Archive for the ‘montreal’ Category

 

LA BANQUISE1***La Banquise is the most popular poutine eatery in town, a local  institution. People from all around the world flock here. I was at La Banquise only once, around 3 years ago and went back this summer. La Banquise remains a fun place, lively but its classic poutine, which is the only type of poutine that   I have always ordered all along the 20 years ++ that I spent in Quebec, does not rank among the finest poutines I ever had in Montreal. Let alone in this province. And that is taking into account the fact that the general standard of the poutine  around the province went seriously down (20 yrs ago, even fast food chains like Lafleur was delivering some serious poutine). I will let the PROS and CONS section set the records straight:

PROS: Fun, lively place. I wish all eateries had such ambience.

CONS: The finest classic poutines in Quebec feature large chunky pieces of french fries full of lingering potato flavor. In contrast, in this instance, the french fries were half the size of your standard poutine french fries, the potato flavor unexpressed. Cheese curds were of the tiny type, therefore you need a mouthful of those cheese curds to fully enjoy the texture and the taste of the cheese (a sensation that big chunky pieces of fresh cheese curds will deliver way better than). The better poutine spots of this province will never fail to serve you the standard big chunks of cheese curds. Even in the local depanneurs, your cheese curds is of the normal chunky type. The sauce is one fine version of the poutine sauce, but there was not enough sauce for the quantity of french fries offered.

LA BANQUISE2My rating of this poutine: 6/10 (Categ: poutine in Mtl). I am not too sure why a classic poutine needs diminutive (relatively to the existing standards of classic poutines in Quebec) french fries and cheese curds (about 1/3 of the standard quantity of poutine’s french fries, and almost 1/2 smaller than the standard cheese curds)..but regardless of the reason, its inexorable fate was a diminished enjoyment of the poutine. If you go to La Banquise, you may as well order their other types of poutines (for eg, with peas, with pogos, etc) so that you redirect your attention on something else (other than the cheese curds and potatoes). La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel https://www.facebook.com/poutinelabanquise?fref=ts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing my profound  admiration  for  Japanese food, a local foodie friend has notified me about the recent opening of two Japanese eateries in Montreal and I went trying both: Tsukuyomi (current review) was visited on Wednesday Aug 16   and I did dine at  Cocoro (reviewed here) on Thursday Aug 17.

Tsukuyomi (Addr: 5207 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC Phone:  514-273-8886) is located on St Laurent Street, almost at the  corner of Fairmount. They are essentially making ramen : a veggie tonkotsu Pork bone broth + veggie topping), Chashu tonkotsu (Porkbone broth + braised pork belly topping), which is what I picked, a chicken tonkotsu (Pork bone broth + boiled chicken topping) as well as a Vegan ramen (Vegan broth + vegetable topping). Each bowl costing $13. Sides are Edamame (salted green soya beans) $3,  a daily Vegan salad $4, Goma-ae boiled spinach with sesame sauce 4$, Tokowasa wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed 4$, Mini Chashu Don (Braised pork on top of the rice), steamed rice $2.  They also have Sapporo/La fin du monde beers as well as Kocha Japanese milk tea/Matcha honey green tea/Ramune Japanese soda/Sencha green tea.

The   woody  interior mimics faithfully the North American idea of a casual Japanese eatery, and   there are seats with partial views on the opened kitchen.

What I ate:

Takowasa – Wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed. Pieces of octopus marinated in a sugar/wasabi mixture. Had the wasabi be of the “grated root”  type  (which you will NOT  find at a  restaurant in Montreal, this would have been a hit. Alas, as expected, the wasabi paste found in Montreal, which was used here, is way too pungent to complement the flavor of octopus.

Pork bones based Tonkotsu ramen was   second to the one at Yokato Yokabai, with a broth that was not  as deep and complex in flavor as I wished, but certainly pleasant with some Ok  chashu and semi firm boiled egg yolk that I , as well as plenty of ramen fans, prefers with a wet-appearing center (which I was missing, here) for the simple reason that it tastes better when it melts with the soup (the main reason why ramen has an egg in it). Still, I prefer this ramen than what you will get at most   ramenyas  in town.

Overall food rating: 6/10 (Categ: ramenya in Montreal) The Chef is Japanese and it shows: the food has genuine Japanese flavor. That said, he should use better judgement (true, the wasabi marinated octopus is a great idea, but if you do not have the right wasabi, do not insist on it…).  I will go back as it remains one of the rare bowls of ramen I liked  in Montreal (behind Cocoro / Ramen Misoya / Yokato Yokabai).

 

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.

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance (the clams, the beets).  Alas,  that was marred by plenty of oversalted food items.

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.

 

Restaurant Bonaparte (443 rue Saint-François Xavier, Montreal, Phone 514-844 4368) is a French restaurant offering classic French cuisine in the Vieux Port of Montreal. Their Chef, Gérard Fort, from the French region of Normandie, did work for 3 star Michelin Chef Alain Ducasse years ago.

It has been more than 5 years that I have not dined at Le Bonaparte. I used to frequent Le Bonaparte and Chez Delmo, when I was working nearby. Chez Delmo has changed physically (I miss the old world decor)  and  I found its  culinary performance not as stellar as it once was. Still, Chez Delmo is nice by our (admittedly) not that strong (in general — as there are exceptions, of course) local restaurant standards. Le Bonaparte continued to maintain itself among my preferred classic French restaurants in town, but it is not as great as it used to be, though, not bad neither.

 

Raviolis de champignons (mushroom raviolis), Proper al dente texture. Champignons de Paris was the appropriate mushroom to use, in this case. Butter/sage sauce using fine quality butter. Tasty 7/10

Navarin de homard a la vanille (Vanilla, muscat wine flavored lobster stew) – Different Chefs, different twists, preparations of navarin sauce can vary widely from the ordinary to the stellar. This one tried to be more contemporary (flavors are not bold, presentation is elegant, the vegetables not cooked in the stew which, for the purist in me, does not really qualify as a lobster stew/ navarin de homard )than traditional (a ragout/ all components are cooked in the stew). Regardless of the twist, I came to expect bold flavors from the best lobster navarin I had. This was a bit too subtle in flavor… for a navarin de homard, though executed properly, with quality ingredients (the butter that they use to make their sauces is of great quality, the creme fraiche too, the muscat wine blends harmoniously well in that sauce).  A good —not great — take on the navarin de homard. And yep, I know, there is a limit to how bold creme fraiche and vanilla can be, BUT I had more exciting lobster navarin that were made of those same components. Still, this, in light of what you will find in Montreal, was good 7/10

Grand Marnier soufflé – a tad less spectacular, in looks, than the one I had recently at Chez la Mere Michel, but airier. The grand marnier fragrance in evidence. Very good. 8/10

Profiteroles- The puff did rise, at some point, for sure, but that was a useless process…as the choux pastry arrived at my table in its non edible form (very hard). I forced myself to eat it just to be polite, fearing the anger of Napoleon Bonaparte….0/10

The flavors are not boldly, but properly French. A compromise between the old (rustic) and the new (the rich flavor is there, but there is also a health-conscious touch in the plate).

Pros: One elegant French classic restaurant in town.

Cons: (1) those profiteroles should not have left any kind of kitchen, even at a hole-in-a-wall eatery, let alone a kitchen charging those prices (2)the pastas served with the navarin de homard was overcooked. A slip that reduced the enjoyment of that dish. Not a badly conceived navarin de homard for a navarin de homard revisited with  a contemporary (a navarin not cooked as a ragout) and international (addition of the pasta) touch, but you will not be floored if you are a purist, although, to be fair, the french technique of the sauce is legit.

Overall food performance (Categ: Montreal Classic French restaurants), 6.5/10. Fine enough, by Mtl classic French cooking standards, but I was not moved in a way that equivalent restaurants (of same price range, cooking the same type of classic French food), located abroad, not even in France, have been able to move me. I would perhaps rate such meal with a 6/10 if we were in NYC. Others would not forgive the slip of the profiteroles (which I did not forgive, neither, but does a fine enough overall meal deserve a 4 or 5/10 because of some disappointing choux pastry?? I did not think so).

Bottom line: As a reminder, the ratings of my meals are based on the standards set by the direct local competition of the restaurant I am eating at. Consequently, it would be inaccurate to compare my ratings of a French restaurant in Montreal to the one I did rate in New York or Paris. New York has superior French food (Montreal does not have Classic French food that could compete with, say, the likes of NYC’s Le Coucou, Bouley, Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecôte, Balthazar,  etc. ), and France remains, obviously, the reference for that kind of food. It goes without saying that the 7/10 of my review of Le Casse Noix is more accurately a 10 by Montreal restaurant standards, their Ile Flottante and riz au lait a distant dream for Montreal. Therefore, we are in a completely different set of expectations. Whenever a table goes beyond the standards of its direct competition (a pointer: the relevant dish is either a 9/10 or a 10/10) and offers food of world class quality, I will let it know.  Regarding this meal, all I have to say is that French fine dining, at those prices, even when it is fine enough…will always “taste” overpriced if it is not going to stand out …, .

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.

This review of restaurant Park (Addr: 378 Victoria Ave, Westmount, QC; Phone:514-750-7534) completes my recent reviews of some of the best —- according to our local foodie experts (major local food journalists, major local foodie websites)  —- sushis of Montreal. The other two sushi spots that are highly regarded by those sources and that I have reviewed are Jun I and Sushi Yumi.
Antonio Park is the most talked about  restaurateur and chef of our local restaurant scene. I discovered his work years ago when he was at Kaizen. At Park, he offers his take on contemporary cosmopolitan cuisine that is influenced by Japan (non traditional sushi, sort of kaiseki)  as well as his Korean/Latin American background (the ingredients he does use, his takes on some korean staples).
I ordered the Omakase, which, on the evening of my visit, did consist of  5 courses (if I’d choose the duck magret) or 6 courses  (option of the sushi instead of the duck magret).
The menu has appetizers such as park style sashimi, nigiri, green salad, asian salad, 2 oz Japanese kobe beef, charcoal grill albacore sashimi, miso soup, edamame. The list of Mains goes like this: park  bowl (either with chicken or salmon), Jap Chae, sashimi moriawase, nigiri moriawase, etc
p1Mushroom shitake broth, ordinary shrimp – Between a glass of water and what I was having, I would opt for the glass of water. There was really nothing going on here, no taste, no depth, nothing. I have been dazzled, in the past, elsewhere by similar broths, and this one was a world away from those. The only pleasant feature being the dinnerware the broth was served in.  0/10
p2Scallops, shiso, kombu / tosaka algae with a tempura made of the mantle of the scallop (braised, then fried) – Fine raw scallop from Boston,  properly cooked tempura, properly done salad . Ok  6/10
p3Nigiris – Usually, I am fonder of the traditional Japanese style sushi, but I knew, coming here, that their sushis are not traditional. Shima aji, akami, yellow tail, tuna, salmon served as toppings to the nigiris. They were seasoned with ecclectic ingredients such as shishito pepper, jalapeno, maple syrup. This was properly done (fish well sliced, the rice and the taste not as great as at, say, a fine sushiya in nearby NYC, but correct for Montreal / the rice not far from body temperature on this visit). When you had tastier sushis of the traditional style, meaning with far less seasonings than these, you leave underwhelmed. Still, above average sushi by Mtl standards , though such feature is really not that hard to achieve. Ok  6/10
p4Makis (blufin tuna, reduction of maple syrup/soya), filling of cucumber/shiso/tuna. Fine enough. Again, not a maki which souvenir would linger on my mind. Still, above average by the weak standards of Makis in Mtl. Ok  6/10
p5Hamachi, akami, salmon, tuna albacore with spices of steak –  Ok, as Ok sashimi do taste and feel like. Ok is also how I would describe the broth. 6/10
p6White choco/ raspberry sorbet. Again, just Ok. Ok classic blend of white choco mixed with raspberry. Safe, safe, safe and not what I want to sample at an omakase priced … this high. Ok was, indeed, going to be the recurrent qualification of most of the food items of this meal …but Ok is not what I am looking for when I dine out…Ok?  6/10
Overall food rating: 5.5/10 (Categ: Montreal fine dining standards) –  You can’t afford one single  0/10  dish when you are not a world class restaurant. I did not invent that 0/10. Your broth …well, ….water tasted better! Get it? What rating would you give to a dish like that if I was serving you a broth that was less exciting than water??? At L’Arpege, to take an example, they could afford that. They could afford even 2 or 3 dishes like that. Because they have the kind of exceptional skills to wipe off such disappointments. Not you. Antonio (he was not present on that evening) would have definitely lifted up those dishes. Though, even with Antonio, let us get the records straight: Park is no exceptional eatery. That said,  this was still a tolerable meal / slightly above average meal… by the weak standards of the majority  (there are, of course, some few Japanese artisan Chef restaurants in town that are consistently good, but this time I wanted to focus on what the local experts had for us) of our local Japanese-inspired eateries. “Tolerable” happens to be over flattering in this case. I am generally not a diner who insists on cost performance, as proven elsewhere on this blog ( I have never mentioned cost at L’Arpege or L’Ambroisie, some of world’s most costliest restaurants), but this meal at Park is really way too $$$ for what I was getting (my meal at Hvor did cost way less with far superior cooking and dazzling produce). Meaning that I do not even have to go abroad to realize that this particular omakase is not worthy of the pricetag.
Pros: Service (10/10)  was the highlight of this meal. I am usually more into the food than the service, but I definitely know how to appreciate great service and will always take the time to mention it whenever it is the case. Antonio knows how to surround himself with a staff that perfectly balances professionalism and amiability. He did it at Kaizen, he keeps doing it at Park
Cons: A restaurant of this reputation and charging what they are charging should ensure that …when the main Chef is not working, the performance remains worthy of the pricetag.
Bottom line: Montreal is not a sushi destination, we all know that, but the sushi scene used to be way better here back in the days when Mikado/Jun I were in their prime   + there was a hole-in-a-wall sushiya on le plateau that was really good by mtl sushi standards. The rational thing to do is to save  your money and your time and just go to NYC for your fix of good sushi. At least, there, you will understand where your hard earned money has gone and you will have a good time.