Posts Tagged ‘chef michele mercuri’

My last visit at le Serpent (Addr: 357 rue Prince, Montreal; Phone: 514-316-4666) was a long time ago. It was a big hit, when it opened, and their Chef, Michele Mercuri, is a Chef capable of world class cooking, but I was curious to see if it is still one of the better tables in Montreal. Past meals are reviewed here and here.

Remembering the dazzling all’onda  risotti of Chef Michele Mercuri, I had to order the seafood risotto again. Every Chef has his touch and with true focus on the matter, you won’t fail to connect a dish to his creator. I doubt Michele has cooked this one, as it was not as dazzling as only himself can make it. But hey…it was really good,  all’onda and delicious. Whoever has cooked this risotto did a fine job. 7/10

Lamb was cooked sous vide. Again, seasoned really well (meaning judiciously, with enough punch/excitement). Wild peas and a  very minty sort of “pesto” that both added to the enjoyment of the dish. Delicious and really well conceived. This was a daily offering, which I suggest you always order at any restaurant where the Chef is skilled  (the case here) as, naturally, it is the opportunity for his skills  to shine through 7.5/10

Strawberry mousse, white chocolate, rhubarb and strawberry sorbet tasted fine and  I can see, now,  that  Pastry Chef Masami Waki is  better than what I initially thought —  (she is a consultant here, therefore not present at the restaurant but the kitchen brigade did assemble her creations and they are of a good pastry standard).

Overall food rating: 7.5/10 A reliable standard of cooking that continues to deliver some of the better restaurant food in town. Seasoning/flavors, everything was on point. And yes,  Pastry Chef Masami Waki’s fans were right … she is more talented than what my assessment of her take on the Tiramisu (check that out here) would suggest. Eventhough Pastry chef  Masami Waki is some sort of “consultant” for this house, whatever she is asking that kitchen brigade to do/replicate/mimmick/assemble… sounds right (except for her tiramisu, it seems…). It will not dazzle, but it feels right.

Bottom line: I was  not floored, this time,  and I kinda found the bill a bit too “ambitious” for what was on display, but I will come back here before returning to plenty of popular local eateries that I tried recently, which is a comment that I have rarely appended to my restaurant reviews in Montreal.

What I think days later: It is against Chef Michele Mercuri usual standards that I assessed this meal and in that regard, it was good, not startling. But this kind of “good” is already a lot by our local restaurant standards, standards that are as laughable as that local restaurant that just opened and that I recently reviewed and that every single so called local food expert is raving about but that can’t even season its food correctly. Yeah, I know, lol, that’s Montreal: you can be a culinary genius here, without any knowledge of the basics of cooking. At least, of Le Serpent, I can say that I am not referring to them when I have to remind myself that we have an amateurish restaurant scene . Le Serpent is a great restaurant by Montreal standards. It could be even better, but in Montreal, that would not be necessary.

Just a quick recap about some of the latest restaurant openings + some of my recent meals

***Opened at the end of December 2013, Restaurant Le Serpent quickly became a favourite and one of the few restaurants that I can comfortably recommend in Montreal. Chef Michele Mercuri is simply among the very few
raw/true talented chefs  you’ll find in town (along the likes of Chef  Navarette Jr of Raza, Thierry Rouyé of La Porte,   Chef Lenglet of Au Cinquième Péché, Alexandre Loiseau of  Bistro Cocagne)
***Restaurant Le Richmond  recently opened, offering  Italian cooking in  what looks like one of Montreal prettier  restaurants.  I have not visited the place yet, but I saw that they had the genius idea of using what’s easily and currently the best meat in town at this moment, Marchand Du  Bourg‘s steaks.
***Jun I, based on a recent visit, continues to be the benchmark  for a true Japanese sushiya in Montreal. One of Montreal very best food destination by several notches.
***Went to Chambly trying Restaurant Tre Colori. Before going there, I read the online opinions about the place
and they happened, based on my experience there, to be severely innacurate:  Tre Colori is certainly neither a bad table,  nor a top flight restaurant, though it proved, while I was there, that it was capable of top-flight items like the
best lamb chops I ever sampled in Mtl & its surroundings. If my praises over those lamb chops generate high expectations in your mind, then I’ll invite you to review the basics of any restaurant kitchen: they usually have  brigades and one cook who cooked your food today might be replaced by another one on a different day, the quality of meat that was available on X day might not be available on a different day, the chef who cooked something stellar on X day may be cooking your food again BUT in a totally different mood, etc. So sync your expectations with those realities. That said, I did not dislike  Tre Colori and would happily return there.

Image-Second meal on Friday January 10th 2014 18:00
Please click here for the report of my first meal there.
I was happy with the first meal, so I went back the following Friday evening. This time with my wife, since she is also a huge fan of Chef Michele Mercuri ‘s cooking (again, we are not groupies and do not make friends with Chefs, but the reality is that a restaurant is worthy of your hard earned money ONLY if you have a serious /reliable Chef and /or brigade working hard where they need to. Or else, what’s the point of dining out? Chef Mercuri is known to work in his kitchen rather than parading on TV, so it sounds logic to both my wife and I  to invest our hard earned bucks in what he is crafting. Of course, if we do not like something, we’ll be upfront about it, but as long as we are satisfied, there’s no reason to imagine troubles where they do not exist neither).

ImageBefore I go ahead, in an email sent to me (Btw: really sorry if I have the ‘comments section’ disabled. Since I have no time to manage it, I did not see the point of letting that portion opened. But contact me by email if you have questions – Thanks ) Raj K asked why they have a barber shop sign in front of Le Serpent? I did not ask the staff about it, but in French, a barber pole is also known as ‘un serpentin’, which intent, I would guess, was  to correlate with the restaurant name (serpent).

ImageOn this evening, I did opt for the daily offerings, so those not featuring on the paper menu but announced verbally to all patrons (for the sake of being informative, I  still took pictures of the menu and am sharing them with you all along this report – Just click on the thumbnails of the pics of the menu to get a better readable content):

ImageBucatini Pasta $18 cooked in pig’s fat, this was delicious as I’d expect  from pasta cooked  in fat, but it’s  the  details that showcase the skills of a kitchen that matters most to me, and that is where this dish shone: not a single sign of the heavy-ness that fat is oftently accused of, but to the contrary some quality  refined pig’s fat adding body and enjoyable flavor. As good as you’ll get from Bucatini Pasta cooked in pig’s fat and executed by skilled hands. Good 7/10

ImageMy wife went for the ‘octopus, potato mousseline,.salsa verde” dish  (you  can see part of it on my pic of the bucatini dish)- Lol, I have that ‘psychological block’ where I tend to not order what others have reported about, whenever I can. This dish seemed to have been a big hit for the few foodies who have reported about their meals there, so it did not seduce me for some reason. Anyways, my wife took it and was highly satisfied. Took some bites, and I have to say that indeed, I can see why some have liked it. What I did particularly liked with this dish is the proper work of the octopus texture and taste. The octopus  keeping its enticing marine flavor and the quality comparable to the stunning (by Montreal standards) one I just ate at Jun I, one day earlier — that report can be found here . And exactly as at Jun I, proper technique of tenderization was applied skillfully so that you get the best of both worlds: tenderizing it but still keeping a good sense of chew , which is my preference (I was born in a fishermen village and when I hear ppl expecting ultimate tenderness where it’s not supposed to, my blood heats  up LOL!  ) . Nowadays, more and more Chefs in town are now taking their work of the   octopus more seriously, but few are delivering this kind of well balanced doneness between the right chew and proper tender doneness (I’d say Jun I, Kazu, Lawrence  and Le Serpent do, for now, get this right).   7.5/10 for me, an excellent  9/10 according to  my wife.

ImageThe second verbally announced daily offering is a  black truffle risotto $19. Chef Mercuri spent some time at Le Calandre, the 3 star Michelin where the risotto is taken very seriously, especially in its contemporary renditions. Consequently, risotto is Chef Mercuri’s forte. As always, I insist on reminding that whenever I highly rate a dish, I am NOT  partaking in the usual concepts of ”’this is highly rated so it should be special””’, NO! I do not trade with such concepts ( this blog is solely and primarily meant to share my adventures with friends, relatives, so sometimes they tell me hey…you’ve rated this or that dish with a 10/10..so it’s perhaps special/out of this world, etc“”” . That is why I take time to insist on such things. So, let  us put aside meaningless notions like ‘special’ or ‘Wowness’   and focus on the essential: if you really know your risotto (Chef  Mercuri risotti are comparable to what you’ll  get from the current  nicer kitchens  in Lombardi and Veneto, delivering a  contemporary twist on  the classic risotto that nowadays diners mostly like, which means featuring  a  creamy consistency with soft /wavy (all’onda) texture,  the rice grains conserving   proper bite while remaining tender  –as opposed  to some of the thicker old fashion versions of the risotto (DISCARD any opinion about how a risotto should be. Such opinion come from ppl who messianically want to impose ONE universal way of doing things. There are preferred consistencies of the risotto, there are trends, but NOT one perfect way of doing the risotto!) – –as opposed  to some of the thicker old fashion versions of the risotto –  I found his truffle rissotto  to actually be even better (Chef Mercuri has no 3 star Michelin, which is to me even more impressive ) than what  Le Calandre‘s kitchen has served me on my last visit there —though I forgot, on that meal, to order Le Calandre’s famous Saffron risotto  — , and equally as great  if not better than some of the finest risotti I enjoyed in Lombardy and Veneto (the real intent behind that  trip where Le Calandre and Dal pescatore were visited ..was actually to try some of the finest risotti of Lombardy/Veneto/Emilia romagna could offer, so risotti of winners of regional risotti competitions as well as other  risotti favoured by locals were the main events of that tour —  His risotti are NOT to be  compared to some of the  thicker classic Lombardian risotto like this  one Risotto con pistilli di zafferano I had at Dal Pescatore — as a huge fan of risotti, I like all those styles, so no preferred ones for me, specially given the large variety of risotti found in Lombardy and Veneto / the complexity of the work of the stock, cooking execution and the taste being what matters most to me.), then you won’t fail to appreciate that Chef Mercuri delivers Montreal’s finest risotti.  Another benchmark risotto by Montreal standards (the work of his stock, an essential element of the risotto, pertains to what’s better done on the lands of the risotti — I liked the fact that he kept things as it should, for eg the finest truffle  risotti you’ll currently find in Lombardy and Venetto are usually packed with a nice kick of salty-ness and this one had indeed that sort of genuine salty kick —not to be compared to the work of lesser cooks who have mistakenly over-salted their risotto..NO…we are talking here about the necessary salty kick that is required for some risotti (like this black truffle risotto)  to have a bolder dimension. Here, the bold salinity was necessary and its absence would have made of this risotto, an ordinary one, whereas the advantage of salt would obviously make not much sense on, say, a lobster risotto (which I have sampled on my first visit here, and which was indeed not salty). 10/10

ImageAnother daily offering (in their  ‘à la broche’ daily verbally-announced offerings) was the porchetta/lentils/mozarella di buffala. Properly roasted and seasoned, with ideal moist consistency, the Mozza properly exploited as a necessary addition  to the refinement of the overall taste (indeed, Mozza as one of the elements of   Porchetta’s stuffing adds necessary enjoyable mouthfeel, while, of course, adding visually appealing volume to the meat’s moistness — a kitchen that thinks its Porchetta ) ,  tasting great.  There’s no miracle to expect from a porchetta, though it’s a fact that as with anything, some will do it better than others. This was as great as porchetta can be, by any standard of dining, here and abroad. Well cooked and delicious quality lentils / spinach laid atop (the doneness of the lentils packed with proper bite and enough firmness so that its earthy dimension is well felt, which a ‘mushy’ consistency would not achieve — I have always said that a mushy lentil is no lentil anymore ;p…you’ll be surprised how some Chefs, even among the finest ones, do deliver some uninspired lentil….a reproach that I obviously could not formulate on this instance) , a flawless  sauce (beneath), and a home made crispy pig ear that was, as expected at this caliber of dining level, a bit more than its already enjoyable supermaket pork crackling version (the difference is not really to be found in the work of the texture —though, obviously, homemade crackling taste and feels fresher — , here, rather considerable  in the amazing taste of the pork — Quebec’s Pork does indeed count among the very best in the world as any real connoisseur of the subject will agree).  Very good, indeed. 8/10

My wife took another dish that seemed popular with the few foodies who have reported about Le Serpent,  at the moment of writing, which is the orzotto/veal shank/foie gras shavings  (again, you can see part of her dish on the picture of the porchetta). There’s a mas o menos similar dish that they serve at Club Chasse et Peche (same owners of Le Serpent) and is popular there, so it makes sense that sister restaurant Le Serpent has something of that kind on its menu. I heard, from the staff, that this is a very successful dish here. I am not surprised by its popularity: Montrealers love this kind of dish. My wife rated this with a 10/10. I took couple of bites and would be comfortable with a 8.5/10 (indeed, flawlessly rich and delicious, of course no technical problem as expected from  a kitchen of this quality unless one has no clue of what he/she is talking about, lol, BUT the sole  reason I was not blown away — which of course takes nothing away from the greatness of that dish, has to do with something purely personal/subjective, therefore imperfect: I am fonder of the Lombardian use of rice). Obviously, given my high score, you’ll understand that I was not unhappy neither, LOL.

ImageWe concluded with the Tiramisu dessert, the affair of well known pastry Chef Masami Waki (Pastry Chef of the Club Chasse & Peche family of restaurants, which include Le Filet, Le Serpent). I have the highest respect for Chef Masami Waki, I have no doubt that she is a talented Chef and that the incredible shower of praises coming from most Montreal’s  food journalists   regarding her work is deserved/justified, alas we’ll have to wait a bit before I become a devotee of her work. Again, it is possible that it’s just ME… not understanding her work (who knows?? and why not??), BUT here, we’ll be as fair as we can: (1)I am not a robot, so I’ll tell what I think of this dessert, as  imperfect as my opinion  may stand and (2)I’ll leave a door opened to the possibility that I am wrong.

LE SERPENT, MONTREAL -  dessert cardSo (1) my wife gave a 0/10 to this tiramisu, but I gave a 5/10 (I am not a Tiramisu “purist’, I just know what a great Tiramisu should taste like). I rated the Tiramisu higher than my wife because I took into consideration the effort of trying something different /creative (this Tiramisu being a personal take of Pastry Chef Masami Waki on the Tiramisu) rather than sticking to the classic take on the Tiramisu and  I  also found it prettily presented.  In a bowl which was mostly filled with the relevant whipped mixture of eggs/coffee, a micro piece of Tiramisu cake sat in the bottom.  The problem is that the creamy mixture had no coherent flavors at all (I was tasting more cream and cloying sugary mix than coffee!!!), certainly nothing that was palatably anywhere close to genuine Tiramisu flavor . My wife is a ‘purist’ of the Tiramisu (;p) and if you do not make the Tiramisu as close to its original renditions, she won’t be happy (hence her harsher score). I am not Italian, so do not expect me to start a debate over authenticity, etc…but I expect ..from whatever take on the Tiramisu … that the mascarpone –or substitutes / eggs mix to always help enhancing the coffee flavor   rather than overwhelming it (my main quibble with this Tiramisu).  (2)I refuse to pertain to the  breed of stupid peeps who see  everything as either  BAD or GOOD, and nothing else, ;p. NO! So I explained the situation to one of the waitstaff  and invited her (she made me laugh when she told us that she hoped that our  resiliency over the dessert did not mean that we were not satisfied about the rest…Lady, no worries about that, Lol! As long as a good Chef like Michele Mercuri is around, the rest is indeed not a problem, LOL ) to help me better appreciate the work of Pastry Chef Masami Waki. She said that Chef Masami Waki’s tarte au sucre  (sugar pie)  is something out of the ordinary. Another waiter  adding that he was floored by her panna cotta,. Ok, Ok..I’ll try Chef Masami Waki sugar pie and panna cotta, then. Lol. BTW: Tiramisu is really an easy dessert to make,  genuine Tiramisu flavors are not that hard to replicate (forget recipes over the web or in books, just get  couple of  nonnas to  show you how it should be made, and more importantly, how it’s supposed to taste — once you master that part, you can do whatever fancy rendition you want of the Tiramisu, and it will taste great ), so I am confident that she does great ones, but  that perhaps this time the creativity got the better of the palatability.

Overall score for this meal: 9/10 Excellent savouries with no quibble to raise, but great cooking skills to praise.

Service on this second evening:  mostly a manly squad in the dining room (as opposed to the bar). Polite and serviceable. This is an experienced team, so  no reproach at all.  Mathieu, my main waiter, would make any great restaurant really proud (towards the end of the evening, I had to leave asap for personal  reasons and he reacted so well). Service is a real charm, here and with time –yep, yep I know, no one is perfect, but still  —- I realize how Quebecers are the coolest of all the Francophones around the globe, their love for life and dazzling humor mixed with great values are simply second to none in the Franco world.

Conclusion (in regard to this second meal): I do not expect a kitchen, as great as it is,  to second guess what I like or not (that is simply un-realistic), so eventually there are things that I’d perceive as better than others, which is absolutely normal (you need to factor the diner’s prefs in all of that: for eg, I love risotto so naturally a well done risotto will tend to be scored higher, I grew up in a fishing village so I tend to expect a bit more from seafood dishes,  etc, all things that is out of the control of a kitchen) , but the most important is that Chef Mercuri and his brigade has delivered another strong performance in view of what’s generally found in Montreal, with consistently well executed and tasty dishes.  Some of Montreal’s most  inspired Italian contemporary cooking.  Their room on this evening was full, the bar too. Seeing such great restaurant and kitchen brigade  enjoying the fruit of their well deserved success is the proof that sometimes in life, those who deserve the real praises are not forgotten, a true breath of fresh air in a world where too many unreliable restaurateurs are cashing in on  undeserved popularity. This second meal confirms the addition of Le Serpent in my personal  (tiny) list of  favourite dining destinations in Montreal , those that  I’m comfortable in safely recommending — all sorts of food style and dining levels taken into account —  (La Porte, Au Cinquième PéchéBottega, Jun I, Raza, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon, Le Bonaparte  and Bistro Cocagne).

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&A – Josianne K asks if Pastry Chef Waki is just not my type of Pastry Chef, and whether both my wife and I have ever been impressed by a new school take on the Tiramisu   Answer: Josianne,  it’s food. So indeed, it could be anything and ME  not enjoying her style is a possibility. BUT as I wrote, I am not a robot, so entitled to my own opinion! New school takes on the Tiramisu,  both my wife and I are all for that: In sept 2013,  while visiting Paris,  a Tiramisu at  Officina Schenatti have impressed us while remaining very contemporary in its design.

Restaurant Le Serpent
Type of cuisine: Italian Brasserie according to what the staff tells me
(Italian-inspired cosmopolitan bistrot according to me)
Date and time of the dinner: January 3rd 2014, 18:00
http://www.leserpent.ca/
http://www.motto.ca/eflyers/leclubchasseetpeche/012_index-en.html
Addr: 357 rue Prince, Montreal
Phone: 514-316-4666

***This is just a quick little report about my meal at Le Serpent. I am not a food journalist, not a food critic, not an insider, not even a real foodie (true foodies are more passionate about dining out than I am), do have zero interest in this industry, just a normal diner paying for his food with his hard earned money, sharing what he thinks of his meal with you for the sake of knowledge sharing  and I am not even writing this post in my mother tongue (French), so please wait after the upcoming reports of those who are paid to do just that (writing reviews)  for fully detailed  and professional write-ups  on everything you need to know about this restaurant. This is just a personal report  free of any intent to entertain nor serve any purpose other than sharing about what I thought of this meal – Thanks ****

 

UPDATEUPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE REPORT OF MY SECOND MEAL THERE, ON JANUARY 10TH 2014

 

 

IN FRENCH (Report in English will follow) – Ceux qui ont beaucoup apprécié le talent du Chef Mercuri (Bronté, XO Le restaurant) seront ravis: il est de retour avec sa belle technique et son excellent sens du travail des saveurs. Du beau travail de cuisine contemporaine aux influences Italiennes. Une cuisine qui sort du lot.

HE is back. HE is Chef Michele Mercuri, a Chef who was crafting some of Montreal finest dishes at his previous restaurants (Bronté, XO Le Restaurant).  Under his tenure, both Bronté (now closed) and XO Le restaurant were comfortably of a solid 2 star Michelin European caliber (particular for what he was doing at XO Le Restaurant, since he was in full charge there  ). BUT that was haute dining. NOW, he is back with  a more relax/mainstream theme (bistrot I say, brasserie they say).  I learnt about the opening of Chef Michele Mercuri’s new restaurant, Le Serpent,  while perusing the restaurant’s entry on Urbanspoon.com, the entry leading to this link announcing their  official opening on Dec  31st .  I reserved a table for January 3rd by simply sending an email as it’s suggested on the later link.

The restaurant is located inside the Darling Foundry  Art centre (http://www.fonderiedarling.org/) in Old Montreal. It’s usually better to wait a bit (for eg, couple of months after its opening) before visiting a new restaurant, but Chef Mercuri is talented so I knew the right skills would be on display regardless of the moment I’d chose to try his food. I simply made sure  to have no particular expectation on my way to this meal:  Italian restaurants abound in Montreal and I oftently find them limited by the generally average ingredients we have here (not meant to be mean here, it’s just that we  obviously can’t expect the fruits and vegetables of our soil to compete with their  peers of  the Mediterranean coast, one of the reasons you should never start comparing what’s done in Italy to what’s done abroad).  So not much miracle nor surprise effect to be expected, however skilled is the kitchen, but still, it’s always fun and interesting to  have a taste of the latest offering of such a  talented Chef. But as you’ll see later on,  my  pessimism was unfounded.

Couple of days before attending my dinner, I saw this first web review of Restaurant Le Serpent (http://www.lapaulee-enligne.com/t2838-restaurant-le-serpent), from  which you can see how the décor looks like (a long narrow room with a minimalist chic industrial interior, very high ceilings, a stretching marble bar in the middle of the room)  . The OP of that post had a ‘revised ceasar salad’, ‘octopus with a mousseline of potatoes’, and ‘artic char confit’, and found them all exceptional. I am mentioning this for two reasons (1) so that you can have varied opinions about the place (2)because at the moment of writing, there’s barely no report of their debuts.

FIND IT:  As it’s mentioned on this Lapaulee-enligne’s post, you’ll need to carefully look for it. There’s no big sign with the name of the restaurant. just a barber’s pole  sign (for now).

The FOOD:  The menu is short, which I find to be a smart and very contemporary approach / practical too ..in regard to what most diners do expect nowadays.  So, on one page, you have two offerings  in the ‘crudo’ section (for eg, oysters mignonette at $15 or$29 depending on the quantity you chose, the  second choice was the $18 starter of sea urchin/lardo which description you will see below), a section named   ‘Anche’ with items such as ‘revised ceasar salad’, ‘octopus with a mousseline of potatoes’, and ‘artic char confit’   (around 15-20$ on this evening), the pasta section ($13 to $24), risotti (two choices, one at $20, the other at $17),   a section called ‘marin’ (basically fishes) with items like branzino/moules/fregola/fenouil/tomate/bouillon saffranée ($29) or morue/haricot coco/artichaut/aubergine ($27), then the section ‘terrestre’ with gigue de cerf ($28), bajoue de porc ($23), a section called ‘à la broche‘  with  changing offerings on each day.   I basically went through the menu and skipped anything that sounded (to me) as not really putting the emphasis on Chef Mercuri’s skills- for eg,   I knew his risotto would showcase his beautiful skills, whereas I was not too sure about the revised Cesar Salad (although, I saw the  lady seating next to me  ordering the revised ceasar salad and the colors of the leaves were vivid, the cheese smelling fresh and great, so I could indeed observe that even such basic item was executed with care. That Said, YES you need to put items like a salad on a menu, so that Ceasar salar deserves to be there). Regarding the risotto, whether you’ll find it special or not (I do not trade in terms of ‘special or not’, just in terms of ‘how great it is’)  is left to your discretion, but having sampled Chef Mercuri’s risotti  at both Bronte and XO Le Restaurant I found his  to fare as great as  the one of one of his previous mentors, Chef Alajmo at Le Calandre. And on Montreal food scene, you’ll have hard time convincing me that there’s better. As great, Yep, perhaps (I actually had a dazzling one at restaurant Lucca  on Dante, a personal favourite in Montreal).  Better, Nah. Well, not in my books ;p

Chef Michele Mercuri has the skills to cook at any level he wants (star Michelin, casual dining, etc), and his talent is such that he can make the food performance as great as he wants…or as his business partners will let him to.  So, as expected, this strong performance (he was cooking on this evening) came as no surprise.

Oursin, Lardo, Confiture de BaconStarted with the $18 starter of ‘oursin, lardo, confiture de bacon, bar rayé, gelée de gingembre, pollen de fenouil, maquereau, citron, amandes, olives séchés‘ — Chef Mercuri, if you remember him from XO Le Restaurant and Bronté, well…he loves assembling a huge array of items. Now, I am not optimistic when most Chefs do this, but  he was there, onsite, so I knew I could chose this item with no worry. The presentation was just Ok –though, honestly, it would take master painters like Renoir or Cezanne to do something visually better, Lol just kidding — , which contrasted with his usual visually stunning dishes, but in mouth, I knew right away that Chef Mercuri’s touch was present:  some serious work of the flavour, the seafood freshness and quality really high in comparison to what is usually found in town (even at the upscale restaurants). The sea urchin (atop a mini piece of brioche 7/10 – nothing wrong since this was quality sea urchin, but make sure you  engulf the whole brioche/sea urchin and its toppings in one bite or else you’ll miss the point/fun, trust me ), the lardo, the ginger jelly, the mackerel (in sashimi style, its taste fabulous 9/10),  each of the items were well sourced, their taste enhanced either by a genuine touch of appealing acidity or a simple touch of exciting seasoning (judicious seasoning was the key here, a feature that was remarkable  because they have  a good palate in this kitchen!!)  , and more importantly the flavors worked well together.  Strong stuff,by Montreal  restaurant standards.    8/10

Caille poélée

Followed by ‘Caille poélée, foie fouétté, rattes, moutarde $12  – I’ll be honest with you…I was afraid that  Chef Mercuri’s Business partners (the folks of Le Club Chasse & Peche) would force  him to slow down with his past creativity and offer something casual, mainstream. To my surprise, they did let him express whatever he wanted. Which is indeed the best way to approach such talented Chef.  Even if this is less sophisticated than what he was doing at XO Le Restaurant or at Bronte, Chef Mercuri is not backing down: it’s simply hard to get better flavor than the quail (cooked sous vidé then fried  to underline the quail’s delicious meaty  flavor)  he has just cooked. Delicious   9/10

Risotto

Concluded with one last savoury dish , the ‘risotto de homard, betterave jaune, basilic, mascarpone” $22 –  Chef Mercuri rissotti have always ranked among my favourite restaurant risotti, the type of food I am willing to leave the comfort of home for. On this evening,  there was no exception to that rule:  rich and creamy with proper  bite (accurate al dente consistency), it was in itself a technical triumph. But it did more than that: it was deliciously …exciting.   Here’s what I value as a  benchmark risotto.  One of the best ‘contemporary’ risotti I ever had was from Chef Alajmo’s at Le Calandre, the three star Michelin where Chef Mercuri spent some time. I personally think that Chef Mercuri is doing as great as his master…remember, Chef Mercuri is not in Italy, has not access to the stunning produce they have there…so it’s even more impressive.  By Montreal standards, comfortably a benchmark one (eventhough I am not too happy to get to such conclusion since I did not want my last starling risotto at one of my favourite Italian restaurants in town, Lucca on Dante, to be surpassed…Lucca, I still love you, but Chef Mercuri is giving me some hard time here ;p ) 10/10

I took no desserts, rounding off the meal with some excellent espresso coffee (clearly, this house leaves no details uncovered).

Wine offerings: their list of wines is short (you’ll find it on the back of the single page menu)but this is not a reproach. To the contrary, plenty of thoughts went into building that small list as clearly demonstrated by wines that will cater to all sorts of budgets (couple of bubbles ranging from a $36 by the bottle/ $9 by the 5 oz glass Bisol Prosecco superiore creed 2012, a Franciacorta Essence Rosé Antica Fratta 2009 at $69 the bottle; $17 the glass), couple of whites from $32 to $210 (for eg, 2012 Domaine de la Pépière “Les Gras Moutons” Muscadet   at $39 the bottle/$10 the glass; Gulfi Carjcanti 2010 @ 61$ the bottle, $15.5 the glass. The section of red wines range from a  Vignemastre “Dardo” Rosso IGT Toscana 2010 ($29 the bottle, $7.5 the glass) to a  2003 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella ($585), but cool down, lol: there are plenty of other wines in between, such as a Murgo Etna Russo 2011 at $37, a Julien Sunier Fleurie 2012 ($59), and more ambitious wines like some Vosne-Romanée and Côte-Rôtie in the $100++. Anyways, this is a list that can change, so consider my examples as just that: an example of what they do offer. Their wine by the glass were not an afterthought on this evening, with a Cantina Filippi Vigne della Bra 2010 reminding   that natural wines  can be a hit, indeed. Cezanne, my main waitress (more accurately ‘bartender’ since I was seating at the bar) , found another thoughtful pairing: a glass of Comte rouge 2007 (Château de Mérande) which was an excellent choice of pairing with the  quail.

Service: Young and nice looking staff, and yet experienced/professional and friendly. My main waitress  of this evening being the painter Cezanne (Lol..just kidding, she is not a painter), a down to earth and very accomodating young woman. Cezanne knows her wine (ouf, finally a Montreal restaurant staff who knows what kind of natural wines to suggest to her customers!).

Pros:  (1) Chef Mercuri beautiful  skills (2) one of my few very best meals since a long time in Montreal (3) the trendy-ness of the place, in stark contrast with its exterior. Loved that contrast (4) Great service

Cons:  Did I see a champagne on that list? I think I did, Lol. My problem with champagne?? Over-rated!  Portugal, Spain , Italy, Luxembourg (say whatever you want but the very affordable Bernard-Massard Cuvée de L’Écusson Brut is one of the best value sparkling wines and alternatives to Champagne you might get in town at this moment) have better value bubbles to offer. But again, this is just my personal views of the matter and it goes without saying that Champagne deserves its place in a restaurant.

Price: They have no online menu, so I took the time to do a summary of the prices that featured  on mine, while dining there, thus you  have examples of the prices in the wine listing and food sections above.  So it’s neither cheap, neither expensive, more accurately the kind of place where the bill will be as reasonable or as pricey as you’ll want it to be.  In my view, for this level of skills, this is priced reasonably. For eg, take their risotto. I find it fairly priced  at $22.  I had plenty of laughable risotti in town priced at $27-$30, of which the only remarkable feature was that they were hugely portioned (I could not care about huge portions, I dine out to hit something executed really  well, with plenty of thoughts invested in its refinement and the little details —in the case of this risotto, the judicious seasoning, the work of the flavor, the proper technique, the work of the stock, a great sense of timing — – that makes it great as it was the case of this risotto of lobster I have just sampled at Le Serpent).

Overall food performance: 10/10 Chef Michele Mercuri’s cooking (he was cooking on this evening)  is strong by Montreal standards.   Knowing Chef Mercuri’s cooking since Bronte, then XO Le Restaurant it was easy for me to pick the right choices that would better showcase his skills.

Conclusion:  I remember Chef Michele Mercuri’s tenure with restaurant  Bronte (now closed), thereafter with  XO  Le Restaurant. I do not know him personally but I recall finding his skills to be quite remarkable by Montreal restaurant standards, and people who knew him told me that he is more of an Artisan Chef, the kind of Chef who prefers working hard in his kitchen rather than cashing in on fame, which obviously explained the consistently good level of cooking that I kept experiencing whenever I was dining at Bronte and XO Le Restaurant.  The type of cuisine he was crafting at Bronte (contemporary Italian fine dining)  and XO Le restaurant (contemporary cosmopolitan fine dining ) , especially at XO Le Restaurant,  proved that he was no ordinary Chef (by Montreal standards, his offerings went above and beyond the norms).  I was just surprised that he’d keep those  same high  standards alive, now that he is working in a more casual environment. Again, this is food, not an attempt to land on the moon,  therefore I hope you do not set surreal expectations based on my review. It’s food done better than what most are doing in town, food crafted by a talented Chef and that is all I was trying to explain here.  So, for me, this meal was  exactly what I was expecting it to be:  the fruit of  a talented Chef cooking some of Montreal finest Italian food within the limits of this sort of dining offering (it’s casual cooking / Italian ‘brasserie’, though still refined/elaborate). It’s tough to repeat such stellar performance (cooks are humans, not robots) , but I trust that this team can make this happen again.