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Food

Bouillon Bilk, Two Ways

Posted by Amie / November 1, 2013

Bouillon BilkA drab strip of St-Laurent is home to the lauded modern French restaurant, Bouillon Bilk. The coke dealer selling to the homeless guy outside the floor-to-ceiling windows really makes for great people watching. Throw in some fois gras and natural wines, and you've got yourself a restaurant hit.

"There's a valet, right?" asks my friend when she calls me on the car I'm driving. I press "accept" on the dash and feel relieved I can answer while driving to pick her up. But she thinks there's a valet on St-Laurent between de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke? I laugh. I'm worried about finding a parking spot, but in the baller Lincoln MKZ I'm driving, on loan for the day to support the launch of the company's new luxury vehicle, parking is a joke, thanks to both the lack of traffic on the relatively empty street and the car's auto-park. Sensors detect a free spot, I take my hands off the wheel, and the car parallel parks itself ahead of a lesser, auto-park-less vehicle. Too easy--there wasn't even anyone ahead of me to make this auto-park thing interesting.

But the area near the St-Laurent metro is slowly gentrifying (the SAT to the south helps), and goodness knows that come summertime the Quartier des Spectacles could use a couple more dining options--preferably affordable ones, which brings us back to Bouillon Bilk and its biodynamic wines, oysters, fois gras, foraged finds, and general love of sea urchin. It's a restaurant whose price point puts it more in line with Hotel Hermann and Les 400 Coups than Nouveau Palais or the neighbouring SAT.

View through the glass of the Lincoln MKZ's retractable sunroofView through the glass of the Lincoln MKZ's retractable sunroof

It's raining, but with two steps to go from the car to the restaurant, it's easy to slip from the comfort of the Lincoln's heated seats and steering wheel to the warm restaurant. I said baller, right?

It's loud. It's hip. The service is impeccable. The food is gorgeous, rich and cream-heavy. The sommelier, trust-instilling.

The wooden board of warm, homemade bread comes with individual butter bowls and a communal one for salt, since a power greater than either you or I decreed that these three things should go together.

Bread with salt and butter at Bouillon Bilk

Appetizers run the gamut, from lighthearted fluke crudo to fois gras terrine with soy, grapefruit, truffle and hearts of palm. The former combines slices of raw white fish with shaved fennel, slices of sweet kaki persimmons ('tis the season for the bright yellow-skinned, pink-fleshed fruit), sweet-and-sour passionfruit seeds, a few whisps of green, and thin, airy puffed persimmon and rice crackers for crunch, all brought together by a smear of thick, tangy yogurt with caraway that punches through the sweetness of the fruit and brings the slices of would-be bland fish to life.

The fois gras is a generous serving of luscious fat with a touch of cream (to lighten it up, clearly), grill-marked bread, two small wedges of grapefruit and a little fluid gel type garnish to cut through the fat. A couple edible flowers make it pretty.

Then lopsided plates of beautifully seared scallops (one side only) with thinly sliced pear, wild mushrooms, grilled zucchini and brown butter are pure French gourmet. Pushed all the way to the side of the plate by the chef, I'm not sure what the rest of the unused dish is for if not to make a mess on or to make you feel that you should have paid $60 for the full dish instead of just $30 for half.

The guinea hen veers off Highway 40 with fresh figs, but has a change of heart when it hits a Quebec beet farm. A vadouvan (French curry blend for wimps) sets off the bed of mashed potatoes under the sous vide-cooked fowl that's seared to crispy perfection. You might think the meat is overly salted, but as the flavours melt into the crushed, creamy potatoes with each bite, you'll change your tune. And while the figs are mild, it's worth giving them a bite to themselves with the salty meat for the same reason that people wrap dates in bacon. Salt + fat + sugar = happy.

And you know you're in Quebec when fois gras shows up on the dessert menu under the selection of cheeses. It took a little pit stop through Mississippi to pay homage to Elvis and his love of peanut butter and banana before replacing the butter with even richer, umami-heavy duck fat. The pastry chef throws in some dulce de leche, chocolate, smoked apple, and sour cream just for kicks.

Wine. French. Privately imported. Mostly biodynamic. Old vines. By the glass selection changes weekly, but they will have something appropriately cool, like a Spanish varietal you've never heard of, or a full-bodied Morgon you figured you couldn't afford, but you were wrong.

Stuffed with fois gras, or sated with half a plate of scallops, you can head back out to the metro, or to your conveniently parked car, blast the Kishi Bashi or Philippe B from your Bluetooth-connected phone, and feel like you did alright.
Rocking out to Kishi Bashi, and the touchscreen dash of the Lincoln MKZRocking out to Kishi Bashi; touchscreen dash of the Lincoln MKZ

Bouillon Bilk
1595 St-Laurent
514-845-1595
$73-$90 all-in per person, including app, main, glass of wine, tax and tip.

Car provided by Lincoln Canada: #Savourezlaville @LincolnMotorCa


Way Two: With Food Intolerances

I'm sorry, Bouillon Bilk, but as much as you're a great restaurant for normal people, I have a bone to pick with you. I called to inform you in advance that my friend and I are gluten- and lactose-intolerant. We were told that would not be a problem. "What's does that mean?" I always wonder. Because "not a problem" can vary from taking all the offending ingredients out of a very expensive dish, leaving you with a much less interesting, smaller, and often bland dish for the same price. Do you want me to waste away on two strips of overly salted meat because there are no vadouvan potatoes or a rich butter sauce to suck it up? Had you informed me that you would not actually be making ay replacements in the dishes, and the hostess would not even bother informing the chefs in advance of our coming, I would have considered a better restaurant for the special night out, or at least a restaurant whose menu wouldn't have to dramatically change to ensure we wouldn't get stomach sick.

"The kitchen can adjust any dish," said the server after we sit down and restate our intentions. I hear it all the time. Yes. But how? I want to know. It's 8:30 on a Thursday night and the restaurant is packed. The server is busy. The kitchen is dans la merde. But I called in advance and you told me it'd be no problem. "What about the beef and sea urchin?" I ask.

"Well, it's tartare. So it should be fine. Honey mushrooms, avocado, radish peppers, sea asparagus (salicorne--that salty, foraged wonder that's now on every self-respecting restaurant menu. Société l'Orignal should be making its fortune on sea asparagus). Check. All fine. Oh! But there's a touch of soy sauce in the beef and urchin, he says. "Is that a problem?" Actually, yes, it is. Well, oops. I guess you can't adjust as much as you thought.

He then says the kitchen could do the tomato app with the fried zucchini flower, but obviously without the burrata, and aren't zucchini flowers usually breaded pre-frying? There goes most of that dish, too. Heck, it's been a whole month since I paid $15 for a couple slices of tomato, though, so maybe that's not a bad option. And too bad about that brown butter on the scallops. That would have been nice, huh? Sure would have brought that dish together. Same way that cream sauce on the guinea fowl would have made the dish work.

Does a body not need carbohydrates? I feel as though I'm on the Atkins diet when I eat out, which went out of style awhile ago. If there actually are carbs on a menu, which there aren't more and more these days, they're stuffed with dairy and I can't have them anyway. Olive oil instead of butter and cream? Never. Good thing I wasn't drinking, thanks to that car loan from Lincoln, or I'd have been on my ass. Those two beets with the guinea hen wouldn't help much.

Ooh! A dessert with quince, arlettes, bay leaf, bourbon, and sumac. No dairy there. "There's crème fraiche," says the server. "But the kitchen could make you something special--a mix of sorbets."

I could die of sorbet.

My complaint isn't that the kitchen didn't do enough for me on this particular night. I don't think they should have to come up with something amazing on the fly, replacing the potatoes with a carb from another dish (there weren't any), a simple boiled potato with oil and vadouvan instead of butter and cream (way too hard when you're in the aforementioned merde and the prep has already been done), or even pulling some frozen gluten-free bread from the freezer. And I don't think they should do the latter for the same reason I don't think they should just remove elements of a carefully conceived plate. That bread makes you look cheap. It's not house-made. It's not artisanal. Would the restaurant put out Texas Toast? Not unless you're Nouveau Palais and you rock that shit. A fine dining restaurant's plates are works of art, and removing an element is like removing a limb. It doesn't work. I respect that. But do you respect me, kitchen? Should I have a lesser dining experience? If your goal is to put out only amazing plates, is it okay if my meal is just good enough?

To be fair, I did ask. You're a great restaurant. I will tell my non-gluten-intolerant and non-lactose-intolerant friends to go and they will probably enjoy themselves. But you said I could come and the kitchen would take care of me. And now I'll never come back.

Discussion

17 Comments

http://www.incaradvancements.co.uk / July 11, 2014 at 12:47 am
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