Full thoughts with pictures in blog:
The Gist: http://www.europea.ca/index_en.html
The Why: Jerrome Ferrer is kind of a big deal in and around Montreal –Relais & Chateaux, 4-Diamonds, and the praise of many gourmands follow his name and a place in the Chaine des Rotisseurs particularly caught my attention. Admittedly a fan of fine dining with an agenda that otherwise included Quebecois staples of poutine, pigs feet, and as much maple syrup as I could find Europea seemed a perfect choice for my one solo night in Montreal – a good reason for the suit and tie as opposed to the Patrick Roy jersey, at the very least.
The Reservation: Opentable. 1 person at 8pm.
The Space: An old Victorian Mansion with bits of whimsy here and there the three storied building is actually quite beautiful and the space calm, save for the servers constantly running up and down the stairs from the basement kitchen. With bits of whimsy here and there – from Canadian sculptures to ornate lights and relics collected on Ferrer’s travels the feel of the room is something like Michel Rostang in Paris, or perhaps Guy Savoy without all the nooks and crannies.
The Service: Whether it was my inability to speak French, the fact that I only ordered one glass of wine, or an effect of the fact that there was a large (14 or so) table of regulars seated directly behind me I will simply say that the service at Europea was lacking. Twenty minute waits between courses, water unfilled for long periods of time, bread service unreplenished, and an inexplicable twenty minute wait at the end of the meal where not a single server walked within fifteen feet of my table (aside from up and down the stairs) to check in, refill coffee, or offer the bill. I was an island of one in the dead-center of the restaurant for the majority of my visit – something I’ve never experienced at such a restaurant and hope to never experience again. It was mentioned to the manager when I asked to see the kitchen at the end of the evening – he blew me off with an “oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that.”
The Food: $100 tasting menu, one $19 glass of ice wine, complementary canapes, amuses, mignardises, bread service, $4.50 coffee.
Stick with herbs and olive oil, goat cheese and pecorino lollypop, Canadian Prosciutto on a wire: The whimsy started quickly with this succession of small bites, each salty and somewhat reminiscent of items seen elsewhere on the ‘mg’ landscape, but only the prosciutto truly impressive with a darker and dried presentation really showing off some of the pork’s nutty funk.
Northern Quebec 1608 Cheese Cigar: Served with a funny little dehydrated wet-nap that rehydrated when warm water was poured tableside this was an excellent bite of a cheese I’d see frequently on the trip – certainly not your red-sauce Italian oily cheese stick.
Black Olive Clafoutis: One bite, served in a wooden box, and more of the savory. Good, but only if you truly fancy black olive as it was quite intense. In my opinion adding a sweet amuse or canape somewhere in the first 5 bites would have been a better course of action.
Bread and butter service with black olive rye, semolina white, parmesan oregano plus unsalted, seaweed, and hibiscus butter: My biggest issue with Europea was that the lady serving these was stingy and rarely present – I almost considered standing up and getting more bread from the warmer twice. Every option here was excellent and the hibiscus butter was a revelation on the toothsome white roll.
Teaser - Lobster cream Cappuccino with truffles shavings: Frothy and aromatic – there was no way this dish was going to fail.
Alaskan Salmon - smoked with maple wood, cracked pepper, Lemon Cream Sauce: An interesting bite served in a pastry cap – this is where the original canapes should have gone earlier as the flavors were complex and complimentary – a good sign of things to come.
Scampi: Scampi carpaccio, wild ginger roots bouillon, pearls and knotroots, Confit lemon juice: The weakest course of the evening in my opinion largely because the ginger was too pungent. A shabu-shabu of sorts in that the raw shrimp was presented and the broth poured tableside I think less broth or at least less ginger would have served the snappy and sweet crustacean better.
Calamari - Tagliatelle of Calamari Carbonara: With many chefs making squid noodles and turning everything into a haute carbonara I’ll simply say this dish could have fallen way short for me, but in fact it was probably the best of the night in terms of innovation and execution as the tender squid was nearly indistinguishable from al dente pasta while the use of a poached Quail Egg, squid ink and garlic butter croutons, and lemon ‘caviar’ all melded into a bright and balanced sauce – I could have eaten a giant bowl of this and left happy.
Foie Gras – Maple: In a trip filled with fatty fowl liver this was probably the most memorable in terms of ‘wow’ factor as a thick slice of the lobe arrive previously smoked over maple wood and seared on one side only to be placed on a hot river stone tableside and doused with ice wine allowing it to caramelize under a glass dome as I watched and enjoyed a tasty cloudberry canale meant to ‘whet the palate.” Smoky and unctuous, sweet with a crystalline crust giving way to supple fat – I’d be hard pressed to name five better foie preparations in the last five years.
Vin de Glace Inniskilin 2007: From the Niagara Peninsula – and excellent. Requested this with the foie course. Great mouthfeel, intensely sweet, good enough that I picked up a bottle the next day to take back to The States. Perhaps a bit of overkill when paired with the sweetness of the foie, it thankfully carried over to the next courses quite nicely all the way to dessert.
Lobster - Lobster marquise with Abitibi-Temiscamingue caviar, zucchini pearls, sparkling Orpailleur beurre blanc: A quick read of the ingredients is really all you need on this one. Snappy Nova Scotia lobster paired with caviar, zucchini, and boozy but balanced butter from the Quebec province – this was one of the times I considered getting up to obtain more bread, but thankfully a runner passed by just as I was finishing to collect the plate and I redirected him to the bread tray so the plate could return to the kitchen spotless.
Granite: Apparently feeling the palate would need refreshing at this point I was served this dry-ice smoking granite scented with wild tea. A nice presentation, sure, but too bitter for my palate – just keep hitting me with the heavy courses.
Raviole - Fresh organic-herb ravioli stuffed porcini mushrooms: Never afraid to serve up the bold flavors, this plate was the very essence of the earth and a perfect lead in to the final savory. Featuring “Seared Mushrooms picked by Mr Roberts” including a woodsy cascade of Enoki, Shitake, Morels, Honshimiji, and Trumpets served alongside thin noodles stuffed with truffled Enoki puree the dish was completed with buttery morel mushroom froth with the smell greeting you at 10 feet and the flavor every bit as powerful; this plate also returned to the kitchen without a spot.
Poule de Cornouaille: Presented tableside before being returned to the kitchen for carving and plating this whole Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot was first brined and infused with galangal then plated with sunchokes, shiitake mushrooms, and Granny Smith apples to form a good dish, but one that was perhaps a bit overcomplicated by the apple – a sour taste I found unnecessary while the rest was excellent...and speaking of excellent, a small side dish of supple thigh served over top ratatouille.
Fromages affinés: This dish annoyed me as it was listed as “Our Selection of Cheeses” when in fact it was a single slice that my server knew little about despite its local province. Titled “Louis D’Or” from Fromagerie du Presbytere and apparently a cow’s milk cheese that is pressed, cooked, and aged 24 months the fromage was served alongside mixed nuts and dried apricot bread. It was fine, but a selection would certainly have been preferred.
Passion Fruit Marshmallow, Violet Macaroon, Pistachio Raspberry Financier, Frozen Nougat with Rosemary/Pistachio/White Chocolate: Preceding dessert a plate of three small pastries arrived and although they were all fine, the lollipop was particularly impressive as the rosemary came through with aplomb melding the other flavors into an unexpected cheesecake sort of flavor I’d not have expected from the composition.
Coffee: At $4.50 and refilled infrequently at best I’d have expected a better brew. Mildly acidic, thin, simply not my style.
Chocolate Praline with poprocks lollypop, Pink Lemonade Cotton Candy, Box of Madelines: A second set of mignardises before proper dessert this whimsical trio was not as successful as the first on the whole, though I will give credit to both the quality and the quantity of the Madelines – at least two dozen of the warm cookies, and more than enough to take home to my mother and aunt.
White Chocolate with Raspberry compote, Raspberry Sorbet, Almond Cookie, Apricot Coulis: Proof that complex and beautiful does not always equal delicious this dish had all the parts that it should have been delicious, but with each of the meringue domes filled with tart raspberry puree while the apricot coulis was intensely sweet it felt like the constituents here were working against one another rather than together. Given my propensity for less fruity desserts perhaps this simply wasn’t my style, but either way I’d have preferred it be delicious than simply beautiful.
The Verdict: With the previously mentioned service flaws frequently marring the otherwise excellent cuisine and my comments about this blown off by the manager clearly tempering my feelings about a return to Europea I have to admit that on the whole the cuisine was quite goodt and at less than $100 before tax/tip (and converting to the US Dollar) Europea would not be out of place amongst the Michelin 1-Star restaurants of New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Certainly a bit of attention to detail would be welcomed, but taking into consideration the ravioli, squid noodles, and foie gras I cannot deny that the meal was a memorable one.