Taste MTL Preview: Nov. 1-11, 2012
Finally, Montreal has a restaurant week that normal people can almost afford! A host of the city's restaurants both great and small are offering $19, $29 and $39 prix fixe dinner menus. Why go? Because it may be the only time you can afford plates smothered in truffle oil, ridiculous things like Parmesan tuiles, and Ferreira's caramel and white port flan.
The Gazette does a good job of breaking down the reasons behind the fest, but I'm here to look out for your stomach. So here are my recommendations for the 11 days of eating:
Accords ($39) - I met this restaurant's chef a few summers ago at a culinary demo where I translated his beautiful French for the a few anglos in the crowd. Ostie he was charming. Couple that with the fact that he loves to cook elegant organic, local vegetarian food (which to me says he cares about health but also about fine dining) though he owns an (successful) Old Port restaurant (which normally means tons of meat) that's cavernous and seductive and I'm sold. Oh, and the menu looks amazing: Sea buckthorn honey-glazed spareribs or black sausage, smoked apples, and confit of pork tongue (those are appetizers...); maple pecan pie with pumpkin ice cream and ground cherry compote for dessert.
Bistro Le Répertoire ($29) - This Villeray darling is doing fun French, and that's not an oxy moron. Dessert as an appetizer is a good idea. How do you make maple sugar and fois gras crème brûlée, you ask? Lots of silky smooth cream and duck liver sprinkled with maple sugar blackened with a kitchen torch until bubbly. Torching a huge tray of those is fun, trust me. In a similar sweet-to-start vein there's also the panna cotta app with Saint-Benoit blue cheese, arugula and toasted almonds. And the blueberry caramel on guinea fowl ravioli, and vanilla beurre blanc on (sadly unsustainable) roasted cod keeps the dessert train going through the mains. To avoid sweets stick with the spicy cocoa buffalo ribs or beef tenderloin with roasted garlic and chipotle. The actual desserts, by comparison, are banal: overdone crème brulée and white chocolate fondant.
Fresh and Elegant:
Carte Blanche ($29) - Never heard of it? It has won some awards including the 2010 Regional Chef Award, so expect stellar preparations of local products: Start with lobster emulsion with tarragon and a creamy floating island, and follow it up with poached Arctic char with sun-dried tomato and rosemary risotto, citronella sauce and red capelin roe. Chocavores go with the lava cake for dessert, while everyone else takes the pear and maple syrup "cheesecake-style delight."
Finally! Not French!
Raza ($39) - Well, sort of. This is Peruvian with a French twist rather than French with a Peruvian twist at least. Scallop ceviche with hibiscus jelly and avocado, Chili-spiced short ribs with sweet potato mousseline (damn, there's that French again), Peruvian cod bouillabaisse with quinoa and fresh Andean cheese, and for "desert" (Peru does have one of those, but I think it's more of a misspelling than a pun in this case since "caramalised" is also not a word), caramelized banana, honey crisps, dried fruit.
Best Dish Name:
"Around Japan: Everything must disappear" at Apollo 1333 ($39) - There are two courses that sounds just fine and come before this oddly named dessert, but your guess is as good as mine on what it could possibly be. I mean, you could call the restaurant and ask, but they probably wouldn't tell you.
Lamb chops at Su Restaurant in Verdun
Best Late-Night Menus:
Au Cinquième Peché ($19 late-night menu) - If you're a gastronome and you haven't been to this small French bistro that does the whole local and seasonal thing, you're not a real Montrealer yet. Seal sausage poutine with a glass of natural red wine, so $10 poutine. Cheaper than the fois gras version at Au Pied de Cochon.
Chez Léveque ($19) - Most late-night offerings are only one or two courses, but here you get a three-course onslaught (even if dessert is only whatever's on hand) of basically anything from the regular menu. Start with duck terrine with hazelnuts and onion confit, head cheese with shallots and red wine vinegar, or truffled black sausage with apple compote, and move on to veal brains, liver in raspberry vinegar, or veal fricassee in Madeira and mustard. Those not into offal stick with the beef-rib steak-frites with Choron sauce or the stomach-coating bouillabaisse.
Crudessence ($39) - So you're maybe saving $10 here off your regular bill, but that's only since the regular menu prices went up lately. And did you really have to go with a cooked dish for the main to make it more accessible to Montreal diners? The sake in the included kombucha saketini is probably also pasteurized since I haven't found an unpasteurized version in this province...and I've looked. Still, go to the restaurant any other day for their organic beet carpaccio with macadamia dill ricotta and raspberry coulis or the very expensive but dairy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free (yet delicious) cheesecake.
Maison India ($29) - I love Indian, but $29 isn't a steal. You get your standard samosa, bhaji or pakora, plus a chicken, beef or veg main with naan and rice, and gulab jamun for dessert. I wouldn't spend over $30 for that on a regular night, so if you're looking for a good deal this is not it. And for the same price, Dévi has more interesting menu options. So come here on Nov. 12th instead, when you're detoxing from French food.
What's up with all the floating islands and iced nougat? When did those become the things to eat for dessert (or with lobster - see above)? Not that I'm against it, but when you see 5 or so dessert menus exactly the same you start to wonder about how much money the Egg Farmers of Canada have...