Restaurants & Bars

Quebec (inc. Montreal)

A Review of Le Renoir, Brunoise, Coo Rouge, L'Express, Cube, Cafe Vasco da Gama and Lucca (from a non-visitor) VERY VERY LONG!!!

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A Review of Le Renoir, Brunoise, Coo Rouge, L'Express, Cube, Cafe Vasco da Gama and Lucca (from a non-visitor) VERY VERY LONG!!!

Beccaroo | May 8, 2006 08:21 PM

As a "starving student" I only really eat out when my parents come to visit. Fortunately for me, that's pretty often, and this weekend was one of those experiences.
I should note in advance that I won't be able to comment much on the wines. They were all wonderfull, but as we always let my dad order them, I never look at the names long enough to remember what we had, so while I can say that they were good, I can't say what "they" were.
We started our weekend of feasting with a quick Saturday lunch at LE RENOIR, as my parents stayed at the Sofitel and they got into town at lunch time. Who was I to deny a lunch there, even though I was about to make my own? It was a lovely lunch, not cheap by any means, but nothing at a Sofitel hotel ever is. We decided to eat lightly, as we ate lunch at about 2:30 and were having dinner at 7:30.
I started with a creamy mussel and safron soup, which had just enough safron to taste, but not so that it became heady and overwhelming. Following this I had a lovely tuna tartare that came with a little salad and a sesame biscuit. The tuna was melt in your mouth delicious, and the accompaniment was flavourfull, but not overpowering, so you could still enjoy the taste of the tuna.
My mom had the same soup and then followed it with a spiced poach pear filled with goat cheese, served with smoked duck and an arugula salad. She said the goat cheese had a nice pungent taste, (none of that flavourless shite you find at the grocery store), the pear was a lovely texture (too many times, pears are overpoched and become soggy) and the flavours complemented each other well, as did the textures, what with pungent creamy cheese, sweet granular pear, tender savoury duck and a tangy dressing.
My Dad opted for a main course (where as my mom and I had two appetizers each) choosing the roasted venison liver served with a celeriac gratin. He said the liver was tender, and not too gamey (they live in Alberta and spend most of their time at their winter retreat in the rocky mountains in BC, and he noted that the venison here is much less gamey then that out there, a good thing I am told). The celeriac was not to his taste, but I snagged a taste, and it was lovley, not too heavy or rich, something that is difficult to accomplish with gratins, though using celeriac does lighten it automatically. (nb: My dad is a man of few words, so the dishes he had will not get as much commentary as my mom's and mine)

Dinner on Saturday was at BRUNOISE. A restaurant highly applauded on this website, and it will only receive more applauds. I have to commend it on one thing especially. I went to diner feeling quite ill, so ill in fact that I got to "taste" my dinner a second time at home later that night. Despite this, I still found the food delicious. (I am one of those people who loses all appetite when sick, and find even the foods I usually love to be blase and unappealing). The only complaint I have is that the breads were beyond salty. I am a salt-a-holic, and even I found them almost unbearable. Thinking that it might be sensitivity due to illness, I asked my parents what their thoughts were, and they agreed that the bread had waaaay too much salt in and on it. It's a shame, because with a lot less salt, the olive bread especially, would have been outstanding. Oh well, we didn't go for the bread, so it's only a minor, minor complaint. We had a lovely amuse-bouche, a potato vichyssoise with (I belive) walnut oil drizzled on top. Amazing! My what that oil did to it! I normally am not a fan of vichyssoise, but I could eat this one again and again.
To start the actual meal, I had a bourride of mussels, potato and celery. This was a "Mediterranean bouillabaisse" It was served with this vividly yellow safron foam (a little more mouse-y than foamy, which was quite nice.. almost looked like bright yellow whipped cream) When mixed into the dish, the whole dish took on a yellow creamy aqppearance, and the delicate safron taste and creamy texture mixed wonderfully with the tender mussels, and the tender, yet firm cubes of potatoes. The celery was perfectly cooked. This seems minor, but I have so often had dishes with celery in which the celery was either mush or it was raw.

I completely forget what my parents started with.. sorry.. mine was soo good that, while I tried to take in their meals too.. well I got lost in my own. I do recall that they thought they were excellent though....

For the main course I had the seared scallops, which were amazingly tender. They were medium-rare on the inside, which left them juicy and sweet, and they were slightly caramelized on the outside which just sent me to heaven. They were served with some crisp harricots verts and white asparagus. Very nice, nothing special, but the vegetables were not the main focus, so they did what they were supposed to: that is, support the meal whithout taking away the focus from the delicious scallops. They were also served with pink grapefruit, which is a fruit I normally adore. But this grapefruit was overly tart.. I don't believe they are in season right now. Perhaps a better choice of citrus at this time would have been better, at least until the grapefruits come into season.

My mom had the special, which was cod. It was extremely light and mild. Because of its light flavour, it took well to the sauces it was served with. (I'm not sure what they were, but she said they were lovely, and not overpowering, despite the fish's delicacy)

My dad had the Confit Guinea Hen leg, which had a cocoa-cumin sauce. The waiter poured the sauce over the leg at the table, and when he did, oh goodness, I almost started to drool. It smelled absolutley out of this world!!! From what my dad said, it tasted just as good as it smelled.

For dessert, my dad made his usual claim of "oh.. none for me..." so just my mom and I ordered (though all three of us ate) My mom again went for the special, which was a maple cake. It got great reviews from her, but I was too interested in my dessert to press further.

I had the vanilla panacotta with basil syrup and passionfruit, served with house petits-fours. outstanding!!! (My dad, the non-desset orderer ate about as much of this as I did!) The panacotta was to die for. Vanilla is my favorite flavour and this embodied the bean so well. The syrup and the passionfruit floating on top made such an amazing contrast that this dessert reminds me of the quality of those found at Les Chevres! The texture of the panacotta was perfect. Not grainy, or too gelatenous. Just pure melt in your mouth deliciousness. The petits-fours were delightfull. there were 8 of them. They included a lovely caremel, a chocolate carame, which I gave to my dad, and he loved it (I lack the ability to taste "bitter" -it's a genetic thing- so I can't taste the flavour profile of chocolate, so I usually pass fine chocolate treats along to someone who can appreciate them) a mini lemmon curd on a wafer (my favorite of them all) a fruity jelly, and a delicate shortbread cookie. I can't recall the other ones, but they were all wonderfull.

After a long espresso for my mom and a cappucino for my dad, (by this point I just wanted to get home and lie down, so no drink for me) Our first day of eating was ober.

Sunday started with an early brunch at COO ROUGE, a small hole in the wall on Amherst, that I love for it's atmosphere and it's hot-smoked salmon (served only at brunch). I usually only like cold-smoked salmon, but this is the exception, and it's worth going here just for that and the great people.

Sunday lunch followed at L'EXPRESS. We have lunch here everytime my parents come, and while it gets on and off reviews, I still love it.
I started with the Soupe Paysane, which is nice and light (I've had it a million times before.. ok an exageration.. and it's always great!) It's a nice starter, is not too filling, and is an easy way to get in some veggies ( an often difficult thing to do when dining only at restaurants).
My mom at the Sorrel Soup, which is delicious, nice and light with that slight tang to it.
We both followed this with our favorite dish there, the Pieuvres et lentilles (A concoction of lentils and octopus surrounded by olive slices, herbs, oils etc) It truly is wonderful. I hate to admit this, but I have had this dish the last 5 times I've been to L'Express (I'm a sucker for what I like) (As you may notice my mom and I prefer to do the two appetizer thing when it comes to lunch, rather than a main course).
My dad had a main course, which was belive pheasant, or some other small foul, served on a light salad. Very tender and flavourful was the brief report from him. He followed this with a Charlotte aux framboises, which was light and creamy and just "hit the spot" (this coming from the man, who the night before told us that he doesn't eat dessert.... such a lie)
I have to say once again that I love L'Express. I love the atmosphere there. Though we weren't at the bar this time, the bartender (the old man) is the greatest! I love getting the cornichons and moustarde and I love the bustle. But I can't wait until it's non-smoking, because whenever I venture to the back of the room to go to the toilets, thus passing the smoking section, I can't help but notice that the space is so much nicer and brighter back there!

Sunday Dinner was at CUBE. Hands down a fantastic restaurant. I would reccomend this to anyone that came to montreal. I have never eaten in a hotel restaurant that served such good food, and I have eaten in many hotel restaurants. It was very expensive though, About the same as, or more than Toque, which is fine. But one thing especially to note, is that its wine selection for bottles below $100/bottle was sparse. They were very good, but there were few options. My mom and I both had very good, and very large extra-dry vodka martinis, which came with about 6 olives, and looked like you could swim in them (If anyone rememembers the martinis that Maurice used to drink in the Bewitched TV series, we're talking almost as big as that. ok well maybe not that big, but still, it was a decent cup of very good, Polish vodka)

The amuse-bouche was a, for lack of a better description, deep-fried ball of absolutely delicious, herbed goat cheese, served in a sppon, on a dollop of spiced purreed apple and pear. The goat cheese was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It has a lovely flabour, and the crust around it was a fantastic contrast. The apple and pear puree had this wonderful spice to it.. sort of an asian flare to it. It certainly pleased my mouth all right, I couldn't wait to get on to the next course.

I started with the seared scallops, served with a celery-root purree, apple butter, a chopped nut and (I think apple) compote and Black Pudding. Alas, I could not even try the black pudding. Had I not known what it was, or what goes into it, I probably would have tried it, and may have enjoyed it, but I have a dislike for eating blood, and alas am not a fan of many British foods (though fish and chips is fantastic if it's done at a pub in England and erved with a cold beer). The scallops were fantastic and I think they may have been better than the night before, though the two were close. The chopped nut/fruit compote was delicious and the celery-root pure eas to die for. COmbining it with the apple butter provided a very intriguing combination of flavours and textures, and by intriguing I mean very , very, very good.

My dad started with the Boulangere style potatoes and Beef Cheeks. What a neat dish! they bring them out in a big bowl, all set up with 6 beef cheeks surrounding a central tour of potatoes, and then they pour the broth over it all from a little chinese-looking tea pot, so that it becomes a soup. He said it was fantastic. The cheeks were extremely tender, and the broth was flavourfull and accented the contents well.

My mom had the "shrimp and poultry" which is served with a grapefruit panacotta (described on the menu as a panacotta made from the shrimp shells, grapefruit emulsion but the waitress clarified that the panacotta itself is actually from grapefruit) The texture of the panacotta was light and creamy and went very well with the shrimp and the poultry (I'm not sure of what kind of poultry it was) It was also served with fresh grapefruit, which was significantly less tart than that served at Brunoise.. perhaps Brunoise needs to look into a new produce supplier for citrus?

For the main courses my parents both had the salmon which is slow cooked, so it is medium-rare by the end. It was served with a soy-based sauce, which, while salty, accented the salmon quite well. My mom described the salmon as a little sushi-ish, but this shouldn't scare off people who don't like sushi, as my dad hates sushi, and loved this salmon.. go figure...

I had the monkfish, an extremely ugly fish, but an extremely light and delicious one as well. It had a wonderfull texture and sublte flavour and took on the flavour of its sauce quite well. The sauce had a lovely natural saltiness to it, due to the use of anchovies in it. For some reason, though I adore salt, I prefer the taste of salt from foods such as anchovies and olives, rather than from the salt shaker, and the chef used this ingredient quite well. It was served with baby potatoes, fennel and clams, (my how I love my seafood) and it came together as an outstanding dish, one of the best I've had in the city.

Dessert followed, and again, only my mom and I ordered, though all three of us ate. Despite only ordering two desserts, all three of us received a pallette-cleanser, an extremely refresshing mixture of citrus and apple with a graham crumble on top.

For dessert my mom and I ordered the same thing, a good thing, since, once it was divided among three, we all got a decent portion of each part. It included a small chunk of banana that had been cooked for 6 hours. It was wonderfully sweet, but not overpowering, and still managed to hold its shape and texture despite the long cook time. It was served with some 24-carat gold shavings (it has to be said that Cube is very trendy, though lacks the pretensiousness of say, Cavalli) A smear of caramel which went wonderfully with the banana, and then a little layered concoction of pralines, citrus creamy-mouse-y-deliciousness, which it has to be said looked like the chef went through the bag of Kraft Mini Marshmallows and picked out all of the white and yellow ones and aranged them in 2 8-8 squares (though it tasted nothing like that.. but it was worth a good chuckle) Between each layer was a slightly sweet, slightly salty wafer, the saltiness is one of the things that made this dessert divine. Sort of like when you have that really good oatmeal cookie, and it has that slight slatiness to it.. amazing. There was also a layer of frozen, lemon sherbet, which was the other part that made it divine. The combo of flavours and textures made this dessert worthy of Les Chevres as well.

We followed dessert with a capucino for my dad, a ristretto espresso for my self and a camomile tea for my mom. The tea was one of the best she's had, it had a little citrus in it, which livened it up a bit, and the espresso was quite nice, not bitter at all, and a decent crema.

Monday Morning we started with breakfast at CAFE VASCO DA GAMA, just some light pastries, fruit, coffee and juice. Quite nice as always. I actually love to go there for their sandwiches, but as we had a decent lunch to come, we ate light.

For Lunch we headed to RISTORANTE LUCCA in Little Italy, where we had the best Italian food, since our last trip to Italy. Though quite different, as Lucca serves northern fair, and we were last in southern Italy. We were immediately served a delicious bruschetta, nice and garlicy.. mmm.... I could eat a meal of just that. Our wine ( I know this one, because we just had it) was a lovely Soave, which I would certainly reccomend. Their wine list is excellent (Italian only of course) and this one was nice and crisp.
I started with the Minestrone soup, a very nice rendition of it that included chick peas, a nice addition imo. My parents both had the inslata mista, a nice lightly dressed mix of baby greens. Both, very nice ways to start the meal.
All three of us followed this with the Linquini Pescatore, which had a FANTASTIC mix of clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops. It was divine. The pasta itself was as pasta should be. Fresh, flavourfull, al dente, takes the sauce (which was delicious in of itself) well. An overall A+ dish.

We decided to share a tirramissu for dessert (they only offer one dessert) because when the waiter came and said "and now some tirramisu?" it was one of those questions that comes with only one answer "YES!!!". Though, when the waiter told the kitchen we were going to share it, they gave us a double portion (we were still only charged for one though!) When it came out, we were all "oh my.. we could never eat all of this...." but of course we did (with my dad, the non-dessert eater, eating the lions share) It was unbelievable! Divine! I can't sing enough praise for it. We followed this with a ristretto espresso for yself and a long espresso for my mom, both fantastic, with an almost sweet crema.
All in all a fantastic meal!!

So after this weekend of gluttony, I am going to go lie down and be greatfull for the wonderfull restaurants we have here, and as I don't think I'll be hungry again until next week, be glad that my fridge is fairly empty, so that nothing will go bad... and if I get hungry sooner than then.. well I'll just have to go find enother restaurant!!!

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