WILL TRAVEL FOR FOOD

Jan 20

Inside executive chef Michele Forgione’s new menu for Montreal’s Koko Restaurant

I’m sure your mom has told you at one point or another in your life that it is not polite to eavesdrop or interrupt a conversation that doesn’t include you. I am here to tell you that it sometimes pays to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. It’s very hard not to eavesdrop when you’re unwillingly following everyone else’s conversation on Twitter. I was witnessing such a conversation between Dustin (aka @FoodGuyMtl) and new executive chef of Koko Restaurant Michele Forgione when I butted in and invited myself (and Marcella!) to a private dinner to try the new menu created by Chef Forgione for Koko. The modern market-style menu was completely redone by Chef Forgione and was just put into place. I am so glad I butted in because that was one of the best meals I’ve had in this city! 

Listed below are the 10 (!) dishes we sampled that night, all of them cooked to perfection and all of them absolutely divine!


Grilled octopus with Jerusalem artichokes and mâche salad, Meyer lemon vinaigrette


Seared scallops, shaved cauliflower, chickpea panelle, capers, brown butter sauce


Spanish mackerel, creamed eggplant, pickled vegetables, watercress


Porchetta di testa (head cheese) from St Canut farm marinated in herbs, chicory salad, beets, pickled red onions & dandelion salad


Quail with vin
cotto (red wine must) reduction, shaved Brussels sprouts coleslaw and cippolini onions, pangrattato


Homemade ricotta gnocchi with braised beef short rib ragout and ricotta salata


Sea bass with winter panzanella salad, green sauce


Capocollo and porchetta belly from St. Canut farm, quince mostarda and caramelized romanesco


Seared Quebec duck breast, firm polenta, turnips, chestnut and mascarpone mousse


The pastry chef was off that night but Chef Forgione managed to finish off that amazing meal with this brownie mille feuilles!

Michele Forgione is an amazingly talented chef, sourcing his meats and vegetables as close to home as possible. Him and his team dished out a delicious array of Italian flavours with a contemporary twist. If you ask me to pick my favourite dish of the night, I would have a very hard time choosing just one but I will say that the gnocchi are sure to knock your socks off!


Chef Michele Forgione and his team: Takeshi Horinoue and Paulo Posada

Koko might not be the kind of restaurant one might think of when looking for an outstanding Italian meal but I am here to tell you that it’s definitely worth the visit! Go on a quiet weeknight when the chef can really take care of you. Buon appetito!

Koko Restaurant
8 Sherbrooke West, Montreal
514 657 5656

Open Daily 5pm-3am

You can follow Chef Forgione’s culinary adventures on Twitter at: @MicheleForgione

Jan 14

La Pineta

What is your favourite restaurant in the whole wide world? Let me rephrase that, what’s the best dining experience you’ve ever had? I have a few on that list, among them are Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin in New York City and The Paul in beautiful Copenhagen. However, one of my absolute favourite dining experiences in the whole world is this little place on the beach in a small town called Marina di Bibbona in Tuscany. I know, that’s a long way to go for Italian food, especially when you live in the heart of Little Italy like I do! This divine place is called La Pineta and the food there is phenomenal. However, it is not just the food and the impeccable service that makes it one of my favourite restaurants in the world, it’s the story of how I got there, it is the perfectness of that particular day, the mood, the way the sun lit up the water, the way the sand felt under my feet, the feeling as if I was discovering a great big secret…

I visited Italy for the first time about a year and a half ago. On the last day of a week-long drive through Tuscany, we left Elba and started heading back home (close to Rome) but had reservations at La Pineta for lunch. It was an hour in the opposite direction so when we got off the ferry from Elba, we debated whether or not we should just forget about it and start on the 4-hour drive back home. I am so glad we decided to go ahead with our original plan! When we arrived in Marina di Bibbona guided by our trusty GPS (not!) we asked around and were pointed in the direction of a dirt road towards what seemed to be camping grounds. At this point I was very much doubting whatever website had made us believe that this was worth the trip. I was tired, hungry and cranky (those usually go hand in hand for me) and just wanted to eat and go home. I kept driving on this unpaved road knowing that I was driving parallel to the sea but not being able to see it because of the dense pine forest hiding it. I finally made a sharp left turn and halleluiah I could see the water. The only visible restaurant on this stretch of typical Italian beach was a pizza shack! I couldn’t believe we had gone out of our way and driven all this time for a pizza shack! I parked the red Fiat 500 while my friend went to inquire. I was getting really desperate until I saw B. waving his hands at me indicating that we should park and go join him and so we did. To my surprise, through the pizza shack and just behind it was hiding one very classy white-linen, silver cutlery, crystal-clad restaurant. This little hidden gem with its feet in the sand and an amazing view of the sea instantly charmed me. All my frustrations vanished instantly and I couldn’t believe that such a place could exist on this beach. My friends decided to go with the tasting menu while I decided to pick à la carte. One little side note here, La Pineta is a family-run restaurant and the owner is a former fisherman who still gets his daily catch from his family’s fishing boats every dawn. The daily menu is then composed according to the catch. Yes, it was that kind of place…

So I started with a plate of crudo, including two types of raw shrimp, so sweet and tasty, with specific instructions to eat it in a certain order and which ended with bites of smoked mackerel with mascarpone and caramel. Who would’ve thought that I would like something that tasted like smoked fish candy! But all the elements in those little bites worked perfectly together.

My primi piatti was a spaghetti with pulpo (octopus): as you can see, I had eaten half the plate before I remembered to take a picture and that is simply because it was the best pasta in the world! Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally? That was me eating this dish, people turned around and stared (and ordered the same thing I was having) when I took my first bite, it was just that good. I am not the biggest pasta person, but that pasta I can eat everyday for the rest of my life!

My secundi piatti was fish (I can’t remember the variety) with capers, olives, cherry tomatoes and rosemary that was so very tasty and fresh… but not as impressive looking as my friends’ soup. Yes that’s fish and seafood soup, or more precisely caicciuccohe, a Livornese specialty that he’s famous for. Impressive no?

I always have room for dessert so yes, I had dessert after all that even if the waiter called me a what sounded suspiciously like “pig” in Italian! - and then had a good laugh about it! I ordered the only chocolate thing on the dessert menu (typical), a molten chocolate cake, which was good but obviously not as phenomenal as that pasta dish! My friends had the spiced pear and the mille-feuilles.

Some meals, like some people, form a permanent imprint on your mind and in your heart. I have a terrible memory but I still remember everything about that meal - and that magical day - as if it were yesterday. Needless to say that we ended up spending a couple of hours on that beach that afternoon wanting to prolong this magical day before we had to head back to reality.

If you ever find yourself in Tuscany, I guarantee you that La Pineta is certainly worth going out of your way for…

La Pineta
27 Via dei Cavalleggeri Nord
Marina di Bibbona , Italy

39-0586-600-016 

Dec 28

2010 dessert roundup: my favourites

It seems only fitting that my last post of 2010 should be about my favourite desserts this year. I have had an amazing year of good eats all over the world, from London to Copenhagen and from Beirut to New York and of course my hometown of Montreal, where we are spoiled when it comes to amazing restaurants. In case you didn’t know by now, I have a very sweet tooth and I always leave room for dessert, no matter how full I am. So here is my roundup of 10 of the best desserts I’ve had in 2010, whether made at home or eaten in a restaurant. Please note that it was too hard for me to list them by order of deliciousness so they are listed in no particular order.

Patrice Demers’s “green” dessert:

2010 was the year I discovered the genius of Patrice Demers, first with his chocolate “pot-de-crème” at Newtown and then with this green dessert at Les 400 coups. I have since made it several times, mainly because I had a craving for it. The first picture is of the green dessert at Les 400 coups and the second one is my take on it at my 3rd annual dessert party.

Momofuku’s apple pie cake truffles:

My mistake was buying only one bag of these, I should’ve bought 10 because I should know by now that anything that comes out of Christina Tosi’s (pastry chef at Momofuku) kitchen is genius!

Beignets with a salted-butter caramel dipping sauce at Le St-Urbain:

Fried dough with salted-butter caramel, nothing more to say here…

Thomas Keller’s chocolate bouchons:

Very similar to his chocolate brownies, these are just as luscious and so chocolatey. If you’re a chocolate lover, then these are a must! They are from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon book but you can also find the recipe here.

Christophe Michalak’s chocolate moelleux with cappuccino mousse:


(Photo: Andrea D. Donida, my dessert-loving friend)

I tasted these at Michalak’s book launch in Montreal this past November. Michalak is one of the best pastry chefs in the world. There was a huge buffet of delicious desserts at his book launch but these stood out as my favourites. Even though I had already had way too much sugar that night, I just had to have seconds of this one. 

Choux pralinés and éclairs from Pâtisserie de la gare:

Definitely the best éclairs I’ve ever had! I’ve tasted the chocolate, espresso and caramel/raspberry versions and they are all out of this world! So good that I decided they would be the ones to make the desserts for the Dishcrawl event I helped organize. The picture of the praline choux à la crème was taken at the Michalak event but was (and is) made by Pâtisserie de la gare, whose pastry chef worked with Michalak in Paris for 5 years.

François Payard's verrine du japonais:

From their description: “Layers of hazelnut dacquoise, milk chocolate mousse, yuzu citrus crémeux, milk chocolate chantilly and dark chocolate glaze”. I had my first one of these back in April and had to go back and have another one on my recent trip to New York. One of the best desserts I’ve ever had!

My Kugelhopf’s tahini date shortbread:


Voted “best cookies in the world” first by me, then by my dessert party guests. Easy to make and seriously addictive, I have made these a few times since reading Kerrin’s post in October. I am still awed by how good they taste every time I bake a new batch (and almost burn my tongue with that first cookie because I’m too impatient to let it cool)

Cannelle et Vanille candied kumquats and pistachio financiers:


2010 will also be the year when I came to the conclusion that financiers are my favourite things to bake. They are easy to make, the combination of flavours are endless and they are absolutely delicious. My favourite combination so far has been the candied kumquats and pistachio one from Cannelle et Vanille.

Homemade panettone:


(Photo: Andrea D. Donida)

This is a once-a-year event only (around the holidays) and I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time: the 19th anniversary dinner of Buonanotte. Every single food blogger in Montreal was talking about this panettone for days after we tasted it. This is a world away from the panettones you can purchase at your local supermarket. My wish for 2011 is that they decide to start selling it!

Bonus number 11: My birthday dessert at Eleven Madison Park:

This dessert concluded an unforgettable birthday lunch at EMP this past November. Chocolate composition with variations (dehydrated chocolate mousse, chocolate honeycomb, etc.) with milk - absolutely delicious!

This year is also the year I started to blog. The response has been great and I have met so many amazing people who are just as passionate about food as I am. I want to thank you all for reading, tweeting, sharing, commenting, etc. Have a very sweet 2011!

Dec 22

My 3rd annual dessert party, or how to bake 11 desserts in 2 days


Kreavie chestnut bites, mini canellés and lavender/pear mini financiers

This past Sunday was my 3rd annual dessert party. It all started 3 years ago when I decided to throw a party sometime between my birthday in November and the Christmas holidays. It has since become a tradition… I ended up making so many desserts that first year that everyone took a tupperware home. So the year after, I made a lot on purpose and prepared some nice gift boxes that my guests filled up and took home with a nice card as their Christmas gifts. I did the same this year as well. I love the idea of giving sweet treats as a holiday gift and this for me, is the perfect occasion to do so…


Key lime squares


"Green" dessert

All year long I go through hundreds of food and baking posts and I come across so many recipes I’d love to make but don’t always have time for. I bookmark them all and they come in handy when it’s time to pick a menu. I also often include some of my favourite recipes from that year. To be able to pull off a multi-dessert party, you must be very well organized so here below are some tips I’ve gathered with experience :)



Honey and pine nut tartelettes and Tahini date shortbread cookies

Pick your recipes – I spend weeks doing this, mostly because I can’t decide on what to make and also because this is my favorite thing to do! Look through those cookbooks or favorite blogs and pick the recipes you want to make. When choosing, try and pick various recipes in terms of types of desserts (pies, cakes, mousses, cookies, verrines, etc.) and flavours (chocolate, fruit, spices, etc). Prep time is also crucial when picking recipes, you have to have some recipes that are ok if done a couple of days ahead because you absolutely cannot make everything the same day! You may also want to include some true and tested recipes in there if you are not too confident about baking something for the very first time. In my 11 desserts, I only had 3 that I had made before; the rest were all new recipes. I always try new recipes when throwing a party, which might not always be the wisest choice!

Calculate your quantities – Once your recipes are chosen, print them out. Then go through the ingredients list of each carefully. Add up the most popular ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, butter) to come up with a total needed then list the least common ones (dates, nuts, fruits, etc). Check your list twice, you don’t want to run out of sugar when in the middle of a recipe!

Go shopping – Do this a few days ahead so that you’ll have everything handy when you’re ready to start. I shopped for everything on the Wednesday before the party then came home and got everything organized .

Make a schedule – Decide what dessert you will be making when. Start with a couple of days before the party since you really can’t do a lot much earlier than that (unless you’re making things like ice cream, macarons or truffles, which can be made a few days ahead). Don’t forget to include preparation in your schedule, for example, you can pre-chop all the chocolate needed for your recipes, toast and chop any nuts needed, confit fruit since that can be done a few days ahead, etc. These steps will help you save some valuable time.

Start baking! – I started prepping on Friday night and made 2 desserts that night (the cookies and the chocolate/yogurt cream for the “green”) then made a few more on Saturday and prepared some things for Sunday. On Sunday, I baked the cannelés and financiers dough (which needed to rest in the fridge for 24 hours) and made a few more things, but was done early enough to tidy up and decorate the apartment before everyone showed up. I assembled some desserts at the last minute (assembling the “green” verrines, icing the cupcakes, dusting the cake with cocoa and plating it, etc.) and when everyone got here, everything was on the table and I was ready to party!

Be flexible – If you find yourself short on time (or just plain tired), then eliminate something. You’re probably making too many anyway so one less dessert won’t be missed by anyone (don’t tell anyone, but I decided to eliminate one at the last minute!) You can also supplement your homemade desserts with store bought ones. I bought some chestnut bites from Kreavie because they are absolutely delicious and I wanted to share them with everyone!

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you prepare 11 desserts in 2 days, and have fun doing it!


Chocolate & chestnut truffle torte


Orange and olive oil cake

This was my menu for this year’s party. All the recipes just happened to be from my favourite baking blogs, except for the green, which is from genius Montreal pastry chef Patrice Demers and one of the best desserts I’ve had this year. Click on the titles to get to the recipes.

Tahini date shortbread cookies – Best. Cookies. Ever. Period. (My Kugelhopf)

Tortine alla nutella – Nutella cupcakes, need I say more? (Bell’Alimento)

Key lime squares

Cannelés – I had a little trouble with the baking temperature and time but the last batch was awesome! (Christelle is Flabbergasting)

Orange and olive oil cake  - One of the party’s favourites! (Christelle is Flabbergasting)

Chocolate & chestnut truffle torte – Dense, chocolatey and amazing! (Goodfood)

Honey and pine nut tart – These were a great hit! (Tartelette)

Milk chocolate peanut bars – In his words: “Peanuts, chocolate AND bananas” and you get to brûlé the bananas! (Zen Can Cook)

Sticky toffee pudding – Sticky, sweet, full of butter and so good! (Donna Hay)

Green – One of my favourite desserts these days! (Patrice Demers)

Lavender/apricots financiers – I love financiers and this was my first time baking with lavender, a success! Since it’s not apricot season, I replaced them with pear and it was great! (Tartelette)

Happy holidays everyone! I wish you lots of good foods and sweet treats in the new year. May your plate always be full and your table always be surrounded with loved ones….

Dec 08

Nuevo Latino brunch at Madre

Last night I was supposed to spend the evening at Raza, one of Mario Navarrete Jr's restaurants, to taste and to learn how to make some of his delicate Nuevo Latino dishes. The event was canceled due to the many inches of snow we got for the last couple of days so instead, I decided to share my brunch experience at Madre, one of his other restaurants.

It is no secret that Nuevo Latino cuisine is one I particularly like and that Madre is one of my favourite restaurants in Montreal. I have had some amazing culinary experiences there, especially when it comes to the ceviche and sweet potato bread pudding. I had been wanting to try their brunches and so on a beautiful winter Sunday a few days ago, I drove to the other side of town for a different kind of breakfast. I wasn’t disappointed!

The meal started with some of the warm homemade sweet potato bread that I love so much and that has become a signature at Mario’s restaurants. I then ordered the poached eggs & chorizo bubbles with caramelized onions on toasted bread. I must admit that there were what I thought as too many chorizo “bubbles” on my plate (and how do they stay “bubbly” for so long?). It was hard to see the food underneath but once I dug in, everything was excellent! The eggs were cooked to perfection and the chorizo slices were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. 


Poached eggs & chorizo bubbles with caramelized onions on toasted bread

My brunch companion went for the corn cakes with pork shoulder, sunny side up egg, patatas bravas and tomato salsa, a beautiful and very generous plate of food that he had a hard time finishing.


Corn cakes with pork shoulder, sunny side up egg, patatas bravas and tomato salsa

After our plates were cleared, there was a little dilemma at our table. We started debating whether or not we should order the sweet potato french toast with caramelized bananas and dark chocolate that had caught my eye on the menu. It was pure gluttony at this point since we were already full but really, was there ever a doubt? It was just too good to pass up! The french toast was soft and sweet and the bananas caramelized and drenched in sweet syrup. The dark chocolate and the fresh fruit added a nice contrast to the sweetness of the dish. Absolutely delicious!


Sweet potato french toast with caramelized bananas and dark chocolate

If Madre wasn’t so far away from where I live, I know that I would be there at least once or twice a week. And I know exactly what I would have too: ceviche, homemade corn bread and sweet potato bread pudding. Every time. The brunch was delicious and different from anything else you get in the city but the dish that will definitely keep me going back there is the ceviche, always.

Madre
2931 Masson, Montreal
514 315 7932

Dinner
Tuesday-Saturday: 5:30pm-10pm

Brunch
Sundays: 10am-2pm

Read my review of Mario Navarrete Jr’s À Table restaurant here.

Nov 29

Eleven Madison Park, now officially my favorite restaurant in New York


The grandiose Art Deco space

Although I spent my birthday at Le Bernardin, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in New York City (and maybe the world), that wasn’t my favorite dining experience on my trip to NYC. This was. I had been to Eleven Madison Park once before, a couple of years ago and had been wanting to go back ever since. Danny Meyer, the great New York City restaurateur, opened EMP in 1998. In 2006, the restaurant was changed from a French bistro to a fine dining establishment to better fit the grandiose Art Deco space it’s located in. When the first review from the New York Observer stated the restaurant needed “more Miles Davis”, a little research on what that meant concluded with a series of words most often used to describe the great jazz legend that now hang on the entrance to the kitchen and act as words of inspiration to the whole staff:


Inspirational words

2006 was also the year Daniel Humm (voted Best Chef New York City, 2010 by the James Beard Foundation) took over the EMP kitchen. Lunch at EMP was the last meal of a 4-day orgy of memorable dining experiences in NYC, and what a meal it was! I love the new “minimalist grid" menu which lets you chose the main ingredient of each one of your courses then lets the kitchen work its magic around that ingredient. We went for the 4 course menu, which - as you will see in the pictures below - ended being more like a 10-course magical meal.


"Minimalist grid" menu


Cheese gougères and “Onze” - an Eleven Madison Park Cabernet-Sauvignon

PRE-APPETIZERS

The meal started off with 3 appetizers before we even got to the bread service and our meal. I could have eaten 10 times the amount of each one of these appetizers. In fact, I could have made a whole meal out of each and every one of the dishes served that day.


Absolutely divine and perfectly seasoned chicken velouté with black truffle brioche - I will take a bathtub full of this, thank you very much!


Smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil - yes, that’s a real egg shell!


Truffled eggs topped with white truffle zabaglione - can anything be more perfect than this dish?

BREAD SERVICE

The bread service is an absolutely fascinating ritual at Eleven Madison Park. I watched it at our table and then again at a few tables around us and it was just as mesmerizing every time. The goat butter is divine and the home-made bread delicious.


Goat’s milk butter (left) and cow’s milk butter with olive bread and baguette baked on the premises

FIRST COURSE


Fennel braised with cara cara oranges, mojama and bulgur wheat


Scallops marinated with radish, persimmon and yuzu

SECOND COURSE


John Dory slow cooked with daikon radish, dried citrus, edamame and avocado oil


Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster with matsutake mushrooms and spinach

THIRD COURSE


Pork loin and belly roasted with sauerkraut pear and morcilla


Squab roasted with apples and cabbage

PRE-DESSERT


Kir Royal sabayon with cassis sorbet and lemon meringue - it really did taste like a Kir Royal!

DESSERTS


Happy birthday to me! Chocolate composition with variations (dehydrated chocolate mousse, chocolate honeycomb, etc.) with milk


Coconut vacherin with passion fruit and mango

POST DESSERT MIGNARDISES

Just in case we haven’t had enough food and were still hungry…


Sesame tuiles, truffles made with white chocolate and white Alba truffles (very peculiar taste, not my favorite) and banana sorbet lollipops dipped in chocolate and peanuts

BEHIND THE SCENES

Dining at EMP is not just about the food, it’s about the whole dining experience. Every single member of the staff is lovely, friendly, polite, knowledgeable, attentive and is there to make your dining experience memorable. I’d like to think that they were extra attentive with our table because it was my birthday and also because I was so enthusiastic about being there! The lovely birthday wish on my dessert plate was a great surprise, and so was an invitation to take a tour of the kitchen! We started in the service area, which was built this past fall with the purpose of eliminating the service stations in the restaurant thus reducing the noise level. The service area is where the bread trays and different kinds of coffees are prepared and where all the silverware and Limoges dinnerware are stored.


Service area before entering the kitchen

From there we moved into the kitchen, which was busy with 20 or more people all working their stations in preparation for that night’s dinner service. Chef Daniel Humm was away that day but on the kitchen walls was that Miles Davis poster among other words of wisdom and inspiration.


This is where all the magic happens: the kitchen staff busy prepping for the dinner crowd


… and they do make it very nice!

Another surprise awaited us in the kitchen… Mark (the pastry sous-chef, aka the alchemist) made us a frozen Hemingway daiquiri right before our eyes using liquid nitrogen while we watched the kitchen action. The frozen concoction included some grapefruit foam and pop rocks at the bottom of the glass for an added surprise!


Mark the alchemist!


Frozen Hemingway daiquiri (with a pop rock surprise at the bottom of the glass!)

That frozen daiquiri was the cherry on top of the amazing sundae that was that lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a delightful dining experience. Eleven Madison Park now has a permanent place on my New York restaurant list, in fact it probably has the top spot on my list of all-time favorite restaurants. I am already planning my next trip to the big apple because I can’t wait to go back!

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY
212 889 0905

Lunch
Monday–Friday noon – 2:00pm

Dinner
Monday–Saturday 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Nov 23

A birthday celebration at Le Bernardin

Women in business suits and running shoes, school kids in uniforms wheeling around heavy school bags, doormen in uniforms opening doors, nannies pushing fancy strollers… this is my New York, the upper east side of Manhattan that was my home for 3 years when I was 17 and the place I go back to every 6 months. I love waking up to the view towards downtown from the 29th floor apartment that I call home here. I may roam in the posh upper east side neighborhood but I love everything about this city. I love its gritty subways, the smell of food everywhere, the sense of urgency in the air as if everyone has somewhere important they need to be and how small one feels among the over-sized architecture. My feet get an extra spring in them when I walk down the streets there, and my face automatically lights up into a smile. New York fills my heart with excitement and my mind with inspiration; the possibilities are endless there and the opportunities infinite.


Photo: le-bernardin.com

That is true of the food opportunities as well. It is torture for a foodie to only have 4 days in the city and have to decide on where to eat! So many restaurants, so little time, even if you fill out every hour of every day with a food-related rendez-vous, which I did! It is even more impossible to decide on where to go when you have something to celebrate. I had a birthday to celebrate last Friday and it took me weeks to finally decide on Le Bernardin following Eve's suggestion on twitter (thank you Eve!). I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before really. I met executive chef Eric Ripert when I was at the Food & Wine Festival in South Beach last year and thought he was the nicest, most generous man. I had told myself that I should try and visit Le Bernardin next time I was in New York and I had completely forgotten! So glad Eve reminded me. It is not often that I eat at a restaurant that’s been awarded 3-stars by the Michelin Guide and 4 by the New York Times. The experience now ranks in the top 10 dining experiences I’ve ever had.

We started with a cocktail and an amuse bouche of poached shrimp on a bed of sweet potato purée with a sambal emulsion. If this was any indication of how the rest of the meal was going to go, I couldn’t wait to dig in because this first dish was just delicious! We opted for the Chef’s tasting menu ($185 per person, $325 with wine pairing) and the food started coming. I’m sorry to say that in my haste to start eating, I forgot to take a picture of the first dish, which was a smoked yellowfin tuna “prosciutto” with Japanese pickled vegetables and crispy kombu. I apologize about that! Now, let the food parade commence!


Seared langoustine, mâche and wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras  


Osetra caviar nestled in tagliolini warm sea urchin sauce


Baked lobster, pickled golden beets, fennel and citrus “à la nage”


Bread crusted red snapper, ink-tapioca “caviar”, smoked sweet paprika sauce   


Poached turbot, wild mushroom and black truffle custard, spiced squab jus

And the desserts:


Parsnip crème brulée, roasted hazelnut, browned milk solids, vanilla salt


Maralumi milk chocolate parfait, liquid pear, gingersnap


My special birthday dessert, what an amazing surprise! Passion fruit parfait, ginger caramel, peach-lemongrass sorbet


Mignardises: pistachio and cherry financier, chocolate and caramel, pâte à choux with hazelnut cream and apple and Concord grape pâte de fruits on white chocolate

Coming from Montreal, what always impresses me the most about these high-end Michelin-star restaurants is the level of service you get. We have amazing food in Montreal but none of the restaurants in the city have that level of service. While at Le Bernardin, I looked up from my plate at one point and all I saw was what seemed like a perfectly choreographed ballet of waiters, weaving in and out between tables without ever letting their presence be felt. Plates are changed, glasses refilled, cutlery replaced constantly and it never gets in the way of a conversation or the intimacy you share with your dining companions. The waiters are courteous, knowledgeable, polite, and the restaurant is elegant without being stuffy. By the time we asked, chef Ripert had already left the restaurant. I would’ve loved to have him autograph the complimentary menu and Zagat guide book we got on our way out and to tell him how I truly enjoyed spending my birthday there.

"Fish is the star of the plate, not the chef" - states the last page of the menu in big letters. I tend to agree with that statement because the fish (all sustainable) on the plate is absolutely phenomenal, but then again, where would that fish be without the talent of the chef and his whole team?

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street

New York City

212 554 1515

Lunch
Monday–Friday noon – 2:30pm

Dinner
Monday–Thursday, 5:15pm – 10:30pm
Friday & Saturday 5:15pm - 11pm

Nov 05

Best dessert in Montreal at Les 400 Coups restaurant



To do the 400 “coups” - to get into all kinds of mischief

I had been anticipating the opening of Les 400 coups for a few weeks now. I was especially anticipating tasting some of pastry chef Patrice Demers's desserts. I couldn't get there soon enough so I made reservations for their second day of opening this past Tuesday night.

The restaurant is located on Notre-Dame street in Old Montreal where the old Resident used to be. The space is airy with very high ceiling, a bar on one side and an open kitchen in the back. A huge painting of Nicolas Ruel covers one whole wall of the restaurant. We were greeted by sommelière Marie-Josée Beaudoin - who is one of the 3 owners - seated by the window and of course offered a nice glass of Sauternes. Chef/owner Marc-André Jetté’s menu seemed very interesting and creative but I couldn’t make up my mind and asked the waiter for an omakase-style (up to the chef) appetizer and main meal. A tasting menu is available but we weren’t hungry enough for a 5-course meal.


Jerusalem artichoke soup with buttermilk mousse and bottarga shavings

The first course we got was a Jerusalem artichoke soup with buttermilk mousse and bottarga shavings delivered by Demers himself. This meal was boding well because the soup was absolutely spectacular! 


Yellow beetroot salad with crispy beef marrow, radish, yogurt and yuzu


Beef tartare with mustard ice cream

It was followed by our 2 appetizers: a yellow beetroot salad with crispy beef marrow, radish, yogurt and yuzu and a beef tartare with mustard ice cream. The beetroot salad was so fresh and who knew I would enjoy deep fried beef marrow so much? The tartare could very well be the best beef tartare I’ve ever had! And the mustard ice cream? Absolute genius!


Mackerel with Peking duck raviolis, parsnip purée and brussels sprouts


Black cod with dashi, rock shrimp, oyster mushrooms & green apple/wasabi condiment

Not knowing what to expect adds so much to the dining experience. The element of surprise is like receiving a gift from the kitchen. From where I was sitting I could see Jetté and Demers hard at work in the kitchen and I couldn’t wait to see what they were going to be sending our way. We got the mackerel with Peking duck raviolis, parsnip purée and brussels sprouts and the black cod with dashi, rock shrimp, oyster mushrooms and a green apple/wasabi condiment. Both fishes were cooked to perfection, tender and moist and absolutely scrumptious.


Green: apple, pistachio, olive oil, coriander and creamy white chocolate yogurt


Araguani chocolate mousse

The time had come for my very favourite course of any meal but especially this one, since I was so looking forward to Demers’s desserts. We picked the desserts ourselves and I went for the chef’s signature Green dessert, a mix of apple, pistachio, olive oil, coriander and creamy white chocolate yogurt, absolutely divine! We also tried the Araguani chocolate mousse with pear sorbet, caramelized nuts and sapote which was amazing as well.

One would think that for a chocoholic like me, the choice would be obvious - and it usually is - but I walked out of Les 400 coups seeing the world though green-tinted glasses! I wanted to take a green home but was told it wouldn’t make it. I guess that just means I’m going to have to go back soon.

Les 400 coups
400 Notre Dame East
514 985 0400

Oct 24

Brunch at Birks Café: All about the details

Does having breakfast in a jewelry store that sells jewels in little blue boxes ring any bells? Well, let’s just say that I’m no Audrey Hepburn but the ambiance at Birks does make you feel like a princess, if only for a few hours… And for me, it was all about the ambiance and the attention to detail because honestly, even though the food was good, it was not mind-blowing.

When you arrive at Birks for brunch, the table is already set with beautiful cutlery and china, a basketful of mini croissants and pains au chocolat, a home-made brioche and some home-made jam. The brunch menu is a fixed $39.50 menu which includes everything that’s on the table plus a “teaser” (amuse-bouche), 2 courses, a dessert and as many coffees, teas and/or mimosas as you can handle. I ordered a latté which arrived in a tiny little cup (think big espresso cup). I did notice later on that the “regular”coffee that’s included in the brunch menu is actually a french press one so will be ordering that if I do go back since I really didn’t get nearly enough caffeine with my tiny cup of latte.

The “teaser” that day was a bacon-wrapped prune. In my opinion, it could’ve definitely benefited from a bit more cooking so that the bacon crisps up a bit… However, without dwelling too much on that little detail, we moved on to the next course which was my favourite of the savory ones: a ricotta-shiitake ravioli with a porcini emulsion, topped with a poached egg, pine nuts, black truffle shaving and truffle oil, outstanding! A beautiful dish where every component was cooked to perfection. I would gladly give up on the other courses just to have more of this one!

The third course was a smoked salmon tartare, topped with Abitibi caviar and surrounded by a zucchini “lasagne”. I thought that the zucchini was not seasoned enough and even though the tartare was very fresh and good, I personally did not find it to be amazing.

I could see all the chocolates, macarons and financiers lining up the front of the restaurants in their jewelery cases… The pistachio financiers had left an impression on me during the opening night of the Café and I was looking forward to the sweet part of the meal. The desserts did not disappoint at all. I had a verrine of praline mousse with a tiny little meringue filled with chestnut bits and topped with an almond brittle and Marcella had a verrine of vanilla and coffee panna cotta with a white chocolate shell filled with salted butter caramel. All the dessert verrines sounded outstanding and we had a hard time picking just one.

I hear that Birks Café has a really good tea service and I look forward to trying it out. I saw some of the tea platters pass by and I am intrigued. I mean, what girl wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon in a jewelery store sipping on a Mariage Frères tea and munching on cute miniature food?

Birks Café by Europea
1240 du Square Phillips
514 397 2468

Oct 20

Kazu, a traditional Japanese izakaya in the heart of Montreal

This past Sunday evening, after a long day of eating my way through downtown Montreal with Marcella, we ended up at Kazu’s door at around 5pm for some more eating! I had been wanting to try out this tiny Japanese izakaya retaurant for a while now and had been disappointed to find it closed the last two times I tried to go… This time around, we were the first ones in an increasingly long line-up and ended up getting the prized window table when the doors finally opened after a half hour wait!

The restaurant is shockingly tiny, with 3 tables down one side of the space and 8 seats at the bar. The small kitchen behind the bar is where you’ll find chef (and owner) Kazuo Akutsu whipping up his magical dishes. There is a rudimentary menu consisting of a few torn pages bound together by a ring on each table with red dots next to the items that aren’t available that night but the real menu is made up of all the daily specials written on coloured paper and taped up to the wall of the restaurant. The papers come off the wall when they run out of a dish, which seemed to happen a couple of times while we were there.


Fresh home-made tofu

We were lucky to be there on a Sunday, the only day Kazu makes fresh home-made tofu. I’m not a big fan of tofu, unless it’s fried which doesn’t really count, but this tofu was silky and smooth, and was marinating in an outstanding light soy sauce and spice mix. Absolutely heavenly!


"48 hour pork" rice bowl

The dishes are perfectly timed by the very efficient waitresses at Kazu. It takes the organizational skills of an army general to run the place efficiently since the line-up outside the door never lets up. The next dish to arrive at our table was the "48 hour pork" rice bowl. The pork is marinated for 48 hours and the dish is the perfect balance of flavours with little tangy and salty surprises every time you bite into a bright pink piece of pickled ginger: perfection!


Tuna and salmon bowl


Barbecue pork necks

Both fishes in the bowl of tuna and salmon to arrive soon after were incredibly fresh but we were eying the bowls full of meat that were on the other tables. These people seemed to be regulars and knew what to order so of course, we had to get an order of that! The barbecue pork necks turned out to be an incredibly good but very messy choice. There’s really no way to eat these gracefully, you just have to roll up your sleeves and go at it, even if people stare at you through the window! And yes, licking the sauce off your fingers is perfectly acceptable behaviour at Kazu :)

Dessert consisted of a bowl of vanilla ice-cream topped with matcha powder. Let’s just say that next time- and there will definitely be a next time- I’ll be skipping the dessert to leave room for more savoury dishes. There are so many to try!

There must be hundreds of sushi places in Montreal but Japanese izakayas are still a rarity. I fell in love with Bistro Izakaya on Parc not long ago and couldn’t wait to dig into what Kazu had to offer. Turns out, despite the line-up, claustrophobic space and smoke-filled room (or maybe because of those things), I am eager to go back as soon as possible to sample all the other delights whipped up by the extremely talented chef. Who’s with me?

Kazu
1862 Ste-Catherine West
514 937 2333