pleasant as you can imagine a purée of sweet onions and peach to be, and it would certainly compliment the sweet flesh of the  lobster but I would need a sizeable piece of lobster  to corroborate that …

Filet de Boeuf sur le bois et sous les feuilles, jus de viande et de raisin, pommes crémeuses à la truffe et pommes soufflées- Filet of beef (blonde d’Aquitaine breed), covered with leaves of plane trees then cooked (the meat cooked rare as /per my request) on wood fire. Those leaves do enhance the barbequey flavor of that meat. Wood fire cooking (which is the cooking method they did use to cook this filet of beef) is my preferred cooking method for red meats as its resulting delicate and enjoyable smoky flavor appeals to me. On the palate and to the smell, the smoky flavor was actually subtle, but as a result of using wood fire and cooking the meat under the leaves, I could appreciate the depth of the flavor of the meat. I was afraid that the addition of grapes would not work with the jus de viande, but the taste of the grapes  was barely noticeable, and fulfilled its mission of adding depth to the jus de viande. Flawless jus de viande, timely simmered, precisely reduced. This was not a dull piece of filet. 7/10

With the filet de boeuf, they served some pommes soufflées cooked to order, executed in a way that exemplary pommes soufflées do look, feel and taste like (spectacularly light, with an exquisite crisp and superlative fresh potato flavour. Bring back the poetic description, Chef! Roll the drums! I love when French classics are mastered this well. 10/10), as well as a very good purée of pommes de terres agria/truffles (8/10).

Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe – The dessert I wanted to try at Les Prés d’Eugénie was the labor intensive and technically difficult (to compose) soufflé «Roulé-Boulé», but it was not available. I went with my second choice, the Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel. This is a hybrid dessert (part soufflé, part crème renversée — the crème renversée barely cooked, essentially made with a hot water bath sweet bechamel) created by Pastry Chef Jérôme Chaucesse (when he used to work at Les Prés d’Eugénie as he does not work there anymore), served with a rhubarb ice cream and a raspberry coulis. The raspberry coulis responding really well to all the components of that cake, especially to the caramel sauce flavor. The soufflé part looks like a “soufflé failure”, but that was intentional. Consequently, you will not eat this cake with “your eyes”, but a palate that has long been familiar with classic French desserts will appreciate that every single component of Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel was of the extraordinary sort: for sure, it is not rocket science to make a sweetened bechamel, a caramel sauce, a soufflé, etc, but what IS rocket science is to deliver benchmark versions of those, which is what the pastry team at Les Pres d’Eugenie did with their Gateau mollet. There was wit, a very high level of classic French pastry technique and, on the palate, an intensity of flavor to never forget. 10/10

Canelés surprises à l’armagnac/ tartelettes aux fraises (mini strawberry tarts) /madeleines, all freshly baked, as expected from a restaurant of this standing. I have heard about the superb work of the pastry team at Les Prés d’Eugénie, and I can tell you that it lived up to the hype, with exceptional sourcing and skills. A benchmark tartelette aux fraises (10/10), an equally perfected mini madeleine 10/10). The canelés (rum was replaced by armagnac)   were also great (8/10).

Pros: One great Classic French 3 star Michelin.
Cons: The Zephyr de truffe, on this lunch,  so close … yet so far

Bottom line: Chef Guerard, 84 years old, is, naturally, not cooking anymore. But what I like, in France, it is how serious those legends (Guerard, Bocuse) are about their legacy. They have the best MOFs working for them (Chef Olivier Brulard, in the case of Les Prés d’Eugénie – Chef  Brulard  spent some time at La Réserve de Beaulieu where he earned 2 michelin stars, after years alongside real culinary illuminaries and legendary Chefs such as Alain Chapel, Jacques Maximin, Gaston Lenotre)  and it shows in the very high level of classic French cooking technique on display.

My thoughts, days later: A high level dining experience, where you are interacting with friendly people. The ambience is relaxing. Food is great. Not too far, the cattle of blonde d’Aquitaine is grazing on emerald green grass. Stay in this village, Eugenie les Bains, for a day, walk in the countryside, rediscover the civilized manner of saying “hi” with a genuine smile to people you do not know (an aggression in most big cities,lol), smell corn (there are vast fields of corn to feed the cattle of Blonde d’Aquitaine) the way it used to smell and feel before the big industries have decided that chemical elements are necessary for their growth. And If you are a foodie, there are couple of eateries in the village. They have small hotels of far superior quality than most of the so-called budget hotels of our big cities,  and I did spot a farm in the village, with some serious foie gras. A destination, indeed.

ACCORDING TO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE,   THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED PERMANENTLY —THIS REVIEW IS KEPT ONLINE FOR HISTORICAL REFERENCE.

The same local foodie who did notify me about the recent opening of Tsukuyomi (visited and reviewed here) has also mentioned  that another Japanese  eatery   opened its doors on Avenue du Parc, not far from the corner of Avenue St Viateur.  The name is Cocoro (Addr: 5407 Park Ave, Montreal, Phone:514-303-0332 ).  I checked the web to see if there is any mention of this, online, but no serious/reliable online source has yet mentioned its existence as of the day of my 1st visit (Thursday Aug 17th 2017), with the only two pertinent online mentions of this restaurant being the restaurant’s Google profile and its facebook page,  so I went to find out.

Cocoro all black interior has the looks of a  simple bistro.  It also has a terrace that was not open on the day  of my visit. When you push open their glass door, you are immediately welcomed by a noren. The waitstaff explained that they do not have their alcohol license yet, but  that  it is coming soon.

Remembering the superb and genuinely Japanese donburi   as well as chicken karaage I had at Nozy — which are reviewed here (easily the most “genuinely Japanese” of any donburi and chicken karaage I had in Montreal), I wanted to see how they would fare under Cocoro’s roof.

I started my meal with their Tokyo ramen, which broth is made of  pork and chicken  (the noodles that are used are of the  thin wavy sort), light and yet  flavorful. For those in the know (people who  made ramen at a serious level for a long time), it was evident that lots of skills went into that broth (well judge timing, superb sense of seasoning, great work of the  flavor, etc).  The  waitress explained that the Japanese Chef (born and trained in Tokyo) has just arrived from Japan around 1 month ago and it shows: the seasoning of his broth was as genuinely bold as it is the case with most bowls of tokyo style ramen in Japan, with the necessary kick of salt present (I am insisting on this because lots of food journalists and food  reviewers do inaccurately report saltiness as a fault. They just do not know when saltiness is a lack of judgement and where it should be expected. Saltiness may be the pet peeve of the health-conscious world but culinary-wise, salt is what makes certain dishes great. It is therefore important to remind people that for certain types of ramen, a certain level of  saltiness is required. You take that away, your ramen will be something  else. I mean, if all you can taste in a broth of this quality is just salt, then you have some homework to do before talking about ramen: go, spend years enjoying ramen across Japan, then come back and see if  you are now  able to differentiate “necessary kick of saltiness” from the “oversalty”).  For a ramen bowl in Montreal, this was  impressive as  not one single detail was  spared: the yolk of the egg had the wet-appearing center that a serious ramen fan will look for as it helps the egg melting with the broth, an aspect that’s important as it just makes the ramen tasting better, the texture of the chāshū  チャーシュー  was the best I ever saw in Montreal ,  the noodles were precisely cooked to aldente doneness, the use of   julienne strips of the white  part of a Japanese leek (Shira Negi)– which they did use as a topping for the ramen —  is rare at our local ramenyas.  One benchmark bowl by LOCAL ramen standards. 10/10

Chicken karaage was another demonstration of the great sense of seasoning of the Chef. This time, the seasoning intentionally not strong (there is not just 1 way to make and season chicken karaage and this example was one legit version of a chicken karaage), but well balanced, with a quip, though: some pieces of chicken had a surface that was tough to tear apart. Given the skills on display during this meal and the ensuing one, I would not lose a sleep over that quip, as anyone familiar with advanced Japanese cooking techniques would not fail to observe that the Chef karaage technique is on point (again, regardless of that quip). The only limitation, for this  Chef, will come from the quality of our poultry (it is not bad, and Cocoro is using quality poultry, but it is not as great as the poultry in Japan) – but that is not the problem if this kitchen.

Talking about the quality of the ingredients in Montreal: the owner came to say hello to every client and when she dropped by my table, she said she would like, at some point in the future, to start importing ingredients  from Tokyo’s  Tsukiji market,  wagyu from Japan, etc. I appreciate her ambition but let us  be clear about this: the Montreal foodie scene is not ready for that. I gather that by reading my blog you may think that I dislike our local restaurant scene, and  that it was all logical that I would suggest that our local foodie scene is not ready for superb Japanese ingredients flown in from Japan, but thinking  that way is wrong: I am an untiring  advocate of the best aspects of our foodie scene in a way that I have always bragged about our smoked meat, poutine, cheesecakes.  They are the best in the world. Classic Quebecois cuisine is amazing, and I never miss an opportunity to mention that. In the heydays of Martin Juneau at la Montee, I did not hesitate to notice that he was (BACK THEN) up there with the very best Chefs of this globe. I did the same thing when Martin Picard was cooking. It was also the case for Hughes Dufour (Hughes is still an active Chef and he is now a star  in the competitive and  real world class foodie destination of New York), Jean-Francois Belair when he was working at le Marly and another world class Chef, Chef  Jean-Paul Giroux (who used to be at Cuisine et Dependance). Even today, there are still  local Chefs of which, I keep saying that, in their prime, they are are capable of world class cooking:  Michele Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly  (Marconi) . So, NO…I do not dislike our foodie scene. What I cannot stand is the bullshit that surrounds this foodie scene: selling  Montreal as a foodie destination when any serious foodie knows that  it is everything you want..but  NOT  a proper foodie destination. Let us talk between  adults, here: Montreal, you managed to  convince San Pellegrino’s listing of the  top restaurants of the globe that an eatery selling lobster spaghetti should be in its top 100. You are certainly a hero  on the marketing aspect, a big zero foodie-wise. Marketing is important, but what makes a foodie destination serious is its ability of having an effective restaurant scene which performance can justify what is advertised  (which are what Paris/Tokyo/New York/London are about). Montreal has a restaurant and foodie scene that is, in general, at the opposite end  of what is promoted as evidenced by the never ending number of cooks who are more interested by opening restaurants to simply make a buck (when all you do is to parade on TV and you leave your restaurants in the hands of poorly trained cooks, that is the only thought that comes to mind, obviously), cooks who are celebrated as geniuses when the so-called geniuses do not even know how to season their food, etc. When Chef Belair was at le Marly and Michele Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant, they were both cooking world class food, but the Montreal foodie scene never knew what that meant… – Anyways, I like Montreal and do believe that when you like something, you have to be honest about it. And that is what I am doing. And to be honest, the great fish of the Tsukiji market +  best wagyu of Japan ..that  is not a good idea in the context of Montreal because the only two local restaurants that are selling the best fish and red meat from abroad are not “mainstream” restaurants, they cater to a “niche” of people driving luxurious cars and smoking expensive cigars… that is the only way they could “survive” in the context of the Montreal restaurant scene because the local foodie scene does not know how to appreciate that.

Back to the main topic, my meal at Cocoro. Impressed by the skills on display during my initial meal, I went back the following evening (there are currently just 4 food items on their menu. The 4 food items that are reviewed in my post. The staff explained that there will be  more items, soon,  in September):

Kaisen Donburi (sashimi rice bowl) is easy … right? Just rice, some pieces of raw seafood, some salmon roe, some basic toppings. Those in the know, those who really  did it, those people  know that is not that easy. Well, it is easy to make an ordinary bowl of rice, for sure. A bit more difficult to find Chefs who pull this  off brilliantly. What I was having was one of the best Kaisen Donburi I ever had in Montreal, the Chef’s skills so evident in the superbly well executed savory tamago (even in Tokyo, it does not always  look that refined and appealing to the eyes…)  he did cut in small pieces, dices  of fresh quality squid, salmon, tuna revealing great knife skills and lots of finesse in the overall execution. The rice was also tasty, which is not always the case at plenty of  Japanese restaurants across  North America.  This was a reminder that simple food like this can dazzle….only in skilled hands.  Even the accompanying sweet soya was of nice quality. Beautiful skills! 9/10

I also ordered their udon made in a mix of  bechamel sauce / dashi bouillon, a Franco Japanese offering that is right now trendy in Tokyo. You have your  proper classic French Bechamel, not as rich as your old school French bechamel sauce,  therefore “lightened”  and that works well with the dashi bouillon. In the dish, there were also some morsels of quality chicken that were cooked not too tender, not too firm (for proper chew).  As it was the case during the two meals, the attention to details was remarkable (the doneness of the noodles always well timed so that it is never mushy, never too hard, the noodles always holding well to their respective sauces or broths, the timing of the cooked vegetables was also well mastered, resulting in  vegetables of vivid textures/colors..not a common feature at our local restaurants). A successful dish 8/10

Overall food rating: 8/10 A TRUELY skilled Chef who masters the fundamentals of cooking well (salty where it has to, tasting mild or strong exactly where need be, great sense of timing, great sense of textures/temperatures/colors, great palate, etc).

Bottom line: Culinary-wise I now have two “preferred” Japanese eateries in Montreal. Cocoro and Nozy. Eventhough the Japanese presence is more serious than it used to be,  on our local restaurant scene, Nozy and Cocoro are, right now, among the rare restaurants that seem to deliver the flavors that will get you, in Montreal,  as close as it’s possible to the motherland (which is not a light  feature when you consider  that you are located at 10,383 kms away from it).

What I think days later: Let us see how Montreal will react to yet another good Chef. Are we going to pursue with that bad habit of trying to alter what others have been doing successfully for ages (Yes, Montreal, you know what I mean by that! Some  local Japanese eateries  were great   and you started complaining about the bold genuine flavors of  their  food. They  did adapt to you and  were not the  same anymore!!). So if one day this Chef is not who he  is anymore , you will have just our laughable clueless foodie scene to blame. And to the Montreal foodie scene, I have this to add:  you should start ditching your  “it is too good to be true” mentality as that is making your foodie scene “tasting bland” btw!!! … In Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, they think  that “it can truely always be consistently great”, no wonder why they are world  class foodie destinations! Mind you, they have the “collective” mindset to make that happen …and you do not!!!

Argo (Thera 847 00, Greece Phone +30 2286 022594  )  seems to have impressed its share of patrons as the place was fully booked on an evening that was very quiet for most of its local competitors. Even the other local top gun, To Ouzeri, looked empty in comparison. But reserve your table weeks in advance…if you want to eat in company of the stunning view of the caldera (not all tables have a caldera view). 

I ordered some of their “recommended” dishes:

Patatina – Argo cooks superb classic Greek food, but their patatina is some sort of “cosmopolitan” invention of their own. In this instance , they reduced fried potato of superb quality into the delicate shape of vermicelli (inspired by the Chinese potato bird nest??)  and topped the whole thing with some scramble eggs. It is not the invention of the decade, but it was well executed 8/10

Fava bean purée had superlative flavour and texture. And this is coming from someone who has fava beans as one of the Main ingredients of his country. Fava beans has a unique taste ( sort of a mineral distinctive taste ) , though, here in Santorini, because of its volcanic soil. 10/10

White egg plant is one of the main ingredients of Santorini. It was simply baked but revealed some serious sourcing. The cooking was as flawless: seasoning and timing that showcased superb know-how / technique. Excellent 9/10

Giaprakia – Greek stuffed cabbage rolls (ground meat, rice, mint) served with fries and yoghurt sauce. The presentation is elegant, the genuine traditional flavours vibrant. Quality ingredients are used. A benchmark yiaprakia. 10/10

An assortment of fresh seafood (mussels, shrimps) was timely cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. As I explained elsewhere, I tend to perceive Chefs who cook seafood with great care (the case, here) as capable of cooking everything else (vegetables, meats)  with brio, and this entire meal was an example of just that. 8/10

Overall food rating (categ: Mediterranean/ Greek): 9/10

Service: 10/10

Bottom line: Argo could cook some of the best Mediterranean food of any major food city in the world. Even the service, at Argo, was of prime mention (my main waitress, Angelica, would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant). Both Argo and the Old tavern of Psaras were the highlights of my foodie adventures in Greece. Next time I will be in Greece, I will happily eat again at those two restaurants and will make a detour by  Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia, as well as visiting the Peloponnese as many Greeks I know have raved about the dazzling food in both locations.