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Suite 701

19 Jan

For my second Happening Gourmand meal of the year, I found myself at Suite 701 in the Place d’Armes Hotel – a place I have gone by numerous times over the past few years without trying it and a spot that I will be revisiting shortly for my best friend’s wedding. Regardless, one of my friends was sufficiently intrigued by the table d’hôte that he organized a lovely Saturday night meal – and I am certainly not one to say no to that!

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Suite 701 is probably best described as a lounge with a full dinner menu – the decor and ambience is certainly more lounge in nature. High ceilings with ornate mouldings, huge windows with large drap-like curtains, beautiful wooden tables and chairs with a few leather banquettes, a glorious long bar, low lighting using mostly chandeliers outside of the purple accent lights, the otherwise all white color palette… Suite 701 is definitely a looker. The live DJ – playing for the most part great old R&B/ soul music – was definitely too loud though. When it is hard to hear the conversation at the other end of 5 person table, you are probably a little too close to bar/supper club territory than you should be as a lounge.

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Menu-wise, Suite 701 describes itself as modern brasserie which, when I see that, strikes me as a catch all term for a menu that is quite varied. That seems to fit the bill here – the menu was definitely interesting but an strange mix of dishes. First up, the table ordered two platters of their homemade charcuterie with mustard, grilled chorizo, deviled eggs and chipotle dill pickle. A nice mixture of blood sausage, porchetta, salami and prosciutto. You can never go wrong with good charcuterie.

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Next, I got to try the organic salmon tartar with celery leaves, granny smith apples, grapefruit and mild wasabi cream. Presentation was nice as was the execution. I hate grapefruit so while I understand the desire to add some citrus to the tartar, I wish it had been something different. The fish was nice and fresh with every other element working well for the dish. I particularly enjoyed the subtle heat from the wasabi cream.

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The other starter I got to try was the roasted eggplant, tomato confit and marinated zucchini pissaladière. None of us had any idea what a pissaladiere was… but we figured why not? The rest of the dish description seemed worth a try. Ended up looking like a spring roll – which isn’t what a pissaladiere is according to my web searches but regardless – and tasted pretty good. The pastry was nice and flaky and the eggplant/zucchini combo had great flavour.

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Moving on to mains. I could not resist the duck so I went with the duck magret with pomegranate gastrique, charred farro risotto and braised kale. The duck was perfect – rich and fatty, cooked rare as it needs to be. The risotto however was a bit off to my liking. The use of farro, unknown to me prior to this, instead of rice was interesting but created a much firmer texture to the risotto than I was expected – I will mark this down to wrong expectations on my end.

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The other main I tried was the pan-seared black bass with Jerusalem artichoke purée, black olive sauce and braised endives. The black bass was beautifully flaky and slightly salty. The artichoke puree and endives paired nicely to the fish. I skipped the sauce as olives really aren’t my thing.

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Dessert-wise, there were two options – a mocha cake with blood orange compote and a white chocolate mousse with raspberries. I hate mocha so I didn’t try it but it seemed to be a hit at the table. My choice was the mousse which was well executed texturally – wonderfully smooth – but good lord was it sweet… too sweet to be honest which is saying a lot coming for a guy who absolutely loves his desserts. The tartness of the raspberries were not enough to offset the sweetness here. It almost needed a cookie or dark chocolate bites to offset the extra sweetness.

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Suite 701 was a nice evening overall with a few minor issues that didn’t make it an amazing one food wise. I definitely see coming back for a cocktail hour with a bite or two – which ironically is what will happen at that wedding I mentioned earlier – but I don’t have a strong desire to return for a full dinner. For a lounge, that is what one would expect so on that account, Suite 701 probably hits its objective. Worth considerable to start an evening in Old Montreal at the very least.

Cheers!

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Suite 701
701 Cote de la Place d’Armes
514 904 1201

Suite 701 on Urbanspoon

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Taverne Gaspar

17 Jan

The start of the new year also means the start of Happening Gourmand in the old port. This food “festival” brings together all the restaurants of the Antonopoulos Group and provides a special reduced price table d’hôte at each of their 8 restaurants. Events like these are enjoyable for me simply because it allows me to try Old Port restaurants without costing me my arm and perhaps a leg to enjoy. Ironically this year, I wasn’t a driving force amongst my friends to participate as is usually the case… two separate friends set up two reservations and invited me! I guess this is a sign of the event gaining a foothold in people’s consciousness. Either way, I won’t turn down a good meal so away I went. The first of the two dinners was at Taverne Gaspar – the Group’s Gastropup located on de la Commune with a view of the Saint-Lawrence.

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Visually, Taverne Gaspar attempts to blend the pub or tavern look with elements of the old Montreal building it is located in – a nice long wooden bar with wooden seats, leather banquettes and chairs, tile flooring and roofing, low lighting with the exception of the christmas lights set up along the center of the room. That choice along with the use of dark tones elsewhere to put emphasis on the old stone walls creates a very relaxed old world kind of feel. The night we were there the entire street actually lost power so at one point for a bit, the lighting was almost completely candlelight so that intimate feel was cranked up further! Thankfully the lost power didn’t affect our meal…

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Now, as for the food, the menu is definitely gastropub fare with touches of more local influences. As a group of 3, we each picked something different in order to try as much as we could. First up, a classic onion soup – a hardy and meaty broth with good quantity of onions nicely caramelized topped with gooey cheese and a crouton. Well very executed and enjoyable.

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I also had some fresh oysters because I’m a sucker of oysters so if they’re on the menu, it’s hard for me to resist. Paired with a nice mignonette, there were great.

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Next, we had the lobster sliders with house chips. Firstly, when the menu says sliders, we would have expected more than one but no… just one. Thankfully it was pretty flavourful although I would have prefer more lobster versus mayo. The house chips were nicely seasoned with a good crunch. The salad felt like it was there to make the dish seem larger. A solid dish flavour-wise but disappointing in terms of portion – especially when this was a dish where they charged extra for it within the table d’hôte.

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The last starter was their beef poutine with cheese curds and cipollini sauce. In my eyes, this was the best of the bunch. The beef was rich and fall apart in texture and in combination with the cipollini sauce, gave the poutine a much hefty feel than your standard poutine. Add solid fries and the correct cheese curds – melt just a bit but still keep its texture and squeak – and we have a great starter.

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Moving on the mains, the first one was their beef bourguignon. Once again great texture to the beef – chewy but fall apart. Carrots and potatoes cooked nicely as well but that reduced sauce was really the key here. Brought everything together and really made the dish nice and hearty – exactly what one seeks in a beef bourguignon.

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Next was the mac n’cheese with cheddar and smoked lardons. Baked off nicely in a onion soup dish, the cheddar brought some sharpness to the creamy gooeyness that is mac n’cheese and of course the fattiness of the lardons was well appreciated. A solid dish.

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The last main was the Gaspar BBQ burger with their house fries – another dish where they charged extra for but thankfully in this case it was worth it. Portion-wise this was by far the biggest and enjoyable across the board. More of the house fries plus a side of coleslaw to go with the burger. The beef patty was cooked perfectly topped with some melted cheese, bacon and slaw. A little spicy mayo was provided to go with the fries as well. Another solid dish to round off the second course.

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Finally, we had the desserts. The table d’hôte provided two options – chantilly brownies and a bumble berry cheesecake. The brownies were decadent and very chocolatey. The chantilly cream provided a nice counterbalance to that. The cheesecake was nice as well – the right level of creaminess without being too rich. Solid way to end our meal.

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Overall, Taverne Gaspar was a solid and well executed meal pretty much across the board. I’m not a big fan of how they charge extra on certain dishes within the table d’hote especially when they are some of the more appealing options there but I suppose it was just up to us to not order them. I like the vibe of the setting and the quality of the food on the menu. If one is seeking a worthwhile gastropub in Old Montreal, Gaspar is worth your consideration.

Cheers!

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Taverne Gaspar
89 Rue de la Commune Est
514 392 1649

Taverne Gaspar on Urbanspoon

Chez L’Épicier

16 Nov

For my final MTL a Table dinner, I went back to the Old Port to another longstanding member of my “need to try” list – Laurent Godbout’s Chez L’Épicier. About to open a sister restaurant down in Palm Beach, Chez L’Épicier has been a highly regarded restaurant in Old Montreal since its opening. A friend of mine continues to states that one of the best meals of his life has been here. Talk like that has made my visit long overdue. Hype level was high which can be scary when dealing with restaurants. There is nothing worse than overly heighten expectations setting you up for a disappointing experience. In these instances, you just need to go in and have faith that the restaurant can shine through with excellent dishes and a fine touch.

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Pre-starters, we were greeted with a cocktail of maple syrup and apple cider as well as an olive and goat cheese macaron amuse-bouche. Loved the combination in the cocktail – the acidic nature of the cider dull by the maple syrup while keeping the sweetness level strong. The macaron was a interesting idea – I had never had an non-sweet macaron before. My hatred of olives had me skeptical however the use of the creamy goat cheese eased that olive taste which I despite. Very nice level of technique.

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Our first starter was a squash velouté poured over homemade sour cream, onions, squash seed nougatine, parsley juice and brown butter vinaigrette. Cool little presentation element as the velouté was poured at the table over the bowl of accent ingredients. Loved the smooth and earthy nature of the soup and how each extra item brought a nice element to pair with the squash. A perfect fall starter.

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Our second starter was a slowly cold smoked trout filet with a miso and maple reduction, shallot fingerling potatoes and a maple vinegar mousse. Wonderful flaky texture to the trout with a subtle hint of sweetness from the reduction. The mousse was a quirky but nicely flavoured addition and the potatoes brought some more heft to the dish. Very good.

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The first of our mains was a sea bass fillet with herb polenta, lobster juice bouillabaisse and vegetables glazed with water butter. The real star here is the bouillabaisse – if only because the lobster juice overpowered everything else. The fish itself was solid. I am not a big fan of polenta up front so while this one was well done, it didn’t speak to me in any way. The vegetables were good but nothing to write home about (which is ironic as I am writing about them). Overall an okay dish. I feel like the fish should have had more of an impact in this dish.

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Our final main was beef shoulder lacquered with orange and olives served with onion and rosemary butter brandade and reduced juice with Cointreau. Huge winner in my eyes. The beef shoulder was cooked perfectly – to the point where you early had to touch it for it to fall apart. Great richness to the beef and the hints of orange and Cointreau came through nicely. The brandade was excellent as well.

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The first dessert was a carpaccio of compressed apples with tarragon granita and caramelized pecans. Sadly I didn’t get to try it because my friend finished it off so quickly which one can definitely take as a good thing. Loved the concept overall – the tarragon being an interesting addition to apples and pecans.

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The other dessert available was a tempura brownie with greek yogurt cream and white chocolate jelly. The brownie itself was moist and chocolatey – a key for me with any brownie. Personally, while the tempura was well done, I’m not sure how much of an addition it brought to the dish other than texturally. It kind of felt like an afterthought – added at the last minute to make the dish “unique”. I enjoyed the smoothness of the yogourt cream as well as the presence of the white chocolate and strawberries. A solid finish to the dish.

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I had high expectations for Chez L’Epicier and they were mostly met. Very high level technique was visible throughout the meal – the highs were oh so high. However a couple of dishes had a few elements that left us wanting more. Not things that were a big deal but when compared to the rest of the dishes, they stood out more than they should have. All in all, I was quite happy to finally cross Chez L’Epicier off my list. Looking at the regular menu after my visit, I was intrigued enough to want to come back which I suppose is all that needs to be said.

Cheers!

Chez L’Epicier
311 Saint-Paul Est
514 878 2232

Chez L'Epicier on Urbanspoon

Tapas 24

9 Nov

My trip to Spain last year was a wonderful experience through and through. Among the many things I enjoyed was all the wonderful food – especially the tapas “scene”. To be able to enjoy true Spanish tapas in Barcelona night after night was a thing to behold and made me realize that much of the “tapas” we have in Montreal isn’t quite up to snuff. Fast forward a year and we hear about Chef Carles Abellan and that his Tapas 24 concept is coming to Montreal. I didn’t get a chance to visit any of his restaurants while in Spain so the notion of trying his cuisine at home is quite appealing. The restaurant opened earlier this summer and finally, for the occasion of my grandfather’s birthday, I found a good reason to head over.

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Being a new restaurant in Old Montreal, Tapas 24 certainly tries to make a visual impression and succeeds in doing so. With the front of the restaurant being entirely windowed, the major use of natural coloured wood on the walls and at the first floor bar, when added to the ample lighting, makes the whole restaurant pop from the outside. The second floor mezzanine allows for the high ceiling to be utilized and gives the room a big presence. Part of the kitchen is visible from the bar downstairs as is the prep kitchen/ grade manger on the second floor although that part isn’t as nice to have visible as the kitchen. The music was present but unremarkable. The noise level was relatively loud but nothing abnormal for an Old Montreal restaurant on a busy Friday. Conversation could still be had but I wouldn’t said this is where you would have an hugely in-depth talk with a meal. The service was pretty good for us throughout the night unlike some of what you can read elsewhere so I guess this can be hit or miss. In our case, we had absolutely no complaints.

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Foodwise, we had originally planned to go for the MTL a Table menu but decided instead to simply order from the regular menu and share everything in order to enjoy a greater variety of dishes. These are the perks of being a larger group in this instance. First up, a few staple Spanish tapas. There was the Coca con Tomato – simply put tomato and olive oil on fresh warm bread. Simple but oh so good… especially since the bread comes from my favourite bakery Hof Kelsten. We then had the Iberian chorizo – freshly sliced and a perfect compliment to the bread dish. A spicy kick on top of the usual fattiness. The last of the staple trio was the patatas bravas – potatoes (in this case, french fries) with an aioli and the spicy tomato “brava” sauce. The fries themselves were nice and crispy but the key was the combination between the heat of the brava sauce and the creaminess of the aioli. These were so good that we had 3 separate orders over the course of the evening!

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The next set of dish were a little more unique. First up, la bomb de Barceloneta – a potato and meat croquette topped with the same aioli and brava sauce as before. Pretty good overall. Each individual croquette was rather big – lots of potato and meat stuffed inside. Great crunch on the outside without losing any moisture inside.

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Next up were the Gambas Al Ajillo – garlic shrimps with hot peppers. A solid dish but one that, compared to the rest, lacked any real punch or spark. Enough so that I even forgot to take a picture, so there you go.

We also have the strangely named Bikini Comerc 24 which essentially are mini grilled sandwiches of tramezzini, Iberian ham, mozzarella di buffalo and truffles. Extremely delicious – the combination of iberian ham and cheese is always a winner… and that is even before we add the truffles. The only complaints are these were how small they were. When a dish would need to be ordered more than once to purely satisfied hunger, you probably a sizing issue.

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The Atun con tomate y ponzu – or tuna with ponzu sauce – was a hit at our table. The tuna was beautiful – nice sized pieces well seasoned also. The ponzu added a nice hint of citrus to mix with the sweetness of the tomato. A light but well executed dish.

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Next were the alias de pollo con salsa “alegre” – boneless chicken wings with alegre sauce. Here, my camera failed me due to poor lighting but take my word for it, they are worth ordering next time you visit. The chicken was wonderfully moist and tender – simply fell apart using a fork. Great dish.

The final main tapas was actually a main that we added – the rabo de toro – oxtail stew with potato puree. The oxtail was amazing. The meat and fat was so cooked down that the two bones in the plate appeared to have never had any meat on them once we pulled the meat off them. Beautifully meaty and fatty goodness.

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Now, after all of the food, we may think that we were too full for dessert… and you would be wrong. There is always room for dessert, especially these ones. We went with three to share amongst the group. First, we had the molten chocolate fritters – bunuelos del tio nelo. Hot dark chocolate in a fried ball with some powdered sugar… what is there not to like!? They may be too tart for some as it is dark chocolate but delicious nevertheless.

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The second option was fresh ricotta and honey – Mel y Mato – a huge contrast when compared to the previous dish. Personally I loved the combination – a fresh and light alternative to standard dessert options. The sweetness of the honey worked very well with the creaminess of the ricotta. May not be everyone’s jam from a texture point of view but it worked for me.

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Lastly, we have in my opinion the best of the group – chocolate, pan, acetic y sal or simply put chocolate, bread, olive oil and fleur de sel. Milk chocolate mousse with a hint of olive oil, a touch of salt and a crunchy crouton. Simple but so wonderful in execution. Loved every bit of this one.

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All in all, with all the food and a few good bottles of wine, we left full and very satisfied of our experience at Tapas 24. The one stickler would be price point as this definitely wasn’t a cheap evening. This was a pretty penny for tapas. Be prepared to pay more than you probably expect. I saw a lot of negative reviews for this restaurant early on… other than the overpriced issue, I experienced none of what others have apparently faced here. In my eyes, Tapas 24 is definitely a worthwhile visit. It may not be Barcelona but I’ll take it. I suppose that your mileage may vary however.

Cheers!

Tapas 24
420 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 849 4424

Tapas 24 on Urbanspoon

Les 400 Coups

3 Nov

Pardon the writing break… life does in fact get in the way sometimes even when it comes to delicious food! Here in Montreal, we are currently in MTL à Table, a wonderful week-long period when many of our fine restaurants offer a special table d’hôte to allow people to try their fare at a relatively reduced rate. With so many wonderful restaurants to choose from, the challenge is always deciding where to go (and that’s even if there is room left in said restaurants). This year, I decided to hit up three different spots – 2 of which are longstanding members of my “to-go” list. The first of these was the current Old Montreal staple Les 400 Coups.

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I was first aware of Les 400 Coups a few years ago when Marc-André Jetté, Patrice Demers and Marie-Josée Beaudoin were running it. While the entire crew has changed since last year, I had heard enough great things about the new group – headlined by Guillaume Cantin, the original Les Chefs winner – that Les 400 coups remained a must-go to me. A couple of my friends were of the same opinion so off we went on a late Thursday night visit very eager and quite hungry.. mostly because a 10 pm reservation will do that to you!

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Les 400 Coups visually strikes a nice, relatively understated modern look. The high ceilings create the impression of a larger room than what is truly there. Black embossed ceiling tiles, simple black walls, leather banquettes and dark wood floors create a elegant style but the white marble bar, the wall-sized Parisian street picture on the western wall and the subtle use of brick add some punch to the room. I’ve heard that noise can be a problem (which makes sense with the high ceilings) but given the day and time of our reservation, it wasn’t at all an issue and actually made us more aware of the music – a strange collection for the setting (never thought of the Black Keys as suitable fine dining music) but still enjoyable. We were lucky enough to have the large banquette by the front window which gave us a great spot to relax, enjoy some good wine and get ready for a hopefully great meal.

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As a group, we decided to make sure that we tried every item on the special table d’hôte. For the appetizers, that gave us two dishes – a parsnip soup with smoked bison, wild blueberries, mustard and wintergreen as well as a liver pâté with peach, oat crumble, honey jelly and celery. The soup was such a treat – the use of the smoked bison and the tart blueberries meshed well with the earthy parsnip. Texturally smooth and delightful on every spoonful. The pâté was also a great hit. Similar to the soup, there was a great use of ingredients to enhance and contrast the inherently fatty pâté – the sweetness of honey and peaches, the freshness of celery and the crunch of the oats. A wonderful dish through and through – relatively simple but one that showed a great understanding of flavours.

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Next up we had the main courses: Brill with buckwheat, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce cream and wild caraway followed up by Pork cheeks with beets, smoked potatoes, stag horn sumac and dill. Beautiful technical detail here. The brill was cooked perfectly – great sear on the outside but still flaky and moist. The insane things here were the cauliflower “crumble” and the lettuce cream. That cream was so rich and flavourful – how exactly they achieved that using lettuce as a base I don’t know but dear lord… such a elegant dish across the board.

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The pork cheeks were a perfect dish for a cold autumn night. Rich and homely with great execution. Texturally, the cheeks just fell apart beautifully and had a great fatty taste. The beets and smoked potatoes paired well with them – I simply wished there had been more to enjoy!

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We were almost stuffed at this point but there were still desserts to enjoy. First was lemon cream with sunflower, crispy meringue and melon sorbet. Now, I hate melons but I can’t argue that it didn’t pair beautifully with the lemon cream here. And about that cream….. just wow. Great richness and a nice depth of flavour. The lemon was powerful but not too tart. The meringue added some crunch to the plate and mixed well with the other elements.

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The second dessert was a Dark Manjari chocolate tart with peanuts, caramel and concorde grape sorbet. Creamy and smooth tart, the strong chocolate taste was nicely paired with the peanuts, the sweet caramel and the beautiful sorbet. Another strong dish.

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Finally, just prior to the check, we received mini chocolate and almond cakes. Rich and fluffy with that hint of the almond. A subtle but wonderful item to finish off our meal.

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I had pretty high expectations for Les 400 Coups and they were met completely. The level of execution and technical proficiency on display was very impressive. Not a single dish disappointed or left a bad impression on us. Every plate was returned completely picked clean… and not just because we were starving due to the late reservation. Add to that a nice atmosphere, a great bottle of wine and excellent service (safe for a slight technology issue at payment time) and we were left with a wonderful evening. I took me a few years to finally get to Les 400 Coups but I can safely say it was worth the wait.

Cheers!

Les 400 Coups
400 Notre Dame Est
514 985 0400

Les 400 Coups on Urbanspoon

Bevo Bar + Pizzeria

16 Jul

I like a good pizza. Scratch that – I love a good pizza. It has gotten to the point where I am experimenting at home making my own… and getting decent success as I keep working out the kinks. It’s not perfect but in the meantime, that is what good restaurants are for, am I right? Last month, following a wonderful few hours at La Mondiale de la Biere enjoying many many brews, my friends and I got the hankering for some pizza. Thinking about the options closest to us, I figured a visit to BEVO in the old port was in order. So we casually walked over ready to enjoy some good Italian cuisine.

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Located just off Place Jacques Cartier in the heart of the Old Port, BEVO visually is in keeping with many of the Old Port establishments – a mix of the old brick and stone foundations of the area buildings with some more modern elements to add some glam. In this case, BEVO uses red tinted glass around the atrium, a very large chandelier and an tile entry wait which includes a glass wine cellar. The first floor has a huge bar area where the backbar is lit up in red and the front of the actual bar is just a light box. Add an area where there are 70s-style hanging bubble chairs and you have a spot that is clearly a solid happy hour zone.

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On this occasion however, we were there too late for happy hour and too early for any late-night bar scene. The two dining areas are more straight forward than the bar – wooden tables and chairs, paper tablecloths with cute info-graphics about pizza making and red checkered napkins for that little old school Italian restaurant touch. On the first floor, the wood-fired pizza oven is visible for all to see and gets you excited for what is to come.

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Our first starter was salsiccia e Rapini – a house made sausage with garlic rapini. The sausages were delicious although a little small for my liking. Rapini is one of those vegetables you either love or hate – personally I am a fan of its bitterness. The combination of bitter with the garlic made a nice partner to the fatty sausages.

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The second starter was arancino – saffron parmesan risotto balls with meat ragu and mozzarella. The risotto ball itself had a good crust to it and that didn’t come at the cost of drying out the risotto itself. It still had nice creaminess although I really didn’t get any hint of saffron personally. The meat ragu draped over it had a nice meaty richness to it and paired very well to the ball itself. Like the previous starter, I just wanted more!

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Because one of the friends with me doesn’t eat cheese (i know, i know…. i’ve tried to show him the error of his ways) we did order one non-pizza main dish: the cavatelli bolognese – dumplings, meat ragu and fresh parsley. Excellent plate of pasta – same delicious meat ragu as before with the perfectly cooked cavatelli. A little bit of parmesan would have been nice but that was a lost battle from the start in this case.

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Now we arrive to the main attraction: the pizzas. First up, I got the parma in blanco – prosciutto di parma, arugula and reggiano. This is probably my favourite pizza type when dealing with classic thin crust pizzas. The salty rich prosciutto, the pepper arugula, the sharp reggiano and a little bit of olive oil… a perfect balance of items on top of a pizza. However, all of that is wasted if the actual pizza isn’t up to snuff. BEVO doesn’t have that problem. The wood-fired oven gives a nice crispness to the bottom but allows for just enough rise to create some chewiness. A wonderful pizza.

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The other pizza we ordered was the cotto e bocconcini – prosciutto cotto, portobello, tomato sauce, mozzarella and bocconcini. Same solid crust as my pizza although this one had been cooked a little more as the extra charring around the edge demonstrated. The melted bocconcini brought some more creaminess compared to just the mozzarella and the earthy portobellos added some contrast from the prosciutto. Another excellent pizza.

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BEVO is a solid experience from beginning to end. Solid starters, delicious pizzas and good pasta. All the beers from Beerfest prior eliminated our desire to test the cocktail and wine lists which seemed interesting. There was also the temptation of the nutella pizza for dessert but we decided to pass. Just gives me another reason to return. If you are looking for a good pizza in the Old Port or just a place to go enjoy a drink and a quick bit, BEVO is worth your consideration.

Cheers!

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria
410 Rue St-Vincent
514 861 5039

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Le Cartet (Brunch Edition)

20 Mar

A beautiful Sunday morning in the city always lends itself to a nice brunch. A couple of Sundays ago, the family was downtown for the weekend so it was the perfect opportunity to head down to old Montreal for a nice family meal. For the occasion, we decided to try out Le Cartet, a place that I had heard many good things about but hadn’t had the chance to try yet.

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This restaurant and boutique offers breakfast and lunch as well as a takeout menu for the many workers in the area during weekdays . On the weekend, the focus switches to brunch. We arrived for the beginning of the brunch service and were able to grab one of the last tables in the back so thankfully we didn’t wait long. Given the lineup that was present on our exit an hour later, we made the right call to arrive early. The space is a perfect morning spot – tons of natural lighting, plain white walls and high ceilings. It’s a tight fit with everyone cramming in for brunch but still comfortable.

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The brunch menu at Le Cartet is a combination of classic brunch dishes with some extra twists. The first dish that we ordered was their Coupe Santé – Fresh fruit salad, greek yogourt, blueberries, ginger-honey organic granola and cashew nuts. Wherever they get their greek yogourt, my family would love to know because it was some of the best we’ve ever had. I love blueberries so that’s the perfect option to pair with the yogurt and the granola was wonderful as well – a nice subtle hint of both honey and ginger. Mix everything together and you get a very nice yogurt parfait. The lightest option we tried and a hit for all of us.

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The second dish we got was the Brunch Cartet – Scrambled eggs with mesclun salad, ham croissant, goat cheese and a sweet potato salmon cake. This was the most unconventional plate we ordered. I could take or leave the salad – it was good but rather unremarkable. The scrambled eggs were very done as one would hope from a breakfast/brunch place. The croissant was fresh and flaky, the ham was solid and the goat cheese was a nice creamy rich touch to a otherwise light plate. The real star in the end however was the salmon cake – nice crunch on the outside while keeping a flaky context inside. I would have loved that element to be more plentiful compared to the rest but a solid dish nevertheless.

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The final dish was le Brunch des Cantons – Scrambled eggs with country ham, sausage, bacon, baked beans, toast and roasted herb potatoes cooked in duck fat. This dish was completely in my wheelhouse which makes the fact that I didn’t order it all the more shocking! Great items here – all the meats were delicious and I am always a sucker with anything cooked in duck fat.

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Each of these dishes came with an amuse-gueule to enjoy before the meal however we didn’t get them during our meal! Our waiter, realizing his mistake, gave us a mini-bag of them on our exit – sucre a la creme. Deliciously rich and sweet – this ended up being a nice way to end the meal rather than start it.

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Le Cartet was a solid brunch experience – all the dishes were well executed and the service was quick and to the point. Its location makes me a perfect starting point for a nice afternoon in Old Montreal. Whether or not I would stand in line to eat there however is a different question all together. In the end, I would easily recommend you give them a shot – however arrive early otherwise your day in the old port will become a quick afternoon stroll.

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Cheers!

Le Cartet
106 Rue McGill
514 871 8887

Le Cartet on Urbanspoon

XO Le Restaurant

17 Dec

Every once in a while, I have the desire to really go all out with a meal. Never mind picking a few options from the menu – I want the tasting menu with the wine pairings. I want to take out my tie, pocket square and jacket and go fancy. Go somewhere where the initial though is “Well I can’t do this too often” and the bill at the end of the night reflects that. In the end, the experience is what I am after. Well, last month, through a invite of a friend, I was presented with such a opportunity in one of the most beautiful spots in Montreal.

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The St. James Hotel in the old port is one of Montreal most well known boutique hotel. A place where no expenses are spared. Located inside the hotel, in their Banker’s hall, is XO Le Restaurant. A restaurant that certainly makes quite the impression when you walk in. Beautiful high ornate ceilings, chandeliers, Roman columns, beautiful staircases leading to 2 mezzanines overlooking a lounge space and a dining space – it is quite the looker. You can’t help but stare around you throughout your time in the restaurant. It is a space that has you wanted to come back for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even just for a drink.

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For this evening, at the recommendation of one of my dining companions’ friends (who, for the purpose of disclosure here, works in the restaurant and led our service), we were going with their signature 6 course tasting menu with associated wine pairings. And so we sat down to a Aperol spritz – ready for a great meal and lots of wine.

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Our first course was thinly sliced Princess scallops with nitrogen frozen oranges and a trio of cauliflower paired with a Niagara Riesling. A precursor of things to come, the presentation was beautiful – the whole dish in a large seashell, sitting on a bed of rocks with dry ice poured underneath by our server. A little over the top with the dry ice? Sure but it added extra flair to the whole proceedings which definitely seemed in line with the setting. The dish itself was quite good – the scallops were perfectly executed, the orange added some zest and the cauliflower a little crunch.

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The second course brought forth Black bass with white beans, parsley puree and a Meyer lemon beurre blanc sauce paired with a glass of Meursault. Another great looking dish that was delicious as well. The fish was cooked perfectly – flaky and moist but with a great skin crispness on top. The beurre blanc brought some richness and had the unmistakable hint of the Meyer lemons. The beans and the puree were quite good as well.

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The third course was a little richer as we got a Foie gras Tartin with apple ice cider jelly on top, pecan crumble and a apple maple reduction paired with a lovely French Chenin blanc. Just an amazing combination of great technique and great flavours. The fatty foie gras, the sweetness of the apple maple reduction, the beautiful texture of the ice cider jelly and the extremely fine texture of the pecan crumble – there was not a single thing not to like on this plate. Simply beautiful.

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The fourth course continued along similar lines as the previous one as we got a white truffle risotto with a white chocolate sauce and chestnuts, all paired with a glass of 2007 Barbaresco Paje. This was by far the most filling dish we got on this evening. The white chocolate sauce was a surprise to all of us when it was mentioned but once we tried it, it made perfect sense – a touch of sweetness to offset the inherent creaminess and richness of risotto. The addition of white truffle was wholly unnecessary but oh so perfect. It made the dish all the more decadent.

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The fifth course was Stag with sweet potato done 2 ways and dehydrated Nutella, paired with (appropriately enough) a glass of Stag’s leap Petit Syrah. The sweet potatoes, both in puree and galette form, were delicious and the Stag itself was well prepared – very much showcasing the natural gaminess of the meat. The crazy element here was the dehydrated Nutella – such a unique preparation of that item but one that works so well within this dish. The chocolate and hazelnut flavours paired very nicely with the lean meat.

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Prior to the final course of dessert, we got a palate cleanser in the form of a Hibiscus tapioca. This was the one dish of the meal that I did not enjoy. It certainly served its purpose as a palate cleanser and it was beautiful to look at but Hibiscus is not a flavour that I enjoy.

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The dessert course itself was a orange flan with fennel ice cream and 3 crumbles: olive oil, black pepper and sea salt. Very unique flavours for a dessert but everything worked very nicely. Great texture to both the ice-cream and the flan. The 3 crumbles were amazing – great flavours without being overbearing. Individually, each worked well with the flan but they also worked well in combination. Very well executed.

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And to finish off the whole, a small plat including a Mint chip, house caramel and dark chocolate truffle were provided with the checks. All 3 were great – particularly the house caramel. A great meal all around.

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4 hours after we sat down, we were stuffed – 6 courses and 5 glasses of wine will do that to you. This meal was very much an experience – a pricey one for sure – but an experience nevertheless worth having. The service was impeccable, the decor jaw dropping, the food and wine spot-on. The sticker shock may be hard to get by but believe me – you’ll be satisfied in the end.

Cheers!

XO Le Restaurant
355 St-Jacques
514 841 5000

XO Le Restaurant on Urbanspoon

L’ Atelier d’Argentine

10 Nov

November in Montreal means Taste MTL – the wonderful restaurant week that gives people the opportunity to try out restaurants at a reduced cost through special tables d’hôte. This year’s edition, featuring over 120 restaurants, is sponsored by the Maple producers of Quebec so the inclusion of maple products is the theme for this year’s menus. For my first restaurant this year, I went with an Old Port spot that I have had an eye on since it opened up over a year ago now – L’Atelier d’Argentine.

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This Argentine steakhouse, situated in the former DNA space, has a lounge/bar space as well as a beautiful dining room. The lounge/ bar space utilizes large light fixtures and brick as the main focus points for that area whereas the dining space combines wood, metal and glass with more subtle lighting to create a intime but very striking feel.

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Now, before I enter into the meal itself, I need to spend a moment discussing a big sticking point from this dinner for my dining companions and I which was the overall service. Now, I rarely have a issue with service at a restaurant and will generally let minor things go – if the food is good, I can accept slight issues without a problem. However, in this case, the meal was almost completely derailed from the start. We made our presence known to the hostess and were told that the table wasn’t ready yet. We would need to wait a few moments – no issue there, given the late time of our reservation. There were a few other groups around us in the situation. After 15 minutes of standing in the entrance way and a few of the other parties waiting around with us getting seating, the same hostress asks us if we had been helped yet. Oh boy…. informed that we had presented ourselves prior, she found out that the party at our table still hasn’t paid yet, so she offers us a seat at the dining room bar in the meanwhile.

We sit at the bar where none of the dining room staff had been made aware of our situation because we sat for 15 minutes without anyone bothering to come serve us. One of my friends actually got up and went to speak to a waiter so that we could get a drink menu. We finally ordered drinks but we got our table before the cocktails came – a full 40 minutes after our original reservation time. Now thankfully the cocktail I had – their signature Diplomatico Old Fashion (Tequila, agave syrup and orange bitters) – was excellent and one I definitely will try to make myself but I had hoped to have it much sooner.

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Finally at the table, we started with the two appetizers available on the Taste MTL menu. First up, smoked trout glazed with maple, raspberry and arugula. Very simple but well executed dish – the sweetness of the maple mixed well with the bitter arugula and the slight sourness of the raspberries. The 2nd dish was roasted beet, green onion and young goat cheese with roasted garlic oil. Once again, a successful plate – simple but well done.

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At this point, having had the wine list taken away from us for some reason despite our stated intend to order a bottle, we got it back and ordered a bottle of white. The waiter was surprisingly unable to give us an opinion on the bottle we had in mind but at least was honest enough to admit his lack of knowledge about that particular bottle. We were presented the bottle but told it is warm so the waiter will chill it for us. I like the honesty but why exactly was this bottle of white wine warm in the first place? Again, a very weird and disappointing service instance between our courses.

The mains came through next. We ordered both Taste MTL options as well as an extra one off the regular menu. The taste MTL options were pan seared duck filet with grilled orange, fennel & shallot salsa; and a semi-smoked flank steak with buttery potatoes and chimichurri. The duck was excellent – perfectly cooked to the right temperature. The fennel and shallot salsa was delicious and complemented the fatty duck well. The roasted orange also added a nice element. The flank steak was okay – the interior was perfect temp but the exterior was a little too chard which made the meat tougher than it really was. The potatoes were plain but the chimichurri was outstanding.

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From the main menu, we went with the pan seared Chilean sea bass with a ripe mango, roasted bell pepper & arugula salad. The sea bass was seared well but surprisingly lacking of any punch of flavour. I assume that it is to offset the very flavourful salad which was wonderful. Great use of mango and peppers to add sweetness to the dish.

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For dessert, we went with the two Taste MTL options – Lemon flatbread and basil sorbet; Sponge cake with cream, dulce de leche and peach – as well as one of the regular menu, the almendrado which is an almond crusted vanilla glace with a dark chocolate syrup and sugar cookie. The flatbread was good but relatively forgotten especially when compared to its companion the sorbet. The basil sorbet was possibly the best thing I had all night. Perfect texture and great balance of flavour – the basil is strong but not overwhelming to taste. The sponge cake dish was solid across the board but not particularly memorable. The almendrado was a very unique take – almost a deconstructed Haagen-Dazs bar – that worked pretty well.

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Overall, the evening was a mixed bag. I loved the setting and the general ambience of the space – very much the kind of experience I like from the Old Port. The drinks and food were solid as well despite a few minor quips. However, it is hard to overlook the poor service we received throughout the meal. Speaking to other people I know who have been, I have heard hits and misses in this area as well. In the end, I would be willing to return because the regular menu interests me enough to give the service another shot. At the very least, I would return to the bar side for a nice drink or 5 à 7. Hopefully those of you who go for dinner get a better aspect of service than we did.

Cheers!

L’Atelier d’Argentine
355 Rue Marguerite D’Youville
(514) 287-3362

L'Atelier d'Argentine on Urbanspoon

Le Bremner

22 Feb

A quick story if I may: My first visit to Chuck Hughes’ restaurant Garde Manger was a defining experience for me food wise . We went as a family for my birthday (I think for my 20th) and I just fell in the love with the place. While the overall evening didn’t necessarily work for everyone at the table, everything about it worked for me. The look. The atmosphere. The awesome music. The crowd. And of course the food. Garde Manger showed me the kind of awesome experiences we here in Montreal are lucky to have and appreciate. It opened up a restaurant scene I didn’t really know existed back then – places that 20-somethings can enjoy great high end food in a environment that speaks to them. Garde Manger became one of my favorite restaurants that night and remains so today. I constantly remind myself that I need to go back more often. After Chuck and his partners opened up Le Bremner in 2011 a little further east on St-Paul St., I have been pinning to go. Last Friday, that opportunity finally presented itself.

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The restaurant maintains a very similar feel to Garde Manger – non-descript facade, quite easy to miss if you were to walk by. Once inside, a bar on one side and a small seating area on the other. The space emphasizes the beautiful exposed stone & brick walls, the wooden tables and nautical theme pieces with some low lighting, funky accents (skater stickers all over the room ACs) and amazingly great music mix. Any restaurant that plays Jay-Z and Sublime’s “Santeria” in the same evening is alright by me.

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Compared to its older brother, Le Bremner has a smaller menu and one very focused on seafood of all varieties. If you don’t like seafood, you probably shouldn’t bother eating here. Just come have a drink instead. To start off with, the table shared a couple of different entrees. First up, there was the snowcrab kimchee served on crispy rice cakes. Great use of the snowcrab to enhance the spicy kimchee in an unique way. It didn’t much for the rice cakes but they added a nice crunch to the dish.

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Next up, the fluke and mayo chicharron with crispy chicken skin. Very nice dish that I had never had before. Rich and creamy with the nice added crunch of the crispy skin. Given my lack of knowledge about this dish, I don’t have much to critique here.

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The shrimp and cornbread was the final entree. Great combination. The warm cornbread was wonderfully dense but not dry which is always my concern with cornbread. The shrimp was well seasoned and the whole dish had a nice sweetness to it. The items worked well separately but even better together.

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For mains, the rest of the table shared the lobster pizza. Imagine a pizza with lobster meat, cheese and lobster bisque as sauce. Then add a egg in the middle. Yeah… I know. Stop drooling. This pizza was love for all things lobster. The bisque added a whole other level of richness to your standard pizza. I could have eaten the whole thing my self but I needed to save some space for this…..

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Octopus and braised veal cheeks with fingerling potatoes, chipolini onions and fried coliflower. Once again, this was a dish where each item was great by itself but the combination made it that much better. The Octopus portion was huge and absolutely grilled to perfection. When you add to that the fatty goodness from the braised cheeks, the crispness of the fried colliflower, the sweetness of the onions and the starchiness of the potatoes, you have a perfectly well balanced dish that covers the gamut of textures and flavors. Simply a marvelous dish.

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And yet, after all that, we still had dessert to get to. First, pancakes with sucre à la creme and pimm’s butter. Thick and fluffy pancakes with sucre à la creme at 11:30 pm, what’s not to like? I had originally expected a crepe but was pleasantly surprised when the dish hit the table.

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And lastly, we ordered the chocolate pot de creme with peanut butter cream and salted caramel. The chocolate and peanut butter creams formed a rich, creme version of a Reese’s cup – never a bad thing. The only issue was the lack of presence of the salted caramel – could barely taste it. That would have taken the dessert over the top but alas…..

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This was a meal that I had waited for a long time and it absolutely did not disappoint. An enjoyable 2 and a half hour meal in the old port that has me wanting more. Garde Manger holds a special place in my restaurant Rolodex but Le Bremner has found its way close to that level. I will most definitely be visiting again…. I only hope it doesn’t take me this long between visits ever again.

Cheers!

Le Bremner
361 St-Paul East
514 544 0446

Le Bremner on Urbanspoon

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