In a story idea I emailed recently to an editor I said Toqué is the best restaurant in Montreal. My proof-reading friend gave me a bit of a quizzical look and said, “Really? You think Toqué is the best?”
To the readers of that particular publication it really would be. Those readers would be interested in fine dining with a heavy emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, names of farmers and farms, and exquisitely plated food that doesn’t feel heavy or unbalanced. And that is essentially Toqué. Chef Normand Laprise is an expert at crafting the perfect atmosphere for a meal. You walk into the spacious room and you breathe in as though you walked into a spa and the weight falls from your shoulders. As though you could take 5 paces in any direction from your table and you wouldn’t hit another customer. You’d have to really push back your chair to hit the person behind you. And you wouldn’t get that far because one of the legions of servers would stop you first and ask if they could help you with your chair. Or, “Perhaps you’d like another napkin?” Or, “The bathroom is that way.” These guys are good.
All that and Toqué isn’t intimidating. I’ve seen children at this restaurant. And smiling couples, as though those two things go together.
But most importantly, the food. Laprise likes bitter green herbs paired with slightly sweet sauces and fruits. We start with a lovage sorbet. Lovage is a difficult herb to love, but it shouts spring/summer. Yes it shouts a backslash.
It requires a lot of sugar to balance it, and I figured that the heavily sweetened sorbet was a bit too much sugar to start the meal, but I was wrong.
Then an appetizer of omelet with nordic shrimp, sesame, scallions and other thinly sliced greens (I forget which herbs, but all of them shouting for attention) in a dish that wasn’t too filling and not even the slightest bit greasy, as omelets often are. I’ve always heard that any man worth a woman’s (or man’s) time should know how to make an omelet for as the perfect breakfast after a evening spent together, but I’ve always thought the last thing I’d want someone to make for me was an omelet. They taste like nothing, no matter how fluffy. Why would I want fluff? If that’s what I wanted I’d eat a marshmallow. A homemade marshmallow, not a jar of marshmallow fluff, mind you, but a marshmallow none the less.
This omelet, though. This would sell me on a man. Or at least push me towards a second evening with him. My dining companion’s scallops were also lovely, but I’ve overdosed on good scallops lately (sous vide alone, seared alone, and sous vide and seared), so not even creative plating could tear me from my omelet.
Then duck breast. I generally hate duck breast. I figured, though, that if anywhere would have good duck breast it would be Toqué. It would be the golden stardard of duck breast to which I would hold all future duck breasts. And it was impeccable. I chewed every bit of seared fat glazed with a touch of maple. Normally the fat just tastes like bland gelatin, but here it melted into the already tender meat which was very edible on its own. It actually took me 40 minutes to eat every bit of this duck breast. I don’t remember the sides, though I remember greenery, and I remember being impressed.
For dessert, strawberries and basil. There was a sorbet, but there was a foam and more bitter things, and all in all there was refreshment. And not too much sugar. Just perfect. It was a meal where I couldn’t take the smile from my lips. No pictures. Not at Toqué. I have a little class. But I would go back in a heartbeat and highly recommend you do the same. Order anything. The tasting menu if you have time and can afford it. Do not skip dessert. The wine cellar is a work of architectural and oenophilic (not a word?) art, but just a glass of something recommended by the server or sommelier is enough (the servers know what they’re talking about, and all the pairings for the tasting menu have been done in advance, so it’s fairly simple for them when your à la carte dish comes from that menu).
This is why we eat.