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Le H4C

28 Dec

For my final review of 2016, we have my final MTL à Table choice from November. For about 3 years now, I had heard great things about a restaurant located in the heart of St-Henri. Living near McGill, I thought about it but never went. Last year, moving to Pointe-St-Charles meant I could walk there now if I wanted to… but I still didn’t visit. Finally, the opportunity came around so I found myself at le H4C ready to see if the wait was worth it.

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Started by the founders of an architectural firm and chef Dany Bolduc, le H4C has the stated goal of combining responsible and sustainable architecture to gastronomy. The restaurant is located within a 1893 vintage building that used to be a post office. It has been restored beautifully – showcasing the old features of the brownstone while adding some more modern touches. The space is completely open and beautiful – the use of wood tables and leather banquette and chairs complement well the gorgeous stone exterior walls. The overall vibe is very calm and intimate – a perfect date night location.

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The menu is an interesting mix. I supposed one could call market cuisine with emphasis on local ingredients using french technique. It lents itself to very particular dishes. First up was housemade duck pancetta with papadoum, lime, curry, mustard, tamarin and cilantro. The pancetta was wonderful – the fatty taste of duck very strong and the texture wonderfully tender. The papadoum (a sort of Indian fried tortilla) provided a nice crunch to pair with the duck. The sauces dotted along the papadoum provided different accents flavours to play with. An excellent dish.

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Our second starter was equally well executed. The marinated salmon with cauliflower, creme fraiche, salmon roe and spices was similar to the first in that the primary ingredient was done simply but so well. The fish had great freshness and a lovely texture to it. The use of cauliflower and creme fraiche, while weird together in theory, worked very well with the salmon to enhance it by bringing in some richness.

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The final entree we tried was the Ricotta gnudi with gruyere, onion and croutons. Essentially a french onion soup broken down with gnudi instead of that big cheesy bread. A very cool usage of a classic French recipe and have some fun with it. Excellent onion broth – rich and smooth. The gundi were soft and lovely balls of rich ricotta. Adding the gruyere on top just made it richer and more filling.

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Our mains continued the high level of execution. First was the octopus with tandoori, caramelized yogourt, red onion, basmati rice and coconut. The octopus was wonderfully tender and the tandoori spices brought some nice flavour. The combination of the red onion and the yogourt provided some nice sweetness and creaminess to pair with the octopus.

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My dish of the night was the main I ordered: smoked meat with potatoes, smoked onions, rye, mustard and marinated cabbage. A wonderfully weird deconstructed smoked meat sandwich that tasted as close to the real thing as possible without having just meat between rye bread. The smoked meat was perfect – getting that right level of tenderness and flavour. I was just missing my root beer (or cherry coke if that’s more your thing)!

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The desserts had a hard time matching the highs of the mains. First the lemon meringue with cucumber ice cream and gin was interesting texturally but the cucumber popped more than the lemon or even the gin which didn’t work for me. The squash with gingerbread, white chocolate and pumpkin seeds was an interesting savoury sweet idea that worked better in theory than practice. No one at the table really enjoyed the preparation of the squash – almost gelatinous but the flavour didn’t work at all. The gingerbread and white chocolate mousse were excellent but that wasn’t really the point.. We also got some housemade popcorn which was very good as well.

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Le H4C was a solid night out. A very high level of execution throughout the meal in a beautiful environment. With the exception of the desserts, the meal was enjoyable by everyone at the table. I’m happy to see a restaurant such as this one succeeded in my part of town and I’m sorry it took this long to come visit. They also do brunch so I will need to check that out as well. Le H4C deserves your attention if you are visiting the Sud Ouest.

Cheers!

Le H4C
538 Place St-Henri
514 316 7234

Le H4C Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Le Fantome

23 Oct

Tasting menus can be scary to some people. Will I like all the dishes served to me? Why can’t I just order what I want? Or more importantly, do I trust the chef enough to fully guide my restaurant experience? Fundamentally that is the question when confronted with a tasting menu. Personally, I think the tasting menu is a great way to evaluate a restaurant as it should technically be what the chef wishes to serve you. If you don’t like the tasting menu then I suspect the restaurant will not be for you. In Montreal, a few recent restaurants have decided to go only tasting menu – a bold choice but one that certainly can be interesting. One of these is Le Fantome. A relatively new restaurant located in Griffintown, Le Fantome has received plenty of rave reviews since their opening and actually switched to an only-tasting menu option sometime after their opening. Given their close proximity to my place, it was a perfect date night spot for my girlfriend and I a few weeks ago.

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Hidden on William street, Le Fantome is very unassuming from the outside. In fact, you’re likely to miss it when you drive by. The narrow room is sparsely lit decorated only with abstract paintings from chef Jason Morris’s great- grandfather. Not my style artistically but it goes create a nice intimate setting. Noise level was relatively high when we arrived but decreased nicely as the night went on. As our table was not ready, manager Kabir Kapoor provided us with a couple of glasses of white wine for our troubles. That level of quality service continued throughout the night. Very attentive and friendly.

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Once we were sitting, we were provided a menu with both a small or large tasting menu to choose from. The menu simply listed the primary ingredient of each dish. The rest was explained by our wait staff as we received each dish. I went for the larger tasting menu which was comprised of 7 plates and 2 desserts.

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First was a simple amuse bouche of blackberries with foie de volaille. A nice combination of sweet and richness.

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Our second course was a beet salad with creme fraiche, almonds, pistachios and graham crackers. This course let us know that we would be in good hands on this night. The beets were fresh and sliced thinly. The richness of the creme fraiche paired so well with the beets. The nuts brought a little crunch and the addition of the graham crackers added a extra hint of sweetness. A wonderfully balanced dish.

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Third course was a raisin and blueberry salad with black liquorice. Pretty simple overall. I was surprised at how the black liquorice came through but there wasn’t much to get excited about here otherwise.

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The fourth dish was a beef tartar with red peppers, olive oil and elephant garlic shavings. Served in strips, the beef was nice and tender. The dish has good kick to it – reminded me as a stir-fry from a flavour profile. I honestly didn’t pick up the garlic very much. The sweetness of the red pepper was more noticeable.

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The next course was a little more unique – Popcorn risotto. A very creamy risotto with actual popcorn mixed in. A cool textural play and the popcorn brought a nice buttery flavour to the dish. I honestly found the risotto itself lacking any punch without the popcorn flavour-wise though.

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The next dish was salmon lightly poached with kombucha spices, crispy skin, basil and lemon puree. Pardon the bad photographer for the shoddy picture – doesn’t do its presentation service. My girlfriend didn’t enjoy the almost raw texture but I found it interesting. The basil and the puree were the big flavour providers though. The spices didn’t do much for me.

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The seventh dish was a standout for me: Chicken breast and thigh with salsa verde and chicken jus. Loved the chicken two ways – the deep fried thigh had a great crunch to it. The salsa verde was fresh and flavourful. The chicken jus was rich and smooth. Great showcase of execution and technique.

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Now…. Le Fantome offers another dish which you can add to your tasting for a great fee. It is the dish that they are know for early in their existence: a PBJ and foie gras sandwich on toasted brioche. Of course I needed to try it! Just amazing – if you don’t like foie gras, it won’t work for you. For the rest of us though, such a great combination – the buttery brioche, the rich sliver of foie gras, the sweet jam and the smooth peanut butter. I simply wish I could have had more!

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Dessert-wise, we got to try 4 different ones as the shorter tasting (which my girlfriend took) had 2 different desserts than mine. First was a raspberry sorbet sandwich. Loved the strong berry taste and the smooth sorbet texture.

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Second was pear with whipped mascarpone. Our favorite dessert of the night. So simple and yet so effective. Whipping the mascarpone lighten the texture and that richness was perfect with the sweet pear.

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Third was Corn Creme Caramel. Loved the texture of the creme caramel and how the use of corn subtly changed the flavour. However, the burnt caramel sauce didn’t work for either of us. It felt too burnt and left a taste that lacked the sweetness we wanted.

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The final dessert was a pair of Jade Orange candies. A bit-sized hit of nice orange flavour. No complaints here.

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Le Fantôme’s tasting menu spoke of a refined and well-executed cuisine focused on the market that is able to have some fun at the same time. I very much enjoyed the experience of following chef Morris’ inspirations and seeing where he and his staff would take us. A excellent date night all-around and that was all that mattered. Thanks to chef Morris and Kabir. Pleasure having you in the neighbourhood.

Cheers!

Le Fantome
1832 William
514 846 1832

Le Fantome Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hotel Herman

25 Mar

Special occasions require special settings. For the night of my girlfriend’s birthday, I wanted a lovely and refined experience with good service and atmosphere…. that also needed to be open on Monday. Not that easy given Monday is typically the Montreal restaurant off day! Looking through my options, I came to one that I had neglected from my to-visit list for a long time…. so off we went back to my favourite neighbourhood Mile End to go pay a visit to Hotel Herman.

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Located on Saint-Laurent just south of Fairmount, Hotel Herman is a pretty unassuming restaurant from the outside and similarly inside. The space is focused around a beautiful U-shaped bar in the middle of the room. Small tables all around that and the open kitchen in the back so you can see the staff in action. No big visual flourishes on the walls. Lighting is low and the music is of the smooth jazz and soul variety so the general feeling of the room is relaxed but intimate. On this particular Monday, it was very quiet – much to the surprise of our waitress who stated that normally they get 70 people on Mondays but they only had 20 on this night! I can imagine the atmosphere being more energetic normally but this was very suitable for my girlfriend and I on this celebratory evening.

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Drink-wise, I was in the mood for a cocktail, so I went with their Penicilline – scotch, honey and ginger. A nicely balanced drink. The sweetness of the honey dulled the scotch enough for my girlfriend to find it enjoyable but still leaving me for the scotch smokiness that I love. We also had some lovely glasses of wine from countries I’ve never associated with wine – Czech Republic and Greece. My girlfriend originally ordered a different wine which, after our waitress served it, she came back less than 5 minutes later and switched it – stating she wasn’t happy with it. My girlfriend hadn’t really been bothered by it but much appreciation to a staff that cares enough about those details. Throughout the night, the staff was friendly and sharp. Attentive but not overbearing which can be easy on the nights where there is no one in the room.

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The dishes at Hotel Herman are of small-to-medium size with emphasis on doing ingredients in different ways on the plate. Our first starter was trout served in a gravlax-style with onions, beurre blanc and crispy seaweed. This first dish told me everything about what to expect from Hotel Herman – beautiful presentation, simple in terms of number of ingredients but so subtle, so refined and lovely flavours. The trout’s texture was beautiful – firm but still delicate enough to come apart without much effort. Lovely smoked flavour that wasn’t too salty despite its preparation – much to my girlfriend’s satisfaction due to her hatred of salt. The inclusion of the sweet onions and the beurre blanc were nice compliments to the fish.

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Our second dish was beet root served two ways with juniper berries and hay. Another beautiful dish visually although we were not blown away this time tasting it. Flavours were nice but not wowing truthfully. I did enjoy the crispy thinner strips of beet texturally but my girlfriend was not as pleased by it. We also got some of the housemate bread with butter. The bread had a nice crunchy crust but the interior was soft and dense.

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For our mains, we started with the venison heart tartare with a porcini emulsion, spruce and breadcrumbs. Probably one of my favourite tartares ever. The use of the venison heart creates a more gamey flavour and texture. Also less fatty to taste. The binding felt minimal so there wasn’t a gooey texture either to the tartare and the toasted breadcrumbs added a nice crunch to the mix. We ate this dish up pretty quickly. A huge hit for both of us.

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Our other main dish was the veal sweetbreads served with parsnip gnocchi and mustard. Another excellent dish from the kitchen. The sweetbreads were nicely cooked and still had all that fatty goodness I love with sweetbreads. The real surprise to me here though was the parsnips gnocchi. A cool way to incorporate parsnips, the gnocchi had that strong earthy flavour of the parsnip all while keeping the pillowy soft texture one seeks in gnocchi.

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Dessert wise, we decided to split the honey tart served with sour cream and sponge toffee. Nice crispy buttery tart shell on the outside, I really liked the use of sour cream to cut the sweetness from the honey filling. The sponge toffee adds an extra texturally element to the dish. A nice way to finish off the meal.

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Safe for one dish, Hotel Herman met my expectations. There is a reason that this restaurant has been one of the best ranked in Montreal for three years and has made Canada’s top 100. There is a level of attention and detail present here throughout the entire service that leaves you feeling that you are in good hands. Great service, simple but nice decor and excellent food – Hotel Herman is another great restaurant that gives Montreal a good name food-wise.

Cheers!

Hotel Herman
5171 Saint-Laurent
514 278 7000

Hôtel Herman Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

EVOO Cuisine Soignée

7 Nov

Two and a half years ago, I came to EVOO for a quick brunch with a friend. The experience was good enough that I told myself I should come back for dinner at some point. Well, it took awhile but for the event of MTL à Table, I finally came back last week ready to see how EVOO held up after all this time with my girlfriend and some friends of ours.

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First thing of note for me was the completely change in decor. Gone was the contemporary white and purple look of before. Now, the space is more rustic in appearance with a harvest theme running through the room – use of light yellows, harvest tools and greenery on the walls, old mismatches wooden chairs and a large mirrored wall in the front. Compared to before, the space feels warmer although there is lack of pop visually and the room still feels a little empty somehow.

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I also need to make mention of the wonderfully offbeat playlist that played all night – jazzy covers of pretty much anything possible from “Stacy’s Mom” to “Gangster’s Paradise”, “Girls Wanna have Fun” and Kanye West’s “Only One”. For the entire night, our table was laughing and smiling at the great and weird songs to the point of asking our waitress exactly how found these songs.

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We decided to start with some of their speciality cocktails. Personally, I went for the Autumn Martini – Ice Cider, bourbon, apple juice and spices. An excellent blend of sweet and spice. Officially a cocktail I need to re-attempt at home.

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My girlfriend went with the rhum ground cherry – white and brown rums mixed with angostura bitters and ground cherries. Not a huge rum fan but again a very nicely balanced cocktail. A hint of bitterness to go with the spiciness of the rum and the sweetness of the ground cherry.

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Amongst the four of us at our table, we were able to try the entire menu EVOO had set up for MTL à Table. The first starter was a Bass Escabeche with roasted cauliflower, yogurt, smoked tomato jam and pickled fennel. Nice tender pieces of poached bass served cold as is traditional of a escabeche. The use of the smooth yogourt and the smoky tomato jam provided nice flavour kicks to pair with the fish. A nice presentation as well.

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Second starter was a homemade Ricotta salad with cucumber, brussels sprout, carrot, beet and walnut dressing. Another beautiful presentation and a wonderful fresh. A great creamy rich texture to the ricotta and the use of all those fresh vegetables matched up well with the inherent richness of the cheese.

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The final starter was a red wine onion soup with parmesan foam. The lack of that big crouton and melty cheese that we usually associate with a French onion soup made this feel a little lacking in the end. The flavour was very nice though – the red wine coming through strongly in the broth. More a question of expectations than anything else.

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Our first main was the Québec bison ribs with Anthony’s vegetable stew, chimichurri and pangritata. The meat off the rib was beautifully tender and juicy – simply falling off the massive rib in the plate. The pangritata breading added a little crunch and the vegetable stew provided a hearty comfort to the dish. Very enjoyable.

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Next was the mushroom ravioli with Mr. Petit’s confit goat, pear, crispy cipollini and parmesan. Nicely sized raviolis with a solid amount of filling. Nice flavour overall with the addition of the sweet pear provided a nice counter to the goat itself.

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Finally, we had the stuffed quail with Gaspor bacon, grilled lettuce, Labrador tea, sage mascarpone and root vegetables. The bird was nice and juicy and the rest of the dish had this great feeling of being technical but still comforting. Another excellent dish.

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Desserts brought further enjoyment. First was an assortment of Québec cheeses with some caramelized nuts, apple butter and fennel and coriander crackers. Next was an medley of desserts – salted caramel flan, aerial chocolate, apple, fireweed ice cream and some meringue. A great showcase of different technical skills and flavours. Very good across the board. The final option – for a little extra cost – was the Banoffee – caramelized bananas, dulce de leche, creme fraiche, shortbread and toffee. I was very happy I went for the extra cost to get this. The combination of the bananas with the caramel and the toffee was perfectly sweet and some nice crunch as well. This dish disappeared as quickly as it arrived at our table.

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It may have taken me longer to come back than I hoped but EVOO thankfully did not disappoint. An excellent meal – a showcase of technique and great ingredients – that left us satisfied and full. With all the changes and new restaurants opening on Notre Dame, it’s great to see EVOO is holding its own and providing a great experience.

Cheers!

EVOO
3426 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 846-3886

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

Lili Co.

1 Nov

There are so many restaurants in Montreal that I wish to check out but sadly I don’t have enough time (or frankly money if we are being truthful). For the part 3 years, the October-November event of MTL à Table has allowed me to get to certain restaurants at a reduced price which I am very thankfully for. When I first looked at the restaurants participating this year, the one that leaped off the page for me was Lili Co. Originally a small Plateau restaurant, partners Catherine Draws and David Pellizzari moved into a bigger space on Saint-Laurent earlier this year. Reading the big reviews they have gotten over the past few years – including a most recent one in the Gazette in July – Lili Co.’s use of offal and off-cuts really intrigued me and had me pinning for a visit. Sadly, the MTL à Table menu didn’t have any of that – unless you paid a little extra – but I still wanted to go and give them a try.

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Visually, Lili Co. is a nice clean space. The main focus is on the two wrap-around bars which circle both the bar area and the open kitchen where you can watch Chef David and his crew do their work. In fact, outside of a few spots – including where we were sadly! – the entire room is set up to face the kitchen. Service was quick and efficient. Noise level was pretty loud given the room was full. As such, there was background music throughout the night but I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was. It is not the most fancy room around but sharp nevertheless.

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I felt like a cocktail this evening so I tried one of their seasonal specialities – The “Sans nom d’automne” – zubrowska, cachaca, natural apple juice, teapot bitters and star anise. I like this one in theory but the flavour left me indifferent. The sweetness of the cachaca and the apple juice were not noticeable. I was left primarily with the bitterness and the zubrowska – not really I had hoped for.

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With the cocktail consumed, we moved on the food. First up was the pork belly served with cashew butter and creamy coleslaw. A generous peace of fatty pork with a nice crispiness to the skin. The creamy coleslaw paired well with the meat. The cashew butter was nice as well.

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Our other starter was wild mushrooms poached in butter served with caramelized cauliflower purée and black bread crumbs. A simple dish but so well executed and delicious. The mushrooms were soften slightly with their wonderful earthiness intact. The real star though was the cauliflower puree – so rich and smooth. Very enjoyable.

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Our second course started with Gnocchi à la fajiole served with romano beans, smoked tomatoes and parmigiana. A nice creamy sauce paired well with the pillowy gnocchi and the beans. Only complaint would be the portion size – definitely would have been nice to have a few extra gnocchi!

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The second main was grilled octopus with a hibiscus glaze, chorizo, soy beans, black olive powder and lemon. The hit of the evening for us. The mixture of the glaze and the chorizo gave the tender octopus a hint of both sweetness and spiciness. The soy beans added a little extra sustenance to the plate. Definitely a dish I would order again.

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For dessert, we were treated to house doughnuts with lemon mousse and huckleberry jam. The doughnuts were light and fluffy in the inside with a nice crunch on the outside. Add the sugar coating to the jam and the mousse and you have a nice dessert right there. The final dessert was a brioche with a nut beurre monté, sumac and a wild flower glace au miel. Just like the doughnuts, the brioche was nice and fluffy. The special touches of the beurre monté and the glace au miel provided some nice sweetness and richness.

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I’ll admit I was disappointed that no offal or off-cut dishes were present in the menu option – since that is what attracted me to Lili Co in the first place – but in the end, that is on me for having waiting until MTL à Table to finally visit Lili Co. The food was excellent and the atmosphere enjoyable – you can see why they needed to move into bigger digs this year. This meal simply reinforced that I will need to come back again. Looking forward to visiting chef David and Catherine on a more regular occasion.

Cheers!

Lili Co.
4675 Saint-Laurent
514 507-7278

Lili Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London 2015 – London House

31 Mar

Last month, I went on a quick vacation to the UK trying to cram as much as I physically could in 6 days abroad. Outside of visiting the usual sights, of course, I couldn’t help but try to experience some nice British cuisine while there. Personally, when I think of British chefs, I think Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal. Blumenthal was completely out of range for this trip – both in location and cost – but frankly my dining partner (my sister) wanted nothing to do with the menu. However, we did find a way to enjoy cuisine from the other two during the trip. First up was our Gordon Ramsay’s experience – out in Battersea (Southwest London essentially) at London House.

I’ll admit that I hate Gordon Ramsay the TV personality – too blowhard and bombastic for me. None of his shows ever kept my interest. However I totally respect his cooking acumen and was curious to see what one of his higher end spots would provide. One of his more recent opening in London, London House is described as a “relaxed, cosy restaurant and bar offering Modern European cooking”. The space is definitely going for a more relaxed vibe – using leather banquettes, leather sofas, dim lighting and even a fireplace near the entrance. However, the cozy vibe was lacking due to the relatively empty space due to lack of patrons. Now I understand what we did go on a Thursday night but I still expected more of an ambience. As such, the room felt a little cold with staff moving around with little to do. Service was top notch throughout the night although given our waiter had only 2 tables to take care of while we were there, I would have been exceptionally surprised to experience the contrary.

Food-wise, the modern European statement fit the menu. Not your standard British fare to be sure. Many interesting combinations to try out. We went with two starters to get the night going. The first one was a wild mushroom ragout on toast with quail egg and tarragon mayonnaise. I really enjoyed this dish – the earthy mushroom mixed with the creamy rich quail egg worked really well with the tarragon as well. Wonderful execution across the entire plate and a beautiful presentation.

Our second starter was shaved cauliflower salad with asiago cheese beignets. I never thought I would enjoy a salad of shaved cauliflower but here we are. Very fresh and I liked how the sharpness of the asiago cheese worked well with the vegetables here. Very nice once again.

The themes of strong execution and presentation continued through to the mains. First up, we had the braised lentils with caramelized leeks and pumpkin. A subtle dish but one with great flavour. The caramelized leeks were to die for and I loved the roasted pumpkin. Personally I want more of a protein for a main but my sister really took to this one.

On my end, I went with the pork belly with apple puree, pancetta compote and sage. Great combination of fattiness, sweetness and saltiness. The crispy skin on the pork belly was simply beautiful – such an amazing crunch without feeling like you just bit into a rock. My only real lament here was that I simply wanted more belly on the plate. Everything else was wonderful.

Desserts were solid as well. I went for the spiced pecan steamed pudding with mulled pear puree. I really enjoyed the soft chewy pudding. The nutty flavour mixed well with the more fruity pear puree. The other dessert was the chocolate tart with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. While very skeptical of artichoke ice cream, I was quite impressed by it – it actually worked here! The tart was dark chocolate at its finest – tart in flavour but beautifully smooth in texture.

London House was a great experience in culinary technique – pretty much exactly what I had expected from a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. The food was enjoyable from end to end. My only disappointment was the overall vibe of the setting which, I’m guessing, had more to do with the night we went than everything else. For a chef who appears to pride himself on execution, it’s nice to know that Gordon can still set up a restaurant in that image. A spot worthy for my quick trip.

Cheers!

London House
9 Battersea Sq
Greater London, UK
(020) 7592 8545

London House on Urbanspoon

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