Posts Tagged ‘le serpent’

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.

 

***In June, the  most popular (among the readers of this blog) reviews  have been the ones on Le Louis XV,  the one on the city of Nice, L’ Ambroisie, L’Arpège, Le Serpent , Kam Fung as well   as my humble article on Montreal steakhouses (folks, it’s summer, enjoy a good steak in your backyard…far more fun, lol!).

***Shinji’s report, already the most popular among the readers of this blog –  I have just updated this current post on July 17th and shall observe that I was surprised by the popularity of the recent post on Shinji (which can be found here). Published on July 3rd, so only couple of  days prior, that post topped the charts on each day, since then. It’s rare that I see a restaurant’s review  attracting that much attention on this blog as soon as it was posted — the sign that the web is googling Shinji a lot, these days  (last time this happened, it was following the first review on Le Serpent — interestingly, the second report, which was more detailed and covered more meals, never got to enjoy the popularity of the first one. Even months later, the initial report on Le Serpent is the one that you have mostly perused and are still perusing).  Great then for Shinji, which managed to pull off benchmark sushis (by Montreal standards), the second best sushis I ever had in Montreal, second only to Jun I.

 

 

***Glad to hear that one of my all time favourite bistrots  in Italy is still doing great: A cantina de Mananan is still as excellent as ever as/per the report of a very picky foodie friend who went there in early  June 2014.  I did recommend Cinque Terre to him, a place that’s simply a ‘ gift from the above ‘as far as its visually stunning scenery goes. While there, he also tried A cantina de Mananan upon hearing great things from my part about this little jewel. He was floored and ranked A cantina de Mananan as his favourite discovery in a trip where there was no shortage of great restaurants:  he tried Osteria Francescana, Pipero al Rex , Piazza Duomo,   . He stressed that  A cantina does not compare, in terms of culinary sophistication, to all those places, but that  in hindsight,  the great  cooking of A Cantina de Mananan is what blew away his palate because it was the most delicious food of them all. Well, I haven’t visited OF, PR and PD, but I certainly can  understand such conclusion as I myself found the finest bistrots in Italy to be quite stellar.  So, A Cantina, I hope you will be as great as my first date with you, next time I’ll go back to Cinque Terre, lol. My humble quick notes on my trip in Cinque Terre in summer 2012, here.

***Everyone should go and peruse the twitter account of L’Arpège: https://twitter.com/ArpegeLive. Once you do that, keep in mind that all the beauty your eyes will have the priviledge to espy  is most likely backed by an exceptional work of flavors and a spectacular sense of creativity. Alain Passard, you are a Chef like we do not see anymore!

***La Queue de Cheval, Montreal finest steakhouse will open soon. Very soon. Check their facebook account for any update. For now, you can enjoy their burgers at QDC Burger (check that out here). The folks at QDC are also planning the opening of the Angry lobster bar (check all of that on this link).

***You remember Thursdays, Montreal iconic bar/bistro/club  on Crescent?  It is now reopened. The bistrot‘s  Chef is Jean-François Vachon. I first discovered Chef Vachon’s cooking when he was at the helm of Club des Pins (now closed), then at restaurant  M sur Masson, many  years ago and at both restaurants, it was an instant success back then:   food was delicious, cooking skills really sharp and both restaurants  reigned supreme on my list of favourite tables of Montreal during Vachon’s tenure. Then he went opening restaurant Projet soixante-sept (now closed), which I tried but that I found less  impressive compared to what he managed to pull off in his prime at Club des pins, then at M sur Masson.  I have not tried Bistrot Thursdays yet but I hope I’ll find the Jean-François Vachon of the great old days. I’ve perused their  online menu and found it appealing with items such as ‘guinea fowl cooked in hay’ (an old fashioned cooking technique that’s  common in Europe and that I favor but it’s rare to see a restaurant doing this in Montreal) , ‘rack of lamb à la provencale’, ‘spinach malfatti”, etc. Thoughtful bistrot menu for Montreal as it seems to take seriously the concept of a true French bisrot (for eg, on their menu, I can see that they have days where they offer the bouillabaise, or the coq au vin, all French bistrot staples that few French bistrots in Montreal do mind offering – you’ll see this in the ‘promotions ‘ section of their menu)  . In his prime, Jean-François Vachon is certainly one of Quebec’s most talented Chefs, so I’ll surely try his bistrot hopefully in a near future.

***Tapas 24 MTL will open to the public on July 19th 2014. It is a restaurant that is owned by Barcelona’s highly regarded Chef Carles Abellan as well as two other local Business partners (Journalist  Sébastien Benoit and restaurateur Jorge Da Silva), so a sister of Barcelona’s Tapas 24. According to the facebook page, the Chefs are  Haissam Souki Tamayo as well as another Chef who goes by the  name Ildemar, both names sound  unfamiliar to me, so this will be opportunity to discover their craft.  I saw couple of Public relationship write ups on their pre-opening activities and have decided to not try it on its official opening first weeks. It would have been tempting to dine there while Chef Abellan is still around (he’s there, these days, according to the reports I’ve perused) , but I’ll wait couple of months and see how it will fare while Chef Tamayo and Ildemar will be in full control of the house. When I’ll head there, I’ll do it with realistic expectations, though:  I still have fond memories  of my foodie trip in San Sebastian. A year later, I had the good fortune to repeat the feature in Madrid and the tapas adventure was also memorable (low cost, spectacular  flavors).  I do not expect those dazzling tapas of Spain to be replicated the other side of the globe as the produce of the Mediterranea is hard to compete with, the value simply not something that can be matched this side of the world (especially those of the Pais Vasco where I remember having two divinely-tasting  servings of tapas with a glass of txacoli for less than 5 euros (around $7). In comparison, a similar serving of tapas in Montreal would cost at least $16, and the glass of wine would range in between  $12 to $15 on average, so my $7 tapas serving in San Sebastian (with the glass of txacoli included) would cost me around $31 in Montreal, and I am being generous here. Restaurants are there to make Business and I do understand that, but it’s tough to justify bite-size food of such price tag.  I do not know the prices/menu at Montreal’s Tapas 24 since it’s not online yet, but hopefully, they will offer enjoyable food of great value (the point of tapas, in the first place). As for the flavors, I am confident that they can’t go wrong:  the tapas currently served in Montreal are decent  but nowhere close to the quality of the tapas of Spain.

***Abroad, one of France’s most brilliant Chefs of the recent decade, Chef Nicolas Lebec has resurfaced in Shanghai, China. Nicolas is incredibly talented, think world class skills, and it’s great to see him around after years of absence. Villa Le Bec – http://www.smartshanghai.com/wire/dining/villa-le-bec-is-finally-happening  Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu – Shanghai

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014

 

 

On a non foodie subject, the world cup was full of surprises (Costa Rica and Colombia have impressed, Spain’s early exit)  , but in the end it was a finale between  two giants of the game, Argentina and Germany. I think Germany largely deserved it, but the title of best player of the tournament (Messi won it) was a big joke akin to believing in Santa ;p  // The Dutch –by now, eliminated  — had to attend a penalty shootout session in their semi finals against Costa Rica and their coach, Louis Van Gaal chose a substitute goaltender (Tim Krul) just for the shootout , which is a rare move for those in the know.  As an analogy to the world of food, this reminds of what they have been doing for so long in Japan: you have a specialist of this, another specialist of that, etc. Just to master the slicing of a piece of fish, you spend an entire year or years focusing on that sole task. Then the same to master the art of cooking some rice. It gave what you’d have expected:  artisan Chefs, and not just generic cooks, pulling off perfected crafts to be enjoyed and not just generic food to be washed down. So, Louis Van Gaal is obviously of that same mold, only he is transposing the theme into soccer. Simply amazing. //Brazil suffered an unbelievable defeat to Germany (7-1!), but that came as no surprise as their two main leaders, Neymar and Thiago Silva  were not playing. I do not understand their coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari: I know he is  a great coach and has won a world cup in the past,  but it was hard to be appreciative of his decisions this time around -> the spectacular (and best replacement for Neymar) Willian coming on around the 69th minute (what the heck??) , Hulk as a winger rather than as a striker, position that suits him better (??).  ///   Last but not least, the now famous Luis Suarez bite has earned  him national hero status in his country, Uruguay (check that out here).  The jokes about the bite are funny, though.

 

VACANCES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing an amazing summer to all of us!

 

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.

***My second visit in 5 years at restaurant La Chronique, Montreal, showcased a startling food performance that plenty of top Michelin starred establishments across Europe would be very proud of. Chef De Montigny is indeed a top class Chef and his restaurant is a first-rate establishment. Firmly in my top 3 in Montreal (La Porte/Le Serpent/La Chronique). My review of that meal here.

 

***Restaurant Magazine has Noma back at its World’s 100 best restaurants of the world‘s pole position, which, to me, makes perfect sense. In 2012, both my wife and I have revisited what we strongly believe to be world’s top 3 , Noma/Alinea/Fat Duck and it’s clear in our minds that those three restaurants are the only ones deserving of world’s top tier position. Their craft is simply way above anything that’s being done at this moment.  We could not believe that El Celler de Can Roca was restaurant’s mag #1 last year, a pure nonsense: we dined there twice in the past 5 years and there is no way El Celler is a World’s #1. It is a World’s #1 for best value restaurant anywhere around the world,  I would bet on  that, but no more.   Again, nothing against Restaurant Magazine listing, it’s the personal choices of their folks, so who are we to judge other people’s opinions, but I am not a robot, thefore was entitled to my opinion too ;p

***The highlights, for me, of this first half of my current foodie year in Montreal have been the superb return of Chef Michelle Mercuri at Le Serpent. One of my favourite Chefs anywhere across the globe, this talented Chef   continues to be consistent with the top standards he keeps setting wherever he goes . Montreal is no short of cooks who went from hero to zero, but Michelle is certainly not one of those.  I was also impressed by the silky  skills of Chef Ding at Kyo in Le Vieux Port. With  Chef Ding at the helm,  Kyo is simply the best isakaya in town. A simple marinade of his beef tataki , to take an example of something simple, therefore packed with details that can be easily overlooked, had depth that only 5% of the Chefs in town could replicate and understand. For sure, if such details is beyond comprehension to you, then skip forward, lol,  but it is with details like those that I can appreciate the talent of a Chef.  Aside from both Kyo and Le Serpent,  it was also nice to see La Chronique confirming what I was suspecting (a true Montreal giant) as well as sampling some dazzling bistrot fares at an old favourite, Au Cinquième Péché.

******I went paying a visit to Chef Joe Mercuri’s new establishments, his fine dining destination called Mercuri as well as his more casual bistrot-centric Bar Mercuri (both sharing the same roof). Super Joe is one of my favourite Chefs in Montreal, the Mercuri family being a well known (to the Montreal restaurant scene)  family of talented Chefs (Michelle, Joe) with memorable tenures at Bronté (both Joe and Michelle), XO Le Restaurant (Michelle), Rosalie (Joe) and much more. It was a pleasure to resume with Joe’s crafts after years of absence from the restaurant scene. As ever, the man is there, even on a quiet Tuesday, a rarity for most Chefs nowadays, hard worker  and a great fan of all things tasteful (stylish décor, beautiful platings, Pascale Girardin dinnerware in the fine dining section, Opinel knives at Bar Mercuri). Apart a failed attempt at a contemporary fancy flight around the  snow crab (There’s no doubt in my mind that Joe did not craft that one. In Montreal, only Chefs like Joe Mercuri, Michelle Mercuri, Francois Nadon, Mario Navarrete Jr are truly capable to turn such challenging assortment into something magic) everything else was enjoyable, backed by beautiful produce,  and of course couple of  hits made their appearances as to  remind that Joe is still the man,  like a galanga mousse with texture and taste I never enjoyed in Montreal before, shitake mushrooms that I knew could be tasty but not as exciting in mouth as this one I was having, and some pappardelle to never forget.  What needs to be ironed out is easy to address and are normal in the context of a restaurant that is only in its 3rd month of existence: avoid any notion of meager portions when a risotto is served and billed as a main course (see the review of my  fine dining meal), keep the “dishes all served at once” communal / tapas principle to couples or groups only, not to a solo diner (see the review of my meal at Bar Mercuri), unless , of course, that is what he/she wants  (not too sure why a solo diner would opt for that, though).

***Chocolate flavored fried chicken, anyone? Well, not bad at all as an idea. One wonders how come no one has thought about it before? lol. Adam Fleischman is making it happened at Choco Chicken in Los Angeles.

***A £1,235 A HEAD, yeap for a meal, no kidding! It’s the idea of Michelin-starred chef Paco Roncero and it’s happening in one country that’s heavily affected by the current global economic turmoil, Spain. Check that out, it’s really not a joke: clear here.

***3 star Michelin Chef Régis Marcon could be interested to open a restaurant in Japan. More, here.

***3 star Michelin Ledoyen (in Paris)  will have Chef Yannick Alléno at the helm, soon (more can be found here). For me, this is for the better, in the case of Ledoyen as I have visited this place twice, by now (in the past 3 years) and truely felt that it was an overrated 3 star Michelin.  The report of the first my two meals there can be perused on this link.

***Went back to a personal favourite French Bistrot in Montreal, Au Cinquième péché.  Au Cinquième péché  continues to rank in the top-tier of Montreal bistrots. As it’s realistic to put, you can’t expect any kitchen or Chef to be in its prime all the time AND that  it is in its prime that its true skills are to  be accurately assessed. This meal was simply a benchmark of its kind with a beef tongue dish as well as their signature sweetbreads worth of word class (by French Bistrot  standards) praises. Of course, I also had less spectacular meals here, as you won’t fail to  experience with  ‘normal’ meals at your  favourite bistrots, but even on the ‘normal meals’ they still managed to rank among Mtl’s best. But on this meal, they left the Montreal scene, conquered the world and crushed plenty of their competitors worldwide, lol. Joke aside, this was a startling bistrot meal. My review here.

***My first visit at Patrice Patissier. Patrice continues to wow Montreal with his dazzling desserts and pastries. My review here.

***I also paid a visit to L’Européa, one popular fine dining destination in Montreal. It is hard not to like L’Européa as you’ll be pampered like a queen/king here. BUT the food REALLY needs to improve, by leaps! My review, here.

***Sushi Yasu is one of the rare sushi shops (in Montreal & surroundings)  with a real Japanese Sushi Master at the helm. Unfortunately, on the back of my meal there, that was not an advantage for them. My review here.

***Raku is an isakaya in Brossard, South shore Montreal. It’s the kind of place that is easy to overlook if you have no sense for details or tend to jump to hasty conclusions: if I’d have simply sampled their sushis, as well as a simple tartare that was poorly executed, I’d remember this place as just another average shop. But I was curious to dig a bit more in their menu and surprise, their takoyaki balls was top class, their veggie tempura was above average. A mixed bag if you wish, but for me this seems like a kitchen that has its strenghts. You just need to find out which ones they are. Report of my meal, here.

***Lately, on this blog, my quick post on Nice seems (if I look at the wordpress counter) to have been very popular among the viewers of this site. A sign that summer is in full effect, lol. Well, Nice is indeed a special place but what has impressed me is that after two decades of no show, I was as excited by Nice as it was the case two decades prior. I have re-visited many places after decades of absence but have rarely left with this same sense of satisfaction. The thing about Nice is that whether you are nearby or within, you’ll always be stunned : the sun, the beautiful landscapes, the beautiful people, the great food and everything that makes France look good, well they have it. Some of you did ask where I stayed during that trip: I stayed at the Ibis Styles Nice Vieux Port, nothing special here but  reasonable in terms of lodging budget given that you are in the fun part of Nice. I do not regret that choice and would repeat it again if I’d re-visit Nice.

 

***I was also surprised to see the following less popular posts gaining a sudden rise to fame, among you:
Victor Gourmet Shloss Berg: You’d have hard time convincing me that there’s better than Chef Bau’s performance on that evening, but I am not naive enough to believe that the sun shines all the time. Restaurants, like anything operated by humans, have their ups and downs. So, I can’t bet on this house to be consistently as magical as on that evening. All I can is to talk about that meal I was having and that was magical, indeed. Looking forward to re-visit Victor Gourmet Shloss Berg, though. Germans, you can count on their consistency. That is well known.
-Mon top 10 des meilleures chansons: Lol, that was funny. I did not want my blog to focus solely on food. So, I use my blog in its conventional definition, which means a space where I ”spit” whatever comes out of my mind and that I deem fun to share with whoever might be interested to dig in.
Some of you seem to have liked this post and I do certainly appreciate that.
L’Arpège: I was expecting that post to be popular, but it was not (for a while). Recently, your interest for my post about L’Arpège grew up significantly. I hope you are not misled by my article since I did my best to be as accurate as possible: for my taste, this is a special place for me. If you are interested, then do lots of searches and ensure that’s really what you want because L’Arpège is not your usual conventional type of 3 star Michelin. You know, appreciation for food is like appreciation for colors: I’ll rave about my favourite color because I am genuinely attracted by it, and even the devil won’t be able to alter my opinion, but that does not mean my favourite color will be yours.

***Other big hits, lately, on this web blog: the review on L’Ambroisie. I am surprised by this one. L’Ambroisie is a very expensive place, so I do not quite get this one. I know what I like and I am upfront about it, so Chef Bernard Pacaud was cooking on that lunch and there were just 3 tables, so we (the 3 tables) had Chef Bernard  Pacaud for ourselves and indeed  I found him, along with Chef Jacques Maximin, to be an exceptional Chef with amazing instinctive cooking genius. Therefore, I was floored despite the hefty cost of that meal. But I am not sure I would recommend a place this $$$ to someone. Furthermore, is Bernard Pacaud still at the helm? Also: remember that this is a dated review (few years back). So, you are free to share my enthusiasm of that meal, lol, but ensure that you did your homework, verified what it is up to nowadays and find out for yourself.  As for me, that was a meal even superior to what Girardet or Joel Robuchon himself offered in their prime. But again, that was my meal there a few years ago when Chef Bernard Pacaud, the dad, was still cooking on lunch. Nowadays,  if I am not mistaken, it is his son who’s actively at the helm and I have no clue if the food experience is as stellar as when his dad was behind the stoves. Of course, that meal at L’Ambroisie will always have a special place in my heart and Bernard Pacaud, the dad, will always remain in my top 2 best Chefs of all time  (the other is Jacques Maximin)  but on the other hand, I am realistic: most ppl nowadays want value for their money.

***You seemed to have also found an interest in my latest review on Bouillon Bilk in Montreal. Obviously, you were ‘served’ with the perfect  reality of any  restaurant with both a  1st review that was not short of flourishes, then that second one which did not live up to the hype of the earlier report. Regardless, if Chef Nadon is at the helm  you’ll enjoy one of Montreal’s better contemporary food destinations. It’s just not the sort of food that an aide and/or  a kitchen brigade can replicate easily. You really need to know what you are doing when you craft that kind of assortment. It will take me some time before I go back there  as I dine out to enjoy my food, not to observe that life is made of ups and downs…I can cook well,  myself,  so I’ll leave that sort of observations to food journalists – they are paid for that kind of existential analysis, after all –

 

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.

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.