Just getting back from a short stay in Montreal for a conference. I had the chance to revisit some old haunts and check out new places too. Some of my impressions below:
Frites Alors: this has always been a favourite, so I was surprised to see they've opened a new location on St. Laurent (well, it's new to me. I understand it opened up a few years back). I have to say that the St. Laurent strip mentality has taken over the place a bit. The table service was a bit on the dismissive side, maybe because our server was the only one working the floor and also the till. We had the fries with a couple of the sauces, and there again found them to be a far cry from the ones I remember - they used to be thin, long and blonde strips of fabulously twice-fried spuds. What we got this time was a lot more like what you;d get at a chip stand - dark, made from unpeeled potatoes, and actually quite chewy. I got the impression the oil wasn't hot enough, and they were cooked too long. So, was it an off day, or is this really what they're doing now? On the plus side, the belgian beer selection was great, and a couple of glasses of Leffe were just what I needed on a hot afternoon.
L'Express: we arrived without reservations on a busy Friday night, and it was packed. WE waited maybe 10-15 minutes to be seated. The maitre d' was fairly friendly and cooperative, and eventually sat us at the bar. The ambiance was fabulous: the stainless steel bar was great to sit at, and with all the mirrors we had a good view of the whole space, which was a lot smaller than I recall. I loved the warm colours of the walls, and the lighing was turned down just a bit so that it didn't feel like you were at Schwartz's. We ordered a bottle of Cahors from the extensive wine list (mostly French), and absolutely loved it. The bartender was also our server, and he was quite friendly and helpful. We both spoke french which I'm sure scored us some points, but he also seemed happy to translate some of the menu items as needed. When we sat down, he immediately brought bread, gerkhins and mustard, which made for a good pre-meal snack. Dinner itself was a poached salmon on chervil mashed for myself, and the roasted duck breast for my friend. Both were quite good; the fish was just cooked enough, and the medium rare duck breast was as ordered. Dessert was creme caramel and a plate of quebec cheese, which again were as advertised though not spectacular.
On Saturday night I had dinner at Rosalie, which I've never been to before. Like a lot of places on St. Laurent and Downtown, it's a big space that is designed to be noisy and busy, and a hot spot for the 'beautiful' crowd. I'm afraid the most notable thing about the place was the female wait staff's uniforms, which were skimpy dresses that leaft nothing to the imagination. We were a big group, and although we arrived ontime, had to wait by the bar for a few minutes while the table was set up. The bar drinks were nothing special, and quite overpriced ($10 for a glass of Rosemount Chardonnay?) The meal itself was on the OK side. Everyone seemed happy with it but there were few rants and raves. My monkfish was good, but not fabulous. I found our server to be fairly knowledgeable about the wine and food, and was also quite helpful considering we were a large party. She also did a good job of divvying up the check and running what must have been 10 credit cards. Maybe my biggest qualm was how the place is conceived - it's more of a nightclub and as the evening goes on the bar starts to get quite packed. While there's some effort to keep this from overflowing into the table area, you really do get the feeling you're on display.