Thanks to everyone who provided recommendations in the month leading up to my trip. Unfortunately, we had some really generic food due to some obligations we had to fulfill during our trip (Cafe Republique, Au Pain Dore), and tourist staples which you've all likely heard enough about (Schwartz, La Banquise, St. Viateur). The highlight of the trip was the dinner we had at Anise so I will jump right to it and save you the need to read through the generic stuff.
So after confering with some very helpful folks on this board, we finally opted to go to Anise for our low-key celebratory dinner. It was as unpretentious and enjoyable as was portrayed by Montreal Hounds.
At first, our waiter seemed a tad annoyed (rushed?) but he quickly warmed up and became friendly for the remainder of the meal. As I mentioned in my previous posts, my bf is a real stickler for service, and the only real misstep was that our wine and water glasses
were not filled up as efficiently as we would have liked and the wine with dinner was a little late arriving to the table.
As an aperitif, we had a sparkling wine that had a house-made violet and anise syrup blended into it. The syrup was sweet so it balanced out the tartness of the wine nicely. However, we both thought that the floral/anise flavours were too subtle and practically undetectable. While we detected the floral aroma of the violet, the anise was MIA, which was too bad, we thought.
I ordered the 6-course 'la mer' dinner while my bf had the 6-course 'la terre' dinner. I didn't do the wine pairings, since I was already feeling the effects of the aperitif (yes, I'm a very cheap drunk), while my bf simply decided on a demi-bottle of chianti to go with his meal. Just a note that my bf is rather economical with his words, so you won't get quite as rich a commentary about his meal as you will about mine. :)
An amuse-bouche of phyllo-wrapped duck breast was presented on top of an apricot confiture and drizzled basalmic. We both really enjoyed this. The duck breast was perfectly tender and very flavourful. There was a subtle use of Chinese five-spices mixture, which set-off very nicely against the sweetness of the apricot and the rich tanginess of the basalmic.
This was followed by a lentil soup, which was richly flavoured with cumin and was garnished with a tangy yogurt, fresh cilantro, and crisp croutons. We both LOVE cumin, so we couldn't have enjoyed this more!
The bread basket came out and am I ever glad I don't subscribe to the Atkins diet! There must have been 5 or 6 different breads in the basket, including focaccia, fresh pita, and crisps, which were all good. Our absolute favourite, however, is the "house bread" which is a light, yet chewy, anise and fig bread. We could have easily eaten an entire loaf ourselves - what a treat this was! The anise was fragrant but not overwhelmingly so, and the fig added a lovely sweetness and complemented the anise perfectly. I must find a way to recreate this bread at home!
Next came my tartare of salmon, which came with avocado puree and deep fried nori - it was essentially deconstructed sushi. The nori had an unusual bitter flavour, which really took away from the dish. I couldn't decide whether the bitterness came from the batter itself or the oil they used. Whatever it was, it tasted odd and I didn't really enjoy it. I also thought that the marinade used on the salmon was a tad too salty for my tastes. On the
whole, the dish was fine, but unremarkable - it didn't really show-off the chef's deftness with balancing flavours. Rather generic, I thought. But the presentation was lovely, with the concoction in a conical dish "floating" above a bed of ice to keep the salmon cool and fresh.
My bf's quail legs, on the other hand, were very tender and the samosa was very crisp and light. The tamarind sauce was such a treat and added a different and lovely dimension to the whole dish. The dish also had a small amount of marinated fresh fava beans on the side. While the green colour was a nice contrast to the browns in the rest of the dish, their
presence seemed kind of random. They weren't really incorporated in the dish physically nor flavour-wise. I love fava beans, so I enjoyed them, but they didn't add anything to the dish, really. My bf enjoyed the samosa the most for its light and crisp texture.
Next came my pissadeliere, which had a very light and crisp crust and plump sardines. It was a great example of why mediterranean food is enjoyed by so many. The tanginess of the sundried tomatoes balanced the sweetness of the roasted peppers, which brought out the buttery and fishy flavours of the sardines, and complemented the sweetness of the onions (though on the menu, the onions are described as "caramalized" - they were simply thoroughly cooked and a bit browned along the edges, but not what I would call caramalized). Each of the individual parts of the dish had not been (and did not need to be) embellished with spices or herbs, but yet held their own and complemented one another very well.
My bf's braised veal cheeks were lovely. The sauce had a very "beefy" flavour and good consistency (not too watery and not too thick)... very enjoyable. The sauce especially went well with the rosemary focaccia in the bread basket.
My main was broiled ocean perch. The fish was perfectly done - not dry at all. But I found that the tanginess of the sundried tomato risotto overwhelmed the flavour of the fish. Ocean perch is a white fish so its sweetness tends to be very subtle. I think the dish would have been very nice with something like mackerel or even a shell fish. Or perhaps the risotto can be changed to something less overwhelming? I loved all of the parts of the dish on an individual level, but I didn't think the flavours were as well balanced as they could have been.
My bf is a true carnivore so his comments about his main were generally restricted to the venison chop, and nothing was said of the sides that accompanied the chop. He was very happy with the doneness of the venison chop, which left it very tender and juicy. Overall, he seemed to enjoy the dish so I guess I can surmise that he was happy also with the accompaniments to his meat.
The cheese course was next. We both got a serving of manchego, which was accompanied by a pear and raisin salad. I actually expected the pear and raisin salad to be sweet, but it turned out to be savoury - it had a dressing of some sort on it (I didn't quite understand what the waiter said) which actually hid the flavours of the pear and raisins entirely. If
the waiter hadn't mentioned that it was pear, I wouldn't have guessed it. Anyway, I think the manchego would have been better complemented by a sweet something, as most cheeses are.
Dessert was served and we each got a different dessert. I got a scone served with julienned granny smith apple, in a raspberry sauce and creme anglaise. The scone was really light and very buttery, and the apple and raspberry combination is a classic "sweet and sour" that worked well here. The creme anglaise simply brought all of the flavours together. It was a refreshing end to the dinner.
My bf got a very rich dessert. It was a "deconstructed" creme brulee, with the custard
sitting atop of a crispy-top gooey and rich caramel, served with chocolate-orange sauce and orange ice cream. The orange ice cream was amazing... so light and so delicately flavoured with oranges. It was rather drowned out by the strong caramel and chocolate flavours though. On the whole, the dessert was lovely, but we agreed that we could have simply done with more of the orange ice cream!
We finished the meal with tea and coffee. For the calibre of restaurant that Anise is trying to be, I would have expected loose whole leaf teas on offer. I was given "Mighty Leaf" brand tea, which is a great brand of tea, but I was still a bit surprised that they wouldn't offer loose leaf teas.
Anyway, overall, we thought the experience was well worth it, even if some of the results for some of the courses were less-than-optimal. What we paid for this meal ($250) we have paid for much lower calibre meals in Toronto. We enjoyed our meal at Anise and are looking forward to sampling the other great restaurants in Montreal on future trips.