Archive for the ‘montreal fine dining’ Category

A recent review of food journalist and ex Chef Thierry Daraize about Hopkins (his review on Hopkins, here) contained enough positive material to  encourage me to reserve a table here.

It would take a seriously naive person to think that the  “ultimately  reliable” food journalist or food rating exists. As one should know better, opinions, ratings and  taste are subjective, O B V I O U S L Y!… Thierry is one serious food journalist who, to the contrary of his colleagues, has been a Chef, too. I find  Thierry to be generally weak when it comes to assessing tropical food (his rave review about Lavenderia contrasts with MY OPINION  about that same restaurant, although, to be honest…MOST of the local restaurateurs are always at their best ONLY when a poster-diner is at their restaurant – the MAIN REASON  why the local restaurant scene can’t compete with serious foodie scenes like New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc ), but the best (of all local food journalists)  at judging French-based food (the food he cooked as a Chef and therefore, knows the best).

The perfect observation that even “experts” like the food journalists are useless on the aspect of assessing restaurants: I have been an active observer of the local restaurant scene for the past 18 years. In 18 years, the local food journalists were useful ONLY in two situations: the discovery of Chef Michele Mercuri (indeed, what a giant when he is in his prime! In his prime, Michele can easily compete with the best Chefs of this globe. Easily!) and Chef Jean-François Bélair when he was at Le Marly (now closed). It is Thierry Daraize that made us discover  Chef Jean-François Bélair, in this article. The  lack of success of Le Marly  was just another reminder that it is accurate to submit that the foodie scene in Montreal is one of world’s most clueless foodie scenes. What Chef Belair was doing at Le Marly would have impressed world class foodie scenes like New York/Paris/Tokyo/London. But in Montreal, the local foodie scene lacked (and, continues to) the  necessary experience/knowledge (even, right now, which means … 6 years after getting to that same conclusion…) appreciate that. A third world foodie scene.

Hopkins is a beautiful small contemporary restaurant. It is chic, hip and yet not stuck-up at all.  The decor is very bright and white with a superb penetration of natural light. Truely classy / tasteful with a superb service.

I sat at the bar and picked the 5 courses tasting menu:

First, some homemade charcuterie. Charcuteries — as it is the case at the big majority of our local restaurants —- are not at the level of a fine charcuterie in France or Italy, for the sake of comparison, but you will  definitely get to munch on some pleasant charcuterie, which was the case here 6/10

Clams/black beans puree – Clams of superb quality, from masssachusetts. This featured some necessary bold kick of saltyness to lift up the maritime flavor of the clam. The accompanying black beans puree seasoned exquisitely. Top shelf food item. 9/10

Pecorino/ravioli/beacon – A runny egg encased in a homemade ravioli. So close ( rich and delicious, as one would expect from some runny egg inside a ravioli of proper al dente texture),   yet ..so far (way too much  salt and that distracted from appreciating this dish). This was an easy trap (beacon is salty, pecorino is salty, etc…but that is exactly when and where   skills should shine…

Artic char (omble chevalier)/beets- montee au beurre – again, the fish was way too salty even for someone, like me, who loves salt. The beets were timely cooked and tasted as if they came from a serious michelin star destination –  such was its quality. 8/10 for the dazzling beets. But how do you rate a superb piece of fish (masterful doneness, dazzling quality) that is sadly as salty as a bowl of seawater? Seasoning is the most important skill in a kitchen, obviously, but during this meal, someone forgot how important it was….

Chocolate fondant/expresso – the idea is original, by the standards of our local restaurants, but a chocolat fondant and some expresso need to dazzle in the mouth of someone, like me, who is easily impressed by anything that has expresso in it. This tasted ordinary and it was frustrating to get to that conclusion as it was easy to see that some thoughts were put in it.

 

Bottom line: Somehow, you could see that they  have the potential to beat the best in town. For now, whoever has cooked my food needs to go back to the basics of cooking and learn to season his food judiciously.  Overall rating: Food (5.5/10 This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance such as the clams, the beets.  Alas,  that was marred by plenty of oversalted food item), Service (7/10 Nice service), Ambience: 8/10 (It is a small restaurant, therefore it gets packed quickly. But the atmosphere was gentle, civilized, not loud).

 

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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. Overall rating (Categ: Sushi in Montreal ): Food (5/10 Hope it was just an isolated OFF night!), Service (8/10 Attentive, great service ), Ambience: 10/10 (Always popular, but in a civilized way and that is perfect).

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONS: N/A

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

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

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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01Restaurant Le Fantôme  has come  to my attention when Gault Millau rated it with 3 toques. Later on, I read a bit more about this place and found that all the major local food journalists have also been impressed with what comes from Le fantome’s kitchen.

They offer two tasting menus, with 5 courses at $45, and 7 courses at $60. No more a la carte choices on my visit.

09Started with foie nem which was an unbelievably  tiny version –why on earth …feeding people with food that is.. infuriatingly so minuscule ??? — of the vietnamese fresh nem roll.  There are indeed places where some food items are sometimes as minuscule as this foie nem: one great  example were the mignardises I had at Pierre Gagnaire. The difference is that at PG, they were so exceptional that indeed, I was happy to ask for more ….instead of thinking about mentioning that they were minuscule..!!!. But here, this was no  exceptional food item, consequently,  … that foie nem was nothing more than a  frustrating bite, a frustration that is actually   shared on the web by other diners on the common crowd-sources review websites. So clearly..there is an issue!  I won’t rate this for the sake of accuracy as I find it  hard to assess such a meager portion of food. I understand that you do not want your patrons to “”feel  heavy””, especially since this is  a tasting menu, but plenty of restaurateurs – here and abroad – have long mastered  the art of   not overstuffing their diners while avoiding laughable minuscule portions of food items.  It is not even..as if .. you  were saving money by doing so: miniaturization  is costly and time consuming, perhaps worthy of your time in ..science, but OBVIOUSLY worthless  for food………  )  .. YOU FEED OR YOU DO NOT!! There is no excuse here. …

 

08Carpaccio of beets (white, red, yellow) , crème fraîche, hazelnuts, shaving of truffles – The carpaccio of beets had a very enticing natural buttery sweetness to it and the quality of the beets was cleverly exploited (meaning you really got to enjoy the 3 types of beets in a way that most salads,  made of the 3 beets, would fail to please). 7/10 if I consider the superb beets, but way less than that when I think  about the crème fraîche (which did add nothing to that dish) and the hazelnuts (pls folks…no need to follow..at all cost… the textbook of the “contrasting textures”…for eg  a bit of crunch overhere, a bit of other texture overthere). And of course, truffle was going to add nothing….to yet another dish, but no one has the guts to say  it, because a bit like with Wagyu…., we are brainwashed by the powerful marketing machine found behind such luxurious ingredients.  Ultimately a 5/10 when considering the addition of the crème fraîche and hazelnuts (adding more…is not always a good idea)…this sounds severe but the crème fraîche and hazelnuts diminished  the enjoyment of the beets (just take whatever carpaccio…put some creme fraiche underneath..and you tell me if that is a culinary achievement !) . There are Chefs who managed to dazzle, using the exact same combination of ingredients, but this was  not going to serve as an  example of such …

07Carpaccio of beef, bone marrow, deep fried potato match  sticks, raifort  – quality beef that they left unaltered (meaning not seasoned) as to let the produce expressing itself. I have no problem with that. The potatoes had great flavor. Alas,  the raifort and the bone marrow did not add much here. 7/10 if I consider the potatoes (which had great potato flavor), 6/10 without them (quality beef, for sure, but dazzled I am certainly not………..!). And…once again, an item (raifort) ..actually two (bone marrow)…too many….!! as they did add nothing to that dish.

06Homard au charbon, roquette  bisque de homard – the ..incredibly tiny pieces of lobster tasted fine, thanks to the chargrill  flavor, but they were way too tiny to be fully …enjoyed. Furthermore, they had their own rendition of the bisque that just did not do it for me . Let us put it that way: a classic bisque would have been better.,……….far better, and I need a reasonable amount  of  seafood, not just a “glimpse” of it…in order to feel sated………..). 6/10

04Poached halibutbeurre blanc, morel – , well done  beurre blanc (this confirmed that….the Chef should focus on the classic French recipes that he does so well….instead of trying to impress with non classic renditions of what he is is cooking — for example, his rendition of the bisque did not seduce me at all)  and a piece of fish tasting good.    7/10

05Asparagus, pasilla pepper , rhubarb, shallots confit – usual comforting flavor that can’t fail to  come from sauteed veggies, but rhubarb added nothing here …You will end up with similar flavor with or without the ………….rhubarb!! 6/10

03Lamb  (from Quebec) packed with  crowd-pleasing qualities (tender, delicious)  and an equally superb lamb jus. simple combination of ingredient, but there was nothing to fault here. This came with a puree of avocado that stood out (enticing fresh acidity to a puree of avocado that was just not your average avocado puree) 8 /10

02Anguilles  du Quebec – Sea eels from Gaspe and portobello mushrooms tasting as fine  as good quality eels and mushrooms,  would taste, by default, if you’d chargrill them yourself at home, meaning it was fine, just not “restaurant material” enough (this  opinion also  applies to the dish of Asparagus that was reviewed above) . 6/10

The desserts comprising of sorbets/ ice creams (popsicle orange) and a nicely executed cremeux chocolat mixed with some … mushrooms that added nothing to it…  – I won’t anymore rate any dessert at restaurants  that is basically made of ice cream, as good as it is… – Enough is enough…there are ice cream parlours for that. But I will tolerate a chocolate cremeux as long as it is as enjoyable as that one I was having  (minus the mushrooms that they had to mix it with).

Pros: The  ideas  (the candles everywhere, the nondescript entrance ), the somehow “cool attitude” of the staff

Cons: (1) The more (ingredient) you add the better it should taste, which is what supposedly lesser rated tables (lesser rated by Gault Millau and our major local food journalists, I mean …………)  do effortlessly.  Here, the more (ingredients) they were adding, the less convincing it turned out to be … (2) Not trying to be mean here, but truth be told…You will have  to be really exceptional at what you do if you are going to try to impress people  with food that is, oftently, that “minuscule”…..

Bottom line: I appreciate that  the staff is  fun, the overall concept refreshingly different from what we do usually find in  Montreal right now, the candles, the door of  the toilets that do not open in a conventional fashion…ha ha ha, …amusing  — . Food-wise, I suspect that Le fantome can be at its best when it sticks to the classics:  the halibut, the lamb, the chocolate cremeux , the  beurre blanc were  fine , though not  that “outstanding” by  Montreal’s  restaurant standards as the performance  of this kitchen on that specific evening got nowhere near (in general) what Chef Mercuri (Le Serpent) or De Montigny (La Chronique) can cook at their best (all tables rated as inferior to Le fantome by G&M / some those local food journalists). And plenty of  other local tables have fed me with food as fine  as the better items I  had here.   –  Restaurant Le Fantôme, 1832 rue William, Phone: (514) 846-1832 URL: http://www.restofantome.com/ Overall rating (Categ: Fine dining in Montreal ): Food (5/10 when you add an ingredient to your dish, it should ADD to..NOT SUBSTRACT from…the enjoyment of the food!!!!!), Service (7/10 Good service. ), Ambience:  it was quiet when I was there .

What I think days later: There have been cases where one  or two items “too far” would disappoint me at restaurants, but rarely to the point of taking away from the enjoyment of a dish, which is what happened oftenly during this meal.

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In 2015, 3 major restaurants opened in Montreal: Le Mousso, Hoogan & Beaufort as well as Montreal Plaza.

Montreal Plaza marks the return of local star Chef Charles-Antoine Crête who used to work at Toque!, Brasserie T!, as  well as Majestique. I do not know Charles-Antoine in person, but I once ate at Toque!, several years ago, and he was at the helm. From what I recall, his mastery of French classics stood out at that time. Then, I went to Bistrot T! in its first days and he was in charge of the cooking there, and again, his classical French cooking skills allowed for some well made  French bistrot fares.

I was there on February 12th 2016, in the evening, and have sampled the following dishes:

Montreal Plaza 01Salade de concombre mariné – Marinated cucumber salad (mixed with  algae)   expressed fresh acidity, the seasoning   judicious. As expected from  a kitchen brigade of this quality, the produce is well sourced, the notion of timing well mastered (we are a world away from the incompetent kitchen brigades that are seasoning their food way too long before serving it,   or marinating their vegetables  to the point of making it inedible). It is admittedly hard to get excited about a cucumber salad but this was  competently  executed.   7/10

Montreal Plaza 02Then a tartare of  artic char and rice crips – the tartare as fresh and tasty as it gets at a restaurant in town, the rice crisps tiny enough so that the star item remains the tartare itself. Oftently,  kitchen brigades do mistakenly mix tartares with sizeable rice crisps which diminish the appreciation of the tartare. A mistake that is avoided here. Very good 8/10

Montreal Plaza 03Sundae de Hamachi, crème d’oursin (Sea urchin cream / Hamachi) – The cream showcasing how confident with classic French cooking the brigade is as it was a flawless classic French rendition of a cream. Slices of superbly fresh hamachi could be found underneath the cream. All good (the taste, the textures), but sea urchin flavor  is tricky to impart in a cream, oftently hard to discern,  as proven by this item. In an instance like this one, just do a cream and leave the sea urchin atop. 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 04Whelk gratiné / miso butter – whelk,   chopped carrots/celery/daikon atop.  The carrots seemed pickled and you also had a piece of milk bread as well as a some lime on the side. As it is the case with all the other dishes that I have tried on that evening, the execution is without reproach (the taste,  tenderness and freshness of that whelk were worthy of mention), but this dish did not do it for me as I found the intense acidity of the overall dish a bit overwhelming for my taste. Still, there is nothing faulty here, just a clash with my personal taste (I am not a fan of bold  sour flavors  in general). 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 05Brochette de bavette/Daikon – The  high quality of that meat was a testament to the  serious sourcing found under this roof, the meat  flavorful and its consistency perfectly tender. Potatoes shaped like noodles as well as haskap were served atop the brochette.  8/10

Montreal Plaza 06Polenta/saucisse maison/mozzarella cheese/melon – The Polenta had proper creamy  texture, the corn flavor shining through as it should. They did  add melon, a piece of mozzarella cheese and homemade sausage, all add-ons that made  perfect sense on the palate. 7/10

PROS: The ingredient sourcing is great ,  the service superb.

CONS: Is milk bread what you really want to pair  with that dish of whelk gratiné? My palate did not think so….

My personal  overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 7/10. (Categ: North American, French, Cosmopolitan cuisine in Montreal)   During this specific meal, there was no highlight (no particular work of flavor/textures or combination of ingredients   that appeared, to me, as going above and beyond the standard of what is currently offered on our  local finest restaurant tables as it was the case with  my recent meal   at Le Mousso ,  but the cooking is certainly competent.

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01Restaurant Le Mousso is one of the three most serious recent restaurant openings in Montreal(the other two are Lili Co and Montreal Plaza)   earning rave reviews from the local foodie community. There are some aspects of Le Mousso  that I really liked (some food items were stellar by local restaurant standards, the neo industrial decor is fun) and others that simply marred what could have been an otherwise wonderful experience (jump to the “CONS” section, below) – That said, I am not the type of person who will  allow his  emotion to trump  reason (I would not share my experiences if  my emotions would deter my assessment of the food I am eating) and that echoes in the very high rating of the food (see below)

02The tasting menu (they have just one menu, a tasting menu of 7 courses + 2 other courses charged as extras) started with an amuse bouche  that they had to charge as an extra, sadly not  first in Montreal. If you are going to charge an amuse as an extra, well fine…but then I need you to deliver an inspired one. Alas that was not going to happen: a madeleine cake had a tiny quantity of caviar atop  – in between, some creme fraiche. A surreal misconceived food item as the madeleine floury flavor is exactly what you need if you want to find an element that simply can’t be paired with caviar (it is, as one would expect,  a combination of flavor that makes no sense to a palate). But the frustration would not end there: the madeleine came with an oyster! Listen, if  I wanted to collect random items for the fun of it, I could have stayed at home and gather some toothpaste, a glass of wine, a piece of paper and a piece of wood….it would have been as pertinent as what was served  to me as an extra charged amuse. When the waitress asked if I did like this amuse, I answered YES!  …There is a reason for that: in cooking, you do not want to start contradicting the people who are feeding you. A contradicted cook can do mistakes, lose motivation. They are humans, not robots.  Feel free to voice your disenchantment if that is what you are at ease with. After all, that is just  my personal imperfect (if everyone does like me,the restaurant will not improve – obviously  ) view on that subject.  As for the Mousso….oyster and a madeleine…madeleine and a little bit of caviar…seriously, folks??

 

03Céleri/truite/foin – Celery/trout/hay. Hay is actually the translation from what appeared on the menu (foin). Excellent flavoring-technique with a flawless airy celery root mousse, the flavor of the mousse subtle enough (in a good way)  so that it compliments well the smoked trout. Atop, you had the ashes from the “hay” that was used to smoke the trout. Trout has never been a fish that I do particularly appreciate, but this was plenty of fun, showcasing faultless technique, and more importantly …. a  dish that stood out for its  focus on  refinement and clarity of flavours. 8/10

04Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules – Grilled leeks, crumble of hazelnut butter/ mussels. I know you will read this and perhaps suggest that mussels and a crumble of hazelnut butter was going to be another joke, like the one of that amuse bouche , but  make no mistake: this was a brilliant way to elevate the flavor of seafood (mussels in this case), the toasty flavor of the hazelnut butter crumble pairing  excitingly  well with the mussels emulsion.  Emulsions can be  tricky in lesser hands and even plenty of high end restaurants in Montreal do deliver tired looking ones,  but here it  was  startling to the view, the smell and on the palate. The overall serving as an exciting enhancement  to the beautifully grilled leeks. Here is a demonstration on how to get the land (leeks, hazelnut) and the sea (mussels) expressing themselves at their very best 10/10

05Carotte/épices/lait de chèvre – Pickled carrot (pickled in sunflower oil), ricotta mixed with goat milk (of superior fresh quality) , edible sponge of carrot and garam masala. Each individual element executed to perfection, and more importantly, this was  an appealing (to the smell  and the palate)  display of complementary lovely  flavors. 8/10

06Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras – Plum (“butter” of plum), seared scallop and a little bit of shaved frozen foie gras atop was yet another demonstration of the “cash in” mentality that kept transpiring here and there all along this meal. Again, a business is there to cash in, and we all expect that and that is fine … but when you charge a food item as an extra, guess what:  your customer expects some ..extra efforts!! Food that’s inspired! Or else, why bothering with extras…. ????  How  on earth can a  piece of scallop with some shaved foie gras atop pass as an extra worthy of the ..extra cost?? What’s extra about such insignificant food item (btw: they simpy list ingredients on their menu. In this case, it was Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras – Excited by the creativity expressed through their  “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules” dish, or even through the dish  of “Carotte/épices/lait de chèvre “, I would have never imagined that that “Prunes/pétoncle/foie gras” was just seared scallop and shaved frozen foie gras……

07Champignons/céréales/morue  (mushrooms/cereals/cod) – WAY WAY WAY  too much mushrooms on that plate, but this was still  a delicious dish with enticing smoky aromas coming from the toasted barley, roasted wheat, superbly fried quality cod.   8/10

08Pois vert / Agneau / Melisse:  First-rate  tartare of lamb BUT …… PEAS IN AUTUMN?? REALLY? If this was traditional cooking, I would not mind the peas (many traditional dishes, such as ragouts,  can involve the use of  peas and they are commonly served this time of the year), but this is not traditional cooking.  Respect the seasonailty of food, folks!

09Oignons/betteraves/boeuf  – marinated onions of a quality that you’ll rarely get in our local restaurants,  beets of fine quality, and a 72hrs braised piece of beef that paid justice to the long time it spent simmering.  That dazzling meat is a reminder that in cooking, patience is key. And I never had onions marinated/prepared/treated  this well in a local restaurant 9/10

10Petit lait/poires/poivre – Excellent buttermilk ice cream, delicious julienne of pear, sorrel, “syrup” of apple cider vinegar, and a benchmark pepper meringue. Top drawer dessert by our local restaurant standards   9/10

 

PROS: (1) The superlative “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules” (2) Sharp sharp skills – I do not know if Le Mousso is consistently as good as on this evening, but the skills displayed all along this meal were  very strong when compared to what we are accustomed to in Montreal .

CONS –  (1)The insulting extras!! Charging extra for an amuse bouche! At least, make an inspired one..!!    (2) On one hand, the service looks lovely – the staff looks  passionate, they laugh, they look good and they look cool, down to earth, etc. As an example, my main waitress seemed  fun and we even talked about her boyfriend, trips they would like to organize and I found that superb as it shows how human and real the service can be. BUT then, disaster: the same waitress promises to come back with more red wine – promise not kept. Then she collects the tab, but sends someone else to tell me that there was money missing. I am always prompt to acknowledge my mistake, which I did with tact  and I am always an easy customer –I am paying with my hard earned money, so I may as well have my share of fun, thus  I make no fuss about such things  at the restaurant…but at any serious restaurant, the person who collects the money goes back to his client and voices any  error. You do not send someone else to do that. It is not as if you had a difficult customer yelling at you, berating you in front of other people. No. Instead, we are talking about a very easy going customer, so clearly there is just no rational excuse to such  stone age  tactic of sending a messenger to tell your customer that there was money missing. With such mistakes, the customer ends up questioning the initial positive impressions, which could perhaps be tolerated at a tavern but certainly not at a restaurant serving this caliber of food, at those prices ….   (3)Serving a madeleine alongside an oyster…wtf?? Again, I  go to restaurants  to have fun so I won’t lose my time challenging you, but c’mon folks??!! (4) Peas …in autumn…really?? (5) at times, the impression that they  run out of effective  imagination (a scallop with some shaved foie gras on it….not only the foie gras brings nothing to that scallop, but this is as basic as trying to put butter on a piece of bread).

Bottom line: There were many flaws, indeed, but the better items of this meal are the best I had in Montreal in a long while. And for me, that counts a lot.    As ever, with non classical food like this, you need to show up with an open mind, prepared for a display of unorthodox combination of ingredients. Well travelled foodies have seen this..and much more…time and again  (a bit of In de Wulf over here, a touch of Inaki Aizpitarte over there, influences from Japan and the rest of the world, etc), abroad, but for Montreal this is top stuff (except, obviously,  for the amuse that did not amuse, the scallop with some foie gras shavings atop, some oyster served with a madeleine…, serving some peas in..autumn). This is quite a gamble though: one single cook who does not get what the kitchen is trying to achieve, a misstep here and there, and the whole picture may look completely different. Le Mousso has all it takes to be in my top tier restaurants in Montreal…but for now, it also has all it takes to be out of that top tier. This was, for me, like landing on a beautiful exotical island but with plenty of things to worry about. Meaning that I would not mind going back, but there will be no 3rd chance. Le Mousso (Type of cuisine: contemporary cosmopolitan ) Addr: 1023 Ontario E, Phone: 438-384-7410 Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Le-Mousso-896950477044437/?fref=ts

What I think days later: According to the medias, Chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard told them that at his old restaurant, people used to drop by for a quick bite before  going to the nearby theater   but that with Le Mousso, the show would take place at his restaurant. He is right: by Montreal restaurant standards, even by its finest ones,  a dish like “Poireaux/crumble beurre noisette/moules”, that I had on that evening, showcases a strong level of   skills / creativity that is rare in Montreal. And the show went on: a spectacular “plum butter”, superb pickling technique, emulsions that  most restaurants in town would take ages to get a grasp of, marination that is rarely seen in town, a grill that … grills (I know, it should not be an exploit, but trust me…that is a miracle in Montreal), meringues that  would make most meringues at restaurants in town pass as “wimps”, etc. But then, they throw those extra charged food items from which  you expect so much .. in light of what they are  capable of …only to end up with uncreative creations like seared scallop with shaved frozen foie gras atop or a madeleine paired with an oyster…!!!!!!!! Why? Why? Why? Why peas in autumn, Chef, when you seem to be fond of Japanese cuisine, a cuisine that is so strict about ….SEASONALITY?!!! Why? Why? Why?  Restaurant Le Mousso – Addr: 1023 Ontario St E, Montreal, QC H2L 1P8 Phone: (438) 384-7410 URL: https://lemousso.com/ Overall rating: Food (9/10  by Montreal contemporary restaurant food standard), Service (5/10 Mixed service. Unacceptable even at a tavern, let alone at those prices …), Ambience (It was quiet the evening of my visit. I do not rate ambience as it is also up to you to pep up the ambience if you are looking for ambience. Except, of course, when the place is lively by itself while I am dining there).