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Posts Tagged ‘French contemporary’

We chose this restaurant because it’s just across the street from Lincoln Center. It even has a prix fixe pre-theater menu and the decor is modern and sophisticated with outdoor seating during warmer weather and a sexy bar – everything one could want in a NYC bistro with a famous name. Unfortunately, the experience was overpriced for what it was, and we were all a little disappointed, especially since this was to be our Christmas present to our family.

Menu items had French names – and the bistro’s name is pronounced in the French way which I unreasonably find even more pretentious – but none of it seemed particularly French. There was numerous hostesses, servers, and busboys, but service was not as attentive as one expects from a high class downtown NYC restaurant. Water glasses were not refilled without prompting and the food service was slow – despite arriving at 5:30pm for a 3-course dinner and being rather fast eaters, we had to rush dessert and coffee and then sprint across the street in order to catch our 7:30pm opera (yes, after literally running across the square and up three flights of stairs, we made it to our seats with less than a minute before the curtain rose).

A helpful wine steward helped select wines to our taste. We were started out with a basket of bread and butter and some tasty gougères. The appetizer of velouté de poisson was a small cup of a rich, cream-based broth with a couple mussels and tiny cubes of potato. I wish I had gotten the merlu as my main course, which was tender and delicious. My own moules à la “Moracain” were good, but not as special. The chocolate mousse cake was inexplicably drizzled with unattractive strings of mousse, which didn’t add anything at all to the experience – the tiny slivers of poached pears were the best part of it. My hot chocolate was watery and too-hot.

The restaurant isn’t completely hopeless, and it had an intriguing – and expensive – special pork menu and truffle specials which makes me think that perhaps our dining experience would have been better had we been willing to explore more of the à la carte and special menu rather than the prix fixe selection. And perhaps had we had a reservation a half hour or even an hour earlier.

1900 Broadway,  New York, NY 10023, USA

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Au Pied du Cochon is one of those contemporary “upscale downscale” restos (as my husband puts it) which overemphasizes its downscale quality while providing upscale food and service. They have a successful schtick, and they sell it with just the right degree of over-the-top glee. It can be hard to get a reservation, so plan ahead. This time around, it took two unreturned voicemail messages, one unreturned email, and then finally one last-minute phone call the night before which miraculously got us a 7pm reservation on the next day.

There is no sign on the outside of the resto and there is a strategically placed tv in the restroom which plays a lopped, frenetic promo tape. Despite the difficulty in getting a reservation, service was excellent, and not a 10 minute period went by without waitstaff patrolling by to wipe crumbs off the table or refresh the bread basket.

I enjoyed the strongly cultured butter with my bread. It was tempting to fill up on bread and butter alone, but of course we had other food which had to be eaten. For starters, my husband and I shared a very tender and juicy tomato tarte and some spicy cod fritters which were a tad too salty. I ordered the foie gras cromesquis for myself, which were two bite-sized fried balls of foie gras that were supposed to explode in my mouth. Unfortunately, I was too worried about burning my tongue after being warned by the server to really enjoy them; they merely melted a bit.

I had trouble deciding what to order, but I know that it had to include foie gras. I went with the iconic duck in a can again. Duck in a can was a duck breast, 100g. foie gras, vegetable concoction which is sealed in a can, boiled for 20 minutes, opened with a can opener at your table and smashed into a tower on top of a slice of toast and a parsnip puree. The dark, caramelized vegetables melded with the bread and parsnips and my red, tender duck breast was wonderful with the dreamy foie gras. It’s a very heavy, rich, darkly coloured dish, oozing with a lot of fat, which I think I’ll have to overlook the next time I dine at this resto.

We were disappointed to hear that the maple stout floater was not available, as we had remembered it quite fondly from out last visit over the summer, and opted to split the poached pear and ice cream. It arrived inexplicably swimming in a cold liquored broth. I enjoyed the bit of intensely vanilla ice cream, but the pear reeked too strongly of alcohol to really enjoy. My decaf latte tasted like water after the richness of the meal.

This is not a resto for the faint of stomach or appetite, nor is it an ideal place for children. It can get very noisy, and depending on who your fellow diners are, it can also get a little rowdy. But the food is inspired and this is definitely a “top 10” resto. I’d recommend going at least twice, however, or even several times, because the more frequently one goes, the less apt one is to try to order everything on the menu at once and pig out.

Metro: Mont-Royal

536 Avenue Duluth Est and Avenue de Chateaubriand

 

See my April 2011 write-up here.

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Au Pied du Cochon is one of those contemporary “upscale downscale” restos (as my husband puts it) which overemphasizes its downscale quality while providing upscale food and service. They have a successful schtick, and they sell it with just the right degree of over-the-top glee. It can be hard to get a reservation, so plan ahead. There is no sign on the outside of the resto and there is a strategically placed tv in the restroom which plays a lopped, frenetic promo tape. Our reservation was at 5pm, the opening time, and there were quite a number of staff zipping about behind the bar, around tables, and canning. Service was excellent, and not a 10 minute period went by without waitstaff patrolling by to wipe crumbs off the oversized table or refresh the bread basket.

For starters, my husband and I shared the endive and blue cheese salad, an enormous apple-abundant dish which could have been a main course, and a plain-looking cold smoked sausage with toast and mustard.

I had trouble deciding what to order, but I know that it had to include foie gras. I was tempted by the foie gras-stuffed au pied du cochon, but instead opted for the equally iconic duck in a can. Duck in a can was a duck breast, 100g. foie gras, vegetable concoction which is sealed in a can, boiled for 20 minutes, opened with a can opener at your table and smashed into a tower on top of a slice of bread and a parsnip puree. The dark, caramelized vegetables melded with the bread and parsnips and my red, tender duck breast was wonderful with the dreamy foie gras. We shared some hot and crisp duck fat-cooked fries, which were also great dipped into the rich, meaty rendered fat er, sauce which oozed around my plate. While our happily companions split the duck in a can, I don’t think it was absurd to eat it all by myself as well, though perhaps towards the end I resembled the resto’s manic pig emblem a bit too closely.

For dessert, we split a floater, which was maple syrup, club soda, maple ice cream drizzled with Stout made at the table. Delicious, adult, sophisticated, and wonderful after the salty, hearty meal.

This is not a resto for the faint of stomach or appetite, nor is it an ideal place for children. It can get very noisy, and depending on who your fellow diners are, it can also get a little rowdy. But the food is inspired and this is definitely a “top 10” resto.

Metro: Mont-Royal

536 Avenue Duluth Est and Avenue de Chateaubriand

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Leméac is an exquisite brunch place – chic, popular, with sophisticated  food in just the right portions – with only the slightly snobby staff and high prices bringing it all down to earth. Two people eating a salmon salad, poached eggs over belinis, donuts, hot chocolate, and latte  = $60, including tip. Ouch. And yum. Therefore Leméac is a treat meant to be savored sparingly…or on someone else’s tab.

The perfectly dressed salad came with two long pieces of beautifully smoked salmon holding up the greens as a form. My belinis were more like two small pancakes, but the salmon, poached eggs, and dainty smears of sauce and caviar were delicious. The house-made donuts were warm and slightly crisp, and could have done with the house-made jam, which we decided we’d order it with the next time – jam was extra, after all. The Valrhona hot chocolate was just the right temperature – warm, not hot – and unsweetened; my husband also found his latte to be very good.

I’d recommend making reservations, as it does get busy, and dressing up a bit. I haven’t seen cufflinks in a while, but they weren’t out of place here. But part of the charm of Leméac is to see and be seen. If the other diners bore you, gaze out the large windows overlooking the  gentrified part of town.

I was going to check out ordering the house-made salmon mentioned on their website, but couldn’t figure out how to go about buying it. Does one ask the waiter? Or does it have to be ordered in advance? Perhaps we’ll find out during our next visit.

Metro: Laurier

1045, avenue Laurier Ouest and avenue Durocher

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On the street that houses a number of closely packed, worthwhile restos, is yet another one in Reservoir, a casual yet trendy francophone bistro. Anglophones, bring a bilingual dictionary, as even the website’s English version seems to be perpetually “coming soon.” Still, the weekend brunch at this Plateau resto is something to look forward to when you want a contemporary Quebecois, foody-friendly repast.

The floor-to-ceiling windows are removed during nice weather, which suits the laid-back brasserie air. Service is friendly, but minimal and very slow. The main draw is the food, which is nicely presented, well-seasoned, and delicious. Selections are scribbled on a large chalkboard, but are also presented on a printed menu, ranging from eggs florentine with gravlax to thick crepes with fresh fruit compotes to juicy pan-fried mackerel on top of asparagus, fresh peas, and zesty citrus puree. My first brunch here was an unbelievable scallops with bacon garnished with cauliflower and citrus purees – I had seen it at another table, artfully arranged on a large wooden slab, when we walked in and thought immediately “I want that.” The chocolate pot de crème with fleur de sel topped with thick dulce du leche is unbelievable and very rich.

Metro: Sherbrooke

9 Ave. Duluth Est at Blvd. St. Laurent

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Last week, we were generously taken to “the” resto in town. While service and the decor were everything you’d expect from perhaps the most famous resto in the city, the food itself was poorly seasoned and lacking in visual finesse. With its price point and pretentious name – aside from the annoying punctiation in the title, a toque blanche is a chef’s hat – the dining experience should not only have been flawless, but awe-inspiring. The amuse bouche and first two courses of the tasting menu were nicely presented though too liberally dosed with soy sauce to enjoy and the latter four more complex courses were almost bland and ineffectually strewn about each plate. One of our benefactors that night remarked on the lack of contrasting textures in all of the seven tasting menu dishes served – all soft and mostly salty except for the dessert, which was the only successfully executed course of the evening. Had I not written down all of the courses immediately upon returning home, I would not have remembered any of them except that the first couple of courses were way too salty.

Diners pilgrimage to Toque like moths to the flame because of its price tag and trendy fame, but it is hardly the top resto in Montreal.

{***Blow-by-blow food log below.}

900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle at Ave. Saint Antoine

metro: Place d’Armes

***

***

The chef seemed to have just discovered soy sauce, and used it prominently in the first three courses – including no less than 1/2 tablespoon in the bottom of an amuse bouche shot glass. The dishes were so salty that I was still tasting soy sauce my mouth when we left, even after the dessert, cappuccino, and cloudberry “sweet finish” candy. Halfway through dinner we joked that dessert would be a soy sauce gelato; thankfully it wasn’t (let’s note that the losing contestants on Iron Chef always tried to make ice cream out of the secret ingredient – think monkfish or asparagus ice cream rather than mint chocolate chip or strawberry).

amuse bouche of chile foam, crispy vegetable, and an obscenely large pool of soy sauce served in a shot glass

1st course: twin princess scallops in apple water, soy sauce, mild wasabi sorbet, and sliced radish served on a bed of crushed ice

2nd course: too salty sea urchin soup served in the shell on a bed of crushed ice

3rd course: ordinary seared foie gras (optional course) sprinkled with pretty though tasteless edible flowers, served on a slice of daikon with a side of citric acid

or

seared arctic char (the better, more savory option)

4th course: chopped chicken under a sheet of soft pastry

5th course: squall, turnip, carmelized onion, broccoli puree, cauliflower puree, beet, roast garlic clove

6th course: Quebecois cheese melted over leafy greens, thinly sliced apple, and a sweet apple relish

7th course: poached apple, candied maple wafer, buffalo vanilla ice cream, berry ice cream served on top of granulated maple sugar

Cloudberry sweetie

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Conveniently located across from the metro, the dining area was inexplicably deserted throughout our dinner, though enough background bar noise from upstairs seeped in that we felt like we were in a ballpark rather than an elegant resto. This was back in April, and they said they were sealing the stairwell to solve the problem. Bad choice of a heavy beef stroganoff-type amuse bouche aside, the dining experience went well – they even allowed me to sample ice cider neige and frimas side by side. Dim, elegant lighting would make this a sophisticated dining place for dates, though the stillness and heaviness probably appeal more to the older rather than the younger crowd. Perhaps a good choice for a sophisticated business dinner.

711 Cote de Place d’Armes at Rue Saint-Antoine O.

metro: Place des Armes

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