Posts Tagged ‘montreal restaurant’

A recent review of food journalist and ex Chef Thierry Daraize about Hopkins (his review on Hopkins, here) contained enough positive material to  encourage me to reserve a table here.

It would take a seriously naive person to think that the  “ultimately  reliable” food journalist or food rating exists. As one should know better, opinions, ratings and  taste are subjective, O B V I O U S L Y!… Thierry is one serious food journalist who, to the contrary of his colleagues, has been a Chef, too. I find  Thierry to be generally weak when it comes to assessing tropical food (his rave review about Lavenderia contrasts with MY OPINION  about that same restaurant, although, to be honest…MOST of the local restaurateurs are always at their best ONLY when a poster-diner is at their restaurant – the MAIN REASON  why the local restaurant scene can’t compete with serious foodie scenes like New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc ), but the best (of all local food journalists)  at judging French-based food (the food he cooked as a Chef and therefore, knows the best).

The perfect observation that even “experts” like the food journalists are useless on the aspect of assessing restaurants: I have been an active observer of the local restaurant scene for the past 18 years. In 18 years, the local food journalists were useful ONLY in two situations: the discovery of Chef Michele Mercuri (indeed, what a giant when he is in his prime! In his prime, Michele can easily compete with the best Chefs of this globe. Easily!) and Chef Jean-François Bélair when he was at Le Marly (now closed). It is Thierry Daraize that made us discover  Chef Jean-François Bélair, in this article. The  lack of success of Le Marly  was just another reminder that it is accurate to submit that the foodie scene in Montreal is one of world’s most clueless foodie scenes. What Chef Belair was doing at Le Marly would have impressed world class foodie scenes like New York/Paris/Tokyo/London. But in Montreal, the local foodie scene lacked (and, continues to) the  necessary experience/knowledge (even, right now, which means … 6 years after getting to that same conclusion…) appreciate that. A third world foodie scene.

Hopkins is a beautiful small contemporary restaurant. It is chic, hip and yet not stuck-up at all.  The decor is very bright and white with a superb penetration of natural light. Truely classy / tasteful with a superb service.

I sat at the bar and picked the 5 courses tasting menu:

First, some homemade charcuterie. Charcuteries — as it is the case at the big majority of our local restaurants —- are not at the level of a fine charcuterie in France or Italy, for the sake of comparison, but you will  definitely get to munch on some pleasant charcuterie, which was the case here 6/10

Clams/black beans puree – Clams of superb quality, from masssachusetts. This featured some necessary bold kick of saltyness to lift up the maritime flavor of the clam. The accompanying black beans puree seasoned exquisitely. Top shelf food item. 9/10

Pecorino/ravioli/beacon – A runny egg encased in a homemade ravioli. So close ( rich and delicious, as one would expect from some runny egg inside a ravioli of proper al dente texture),   yet ..so far (way too much  salt and that distracted from appreciating this dish). This was an easy trap (beacon is salty, pecorino is salty, etc…but that is exactly when and where   skills should shine…

Artic char (omble chevalier)/beets- montee au beurre – again, the fish was way too salty even for someone, like me, who loves salt. The beets were timely cooked and tasted as if they came from a serious michelin star destination –  such was its quality. 8/10 for the dazzling beets. But how do you rate a superb piece of fish (masterful doneness, dazzling quality) that is sadly as salty as a bowl of seawater? Seasoning is the most important skill in a kitchen, obviously, but during this meal, someone forgot how important it was….

Chocolate fondant/expresso – the idea is original, by the standards of our local restaurants, but a chocolat fondant and some expresso need to dazzle in the mouth of someone, like me, who is easily impressed by anything that has expresso in it. This tasted ordinary and it was frustrating to get to that conclusion as it was easy to see that some thoughts were put in it.

 

Bottom line: Somehow, you could see that they  have the potential to beat the best in town. For now, whoever has cooked my food needs to go back to the basics of cooking and learn to season his food judiciously.  Overall rating: Food (5.5/10 This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance such as the clams, the beets.  Alas,  that was marred by plenty of oversalted food item), Service (7/10 Nice service), Ambience: 8/10 (It is a small restaurant, therefore it gets packed quickly. But the atmosphere was gentle, civilized, not loud).

 

02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-gras The amuse-bouche was  creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still,  the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual  mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards,  this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining,  is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.

CONS: The  desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon.  A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.

What I think days later: Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere. I do not see a  restaurant like this one making an impression in a world class foodie city  (i.e, New York, Tokyo, London, or Paris). On a personal level, I think that the Joel Robuchon brand  is, nowadays, relevant only if you try his 3 or 2 star Michelin restaurants around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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01Restaurant Le Fantôme  has come  to my attention when Gault Millau rated it with 3 toques. Later on, I read a bit more about this place and found that all the major local food journalists have also been impressed with what comes from Le fantome’s kitchen.

They offer two tasting menus, with 5 courses at $45, and 7 courses at $60. No more a la carte choices on my visit.

09Started with foie nem which was an unbelievably  tiny version –why on earth …feeding people with food that is.. infuriatingly so minuscule ??? — of the vietnamese fresh nem roll.  There are indeed places where some food items are sometimes as minuscule as this foie nem: one great  example were the mignardises I had at Pierre Gagnaire. The difference is that at PG, they were so exceptional that indeed, I was happy to ask for more ….instead of thinking about mentioning that they were minuscule..!!!. But here, this was no  exceptional food item, consequently,  … that foie nem was nothing more than a  frustrating bite, a frustration that is actually   shared on the web by other diners on the common crowd-sources review websites. So clearly..there is an issue!  I won’t rate this for the sake of accuracy as I find it  hard to assess such a meager portion of food. I understand that you do not want your patrons to “”feel  heavy””, especially since this is  a tasting menu, but plenty of restaurateurs – here and abroad – have long mastered  the art of   not overstuffing their diners while avoiding laughable minuscule portions of food items.  It is not even..as if .. you  were saving money by doing so: miniaturization  is costly and time consuming, perhaps worthy of your time in ..science, but OBVIOUSLY worthless  for food………  )  .. YOU FEED OR YOU DO NOT!! There is no excuse here. …

 

08Carpaccio of beets (white, red, yellow) , crème fraîche, hazelnuts, shaving of truffles – The carpaccio of beets had a very enticing natural buttery sweetness to it and the quality of the beets was cleverly exploited (meaning you really got to enjoy the 3 types of beets in a way that most salads,  made of the 3 beets, would fail to please). 7/10 if I consider the superb beets, but way less than that when I think  about the crème fraîche (which did add nothing to that dish) and the hazelnuts (pls folks…no need to follow..at all cost… the textbook of the “contrasting textures”…for eg  a bit of crunch overhere, a bit of other texture overthere). And of course, truffle was going to add nothing….to yet another dish, but no one has the guts to say  it, because a bit like with Wagyu…., we are brainwashed by the powerful marketing machine found behind such luxurious ingredients.  Ultimately a 5/10 when considering the addition of the crème fraîche and hazelnuts (adding more…is not always a good idea)…this sounds severe but the crème fraîche and hazelnuts diminished  the enjoyment of the beets (just take whatever carpaccio…put some creme fraiche underneath..and you tell me if that is a culinary achievement !) . There are Chefs who managed to dazzle, using the exact same combination of ingredients, but this was  not going to serve as an  example of such …

07Carpaccio of beef, bone marrow, deep fried potato match  sticks, raifort  – quality beef that they left unaltered (meaning not seasoned) as to let the produce expressing itself. I have no problem with that. The potatoes had great flavor. Alas,  the raifort and the bone marrow did not add much here. 7/10 if I consider the potatoes (which had great potato flavor), 6/10 without them (quality beef, for sure, but dazzled I am certainly not………..!). And…once again, an item (raifort) ..actually two (bone marrow)…too many….!! as they did add nothing to that dish.

06Homard au charbon, roquette  bisque de homard – the ..incredibly tiny pieces of lobster tasted fine, thanks to the chargrill  flavor, but they were way too tiny to be fully …enjoyed. Furthermore, they had their own rendition of the bisque that just did not do it for me . Let us put it that way: a classic bisque would have been better.,……….far better, and I need a reasonable amount  of  seafood, not just a “glimpse” of it…in order to feel sated………..). 6/10

04Poached halibutbeurre blanc, morel – , well done  beurre blanc (this confirmed that….the Chef should focus on the classic French recipes that he does so well….instead of trying to impress with non classic renditions of what he is is cooking — for example, his rendition of the bisque did not seduce me at all)  and a piece of fish tasting good.    7/10

05Asparagus, pasilla pepper , rhubarb, shallots confit – usual comforting flavor that can’t fail to  come from sauteed veggies, but rhubarb added nothing here …You will end up with similar flavor with or without the ………….rhubarb!! 6/10

03Lamb  (from Quebec) packed with  crowd-pleasing qualities (tender, delicious)  and an equally superb lamb jus. simple combination of ingredient, but there was nothing to fault here. This came with a puree of avocado that stood out (enticing fresh acidity to a puree of avocado that was just not your average avocado puree) 8 /10

02Anguilles  du Quebec – Sea eels from Gaspe and portobello mushrooms tasting as fine  as good quality eels and mushrooms,  would taste, by default, if you’d chargrill them yourself at home, meaning it was fine, just not “restaurant material” enough (this  opinion also  applies to the dish of Asparagus that was reviewed above) . 6/10

The desserts comprising of sorbets/ ice creams (popsicle orange) and a nicely executed cremeux chocolat mixed with some … mushrooms that added nothing to it…  – I won’t anymore rate any dessert at restaurants  that is basically made of ice cream, as good as it is… – Enough is enough…there are ice cream parlours for that. But I will tolerate a chocolate cremeux as long as it is as enjoyable as that one I was having  (minus the mushrooms that they had to mix it with).

Pros: The  ideas  (the candles everywhere, the nondescript entrance ), the somehow “cool attitude” of the staff

Cons: (1) The more (ingredient) you add the better it should taste, which is what supposedly lesser rated tables (lesser rated by Gault Millau and our major local food journalists, I mean …………)  do effortlessly.  Here, the more (ingredients) they were adding, the less convincing it turned out to be … (2) Not trying to be mean here, but truth be told…You will have  to be really exceptional at what you do if you are going to try to impress people  with food that is, oftently, that “minuscule”…..

Bottom line: I appreciate that  the staff is  fun, the overall concept refreshingly different from what we do usually find in  Montreal right now, the candles, the door of  the toilets that do not open in a conventional fashion…ha ha ha, …amusing  — . Food-wise, I suspect that Le fantome can be at its best when it sticks to the classics:  the halibut, the lamb, the chocolate cremeux , the  beurre blanc were  fine , though not  that “outstanding” by  Montreal’s  restaurant standards as the performance  of this kitchen on that specific evening got nowhere near (in general) what Chef Mercuri (Le Serpent) or De Montigny (La Chronique) can cook at their best (all tables rated as inferior to Le fantome by G&M / some those local food journalists). And plenty of  other local tables have fed me with food as fine  as the better items I  had here.   –  Restaurant Le Fantôme, 1832 rue William, Phone: (514) 846-1832 URL: http://www.restofantome.com/ Overall rating (Categ: Fine dining in Montreal ): Food (5/10 when you add an ingredient to your dish, it should ADD to..NOT SUBSTRACT from…the enjoyment of the food!!!!!), Service (7/10 Good service. ), Ambience:  it was quiet when I was there .

What I think days later: There have been cases where one  or two items “too far” would disappoint me at restaurants, but rarely to the point of taking away from the enjoyment of a dish, which is what happened oftenly during this meal.

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In 2015, 3 major restaurants opened in Montreal: Le Mousso, Hoogan & Beaufort as well as Montreal Plaza.

Montreal Plaza marks the return of local star Chef Charles-Antoine Crête who used to work at Toque!, Brasserie T!, as  well as Majestique. I do not know Charles-Antoine in person, but I once ate at Toque!, several years ago, and he was at the helm. From what I recall, his mastery of French classics stood out at that time. Then, I went to Bistrot T! in its first days and he was in charge of the cooking there, and again, his classical French cooking skills allowed for some well made  French bistrot fares.

I was there on February 12th 2016, in the evening, and have sampled the following dishes:

Montreal Plaza 01Salade de concombre mariné – Marinated cucumber salad (mixed with  algae)   expressed fresh acidity, the seasoning   judicious. As expected from  a kitchen brigade of this quality, the produce is well sourced, the notion of timing well mastered (we are a world away from the incompetent kitchen brigades that are seasoning their food way too long before serving it,   or marinating their vegetables  to the point of making it inedible). It is admittedly hard to get excited about a cucumber salad but this was  competently  executed.   7/10

Montreal Plaza 02Then a tartare of  artic char and rice crips – the tartare as fresh and tasty as it gets at a restaurant in town, the rice crisps tiny enough so that the star item remains the tartare itself. Oftently,  kitchen brigades do mistakenly mix tartares with sizeable rice crisps which diminish the appreciation of the tartare. A mistake that is avoided here. Very good 8/10

Montreal Plaza 03Sundae de Hamachi, crème d’oursin (Sea urchin cream / Hamachi) – The cream showcasing how confident with classic French cooking the brigade is as it was a flawless classic French rendition of a cream. Slices of superbly fresh hamachi could be found underneath the cream. All good (the taste, the textures), but sea urchin flavor  is tricky to impart in a cream, oftently hard to discern,  as proven by this item. In an instance like this one, just do a cream and leave the sea urchin atop. 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 04Whelk gratiné / miso butter – whelk,   chopped carrots/celery/daikon atop.  The carrots seemed pickled and you also had a piece of milk bread as well as a some lime on the side. As it is the case with all the other dishes that I have tried on that evening, the execution is without reproach (the taste,  tenderness and freshness of that whelk were worthy of mention), but this dish did not do it for me as I found the intense acidity of the overall dish a bit overwhelming for my taste. Still, there is nothing faulty here, just a clash with my personal taste (I am not a fan of bold  sour flavors  in general). 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 05Brochette de bavette/Daikon – The  high quality of that meat was a testament to the  serious sourcing found under this roof, the meat  flavorful and its consistency perfectly tender. Potatoes shaped like noodles as well as haskap were served atop the brochette.  8/10

Montreal Plaza 06Polenta/saucisse maison/mozzarella cheese/melon – The Polenta had proper creamy  texture, the corn flavor shining through as it should. They did  add melon, a piece of mozzarella cheese and homemade sausage, all add-ons that made  perfect sense on the palate. 7/10

PROS: The ingredient sourcing is great ,  the service superb.

CONS: Is milk bread what you really want to pair  with that dish of whelk gratiné? My palate did not think so….

My personal  overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 7/10. (Categ: North American, French, Cosmopolitan cuisine in Montreal)   During this specific meal, there was no highlight (no particular work of flavor/textures or combination of ingredients   that appeared, to me, as going above and beyond the standard of what is currently offered on our  local finest restaurant tables as it was the case with  my recent meal   at Le Mousso ,  but the cooking is certainly competent.

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Restaurant Damas | Type of food: Syrian (Classic with a refined touch + their own  twist) | Addr: 5210 Avenue du Parc | Phone: 514-439-5435 | Date and time of the meal: 02-02-2015 20:00 | URL: http://www.restaurant-damas.com/

Restaurant Damas has been around for several years and quickly won the heart of plenty of local foodies as well as most  food journalists. Perhaps one of the few great success stories of the local food scene’s recent history. To appreciate Levantine‘s cooking, you need to understand its core elements: for eg, yoghurt is  not just a notion for dessert. I took time to mention yoghurt because this is one element that a non initiated palate may find completely different from everything that has kissed its tongue,and –decades after Levantine’s cooking made its way to the West —  you could still see online comments about people who are shocked to find  yoghurt  mixed with meat. Well, that is one feature  of Levantine’s cooking. And then,you do, of course,have the olives, the leaf vegetables, plenty of creamy textures, the lentils,the chickpeas, etc.

That restaurant Damas was offering good looking food, that I knew. All I needed was to sample it  and see how my appreciation would fare against the online raves on  restaurant Damas.

01

Started with a fattoush, which featured quality ingredients that were freshly cut. The salad being certainly one legit version of fattoush —you have all the components of a fattoush (pieces of toasted flatbread, seasonal veggies) —  , with — when compared to some of the traditional versions of the fattoush that I had before —  the observation that  they do not ‘push the envelope’ on the seasoning front (for eg, I had fattoush , prepared by Syrian   grandmas, which sumac seasoning was somehow more noticeable and/or the sourness of the pomegrenate more  expressive). Other main difference compared to some of the traditional versions I had: the refinement (there was  a certain level of care that went into the presentation) . There was also a health conscious mind behind that salad as it was not salty.  So, a fresh / healthy / almost western-friendly (which, for me,  is not a reproach, btw) take on the traditional fattoush  I had before. Nothing to fault, here. Good 7/10

03

Pursued with the fried akkawi cheese, nigella seeds, and tomato mint salsa – lots of finesse in the execution as the quality cheese (enjoyable lactic freshness ) had perfect sear,  not a hint of off-putting greasyness, the overall featuring fine ingredients (by our local standards, though — and that’s the only way I could see how such dish could be improved — I can imagine how dazzling this would have been with freshly picked ingredients on the shore of the Mediterranean sea ;p). Very good 8/10

02

Then came the fabled  lamb shank, which again … as everything I had on this evening…was done properly (they certainly know when fire, in the braising process,  should start and when it should stop, they certainly know how to prevent  their meat from getting dry, and if expressions like ‘fall off the bone tender’ or ‘moist’ are clichés to you, well they were certainly features of that lamb shank, too ;p), tasted fine –though not as dazzling as what I kept hearing….not the fault of the restaurant, should I stress, as my palate does not perceive this sort of seasoning —this was some perfectly  legit Syrian seasoning for lamb shanks, btw – as exciting (certainly NOT unexciting neither). Still, this was good as there’s hardly anything to fault here (even the Freekeh – I picked the ‘Lamb friki’ dish — was cooked as it should, meaning seasoned judiciously, and cooked the way Syrians usually do, which is similar to cooking a pilaf – the wheat grain cooked to ideal consistency, meaning not over nor undercooked, but to the right chewy sensation that most Syrians came to  expect from most freekeh-based dishes). The side of yogurt and cucumbers stood as fresh as it gets.   7/10

Service: Before I went there (my first visit at Restaurant Damas), I heard mixed reviews about the service and I was curious to find for myself. The service, on this specific evening, was approchable and sociable at the same time. It was certainly not too formal, which is what I prefer.  Nothing that I could  complain about, although it is worth noting that I am Francophone, they are Francophones, so the communication was flawless. Still, they also can converse in English as I saw them exchanging with Anglophone customers on this evening.

Pricey, as widely reported? It’s a place that offers some touches of (relative ) luxury (wine / mineral water /couple of luxury ingredients such as the wild shrimp from the coast of Senegal), so clearly, if you do not keep the bill in check, then your bill will remind it to you.

PROS: Unless I force my imagination otherwise, I can’t picture  this kitchen failing at delivering food that’s done properly. Exciting food? That I do not know.  Just remember that you can’t carry your definition of ‘exciting’ everywhere you go…as elements such as the seasoning  used in X type of cuisine may be behind that definition. Food done as it should? Absolutely.

CONS: 1. They  do not need to use  luxury ingredients (filet mignon,shrimps from Senegal) for this type of food, meaning food that generally relies on the advantages of slow cooking,  marinating meat, etc ….though I gather that the luxury ingredients are there to justify the higher price-point. With that (the price-point ) in mind, I suggest you stick to the tasting menu as it will pass as more cost-effective (than ordering  à la carte). 2.I don’t understand why, as a solo diner, I can’t indulge in the tasting menu that’s advertised on the very first page of their menu. My waitress kindly explained that it’s for two persons, thus way too much for a solo diner. But it’s the job of a restaurant to adjust their tasting menu to a solo diner (this is not an issue at plenty of restaurants). She tried to accommodate me, but the alternative options were not as interesting as that tasting menu.

Conclusion: My experience was a bit different, as well as tad  less impressive,  when compared  to most online accounts –>  most have  raved about the most flavorful lamb shank they ever had in Montreal, the best fattoush, etc. Taste is personal, different cuisines mean different ways of flavoring food, a lamb shank can be dazzling one day and forgettable the next day depending on the supplier and so many other factors, your preference for a specific  type of cuisine may define your assessment of what’s flavorful or not, and  with all of that taken into account, on the strict aspect of the flavor, I still have to say that  I had far more flavorful lamb shanks right here in Montreal. Which, again …has nothing to do with Restaurant Damas and should take nothing away from its  lamb shank: it was tasty, seasoned as Syrians do usually season their lamb (though not boldly, which make sense as this kitchen focuses on the refinement of their cooking)  and certainly timely braised, its quality irreprochable and indeed, one of the fine pieces of lamb shanks of this city…JUST NOT among  the most delicious that   I ever had in Montreal.  For me, this not a restaurant that would feature  in my top 10 in Montreal  (which seems to have been the case of most online reviewers of this place), but definitely –from what I’d realistically expect from a Syrian restaurant in Montreal —  a kitchen that can cook , and that does it  with care.

What I think days later: A satisfying meal, good  ingredients as well as a kitchen which work I certainly can’t fault, but  my meal at Restaurant Damas  did not ‘float my boat’ because nothing knocked my socks off…which,like to hear this or not, is what I should expect at those prices and that reputation. I can only reiterate that between a flawless meal with everything done well but nothing standing out (the case of this  meal I was having)  and a meal that is in general average but with one or two moments of brilliance,  I prefer the latter over the former. And YES…just in case you ask, I am a huge fan of / and am familiar with  Syrian cuisine since a long time. And NO, my experience with Syrian food is not limited to tasting it in the West. And oh…just in case it is still not clear enough…the sort of MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE (in this case, I was missing a personal touch that dazzles) I am referring to are possible and expected from  Syrian cuisine.

Where: Restaurant Hot Africa
Type of cuisine: African
Addr: 4959 Chemin Queen Mary,Montreal
Phone: 514 734-5052
Date,Time of the meal : 16-1-2015 19:00

Africa is the continent where I was born and grew up, so it is natural that I have spent my entire life enjoying the nuances of its various regional cuisines both on the continent itself as well as abroad. Still, I am realistic enough to know what I should expect from African cuisine in the West, so do not count on me to expect the unexpected, meaning that I’m reviewing this place with, in mind, the standard of African cooking that I am accustomed to in Montreal.

Hot Africa is located close to station Snowdon (approx 5 minutes walk away), the decor as unassuming as it gets (do not expect luxury here). Their cooking  takes its inspiration mostly from Western (for eg,they had the foutou available on this evening)  and Central Africa (for eg, the Ndolé).

Braised bass was hard to improve upon, by any restaurant standard that I can think of, its fresh maritime flavor, fabulous texture of the flesh  and dazzling taste reminding how the pleasure of eating is oftently found in the simple things done really well . In theory, it is not hard to braise a piece of fish but I wished some of the highly rated restaurants in town could prove this right. On many of those supposedly ambitious tables, I would rate a piece of fish executed this well with no less than a 10/10…a feature that happened perhaps just once or twice in 15 years. And of course, the ambitious tables do not serve an entire fish (which they did here), but a slice of it  …at twice the price of the entire fish I was having on this evening). The rice was nicely perfumed, tasted great  and cooked properly. I have no clue if  that fish is as consistently stellar day after day as it was the case on this specific evening, but what I was  having was dazzling! 10/10

Ndolé  is one dish that I enjoy a lot whenever I can try it. The leaves were cooked enoughly long to allow their aromas to fully express themselves, the texture creamy as it should, the sweetness from the crushed peanuts balancing nicely the natural bitterness of the leaves. They applied faithfully the traditional recipe and those in the know will remind how the prep for the Ndolé can be a pain.  This was as good as your Ndolé gets in an African restaurant in Montreal. Good. 7/10

My only quip (??) , with the food,   is actually not really a problem, rather a matter of personal taste: the grilled goat (6/10) prefer my grilled goat with more chargrill flavor, the consistency chewier (theirs was very tender), the meaty flavor bolder (theirs was refined in taste). As for the fried plantains, they were as satisfying as everywhere else in town (there is no such thing as exceptional fried plantains in Montreal restaurants — for eg, forget the refined looking plantains that may come out from the kitchen of a gourmet destination).

I was lucky to have shared this meal with African dining companions who are friends who know their food really well. Some wished the plantains were sweeter (this boils down to personal tastes,btw, and has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong. I personally like my plantains not too ripe as I find the relevant texture and taste suiting better to salty dishes…I am not a huge fan of sweet/salty constrasting flavors ) , others observed that they had better Ndolé and braised bass but not in Montreal (me too,but again, as stated earlier on, I am comparing this meal to African meals I have enjoyed in Montreal).

Pros: Genuine African flavors

Cons: the almost ‘hole in a wall’ feel of the place + the service on this evening lacked a bit of warmth

Conclusion: Over a decade ago, Montreal did host one of the finest African tables that I can think of,  Souvenirs D’Afrique on Mont Royal street, now closed since a long time. Years went by and no African restaurant in Montreal got close to the standards of Souvenirs D’Afrique. HA gets nowhere close neither, but the food tastes generally good, the flavors are genuine and the braised bass tells me that this kitchen is not amateurish.

What I think days later: African restaurants in Montreal have rarely disappointed me, in terms of the food..I mean. Yes, they are not at the level of the best African tables of Paris, to take an example, and many African tables in the USA have impressed me more, but they usually do what they have got to do, meaning keeping the flavors as genuine as African flavors can taste like —  oceans and continents away from Africa. My prefered  African table in Montreal is nowadays Le Nil Bleu, which offers Ethiopian refined cooking in elegant settings , but never miss an opportunity to try any of the unassuming African tables that we have in town. They can   deliver satisfying  (by Montreal standards) African food, too, which is a feature that HA is certainly  capable of.

FAQ + Learn to know your food reviewer

Posted: December 26, 2010 in food critic
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My  reviews are written in a style that is not sellable / media or buzz-friendly. In other words, you will rarely find my reviews advertised on restaurant web sites or promoted in the foodie blogosphere. This is exactly what I want since the purpose of my reviews is to be as indepent as possible from the restaurant industry.

***My food rating system is explained here.

Also my background as a gourmand -> http://tinyurl.com/8774sax

I realized that most people do not take time to learn a bit more about the writer of the food review they are reading. It makes no sense to me.  That writer, being human, has naturally his/her  preferences as you, I, or anyone else  writing  about restaurant and food.

If, as an example, that writer does not like bistro food, I presume you understand that you might need to consider this when you need or read his advices on bistro food.

I personally am more into traditional fares (French, African, Asian, Carribean), therefore I will naturally tend to favor rich savourish dishes over simplistic display of raw ingredients on my plate. Of course, I love contemporary fares too:
I am fond of the modern bistro fares as much as I like their traditional versions. I do appreciate Modern French cuisine a lot, perhaps as much as I like traditional French.

I was born in a fishermen village, which explains my sacred fascination for seafood and why I am particularly demanding/strict when I evaluate seafood dishes. But I am as much picky with meats too: few years ago, curious about the buzz on Japanese seafood and beef, I sacrificed three months in just that -> enjoying what Japan was offering as its best beef and seafood. That was a fascinating experience that I will never forget, and also a reminder of  how the best of what others might have enjoyed  could be completely different from what you have liked the most. Japan has indeed amazing products and their top quality beef deserve the hype, but the best seafood I enjoyed was in Africa and the Carribean.
The best beef? hard to say.  Japan top graded beef are truly one thing you need to experience at least once in your life (it will be way too long for me to explain all the different types of top graded Japanese beef here. We’ll leave that for a later post on top Japanese beef, but their beef, at the upper echelon, is one experience you will not enjoy elsewhere), but I preferred the Australian beef. The top graded Argentinian beef, to my surprise, did not impress me up to now, but I need to spend more time in Argentina in order to have a more extended experience with their beef. I need to experience the Galician beef, of which I heard rave opinions. Chicken fared better to me in Africa (some chicken I tried there were far better than another chicken that I love so dearly and that is highly praised, for good reasons because it is indeed a great chicken: France’s poulette de Bresse).

The best meat I ever ate: a roasted tailless tenrec  over 15 yrs ago, in the Indian Ocean. No meat at a 3* Michelin restaurant, none of the widly praised meats, not one dining venture ever came close to that one.

I am very curious and want to submit my palate to as much tastes as possible, thus  I tend to try all sort of food. There are many remote places I’d like to go just to taste their food: I dream of spending years with remote saharian, amazonian tribes and discover their cuisine, their cooking techniques.

 

Let’s conclude on a straightforward Q&A’s in order for you to better read/interpret/understand my restaurant evaluations:

You have cooked and have been passionate about food trends since the latest 1980s. What are the main differences between what you have experienced in the latest 1980s Vs now?  In the latest 80s, on the mainstream, you had access to  ingredients that were of far superior quality to what is considered as “exceptional” nowadays. Stellar  tuna, eggs,  poultry,  meat,  fish, all of that were just part of your normal life. You had honey made by bees, meat and milk with no chemical manipulation to the contrary of what is  “fashion” these days. You really had the taste of what things were. The era in which we live right now, the 2000s, that  is an era that I call the BIG FRAUD: for a long time, in that period,  honey made of flowers was sold as honey made by bees. Of course, the newer generations could not tell the difference and the fraudsters got away with it. Right now, they are more careful about the scam of the honey and  the honey that is sold to the mass is  now generally labeled as it is (anything but not made by bees!). And people are getting a bit smarter about it: honey sold at $10 cannot come from bees…Lol!. That said, it remains a period of disgusting fraud: they now call pretty much everything ‘Bio” to cash in. But the ‘Bio’ they are talking about was just ‘normal’, ‘natural’ in the context of the 1980s. The other day I  did invite my Mom at a 3 star Michelin so that she can appreciate what is considered as ‘exceptional produce’ at the present time  —because the fraudulent system within which we live today ensures that you have to pay a leg and an arm to get access to what is considered ‘exceptional’ — and we had the laugh of our life: all produce that could not hold a candle to what was just “normal produce” in the late 1980s.

Why a food blog..when there is certainly no shortage of food blogs out there??  Is your food blog different from most food blogs?  Why a food blog? Mainly because I wanted to share my foodie adventures with foodies who help me find great places where I can dine at across the globe. Therefore, instead of sharing my adventures by email, it was easier to put them in writing on a blog. But it is true…I shall concede…. that I did not content myself with yet another food blog. I went several steps further:  let us not forget that the big majority of food blogs —- not ALL of them, but the big majority —  are promotional tools for the food industry. Therefore, right there, I was going to be very different from the ‘mass’. Most food blogs have a section called ‘preferred links’. You look at them and you quickly realize that they are links of the food blogs of their friends or links of food blogs that offer the same type of content (for example: all links of food bloggers covering their foodie adventures of the same areas of the globe, all links to food blogs of people writing in the same fashion, etc) . There are food bloggers who use that space with much more genuine creativity. They are  rare, but they do exist. I am one of those rare ones who seize that opportunity to include in my  ‘preferred links’ the food blogs that I found the most educative in African cuisine, the most practical for Asian cooking.  I have preferred links covering breads, oysters, etc. I do not do that because I want ‘to be different’, NO…it is just natural in me: I believe that if you are really passionate about something,  it will show. I am genuinely  passionate about food? Then I do not limit myself with the quality of the writings of a food blog. I do not limit myself to trends. When I go to a country, I do not limit myself to Michelin star restaurants. That is like saying that you like architectures but you turn around and talk only about castles and luxurious buildings.  Have a look at the ‘best meals of the year’ of most food bloggers. It is just another opportunity for them to do the list of every single Michelin star restaurant that they ate at. Nothing more. Take a look at mine and you will see that there are non Michelin star restaurants which meals deserve much more praises that the ones of their Michelin starred counterparts. Many food bloggers brag about their passion for food, but it is pure BS! They are more interested about their image, the nice pics they have to submit on instagram, the trends, their  friends of the industry  than being really passionate about food.

Why anonymous? Because guess what…a normal diner has always been anonymous, not a fame-seeker, not a celebrity. I am interested by the dining experience that any normal diner has a chance to partake in, not one where the normal cooking and experience is adjusted because you are recognized….good for those taking advantage of such situations, but it is irrelevant for someone like me who wants to know how things are happening in normal conditions.

In a world where most would not shy away from a moment of fame and freebies, why are you taking the opposite route? Indeed, most would prefer fame and freebies and I wish I was like that as it would make my life certainly easier in the relevant aspects (less money to spend, better food as I’d essentially attend PR related meals with all the bells and whistles that come along, etc).  But then, that would not be me. Things like those do boil down to who you are as a person, how you view life, how you were brought up. I take no pleasure in benefitting from privileges and attention, I am a giver, not a taker so right there it’s easy to understand how freebies and fame are useless notions for me. At best, I can appreciate that they are useful to others.

It is widely known that most food bloggers and food journalists are, in facts, promoters of the food industry and tourism authorities. Therefore not credible. What is your take on that? I am not concerned by that. Whether someone doubts of the credibility of my blog or not, I could not care less. I am here to document my foodie adventures. If it pleases you, good for you. If Not, then your loss. Not mine.

Your blog does not focus on beautiful write-ups. And you tend to use profusely words such as ‘competent’.  I am NOT sorry about the overuse of the word ‘competent’ in this blog. There are plenty of blogs, online, who are paid to be careful with the quality of their text as their role is to promote the food industry. Good for them, but I could not care less about that. My role is to tell you what is COMPETENT or not on the back of my years spent enjoying food not just the way it has been for the last 5 years, Lol, but the way it was done  3 to 4 decades ago, which means the way it has always been rather than the way it should be … so if you are more interested by the BS of beautiful reviews, you are on the wrong blog. But If you have a genuine interest in  what food should be really about, you are on the right blog. I am not writing this to sound rude, but to be pragmatic and  to avoid misplaced expectations

In order to find a restaurant where to go to eat, do you rely on the crowd-sourced review forum, online reviews of critics? That is the  first step  of anyone who  finds a restaurant. So, years ago, that is what I used to do: looking at the reviews on  the crowd-sourced review forums, reading the reviews of critics. In those days, there was a reasonable proportion  of honest reviewers, meaning people who are not there to promote the agenda of the food industry but doing their honest / anonymous / normal  duty of sharing their views as any honest / anonymous / normal Joe or Jane would. But now, it is very different: the web is infested by business competitors who try to put down each other by overwhelming those  crowd-sourced review forums with  a plethora of profiles of their own creation and paying the food critics to play, Tourism authorities flooding the web with plenty of friendly food blogs, etc.  It is exactly as you would expect it to be: a multi-billion industry who ensures that its  flaws are  silenced, its fake  glory marketed as real, etc. So, normal stuff, nothing out of the ordinary, here. Consequently, it is also normal that I cannot rely on these widely known  unrealiable sources of info to find a restaurant.

Marco Pierre White once decried the fact that he was assessed by people who knew less than him
Marco could afford saying that kind of stupid thing because he was a true great Chef. I say stupid because it is always stupid to try to shutdown the voice of others when you are living in a democracy full of grown men and women … NOT  in a banana republic. I say stupid because how can he know that those who are assessing his food are not better than him. It is not because you think you are right, that others are not! I say stupid because there is obviously a difference between doing the work of a critic and doing the work a cook. When Marco reads the critic of a movie, does he expect the critic to be as good as the actors in the movie? I know people try all sorts of tactics to discourage views that are not favorable to themselves, but that logic of criticizing the assessment of a critic is infantile at best. That said 90% of the restaurants of this globe do have kitchen brigades that cooks average food that is inferior to what most can cook at home.

 

Any problem with those seeking fame? Nope. It is their rights. If you want to use food blogging to make a name in the food industry and build your career, or make friends, or standing as the cool kid of the block, why not? It is your right. But obviously, I am not going to get the ‘right time’ with  what you are communicating .

 

In regards to your blog, what achievement are you the most proud of? Many, not all, but most …have hard time distancing themselves from emotional aspects. For eg, if the restaurant is very famous, they look forward to put it down at the first opportunity. If it’s pricey, same thing. If they have been to a fancy modern restaurant that have impressed them, the next classic restaurant they will visit will pass as subpar, not because it is subpar but because they are mixing up emotions with rationality. One of the very first reasons that brought me into food blogging was to keep that  in check, to control it. So, I work hard in focusing on what is on my plate regardless of trends, buzz, opinions,etc. This is the kind of thing that will never be apparent to the most, but what matters is that I am proud to have achieved the impossible: when a meal is bad, it is bad and I will say it but I know deep inside of me that it is bad because I found it bad, not because of superfluous reasons. When it is great, same thing. My blog makes you realize that the big majority of the food bloggers and food journalists know nothing about food. They just follow trends. They will praise  whatever the food industry wants them to praise. As an example, they know how to rate western and japanese food. But when it comes to anything that is not japanese or western, they will rate it lower. I have never seen one single major food blogger or food journalist who is  capable to identify a benchmark (10/10) non western or japanese dish. It speaks volume about how clueless and ignorant and anything you want but true connoisseurs of food they are!

What’s the thinking behind this blog? All my personal initiatives (meaning initiatives on which I have full control) follow this attern -> I look at what already exist, observe what I (subjectively) perceive as missing  and start building upon such observation. It’s not meant to purposely play the role of the “outsider” for the pleasure of it, that is not the intent. The intent is to broaden my horizon  with varied perspectives. If most foodies are writing diairies or simply posting pics of their meals, I respect that, but I find interesting, for me at least, to bring more. So I rate my meal, I try my best to either be  concise or, to the contrary, to enrich my opinion with more than what is usually found. I see most people making friends and I say “oh, let’s see how things will fare, in the restaurant world, without…“. I go to some restaurants where there are restrictions to normal diners, but that is not mentioned anywhere else, so I mention them because I want normal diners to know what awaits. I see people writing about what’s basically a private restaurant and I think “this does not cater to the normal diner that I am, so NO, I won’t write about such place”. I see people writing in their mother tongue and I say “omg, good for them, I respect that, but that is too comfort zone for me”.   It might not be perfect as it’s the nature of virtually everything, but it’s the way I view things.

-Your blog is designed to remain an “underground” foodie souce. Aren’t you afraid that it remains “anonymous”?

It will be popular, at some point. I do not not know when, but it will be. Because people are “never  satisfied” by nature. They like what is popular, indeed, but at some point they get used to that and want the opposite of … just that, lol! And a real Chef with a head on his shoulders, do you really think he is naive enough to believe that he can thrive on the back of opinions about how great things are?? Lol.  It would be naive to think that it is the case. He won’t reveal it to the world, for sure, but he will, secretely, look for opinions like the ones you find on “underground” blogs like mine.

-There is an educational dimension to your blog? Why is that?
I think it is important. I see many people going to restaurants with unrealistic expectations and that is because of the lack of information on what to expect when dining out. Even myself, I sometimes forget that restaurants are manned by human beings. The other day, a friend had to remind me that it was naive from my part to expect some restaurateurs to maintain a high level of cooking performance if there is no incentive. So true. What peep would be motivated to cook well on a consistently basis with no incentive?
I know, the incentive is supposed to be the money you are paying for your meal, but the average biped does not “walk” that way. You paying for your meal…that, they take it for granted.

-In some of you reviews, you criticize those who have a beef against restaurants frequented by tourists. Which comes as a surprise considering that you invest lots of time finding genuine food. The sight of tourists in a restaurant should normally be an alarming sign to someone like you. When you do not know your food, you tend to be distracted by things that have nothing to do with food. The tourist which presence  you are futilely distracted by … is probably a well travelled foodie who is more passionate and knowledgeable than  you about food. Touristy or not, if you know your food, you will know if your food is  good or not. That’s all that matters. The BS about tourists is the usual crap coming from clueless people who think that food is great or not depending on who is in the dining room.

-How difficult was that, for you, to decide sharing about your foodie adventures?  For someone who comes from very humble backgrounds like me, the hardest part was to learn to respect the other foodies out there. When you were born in a fishermen village and have spent your childhood extracting the most out of a simple piece of fresh fish, you tend to lack respect to ppl who seem to run without having learned to walk. In the beginning, reading things like ‘the squid was excellent because it was tender’ or the ‘abalone was the finest because it was melt in your mouth tender’…and that ‘this squid or that abalone was bad because I’ve eaten more tender versions of it’ ..reading that kind of crap was really frustrating for me. I kept saying to myself “how come they pretend they like something and they do not even bother  finding out, at the source, about how a fresh piece of abalone or squid looks/smells/feels   in its ””just-snatched from floor of the-sea” condition.  And those folks kept feeding my sarcasm: some having half of the vegetables and meats featuring among ” things they do not like”, others rushing to restaurants with no clue of how the restaurant operates (you know, the famous ”the portions are too small”….at a gourmet restaurant..c’mon!!!!!!!!!!), some expecting bistrot ambience at gourmet restaurants, others comparing low level cooking skills to top level ones only because they have no clue of the efforts and true technical depth that sets apart the great from the just ok, ..in a nutshell, a collection  of complete mess. Naturally,  the cooking skills  of  of those  critics is limited to boiling some  egg, making an omelette.  So with time I learned to tolerate such individuals, I learned  to accept the idea that they are   entitled to their opinion eventhough they have zero  knowledge of what they are talking about.

 

What do you think about cooks who suggest that they could not care about critics and opinions? That they work only for their customers? I doubt those cooks would like the opposite scenario of no one talking/caring about their work. And what’s a critic? Guess what..he’s a customer. He is just sharing his opinion about what he has enjoyed. Exactly as any other customer would do, unless those cooks consider ‘customers’ as those who are not entitled to an opinion.  Spitting on a ‘sea of free advertisement’ (that’s basically what we, food bloggers, are; that is basically what food journalism is, too) provided by  people paying with their hard earned money, that is everything you want except brilliance.  Clearly,  suggesting that you could not care about critics is a plain stupid declaration.

Is that true that the restaurant world manipulates the food blogging scene? Life is a manipulation. Virtually everything is a manipulation.  Take my own  blog:  I believe in what I do, which means assessing my food from the perspective of a normal diner paying for his food and rejecting  ‘ fame through food blogging’ as any normal diner should, but at the end of the count it is still manipulation as in the concerned situation, I am manipulated by my belief that this is the right thing to do.  So, I do not care about manipulation. All I am asking the restaurant world is to remember that normal diners (which count  for the majority of their clientele)  are paying to enjoy  good food, and they (the restaurateurs) are paid to deliver it.

-What do you say to people who finds reviews of food to be exxagerated? By nature, an opinion is an exxageration because it is a perception. You are basically saying what you think of what you’ve  perceived as facts. An opinion about someone else’s opinion is a double exxageration because you are not even talking about your perception of facts, you are talking about what others have perceived.

Why do you rarely state that  this or that restaurant deserves this or that X award/rating, etc? There’s a huge difference between people who have cooked for a long time (like me) Vs those who are judging the restaurant world with no experience in a kitchen. A huge one, and that is not a reproach, that is not to elect one opinion as better as another, not at all, that is  just an observation. People who have cooked since a long time tend to be very careful about comparisons. They wait and wait and wait until they gather lots of evidence / material before risking comparisons, because they know that what most are basically doing is judging tastes/opinions of others but that beyond that, there are so many factors that only them have experienced with (mood of the cook, produce that is one day great, another day impossible to get, etc). Those who are not sensibilized to those realities judge hastily as you and I would judge anything we are not that knowledgeable about. At the end of the day, everybody is entitled to an opinion and it’s up to their respective audience to do the rest.

The problem with most diners, nowadays? They should consider dining  out only upon ensuring that  they are  really familiar with the type of cooking offered at the restaurant where they are heading, as well as the true purpose of that restaurant.  You hurt both your wallet and your intelligence when you dine out with ignorance at the core of your actions/judgements and you can’t hide that:  if you go to a bistrot expecting fine dining, if you are eating a properly well executed classic dish but you were expecting, without knowing it, sparks of modern cooking, you really sound as stupid as those who go to the sea and can’t stand water. Ask  aunts, uncles,  grandmas/grandpas, people familiar with textures and tastes of past generations cooking  to cook /show you/educate your palate  about the classic dishes you are interested to try at the restaurant, then your opinions will have better substance. But do not go to a restaurant simply because it is highly regarded by others. Before expecting something to be great, you should first know what you like, if what you like is really something you are familiar with/have understood/appreciated to greater extent.  I love food, have familiarized my palate with food from all around the globe, from various generations, and yet there are food of which I give no opinion (for eg Russian, Romania cuisines), food that I do not assess because they have either flavors that are acquired taste for my palate or simply because I am not fully familiar with all its nuances. I can’t judge that because I have no real reference, no real experience, no real knowledge with that sort of food.   Once you know, you’ll really know what is bad and what is really good, or else you are making a fool of your ownself.

Did you experience with restaurants that you suspect of offering fake dining experiences? Fortunately, they do not abound but YES, I know of some restaurants that can’t be serious at what they do. I always give them 2 to 3 tries, just to make sure that it’s not my mind playing tricks, but you feel that kind of things right from the 1st visit…you feel it  when a restaurant has nothing to do with what you’ve read in the  reviews…they tend to  keep  having nothing to do with what is reported online even after a 2nd, even a 3rd visit…you know right away that is a fake restaurant, dispatching its better cooking staff when a food journalist is dining in the house but not capable to deliver consistently.

Is it true that they segregate diners at most restaurants, for eg the better looking ppl are provided with the best seats, etc – Many restaurants do that. But that does not bother me at all as it’s the food that matters to me.  If your food is bad and you segregate diners on top of that, then you  are a dump!

Do you care about criticisms over food bloggers? No, I can’t care about that.  I”ll politely listen, of course as I have always believed in freedom of thought. My own kid, my relatives, they are actually my harshest critics. Kids have ‘no filter’, they say the truth and my kid’s criticism would make a grown man cry, lol. But here’s the thing: for me, there are times for caring about criticisms. Again, if you want to be a celebrity food blogger, if you want to find a window of  opportunity in this industry, of course you need to care about what people think. But not every people are  interested to approach the foodie world as an opportunity to make a buck and I am genuinely one of those. Listen, when I first decided to launch my food blog, a foodie friend urged me to first read  couple of  very popular food blogs. Indeed, they had all it takes to be very popular: all well written as their  authors are writing in their mother tongue, using a very ‘magazine-like” writing style,  so clearly operating in their comfort zone and caring about the image/packaging of their craft.  Most showing no restraint in the use of the usual  bells and whistles: stunning pics, amazing web page layout, etc. But three observations jumped to my attention:  (1)I found that many of those had a ‘static palate” or take their palates ‘for granted’.  Exempli gratia, they do not like something in X period of time, and would still not like it 3,5 years later.  I can understand that there can be 1 or two flavors that are acquired tastes and if you do not like it, well you don’t and it’s correct that it reflects on your assessment   BUT it’s a   problem when no effort is made to better understand food we did not like in the first place. When I do not like something, I am still curious: I go back to the people who know that taste  and I try to understand what it is about. What appeals to them? I have no clue if that will make the food better next time I’ll try it, but as someone who pretends to like food, I do at least try to understand what does not seem to be to my liking. I suspect most do not do that…which is nonsensical  if you say you like food. (2) most had authors who have many ingredients they did not like. It’s Ok not to like couple of ingredients, but when your list of undesirable  ingredients covers almost 30% of what nature is delivering, well…I am sorry but you can’t call yourself ‘someone who loves food’.  (3)They seemed to find certain sort of cuisine superior to others. For eg, they were capable of identifying the lows and the benchmark in X type of cuisine, but just lows and just the good, never the benchmarks, in others. That I cannot  understand: how on earth, do you pretend to like food and yet you show some restraint in your assessment of certain types of food. How on earth do you pretend loving food, are able to identify a benchmark dish in French cooking, to take an example,  but you can’t do the same in African or Haitian or Thai cuisine? How? This is actually a classic problem: many people can’t judge food in its context. They have to judge it in relation to irrelevant aspects: for eg, they judge Thai food on the basis of  the realities of french cooking. They do even worst than that: they judge a Pizza in X place in relation to a Pizza in Y place, obviously ignoring plenty of important elements: water is not the same, flour not the same, the clientele (so the palate of the people eating the pizzas) not the same at all at  both locations.  That’s beyond comprehension, for me. Of course this whole thing is subjective, but you should still be able to identify what’s a benchmark, in your own subjective opinion,  if you are confident about identifying the lows. I went back to my foodie friend who was in shock that I’d decide to not write in my mother tongue (French), ditch the popular stuff and just stick to what I deemed necessary to focus on:  appreciating food as a normal diner, without the need to perceive it as a trend, and with as much effort I can deploy in assessing it the most accurate way possible within its glorious subjectiveness. Again, it’s imperfect as anything operated by human beings, certainly utterly boring to some, obviously not the cool/right way if you want to make friends in the foodie world, but it has at least the merit to be what it is, whick means sticking to its own identity/purpose  rather than ‘morphing’ into  what others want it to be.

What are the funniest things you heard about food blogging?
Many things, but one that is laughable is when ppl tell you that you are copying someone else’s writing style. Give me a break: writing and talking is not the private property of anyone in particular. You can tell me that I am copying X, and trust me that if I focus on the matter, it won’t take be long to prove you that X is copying Y, Lol. And we can go and on, endlessly, at  that game.    I mean, there are more than 6 billions of bipeds on this planet, and planet earth was not discovered few days ago, Lol…so I am not naïve enough to start believing that there are ppl out there who are inventing anything new in this time and age? Bottom line, I write the way I want and if some are not happy with it, that is their problem.

What to look for, primarily,  in my reviews:  the NUMBER rating! Two dishes can be well conceived, flawless and the words I’ll write on both cases will naturally reflect the relevant situation. No need to put down one great dish because another one is better.  So  how will you know that one is still  superior to the other? The number will talk for it! 10/10 – Exceptional (level of daring deliciousness that is rarely fullfilled, a benchmark in terms of taste), 9/10 – Excellent (flawless, delicious, daring but not a benchmark), 8/10 (Very good), 7/10 (Good … but at a 2 or 3 star dining level, this is not enough to me and means “not recommendable”). Anything below 7/10 is bad.

What do I value primarily in the evaluation of a dish? The TASTE! All my life I have focused rigorously on taste enjoyment via my own personal research for richer/more vibrant flavors and  with personal routine of  dining practices such as (1) never sampling anything that could alter taste perception within the 5 hrs prior to a meal…so no coffee, no tea, nothing acidic..etc  (2) closing my eyes and totally freeing my mind from any apprehension on the first bites of sampled dish. There are many other little practical techniques (that I use) in order to try to enjoy the dish with the closest neutral perception  possible, but you get the idea.

-You grew up in a small seaside town of the Indian ocean, relying on the sea for food. That seemed to have shaped your particularly hard assessment of   seafood dishes in general. You can live by the side of the sea and do have no interest in what comes from it. It just happened that I was fortunate enough to have no allergy to seafood and a decent palate as well as a profound passion for quality seafood because dazzling seafood kept coming from that sea. Nowadays, in the West, you have all that  buzz about the great tuna of this place, the superb oysters from that other place, and all the bla bla bla that comes with it. But it is mostly seafood that they had to freeze at some point, then thaw it to feed you.  So nowhere near the dazzling freshly caught seafood that never ‘saw a freezer’  of my chilhood in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, when I stumble upon great seafood, you will feel it in my review. Seafood is the most ‘sacred’ food, for me, which means that I tend to be more impressed by a Chef cooking great seafood. But of course, great food is great food, so if you cook great meats and vegetables, I will be as impressed, naturally.

Will the gimmicky looking food items automatically suffer from poor ratings since I prefer elaborate, refined and rich classic fares?   I do not care about the looks. The food needs to taste great, that is all I am  looking  for.

Will the food evaluation suffer from its price? Absolutely not! I am rating the delicousness level of the food (10 is exceptional, 9 is excellent, 8 is very good,  7 is good,   anything below is bad), not its value.

Should we expect French fares to be better rated that others? That would be a mistake. Food is tasty or not, regardless of its origins. The African food item that my palate identifies as the tastier that it ever sampled, deserves a 10 as much as its Japanese, Chinese,Quebecois, French, Thai, Burmese, Haitian, Latin American counterparts.

Will  classic fares benefit from more reviews  than the latest experimental cutting edge food? I am big on classical French/African/Oriental/Caribbean fares,  classic French bistro,  modern haute French, bistro Moderne. But sometimes I get bored and love trying out molecular / experimental cuisine too. So Yes, this blog will rarely  focus   on the latest.

What to avoid as a food critic? Do not try to cheat (for eg, trying friendly critiques,  seeking for exchange of favors, etc).  That will show up:  people eat out a lot nowadays,  so they will quickly find out about your little games. For eg,  I once trusted a food columnist who raved a lot about a specific Chef. My friends kept  telling me that there was a huge gap between what she was raving about Vs reality. I wanted to see for myself. I went eating at the restaurant of that Chef .  He was the only one cooking on that day. And I discovered that indeed, that  food columnist was just promoting that Chef since the latest was not even capable of cooking very basic fares. Also:  if you are allowed privileges that others won’t get … people will quickly realize that they can’t trust you.  For all those reasons, I prefer staying anonymous, avoiding close relationship with the restaurant world,  so that my experience reflects the reality of the most.

Common misconceptions? Thinking that someone who rates a dish as excellent, or who raves about a Chef … is suspicious. That’s a big mistake that the most  tend to do. Although understandable (I am the first one who find that ‘hard to believe’ sometimes ;p), we must be honest:  when a dish is excellent to our standards, it should be said. If 10 dishes out of 10 were flawless, you should say it.  Thinking that others might find it ‘fishy’ is right there a manipulation of our own experienced reality.

How do you react when something you found great is perceived as not that great by someone else? There’s no reaction to have. Just means you have different tastes.

Is it easy to write reviews? About anything is easy when it is done without rigor.  If writing about restaurant was just a matter of sitting at a table and contenting myself with describing my food,  then I’d not do this. What attracted me into writing about dining is all the discipline that is involved:  how far can I control my human emotions and judge my food as accurately as possible? How far can I  detach mysefl from  the surrounding  distractions around my meal? How far can I resist to popular perceptions and freely express what’s on my mind (see previous question)? How far do I know myself to provide  opinions on a given type of food:  for eg, I  sometimes see people judging food that  they just don’t like  in the first place.  That is easy to spot:  the person, whatever he or she eats,  is never capable of appreciating one single dish of that given type of cuisine. That is absolutely normal:  I, too, have some types of food that I just can’t appreciate. What is not normal though is to judge a type of food you can’t like since your perception of it is already biased. I only review cuisines that I understand and appreciate because I can then accurately tell you which dish I found good or bad. The cuisines that I do not like,  I simply describe them and also wait to be enoughly familiar, knowledgeable about them before providing my readers with opinions on them.  I also follow very strict practices that I believe are essential for your judgement about food to be accurate such as never eating anything and drinking only flat water within the 4,5 hours leading to a meal that I want to review. It is a nonsense to review a dinner without any ethic, method.

What to look for in a food critic? Just one thing:  his dining history / experience and pray that(1) he/she is honest about it and (2) she/ he has a good palate!  That is like having a lot of money…it does not mean that you will have good taste ;p  Any critic should expose her/his pedigree so that her/his readers have an idea of how to interpret her/his views.  I’m exposing mine here:  extensive experience with French haute fine dining at both classic and modern level in France and abroad (Taillevent, Senderens,  Bocuse, Guerrard, Le Gavroche, Gagnaire, Passard’s Arpège,  Bernard Loiseau, Michel Bras, French Laundry, Guy Savoy, Lumière, etc),  same with Classic and Modern French Bistros throughout France and abroad,  African fares (Especially Western fares like those from Togo, Senegal + Central Africa with focus on Congolese food, Indian Ocean,  Eastern as in Ethiopian fares, Northern as in Morrocan, Libyan, Egyptian) Oriental fares (Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese but on the classic level only. So zero experience of Modern Oriental fares unless you count Oriental/French fusioned fares like those at Tetsuya),  African classic fares, Caribbean classic fares.  Have I covered everything to be the perfect food critic? ABSOLUTELY NOT! NO ONE WILL! I know nothing about the upscale Japanese fine dining (their top 2, 3 star Michelin), I know nothing about most of the Latin American  (Chile, Equador, etc), Russian, East European cuisines. So, as you can see no one will ever be knowledgeable enough about food.  What this tells you though is that that in French fine dining, French Bistro fares, African food, most of the common Oriental fares, you know what to expect from my opinions.  My reviews of seafood dishes are also ones you should play attention to since I have a life time obsessive admiration for great seafood and have educated my palate accordingly. So needless to stress that bad seafood is subject of rough reports, chefs not capable of offering great seafood dishes are perceived as poor skilled cooks.  Proof that no one, absolutely no one  will ever stand as  perfect! At least,  you know what to expect and how to read my reports, Rfaol! Also: I tend to prefer skilled artisan Chefs (you know, those who are in their kitchen for real..) over cooks who are in the comfort of their leaving room or parading on TV whilst I am dining at their table….

What about the preconception that food bloggers do this to get freebies? It’s like with anything in life:  there are fake chefs and there are true Chefs as well. There are corrupted renumerated food critics, there are honest ones too. There are lowlife  opportunistic  food bloggers, and there are those with ethics as well.

Should restaurateurs be afraid of food critics? A dishonest and not capable restaurateur should because he/she knows deep inside inside of him/herself that there are reasons not to be at peace with her/his work. I came to realize that most chefs who can’t deliver (for eg:  not capable of getting the job done because they can’t be present behind their stove)  tend to not appreciate food critics. Of course there are unfortunately some stupid critics who are mixing up personal vendettas with the seriousness of accurately reviewing a dinner, but that is easy cheap shot to spot. That should not be an excuse for restaurateurs to refuse to live in peace with the notion of freedom of speech.

What about restaurants playing the ‘checklist’. Are they penalized in my review? Life is a checklist! Whatever you do, however rebellious or original you feel, you are filling out a checklist! A while back, a  trend  arose:  let’s put an end to the stuffy haute fine dining theme! Guess what:  now, that trend is criticized to play the game of the new checklist: trying to be too cool, trying to be too simple at all cost!  It ”does not seem natural anymore””, in the eyes of some! Rfaol!  Now, we all know what the checklist might look like in the type of restaurants that I am reviewing through the current web site: a spoon of caviar over here, an endless  array of nibbles over there, theatricality over here and so on. All of that is nice, but they do not count in the  evaluation of my dinner! You will rarely see me writing a lot about that aspect of my dinner, at best couple of words on it because it is always a good thing to know that this table is a bit more generous  than another.  But with me, you won’t run from the essential:  whatever caviar or edible gold  leaf you are adding to my dish…it’s the dish that needs to be stellar! It’s the dish that needs to impress me. It’s the technical conception, the level of enjoyment, the sense of worth of that dish that will prevail in my judgement! So, play the checklist, I do not mind…I’ll focus on the essential list, anyway!

Do opinions of others matter in my evaluations? Opinions should be always encouraged. We need to talk, exchange, find ideas  in order to step forward. But when you review  your own dinner, you have  to say what you think, not what others want you to think…right? Or else, what is the point? You may as well rename your work ‘the opinion of others!””..Rfaol!  Your opinion counts because mine counts, too. This web site is about my opinion: what you have experienced at those restaurants is what you have experienced.  What I’ve experienced is what I’ve experienced.  There’s nothing I can’t  say about yours since it’s not my experience and vice versa. Of course, there are little things we need to know: for eg, I keep reminding to people that two dinners can’t exactly happen the same way because many things can differ: the presence or not of the same chef? his / her state of mind, who’s cooking your food?…etc The restaurant world is a tough affair: as tough for a Chef who gives his 100% but has humanly no control over what may happen as it is for a reviewer.  A reviewer has people he/she likes a lot and who trust his/her  reviews. Imagine when those people who you truely do not want to disappoint may face a disappointing reality you have no clue it may have happened! Alas, such is the reality of things.

-A good Chef? One who has a good palate and who won’t serve you a dish he would not pay for.

-A bad Chef? The opposite of my definition of a good Chef ;p

-The best Chefs of all times?  Of all times, that …no one knows. But based on pure technical skills and exceptional ability to deliver food for what it should, which means ultimate pleasure,  I have my top 5: Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson, Christian Constant, Joel Robuchon, Frédy Girardet  when they were behind the stoves. In 2011, I discovered another exceptional Chef who deserves a seat  among my personal all times favourite, and it is Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie (unfortunately, I discovered him when he was close to retirement, but what an exceptional palate this great among the greatest man has!).  I really miss Chef Besson and it is true that JF Piège when he was at Les Ambassadeurs, that was something.  I will also never forget Chef Alain Passard: he treats his  produce with a passion that you could sense miles away!  It is almost as if he talks to them, tell them how they should express themselves, and they do listen to him with equal enthusiasm. Sadly, this is the kind of things you can’t transmit to others (a brigade, in this case), so sometimes people go to L’Arpège and ask what all the fuss about Passard is about. Make no mistake: when Passard cooks for you, it can be epic in emotions.  On the human aspect, my favourite Chef has to be Guy Savoy. He is the Mahatma Ghandi of the restaurant world, a force tranquille, a universe of positive vibration, a first class human being. Everyone should always have a copy of his interview with Agents  d’Entretiens.FR. Perhaps the most brilliant and inspiring interview that a Chef has ever delivered.

Montreal is the city which restaurants you know the most. To you, how does Montreal fare on the International restaurant  scene? Montreal is an amazing city, full of great things such as a cultural and artisitic scene of world class standard.  BUT the food at its restaurants, though  generally not bad, remains  a world away from  this globe’s finest food cities. There are, currently in Montreal, only 5 to 6 Chefs of whom I can safely say that they have the proper skills and discipline to really shine in any of this globe’s best dining cities. But that’s out of  6000 cooks and more! So, for now, Montreal is clearly an overrated dining city.  Montreal restaurant scene will never compete with the finest food scenes abroad as long as they overlook true skills, which is essentially what  has been the problem up to now:  the rare times I stumbled upon a world class Chef, in Montreal, he/she either had to leave the city or lower his/her standards. There have been some few of those exceptional  Chefs who did insist on maintaining  their standards high, but their dining room is oftently empty. So most inevitably opt for the easy way around, cooking what sells most (simple bistrot fares, etc) and they are not to be blamed. They have mouths to feed as anyone else.

-Your biggest disappointment about the Montreal restaurant scene? The usual problem  you see everywhere else: some  brilliant Chefs  who lost the passion of the craft, lacked discipline, got the big head, fooled themselves into believing that they are stars,  and are now performing the role of restaurateurs who can’t seriously deliver. That is the problem when you can’t bother learning to walk and are already busy running. Those folks   think they are Alain Ducasse / Joel Robuchon / Gordon Ramsey, but they are nowhere near. Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are nowadays restaurateurs, it is a fact, but they went through long years of rigorous learning, and mastery of what they wanted to offer to their customers, they know exactly what they are doing. Consequently, People working for Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are very serious, very talented, highly reliable. Which is rarely the case of most of those ex-brilliant Montreal Chefs who were lured into turning hastily into restaurateurs (most  have poorly skilled cooks / brigades working for them ). The other major problem of the Montreal restaurant scene are the prices (in relation to what’s offered):  in Montreal, a starter of  pan sear foie gras will cost you, in general, in between $15 to $25 (which means in between eur 10 to eur 17). In comparison, a piece of foie gras of that same size would cost you less that 5 euros in San Sebastian. In that 5 euros, do not be surprise if a free glass of wine (Txakoli) is included. In Montreal, your glass of wine may vary in between $10 to $15 on average.To make matters worst, during my stay of 2 weeks in San Sebastian, I have eaten foie gras at least a dozen of time and 99% of what I was eating was always perfectly cooked and featured dazzling livery flavour. In comparison, if I take the 15 years of dining in Montreal, I’d be generous if I’d tell you that 50% of all foie gras dishes I had in town matched what I had in San Sebastian. We are talking about something as very basic as pan sear foie gras here. I know some people are busy selling Montreal as a great food city on par with this world’s best food cities, but I think that is a huge mistake as this simple comparison between Montreal and a true food city like San Sebastian demonstrates . Again, the food is generally not bad at all, in Montreal, and there are indeed couple of world class Chefs and restaurants, but we need to be rational:  the reality is that we are a world away from this globe’s finest food cities where world class Chefs can’t just be counted on the fingers on one hand (the case of Montreal’s current food scene).

-When you know the restaurant scene of a city, Montreal in your case, is is tempting to mock those who are lured to believe that they’ve tried the best of your city while you know well that they are delusional? No, that would be a mistake. When you do not know a place, you tend to follow what’s best sold to you. Since  what’s best sold does not always mean that it’s what’s best done, most people will somewhat be inaccurate in their assessment. We all are victims of that situation. Even when you use caution: for eg, when I visit a new city, I pick 2 tables recommended by the usual  advertisements for tourists, 2 tables from the network of local foodies that I’d approach, then 2 based on online reviews I believe to be trustworthy. And yet, it is not a perfect process at all. The only thing that I avoid is to listen to celebrities: they seem to uniformly appreciate everything. Which is fine, and I wish things were like that, I too would love to believe that everything is positive, but that is unfortunately far from being realistic. Mind you, it is rare that a restaurant would treat a normal diner the same way they would treat a celebrity, so right there it’s useless for me to know what a celebrity thinks about a restaurant.

Nowadays, you go to NYC to enjoy great food as Montreal’s food scene  appears to you as not great enough. Was that always the case? And what can make Montreal a great food city again?

No, it has not always been the case. In between 2001 and 2010, Montreal was a true world class dining destination. In those days, a very charismatic and highly skilled local Chef, Martin Picard, made the local food scene exciting. He came with APDC, did put it as well as Montreal on the the map of the culinary world and Montreal happened to have world class Chefs pivoting around that, such as Chefs Olivier de Montigny/Marc De Canck of La Chronique, Claude Pelletier of Club Chasse et Peche, Benoit Lenglet of Au 5e péché, Jean-Paul Giroux of Cuisine et dépendance, Martin Juneau of Restaurant La Montée De Lait.  You also had Bronte (now closed since a long time) of Joe Mercuri, Michele, his brother, who was “on fire” in his heyday at XO Le Restaurant (he is not there anymore) or Chef Chef Jean-Francois Belair  who has worked wonders at Le Marly (a restaurant that is now closed).  After 2010, it went downhill. La Chronique continues to be great,  but APDC and  all the rest are  not as great as they used to be. Certainly not the world class food city that Montreal was in between 2001 and 2010. Not even a shadow of that. To make Montreal a great food city again, you cannot count on luck. Montreal was lucky to have an exciting Chef like Picard who was able to lead other talented Chefs in their quest for excellence. But that was pure  luck and just circumstance. The local tourism authorities will need to find other creative ways than just paying plenty of food bloggers and food journalists  to chant what is basically  a glory pertaining to the past.

Your blog’s name refer to your meals at Michelin star restaurants and yet you also have posts not related to your Michelin star’s experiences. Also, the blog name does  not sound ‘trendy’ at all.
It is my way of saying that when I have control over something, then my modus operandi is to  say ”enough of trends’!  Enough  with the preformatted / linear thinking! If the title of a blog bothers you, then all you care about is the shape and looks of the container, nothing more.

Talking about trends, do you understand the voices of those who argue that haute dining is generally intimidating, too stuffy to be enjoyable. It depends on what you expect from a restaurant. The only expectation that I have over haute dining is a certain level of cooking brilliance, meaning a touch/ a depth of flavor/technique/craftmanship that is not ordinary. Therefore, when I go to a haute dining venture and the cooking has no depth, that it stands as  ordinary as everyone else would have cooked at lesser restaurant levels, then I am frustrated and I will perceive the  relevant haute dining experience as worthless. Sadly,that happens a lot at plenty of haute dining ventures because many restaurants are busy selling concepts rather than delivering great food: for example, it is sometimes trendy to try to impress the diners with concepts like ‘cuisine à quatre mains’ (four-handed cooking). For someone, like me, for whom the finest cooking should be about a highly skilled Chef expressing his personal touch, four-handed cooking is a laughable concept. But many people buy into that, so you get the sort of ‘impersonal’ cooking (meaning food that 100 of other cooks could have delivered) that is generally found at most fine dining restaurants. Unless there is a personal touch on display (for eg, the Santini family at Dal Pescatore, Bernard Pacaud when he was still active behind his stoves at L’Ambroisie), haute dining remains,  for me,  generally worthless. Affordable  food that tastes great and that is enjoyed in lively  environments will always be a safer bet (compared to haute dining).

The reaction of the readers of a blog can surprise, sometimes. Some examples in your case? True, there’s no way, oftently,  to take people’s reactions for granted. The reaction to my review on Montreal steaks and steakhouses have surprised me. It’s a post that I did not expect to be that popular. There’s nothing special about that post and reviewing steak is like reviewing colors. There’s rarely a bad steak. There are just  ones we prefer. And there’s nothing special, neither, about making a steak.  My reviews are meant primarily for friends, relatives (one reason I want to enjoy the experience as any normal diner), and in the process, I am just sharing them with the rest. So, when I saw the popularity of that post, I was lost. I did my best to remind th ereaders of that post  that this is subjective as they should know better, that it’s virtually  not about  bad or good steaks, but steaks that get close or distance themselves from what we perceive as our favourite steaks.  On the other hand, there are stellar Chefs giving their 100% and that I enthusiastically wrote about but most readers  did not bother.  Such is life, lol.

If you had the means, would you visit all existing widly known restaurants around the world?
No. I don’t believe in quantity as a decisive factor. If you do have a good palate, a sense for details, that is all that count. 25 yrs of dining or one second  of it won’t make any difference if you are close minded, see no difference between what is good, great or excellent, and have no palate.

Why do you refuse to dine with other food bloggers, or anyone related to the hobby? Because I want to be alone and make up my own opinion. It’s the purpose of my web site: my opinion of my experience.  When  I review a restaurant, I dine with people who have no interest in the matter. Because I want my companion to just enjoy his/her meal and me to just focus on what I think of what I am eating. I want to avoid any corruption of my own opinion of my own experience. When people start sharing opinions on the food at a table, it is fine. But most of the times, your own opinion is lost in others.

When did you realize that cooking was made for you? It is not for me, I am too impatient, too demanding with myself.  For example, I will never serve a dish if I am not satisfied with it.  I remember a tasting menu I once served at  Christmas.  My mum, an exceptional cook gifted with an equally exceptionally palate,  tasted a specific item and told me that it was top. Ready to serve. I served it only 1 hour later, not satisfied with the results, only because it was not hitting the exact mouthfeel I wanted from it. The guests found me crazy. But that is me:  it has to taste exactly the way I want it to taste. Whether you like the result or not, I do not care. But Iknow how I want it to taste, Lol. You can’t open a  restaurant or cook with pleasure with such state of mind. But Yes, there once was a defining moment when I realized that I could please others too: it was years ago in France, in a very demanding countryside area. The cook was a friend but he was sick for 1 week. And he was sad that he could not serve his clientele for that long. So, I offered him to cook for that week with only one condition:  serving just what I felt like serving. So, for one week there was that sign in front of the restaurant “pour toute la semaine, menu du jour selon l’inspiration du Chef”. Lol. And since I value only classic fares as worthy of the efforts I would put in my cooking, I did classic fares he usually had  few time to do:  slowly cooked ragouts, mijotés, etc. The kind of food I value as really top because virtually no one with decent cooking skills can miss them, but few can do outstanding ones, even at very high cooking levels. When I left, he phoned me and told me that now he was in big trouble: his customers wanted those fares i was cooking to feature on his menu. Lol.  This is not to brag, just to make a point that it was a pleasure to see that all those efforts in trying to do things well paid of, especially in a corner of France that was that demanding.

What is, to you, the current  world’s best restaurant dish?
Subjectively, of course: I am a huge fan of French classic cooking, so I’ll go with  Chef Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers (Le Cinq, Paris) .  I wish I could go there everytime  it’s available (they serve it in Oct/Nov? You need to verify with them). It is heaven, for me. But remember: it is not a light dish, naturally.

Your current world’s top restaurant?
Again, subjectively and relatively to what I value as the ideal #1 world class  restaurant: Dal Pescatore. It is a reminder that the designation  ‘Best restaurant in the world’ is, at the end of the round, just an exercise of self reflection. Nothing more, nothing less. You are like this, you like that, you do not like this, you prefer that…. and the best restaurant in the world is that one that connects all those dots together under your  roof, only it is serving you food. Best of ..is indeed just personal. If you believe in someone else’s claim about a  ‘ best restaurant in the world’, then you are utterly naive…

Your last meal?
It just never happens the way  we want it, Lol. Anyways, it is, in my hopes,  any of the following: a stunningly grilled-spiny lobster, a mouthwatering steak. Or if it is at a restaurant table, then I’d go with Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers or a stand out ‘lièvre à la royale’ in Antonin Carême-style. Anyways, only the lord decides over those things. So let him feed me with whatever he deems necessary ;p

Do you have a style?
I hope not since one of the reasons that led me to write about some of my dining experiences is just that: whenever I needed infos about where to go dining, I kept stumbling upon many reviews spending more time on style rather than pulling off what I needed.. So, my reviews, as imperfect as they stand, are at least what I want them to be: a correction of what I did not like in many other reviews. It is imperfect, but I do not care and I am happy with them since it is exactly what I wanted. But when people write to me, complaining that I have no style, what that tells me is that I have one, whether I like it or not, Lol. Because..sadly for me… that’s the definition of a style: it appears as unidentifiable..because it is like no other…thefore guess what..it is your own style. Regardless, I am not enthused at the idea of having a style and I do not want to have one. I did everything to have no style: I chose to not write in my mother tongue in which I have a literature degree, I’ve opted for a non-sellable / media-friendly format, I deliberately  make no effort to embellish anything, so there is no reason to expect style where the  purpose is obviously anti-style .

You are a big fan of Perico Legasse, the food journalist of France’s magazine Marianne. Where do you part ways with him?
The question of food journalism is one piece of my long time aversion to food reviewing in general. Many  food journalists think they are the hot stuff, based on sole restaurant write ups or books of recipes or making friends with cooks. The reality is that they are paid to create nothing, write about whatever most non remunerated individuals could have expressed,  they are saving no life, and  worst: they bring absolutely nothing! Ludicrous. So, when I found that Mr Légasse went beyond the usual ‘self-adulation through heavy  penchant for stylish writing and other megalom symptoms ” of some of them, my eyes opened. I was impressed by his way of genuinely defending the notion of ‘terroir’. Many talk about those things such as ‘terroir’, but it’s usually wind. They talk about it a bit, here and there just to capt media attention whenever that serves them. But I have never seen someone so engaged, so tenacious about it. His battle against the EU’s protected designation of origin is epic. He is among the few  fighting against the danger of loss of authenticity. He is not just a food journalist, he is a genuine activist and I can’t think of anyone else as involved as him in whatever he defends. Many are afraid of associating themselves with him as you will rarely see him referred on a food blog or other restaurant related web sites. That tells you a lot about the agenda of those people. It is the generic agenda, the agenda of the sameness, the ‘safe mode’s applause’. That said, I do not always agree with Perico, which is normal. For example, he is strongly against molecular cooking style. For me,   all styles should  co-exist next to each other. I am not a big fan of cooking that heavily relies on spectacular scientific experimentations neither, which does not mean that I can’t appreciate it, but it deserves to exist and be encouraged as cubism, fauvism, mannerism, baroque…all deserve to exist as eclectic forms of arts  to be respected in their own ways.

The most entertaining  food writer of all time ? It is utterly boring and useless to talk about food. Useless because taste is subjective. Useless, because what I ate today, cooked by Chef Joe, at restaurant XX might be totally different from what Chef Joe will cook tomorrow at that same restaurant for many reasons that will vary from the mood of the Chef,  etc. I still do it for the sake of sharing with those who do help me to find nice eateries. That said, one food writer got it.  He got the fact that writing about food  is useless and boring and he took that opportunity to entertain people. He did it way better than anyone else. The late AA Gill!