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Successful quest for wok hai in Mercier! Restaurant Maison Basilic

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Successful quest for wok hai in Mercier! Restaurant Maison Basilic

moh | Dec 14, 2008 06:23 AM

Some of you may have read a thread I started on the "Not About Food" board on CHow-Crushes:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/553439

I was posting about a hole-in-the-wall Chinese take-out/resto place in Verdun where we found the most amazing wok hai (breath of a wok). The two cooks were leaving for other places, and so I did not post about this place on the Quebec board, as I did not want to post about pleasures none of you could hope to enjoy. One of the cooks has sadly left for Chicoutimi, but the wok master, Ming, has now been found in Mercier!

Restaurant Masion Basilic is located on the main street or Mercier, near the town hall, and across from the Ultramar. It is not fancy, and when we were there, it was very drafty in the resto, and quite cold. We ate our meal with our coats on, and managed. We noticed there was a steady stream of take-out customers, so I suspect there are many who have discovered the joys of this resto, but have decided to eat in the comfort of their own home in front of the Habs game. Smart people! The one drawback to this plan is that you don't get to fully appreciate the marvel of wok hai, the breath of a wok, the magical quality food gets when it is skillfully prepared in a well-seasoned wok over high high heat, higher than most of us mere mortals can attain in our home kitchens. Wok hai only lasts for a few minutes, and it is imperative to eat the dish immediately after it comes off the wok, so you can't really get that when you do takeout. Hence the coats.

The menu is deceivingly simple, and at first glance, one might dismiss it as being a typical dumbed-down North American Asian menu with no redeeming qualities. Fried rice, chow mein, pork spareribs, General Tao, beef with broccoli, even some Thai dishes. But do not be fooled. Ming is a master of technique. He can take the most mundane ingredients and turn them into a revelation. The key here is his impeccable frying/wok technique.

We weren't sure if we had found the right resto. We had been given some vague instructions before he left the last resto in Verdun, but we knew that there was another Asian resto in Mercier, and we weren't sure if he was definitely in Mercier, as life can change. But when we peeked into the kitchen, there he was over the wok station, wonderful smells emanating from his general vicinity. I squealed, and started yelling "Ming! Ming!" At first he was confused, but when he saw my bouncing dancing hand-clapping, and my friend's broad grin (he looked like a mongoose in love) he broke into a great big smile. After a joyful reunion, we asked him to make us whatever he wanted, whatever he thought was good.

We started with a simple egg drop soup, made with vegetables, diced shrimp, and strips of barbequed pork. The vegetables were the standard frozen vegetable mix, and yet, the soup was a delicate symphony of clear flavours and textures, with a true finesse that one expects from high quality Cantonese cooking. So simple and pure.

Then came a beautiful stir-fry of shrimps and chinese vegetable in a clear consomme-based broth thickened with ?corn starch?. There were slivers of fresh ginger and bell pepper beautifully placed on top. Ahh! Such perfect wok hai! The shrimp was tender and juicy, delicately flavoured by the sauce, and the greens were crisp yet seared through. Yet another symphony.

Next dish: battered deep-fried pork in a dark red sweet and sour sauce, surrounded by steamed broccoli. Served with a side dish of Tuong ot toi sauce, Vietnamese chile-garlic sauce that you can add if you want a bit of zing. On the surface, a stereotypical dish that reminds you of every bad North American Chinese buffet. But with Ming executing, this dish is a masterful reminder of the noble history of this dish, of everything deep-fried pork balls should be in a Utopian world. The batter is incredibly crispy, there is no grease, no sogginess, just perfect frying. The pork is tender and hot, and the sauce is balanced, not overly cloying as many sweet and sour sauces can become. The broccoli is perfectly steamed and acts as a nice counterpoint to the sauce and pork balls.

To end the evening, thin rice stick noodles stir-fried with beef and onions. Thin, marinated tender slices of beef melt in your mouth. The onions are caramelized by the high heat, and add a savoury bite to the beef and noodles. And the noodles are so satisfying, nice bite, no clumps of noodles, so delicious.

Now all of these dishes are off the menu, but none of them were particularly unusual in ingredients. I would have no problem ordering anything off the menu, as again, it is the technique which is so noteworthy. I ordered a cantonese chow mein to go off the regular menu, and although it did not have its wok hai when I ate it for breakfast, it was still very flavourful and satisfying.

I have no reason to go to Mercier, but I am making up reasons now. This place is an absolute gem! Plus, it is very inexpensive (about $7-10 per dish on the regular menu, although our special shrimp dish was $12, and worth every penny!). Even better, Ming has offered to make us his fabulous crispy duck dish if we call in advance and warn him so he can get the ingredients. I have been dreaming about this dish since I first had it 3 months ago. I am so happy....

I would say that this is a place worth making a trek to. They have revamped their menu in October 2008, just about the time that Ming started working there. I would probably stick to the Cantonese/Chinese items, as I have not tried the Thai dishes, and I suspect they aren't Ming's specialties. Now you aren't going to find unusual ingredients, or luxury items. You won't have a lot of selection. You will find some suspect items with frozen beans/carrots/peas that sound tired and uninspired at first glance. But if you look past the cracked veneer, you will find a master chef, and you will find wok hai. This place delivers that which we all seek when we fruitlessly go to all those nameless, faceless Chinese restaurants.To quote the commercials: Priceless.

Restaurant Maison Basilic (Basil House
)850 Boul. St. Jean-Baptiste (highway 138)
Mercier
(450) 692-6889
Open: 7 days a week, 16:00-21:30

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