This is not a full review. I only went to the restaurant once, which is often not a fair way to critique a fine dining restaurant. Maybe I got a new server or something happened in the kitchen that night. But as I was very much underwhelmed by my experience here after having read only positive reviews, I wanted to share exactly what happened so that others aren’t as disappointed.
First, however, the highlights:
The restaurant is gorgeous. The main room has a mini lounge area with sofas and a group of late 30-somethings was enjoying martinis. Then the bar wraps around the dining room, so you can see into the open kitchen from all sides. There’s a rainbow of colour on the bar, too, giving the restaurant at night a romantic, sophisticated but not intimidating atmosphere. It would be a great setting for a business lunch, or a family brunch. Really, the design is impressively versatile.
The restaurant was about half full on a Tuesday night, and I’d called at the last minute for a reservation. We were lead to the back room where suddenly the noise level went down at least 6 decibels. I didn’t know if this was the prime talking location or if we were shafted from the restaurant proper, but we could actually have a conversation, so it was good for us. The back is a little more garden-like, so in summer this would be the perfect place to while away a sun-drenched afternoon.
But after being seated, we waited. And waited. No water. No menus. About 7 minutes. There were servers buzzing around, conveniently ignoring the misstep. We didn’t even kno who our server was yet, so we couldn’t flag him or her down.
I made a somewhat loud comment about water and menus and 30 seconds later a non-blushing server came with the menus. This was followed fairly quickly by water. I’m glad they have ears. They also heard most of our evening’s conversation (mostly about food), but there were times I wished the room was a little louder and we could have had a more private conversation. Unfrotunately, unlike the decor, this was a less successful equilibrium for the restaurant to find.
I’d also mentioned when I called for the reservation that I was gluten-intolerant and lactose intolerant but if anywhere in the city could accommodate this, it should be here. My confidence waned, however, when 2 arancini fried risotto balls came as an amuse-bouche. There was enough Parmesan in there to fell a lactose-intolerant horse. My brother got both arancini. He didn’t mind.
Then the bread came. And I got rice bread – toasted! They were catching on! They laid it in front of me and said “this is yours” and I, thinking it was regular bread and they’d already forgotten the arancini incident, said “No it’s not…” and they said, “Yes it is,” and I said, “I’m gluten intolerant” (for the 3rd time…). And they said, “It’s rice bread.” But then I said “Olive oil?” and they said “there is maybe olive oil in it,” and they looked worried and I said “No, could I have some olive oil please?” My brother got a nice wedge of butter with a chive on top so they obviously think bread needs something spreadable or dip-able, unlss you’re gluten-intolerant. If you’re going to make the effort with the bread you should probably remember that it’d be nice to remember that not many people like dry toast. The phrase, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” should never apply in a fine dining restaurant when a meal costs over $100 a person, gluten-intolerant or not. Especially not.
God love our server, though, who stood there while we debated the menu instead of running off to handle another table.
Oh, we’d also ordered wine, which didn’t show up for awhile either.
But once it did come, and was followed by the first appetizer, we figured everything would be fine from here on in. Unfortunately, the salmon duo of rillette without the splash of cream was bland. I don’t think cream could have saved it.It’s the salmon fault, I know, it being farmed Irish “organic.” Sandwiched between two rye toasts, it was combined with olive oil that couldn’t compare to the pungent version of the same I was eventually given for my rice bread. The cured version of the salmon with a pool of dill and capers was just fine. It was a good balance of smoked salt and sugar without going overboard on either and brought out what salmon flavour it could.
Quail with chunky guacamole (I found it bland, my brother found it strong on the cilantro. And he loved the flavour of the meat) and two slivers of red radish.
You get two little legs and breasts. It’s gone in about 5 bites, it’s such a small portion. It was tender, but there were gelatinous fatty bits that should have been more charred. Supposedly the bird was coated in a vadouvan curry blend, but the only spices I picked up on were…well, nothing. Spice-fearers, fear not. And glorified guacamole? I’ll take El Rey del Taco anyday. The salmon was low quality (sustainable wild Pacific would be better sourcing) and the avocados didn’t help the quail. My confidence in the chef was diminishing by the second. And what chef devoted to local products puts guac on the menu in the first place in a French restaurant? Maybe I just don’t get it, but someone please fill me in on the flavour goals of this dish.
The piquillo pepper in the octopus app is a bit like sundried tomato. Those are the dots on the left side of the plate. The right side is olive purée circles (fluid gels? lLke the piquillo pepper circles?) and in the middle is the tender octopus with Marcona almonds and baby arugula. The arugula wasn’t particularly pungent. It was just a nice, dark green. The olive circles were the highlight, along with the octopus itself, which had texture without being mushy or rubbery. Unfortunately, we missed out on the almonds since there was dairy in them, but they didn’t tell us that until the plate came though we’d asked if each dish we ordered was gluten-free and dairy-free in advance, as this would affect our choices.
Mains – Gaspor pork. Roasted baby pig rack with roasted potatoes (instead of mashed), tomato confit and roasted fennel. Was there really roasted fennel there? I don’t remember any. Maybe the kitchen ran out. The shallots were lovely, if that’s what they replaced the fennel with, though, and I remember a sweet reduction, but that’s about all I remember. And I think the server said olive sauce. There’s an olive on the plate, so I’d believe it. The pork was fine, really, but just fine. Two big pieces – good for sharing. The fat was a 1/4″ thick layer that was tough, though clearly well-seared. The fat should ahve melted and softened a bit more, but instead it stayed tough and pretty inedible. Too bad, since it looked lovely.
Black cod poached in olive oil with one little bok choy, two wonderfully soft and juicy and olive oil-bloated mussels, a coconut milk foam (very good), and black rice I couldn’t eat (so they put it on the side in a little coccotte for my brother). The fish was lovely, but actually kind of bland until you got some foamed coconut milk on the fork. It was probably one of the best foams I’ve ever had, since it actally enhanced the dish, spreading the flavour to each bite and lightening up a heavy ingredient. Usually this wild Alaskan fish is buttery and smooth, and combined with actual butter makes for a very rich dish. This one was trying to be lighter, but it came across feeling weak (and small portioned – though that’s the fault of the price of black cod more than anything, I’d imagine). Not that you’d necessarily want black cod to always be cloyingly rich, but it wasn’t the indulgence I hoped for. A few bites and it was gone. And I was craving something from Garde-Manger – and I swear I’ve never written those words in my life.
I asked for a taste of their private import limoncello at end of night because they’re impossible to find in the city, and the server obliged. Smart, because I then ordered a dessert cocktail with grey goose, limoncello, lemon and meringue as I couldn’t eat any of the desserts. The meringue topping on the cocktail wasn’t sweetened, which was weird, but the martini was plenty sweet, so it all got sorted out in the mouth. And it was gorgeous, and the meringue texture was just right. It was the highlight of my night, which is not what I expected for a quality kitchen.
Well, I lied a little. I couldn’t eat any of the regular chocolate-y, over the top desserts, but I could have the simple limoncello sorbet with fresh fruit. The fruit weren’t in season but they tasted like the brightest summer thanks to the sugar and lemon in the sorbet. I swear it could have been July and I was sitting in a quaint restaurant in southern France or Amalfi, Italy. Okay, fine, I’ve had better Limoncello, but rarely in Montreal. I’m not saying it’s the best stuff ever, but if you miss the after-drink drink, Maison Boulud is an okay place to quell that maddening desire.
So overall, the restaurant disappointed, but it wasn’t a bad meal. Just some blips in the food and service. I’ll have to go back the next time I’m swimming in money and not afraid to spend it on a so-so meal.