Review: Restaurant Le Flambard, 851 Rue Rachel, Montreal.

During my recent trip to Montreal, my friends and I had dinner at La Flambard. Here is the menu cover:

For my first course I had the lobster bisque. It had a lot of lobster in it and a strong taste of the sea - a note of brine that gave it a strength unusual in a bisque. The photo is messy but I had stirred ity and took a taste prior to taking the photo, so that is my fault.

For her first course my friend Allie had the escargots with tarragon and goat cheese. She gave me one to try and the goat cheese was an interesting taste combination. Personally I prefer escargots served in the Parisian style of garlic and butter in the shell with nothing else. In Canada virtually no one will serve them this way - there are various theories why not. So, yes, this combination was tasty, but I would prefer restaurants serve it in the traditional way.

Tracy had the tartare, and gave me a taste. It was goo, with a mustard bite to it. The portion was a bit on the generous side - not normally something I would complain about - though this portion is about triple what is served at La Societe in Toronto, and double that served at Auberge du Pommier. The La Societe portion could be larger, but 3X is a bit too much. I would recommend a slight reduction in the size of the portion.

My main course flambe of shrimp Pernod. Nice flavours. I was sort of expecting jumbo prawns in the style of Il Posto in Toronto, whereas these shrimp were the medium size that I usually toss with linguine at home. Still, it worked out fine as I had a very large lunch and the smaller portion suited me. It was odd that Tracy would get a portion 3X the norm for her dish, and my entree would be half the normal size I was expecting. In the restaurant world there are always surprises.

For dessert I had the crepes Suzette. Very nicely done - one of my favourite desserts. I wish more Toronto restaurants would offer these on the menu. The orange was just the right degree of sharpness. Ideally these are prepared tableside so they are very hot when served. These came from the kitchen already made so were not as hot as they should have been - that is my only constructive criticism, but it could only be addressed by preparing them tableside, it is not a fault of the chef if it is the policy of the restaurant to not finish them in front of the patron. In any event, they were delicious.

All my friends said it was a great meal and we all enjoyed it.

My Rating: 3 Stars.

Ezo (Montreal, QC)

Besides Aux-Lilas, this family owned restaurant is as good as it gets for middle-eastern cuisine in Montreal. Ezo hosts a delicious and uplifting experience with Lebanese home style cooking that offers impeccable Filet Mignon, delicately seasoned grilled chicken breasts, and an addictive soft whipped hummus that will leave you scrapping the bowl clean. Although Ezo hosts an upscale and modern type of setting, the atmosphere is unpretentious. Their lunch hour brings all kinds of people, from Montreal’s business district to the local Lebanese community, all enjoying authentic mouth-watering cuisine.

The first plate that we received was filled with boneless grilled chicken breasts. The breasts were marinated in a homemade sauce which included a nice seasoning of lemon, salt and pepper and then tossed on their grill. They were not only juicy, but they had that homemade barbecue flavor that I am familiar with. I also tried their Yukon Gold french fries, which were deep fried and held a slight taste of the chicken’s seasoning . I added some salt and I was happy with them. The garlic sauce was extremely potent, it will sit on your breath for hours to come.

Then the filet mignon came out and it left me in a heavenly state. The beef was tender and very juicy; it provided a wonderful flavor amidst a mouthwatering scent. It was grilled as meticulous as the chicken and we received it with a perfect temperature. The rice was cooked really well, it was fluffy and oily, and fried vermicelli noodles were incorporated within which I absolutely love. There was also a grilled onion on the side. This was the most enjoyable dish that I had.

Since I was with coworkers, we had several dishes set on the table that were communal. I filled up a plate with a little bit of everything. I also ended up asking for a small order of their Lebanese salad, as I found the Fattoush was overloaded with parsley and that really dominated the taste of the salad. That was the only thing that I didn’t enjoy. The Lebanese salad had a simple dressing of lemon oil and garlic and it was very good.

Another thing that was outstanding was the service. The family that runs the place is very accommodating and friendly. We were a large group of about twenty people, and even though the restaurant had other customers present we were always paid attention to and well taken care of and on top of that everything came out quickly. The owner’s daughter also remembered me from when I ate there a previous time which was quite impressive. If you are looking for great Lebanese food in Montreal, you now know where to find it.

Barroco (Montreal, QC)

I feel that Barroco is one of the finest restaurants in Old Montreal. It opened its doors in 2008 and has flourished considerably. The restaurant offers a very rustic and homely feeling, and a great place to enjoy a nice meal in a charming setting. The lighting is quite dark, but appropriately dim. The interior is surrounded with raw stone and exposed wooden beams, the tables are on a wooden floor and the food is served on antique tableware. One thing that caught me a little off guard was the boar’s head mounted on the wall; the restaurant really presents itself like it’s a country cabin. Also worth noting is the Lobster Shack Sundays; once a week their menu consists of a wide variety of lobster offerings. Aside from being able to order a whole lobster or a seafood platter, you can have lobster bisque, lobster dip with 5 year old cheddar Bechamel, homemade lobster ravioli, and even a lobster and grilled artichoke salad. Aside from the Sunday menu, Barroco offers dishes that are inspired from different regions of Spain and France.

I was greeted by a kind and knowledgeable server who was helpful and attentive throughout my whole Barroco experience. Upon ordering, I was explained the night’s specials, and I was quite impressed by both so I did not order off the regular menu. I started with the soup of the day which was a cream of squash. The soup was actually served inside an acorn squash, which I thought was a great way of presenting the soup. The taste was absolutely incredible, it was perfectly creamy, and I could taste some garlic and pepper that was scattered on the surface. The most enjoyable thing for me was finding two mussels inside, which offered the soup a hint of a pleasant briny ocean-like flavor, and a delicate yet chewy texture similar to mushrooms which made the soup much more enjoyable. I also tasted a hint of ginger, and there was some added sugar as the soup had a sweet flavor, I kept savoring every bite. The only problem was the portion, as the soup was quite small. After my last bite I felt like they should have carved more of the squash as there could have been additional space for a greater amount of soup.

I ordered another appetizer which was an assortment of seasonal Quebec cheeses, some nuts, and two pickled figs. The cheeses were outstanding. They all had pungent aromas coupled with strong flavors. They served some fresh sourdough bread which went very well with the cheese. The raw nuts were bright and crunchy, but it was the fig compote that stood out the most. Both figs were marinated in red wine and some fruit juice and were a lot more earthy and sweeter than they normally would be. Each bite was offering a big burst of sweetness that really filled up my taste buds. They were the best figs I ever had.

For my main course I had medallions of milk-fed veal, crusted with apple and pistachio and cooked sous-vide. Sous-vide, meaning under vacuum, is a technique that originated in France over 30 years ago that involves sealing and freezing what you want to cook in order to obtain a more tender and flavorful product. This technique has become increasingly popular in America, and is a process that seems to be popular in fine dining over the last few years. My veal came out perfect. It was seared on the outside and pink and tender inside. The flavor really jumped out and grabbed me. The crust was really new to me because I never had the pleasure of eating veal with a fruity rub before, it offered so much taste to each medallion. It was also garnished with apple julienne and some parsley. The side was brussels sprouts and an artichoke puree. The sprouts were doused in gravy and it made me forget I was eating something healthy. The artichoke puree was enjoyable but the taste on its own was a bit subtle so I was often dipping the sprouts and the veal inside it and it was wonderful having it together. The dish was served with a jus but it wasn’t needed. The main dish was spectacular, and some of the best veal I have ever tried. The only thing that I would have wanted was more of it, I felt that the portion was small, you only get three pieces of veal.

This Baroque inspired restaurant holds some really impressive dishes that are inspiring and innovative, and although it’s a little expensive and the portions aren’t big, the food really speaks for itself. I will soon visit Barroco on a Sunday to try their Lobster Shack.

Pintxo (Montreal, QC)

Just off the Atlantic coast lies a nation of seven provinces along northeastern Spain and southwestern France that comprise the Basque Country. Basque people are spread throughout the world, and are widely known for having one of the best international cuisines. Perhaps they are most recognized for their Pinchos; bite sized dishes that are usually small pieces of bread with single or several toppings pierced together by a toothpick. The use of a toothpick is an important part of the pincho, because it not only holds the food together, it also helps indicate their prices by having different shapes and sizes. These small dishes are prevalent in taverns throughout the Basque country, and are served on trays as appetizers, usually accompanied by wine or beer. Pinchos are also used as a tool for socializing; a traditional activity of Basque people is to hop from one tavern to another eating different pinchos. It is a common way to meet friends or make new acquaintances.

I tried to get a reservation at Pintxo last year for my birthday and it was fully booked, so I know now to book further in advance. The place came recommended by a friend who went for lunch and had a great dining experience. I trust his taste in food and he rarely leads me astray so I knew I’d be in for a treat because he raved about Pintxo on several occasions. I was also pleased to see it was rated 5th on Canada’s best new restaurant list.

I entered Pintxo with my girlfriend on a cold night and truly enjoyed my first few moments inside. The place is small and cozy, dimly lit and perfectly heated. There is a nice wine cellar that is visible inside the restaurant and hosts an extensive array of Spanish wines. We soon found out that we were only able to get a seat at the bar. They said that if we waited 40 minutes they’d have a table for us but we were hungry so we decided to sit at the bar. I appreciate the back support of a chair which the bar stools did not offer, and the leg rests were a bit far from the seats so it didn’t take long for me to feel uncomfortable. Luckily, after we placed our order and waited a bit, we were able to get a table, which offered me comfort and that is essential to me while enjoying a meal.

I am definitely a sensation seeker, and I go out to eat hoping to experience new sensations and that is exactly what I did with each pincho. When the seared calamari came out, I was a bit worried at first because it didn’t look visually appealing. I was shocked when I took my first bite because it was so good. If you are a fan of caramelized onions, you’ll love this dish. It tasted like the best onion soup I’ve had but with calamari inside. There was something in the onion confit that really went bang on the taste buds. It was spot on.

The pincho that impressed me the most was the mushrooms stuffed with duck confit. If you’re wondering what confit is, it’s basically a French southwestern tradition of food preservation. By using this method, meat can acquire a whole new taste and texture because it is immersed and preserved in its own fat, and cured with lots of salt. So why has this great farmhouse tradition lasted all these decades? Simply because the taste is so damn good. Every moment during this particular pincho was an explosion of delightful pleasure. Every time I took a bite, the juices of the savory duck and the mushroom conjoined and really excited my taste buds. The taste was something I never acquired before.

Another pincho that was as significant as the duck confit was the stuffed fig which consisted of a brilliant fusion; the cheese melts into the sweetness of the fig, and then you have the salty ham. When all three are combined, your palate is treated to a sweet concoction that just leaves you wanting more.

The braised beef cheek tasted like homemade holiday food, and was the most recognizable flavor in any of the pinchos because it tasted like my grandmother’s homemade brisket which I adore. It had such a delicate texture, it seemed as if the tender beef melted in my mouth while I was chewing it. The gravy was rich and fulfilling, and offered good company to the succulent beef cheeks. This was not my favorite dish of the evening, but I felt it was a good effort and worthy of reordering.

I ordered the quail as my last pincho and they forgot to bring it out. Fifteen minutes had passed after my last pincho when I decided to say something to the server. She told me she thought that everything was served but she’ll go check. I asked if she could just cancel the quail because it hadn’t come out yet. She told me that the chef had already prepared the dish and seemed like she really wanted me to take it. Because of how good everything was previously, I accepted the quail. I was extremely disappointed with it. I had quail once before at Au Pied De Cauchon’s Cabane a Sucre and I loved it. This one had a very peculiar taste, a strong sourness that was so overpowering I had to force myself to continue eating it. The side of noodles that were served with it were excellent. They had flaked tuna stuffed inside the shells and were served in a gravy.

For my main dish, I had the Black Cod on virgin sauce, and boy was this a special cod, up to par with the one from Nobu in Tribeca. I loved the lemon sauce served with it and the cherry tomatoes were a great addition. The cod literally melts in your mouth, it was grilled flawlessly. If you go heavy on the meat for the pinchos, get this lighter dish as your main course and you will truly enjoy it.

My girlfriend had the Filet Mignon which was bursting with flavor. She asked for it done medium and it came out that way, hot and juicy. The mashed potatoes were great, the gravy from the steak complimented them immensely. The grilled asparagus was a nice touch, not only were they delicious, but they held the flavor of the beef.

For desert, we had the cheesecake, which was only big enough for one bite each. The coulis seemed to have more of a jelly consistency than usual, and it was not as fresh as it should have been nor was the cheese as smooth as I would have preferred. We also tried the banana almond cake as well. It was delicious in flavor but a bit dry on the inside. I did appreciate that they went heavy on the icing sugar. Although I won’t be ordering desert the next time I go to Pintxo, overall I had a very pleasant experience and I’ll be back in the future to try other dishes.