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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

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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

Manitoba

30 Aug

All throughout 2014, I kept hearing and reading great things about a new restaurant in the relatively obscure Mile-Ex neighbourhood – at least from a food perspective. A place that was doing some unique things in terms of local foraging and doing it in a cool setting. All of this talk made restaurant Manitoba one of the hit newcomers in 2014 and a place I dearly wanted to try out. After many months, I finally decided that I really needed to go before the summer was over so I made it a date night and brought my girlfriend along for what I hoped would a great experience for both me and her of course.

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Located in the old industrial neighbourhood of Mile-Ex – stuck in the middle of Little Italy and Parc Extension, Manitoba is very unassuming as you approach – simply a wood terrasse in front of a simple door and window. Once you enter, it is truly a space in keeping with its neighbourhood and its approach of food – Industrial and clean but with touches of nature. A gorgeous bar along the left side of the room all the way to the open kitchen. The use of wood trunks on the ceiling with the light coming through them. The all-black wall and blackboard menu. The back garden and terrasse space with patio lights all a-glow. The vibe is hip and cool.

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Service is attentive and friendly. It is surprising how I froze up at simply being asked if I’d had a nice day – not exactly what you expect from your waiter. Even the chefs were chatty and friendly as one of the sous-chef kindly answered our questions about some of the plants and herbs they use that we didn’t know too well. We did have a bit of an issue with the service of our cocktails – way too long between the order and arrival of them – but otherwise great all around from the staff.

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After a quick discussion with our waiter, we decided to start with the deer heart gravlax served with cauliflower puree, corn, sunflower seeds, labrador tea oil and stonecrop. What an awesome way to start a meal. The rich gaminess of the deer heart was not lost in the gravlax process. Add the creaminess of the puree, the sweetness of the corn and the little crunch from the seeds and this was a great balanced dish.

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As a main dish, my girlfriend opted for the scallops from iles-de-la-madeleine served with lobster mushrooms, salicornia, green pea puree and emulsion. The scallops were nicely sized and wonderfully fresh with a beautiful sear all around. The beautiful lobster mushrooms brought a nice contrast to that freshness with their earthy tones. I was also very intrigued about the green pea puree and emulsion. An interesting bite of technique that maintained a strong pea flavour. Very good all around.

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In my case, I decided to order something I had never had before: Maple brulé bone marrow served with chokeberry, maïtake, swiss chard and toast. From my vantage point watching the chefs use a blowtorch to burn the maple sugar made me pine for this dish pretty quickly. Bone marrow was something I suspected I would enjoy and yeah… turns out I was right. Definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but dear god did I love this. Rich and fatty with a great sweetness and crunch from the maple syrup, I could have had many many more. The chokeberry mixture on top added some tartness and then add in some wonderful toast to put the whole mixture on top of…. just wonderful. Simply wonderful. In my mind, a must-try if it’s on the menu.

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After those great dishes, we were then left to decide on dessert. We ended up going with both options of the evening. First was a honey, indian celery and black walnut cookie served with raspberry ice cream and lichen dipped in chocolate. The cookie had a nice crunch with subtle hint of both the honey and the walnuts. The ice cream was smooth and flavourful and the use of lichen was an interesting component to bring forth.

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The second dish was a spruce panna cotta with candied pumpkin seeds and wild blueberries. This was a very cool surprise. The texture you expect from panna cotta – rich and smooth – but the true surprise was just how strong the spruce came through. The combination of blueberry and pumpkin seeds were a nice pairing here as well. A strong finish.

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Manitoba was what a had hoped for – a great unique mixture of dishes in a cool looking and feeling restaurant. As we sat outside in the back garden with a glass of wine partway through our meal, I thought to myself “Yeah this is pretty great”. Pretty much says it all.

Cheers!

Manitoba
271 St Zotique Ouest
514 270 8000

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