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City, Food

Mir: Launching Your Tastebuds Into Orbit

Posted by Bryan / March 22, 2013

MirCork.jpg At MIR on Union st., you can taste great molecular food and wash it down with perfectly-paired cocktails. Best of all, it won't create a galactic hole in your pocket. It will, however, take you into gustatory hyperspace...

MirRoom.jpgWalking into Mir, you feel like you've left the hustle and bustle of downtown. Just off of busy Phillip's Square and next to René-Levesque, Mir is a luxurious oasis for the senses. Another thing that strikes you about this place is just how small it is. There must be, at most, 10 tables. The ambiance is understated: warm and welcoming while avoiding the chiaroscuro dramatic lighting you sometimes find at restaurants that try a little too hard to create a romantic atmosphere.

The subdued atmosphere helped set the stage for the real star of the evening: the food. Molecular gastronomy has been around for nearly twenty years. For those who aren't familiar with the term, it's a kind of cuisine that uses the physical and chemical properties of ingredients in order to transform them into unusual, experimental and artistic combinations that "wow" with their creativity. Unfortunately, a wave of molecular restaurants led to some "tricks" becoming bland par for the course (ice spheres, foams, cubes, etc...). Thankfully, this is not what you will find at Mir. Not only is each dish a tour-de-force in plating, each menu item is bursting with flavour and showcases a deep knowledge the ingredients. James Beard once famously said, "I don't care for 'gourmet' cooking, or 'this' cooking or 'that' cooking. I like good cooking." This couldn't be more true for a restaurant like MIR. After the initial surprise of the first few dishes, you forget that you're eating molecular gastronomy. All that you can think of is how delicious the food tastes and looks. After such an incredible meal, I was surprised to learn that this is the first restaurant for head chef Konstantin Chakhnov. It made a little more sense when I found out that he staged at London's The Fat Duck under Heston Blumenthal and most of his kitchen staff are friends from culinary school. These two elements --incredible training at one of the world's best restaurants and a brigade with deep familiarity-- help explain how MIR is able to create such a stunning restaurant experience. (Check out this video to see some of what goes on in their kitchen).

Mir has two menu options. One can either opt for the small plates/tapas menu, the dinner menu or a mix of the two. The problem I personally have with places that feature small plates is that many of them expect you to spend over $80pp for an unsatisfying semblance of dinner. The prices at Mir were very honest and having the option of an actual dinner menu was greatly appreciated. Most of the tapas are priced around $10-12 and each is paired with a suggested cocktail around the same price. The dinner menu is also quite reasonable (Apps range from $10-13, Mains from $20-30 and Desserts from $9-12). At these prices, haute cuisine becomes accessible to a broader audience, one whose expectations might be slightly more traditional. This is a great risk for such complex food... and magically, they pull it off.

RisDeVeau.jpgWe sampled both menus; dinner and tapas. For dinner, we began with their popcorn sweetbreads (right). These were served on a long board with a deep-fried shallot bhaji, caramelized onions and an endive foam. It took a while to get the hang of mixing each part of the dish together. Once we did, we were surprised at how well the flavours married together. The earthy sweetness of the onions were cut by the lively, slightly bitter foam. The crunch of the shallot bhaji nicely offset the smooth creamyness of the sweetbreads.


Steak.jpg For our main, we had their beef striploin (left). This was served with a fried oyster, homemade mayo and pickled beets. The meat was unlike anything either of us had ever tasted before. The beef is cooked sous-vide, then coated with vegetable ash and finished off in a cast-iron pan. The steak was tender and had the melt-in-your-mouth feel you'd expect from a slow braised beef cheek without any of the fat. The seasoning had the texture of fine espresso grinds, though less crunchy and without any of the bitterness. The pickled beets were a bright addition to the plate, with the fried oyster rounding out the luxurious dish.

TarteTatin.jpgFor dessert, we tried their Tarte Tatin (right). This was a square of crispy, buttery pastry covered with warm apples. It was accompanied by cranberries and an apple-pear gel. The most striking aspect of the dish was the blue cheese ice cream. Yes, you read that right. It was creamy, not overly sweet, with the unmistakable hint of tangy blue cheese. The dish was as if somewhere, long ago, a saucy tarte tatin, slightly tipsy from too much calvados, seduced a carefully-curated cheese plate. The idea of cheese ice cream opened up a world of new possibilities in my mind (what about an ice cream made with old cheddar, Morbier, or Oka cheese? What if there were parmesan-flavoured gelato?... The possibilities were endless).

If you're already salivating, just wait, it gets even better. As far as cocktails are concerned, Mir's are among some of the most impressive in the city. We began with the "Dirty Housewife Martini" which looks as if it's boiling when it arrives at the table. The dry ice fills the glass with vapor and you have to wait a few minutes before ingesting it (or you might give yourself internal cryogenic burns). The Martini itself was a small amount of liquor and the balsamic reduction and olive juice worked well with the grassyness of the Zubrowka. This was paired with one an elegant snack; balsamic almonds served with little pieces of celeriac and an olive slush. The plating was a work of modern art, as was the combination of colours and textures on the plate. (below)

Housewife and Almonds.jpg

Our journey continued with another pairing. The "Drunken Cucumber" was a blast of refreshment. Imagine a very well-crafted gin and tonic with a refreshing twist. The choice of Citadel Gin provided an herbaceous base while the cucumber pearls (tiny little ice cubes packed with cucumber flavour) blended well with the homemade tonic. The tapas pairing that came with it was an arctic char ceviche served on a block of himalayan pink salt. The salt from the block was a welcome contrast to the acid in the ceviche. The taste was energetic and invigorating. I only wish that there had been more of the rye crisp to have with the fish. (below)

cukeviche.jpg

Pairing number three brought us over to the sweet side. The drink, a "Not so White Russian" was a luxurious twist on an old favourite. It's what you might get if The Dude were to buy a retirement home on a swanky private island. Kalhua is swapped out for Tia Maria, the Amarula gives a fruity twist and the subtle hint of sweetened condensed milk is reminiscent of vietnamese coffee. Atop all this abides a delicious and fluffy soft meringe (a pleasant surprise if you're expecting it to be heavy and cloying whipped cream). The paired dish followed the same idea of giving an old favourite new life. Pork belly is great, but so many restaurants now feature it on their menu with very minor differences between them. At Mir, the pork belly hits all the right taste notes of fatty and umami with some welcome differences (below). Accompanying the pork is a tasty milk foam with some warm spices (I detected cardamom and allspice). I couldn't seem to find the brussels sprouts which the menu mentioned, but it didn't matter. The pairing was deeply satisfying and would make a great after-dinner or late-night snack.

Bellyrussian.jpg

The final pairing brought us back into a more familiar, Quebecois orbit: maple whiskey slush served with maple bacon ice cream (below). The slush was an interesting concept: maple-flavoured ice arrived in a tumbler and the waiter poured a Canadian Club-based mixture over it to combine the two. The cocktail was elegant, though a little more maple flavour would have hit the spot. I think that a drizzle of maple butter would bring this cocktail to the next level. Its companion, the ice cream, was a nice break from the ordinary. It wasn't sweet at all. The salty smokyness of the bacon flavour was spot on. The rye crunch helped vary up the texture, but both the maple and dry orange flavours were a little lost. Both of us would have preferred if the ice cream were just a touch sweeter (perhaps a sucre a la creme ripple?) and if it features a more prominent burnt orange flavour.

whiskeybacon.jpg

The service was impeccable. Food came to the table quickly, cutlery was changed with each plate (quite a feat when you consider all that we had!) and the waitstaff were very well co-ordinated. The level of professionalism was similar to one I've only experienced once before, at a three-starred Michelin restaurant in New York. Our waiter, Gabriel, was friendly, polite and very helpful at navigating the menu. The pre-chosen pairings made balancing the whole meal a little difficult. Although the ordering process was slightly complicated, once we tried the paired dishes and cocktails, we understood. All the flavours play off each other and no dish or cocktail was ever overpowering. The atmosphere was relaxed for the entire evening and nothing stood in the way of appreciating what can only be described as truly beautiful food.

MIR
1181 Union (below Phillip's Square)
514-508-1044
Lunch 11am-3pm
Dinner Tues-Sat 5pm-2am

Click here to book a table
Click here to see the full menu

Discussion

24 Comments

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