Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

***Marie-Claude Lortie’s write-up on Hvor is the best article that a local food journalist has ever written – Yes, she is one of my preferred food journalists of all time. No I do not know her. No, I am not in love with her. And I am sure I am not her type neither: I am ugly. No, I do not agree with every single statement of hers. And that is normal as we share nothing in common. But I know one thing, though: “suckling pigs” is not her favourite dish….my way of saying that she is not biased, not there to make friends in the restaurant industry. And she writes well,  she is  not your usual  “shakespeare wanna be”  or “I  feel smart” type of food  journalists.
Marie-Claude’s article on Hvor is a reminder of how this woman is capable of unusual impartiality, where many so-called  food journalists are just there to   serve as advertisers for their friends of the food industry.

You know that a food review is exceptional when the reviewer sees things that most did not (not  to be confused with …things that do not exist….sadly, the mistake that most food journalists make) at a restaurant that you really liked (Hvor is in my top 3 in Montreal alongside La Chronique and Le Serpent ).

Eventhough Marie Claude’s article has no impact on my opinion of Hvor,  I’ll concede that I had “flashbacks” (lol) of the duck magret I had there  when  she was  reproaching to Hvor… a feeling of unaccomplishment..a feeling that she did observe at times during her meal there.

But aside from that duck magret, there was no other sign of “unaccomplishments” during my meal. To the contrary, there was lots of finesse, a very high level of technique as well as some superb combination of textures and flavors.

Marie-Claude argued that  the desserts at Hvor are “deja vu” creations for her. Well  …Montreal is unlikely the place that one should look for when it comes to reinventing the wheel. Desserts at a restaurant in Montreal, however great they can be, they are certainly not going to be thought provoking!  And Marie Claude should know that. I do not expect restaurants to reinvent anything, anyways. I just want them to excel at whatever they do whether the food is classic or not.  And that is exactly what Hvor was about during my visit.

As for Marie-Claude’s review, that is a master piece (written in French) that you can peruse here.

 

*** Pho Bang New York is one  preferred spot for Pho in Montreal. Not only is the pho good there, but cleanliness  is another attribute you can append to their  description, which is not a common affair at our local pho restaurants. But I love phos, so I went trying some of the best picks of other local Vietnamese foodies (Vuong and Han,) that I know and trust. For Vuong, Ho  Guom and Tay Ho rule (he is from Hanoi, and unsurprisingly his preferred phos are of the Hanoi style). Han is a fan of Pho Lien and Lyla  (phos from her native south).

restaurant-lylaRestaurant Lyla 431, Jean Talon W, Montreal, 514-272-8332 http://www.restaurantlyla.com/    The broth a tad sweeter than at most local pho places, (which is not a quip, rather a feature of this type of pho) as well as a tad less complex in its nuances but definitely one legit version of the Pho. The ingredients were fine, the quality of the meat good. Unarguably one genuine version of the Pho, but I’ll take Pho Bang NY (which uses  a tad more star anise than its local competition  in  the soup, but to great effect) anytime over this one.
ho-guom-montrealI then tried one of Vuong’s top picks, Ho Guom, which is a  stone’s throw from Iberville metro station.  Lots of depth/nuances of flavors (that are well balanced, btw) in that broth, and yet a broth that is very clear (what you should look for, the experts will tell you). Bring your own lime, though, as the piece of lime they did serve to me  was incredibly dry! And consider yourself as deprived of any sense of humor if what I did submit about that piece of lime is all you needed to know. Easily in my top  local phos (you know your pho dazzled when you can afford complaining about useless things such as a dry piece of lime ;)). Ho Guom, 2035 Rue Jean-Talon E, Montréal http://www.hoguom.ca/
Bottom line: you want your pho to taste/feel/smell like in Vietnam? Then fly to Vietnam! Lol. That said, the folks at  Ho Guom are making superb phos and despite the never ending list of decent phos in town, I have yet tasted a better pho than at the above mentioned  duo  of preferred phos.
***Morgan’s bbq is touted as offering one of the finest texas style smoked briskets in nyc. Order them (the briskets) fat, not lean, as to savor your brisket in its more flavorful rendition – which is exactly what I went for. Can’t agree more about Morgan’s bbq reputation: their brisket is as enticingly smokey and tasty as your texan style brisket will get in NY. Coleslaw and potato salad were equally delicious. So did the chicken (you go to a Texan style smoke house for the briskets…yeah, I know, but my sweet half wanted to taste the smoked chicken).
Pros: briskets that would send the ones we have in Mtl to shame, though in the US..the competition is fierce, obviously. Still, some fine Texan style briskets, and not just the briskets as the smoked chicken seemed to have tantalized my girl friend’s palate, which is no light exploit as the lady is a picky eater
Cons: Not too sure if this was an isolated situation, but the brisket I was having was super salty.Because it was as tasty as it was salty, I did not make a fuss of it. I trust that was isolated….
morgans-bbqBottom line: 7/10 (categ: Texan style bbq) – Morgan’s BBQ may not be a standard bearer at what it does, but they are the next guy you are looking for when the standard bearer is not around. For the sake of comparison, our smoke houses in YUL are not there yet (in YUL, our finest texas style brisket’s taste is unidimensional – in comparison).  Morgan’s Barbecue Addr: 267 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States  Phone: +1 718-622-2224  https://www.facebook.com/morgansbrooklynbarbecue/

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hoogan-et-beaufort-sept-2016Revisiting Hoogan et Beaufort, a table that I do consider in my top restaurants in Montreal. Service and ambience as superb as I remember it from my two previous meals. The food I was having  on this evening (Saturday Sept 17, 2016)  was more “casual” than what I came to be accustomed to from Chef Marc-André Jetté’s cooking  (more casual in comparison to  the fine dining aspect of Chef Jette’s meals when he was at Laloux/Newtown as well as what he was cooking in the early days of H&B) , therefore  less elaborate in  its work of flavors and textures (a good example being the duck magret (pictured above)  which, on a previous visit, came with a dazzling sauce, some first rate purée and some grilled veggies, whereas, this time, only some fine purée and a pleasant piece of peach complemented the protein),  consequently it dazzled less. But everything was executed correctly (just not as  dazzlingly as it used to be).  Hoogan et Beaufort, Type of cuisine: Contemporary French, Addr:  4095 Rue Molson, Montréal, Phone: (514) 903-1233, URL: http://hooganetbeaufort.com Overall subjective (obviously) rating –   Food: 7/10, Service: 10/10, Dining experience: 9/10

bottega-sept-2016Bottega on St Zotique has oftently delivered consistently superb pizze throughout the years. The pizza on this evening was a shadow of what I had on my last  visits here: the superb crust that I was accustomed to…was thin, as it should for a Neapolitan pizza, indeed, BUT  almost..shall I say …”limpy”  …this time. Listen, unless you have been living under a rock, you already  know that in Naples the Neapolitan pizza has oftently a center that’s a bit ‘soupy’. Any serious connoisseur of Neapolitan pizza knows that. But this pizza I was having at Bottega  had a crust that was so limpy that it diminished the enjoyment of the pizza. Whereas the ‘soupy’ textured center of some pizze in Naples has a ‘soupy’ center that adds to the enjoyment of the pizza. Not the same thing at all.  Furthermore, the once dazzling puffy edges I was accustomed to at Bottega, were on their way to be puffy, but that was it. Just on their way to be puffy. Hopefully just an isolated slip, though, to be fair, it was not the same Chef as on my previous visits that was in charge on this particular evening. The nice ingredients are still there, but the pizza needs to dazzle as it used to. Pizza Bottega 65 Rue St Zotique E, Montreal, Phone:(514) 277-810, URL: http://www.bottega.ca  Food: 6/10 Service: N/A  Dining experience: N/A

Petite Ya quartier (Mtl) cooks exquisite Congolese grilled goat – A Congolese foodie has recommended a new place in Mtl to try grilled goat meat (Congolese style)  and her suggestion was spot on: exquisitely seasoned and expertly grilled goat is exactly what I had here. The flavors genuine. As ever, most debuts at restaurants  look oftently promising, especially in Montreal, so only time will tell (how good on the aspect of the consistency this restaurant really is),  but the grilled  goat on this visit (Sept 2016) was one of the best I ever had in Montreal. Petite Ya Quatier, 4509 Beaubien E, Phone: (514) 257-6060 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Restaurant-petite-ya-quartier-339413376183374/  Food: 9/10 The best Congolese grilled goat I ever had in Montreal in a long while. Just hope they keep the goat this great in the long run. Ambience and service : N/A  ( BE REALISTIC ABOUT what you SHOULD BE looking for as this is not a  gourmet restaurant, but an African casual Dining eatery) Experience: N/A
tonys-pizza-williamsburg-sept-2016Tony’s is a  celebrated pizzeria of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NY), serving pizze since 1950. I sampled the pepperoni/mushroom pizza as well as another one ganished with bits of pineapple. Nicely baked crust, tasty pizza indeed. It is surprising how this pizzeria is delivering pizze almost as –if not ..MORE — satisfying  than at some  … who are investing tons of $$$ in sophisticated imported wood fired ovens (which Tony’s  does not have).  Hail to king  Tony!  Tony’s Pizza, Addr: 355 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY Phone: +1 718-384-8669 Food: 7.5/10 (very satisfying North American/Italian Pizza …some say Sicilian style, but I was in Sicily recently, and we would need  a debate about that …;p) Ambience/Service: it is a laidback old school eatery,  so not much in the way of ambience.

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Untitled The best ice cream in Montreal, as far as I am concerned is at Divine chocolatier. It is a chocolatier, selling some of the finest chocolate in Montreal, not an ice cream parlour, but their ice cream is artisanally made rather than designed for mass production, using the finest ingredients, with dazzling bold milky flavor.

Untitled2My favourite is the rhum raisin one, but when ice creams are done this well, you can’t go wrong no matter the flavor you’d have opted for. We are blessed with some serious ice cream parlours in Montreal, but Divine chocolatier’s is one that leads the pack (just some few choices –stawberry truffle, french vanilla, oreo, creme praline, cappucino — but which outstanding quality can’t be denied). It is in the simple things done superbly well that I find amazement, and this place’s  ice cream is a perfect example of that.  The ice cream is available only during summer. Divine chocolatier, 2158 Crescent Street, Phone: (514) 282-0829 URL: http://www.divinechocolatier.com/

Casse-Croûte Notre-Dame (Pointe-Aux-Trembles) was a great finding. I took their griot on two occasions and it was consistently of really high quality (taste, quality of the meat were all on point). It is a place that understands the importance of “fresh food”, so they do not cook more food than it is necessary to cook, just enough to supply the demand,  consequently  the food (rice, meat) was never dry (sadly, the reality of plenty of casse-croûtes in Montreal) on my two visits. Pretty much everything is done well here: as an example, the pikliz was packed with an intensity of enticing fresh acidity that is not that common at most of our local casse-croûtes. The riz collé (faultless cooking, superb aromas) is one of the best I ever had at a local Haitian casse-croûte.  Easily in my top 3 Haitian casse-croûtes in this province. Casse-Croûte Notre-Dame, Addr: 1465, Boulevard Saint Jean- Baptiste  (Pointe-Aux-Trembles). Phone: 514-645-0523 URL: http://www.cassecroutenotredame.com/

 

restaurant-lambroisie-paris-6L’Ambroisie, Paris –  is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that transcends time. Here, following trends is the least of their priorities. They know what Classic French food should taste, feel and smell like and they deliver benchmark versions of such food.   They are who they are and are very proud of that. This is a very expensive restaurant to the point that they do not even bother revealing the price of their dishes. With Dal Pescatore, L’Ambroisie is my “ideal”  of  a  “best restaurant in the world”. I do not mind firing confidently  such bold statement as one should better know that this is utterly subjective. People who are not interested in Classic French cooking are obviously … not going to fall for such place, but putting down L’Ambroisie because one does not like Classic cooking is like electing one color as superior to another, the moon better than the sun, water superior to fire, that right is better than left, that eating is better than drinking ..meaning, as meaningless as it gets. L’Ambroisie will not win any prize for cost performance, which is not its intent neither, but this globe’s most serious food bloggers/foodies/food journalists (just google them if that matters to you) continue to admit it: this is Classic French food by which such food needs to be judged. Years after my sole visit there (there won’t be a second visit as the anonymous/normal diner that I am can’t afford a repeating visit here) –click here for my write-up on that meal — I am amazed to read about how stellar the Classic French food at this place continues to be a benchmark of its kind, considering that they have lost some of their major sous Chefs:  Aki who opened La Table d’Aki and Matthieu  Pacaud   who is now at the helm of Hexagone and Histoires  —  (So, ….Chef Bernard Pacaud has not retired or what??  ).

01Restaurant Hvor , Montreal – This is one of the rare restaurants in Montreal  that has a small garden that any normal /  anonymous diner can actually visit (as far as I know, Joe Beef is the other local restaurant where normal diners have access to the restaurant’s garden).  That,  alone, will pass as a beautiful  surprise for plenty of local diners and foodies. When I arrived, my table was not ready, so they invited me to go upstairs in the garden for a drink at a communal table to be found there, in the garden, which I opted for, with the promise that someone was coming to offer a drink..obviously..and that they will let me know when my table is available. This was going to have “””the same taste “””as the promises of most politicians: there  was indeed a young waitress who came at the communal table asking the couple who came after me if they wanted a drink, but I was invisible to her. Needless to stress that I was not going to rely on her in regard to the second leg of the promises (…”””we’ll come to see you when your table will be available””  – ). Fortunately, when I went downstairs to claim my table, the same young lady was able to realize that I was an actual human being that can be noticeable to a human eye, or two, or more, actually, because … to be fair, the rest of the squad offered a stellar service on this evening. And in light of what followed, we can forget  about that slip..,although..at those prices and with the stellar service found under this roof..that waitress may….if that is common practice in her world…pass as …an unpleasant feature of an evening that was actually really great.  It is always hard to explain why some ppl make mistakes that even a child would stay away from..I mean does it take a genius to understand that the first person who is there…at a table of just 3 ppl… a couple and one other guest…expects to be served his drink  (we are not talking about food, here)  first?? We are talking about the very  basics of hospitality services here.

On to the food (surprise menu concept):

02A kale-wrapped maki sushi roll made of avocado, omelette, smoked egg plant – excellent take on a vegetarian maki  sushi roll. Appealing  textural contrasts (the  kale  — this one not bitter at all, so presumably boiled as that is the way to make kale not bitter — vibrant to both the eye and the smell, but also in mouth. Its texture as superbly well rendered as the one of the rice, omelette and smoked egg plant). The avocado is one logical component of most maki sushi rolls, indeed, but the addition of the other ingredients added a lot  to this technically great  piece of maki. Sometimes a dish is not designed to wow but to reveal much more than the ephemeral: there are tons of takes on vegetarian maki sushi rolls… but what this piece taught me is that …this is a kitchen brigade that can successfully blend a considerable amount of ingredients with great ease…the sign of a skillful  kitchen. I won’t rate this dish as my rating won’t convey my real opinion about it, but the verbiage has all you need to know.

03Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes  – few kitchen brigades in Montreal do master the textural contrasts of their food this well (the way the grilled bread complemented the green tomatoes, which in turn lifted both the flavor and the texture of the mustard ice cream is not your ordinary kitchen brigade’s attempt at juxtaposing this seemingly basic collection of ingredients). Let us just say that they made this look  so easy to do, but that most kitchen brigades would have hard time recreating this superb “symphony” of textures (the flavors, too, are worth of praises). Most just follow a textbook: warm vs cold, crunch vs smooth, salt vs sweet, but this dish was about stellar contrasts, not just dumbly applying the basic concepts of textural contrasts into cooking. Here, the cold in its prime, the crunch exactly where it should be but where many would not pull it off. What looks like a poached egg is actually what most would opt for, the poached egg, because that is the easy way out. Instead, here, what looks like a poached egg is your mustard ice cream and it dazzles, because your brain was expecting the warmth of a poached egg, but then it’s surprised by something that is an even better complement to the overall dish, the ice cream of mustard. World class skills!  10/10

04 Sturgeon from Cote Nord, sea spinach, orange confit – sea spinach seasoned excitingly. It is sea spinach, therefore already salty, obviously, so most kitchen brigades would be frightened of  the idea of seasoning it because most will inevitably overseason it!  Not an issue at all, here, a sign of … great confidence.  Confidence is also what it takes to pair some orange confit with a piece of fish if you do not want the diner to walk away with the observation that it is a piece of bread, and not a piece of fish, that he needed with his orange confit. But confident they were and it worked. Dazzling orange confit that went so well with the spinach and the fish because … instead of tasting of a vulgar fruit jam, it had a complexity of flavors  that  was designed to complement  the fish and the sea spinach.  I am usually not a fan of fish caught in northern waters, so I am  fonder of the subtropical  sturgeon, but this was high quality subarctic sturgeon, its mild flavor an indication that it was wild caught (which my palate finds more flavorful than the farm raised sturgeon). Enticing smoky flavor from the fish.  The overall is classic and yet not tired looking nor tasting, rather inspired!  9/10

 

05 Scallop from Cote Nord, spiced carrots puree/ celeriac, sea urchin sauce – classic flavors done superbly well. Nothing tasted tired here but flavorful / exciting.  The sea urchin based sauce being a benchmark of its kind (this was of top quality, as all the other ingredients they do use, but what was remarkable is the way they got the  natural flavor of the sea urchin amplified) . Again and again, not one single ingredient made no sense here… the sea (scallop, sea urchin) and the land (carrots, celeriac) so complementary (a piece of cake, you think? Well think twice because many kitchen brigades, using those same ingredients, will have hard time combining spiced carrots puree, celeriac and sea urchin sauce to such exciting effect)   9/10

 

06Canard de la canardiere, cerises (cherries), choux rouge (red cabbage)-  the least impressive dish of the evening, though nothing to fault as every single ingredient was there for a reason ..the sign of a skilled kitchen brigade. Some few of their aromatic leaves ,  pine seeds, cherries…an item or two too many? Not at all…rather some thoughtful add-ons  that many kitchen brigades would be scared to add to this dish!!!  My sole issue:  the main star of this dish…the duck! Whatever the cooking technique they did use to cook the duck (some cook it sous vide then pan sear it switfly, others pan sear it then bake it, etc), the genuine gamey flavor of the meat of the duck — one flavor I am particularly fond of– was completely gone.  This was just not as flavoursome as the better duck magret dishes I had at other local restaurants. Consequently, especially after enjoying  the other superb  items of this meal, I was kind of taken aback.  6/10

07Mille-feuille , bleuet, caramel salee (salted caramel in place of the traditional icing or fondant that is usually found atop a classic mille-feuille)   – A classic that I am fond of because it is so hard to perfect. Here, the classic French pastry did benefit from  the addition of a bit of caramel sauce (atop the mille-feuille) and some blueberries . The creamy filling as remarkable as what the finest pastry Chefs in France are capable of, the crisp of the puff pastry superbly well conceived . As it was the case, all along this meal, every single ingredient adds to the overall enjoyment of the  dish, so even the blueberry  was not a dull adornment. A pastry team that seems to be as inspired as the team that has cooked the savory dishes.  8/10

08And to wrap up this meal, some popcorn , salted caramel  ice cream – clearly, here , every single ingredient has a purpose. I know this because when you add popcorn to desserts, or any type of food, I am skeptical. But they turned my skepticism into real enjoyment.

Pros: in its prime…easily in Montreal’s top 3!
Cons: The duck magret.

Bottom line: 8/10. My current top 3 in Montreal  has two long time members (La Chronique/ Le Serpent) as well as a new one:  Hvor!  Hvor 1414 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal Phone: (514) 937-2001 URL: http://hvor.ca/

What I think days later –  In general, I do not share the enthusiasm  of most of our  local food journalists ( with Maison Boulud , Le Fantome or Lavenderia coming to mind as the most recent examples of such)  but in the case of Hvor, the local food journalists were absolutely right: Hvor, on the back of this meal,  is worth going out of your way for, and that … regardless of my opinion about the duck magret. The quintessential duck magret is traditionally one key food item by which I judge the skills of a kitchen because it is so easy to get  right, so hard to make a mesmerizing one and mesmerizing  duck magrets are normally what you do usually get at restaurants of the quality of Hvor. But I have no doubt that a table like Hvor can cook a first-rate  duck magret. The duck, on that evening, was perhaps intimidated by the beauty of the other food items. But as ever  with  most restaurants in Montreal, the right question to ask is one that is about consistency:  will Hvor consistently maintain those  high standards in the long run? Time will tell.

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The news came from Newswire. They were the first to announce that Michelin’s major competitor, Gault & Millau was interested by Montreal. That is great news for Tourism Montreal and their load of online associates, but I hope Michelin does not jump on the bandwagon. Montreal has  couple of world class Chefs such as Michele Mercuri and Chef De Montigny, but the standard of the quality of the food at the big majority of our local  restaurants is such inconsistent (one day top, most of the time subpar) that Michelin will quickly realize how risky it would be to set foot in one of world’s most unreliable food cities.

Moxies is a chain of  bar and grill . As much as I am partial to artisan Chef cooking (that personal touch of the cook cooking his own food will always remain the standard to beat in my opinion), as much as I have no problem at all with chains of restaurants. As long as it tastes fine to my palate, a chain restaurant will please me. Moxies food was quite tasty  (I ordered their  peppercorn sirloin with  peppercorn brandy butter sauce – the brandy butter sauce superbly executed —rich as it should but judiciously seasoned—, the sirloin cooked at requested doneness, which was medium rare in this instance. My dining companion went on with a faultless pizza — Rustic italian pizza |  grana padano, pulled short rib, caramelized  onions, prosciutto & pancetta– , as tasty as they come).

PROS: By Montreal standards, in the context of a chain restaurant, I think that Moxies offers a fautless bar and grill experience.

CONS: Sirloin steaks have rarely dazzled, for my taste. And it is their reigning steak.

Bottom like: 7/10 (Category: Grill and bar in Montreal) I liked Moxies as it succeeds where many failed- the ” cool-place-to-chill  with friends while munching on some tasty bites and good drinks” scene is prosperous in town, but few manage to offer both Moxies relax ambience as well as something that can appeal to the palate. My dining companion suggested that the  peppercorn sirloin is an overpriced and overrated affair and indeed,  steaks can easily fall in the category of the most overrated food items. But based on that delicious Pizza my dining companion was having, I trust that Moxies is one place that perfectly understands what appeals to nowadays palates (aging the meat of their steaks, adding “punch” to their pizza, etc) – enjoyable  festive   bites by chain restaurant standards. In the  category “Grill and bar” , Moxies clearly pertains to the top 3 in Montreal (NOT to br confused with my top 3 restaurants in Montreal) . Moxies   1207, boulevard Robert-Bourassa, Montréal, QC Phone:(514) 393-1207

 

UPDATE: my meal in Sept 2016.

 

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LeSerpent-LaChronique***My top 5 restaurants in Montreal in 2015 are:

Position#1 La Chronique and  Le Serpent – Ever since Chef Thierry Rouyé has left Montreal, La Chronique and Le Serpent are, for my taste, Montreal’s number 1 restaurants. Hard to beat Chefs De Montigny and Mercuri, in Montreal,  at whatever they cook.
Position #2: Lawrence, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon   –  Regarding  Lawrence, they have a dictionary with just one word in it: FLAVOR. It is at the heart of their cuisine …a rare feature in a city where most  kitchen brigades are just busy cooking food to cash in. Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, in the category “North American bistrot”, this place has been my #1 pick for the past 5 years. They are serious about what they  do,  still have the same line up of talented Chefs (Axel, Bourdages) working day after day behind their stoves, the food is simple (which is the nature of bistrot food) but far more delicious than anywhere else. Just avoid their tarte tatin…it’s a mistery, for me,  that such a talented kitchen brigade has not been  successful at pulling off a dazzling version of their tarte tatin.
Position #3: Tapas 24, Bottega, Kanbai (the one on Ste Catherine street), The tiny portions of some of their dishes is a big frustration for me, and I did hesitate for a long time to declare Tapas 24 as one of my preferred tables in town, just because of that flaw…but on the strict aspect of the technique, no Tapas restaurant is better than Tapas 24 in Montreal. As for Bottega, it as close as you’ll get in Montreal to a perfect Neapolitan Pizza. For me, the benchmark pizza in town (the one on St- Zotique, I mean).  Bottega has consistently perched high on my list of preferred restaurants in Montreal for at least  the past 7 years. Regarding Kanbai, it is currently cooking some of the finest  Szechuan cuisine, Cantonese, and Hunan food  you will get in town.
Position 4: Reuben’s deli,   Montreal has the best delis in the world, so we can afford being particularly picky  when it comes to the  smoked meat. My preferred deli  in Montreal is actually my top pick for reasons that go beyond the smoked meat. Whatever they do taste great and is done well and at times, some of  their food items are benchmarks of their kind in Montreal: I  remember one summer spent chasing the best sliders in town. The highly recommended spots for sliders in Montreal were visited and when I tried the sliders at Reuben’s deli … theirs  were miles ahead of the supposedly top ones (meatier, far more flavorful). It is not hip  to recommend RD, but I could not care less:  RD is in my top 5 in Montreal because most of what they do ..is simply   better.
Position #5: Fenetre sur Kaboul,  When you read the reviews of  local food journalists  on FSK, it is usually written by ppl who have no clue of what to expect from  Afghani cooking. That is perhaps the main reason I went there…expecting nothing. But FSK cooks delicious food, and when they grill your meat,  it is not on gas but on charcoal. Quite a difference.  Places like FSK won’t attract the hipster of the moment, which to me is not the point of real great cooking, anyways. But it will seduce you if you are into genuine delicious simple food (my case).

My disappointments in  2014/2015:
Au Pied de Cochon  – Once, my #1 table in Montreal. Alas, I am afraid that those days are gone.  You’ll find the review of one of my recent meals at APDC here,  a dinner  over which I will draw a veil.
Europea –  Jerome is the most amicable Chef that I know, his restaurant is regarded among North America’s best, but what happened during this meal reviewed here …??? AN off day I hope…

There are many great tables in town, so this is my personal top 5 based on what we all should better know: no matter who you think you are,  your choices of food are just subjective/personal. Furthermore, I did not visit the most acclaimed tables in 2015 (Mousso, Lili Co, Montréal Plaza). Last  but not least, food for me is about classic rich / bold/ strong flavors.  And, obviously,  I do not dine out with trends in mind. You need to consider that when reading this post.

WARNING (YES, you ware WARNED!!!!): The reality of the restaurant world, nowadays, is that most of the good Chefs who are marketed as the masters of those kitchen brigades have a life, SO..some of them go to work on the busiest nights only ..and you / your pocket  won’t fail to be the poor victim of that evidence. So, be wise, and try to eat at those restaurants during a weekend , to take an example. And if the food sucked, well…remember that the Master Chef may perhaps not be in the kitchen and that it is the REALITY of nowadays restaurants.

PALERMO STREET FOOD***Palermo is known as one of world’s top 10 street food destinations, but keep in mind that most of their street food is generally found near markets. If you are used to street food in Africa and Asia, which is my case, then you will quickly notice that grilled red meats (which is a must on the streets of Africa and Asia) is missing in action here. Certainly a different street food experience from what I grew up learning to appreciate as dazzling street food, but interesting nonetheless: superb arancini, delicious grilled goat intestines and sandwiches. If you are sold to  the finest seafood  of  the Italian riviera ( Cinque Terre, Portofino) /   Indian Ocean / Carribean, then I am afraid that the seafood in Sicily may not impress you (as it was my case), which made their street food’s prawns/octopus/squid…not as dazzling as I came to expect from their finer examples.

HURLEYS****I was impressed by the food at the Hurley’s Irish pub on Crescent street.   For sure, do not go there expecting wowness: it is  just food, not a lunar landing mission. But food tasting and done way better than at most restaurants in town. A simple platter of fried calamari featured seafood with an exciting  mouthfeel   that I have not experienced in Montreal in a   while. Even the accompanying sauces were of a quality that is rarely found in town. Was that pure luck?  I have no clue, and I am not a regular at   the Hurley’s Irish pub, so I won’t be able to tell you if it is always that good under their roof. Furthermore, Montreal is not in the Mediterranea, so that was obviously  not some calamari snatched from the floor of the ocean a  few minutes prior to cooking.   All I know is that what I had on that evening there was food which quality surpassed what you’ll get at most of our local restaurants. Hurley’s Irish pub 1225 Rue Crescent, Montreal Category: Pub food My rating for the food on that evening: 8/10

CHEZ CHEN***A taste of Northern China at chez Chen – On my 3d visit here, I   had “Pork ribs and sour cabbage stew” which was generous and heavy as one should  expect from meat and cabbage as a stew, the pork tasting fine, the overall judiciously seasoned. In Asia, the flavors of this particular rustic  dish  would have been a tad more pronounced, but aside from that, this was a fine stew. All in all, Chez Chen delivers what they advertise, meaning some genuine flavors indeed. My observation about the flavors of the cabbage stew — being less strong than what you will find in Asia — substracting nothing from their good work … this having more to do with the caliber of the ingredients found in Montreal. That said, I noticed (based on 3 visits) that the popular items like wonton soup /  fried rice are not the best I had in this city, though, to be fair, fine enough. I was not, to the contrary of some of my fellow chowhounders, floored …but I can see where they are coming from: the food is fine, the service too, and they go to great lengths to please the diner: some beans serve as an amuse bouche, sometimes some fruit to wrap up your meal …nothing life-shattering, obviously, but such nice gestures did certainly add to the raves because it is not that common in Chinese restaurants in Montreal. If judged by our local Chinese restaurant standards, perhaps a 6/10 when they cook the popular dishes like wonton soup/fried rice, but more than that (varying between 7/10 and 8/10) for the northern Chinese specialities and some of their menu of the day’s offerings. Capable Chinese cooking. Chez Chen Addr 1618 Avenue Lincoln, Montréal –   Phone: (514) 933-6888

#Pray for Paris. I am currently in the city of lights, Paris  and was dining out with close relatives and watching France-Germany soccer match when the phones started ringing informing us about the sad events of the Paris attacks that were taking place just 2 miles away. Paris is currently extremely quiet with a heavy military presence, especially around the 10th/11th arrondissements. Pray for Paris.

With the recent addition of Manresa, California  has now 5 triple  Michelin starred restaurants  (Benu in  San Francisco, The French Laundry in  Yountville, Manresa in  Los Gatos, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St Helena as well as Saison in San Francisco), which makes it the most triple- starred Michelin  state in the US. With its exceptional wines, superb weather and enviable terroir , SF keeps positioning itself as a true, not just marketed as such (hein Montreal?), world class foodie destination. Here is a list of Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco (quite impressive, I have to say).

Visiting   Rome and Sicily – As with any popular foodie destinations, Italy has its shares of misses and hits when it comes to  food. Do some search, lots of it ..or else, you may end up …like me….with your share of really  ordinary (just Ok)  meals.

ROME1Rome – In ancient times, the saying “all roads lead to Rome” basically meant that whatever you do, only the Roman way mattered. Rome may not be the so-called “centre of the world” that it was once dubbed, but  its glorious past  still resonates nowadays in the hearts of  the impressive mass of tourists that it keeps attracting even in November, a period  when tourism frequentation  is at its lowest level  anywhere else around the world. One of this globe’s most touristicky cities,  as one would expect, and deservedly so….though, for the food, I am not fully sold about Rome’s position among world’s best foodie destinations. Perhaps I should have done better searches, perhaps…but I recall that  cities lile Tokyo or San Sebastian  dazzled more with no specific planning. I have to say, I am frustrated by the level of the food in Rome. Of course it is a good food city, but its better food is as tasty as any fine Italian food eaten in  America. The food here is victim of something called GLOBALIZATION…and between you and me…it is a  shame because what you generally eat in Rome could have been served to you in New York…and the difference is not that huge anymore.On Rome, during this visit, Vecchia Roma led the pack of the eateries I have tried. I also ate at: Ciampini, Baia Chia, L’Angelo Ai Musei. Just make sure that you are really familiar with Roman cuisine and do enjoy it, or else I  can foresee some serious inaccurate opinions.

PALERMO - MONREALE Palermo, Sicily, was no love at first sight for me. But the more I got to wander in its streets, the better it fared. Quattro Canti, the Norman palace, their beautiful old town, the unique blend of Christian and Muslim architectures and arts…Palermo kept fighting back. In the end, I had no other choice but to surrender: yes, some  parts of Palermo was destroyed during the second world war and little of that was  renovated since then, but this city has way more to offer than its first impressions,  which is not a surprise when you start digging in its past: Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs…where else can you find such ecclectic influence?? Outside of Palermo, I had time to visit Monreale (sorry, I did not get the fuss.Yes, they have a beautiful church and a nice view over Palermo, but I had nothing more to bite into) and the very pretty seaside city of Cefalu. An island with such varied historical and cultural richness (few places in the world did themselves proud by proving to the world that Muslims and Christians can coexist together in such harmony…no  wonder Palermo, their capital city,  is a UNESCO  world heritage city) needs to be taken seriously (5 days in just Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu is clearly not enough). On the aspect of the food, with the surrounding Mediterranean sea in the picture, I was expecting the usual dazzling seafood I came to expect from  well, … the Mediterannea. But nah, that was not going to happen. Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera, which I visited two years ago, offered seafood and vegetables of far better quality than what I kept sampling in Sicily.

L’Oxygene (Paris) – is an African restaurant in Bois Colombes, with a Senegalese young Chef at the helm. To some, going to Paris is the opportunity to eat French food and that is obviously what I would recommend to the most. But the best African cooking outside of Africa is in Paris.  As   I “breath”/eat/cook French classic food since age 6,   it goes without saying that I do not need to eat solely French food in Paris. Given my familiarity with African cuisines, I do also eat at African restaurants whenever in Paris. On a first visit, I had the braised chicken which was as flawless as it could have been as well as their braised bass – nicely braised, but I was annoyed by the fact that the fish was not marinated for a long time. Furthermore, I ordered the braised fish for take out and it was mixed with a brunoise of tomatoes which diminished the flavor of the fish.  All dishes (there are just 4 or 5 items from what I recall) cost eur 15.  (My verdict: Very good>Good>Ok>Bad ): Good.  The best Senegalese restaurants in Montreal get  nowhere near  what you will find here.  Eventhough  I still prefer how ppl from the Carribean and the Indian Ocean do marinate and grill their fish (marinated longer, the seasoning a bit more elaborate ) —normal, as one tends to prefer the flavors he grew up with — , what you need to know is that the Senegalese do it a bit differently so consider than  when reading the aforementioned account. As for the brunoise of tomatoes altering the flavor of the fish..well, just ask to have your  brunoise served separately /  not mixed with the fish, if you order it for takeout. At the end of the day,  regardless of my personal taste, their talented young Senegalese Chef  is cooking good food.  Restaurant L’Oxyene, Addr:  241 Avenue d’Argenteuil 92270 Bois-Colombes Phone: 06 06 57 85 86

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – As explained elsewhere, on this blog, I am not a fan of visiting plenty of high end restaurants. Most upscale restaurants have kitchen brigades capable of  offering a  good standard of food, but no more. At the high end dining level,  it is rare, nowadays, to eat food that tastes “personal”  in the way the food of Chefs like Jacques Maximin or even, on my last meal at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud, to name those two Chefs, could taste like (certainly food that could only come from an “artisan Chef”). In other words, most upscale restaurants cook food that can be easily replicated by many kitchen brigades because their food  just taste “impersonal”. Impersonal cooking is obviously the best way  to  run a restaurant successfully, nowadays, and I can certainly see why, but I am not moved by such evidence. PG is a big business, but at least it can’t be accused of playing it safe. The  review of my meal at 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire can be found here.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

Source: Pierre Gagnaire, Paris