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Saturday at La Montée

NickMontreal | Dec 7, 2009 07:11 AM

Saturday I took a little trip to La Montée, and I went with some high expectations based on what other people had told me. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s a funny sort of place. You could walk past without noticing it – I know that as I lived in this neighbourhood not long ago, and probably walked past it a million times. Little did I know that nestled among the student bars and Irish pubs there is a real little gem of a restaurant. It makes quite an impression when you walk in – the place has a very sleek and sexy feel – with its deep, rich colours and gorgeous, gently curving walls.

The evening was in honour of a special occasion, so we went for their six course option with wine pairings. A decision I do not regret – in spite of the lingering, dull ache emanating from deep in my abdomen that lasted for quite some time afterwards.

Now I have to be honest – the night didn’t start as well as I had hoped. Our appetizer was a gratinéed scallop, which was garnished with thin slivers of marinated fennel fronds. Sadly, the scallop was hopelessly stuck to its shell, and any attempt to pry it off with a fork resulted in a gaggle of cheesy, shredded scallop flesh. A real shame. Also – the gratin had a sort of rubbery, slippery consistency that was oddly reminiscent of Kraft singles. Ick. Not good. Wine was tasty though - a lovely creamy Champagne which to me had a very noticeable dry mineral finish.

Things did get better – our next course was a truly fabulous fillet of halibut cooked to perfection. I really do mean perfection – the integrity of the fish was completely retained during cooking. Juicy, tender and only the slightest bit flaky. That was served with a salad of tender zucchini and shrimp upon a halibut brandade which had a wonderful, rich, garlicky flavour. For some reason we didn’t get the wine pairing from the menu. Instead we were served a Spanish white which was similar to a Portuguese vinho verde, only without the fizz. A nice fresh wine.

The next course, however, was another disappointment. A shame because I so wanted to like it – it looked just perfect on the plate: half a leek, wonderfully grilled such that it showed only the tiniest suggestion of caramelization, with a rich looking romanesco sauce to its side. Unfortunately the dish just didn’t make sense to me. All the components were fine in their own right – they just didn’t seem to come together to any great effect. Sad. I wasn’t crazy about the wine pairing either. It was a red from the Loire, which if I’m not mistaken means it’s probably mostly Cabernet Franc. It was just a little blah. Empty. Flabby. Whatever, I’m not going to go overboard on describing this.

The next dish was probably my favorite of the evening. A nice rare duck breast served on a bed of rich green pea and mushroom stew. I thought the peas were a nice touch – it added a fresh twist to what would have otherwise been a very rich, heavy dish. It was served with a house ketchup awkwardly smeared on the lip of the plate. It both looked and tasted out of place. I found it to be an unnecessary touch seeing as the dish didn’t seem to lack anything without it. The wine was a big bold red called Madiran Odé d’Aydie. I loved this - kind of smoky I thought… A great match for the duck. So good that I think I’ll probably try looking for it.…

The cheese course was great. A wedge of Cru de Champlain – a lovely mild, soft cheese with a pretty orange rind. This guy came with caramelized walnuts and a lovely pâte de fruits of fig. Yum. As for the wine: I really enjoyed this. This wine packs some serious punch, people. So full of flavour. It was called Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay by some fella called Philippe Bornard… I’m no wine expert, but I picked up on something like pear drops. Really, really good stuff IMHO.

The dessert afterwards was also a hit (okay at this point I was feeling a bit overindulged). A nice bitter chocolate pot de crème, with roasted apples, caramelized hazelnuts and vanilla ice cream. An unusual combination that came together pretty well, I thought. One thing surprised me, which was that the flavour which really came through the most in this wasn't mentioned on the menu. The apples had obviously been roasted with a pretty generous amount cinnamon. Interestingly I found that the cinnamon chocolate combo had a Mexican feel to it. Anyway so we had that with a sweet red wine called Banyuls – a lovely plumy, jammy wine which made me think of Port…

So it’s a pretty darn good place if you ask me. Seeing as I had six dishes, and was only dissapointed by two I can’t complain. Oh and by the way – several times during my meal I was distracted by the sommelier, who seemed to welcome any opportunity to talk with a client about wine. At times he really got quite theatrical in his descriptions. Lots of hand gestures and arm waving were involved. I tell ya, if there’s a guy who should be picking out your wines it’s this one.

That’s all folks – kudos if you made it all the way down to here!

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