Dined with a friend at Les Halles when business took me to Toronto Wed night. Growing up in Montreal it was regarded as a special treat. Eating there after nearly 30 years, it was a shadow of itself in every way except price.
a) When I reserved no one told me that a large and raucous private party had taken over the main floor so we would be relegated to the large, characterless and fairly worn upstairs room - oh yes, able to hear the cheers and applause from the important people downstairs.
b) Our waiter was a self-described "character" whose shtick might go over well as Moishe's. However in a serious restaurant his patter, parts of which we heard repeated at other tables as the evening progressed, was more tedious than anything. He also had a really bad case of halitosis which the owners should remedy - it was offensive and detracted from such pleasure as was to be derived from the food.
c) We began with a foie gras terrine for my friend and an onion soup for me. The foie gras (for $35 !) was a minuscule portion (less than half that I'd enjoyed at L'Express the weekend previous) served with a weak Sauterne which the waiter seemed unable to identify. No toast presented with it. My onion soup was supposed to be a refined potage with cream and port - instead it arrived as a typical tourist cheese-laden meal in a bowl. Good in its way but not as described on the menu.
d) Main course of caribou for my friend - he described as tasty but chewy beef with a viscous dark sauce. Again not unpleasant, but rather like home cooking with a small splash of mash and some assorted veggies looking like Mr Swanson's selection though undeniably fresh ! My steak tartare was adequate, prepared without capers as I had asked, again not as flavourful as L'Express - and again, no toast presented. The accompanying green salad was carelessly thrown together with a tasteless vinaigrette. The fries were a disgrace, semi-limp with too much oil having been absorbed presumably as the result of being initially cooked at to low a temperature. My half bottle of Brouilly was a nice accompaniment at $55
e) The menu had listed many interesting desserts. But we were never offered a chance to see it at meal's end. Rather another waiter came by and showed us six or seven cakes, held in his hand, two at a time. including some already cut into and partially served -just like eat-up-the-dinner party-leftovers night at home ! My friend had a slice of apple cake (no creme anglaise, cream or even ice cream offered to accompany) that was soggy and dank rather than caramelized, with a commercial-tasting chewy crust. (Bad home cooking !) My Gateau Saint Honoré defiled that old horse's name by featuring stale bouches filled with tasteless whipped cream. Period. My capuccino arrived perhaps 10 minutes after it was ordered.
We beat a sad retreat. A sad old place. Would we have dined better and enjoyed more sophisticated service downstairs ? Hmm, well I don't intend to spend $300 to find out: too many interesting alternatives in Montreal. Rest in Peace - another boyhood memory bites the dust !
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