November in Montreal means Taste MTL – the wonderful restaurant week that gives people the opportunity to try out restaurants at a reduced cost through special tables d’hôte. This year’s edition, featuring over 120 restaurants, is sponsored by the Maple producers of Quebec so the inclusion of maple products is the theme for this year’s menus. For my first restaurant this year, I went with an Old Port spot that I have had an eye on since it opened up over a year ago now – L’Atelier d’Argentine.
This Argentine steakhouse, situated in the former DNA space, has a lounge/bar space as well as a beautiful dining room. The lounge/ bar space utilizes large light fixtures and brick as the main focus points for that area whereas the dining space combines wood, metal and glass with more subtle lighting to create a intime but very striking feel.
Now, before I enter into the meal itself, I need to spend a moment discussing a big sticking point from this dinner for my dining companions and I which was the overall service. Now, I rarely have a issue with service at a restaurant and will generally let minor things go – if the food is good, I can accept slight issues without a problem. However, in this case, the meal was almost completely derailed from the start. We made our presence known to the hostess and were told that the table wasn’t ready yet. We would need to wait a few moments – no issue there, given the late time of our reservation. There were a few other groups around us in the situation. After 15 minutes of standing in the entrance way and a few of the other parties waiting around with us getting seating, the same hostress asks us if we had been helped yet. Oh boy…. informed that we had presented ourselves prior, she found out that the party at our table still hasn’t paid yet, so she offers us a seat at the dining room bar in the meanwhile.
We sit at the bar where none of the dining room staff had been made aware of our situation because we sat for 15 minutes without anyone bothering to come serve us. One of my friends actually got up and went to speak to a waiter so that we could get a drink menu. We finally ordered drinks but we got our table before the cocktails came – a full 40 minutes after our original reservation time. Now thankfully the cocktail I had – their signature Diplomatico Old Fashion (Tequila, agave syrup and orange bitters) – was excellent and one I definitely will try to make myself but I had hoped to have it much sooner.
Finally at the table, we started with the two appetizers available on the Taste MTL menu. First up, smoked trout glazed with maple, raspberry and arugula. Very simple but well executed dish – the sweetness of the maple mixed well with the bitter arugula and the slight sourness of the raspberries. The 2nd dish was roasted beet, green onion and young goat cheese with roasted garlic oil. Once again, a successful plate – simple but well done.
At this point, having had the wine list taken away from us for some reason despite our stated intend to order a bottle, we got it back and ordered a bottle of white. The waiter was surprisingly unable to give us an opinion on the bottle we had in mind but at least was honest enough to admit his lack of knowledge about that particular bottle. We were presented the bottle but told it is warm so the waiter will chill it for us. I like the honesty but why exactly was this bottle of white wine warm in the first place? Again, a very weird and disappointing service instance between our courses.
The mains came through next. We ordered both Taste MTL options as well as an extra one off the regular menu. The taste MTL options were pan seared duck filet with grilled orange, fennel & shallot salsa; and a semi-smoked flank steak with buttery potatoes and chimichurri. The duck was excellent – perfectly cooked to the right temperature. The fennel and shallot salsa was delicious and complemented the fatty duck well. The roasted orange also added a nice element. The flank steak was okay – the interior was perfect temp but the exterior was a little too chard which made the meat tougher than it really was. The potatoes were plain but the chimichurri was outstanding.
From the main menu, we went with the pan seared Chilean sea bass with a ripe mango, roasted bell pepper & arugula salad. The sea bass was seared well but surprisingly lacking of any punch of flavour. I assume that it is to offset the very flavourful salad which was wonderful. Great use of mango and peppers to add sweetness to the dish.
For dessert, we went with the two Taste MTL options – Lemon flatbread and basil sorbet; Sponge cake with cream, dulce de leche and peach – as well as one of the regular menu, the almendrado which is an almond crusted vanilla glace with a dark chocolate syrup and sugar cookie. The flatbread was good but relatively forgotten especially when compared to its companion the sorbet. The basil sorbet was possibly the best thing I had all night. Perfect texture and great balance of flavour – the basil is strong but not overwhelming to taste. The sponge cake dish was solid across the board but not particularly memorable. The almendrado was a very unique take – almost a deconstructed Haagen-Dazs bar – that worked pretty well.
Overall, the evening was a mixed bag. I loved the setting and the general ambience of the space – very much the kind of experience I like from the Old Port. The drinks and food were solid as well despite a few minor quips. However, it is hard to overlook the poor service we received throughout the meal. Speaking to other people I know who have been, I have heard hits and misses in this area as well. In the end, I would be willing to return because the regular menu interests me enough to give the service another shot. At the very least, I would return to the bar side for a nice drink or 5 à 7. Hopefully those of you who go for dinner get a better aspect of service than we did.
355 Rue Marguerite D’Youville