Posts Tagged ‘bistrot’

Restaurant: Au Pied de Cochon
Type cooking:  Remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine+ Misc French classic bistrot fares
Address: 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montréal
Date/Time of the meal: June 13th, 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché.

 

I went back to a long time favourite bistrot, Au Pied de Cochon. Sadly, this is the 3rd visit in a row that leaves me disappointed. I am one of the earlier fans of APDC, with amazing souvenirs of its brighter days. I do understand that not every cook can trade head to head with super skilled Chefs like Picard or Dufour (the earlier kings of this house) but there is no excuse for  subpar cooking….especially for food as easy to satisfy as classic-based bistrot  fares. It pains me  to write this about  Picard’s stronghold, Au Pied de Cochon (APDC),  as I had some of the  most interesting restaurant remakes of  rustic/old school hearty Quebecois and French bistrot  food,  there in its early days when both Picard himself and Chef Hugues Dufour were  still at the helm, but it now  seems, to me, far, and each time further and further, from its  best days. On this evening, I dined with a friend who knows his food well. His first time at APDC.  His opinion is that he was impressed by the great service and loved the concept but sharp cooking skills is basically what he was missing.

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, CRAB SALAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab salad – Basically, well sourced fresh crab flesh mixed with a salad of cucumber. Not bad, but an $18 salad of crab certainly calls for a sign or two of ….restaurant quality effort. This was basically as decent  as any salad that  anyone would have made at home with quality crab and cucumber in his/her hands. Casual cooking does not mean easy / basic food….And btw,  most bistrots would deliver this with a bit more creativity, a witty touch. Want more? Ask Chefs Dufour and Martin Picard if they would have deliver this salad in such uninspired fashion (simply toss a mayo-based vinaigrette with cucumber and crab meat..the effect was as basic as that)   5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, POUTINE FOIE GRASPoutine au foie gras – There is a myriad of suggestions about what the perfect poutine should look and taste like, but such debate essentially pertains to the the usual subjective nature of personal preferences. What matters is that you are using real and quality potato, that your gravy is not of the soggy tasteless kind, that your fries feature a nice crisp, and that the cheese curds are of fresh springy quality. So, homemade French fries is the way to go, and homemade those were, starring proper cooked-potato texture and flavor. The cheese curds are, as expected from a place of this standing, of very high quality (perfect springy consistency), fresh. The crisp of the fries, decent enough . The accompanied lobe of foie gras having a nice sear, its livery flavor sadly not as deep and exciting in mouth as it once used to be under this same roof (disappointingly subtle, in flavor, during this meal) . The sauce is the secret, as they say in Quebec, and APDC’s creamy foie-gras based concoction has been for a long time, one one of the most appetizing poutine sauces you’d run across in town. On this evening,  its texture not as perfectly  smooth as you want your poutine gravy to be, its temperature judiciously controlled so that the cheese curds do not start melting, indeed, but the sauce used to be far more inspiring: I recall finding the texture of the gravy more spectacular/ the taste more delicious.  All in all, this fared , to me,  far less accomplished than its versions of the earlier days (The fries used to hold their crunch longer, the sauce more exciting during those days)  5/10 (oftently an 8.5/10 back in the days)

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, SEAFOOD PLATTERSeafood platter – Summer at APDC has the seafood platter as the star of the house. APDC seafood platter comprises of a mix of raw (oysters, clams, conch , whelks, mussels, calamari) as well as fried items (sometimes fish, but on this occasion, well…anyways, we’ll get to that later), served with condiments such as tomato sauce, aioli, spicy yoghurt. Everything was well sourced on this platter, but sadly…everything was overdone and in a nonsensical fashion: whelk was drowned in a sort of mayo-based concoction that I did not bother inquiring about since it killed the appreciation of the whelk with its heavy creamy overwhelming dimension. Poor whelks, one of my favourite seafood items…. – The brigade on duty this evening seems to really love anything that  pivots around  mayo or cream-cheese or whatever yoghurty look alike dressing:  the oyster not escaping from this pattern  as one of those nonsensical dressings did escort my oysters,   an aigrelette cream sauce   accompanied the oysters this time . Good lord, … that is a perfect recipe to turn the oyster serving into an unappetizing bite both texturally and palatably (the effect being exactly the same, on this instance, as pairing cream cheese to oyster…certainly, that was not going to do anything good to the oyster).   Mussels came in the form of small mounds of heavy-loaded brunoise of veggies mixed with mussel flesh, introduced within the mussel shells…so heavy on the stomach that I would hate mussel forever had this been my lifetime first mussel bite.  Calamari, were drowned in what looked like a squid-ink based concoction that managed to be cloying, …poor calamari!  As for the fried item..well, it  came in the form of what looked like tiny pieces of fish (??) tempura sitting atop  some of the sea shells offerings, and shall be remembered as yet another element too many in an already confusing seafood platter (this was the $60 seafood platter).  For me, this was nothing more than just a  waste of well sourced ingredients  2/10

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, LOBSTER RISOTTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster risotto featured rice that was properly cooked to the bite but the overall texture was   ‘cloying’ rather than creamy.  I do not expect them to compete with the finest Italian risotti in town but for me, this was cloying, not creamy and cloying is not the texture I need with a risotto. And at $42 the plate, I need the lobster morsels to benefit from more inspired work than just featuring as morsels of boiled lobster laid atop the risotto…  5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, VEAL TARTARE

 

 

 

 

 

Veal tartare was the best item of this meal, the veal seasoned judiciously, its taste really appetizing. The ‘asian’ touch of wrapping them in a nori sheet is an idea that never fails to entice as raw meat and seaweed sheets is one of those combinations condemned to pair well.  7/10

PROS : Popular, boisterous, it is never boring here. The service really great as always.

CONS: This (a remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine) is one kind of food that I am very familiar with (by very familiar, I mean about 2 decades of enjoying it…) and to which my palate tends to be partial to, therefore easy to reach out to my expectations, BUT their current cooks really need to  draw the line between enjoyable rich food (what made Au Pied de Cochon a widely praised foodie destination)  Vs overwhelming fares (what I have experienced all along the recent  3 visits). Today, I saw plenty of dishes, served at other tables, and that were lost amidst an unreasonable amount of ingredients and condiments. My past two visits starred a lamb shank confit that was so over garnished to the point that I could not tell the difference between the meat and its garnishes. On that same visit, a piece of delicate fish suffered from the same problem (why, on earth, do you associate a delicate piece of fish with that much reduction on the plate??).  As for the current meal, same old problems….

Overall food score for this meal: 4/10 You have all you need to know in the description of each of the dishes. Needless to add more …

Conclusion: Once upon a time, under this very same roof, the exact same items that failed today … were better conceived, and came with a very personal touch, because whoever was crafting them had a better sense of flavor combination, in my view and for my taste. APDC remains ‘unique’ / ‘original” by local standards, but, for me, the soul of this house has moved to their sugar shack (the souvenirs of the inspired rustic food that Martin Picard or Hughes Dufour were once crafting … they seem to have somehow resurfaced at their sugar shack). I do not  know if there is an  urgency of hiring a Chef of Picard’s or Dufour’s ilk, I just know that ADPC  seems, to me, to fail to thrive well.

Post thinking: I usually have a section called ‘what I think a week or a month later”.  With a meal like this, there’s no need for such section as it’s not a performance I want to think about. There are many things in life that we learn to cope with, and a forgettable meal is just part of life, even when you pay as much as what you would have paid at  a 3 star Michelin restaurant….  for a poorly executed bistrot performance, but I   have a friendly advise, just a friendly one:  seafood are a gift from the above, whoever cooks has no other choice but to  be gentle with them (the seafood), respect them (the seafood) because they (the seafood) are unforgiving when you treat them badly….they bite! (wink).  I know that, because I have yet stumbled upon a kitchen that cooks well without paying utter respect to them (the seafood). Seafood is the mother of all ingredients, trust that one….On an aside note, I’ll conclude by suggesting that as an old fan of Martin Picard, and knowing how proud and passionate this man is, I can safely presume that Martin would not be proud of what I was left with in the course of  the underwhelming past 3 visits.  The past 3 meals had more to do with testing my patience rather than getting the job done…Now, can we resume with  serious cooking???Is that too much to ask?

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014On a non-foodie subject, the magic of  the soccer world cup is now in full effect. So an exciting summer for us, fans of soccer. June 12, July 13, let’s play!  My WISH : a final between Brazil and Germany! ;p Though, I have a soft spot for Italy (would love to see Pirlo with the world cup in his hands, he’s my favourite soccer player ) as well as the UK (I grew up admiring Steven Gerrard). Regarding the recent games, my opinion is  that the defeat of Spain against the Netherlands should not be taken seriously. Spain knows how to win and their next games will reveal an unbeatable side. I really do not see Brazil going that far eventhough my wish is that they face Germany for the cup. Yes, they have some of the players that I do admire a lot, like Oscar and Willian, but I do not sense, from their part,  the fire or strong and deep passionate commitment  typical of a team that is on mission (It’s of course a bit too early to talk about such, but Costa Rica seems to have that fire up to now). I also think that the South American teams will surprise many during this WC! Ah, soccer, the beautiful game….

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant: Au Cinquième Péché
Cooking Style:  Bistrot (French)
Addr: 4475 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal
Phone: (514) 286-0123
Event: Dinner on Tuesday April 1st 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.aucinquiemepeche.com/stdenis/
Click here for past reports of my meals at Au Cinquième Péché

Recent reviews:Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku.

The meal started with an amuse-bouche of ‘potage potimaron, marrons, beacon’ – the pumpkin  velouté showcasing precise  understanding of  how to extract eventful flavors without being stuck in the trap of the usual ‘heavy richness‘  of the traditional veloutés while retaining its exquisite dimension. The texture refined, the addition of chestnuts enhancing well the velouté and  the quality beacon imparting thoughtful subtle smokey meaty notes. This was not just a startling  velouté (by any restaurant standards, btw, here and abroad) but also a reminder that using restraint in cooking (no overwhelming use of salt/ butter)  can still lead to exciting food. You just need to know how to properly do it, which is  an aspect that plenty of restaurant kitchens (not just in Montreal) do not master this well.  Here’s a great  example of what I wished my velouté at le Louis XV in Monte Carlo (reported here)  could have been. 9/10

ImageLangue de boeuf braisé, oeuf mollet frit, haricots verts, carotte, choux fleurs – The braised beef tongue (the temp lowered on part of the meat, warmer on the rest, an interesting feature I found) benefitting from appealing chargrill flavor, its seasoning spectacular and the quality of the ingredients as high as it gets in town. There’s no shortage of great braised or grilled beef tongue dishes in Montreal (it’s one of the things that our cooks do consistently well, usually)  as it’s hard to get that one wrong, but this was one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting braised beef tongue dish I ever had in this city. 10/10

ImageRis de veau crousti-fondants, ,carotte au beurre noisette, carotte et noisette – Chef Benoit Lenglet’s signature sweetbreads remains  the sweetbreads restaurant dish  against which I  judge all  its other versions in Montreal. This time, the sweetbreads managing to be even a tad more exciting in mouth than the last one I’ve sampled last year, a feature I thought not possible given how they’ve perfected that item and yet they made it happen. The impeccable quality of that meat and the know-how that went into its preparation and cooking maintain Chef Lenglet’s ‘Ris de veau crousti-fondants” among my all time favourite bistrot fares in town. Top quality carrot, both served as a flawlessly executed purée as well as nicely boiled and hazelnut (also of exemplary standing) accompanied the Ris de veau crousti-fondants. A stellar bistrot item by Montreal standards (here’s his online video on how he crafs his little marvel) 10/10

ImageCh’tiramisu is a take on the famous Italian dessert, using speculoos in place of ladyfingers, a take … so not to be compared to the original Tiramisu (for eg, the one  I was having did not focus on the usual coffee taste of the Italian Tiramisu). This evening’s version starred  long lasting fresh aromas of hazelnut flavoring nicely the mascarpone element as well as a  mousse  of chicory which   gorgeous textural consistency pertained to very ambitious pastry standards. This dessert was as delicious (the impression is one of a light take on the tiramisu,  but the delicious part brought forward),  as it was technically superbly achieved.  9/10

Conclusion: 10/10 What I was sampling on this evening was clearly a benchmark meal by Montreal bistrot standards with dishes that were not only strong on the technique, but also exciting on the palate. In retrospect, this is one rare bistrot  that has been consistently good throughout the years. Of course, not all my meals have been as spectacular as this one (there’s no kitchen, there’s no Chef that can be consistently  spectacular meal after meal, obviously), but even on less ‘spectacular’ meals, their performance has always been better compared to the norm in town.  Featuring consistently in my top  favourite restaurants in Montreal (alongside Le Serpent, Restaurant La Porte, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Bottega, Bistrot Cocagne).

Le Casse Noix
56 rue de la Fédération – 75015 Paris
French Bistrot (Classic French with a twist)
http://www.le-cassenoix.fr/fr/

CASSE NOIX, PARIS

Le Casse Noix is the bistrot of Chef Pierre Olivier Lenormand who has spent years alongside legendary 3 star Michelin Chef  Christian Constant at l’Hôtel de Crillon (Chef Constant is no more active as a Chef, but now owns several restaurants in Paris such as les  Cocottes de Christian Constant, Café Constant, Le violon d’Ingres ) , then alongside another legend, Chef Alain Solivérès  (who has now 2 stars with restaurant Tailevent).  He also worked at the very popular La Régalade.

CASSENOIX, PARIS - AGNEAU

My wife’s lamb was full of delicious meat flavor, the cooking, doneness (medium rare) and seasoning spot on. Exciting on the palate, the quality of the lamb surprisingly high given the low prices (3 courses for eur 33)  8/10

CASSENOIX, PARIS - BOEUF

Beef, which was my choice, was ordinary. I’d prefer my beef either grilled or braised since the ‘éffiloché’ technique (which would have worked better  with pork) seemed, in this case, to have muted the full beef flavorful character of the meat. The effect, in mouth, was reminiscent of corned beef, an effect that I do not dislike but that I definitely find inferior to what’s expressed by braised/grilled meats 5/10

Desserts were of top range, and we are in France, Imagine!  A long time ago, at any great cooking school  as well as on the great tables of France, this  is this kind of perfected joyous and fresh rich riz au lait and ile flottante that they were looking for.  Only, here they avoided the boring old fashion textures making those greats classics vibrant in texture, eternally divine in taste:

CASSENOIX, PARIS - RIZ AU LAIT

So, Riz au lait, done the classical way,  had amazing beautiful milky texture while tasting divine. Among the finest riz au lait in Paris (I also like the one at Chez L’Ami Jean). 10/10

CASSENOIX, PARIS - ILE FLOTTANTE

Ile flottante, also done the traditional way, had fabulous deep rich flavor, the execution flawless.  Ironically, even at some tables widely known by French people for their Ile flottante, few came close to this one.  An excellent Ile Flottante that I’ll remember for a long time. 9/10

Service was a charm (we were served by a young woman and gentleman), with the right amount of warmth and  professionalism. Very efficient (no exaggerated  slowness). If you hear anyone complaining about poor  service in Paris, send them to Le Casse Noix so that they can  enjoy  the other type of service they can also get in Paris

Overall score for the food performance on this lunch: 7/10 (but the desserts were world class creations that would not be out of place at a serious Classic French 3 star Michelin in France) As with any great bistrot, you’ll eventually stumble upon one or two dishes you might perceive as weaker than others, but in general the level of cooking here is high for a bistrot,  the technique reliable, the work of taste excellent.  They take some classical French dishes and revisit them with pep.

All in all, a great charming bistrot with nice  warm decor, great service, delicious food at reasonable prices (they have an affordable menu at  33 euros for starter/main/dessert) and it is  located near  the Eiffel tower.

Kitchen Galerie
Dinner on Saturday Aug 24th 2013, 19:00
Type of Cuisine: North American, Market Cuisine Bistro
Type of place:  feels homey, not fancy
60 Rue Jean-Talon Est, Montreal, QC
(514) 315-8994
URL: http://www.kitchengalerie.com/

In Montreal, there are hundreds  of bistrots. But few do really count among my favourite (the ones  I feel comfortable to  submit in my top tier). There are actually 5 or 6 that I would really consider in my  top tier, no more. Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon (not to be confused with their sister bistrot, Kitchen Galerie Poisson, that I visited once and did  not like at all) is among those few ones, and in its prime, it has proven to be a benchmark bistrot by  Montreal standards. On lesser impressive meals (all our favourite places have ups and downs), it still remained one of the good  bistrots of Montreal.

When my wife and I do go there, we usually take the cote de boeuf for two, a generous meaty marvel that could easily feed 3 persons. But we are getting old and our body is not able anymore to coop with that beast, lol. Still, easily among the tastiest, if not the tastiest cote de boeuf for two you’ll find in Montreal. Of course, the quality of the meat plays a great role here, but there’s more:  they simply seem to have plenty of fun doing that cote de boeuf and the savourishness, joyous flavors of that dish have been remarkable.

The best meal we had at KG was the very first one. Dish after dish, they kept delivering bistrots fares of uncommon deliciousness. It remains, years later, the meal by which I judge all other bistrots meals in Montreal.

Susbsequent meals were fine, just not as stunning as that first one. One great mistery has been the ‘Foie Gras Poélé, Tarte tatin aux pommes, Sauce Caramel”. The first time I had it at KG on Jean Talon, I would look straight in your eyes and elect that version as one of this globe’s finest bistrot items. I do not take that kind of risk on  superlatives  for the sake of trying to sound sensational,   if I am confident with such bold statement that is because it was simply that stunning.  Even the devil would not have enough arguments to convince me of the opposite. But I have never re-experienced that marvel, its other versions happened to  just be Ok  (the sweetness less sensational, the tarte tartin simply less fruity) . And yet I never lost faith in  KG on Jean Talon as  a top Montrealer bistrot.

This evening, both my wife and I sat at their  counter ,  and decided to give another chance to the ‘Foie Gras Poélé, Tarte tatin aux pommes, Sauce Caramel”.  For some reason, my wife was very happy with the dish –probably because she is more interested by th efoie gras, which was great, rather than the tarte tatin — , while I was torn in between the successful piece of fresh foie gras (8/10 – the sear perfect, the deep livery mouthfeel exciting; if you think that such easy item can’t be faulted, think twice: many, many..even among this globe’s most ambitious dining destinations, seem to not be always capable to pull off such exciting piece of foie gras, perhaps because it’s not the kind of details that the most look for…as some would say: foie gras is foie gras, lol.  Not my case, I want my foie gras to have perfect caramelization, the deep livery flavor exciting) and the tarte tatin (0/10 – what happened to the once startling tarte tartin?? On this evening, it was tiny in  size and incredibly dry ).

Then my wife picked a salmon tartare. Delicious in mouth, with judicious seasoning, the kick of acidity really well balanced. The accompanied salad vibrant in mouth. Easy easy bistrot fare and yet I always wonder how come many bistrots have hard time getting it this right?? Lol. 8/10

For me, a dish of roasted beef filet with roasted  potatoes. Again, spot on seasoning and exciting mouthfeel. All things you would expect from such simple bistrot fare, but they  make it happen where many  are debating about it. One thing though: I’d appreciate a bit more potatoes, and I’d add  some carrots or other root vegetables.   8/10

For dessert, I do not expect miracles in bistrots. If bistrots in France are not always able to pull off startling French desserts, I dont see why I should expect the moon from desserts at a North American bistrot. And yet, they are doing things the way I was taught to cook, which naturally means the way I appreciate: a simple crème brulée was not going to be served without Chef Axel verifying how it was done by the trainee who made it . I think even the trainee was surprised: when was the last time you saw a Chef bothering about an item as simple as a crème brulée?? When?? For sure, this is not the type  of things that will wow the most, and I do understand that, but for me that is what REAL cooking should always be about: the little details!!  The crème brulée, excellent (the custard well done, its consistency lusciously rendered avoiding the overly rich/thick disgusting heavy creamy feel that some try to sometimes sell as authentic just because they can’t make a proper one).

Less successful was the eclair, which was not  startling, not bad neither. But again, it is a bistrot, not a pastry shop

Pros:  If you are going to throw that kind of simple but well executed delicious food, of course I’ll fall for you.

Cons:  Hey..what is happening to the tarte tatin, Lol?? Folks…I don’t get that one, Rfaol!!!!

My overall score for this meal: 8/10 for this type  (traditional/rustic but somehow with a modern touch ) North American bistrot (by  Montreal standards).  Simple bistrot fare, so it’s easy to overlook the little details that make things great, but that is where KG shines: they somehow manage to make the little things that many fail to notice…GREAT. And that is why KG is still a favourite for me.  As long as they have trainees / new cooks who understand that principle, this will remain one of Montreal finest bistrots. I was also impressed to see those young trainees doing exciting versions of mom-and -pop sauces. Such young souls  …being able to replicate the authentic joyous flavors of the past in an improved way —that is to me, an achievement! And there was more on this evening:  they had a take of the duck confit that looked/smelled (I did not taste it, it  was served to the gentleman seating next to me ) like what I wish many  French bistrots in France will start understanding: a great duck confit can keep its traditional spirit and yet be exciting at touch/smell/ looks (I have no doubt the taste followed, given the joyous flavours found on the dishes I have sampled ) …. It does not  need to be dry and tasteless in order to be authentic!!!!!!!!!!!

Conclusion: Eventhough I have not re-experienced the ‘magic’ of that stunning first meal, KG (the one on Jean Talon) continues to deserve its position in the top tier of Montreal bistrots.  Some restaurants master the art of going  from hero to zero simply  because they are managed by people who are not capable of  being reliable. That is not the case of KG and it is easy to see why:  Chefs Axel and Mathieu Bourdages are working hard in their kitchen, instead of parading on TV, and they are doing it with pride and fun. No shortcuts are taken.  KG has proven one more time that a team that’s talented and having fun together will always prevail against the drawbacks of success (lack of consistency, etc ). They are consistent, their deserved  success never got to their head, and their food tastes good. The D in Delicious!