Archive for the ‘best restaurants of montreal’ Category

I finally paid a visit to a 3 star Michelin restaurant that the best foodie experts of the globe do consider as one of the very best classic French restaurants currently in operation. The experts were right, and Les Prés d’Eugénie fed me with a dessert that pertains to the wall of fame of the best desserts of all times. When you look at the dessert, you do not want to like it. Then, you say…well, it is at my table already, so I may  as well give it a try, and what ensues  is an incredible festive sensation in your mouth. A truely exceptional dessert. Les Prés d’Eugénie was not just about that dessert. It is a true world class restaurant,  a destination. My review here.

The closest airport to Eugénie les Bains (where Les Prés d’Eugénie is situated) is Pau (approx 1hr from Eugénie Les Bains) therefore I stayed there for 1  day. Pau will not do much for you in a way that bigger cities like Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille, Paris or Montpellier will. But if you happen to be in Pau,  the  ‘fun’ part of Pau is the downtown area, a tiny area that you would have visited in less than  3 hrs of walking.  In downtown Pau, the Boulevard des Pyrénées  is famous for its scenic view of the Pyrénées mountains (when it is not cloudy, obviously). Also noteworthy is  a very pretty castle, Le Château de Pau,  and some few  terrace bars nearby. Pau also has some of the best  chocolate, foie gras   and pain baguette of France. In Pau, two  Chefs with  past experience at  Michelin star restaurants did open their casual restaurants: Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin  at Detours and Chef Nicolas Lormeau at Lou Esberit. Detours was fine, Lou Esberit did not meet my expectations.

Celebrity Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Sorbillo now in New York – As originally announced by Napoli.Repubblica.it  right here. He fought the Camorra in Naples and went on building world’s most popular Neapolitan pizzeria. In Naples, his pizzeria  attracts crowds as impressive as what only rock stars can command. His name is Gino Sorbillo. And as virtually all the greatest artisans  of the foodie world, the first thing he had in mind was to land in the real world-class foodie destination that NYC is. He did it. Just did. Hey NYC, you are a magnet to the best of the best: Ferran Adria, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, and now Gino Sorbillo. Listen, they say you do not sleep. With all that love, the truth is that you just cannot sleep! Sorbillo NYC, addr: 334 Bowery Street at Bond Street  https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

Paul Pairet, the new Prince of Shanghai (China) – There is a saying in French that goes like this “”nul n’est prophète en son pays“”. Paul did not impress in France. Then, he travelled, travelled a lot. When Paul introduced his concept of “psycho-taste”, I recall saying “Pardi… il fume du bon celui-là !”. I mean, a kid would take 1 second to figure that taste and the … “psyche” (psychology and emotions associated with food)…are related. It does not take a genius to figure that out. Furthemore, what Paul is doing nowadays, with all the visual effects during a meal…that is something we saw, time and again, over a decade ago. For sure, Asia seemed to have missed that, when it was trendy, but it remains an old chapter of our contemporary culinary history. Regardless, Paul persevered, and succeeded. He managed to convince the world that ..hey…taste is related to the “psyche” and it is trendy to look at videos and pictures while you are eating. Rfaol. It worked and Paul is now the Prince of Shanghai (3 Michelin stars). Paul, I will never eat at your 3 star Michelin (your concept is just not my cup of tea — when food is amazing, I want to be entertained by its very own amazement, NOT by the superfluous … ), but the world will. And that is what matters most. Ultraviolet,  Address: Waitan, Huangpu, Shanghai, China, 200000 URL: https://uvbypp.cc

3 star Michelin Michel Bras rejects his Michelin stars (as reported here)- This will please those who hate Michelin. Not too sure why you would hate a system based on  something that is purely subjective (assessment of restaurants), unless you have a hidden agenda (fights between competitors, etc). It is one thing to disagree  with a system (I did it in my review of Le Coucou where I suggested that Michelin should stay away from this gem of a destination restaurant, I did it when Gault & Millau launched their guide for Montreal), it is purely and simpy “fishy” when you are obsessed about its termination. Anyways, The Bras are complaining  that the Michelin stars are too much pressure for them. Typical baby crying: when they needed Michelin in their rise to the top, they were everywhere in the medias, very happy to enjoy their fame. The very same fame that helped them expand to Japan. But now that the kid is the king in town, he does not need “Daddy” Michelin anymore. It is so trendy to turn your back to “Daddy” as it will draw more attention on you, hein Michel (actually his son, Sebastien, as the son took over) ?? Michel will always be remembered as the one who did put this restaurant on the map of the culinary world. Sebastien, the one who could not stand the heat. So, Sebastien,  tell us … since you seem to crumble under the incredible hulking pressure of all those stars, will you also ask Michelin Japan to remove the stars of  your restaurant in Japan, too? Be consequent  in your “crumbling” logic, Sebast!

Cocoro is a new Japanese restaurant in Montreal. I ate there twice and could appreciate that their Chef has the Japanese cooking skills we so rarely get — we foodies of Montreal — to appreciate this side of the St laurent river. Also “unusual” is that I suspect that the Chef is a “Jack of all trades” in a way that he seems to cook isakaya, fine dining, ramenya food with the same aplomb.   A rare occurence at restaurants in Montreal. My review here.

 Gyu-Kaku is a  Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku) chain with over 600 locations in Japan as well as abroad. It has now a restaurant  in Montreal on Crescent street, in between Ste Catherine and Rene Levesque (closer to the corner of Ste Catherine). I tried a Gya-Kaku the last time I was in Tokyo, as well as one of  their branches located in NYC. Gyu-Kaku Montreal has a tasteful dark wood / grey walls  interior decor, almost chic for a table top grilling restaurant, but that is standard for a Gyu-Kaku, and superb friendly service. I will go straight to what you need to know:  Gya-Kaku is, in Montreal, the best table top grilling restaurant in town right now. How come? They use the best meat  and the best marinades you will find at a table top grilling restaurant in Montreal. I ordered the Harami miso skirt steak as well as the Bistro hanger steak. Both are  miso-marinated and  will be crowd pleasers. I also ordered the Kalbi short rib, which, for my taste, has always been   less ‘festive’ than the Harami miso skirt steak/Bistro hanger steak, but that is a matter of personal taste (lots of people love it) and again, Gyu-Kaku is offering one of  great quality. Was everything perfect? The chicken karaage was not in the league of Nozy‘s (as explained here, I always keep the comparison “local”, meaning that I compare Japanese food items in Montreal to other Japanese food items in..Montreal) but it was  fine, and  I  am not a fan of  the spicy kalbi ramen.  That said,  a Yakiniku IS a Japanese Bbq restaurant, so if you are going there for ramen, then you may as well start the trend of going to the  hospital to shop for clothes, attend a wedding expecting a birthday party, etc. A nonsense what I just wrote? You are right: it would be a NONSENSE to head to a Yakiniku for your fix of ramen. I hope Gyu-Kaku keeps its Yakiniku in Montreal to the serious Yakiniku level I found on the evening of my visit. This has the potential to work really well as we have an important local community of young Asians in Montreal and Yakiniku is one thing they love. In facts, the Yakiniku was not empty when I was there. Just ensure you know the difference between Japanese Vs Korean BBQ as to avoid inaccurate expectations and , consequently, inaccurate judgement, as well as grossly ignorant statements such as “why should I go to a restaurant to cook my own food”. Gyu-Kaku, Addr: 1255 Crescent St, Montreal. Phone (514) 866-8808

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 Gyu-Kaku is a  Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku) chain with over 600 locations in Japan as well as abroad. It has now a restaurant  in Montreal on Crescent street, in between Ste Catherine and Rene Levesque (closer to the corner of Ste Catherine).

 

I tried a Gya-Kaku the last time I was in Tokyo, as well as one of  their branches located in NYC. Gyu-Kaku Montreal has a tasteful dark wood / grey walls  interior decor, almost chic for a table top grilling restaurant, but that is standard for a Gyu-Kaku, and superb friendly service.

 

I will go straight to what you need to know:  Gya-Kaku is, in Montreal, the best table top grilling restaurant in town right now. How come? They use the best meat  and the best marinades you will find at a table top grilling restaurant in Montreal.

I ordered the Harami miso skirt steak as well as the Bistro hanger steak. Both are  miso-marinated and  will be crowd pleasers. I also ordered the Kalbi short rib, which, for my taste, has always been   less ‘festive’ than the Harami miso skirt steak/Bistro hanger steak, but that is a matter of personal taste (lots of people love it) and again, Gyu-Kaku is offering one of  great quality.

Was everything perfect? NO! The chicken karaage was not in the league of Nozy‘s (as explained here, I always keep the comparison “local”, meaning that I compare Japanese food items in Montreal to other Japanese food items in..Montreal) but it was  fine, and  I  am not a fan of  the spicy kalbi ramen.  That said,  a Yakiniku IS a Japanese Bbq restaurant, so if you are going there for ramen, then you may as well start the trend of going to the  hospital to shop for clothes, attend a wedding expecting a birthday party, etc. A nonsense what I just wrote? You are right: it would be a NONSENSE to head to a Yakiniku for your fix of ramen.

I hope Gyu-Kaku keeps its Yakiniku in Montreal to the serious Yakiniku level I found on the evening of my visit. This has the potential to work really well as we have an important local community of young Asians in Montreal and Yakiniku is one thing they love. In facts, the Yakiniku was not empty when I was there. Just ensure you know the difference between Japanese Vs Korean BBQ as to avoid inaccurate expectations and , consequently, inaccurate judgement, as well as grossly ignorant statements such as “why should I go to a restaurant to cook my own food”.

Some may find it a little far-fetched  to call a table top grilling restaurant one of the best restaurants in Montreal, especially a chain restaurant, but Montreal is NOT a destination city for restaurants (to the contrary of what our local tourism authorities and their annoying endless web of  friendly food bloggers and food journalists are working hard on trying to make you believe) and, at the end of the count, Gya-Kaku has the edge on anything that’s doing table top grilling meat in town. As such, and at what it is delivering (it is a Yakiniku, therefore I am talking about its table top grilling meats, NOT its non-table-top grilling food, obviously),  it is one of the best restaurants  in Montreal.  Gyu-Kaku Gyu-Kaku, Addr: 1255 Crescent St, Montreal. Phone (514) 866-8808

UPDATEDTHIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED ******************

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.

02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-gras The amuse-bouche was  creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still,  the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual  mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards,  this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining,  is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.

CONS: The  desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon.  A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.

What I think days later: Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere. I do not see a  restaurant like this one making an impression in a world class foodie city  (i.e, New York, Tokyo, London, or Paris). On a personal level, I think that the Joel Robuchon brand  is, nowadays, relevant only if you try his 3 or 2 star Michelin restaurants around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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He is back! One of Quebec’s better young Chefs is back behind his stoves. After working at restaurant Toque! for years , Chef Crête partnered with the team at restaurant Majestique. His new  venture (restaurant Montreal Plaza) is now expected to be opened this summer on Plaza St-Hubert. There is no denying that Chef Crête is a good  Chef, in his prime. That said, I found him to be at his best when cooking classic French dishes, and at times less convincing  in some of his  contemporary creative twists. According to what he said to the medias, his intent is to offer food that is affordable as, in his own words he “prefers having his customer back at his restaurant oftently instead of  dropping by for special occasions” –  Source: http://maplaza.ca/uploads/Communique_Final_Annonce_Montreal_Plaza_2015.pdf

IIn other news, Joel Robuchon has found an interest for Montreal. In my early years as a gourmand, I was lucky enough to have tried his food when he was cooking in person at Jamin (Paris), but his nowadays worldwide success as an entrepreneur is of little importance for me. His restaurant will be situated inside the Casino of Montreal. – Source:http://www.pourcel-chefs-blog.com/blog1/2015/04/29/un-atelier-robuchon-bientot-a-montreal/

Tapas 24 Montreal

Tapas 24 Montreal is affiliated with Barcelona’s reknown Tapas restaurant Tapas 24.

UPDATE: I went back there  some few week  laters. At the end of the current post, please find my review of that second meal

It is a restaurant that is owned by Barcelona’s highly regarded Chef Carles Abellan as well as two other local Business partners (Journalist  Sébastien Benoit and restaurateur Jorge Da Silva), so a sister of Barcelona’s Tapas 24. According to the facebook page, the Chefs are  Haissam Souki Tamayo as well as another Chef who goes by the  name Ildemar, both names sound  unfamiliar to me, so this was the  opportunity to discover their craft.

As it is always the case with tapas outside of Spain, the ingredients can rarely ‘speak for themselves’ , so sticking to items relying heavily on the ingredient is a bit like expecting the sun to shine at night .  However great the ingredient, it simply won’t reproduce the effect of its Iberian counterpart. So, I picked couple  items where the skills of the kitchen would have to ‘walk the walk’:

Kicked off with

Tapas 24 Montreal - Bomba de barceloneta

Bomba de Barceloneta (potato croquette) $6 is, of course, not a big deal as every decent kitchen will not fail to deliver a decent one. But unless someone is devoid of any ‘sense for  nuances’, the appreciation of that croquette I was having had lots more to reveal:  the technique in keeping the croquette low in fat while maintaining the taste delicious/rich is not a secret but few are delivering it this well.  A fabulous croquette of the sort that only a handful of  the finest restaurants of Montreal  can  pull off. The accompanied aioli and salsa brava simply perfect. 8/10

Tapas 24 Montreal - Rabo de toro, queue de boeuf braisée

Rabo de toro – braised oxtail $14 was another display of assured cooking technique coupled with superb palate , the braising perfect, seasoning exciting.  The meat was covered with a layer of an impossibly light ‘moussy’ take on the potato purée, tasting delicious. 9/10

Tapas 24 Montreal - Arroz Barcelones

Arroz barcelones $24 featured carnaroli rice cooked to the bite, as it should, with four big plump shrimps as well as several fresh mussels.  This is as close as you’ll get, at a tapas restaurant in Montreal, to what’s done in Spain. Only one Spanish restaurant in Montreal, Casa Galicia, had once impressed me with a paella that managed to teleport me to Spain but that was years ago and I haven’t revisited Gasa Galicia since then, so I do not know if CG is as great as it used to be. As great (by Montreal standards) as this paella stood,  it could have been even  better if cooked, imagine, on straw for eg…but that is a different story (that’s not allowed in Montreal, anyways).. Still, a superb  paella by Montreal standards 8/10

I took no desserts.

Before heading there, I have read couple of online comments on Tapas24 Montreal and some of those did mention the slowness of the service as well as meager portions, but I saw no problem in both regards: the pace of the service was perfectly timed, with meals that take longer to cook taking the relevant time it needs to be served. As for the portions, it was in line with the quantity of food that is usually served nowadays at most contemporary restaurants of this sort in big western cities. Furthermore, they bill themselves as serving tapas which is bite-size food (obviously).

PROS: If you ever find a tapas place you believe is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal and would like to share with me, do not bother…I won’t believe you!

CONS: On an evening like this, with cooking this assured, we can cover an aspect (not a problem) that is proper to most tapas restaurants outside of Spain…the genuine flavors of the Tapas in Spain. For eg, paellas oftently  taste a bit ‘smokier’ in general on the Iberian peninsula, seasoning usually a tad spicier. I gather that this is to  reach out to the most, and few places in Montreal do take the risk of insisting on such exotical flavors (Casa Galicia  is the only place comes to mind, but it’s being 7 years that I did not go back so I do not know how it fares nowadays), but those who  have tried tapas in Spain will have the feeling that there’s a little something that’s missing.  With that said, make no mistake…this is  as close as you’ll get, at this moment, in Montreal, to what good tapas tastes in Spain.

My personal verdict for the food: 8/10. Strong performance by Montreal tapas standards. What I did sample is all I needed in order to assess the cooking  skills at Tapas 24 Montreal, which were items forcing the kitchen to ‘focus on the substance’: personal touch of the cook, his sense of flavors,  his palate, his ability in extracting the most out of the least (maximum flavor out of simple ingredients or from simple  flavor combinations which is essentially the point of tapas) . I doubt I could have done that with, let us say, the pa amb tomaquet which is bread  with tomato, a lovely item to be enjoyed as a tapas in Spain, but oftently …outside of Spain….it is delivered as a pale version of  its Iberian counterpart.

Conclusion: I love tapas as it forces a good kitchen to extract a lot out of virtually very little, which for me is what cooking should  be all about. Coupled with the stellar ingredients of the Mediterranea, those can oftently turn into mouthfuls of bliss. But we are not in Spain, therefore I substituted expectations for one reasoning: when Tapas are moved from their original humble conditions (as well as relevant pocket-friendly tab)  and priced as up-market food, I want to see where my hard earned money is going and what I ordered did not disappoint in the sense that  good ingredients were used and the cooking was diligent. Still, there’s always the question of cost performance when eating tapas at an up-market restaurant,  and my bill helped to keep that debate alive. Tapas outside of Spain, as good as they can be, they are simply pricey for what they are,  I find. At least, what I was enjoying on this evening at Tapas 24 Montreal had the edge over all other tapas that I have tried in town and they are doing it in the warmth of a hip and elegantly / cozily designed establishment, located in the enviable location of Old Montreal.

What I think days later: If they continue to cook the way they did on the evening of my meal, then you can count Tapas 24 Montreal among the few dining destinations that can truely standout in town…not because of buzz (which is sadly the case of a myriad of bars/restaurants in town), but because of effective cooking (cooks with a good palate,good sense of seasoning) and a genuine vision of what a restaurant should be about (serving good food, delivering an overall nice experience). It’s hip, fun and already very busy. Based on this visit, I’d say that it is an amply deserved success.

UPDATE  – Went back on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 – Here’s my report about that second meal:

HAMBURGER

Hamburger/foie gras emulsion–  $15 will probably be divisive as it was tiny portioned by usual hamburger standards. From the usual burger, we expect  hamburger to be filling and this one might not. We expect the big fluffy /thick buns, this one was flattened round  thin bread. We expect big juicy patty of fat grounded meat, but this contained a small quantity of  meat.  So why am I still going to rate this hamburger  so high? Because I did enjoy it for what it is:  a creative and amusing twist on the hamburger, not a hamburger in its popular form. And at such, it was flawless: the meat (real filet mignon) of top quality, served as an effiloché on this evening, the taste delicious,  textures mastered  really well (for eg, the bun having the consistency of freshly baked quality buns, the meat cooked by a kitchen  who clearly knows when cooking should start and when it should stop…meaning far from the usual misteps of offering dry/overcooked meat).  The take on the hamburger came with a ganache of foie gras which unctuous texture was beautifully achieved, the flavors refined (the right ratio of foie gras to cream, which means none of the components overwhelmed/ everything was complementary)  8/10

Ceviche

Ceviche de Mero (grouper) $18 was not going to be criticized for its sze as it starred generous (relatively to what you`ll find at most tables of this category in big Western cities) morsels of fish of great quality, the fish seems to have been sliced just a few minutes before serving, such was its fresh effect in mouth. A healthy conscious cook thought about not saltying too much the fish (instead, it’s the acidity dimension of the ceviche that was intensified), which  was, in this case, the right thing to do. Quality onions and avocado completing the dish, which was seasoned with a bit of the ceviche’s leche  de tigre.   One  great (contemporary) version (there is a myriad of versions of the ceviche)  of  ceviche by Montreal standards. 8/10

Lamb brochette

Lamb brochette $10 – The big majority of skewers at most of our local restaurants always have a problem, sometimes overcooked, sometimes it’s the quality  of the meat  that’s questionable,  sometimes the meat is dry, sometimes the meat is not of the quality avertised, etc.  This skewer could be accused of none of those issues: well sourced lamb, timely grilled, the meat (on this evening) seasoned with a  flavorful curry-based marinade. At $10 for one skewer, I find this offering pricey…though, indeed, skewers are not oftently done this well in restaurants  of Montreal and here, they do not just advertise quality, they deliver it. Very good. 8/10 (Still, a skewer at$10 …however great it is,  it’s pricey by any standards that I can think of — fortunately, I am not rating cost performance but cooking skills solely…).

Conclusion regarding this meal sampled on Sept 9th 2014, 18:30 It’s obviously hard to fall in love with  bite-size food at ambitious price tag, but Tapas 24 Mtl cooking is easily in the top 10 of this city,  the sourcing of their ingredients simply admirable, the technique too. Of course the portions of some of their items left me with the impression that there is an emotional limit to what can be justified by the quality of the produce (the Mc Foie Burger, the lamb skewer),  but at the end of the count the fact of the matter is that you won’t oftently,  in Montreal, stumble upon food benefitting from such good standard (flavors and textures have been flawless on each of my two visits here).  Regardless of  the shortcomings that I have just raised, the food here  is really well executed  and certainly in the leading pack by our local standards.

What I think days after the second meal : Yes, it’s tapas, food that’s supposed to be sold at low cost,which is not the case here, and I have to concede that it is not  place where I would go if I need something robust on the stomach,  but it’s not often, in Montreal, that you’ll come across food done consistently this well. When you’ll enquire about Tapas 24 Montreal, ensure that the person voicing his opinion is not mixing up proper proper assessment of the food (which is well executed here) Vs its perceived value.

Restaurant La Chronique
Dinner on: April 23rd 2014, 18:00
Type of cuisine:  Updated French-based market-driven cooking (Fine dining)
Addr: 104 ave Laurier Ouest
Phone: 514.271.3095
URL: http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL

This month, I am revisiting some of Montreal’s top restaurants. This time, La Chronique.  La Chronique is considered by plenty of   ‘experts” of the local food scene as one of Montreal’s very best tables. Even if my previous visit here did not impress me (its review can be found here),   there was still no doubt in my mind that La Chronique’s  envious  position on the local restaurant scene was justified (if you carefully re-read that review, it’s not the skills of the kitchen that I had issues with, far from that. It was the presence of couple of items I judged not worthy of that tasting menu). Anyways, la Chronique has always ranked in my top 7 best tables of this city,  although   the  meal I was having on this evening  gave me no other choice but to  firmly insert La Chronique in my personal top 3 in Montreal (La Porte/Au Cinquieme Peche/La Chronique).  I think that most Montreal food connoisseurs (food journalists, etc) got it right in their assessment of La Chronique.  Where those ‘experts’ of the local food scene have largely missed the boat was in the case of XO Le Restaurant (when Chef Michelle Mercuri was working there, he is now working at Le Serpent) as well as the (now closed) Le Marly : it was laughable to observe that the ‘experts’ were  raving about weak Chefs at the helm of average restaurants and largely ignoring two of the very best tables that Montreal ever had . BUT oh well, what do you want… it’s all subjective, n’est-ce pas?  ;p

 

Back to La Chronique. They have now moved to 104 ave Laurier Ouest, right in front of their old location, the restaurant having  two floors. On the street level, the room is narrow and small, with an elegant interior bathed in warm tones of white and dark brown, a large glass window providing great penetration of natural light.  Upstairs, they have a private dining room for special events as well as some few tables.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_MENU

 

 

 

 

 

On this evening, the market driven menu featured 5 starters as well as 5 main courses, which is, in my view, a smart way, for a kitchen relying on the freshest produce available , to better express itself without the distraction of long (unfocused) offerings. There was an additional tasting menu available.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_LOBSTER BISQUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

I opted for the tasting menu, which kicked off with a first-rate lobster bisque. This is the other ‘best’ lobster bisque I ever had in Montreal, the other startling bisque is one that I once had at Le Bonaparte. Le Bonaparte’s is executed the traditional way, whereas this one is a revised take on that. I am normally a hardcore purist when it comes to the bisque, but this rendition cooked by La Chronique just broadened my perspective of the bisque beyond my once firm veneration of the traditional bisque: inside the bisque,  thinly sliced leeks, pieces of lobster meat and truffle cream as well as the thoughtful addition of parmesan cheese crumble. On paper, that addition of parmesan cheese crumble was the touch I was afraid the purist in me would be frustrated about, but in mouth it turned out to provoke exciting sensations that would convert any purist on a heartbeat. When I learned cooking,  I was taught to always respect tradition and to  build on the best part of the past.  When you master the flavors of the past, however crazy you want to express yourelf, chances are that you’ll pull off something great because it’s built on solid foundations. This is what this bisque was about:  you still had the best part of its traditional conception (the traditional bisque flavor was there) and much much more, in a much much more exciting fashion…  This was a  bisque about exceptional skills, by any standards of dining, here and abroad, its depth of flavor and fabulous texture simply of benchmark material 10/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_tuna tataki, shrimp tempura

 

 

 

Followed by tuna tataki, shrimp tempura, drops of spicy mayo of unparralled depth of taste, avocado purée of spectacular quality lifted by an exciting fresh kick of acidity, quality cucumber nicely marinated (the marinade’s expression being spectacular in mouth). The tuna tataki featured high-grade tuna (references to quality will abound in this article – yep, when a kitchen uses such stellar ingredients, to such great effect, there’s no shame about underlining the feature endlessly), its spicy crust marked by balanced and highly enjoyable heat sensation. The shrimp tempura encased in phyllo pastry, the shrimp beautifully meaty,  its taste utterly fresh and  exciting, the phyllo pastry executed well.  Inspired! 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_scallops

 

 

 

 

 

Next, scallop from Iles de la Madeleine. You’ve got the picture by now: the scallop was not the usual average scallop most restaurants in town are serving, its sear spot on and of course, the flavour exciting. Inside the scallop, some of the freshest crab meat I ever had on a table in Montreal. On the plate, quality cauliflower completing the dish. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_pan sear foie  gras

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then,  pan sear foie gras (of examplary fresh quality and memorable deliciousness, the sear admirable, the deep livery flavor so typical of the finest seared foie gras lingering on my palate), pastrami of duck (a clin d’oeil to the pastrami that we all know, but here using duck – this was flawlessly executed), drops of an exciting reduction of soya/maple-syrup (yeah, the kind most cooks will pretend to never miss, so easy it sounds, but rest assured that most can’t pull this off this skilfully),  and superb potatoes. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_lamb

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb of Kamouraska rank  among the finest quality lambs of this province, the kitchen carefully opting for a top-grade short saddle of lamb. This was not only of fabulous quality by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, but everything else was as admirable: remarkable depth of fresh meaty flavor, irreproachable accompaniments such as beautifully sourced zucchini, olives and a vibrant chickpea purée. Another top class dish. 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_baba au rhum

 

 

 

Ended with a take on the baba au rhum, topped by a stellar homemade ice cream of almonds/amaretto/vanilla (10/10 for the ice cream, and like most ppl….I haven’t started enjoying ice creams ..yesterday;p ) as well as a ‘brunoise’ of  pineapple that did benefit from exemplary sourcing (the acidity low, which is great, and for those familiar with the matter, it was easy to see that this is pineapple that was hand picked at its optimal stage of ripeness / we were far from the ordinary looking and dull tasting average pineapple that so sadly abounds in plenty of restaurants in town, a remarkable feature for a table that could have rest on its laurels following the previous spectacular courses BUT that chose , instead, to maintain the bar of its quality produce high till the very end), the baba au rhum risen enoughly long to allow better flavor, the cake light, having a perfect crumb and, on this instance, not boozy at all. An excellent take on the Baba au rhum (9/10).

Service was  of great hospitality standard, with on this evening, one waiter and also the Chef serving   his own dishes. Chef Olivier De Montigny came regularly in the room to serve every patron and he explained that he tries to not roam away from the principles of French cooking by avoiding flourishes such as, to take an example, espumas. Well, that is exactly what I favor the most too.  I find that too many people go to restaurants with absolutely zero knowledge of what the restaurant is doing. How many times did I hear people expecting flourishes on tables that are focusing on doing the classics great, the flourishes really not in their plans at all. You want flourishes, fine, but then do expect it where you should: at a restaurant that’s known to adopt it.  It is nice that Chefs serve their own food and explain what they try to achieve:  it’s the best way to remind ourselves that a good part of enjoying a meal is to understand what it is about, not what we want it to be.

Wine pairings was a charm, featuring some top choices with excellent picks such as a dazzling glass of brego cellars pinot noir (2010) serving as a brilliant match to the pan seared foie dish, an amazing glass of  Jermann Afix Riesling 2012 (great pairing to the tuna tataki) or the memorable Passito del Rospo 2009 2009 (for the baba au rhum).

Overall food rating: 10/10 The meal I was enjoying on this evening is a 10/10 meal by Montreal highest restaurant standards, an enthralling meal from end to end. This is  revised/updated French-based artisan Chef cooking (Chef Olivier de Montigny is not watching TV at home while you dine here, he is right there working for real in his kitchen), with a Chef who has a great palate (something I regrettably can’t say about a myriad of cooks …) and superb skills using what count among the finest ingredients to be found on a table of this city.  The restaurant itself is also classy: minimally but tastefully decorated, intimate/cozy.  I know restaurants  in France and across Europe that went on to  earn two Michelin stars for the quality of food  that I was enjoying on this evening.  I decided to indulge in their elaborate evening tasting menu so that I can enjoy their work in its full glory, but they also have affordable lunch menus for those who want to try La Chronique at lower cost. La Chronique deservedly joins La Porte, Au Cinquième Péché, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon   in  the ‘cream of the crop’ of my favourite restaurants in Montreal.