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McKiernan Luncheonette

20 Feb

Small rant first if I may: Working as a physiotherapist in the West Island sucks in terms of lunch options. First off, my job doesn’t really allow for the time necessary to go out for lunch so even if I wished to splurge on a special occasion for fun, it really isn’t possible outside of a takeout/delivery option. And secondly, the West Island is a weird dead zone of high end restaurants for the most part. So, as an actual resident of the Sud-Ouest, when I heard that the Joe Beef guys and the Maison Publique guys – two of my favourite restaurants in the city – were opening up a weekday breakfast and lunch option in Ville Émard, I was insanely jealous and sad that I wouldn’t be able to try them under normal circumstances. (Now… they just announced last week that they are now open for dinner Thursdays and Fridays but I needed a narrative hook to start this post so please work with me.) Due to some legal matters that required my wife and I to take our afternoons off on a random weekday (yay home renos plans!), I took advantage and we decided to make our way to McKiernan for a late lunch and see if all the wonderful stuff I was seeing online was as great as I hoped.

Located off St-Patrick in the Dompark complex, McKiernan is a very different project from Joe Beef and Maison Publique. It is essentially a fancy canteen. The space is huge compared to their other restaurants and more sparse in terms of look and decor. The room is filled with long tables and benches that you share with others. They utilize the original flooring and wooden support beams of the space. The all white walls with the large windows overlooking the Canal makes the space very bright and open. I love the use of the string lights as extra lighting. There is a beautiful counter and bar area in the back as a focal point to the space. There is still the definite Canadiana touches you expect from Derek, Dave and Fred – such as the use of a canoe in decor and the local artwork.

The menu is a interesting mix of options for lunch fare. First up, we tried the McKiernan chowder – a very generous portion of potato and lardon chowder topped with potato chips and chives. An excellent chowder – not too heavy but very flavourful. Buttery and rich with lots of lardons and some potato chunks providing some fattiness and some consistency to the soup. I loved the additional crunch of the chips with the soup.

On top of the regular menu, McKiernan also has daily and weekly specials that change. I went with one of those: their “Beigne Pressé” of porchetta, rapini, pesto and cheese. A supercharged panini and a very good at that. Any combination of rich porchetta, cheese and pesto is good with me – especially in a great buttery bun! I really loved the touch of acidity that they added with the vinegar on the greens that topped the sandwich. It added a nice lighter dimension.

My wife decided on their pasta of the day – Casarecce with boudin blanc and chou de Savoy. Another excellent dish – the rich creamy sauce clung nicely to the fresh tender pasta with the notes of the boudin and the cabbage mixing within the dish. Very well done and delicious.

Lastly, to go, because I couldn’t say no to having one of the many baked goods they had at the counter, we got one of their 70% Chocolate and sea salt cookies. A perfect mixture of gooey rich chocolate with a salty kick to it. The cookie was super tender with a nice initial crunch.

McKiernan is exactly what I was hoping – what would happen if Joe Beef and Maison Publique did lunch and breakfast. The food is excellent and super interesting outside of the usual lunch fare. The space is nice and welcoming – there is ping pong and baby foot if you have some extra free time. The space is also available for renting for events and it also allows them to offer catering services – very welcomed services given the quality of the work they do. Thankfully, now that McKiernan is open for dinner 2 nights a week, they become more of a option for me to try. Otherwise, I would need to find more excuses to be “stuck” at home for work! Regardless, McKiernan is a must-try for anyone.

Cheers!

McKiernan Luncheonette
5524 Rue Saint-Patrick #200
514 759 6677

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Le Club Chasse et Pêche

16 Feb

Despite my best efforts, there are still numerous Montreal staples that I have yet to try. Be it for lack of occasion or honestly just forgetting about them, some restaurants have been continuously on my to-try list for years and years. Le Club Chasse et Pêche has been one such place. The old Montreal staple run by Claude Pelletier, long lauded for the quality of their work since 2004, has weirdly never been one that I would think about when looking for a high end restaurant for an occasion. Well, thankfully that was fixed for me as a friend of mine decided to have his birthday dinner take place there so I finally got to see if all the praise was justified.

Located very unassumingly on a side street in the Old Montreal, Le Club Chasse et Pêche has a somewhat weird visual motif to me. Given the age of the building, they highlight some of its classic features – beautiful old stone walls and archways – in the periphery but the rest of the space is a mix of more modern touches – dark printed pattern wallpaper on the ceiling, black accent walls with a flat concrete-like finish, modernistic artwork, curved plastered walls which orient and separate the room in ways to make things feel more intimate but also weirdly disorienting. It works with the low lighting to create a very intimate ambience perfect for the type of special occasions that bring you to a place like this but personally not the type of style I enjoy.

The menu is not big but frankly everything on the page sounded amazing. As a starter, I went with the crispy veal sweetbread served with a soubise sauce, comté, mustard and hazelnuts. I love sweetbreads so even though the rest of the items listed seemed like a weird mixture, I felt this dish call to me. It was superb – the sweetbread was cooked to perfection – juicy and tender but with a great exterior crunch. The onion sauce had a nice balance of sweetness and creaminess and the other elements worked well even if adding cheese, mustard and nuts to this would seem odd. Just trust me.

The other starter I got to try through an exchange with the birthday boy was THE Club Chasse et Pêche classic starter – the braised piglet risotto topped with foie gras shavings. Holy cow did this dish not disappoint. My friend called it the best risotto he has ever had and I would agree. The risotto itself is cooked nicely – a touch firm but still very tender and the flavours are out of this world – the mixture of the pork and the rich foie gras made this so decadent but so powerful. Definitely a dish not to miss when you go!

As a main dish, after much MUCH deliberation, I went with their version of the surf and turf, Le Chasse et Pêche, the component of which change regularly. On this occasion, it was buttery lobster and 30 day aged steak. Excellent preparation of both elements. The lobster was all rich and buttery goodness. The steak was seared perfectly and very tender. An excellent surf and turf.

As a dessert, I decided to go with their Bomb – a caramel and milk chocolate tartelette served with an 80% chocolate sorbet. I loved the tarte – flaky and crisp with a great rich caramel flavour. Honestly I didn’t like the sorbet – it felt too watery to me which gave us less impact than it should have. A minor quibble in a great meal.

Le Club Chasse et Pêche was a great experience and worth the wait. The food was exquisite – our entire table left the dinner very full and satisfied. It may be easily missed when you walk around Old Montreal but believe it, it is definitely worth your attention. Don’t wait as long as I did.

Cheers!

Le Club Chasse et Pêche
423 Rue St-Claude
514 861 1112

Le Club Chasse et Pêche Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chez Victoire

14 Nov

Every November, we in Montreal are lucky enough to have the MTL à Table food festival going on. This wonderful event – where restaurants offered a reduced price table d’hôte – is a great opportunity to try a restaurant that you have otherwise not had a chance to try at a price that makes taking a chance more reasonable. Over the years, I have used it as a great way to visit those places that I have wanted to visit but honestly forget about. This year’s choice is no exception. I have been aware of Chez Victoire since its opening in 2010 and while it has been on ‘the’ list for a while, I’ll admit to simply forgetting about it year after year. As I looked at the different menus offered, theirs was one that grabbed my wife and I’s attention so we made our way down Mont-Royal on a quiet and cold Sunday night to see if the long wait would be worth it.

Chez Victoire described itself as a neighbourhood bistro and yeah that description fits well. The space feels like a bistro but more clean and modern, less ornate. The high ceilings and the mezzanine in the back of the room amplify the noise such that, with a full room, the noise level was a little too high ideally. The waiters are dressed in the classic bistro style with the black vest and white shirt and their service is in keeping with a bistro – very smooth, professional and sharp. So far so good but what about the food?

Prior to the MTL à Table menu, we decided to try a plate of their house-made charcuterie served with bread, crackers, dijon mustard and olive oil. Lots of variety on the plate and very enjoyable all around. I am also a big fan of grilled bread like they served with it.

Coming back to the actual Table d’hôte, my wife and I decided to share the two options available for each part of the 3 part service. The first entrée was braised pork from Beaurivage Farm served with celeriac, butternut squash, ahi amarillo and carob. Very favourable dish – the tender fatty pork pairing very nicely with the earthiness of the squash and celeriac.

The second appetizer was quebec whelk served with leeks with leek dressing, yuzu, dill and a goat cheese mousse. Lots of flavour here but weirdly, everything but the whelk came through. Loved the texture of the goat cheese mousse and how it combined with the leeks but that pairing is what comes out as the star. If I hadn’t known there was whelk, I wouldn’t have known as I tasted the dish. The other more minor issue I had was the leeks at the bottom being served room temp. It adds some crunch but I admit I would have preferred it lukewarm to warm.

The mains had a similar split of excellent and alright. First was the braised Lac Brome duck thigh served over celeriac puree, puy lentils and kimchi topped with butterscotch miso butter, pomegranate, walnuts and mint. Lots of components and seems very busy with the mix worked very well. The duck was beautiful in terms of tenderness and flavour. The mix of celeriac, lentils and kimchi provided some earthy hardiness but with a spicy kick and then the butterscotch miso brought the richness that works so well with duck. Loved this dish.

The second one was more of a meh – Albacore tuna tataki served with apricots, green beans, carrots, carrot puree with jalapeño and a curry oil. Compared to the other dish, this one just felt fad. The curry oil was only slightly noticeable and the jalapeño not at all so the big punch of the dish didn’t show up. The rest was well done but felt underwhelming.

As for the dessert, both were excellent. First, a dark chocolate ganache served with malden salt, sunflower seeds, creme fraîche, kumquat and a financier. The richness and creaminess of the ganache was excellent and although my wife didn’t love the sour creme fraiche, all of the accent ingredients worked well to pair and contrast with the chocolate.

The second dessert was a rice pudding with coconut milk served with kaffir lime, caramelized bananas, spiced rum, citronella and pecans. We both love a good rice pudding so this was an easy sell for us. The addition of the bananas, pecans and rum paired well with the rice and coconut notes of the pudding.

So I finally made to Chez Victoire and despite a couple of flat dishes, I can definitely see where the praise for this restaurant comes from. I love the idea of a neighbourhood bistro and the homeyness that comes with that but with the high level of execution and presentation. It is ironic that I finally visited a Plateau bistro only once I left the Plateau but I’m happy to have finally tried it. Definitely worth a try!

Cheers!

Chez Victoire
1453 Mont-Royal Est
514 521 6789

Chez Victoire Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Candide

6 Aug

Over the past few years, the Locavore movement has become very strong in Montreal. The desire to showcase local produce throughout the seasons has been the calling card for more and more restaurants in the city. Amongst the chefs who are best know for this approach is John Winter Russell – now working out at Restaurant Candide in Little Burgundy. Located in a old church Rectory – behind the Salon 1861 – Candide is hidden off the beaten path a little bit. I have had it on my ‘infamous’ to-visit list for a while now. My wife decided to plan a secret date night for the two of us and so we headed out of our apartment and walked down Notre Dame Street until we arrived At Candide ready for a intimate dinner on their patio on a beautiful weeknight. Great surprise my love!

The menu at Candide changes on a monthly basis – according to what is available locally – and is a fixed menu. They will adjust according to allergies however. It is a 4 course dinner for 51$ which frankly is a pretty good deal when you compare it to other fine eating establishments in the city. So the next question I am sure you are asking is but what about the portions themselves? Are they plentiful enough? And the answer is yes – we were both rather full at the end of the meal. Candide is a pretty good deal in that regard…. now what about the food itself?

On top of the fixed menu, we were offered an extra dish to add at the start of our meal – and of course I said yes. Marinated Whelk with cucumber, pickles and a herring mousse. This was our least enjoyed dish of the evening. I liked the flavour of the mousse but the rest felt honestly a little fad.

Our next dish was more of a hit. Sliced kohlrabi coated in a yogourt sauce topped with beans, popcorn, marinated red onion and herbs. The presentation of the dish was beautiful – pretty much a constant element throughout the dinner – and the flavours were wonderful. The yogourt sauce added a richness to the dish that didn’t overwhelm. The popcorn was a cool crunch component that played well off the rest.

Our next dish of fresh cherry tomatoes served on top of eggplant and clams was also a big hit. Hits of sweetness and acidity with the saltiness of the clams. I’m not a huge fan of raw tomatoes but this dish worked for me.

For our main courses, we had a choice of 2 and so we decided to share them together. I went with the Guinea Hen served with corn and lobster mushroom. I loved this dish from A to Z – it was my big hit of the evening. The Hen was cooked perfectly – juicy and tender with the crisp skin on top. The mixture of the fresh corn and the lobster mushrooms was a great complement to the protein and felt very fresh – a perfect example of local seasonality.

My wife went with the Arctic Char served over a pepper puree with carrots and onions. Beautiful piece of fish cooked as desired with a nice sweet pepper puree to pair with it. I didn’t love the way the carrots mixed to the dish but my wife enjoyed pretty well.

For dessert, you have the choice of a sweet one or a savoury once. On the sweet side, we had a maple biscuit served with fresh raspberry, a blueberry coulis and cantaloupe sorbet. Outside of the sorbet (not a melon fan), the rest of this dessert was amazing. Great fresh flavours all around – the maple notes tying it all together.

On the savoury side, there was a piece of Pont Blanc cheese topped with fresh zucchini and zucchini flowers and served over a basil emulsion. I don’t love savoury desserts but pulling away from that, as a dish, this was a very creative idea. The mix of basil and cheese paired nicely – as any pesto fan will tell you. Not the way I would finish a meal but still enjoyable.

Candide was a wonderful experience of what our local produce can provide in the hands of a great kitchen. Beautiful dish presentation, great service throughout the night in a relaxed and intimate setting. My wife definitely nailed her date night surprise…. now to return the favour 😉

Cheers!

Candide
551 Rue Saint Martin
514 447 2717

Restaurant Candide Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Foxy

24 Jan

Special occasions call for a certain kind of restaurant. A place of intimacy and finesse with killer food and a certain coolness as well. We are lucky in Montreal to have many places that suit these criteria. For this particular occasion – My fiancé and I celebrating our anniversary – we chose to try a restaurant in our neighbourhood that I had been dying to try – Foxy.

Located on the restaurant row that is Notre Dame Street in St-Henri and Little Burgundy, Foxy is the sister restaurant of Old Port staple bakery Olive+Gourmando. The space is long and narrow with an open kitchen about midway with lots of low lighting and a beautiful bar straight across. I had heard that the room could get very loud and noisy at times but we were there on a quiet night so that wasn’t at all an issue.

Foxy’s menu works around grilling over a live fire or roasting in a wood-burning oven. The menu is smallish but every dish inspired interest from both of us. We first started with a couple of entrées. The winter coleslaw composed of brussel sprouts, savoy cabbage, apple, duck confit and celery root puree was a big hit for me. Beautiful presentation and a very hearty portion as a appetizer. The flavour of the duck came through primarily but each of the other element brought something nice in terms of flavours and texture. The addition of what seemed like a cider vinaigrette added a nice acidic kick to top it all off. Probably as great a winter salad as I have had.

Our second dish was roasted cauliflower served with turmeric, zoug yogurt, fried shallots and almonds. Another hit for us – tons of flavours coming through with the roasted vegetable, the crunchy sweetness of the shallots, the heat of the turmeric and the coolness of the yogourt. Another hearty portion as well.

The positive vibes continued through the main courses. I went with the herb sausage served with pecorino cheese, mashed potatoes, blackened brussel sprouts and house gravy. Delicious from beginning to end. The herb sausage was surprisingly spicy but the addition of the cheese paired well with that. The mash and gravy mix is always a good one and more lovely roasted sprouts didn’t hurt either.

My fiancé went with the charcoal grilled sea bass served with aioli and cucumber celery salad. The charred sea bass was beautiful and had such a great grilled flavour to it. Just add a little lemon and we’re good. Even better though was the house aioli – great consistency and very strong flavour. Perfect complement to the fish. I don’t care much for a cucumber salad but my fiancé loved it so we’re good 😉

Dessert options seemed wonderful – the chocolate bourbon brownie had me at hello – but the portions of our dishes were so generous that we were completely full and needed to pass…. Too bad but a good sign otherwise! Add to that great food very solid service throughout the night and we left Foxy very satisfied with our meal and our choice of venue for our occasion. We continued to get spoiled in Montreal for the quality of our restaurants. Foxy quickly made its way up our list of go-tos. The fact that we can walk to it from our place just makes it even better. Now I guess I should finally go to Olive+Gourmando now…..

Cheers!

Foxy
1638 Notre Dame Ouest
514 925 7007

Foxy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toqué

4 Dec

Montreal’s place in the world as a culinary hotspot has everything to do with the amazing chefs and restauranteurs that our fair city is lucky to have. And I would argue that no one has done as much to build the Montreal scene as ‘The Godfather of Montreal Fine Dining’ as per Anthony Bourdain – Normand Laprise. Chef Laprise, previously through Citrus and now Toqué, helped push the use of Quebec produce year round in restaurants and helped developed some of the city’s best chefs including Martin Picard.

With all its accolades and prestige, Toqué has been top of my ‘to-do’ list for a while now but I hadn’t found the time to finally visit…. until recently when I got a reservation for MTLàTable this year. So, my fiancé and I got dressed up and made our way down to the Old Montreal to see if my expectations could be met.

Originally on St-Denis street, Toqué relocated in 2004 to The Quartier International of Montreal across the street from the Palais des Congres. The room itself is refined and much bigger than I expected. The room also feels more vacant. The tables are separated apart enough that you never really feel like there is anyone else around you and the restaurant never feels full despite there not being any tables free. The service throughout the night was impeccable – very professional and attentive. The kind of touches you hope to see in a fine dining establishment and that Toqué does very well.

For MTLàTable, Toqué was proposing a 3 course meal with a couple of options at each course. First up, I tried one of the cocktails they were offering for the occasion. The Adam and Eve – Apple Brandy, cider with clove, cardamome and anise syrup – was excellent. A nice balance of apple acidity, sweetness and the spice notes of the cloves and cardamome.

A little amuse-bouche was provided to start – tuna tartare with fennel seed – as well as fresh house baked bread.

For appetizers, we started with the deer carpaccio topped with marinated squash, oyster mushrooms, walnuts and parmigiana reggiano cheese. Beautiful presentation as one would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. The meat itself was sliced amazingly thin, very tender and flavourful on its own. The addition of the fall veggies, the fresh reggiano and some olive oil really made it pop and provided some nice contrasts of both texture and flavour. A Toqué classic for a reason.

Our other appetizer was stripped bass rilettes served with a bread tuile, dill and kohlrabi. Once again, excellent technique on display. The rillettes, using potato as the binder, were very nicely done with great rich flavour and a nice texture. I really enjoyed how the bass came through so nicely in a dish that I associate more with meat versus fish.

As a main, the duck breast was screaming out to me. Served with roasted squash, black garlic puree, wild rice, pleurotes and herbed jus – the duck was simply exquisite. Perfect cook on it and great flavour. The jus has great depth. I enjoyed the touch of the black garlic as well. And of course, beautiful presentation – one of the best duck dishes I have had.

My fiancé went with the Icelandic Cod served with roasted potatoes, celeriac puree, rabiole, brussel sprouts, romanesco and truffle butter. The cod was beautifully tender and flaky. The lightness of the fish was nicely complimented by the rich puree and the glorious truffle butter. Truffles always make things better!

Dessert kept things going strong. First, a milk chocolate mousse incased in a chocolate ball shell with cacao granola, raspberry jelly and hay caramel. Great depth of chocolate flavour and beautiful presentation again. I liked the jelly being in the center of the ball of mousse.

Our other dessert was caramelized apple jelly served over praline and cinnamon sponge cake, cranberry poached apples, oatmeal and marscapone cream, speculoos crumble and oatmeal ice cream. Lots of elements demanding tons of precision and technique. It was amazing how well the caramelized apple taste came though in the jelly. The poached apples were delicious, the cream was rich and smooth and the ice cream very strong on oatmeal. Tons of fall flavours coming through. Great creative dessert. We also received some little bites at the end – sucre à la creme and some raspberry jellies. Very flavourful and a nice finishing touch to a great meal.

I had very high hopes going in and Toqué successfully met them and then some. Amazing service from beginning to end, wonderful food with high technique and presentation – you understand how Chef Laprise and his crew came to be known as the high-end of Quebec cuisine and how they are able to maintain that level of excellence after all these years. Toqué is a amazing place and we are very lucky to have them here in Montreal.

Cheers!

Toqué
900 Pl Jean-Paul-Riopelle
514 499 2084

Toqué! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Marconi

6 Aug

Apparently when one turns 30, your birthday celebrations get stretched out so for the final act, my sister offered me a meal at a restaurant of my choice. Given both of our enjoyment of trying new places, I figured this would be a good opportunity to try a relatively new restaurant in the city that has had lots of buzz, Marconi.

Opened last December by owners Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly and partner Molly Superfine-Rivera, this local duo came back to Montreal after having worked in New York. Mehdi, as a chef, had headed two kitchens in two Greenwich Village restaurants: Chez Sardine and Fedora. When in Montreal prior to his time in New York, he had worked at Toqué and Au Pied de Cochon so the pedigree was very interesting.

The room is definitely interesting visually. The space was apparently a former dépanneur and so they kept some original features. The most unique would be an old wooden fridge turned into the wine cellar. There is also a patterned tin ceiling, white-washed wall tiles, a beautiful wooden bar, an open kitchen and all sorts of electic accents – I’m partial to the cheetah frame above the bar. Noise levels are a little high but with the great background tunes played overhead, it isn’t a problem. The vibe was great all night.

Superfine-Rivera is known for her cocktails so we had to start with a couple. Excellent balance for both. The ‘Penicillin’ had that smoky scotch note but with some sweetness and freshness from the ginger and honey. The Old Cuban had a similar sweet and fresh complex mixing rum with mint and green lemon. Great start.

The menu is relatively small and the plates are designed to share so we were recommended to get a few more than one each. No problem there! First up, a couple of bouchées – mimosa miso egg and cod croquettes. The eggs, served deviled-style, had a hint of the miso and a nice creamy texture. The croquettes were crunchy and very dense. The cod was delicious and the little mayo served it added some richness.

For true appetizers, we went with a trio. First, a plate of veal sweetbread with green peas, lemon puree and oxalis. I love sweetbreads so this was an easy sell for me. Beautifully golden and crunchy, these rich delights mixed with the zesty lemon was a nice pairing.

Next, the toast topped with whelk, bone marrow, aged cheddar and parsley was another hit for me. The mix of the whelk, the fatty marrow and the cheese worked surprisingly well. The bread had a nice crunch to it as well. My photography skills failed me here so no picture of this one. You will just have to take my word for it!

Last starter was a mixture of mushrooms served in brown butter with a poached egg. This was our favorite by far. The earthiness of the mushrooms came through so strongly and then you add the richness of the brown butter and the poached egg. Very lucious and a great finish to this course.

We slowed down a bit and went with only 2 mains. First was the ricotta gnocchi served with xeres, parmesan and basil. The gnocchi was good but personally not up to my standards when compared to another restaurants just a few streets over… however flavours were good, the xeres added some sweetness and the mountain of parmesan is always a welcomed addition. Solid dish.

The other main was the magret de canard served with burnt onion puree. The duck was cooked perfectly and had that great depth of flavour you want. I was very curious about the burnt puree – something I had never been exposed to before. Interesting texture overall with that slight charred texture coming through despite being pureed. The sweetness of the onions is still present but with a slight decrease in strength coming from the burning. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea but I enjoyed it and it worked well with the duck.

After all of this, we still felt the need for some desserts so we took two. First, the bowl of white chocolate, rhubarb and pistachio was a nice combo of sweetness and tart but the cream at the bottom was more basil so the strong flavour that came through was basil instead of the others. Good but not quite what was stated. The other dessert was a lemon and creme verveine with oats. Very generous portion and excellent texture on the cream. Both rich and smooth with a nice lemon kick. The oats were good to bring some crunch.

As a finisher to my birthday celebrations, Marconi was an excellent way to go. The vibe was great, drinks excellent and the food very enjoyable. Mild complain would be the time it took to be served between each dish but clearly the approach was to serve each dish one at a time to split before next one which is fine but it made the service longer than we expected. Marconi is a welcomed addition to the scene in Mile-Ex and definitely a place worth going back – not for birthday celebrations.

Cheers!

Marconi
45 Avenue Mozart Ouest
514 490 0777

Marconi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Montreal Plaza

31 Jan

To enter a restaurant is to enter the mind of the chef, to experience what he or she wished you to experience – and I’m not just talking about the food. The influence of the chef is seen in all aspects of their restaurants – it is the subtle elements of decor, music and atmosphere that make David McMillan and Fred Morin’s cool ode to rustic Quebec in Joe Beef work. Same goes for Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles and the hip coolness of Garde Manger and Bremner or the friendly neighbourhood British pub feel for Derek Dammmann’s Maison Publique. There are many examples across Montreal but the key is that the restaurants feel as though they are uniquely from the chefs that run them. We are spoiled in Montreal to have so many wonderful and unique chefs. The challenge is simply to experience all of them!

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For the occasion of our anniversary, I decided to bring my girlfriend to Plaza St-Hubert of all places to visit a restaurant that seemed to have the right level of finesse with that wonderful unique element that I love so much about Montreal…. in this case, from the mind of Charles-Antoine Crete, Montreal Plaza.

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Started up by Crete and his partner Cheryl Johnson, Montreal Plaza is Crete’s first big project since he left Toque where he was Normand Laprise’s right-hand man. The restaurant, designed by Zébulon Perron, is quite the space. Equal combination fancy bistro and family chalet. You are wowed by the white-painted bean-board walls and ceiling, the frosted-glass lighting across the ceiling, the marble bars and the open kitchen but then you are amused by the old grandfather clock, the teddy bear, the upside down doll house and by-plane used on the ceiling fans, the greenhouse and the “workshop” space. The bathroom area has one of those light-up nature frames with nature sounds on the ceiling! The space is bemusing but wonderful all the same time. The music the whole night was 90s rap and hip-hop so my girlfriend and I spent the night singing along to Nelly, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and R Kelly. I can only imagine how weird that contrast could be some but for a couple of 20-somethings, it was a awesome element to our evening.

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We must start with the drinks as the beer list had the Anna from Hill Farmstead brewery in Vermont. For those who known about beer, you understand how exciting that was…. and how great of a Honey Ale it was. I’d had been wanting to visit the brewery and try one of their beers for a while now. This was a very pleasant surprise to start our evening. For the rest of you, I encourage you to check them out if ever you have a chance.

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Foodwise, we decided to start with something neither of us had tried before: sea urchin. In this case, grilled sea urchin served with lardon, green onions and fried shallots within its shell. Beautiful presentation and lovely taste. The urchin was firm at first but then melted in the mouth – rich and creamy sweetness. The addition of the lardon and the shallots added a hint of smokiness as well. A awesome first try at Uni.

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Our second starter was salmon tartar + crispy – a lovely slightly creamy salmon topped with lettuce and puffed rice as the crunch to the dish. The fish texturally was beautiful and tender. The binder of the tartar provided some richness and a touch of bite to the dish. The use of the rice for some texture was creative and added some crunch.

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We were feeling adventurous with our mains. Our first was blood sausage and apple – served with a jus de viande, lettuce, onion rings and some fresh cranberries. The sausage was wonderful – rich and savoury. The sweetness of the apple and the tartness of the cranberries paired very nicely. The onion rings were a weird add to the plate but the combination of their sweetness and their crunch made them a surprisingly perfect addition.

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Our second main was equally as unique in its combinations – sliced deer heart and calamari served with red cabbage, red onion, hay and popcorn. The play between the gamey deer and the fishy tender calamari was pretty interesting although I wished they had been a bit more deer in the plate. The popcorn was another fun play for texture and some sweetness.

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Once we got to dessert, my girlfriend wasn’t that hungry so she only ordered one of their Cannelés. Nice hint of vanilla and rum with a fluffy interior and nice crust on the outside. An excellent pastry. I, on the other hand, went with the glacé aux pommes cake – layers of frozen apple and cake sliced very thinly and served as almost a blooming flower. Beautiful to look at and very tasty as well.

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Montreal Plaza was a perfect spot for our anniversary dinner and a lovely look into the minds of Chef Crete and his team. Great food, great atmosphere and wonderful service in a unique space. You don’t associate Plaza St-Hubert with fine dining but this becomes a worthwhile member of Montreal’s best.

Cheers!

Montreal Plaza
6230 Saint-Hubert
514 903 6230

Montréal Plaza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Diplomate

16 Aug

One of my favorite restaurant experiences – and one I don’t get to enjoy that often – is to sit and watch the chefs work. Be it at a chef’s table or at the bar in front of an open kitchen, there is something very revealing and thrilling about watching how your meal gets made and also how the team at the restaurant deals with the natural dinner rush. Last week, I got to sit at the bar at Le Diplomate and watch Chef Aaron Langille work his magic at his relatively new restaurant in Mile-Ex. Chef Langille would be known to some for his time at Cafe Sardine (prior to its demise) as well as Orange Rouge, Club Chasse et Peche and Le Filet. I had heard some good things about his new venture and wanted to check it out.

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Very much in keeping with the neighbourhood itself, Le Diplomate is somewhat hidden from view – I actually drove by it on the way over – and pretty unassuming visually. The space is small – about 20 seats – and the majority of those seats are at the bar facing an open kitchen. The room is pretty barren deco-wise – the selection of 80s music playing overhead is the only loud thing in the room but that worked for me. The focus is truly on the bar and watching the team work. Chef Langille and his team of 2 work the entire space. When the chef serves your dishes and also does the dishwashing afterwards, you know you are in an intimate environment.

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Le Diplomate’s menu is somewhat hard to pin down. I suppose the best way to describe it would be market cuisine with emphasis on northern ingredients but even that feels reductive as Chef Langille and his team do plenty outside of that designation. Regardless, the menu changes regularly so every time can be a surprise. The menu is relatively small and the plates are similar. These are dishes to share – which was perfect as my girlfriend and our friend Annie were willing partners to trying pretty much the entire menu!

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First up was the house-made Sourdough with a warm red pepper broth and sunflower seed oil for dipping. I am a sucker for a good sourdough and this one was excellent – using a 150 year old mother from England according to Chef Langille. The red pepper broth brought a nice optional sweetness to the sour bread and the oil, as always, was a good pairing to the bread.

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Next, Annie and I each had an partially cooked oyster with scotch butter served over top. I’m still trying to get my girlfriend into oysters…. it’s a slowly acquired taste apparently. The partial cooking of the oyster changed the texture somewhat but it was still enjoyable. The unique element here was the scotch butter. You could really pick up the inherent smokiness of the scotch with the richness of the butter. A cool little amuse-bouche.

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The poached calamari was a big hit for us. Served with kale juice, kale, black currents and beans, the calamari had great flavour and texture. The currents originally felt like a weird addition but the additional sweetness worked. The beans provided a little more nutritional weight to the dish.

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The tomato dish served with kasuzuke daikon and kohlrabi was not my thing…. I know that hating raw tomatoes is weird but I stand by my weirdness. Our friend Annie really took to the dish loving how the seasonal freshness of tomatoes came through and how the sweet dressing mixed so well with the roughly chopped tomatoes and the daikon. A good example of how a few fresh ingredients selected well can go a long way.

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The Tofu with porcini, green onions and salmon roe was another dish I didn’t try but our friend Annie was once again there to provide some input. She found the mixture of the silky tofu, the earthy mushrooms and the tart cherry tomatoes a little off at first but felt that the yeasty broth at the bottom really helped to balance things out and made it very enjoyable. She loved the strong flavours the dish conveyed.

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For something more my style now, the clams with chorizo and purslane were an interesting dish. The clams were cooked well but the broth itself seemed to lack punch. The chorizo provided the necessary kick and contrast to the clams. I had never had purslane before but the fresh green worked nicely as the side dish component here. Very cool to try something a little different.

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Our fish of the evening was walleye served with fennel, peach puree and meyer lemon. The fish was lovely, so light and flaky. The sweetness of the peach, the acidic but sweet lemon and the liquorice-like fennel were all nice additions to the fish although the fennel was somewhat overpowering to the other elements.

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My personal favorite was the lamb with broccoli, yogourt croutons, yogourt sauce and papalo, a mexican herb that Chef Langille compared to cilantro. The combination of the yogourt and lamb worked so well. The use of brocoli and papalo weirdly gave off a beef and broccoli taste to the dish also. I loved the creative use of yogourt to create the croutons as well.

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The desserts were more on the savoury side than sweet. First was a corn parfait with coconut, Maraschino cherries and a jalapeño granité. An interesting fluffy texture with strong notes of the coconut within the corn. The cherries provide the sweetness and the granite was surprisingly spicy. I love more sweet desserts personally but I enjoyed this one a fair bit.

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The other dessert of the night was a sharp cheddar cake with carrot caramel, carrot puree and rye crumble. I loved how the sharp cheddar came through and how the texture of a classic cheesecake was maintained. The carrot caramel was nice and sweet. I personally didn’t care for the very strong carrot puree on its own – the flavour was much too overpowering but when combined with the rye crumbs and the sweeter elements on the dish, it worked pretty well.

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Le Diplomate feels like a hidden gem – a place that most people have never heard about but those in the know know what’s up. The cuisine is precise but still feels very personal as you’re so close to the process that happens in front of you. Chef Langille and his team are clearly expressing what they want in their cuisine and you feel it all night long. Mile-Ex may be a little off the beaten path food-wise but there are definitely some worthwhile experiences to enjoy if you’re willing to put up a seat at the bar.

Cheers!

Le Diplomate
129 Beaubien Ouest
514 303 9727

Restaurant Le Diplomate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Bon Vivant

9 Aug

I have previously lauded the Brunch service of Le Bon Vivant – see here – but up until this past week, I had not gone back to give their dinner service a chance. Given my awesome experiences for brunch, my expectations were high but given how the strong the restaurant seems to be going, I suspected I would not be disappointed.

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The overall look and vibe of Le Bon Vivant hasn’t changed since I reviewed it almost a year and that’s fine because I still love it. The industrial yet cozy look works just as well in the evening. Not too noisy overall so conversation could be had. With the front and back windows open, we had a nice cool summer breeze coming through the room. It just felt like the perfect relaxed summer night at the restaurant.

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The dinner menu is a very eclectic mix – I suppose I would best describe as refined comfort food but even that feels not quite correct. Outside of the seasonal menu, Le Bon Vivant has a huge daily special list so our options were plentiful.

First up was one of the specials – a watermelon gaspacho soup. I don’t enjoy watermelon – yes I know but let’s just move on, okay? – so I didn’t try it, however the two bowls disappeared rather quickly. It was a hit.

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My choice of entree was fried cauliflower with brussel sprouts, halloumi, zaatar yogourt and herbs. One of their regular dishes and I can understand why. Beautiful presentation on the plate and the dish tasted great. I was surprised at just how crispy the cauliflower was – but the flavour was still there. I loved how the earthiness of the sprouts paired with the cauliflower as well as the creaminess of the yogourt and the richness of the halloumi. The crunch on the outside of the halloumi was also a nice touch I enjoyed.

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The first main was a special of the night – a sopa seca with shrimp, chorizo and mussels. Another dish I didn’t get to try but I mention it as just an example of the creative dishes they produce as specials regularly. Something I had never heard of before but it appeared to be another hit with my dinnermates.

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Our second main course was another special – gnudi with chanterelle mushrooms and blood sausage. An interesting combination that worked pretty well. Loved the blood sausage and the freshness of the chanterelles. The gnudi had good flavour but they felt a little overcooked texture-wise to me. They didn’t have the pillowy texture you expect when you bit into them – a little more chew was required.

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The final main was marinated and grilled octopus with black beans, confit potato salad, green beans, charred scallions and chimichurri. Loved the grilled octopus and the chimichurri. For me personally, the dish was spicier than expected as the salad underneath included lots of jalapeño. While the general flavours were nice, by the end I only felt the heat and the rest of the flavours were gone. My girlfriend did not have the same quarrels. Clearly my pallet is weak I guess…

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For dessert, my girlfriend and I decided to share the strawberry pie although I feel that calling it a pie isn’t quite correct. I would describe it more as a strawberry gelee on a shortbread crust. The strawberry flavour was nice but the texture was much more akin to a gelee than a pie filling. The crust was also a little soft – as if the gelee on top of it had bled into the crust and softened it. As such, the texture wasn’t that shortbread you expect.

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A few minor quibbles aside, Le Bon Vivant continues to impress me as a awesome neighbourhood restaurant. The vibe is nice, the service was excellent and on top and any restaurant that serves Beau’s for beer has my vote. I am spoiled to have such a nice joint near my place – now I just need to avoid the desire to go on a weekly basis!

Cheers!

Le Bon Vivant
2705 Notre Dame Ouest
514 316 4585

Le Bon Vivant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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