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Ariel Restaurant - Review


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Ariel Restaurant - Review

meninthekitchendotca | Jan 27, 2009 01:54 PM

With all the fantastic restaurants around our city, it's not difficult to
understand why this charming little spot has gotten lost in the shuffle.
Hidden between Sherbrooke and De Maisonneuve, this basement-level restaurant
was actually built using the exposed outside stone wall of its neighbour. I
don't know what it is about wood and exposed stone, but it gives me a
really nice, almost reassuring sense of comfort. And on a cold winter day,
this hidden spot is very inviting. The staff was charming, professional and
on point.

Call me weird, but I can always get a sense of how the meal's going to be
by the bread(if any) served beforehand, and this place was no exception.
Fresh, warm crusty ciabatta buns came served with a sun dried tomato pesto
that was just delish! I could have eaten the whole bowlful just straight up
with a spoon.

We ordered the tasting menu, and the first dish to come out was a raw
raspberry point(PEI) oyster on a bed of raw sea salt, accompanied by a
house-smoked salmon on a cracker, drizzled with a bit of sour cream and
dill. The oyster had a very provocative texture, and you could definitely
taste the sea, but at the same time it wasn't too salty. The house-smoked
salmon wasn't too salty, either, which I find to be a problem with most
store-bought brands. The only problem with this course was that it was a
tease. By the time you got into it, it was already gone.. that sort of left
me wanting more.

Next course to come out was the soup, a pumpkin-vanilla creme cappuccino
(?!). This was a good counterpoint to the savoury cold amuse-bouches we had
just eaten. Nice and frothy, the sweet flavor of the gourd complimented the
vanilla foam very nicely. This was served in a cappuccino mug with no spoon,
as it was meant to be drunk straight from the cup. Very nice soup, but the
consensus was that it was a tad sweet for a dinner course. Dessert,

After the soup came a Moroccan-spiced octopus with a chickpea salad.
Being part Mediterainan myself, this dish really spoke to my genes. The
octopus was perfectly grilled, and the spice rub(if I had to guess-paprika,
cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, pepper) has a very familiar,
comforting flavor, that was paired with the interesting tender-yet-firm texture of
the octopus. The chickpea salad was also very nice, simple and fresh, with
a hint of citrus to cut the spice of the octopus.

Following the octopus came a duck breast with what I believe was some sort
of a port wine reduction, accompanied by a roasted endive in an orange
reduction. The duck was cooked perfectly-most of the fat had been rendered
out, leaving behind a sweet and crispy skin over juicy red-brown meat. What
really stood out to me during this course, however, was the endive. I'm
usually put off by how bitter it is so I never really developed a taste for
it. In this dish, however, the roasting had allowed the endive to
carmelize, and paired with the orange(another plant that can be bitter at
times), the balance of sweet-sour and bitter was just perfect. It really
made me re-think my approach to this leaf :)

At this point I was busting, but our server (who was also the Maitre D')
Dan served us up another plate of classic delicious that we just couldn't
resist on a blistering cold winter night: braised short ribs. Being
carnivores, this comforting meal is what the three of us has been waiting
for. If only it had come sooner...plated three ribs atop three circular
beds of sauteed spinach alongside three circular purees of carrot and
cumin, the presentation gave a clean, light look to the heaviest dish we
were presented. Meat was cooked to perfection-falling off the bone juicy
and delicious. Spinach was spinach, and the carrot-cumin puree was a little
exceedingly cuminesque for my partners, but I liked it just fine. If there was one
thing I could change about this dish, it would either be to cut the portion
down to 2(mind you I was full by the time the food came) and create a
variety of purees to compliment this dish-It's almost a crime not to have
a nice side of mashed potatoes to soak up the excess rib juice!
By this time, I was fully busting, eyes glazed over and top button
undone... But there was more.

Thankfully it was only dessert, and a little bit of it. Thin slice of rich
chocolate cream cake on a crispy chocolate wafer base with homemade ice
cream on the side. Very nice, albeit pretty standard as far as desserts go.

On a subsequent visit to Ariel with some family I sampled the seared
scallops and the phyllo wrapped shrimp. Reflecting back on the tasting menu
I had had before, I was really astounded that these two dishes were not
included. They were also perfectly cooked, but not only that, they were
*outstandingly* good. I mean wow, I have yet to try better scallops
anywhere; that's no lie.

In sum, if you are going to dine at Restaurant Ariel, I would suggest (1)
definitely going with a date and (2) ordering different dishes to share for
variety. Granted the tasting menu was massive, we felt that one could have
easily been shared by two, if you order another dish with it.

As for the price, this spot will definitely cost you, but not as much if
you're sharing. That being said, I don't think this restaurant really
caters to the 18-25 crowd budget. The only reason I mention this is that
with the proper promotion and close proximity to McGill University, it
could provide a great opportunity to introduce this demographic to fine
dining(see my review on Lemeac). Then again, that's their prerogative. You can
tell that the ingredients and methods of preparation are quite spot-on, and
no corners are being cut to generate a profit. According to Dan the Maitre
D', there is no category to classify the cuisine served in this restaurant.
If I were hard-pressed, I would call it some sort of
french-quebec-local-mediterranian-japanese fusion spot. It's as confusing
as it is tasty, and with Valentine's day around the corner, I would
definitely call this place a good bet. 3.65/5

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