Archive for the ‘montreal fine dining’ Category

Jun I (Addr: 156 Avenue Laurier O, Montréal, QC, Phone: 514-276-5864  ) is my long time preferred sushiya in Montreal.  During my last meal at Jun I (click here for that review), Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu was present at his stronghold and his craft was a benchmark sushi meal by Montreal standards. It might sound unfair to review Jun I right after the review of a first-rate sushiya of the caliber of Sushi Azabu, but not to worry: both are not competing in the same category, and that is taken into account in my assessment. I am also someone who will never become jaded:  I can eat at the best sushiya of Japan one day, and still appreciate a perfectly well crafted sushi in North America the next day without allowing my appreciation of the former to influence my impression of the latter. The standard of sushi in Montreal is nowhere near what you will find in NYC. Just to give you an idea of how far behind (their peers of NYC) our local sushiyas stand, here are couple of laughable examples that “””speak volume”””: we are in 2017  and … fresh grated wasabi at a sushiya in  Montreal is still a futuristic project. Actually, there is probably one  wasabi root in the drawer, lol…BUT  it will be served to the  happy few (local celebs, a poster diner, etc). It sounds surreal, but that is Montreal. Primitive examples of that sort abound. The problem is that Montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene, in reality. I said “the problem”, but I should have accurately submitted that it is “the reason” …one of the reasons, actually … why montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene. Therefore I returned to Jun I with the right expectations, first and foremost to enjoy my food and have a good time. And if there is any reference point to look for, then it will be the one that Jun I did set during my last meal right here, 3 years ago under their roof, as that meal remains the best sushi meal I ever had in Montreal.

3 years later, how does  Jun I fare? Jun I would be in NYC and I would gladly look into online reviews and find out. But in Montreal, that would be an exercise as useless as trying to talk to a rabbit. One would think that the local food journalists could help enlightening us on Jun I’s whereabouts, but apart one or two of them, our so called food journalists do essentially run after novelty. Food journalist Tastet noticed that in 2015, a year when Jun I was still in its prime, most food journalists had  forgotten about him. I am not surprised at all: our food journalists are basically just hipsters. Anyways, most of  them know Japan just by the name and the closest they got to Japan is by drinking sake and feeding themselves on americanized sushis.

On to my meal:

juni-1Yellow tail tuna was served with a thick yuzu / miso sauce, which was pleasant but lacked finesse and complexity. There was also some rice cracker, that did remind me a bit of Chinese prawn cracker, only it was made with rice and was consequently snowy white in color. 5.5/10

juni-2Spicy scallops as a temaki was not too spicy, which was  actually its only noteworthy feature. The wrapping made of ordinary nori. Ordinary, very ordinary. And I am being very very very polite, here…. Trust me!  5/10

juni-3An array of nigiris and sashimis (japanese red  snapper, tuna, salmon, spicy tuna on a piece of cucumber, eel, etc) – for Mtl, the quality of fish is fine. But since the fish was  generally offered in its “bare naked”  glory (generally not marinated , not aged, not cured, etc), the only way out is to get the ” fundamentals”  right :  so your   fish has to be sliced masterfully, your rice needs to dazzle, the  quality of seafood cannot be just fine, it has to be exceptional. And all of that was  not the case at all, here. 6/10

Overall food rating(Category – Fine dining sushi in Montreal): 5/10 The 3 young folks at the helm, on this evening, were not in the same league as Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu. From slicing the fish, pushing their craft beyond the ordinary, etc..they have many rivers to cross. They are young, cool, nice looking and the future pertains to them. I wish them the best. I really do. I also hope, for …them, that they continue to learn and develop a sincere passion for their job. Passion, they will need. For now, they need a Master around them  (I have no clue if Chef Junichi Ikematsu had a day off or if he is still associated with the restaurant as I did not inform myself about it).

On my way out,  I remembered that this area where Jun I is located  had couple of great eateries, around a decade ago (the “golden era” of my foodie existence in Montreal) : Barros Luco, Chao Phraya, La Chronique, Palais de L’Inde, Wilensky‘s. Chao is not what it used to be. La Chronique remains in my top 3 in town. Palais de L’Inde burnt, Palais de L’Inde I will miss a lot. Wilensky closes at 4pm, therefore it was closed on that evening (btw: I was there this past summer. I still like Wilensky’s but will submit that the quantity of meat in their sandwich is not as generous as it once was).  Barros used to be a favourite, but once I pushed open their door, whoever was at the counter seemed more interested to chat with his pal than serving his clients. Perhaps a sign that there was not much  to feast on, anymore. Montreal, oh Montreal, one of world’s most insconsistent restaurant scenes!!!  You just can’t keep doing things right….don’t you?? So I went to the last nearby ‘survivor’ of that ‘golden area’,  Fairmount bagel . At FB, the old guard is not there anymore, but the young gunz are still doing a great job. I told  one of the young gunz at FB  that I was surprised that they are  still doing this well after so many years. His answer will be my conclusion…the appropriate conclusion… to the current  review : “”  You  learn from those in the know. However painful the journey, if you have the last laugh, then you know you have achieved nothing. If they have the last laugh, then  you know you are doing something great “”.  Food for thoughts. Dear Jun I, I really hope that was just an off day!

My thoughts after this meal: I am a long time fan of Jun I, therefore this  experience was definitely not one I was expecting. I  know, that is life, and life goes on. I was just not prepared mentally for this, under their roof. There is a reason why Sushi Masters have spent years perfecting their craft. There is a reason why Sushi is considered as true art by many people.  I know that the newer generations of  cooks  can’t afford spending the time that their predecessors did, and that is understandable. But then, ensure you spend some time mastering the fundamentals (knife skills, handling of the fish, the rice, the basic gestures of a skilled and experienced itamae) alongside various Sushi Masters, those in the know. Observing is also very important as in observing how a true Master Chef keeps his working space organized. You can do that without the long and painful years that the older generations of Sushi Chefs went through.  I was sitting at the sushi counter, on that  evening, and that is what came to mind.

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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.

 

Bouillon Bilk
1595 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, H2X 2S9
Phone:(514) 845-1595

It took me just one visit here, couple of years ago, to be impressed. So much so that it has been in my top 5 favourite dining destinations of Montreal, since then. It is always controversial to consider  a restaurant  as one of your city’s very best upon visiting it just once,  but there was no surprise with my initial    great impression of this restaurant:  at its helm, one of Quebec’s most talented Chefs was in charge. Chef Francois Nadon was one of the most brilliant cooks of the Mercuris entourage, one of QC’s most gifted and legendary family of Chefs. He was cooking on that first visit, and what had to happen happened:  it was a stunning meal by local standards.

On this evening (Tues Sept 3rd 2013, 20:00), I went back to see how his cooking has evolved. He is still the Exec Chef at Bouillon Bilk.

I sat at ‘the comptoir’, their bar if you prefer. The menu is typical Mercuri/Nadon style:  a collection of ingredients (on average, 5 – 6 ingredients are used on each of the dishes, ) at the service of  a  contemporary  refined bistrot  cooking style that can be more accurately described as ‘eclectic’ and ‘cosmopolitan’. Chefs like Mercuri and Nadon do this really well, so I was excited to enjoy once again such  a style that is not that common in Montreal (of course, as a foodie once wrote to me …it is déjà vu abroad. To which,   I have to remind that 99% of what is cooked is déjà vu…no matter the greatness of who’s cooking it. I mean, apart Alinea, the Fat Duck, the Adrias, Redzépi, some few of the Spaniard Chefs and a handful others..a handful … not many are truely standing out  in an exceptional way in relation to what is already established at the finest  evels of world dining. Let alone at the standard of dining found in a city like Montreal (Montreal is not a top dining destination as far as I know…).  But  Bouillon Bilk has always been for me a favourite by comparison to  local Montreal restaurant standards.

On this evening, an amuse bouche of poached shrimp (Nordic shrimps) in a dashi bouillon.  A far cry from the stunning savory umami flavor of the dashi bouillon I had once at restaurant Park. Notice that I keep the comparisons local, here. In a nutshell, a bouillon that was way too subtle (There is not just one way to make a dashi stock, but regardless of the form that it takes, a  dashi stock requires very precise umami kick, or else it’s pointless to make one. There are of course some subtle versions of the dashi stock, but this evening’s version has nothing to do with those)  to be exciting and Nordic shrimps….like it or not, do not come with the bold shrimp flavor that can mark souvenirs.  I am not saying they are bad. I am just saying that they brought nothing to this amuse. And if you are going to make me pay for an amuse ($5) — a first for me and surely something that can be potentially unpopular (the only reason I offer no resistance to things like those is because I always want to give the kitchen some momentum so that they express themselves fully with not one single contradiction…but of course, if you do not seize the momentum I am offering to you, then…well….my patience has its limits  )  ———- , I am still fine with that…but make it amusing, because amused I was not!  5/10

BOUILLON BILK, BEEF TATAKI

 

 

 

 

 

Then beef tataki (again, the beefy kick too subtle despite a decent ginger/soya flavor that served as seasoning), urchin (irrelevant on this dish, to the point that even a great fan of urchin like me did not even notice its presence),   radish, salicornia and fried corn. The fried corn was memorable for its impact in mouth (a great caramel kick to remember for a while), but the overall was underwhelming for me. No particular palatable excitement, but the thought that few Chefs can indeed transform this array of ingredients into something cohesive and memorable. Chefs like Nadon, Mercuri do just that: they are among the few who, in town, can make such collection of ingredients somehow great in all aspects (technical cohesion, palatability, etc). The beef tataki could not testify to that.   5/10

BOUILLON BILK, TOMATOES

 

 

 

 

 

Then tomatoes, zucchini flower, burrata, melon. Zucchini flowers were certainly not bad, their stuffing of burrata logical, but I had far better  textured zucchini flowers at many bistrots here and in France, ones that had perfect light and crunchy shapes I failed to get with the zucchini flowers I was having on this evening. Little detail..perhaps, but details that set ordinary fried zucchini flowers from better ones.  Fried zucchini blossoms are nowadays popular in most home kitchens, so easy and fun to make, so restaurants have just one way out: offering a version that is out of the ordinary. It is doable, many bistrots are doing it.  On top of the ordinary zucchini flowers, I was left with not much to feast on : tomatoes were fine, the fleshy melon interesting, but at the end of the round, it was an ordinary overall dish 5/10

BOUILLON BILK, OCTOPUS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pieuvres, poulet fumé, pomme de terre, citron, chilli – The pieces of octopus tenderized properly, their taste decent. Octopus, if it’s not going to blow your tastebud with deep marine robust flavor and a kick of great grilling, forget it! It’s not worthy of the efforts of cooking it. I was frustrated for …them: they have tenderized it properly, which in itself is great effort, but marine robust and great grilling flavor were nowhere to be found. Even worst: what was the smoked chicken flesh doing there?  I mean, do this:  take a piece of braised octopus and match it with, say, turkey ham (the smoked chicken tasted exactly like turkey ham)…. 5/10

It is at this moment that I decided to have a look at the kitchen (it’s an open kitchen, so easy to spot from the bar) and realized that Chef Nadon was not present on this evening. My main waiter at the bar, Monsieur Nicolas, realizing that I was not enthused, came to the rescue. He explained that Chef Nadon was absent due to an injury. That is life, I do appreciate Monsieur Nicolas classy move and do understand that all tables have indeed ups and downs. So perhaps just a bad night, but I have principles that I insist on standing by:  if a meal seems underwhelming to me, then it is. No matter the reasons.

BOUILLON BILK, crab tempura fried with coppa

 

 

 

 

 

 

I concluded with a dish that was available on the ‘menu of the evening’: crab tempura fried with coppa, burrata, celeriac, sea lettuce, samphire, sea purslane plant. Definitely better than the previous items, the crab tempura seasoned properly. Still, this was just a standard / normal crab tempura.  Also, cold cuts like coppa, with a tempura, that can be interesting in the hands of geniuses like Nadon or Mercuri.  Few cooks can really make this kind of pairing working. Few. On this evening, It was frankly as coherent as fire and water…. Should I say more??     6/10

Pros:  (1)The admirable service (Monsieur Nicolas showing   outstanding hospitality standards. Same could be said of the tall lady who was welcoming the diners at the entrance, on this evening). (2) The fun wine pairing, except that I found the Bio wine from Alsace to be interesting on its own — I am educating my palate to appreciate this kind of wine — though not suitable for any sort of pairing to food, any type of food actually.. .  As usual, a matter of personal taste.

Cons:  (1) Well, obviously the entire text is clear about what went wrong on this evening.  But I’ll add this:  We have plenty of  talented cooks in this city, so it is important that they express their own skills.  Yes, respect Chef Nadon’s guidelines. After all, he is a gifted Chef.  But hey..use  his guidelines, add your own touch  and have fun! Unleash it all!! Lol.   As we say in French: Lachez votre fou, Lol! Après tout, cuisiner est bien plus le fun de meme ;p (2)Being charged $5 for the amuse bouche of poached Nordic shrimp in a dashi bouillon. Why calling it an amuse if you are going to charge it?  Call it an appetizer, then.

Overall score for this meal: 5/10  All in all, my second visit here was disappointing,   performing  far behind the stunning first meal I had here at Bouillon Bilk. With the circumstances that I now know (Chef Nadon was injured, so absent on this evening), it makes sense. I have no doubt that his assistants are talented, and perhaps this is a style that’s too personal to Chef Nadon for them to really exploit Chef  Nadon cooking”s full potential.  In which case, I’d suggest that they adapt this cooking style to their own inspiration when Chef Nadon is not around. I have been cooking for enoughly long to understand that it is never an easy task to fill the shoes of giants like Chefs Michele Mercuri or  Francois Nadon. Better build on what such geniuses teach you and have fun your own way. This is one of the rare  places in Montreal  in which I  have full trust, since the main Chef is talented and the owners and staff are serious/reliable.  All that is left is just that: when the big Chef is not around, the kitchen needs to find a way to be exciting in ………its own way. That’s all.

Coming soon….reports of a Montrealer’s NORMAL DINER’S 3* Michelin fine dinings. Till then, enjoy my latest project: Montreal’s & Eastern Canada  top finest dinings at http://www.xanga.com/aromes