Restaurants & Bars

Quebec (inc. Montreal)

weekend impressions- Les Caprices des Nicolas and Chez la Mere Michel

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Restaurants & Bars

weekend impressions- Les Caprices des Nicolas and Chez la Mere Michel

Tony | Jun 1, 2004 12:05 AM

I am always glad when people post their impressions of places they’ve visited so here’s some notes from this weekend’s visits to Les Caprices des Nicolas and Chez la Mere Michel.

We visited Les Caprices at 8 pm on Friday. We had a table in the Garden room, really a big atrium with a skylighted ceiling. We were seated right away and the maitre d’hotel took his time explaining the menu selections and specials. The room was open, airy and nicely appointed. Although the space was big, and the tables nicely spaced, it still had a nice intimate feel. Contemporary style place settings- big square plates for main courses, nice stemware (nothing extra special but adequate). The amuse-bouche was a lightly smoked duck pastrami over shredded beet root.

Starters included a lightly smoked cod with warm fingerling potatoes, tomato leek terrine, horseradish and herring egg cream sauce served with home made rye bread; wild salmon and caviar potato crêpe with a lemon butter sauce; a Veal tail trilogy, (one a lobster stuffed terrine, another in ravioli and one crispy) with arugula salad topped with slivers of Reggiano, alongside drizzles of carrot and pistachio emulsion and also a lobster dish on special. With these we enjoyed a 98 Ch. de Villeneuve, a Saumur from the Loire. Our main courses included a Quebec lamb trilogy (shoulder, flank and chop), roasted with a hazel nut oil, grilled on an artichoke mousse and crispy cake with watercress salad; a pork selection (braised shoulder, two gorgeous chops from the rack and a trotter) and also a duck breast special done with passion fruit. Our wine was a Bordeaux, a 2000 Ch. Montlisse from St. Emilion.

This was followed by an impressively varied cheese board. We each sampled five or six- including a cheese from the Magdalen Islands, a beautiful Quebec cheese called “pied a vent” and a wonderfully rich, flavorful Epoisses.

Desserts sampled included pineapple vanilla confit, almond crumble, banana sorbet and a saffron emulsion; passion fruit and maple syrup iced parfait, preserved kumquat, sponge fingers and brandy snap basket; and warm chocolate and espelette pepper Financier, white chocolate mousse, Banyuls caramel and a pinbina jelly .

The chef’s selections had us complimenting the rich and varied flavors- inventive but with a real sense of balance without that “wow, look at how many different ingredients we can combine on this plate” feeling from some places that just try to hard to push it. Presentation was gorgeous, everything was cooked to perfection and the timing and pace of the meal was spot on. The bill came to $545.00 CDN for four.

The next night we stopped in at Chez la Mere Michel for a meal of fine, classic French cuisine. We were not disappointed. Again at 8pm, we were seated right away. The room was full and the waiter had his hands full with five tables in his area but service was excellent. This was a nice warm-feeling space, although the tables were a bit tighter than optimal. I felt sorry for a couple who were placed in between two parties of four- not much of a chance for a nice intimate dinner, I would have asked to be moved if in their place. The décor is refined country French. We were in the front portion of the restaurant and although there is another space to the back that seemed pleasant enough, it was open to smokers, so we opted for the front room. Floral patterns on the china, classic French table service, it reminds me of what it would be like to visit some one at home- if that person had a big old house and just happened to be a first rate French chef!

The menu was like a good friend you’ve known for years but never tire of. Starters we tried were escargots; fine big scallops still in the shell in a nice garlic,and butter sauce; an onion tart and a swiss cheese soufflé. With these we had a bottle of Montagny, a Cote Chalonaisse Burgundy.

For mains, we tried beef tenderloin with a perfect béarnaise sauce, small mushrooms and julienne frites; rognons de veau prepared with a a flambe of Armagnac; and a fragrant, tender, braised rabbit with herbs and that beautifully flavorful brown sauce I could eat all the time if I could get it. Wine was a Ch. De Cruzeau, a Graves from Pessac-Leognan.

Desserts were anticipated as three ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé (you need to let the waiter know at the start of the meal)and were not disappointed. I had a Poire Gourmande- a very nicely poached pear atop a duo of apricot and raspberry sorbets.

Our waiter was from Nice and the owner of the restaurant is from nearby Frejus on the French Riviera- we all chatted a bit about the area as we have rented a villa only about ½ hour from Frejus for the past three summers and are heading that way in only two weeks. Price for four was $385.00 CDN.

Two completely different experiences but both absolutely satisfying in their own way. I would recommend either without hesitation. We also stopped in at Atwater Market on Sunday before heading home. Le Douceurs was terrific and worth the trip. The fromageries were also impressive- we had a sinfully creamy Brillat-Savarin and a demi from Premier Moissons as a snack while browsing the always colorful vegetable and flower market.

A surprisingly disappointing lunch of sausages and frites (disappointing because they were SO much better the last time we visited and we went back especially for that) on the nice sunny terrace with a Boreale Rousse at Boris Bistro before heading home capped of the weekend’s fun.

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