Monday, March 3, 2008

Eating our way (again) through Montreal

Chris and I spent this past weekend in Montreal, in honour of my birthday, and revisited two restaurants that we've enjoyed a great deal in the past. Neither of them disappointed us in the least, happily. On Friday night we returned to BU for dinner and found it hopping, as opposed to our last visit on a Sunday night in early December, when we had the place to ourselves. This time, we opted to start with some small plates and then each have a main course, because two of the specials sounded so darned good. In fact, they were the highlights of the meal. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We began with a delicious glass each of prosecco, an off-dry sparkling wine from Italy, to accompany our caponata (a vegetable antipasto) and spinach and potato croquettes, both of which were, once again, divine. I also tried the olives ascolane, large green olives stuffed with minced veal, then battered and deep fried. They were interesting, but not as fabulous as some of the other dishes on the menu, and I don't think I'd order them again. Rather, I would opt for some of the excellent charcuteries such as the venison bresaola. Mmmm.

Moving along to the decadent mains: Chris had the risotto again, this time enhanced with pheasant ragu and black truffle shavings. He enjoyed it greatly, while noting that BU makes their risotto in a less creamy and more al dente style than we are accustomed to. This one was slightly soupy from the pheasant's juices, with shreds of the tender meat throughout. I enjoyed the bite I tried, though a bowlful of such a strongly-flavoured dish might have been too much for me.

My main was the meat dish for the evening, and it could have been tailor-made for my tastes: a filet mignon with a balsamic and shallot reduction, accompanied by an assortment of grilled vegetables. It arrived on a square white plate, and it was what sealed my decision to get a camera phone when my contract comes up this May, because it was GORGEOUS. The steak was about 6 oz. and cooked perfectly rare as requested, tender and melting under its balsamic glaze. The vegetables were the knockouts visually, though: four whole roasted cherry tomatoes, two tiny eggplants halved lengthwise and char-marked from the grill, five tiny yellow pattypan squashes and ha;f a bulb of Belgian endive, grilled and fanned out like a spiky flower on the corner of the plate. Stunning. However pretty the veggies were, though, they were put to shame flavour-wise by the steak, which blew my mind. I would have preferred a slightly lighter hand with the reduction to allow the excellent flavour of the meat to shine through more, but I'm nitpicking: I cleaned the plate, and enjoyed it all immensely.

We had asked our affable waiter (the same likable fellow who served us last time, in fact) for wine pairing recommendations to go with our mains, and he cheerfully obliged, kindly steering us to mid-price range glasses that he felt would complement the food. He was dead-on in both cases: Chris had a glass of 2004 Italian cabernet sauvignon whose name I do not know, as it was part of their "blind trio" of reds. My glass was a Fattoria Zerbina Marzieno Ravenna Rosso 2001 from Emilia-Romagna that had syrah, cabernet, merlot and sangiovese grapes combined, and it was a powerhouse red equal to the meat and that balsamic glaze. It was actually one of the nicest reds I've had at a restaurant in ages.

Would you believe we had room for dessert? That is because BU is very good at many things, and timing a meal properly is one of them. We ordered all of our food at once, but the waiter did not put in the order for our mains until after we'd finished our apps, and even asked us if we were ready for him to do so. Consequently, it was a slowly-paced dinner, two and a half hours for three courses. By the time we dug into martini glasses full of chocolate mascarpone mousse, we were sated but not stuffed, and wanted something sweet. We should have shared one, and will next time, because it was crazy rich, but my goodness it was yummy. I had a decaf coffee and we lingered over the mousse for as long as possible, but eventually we did have to go out into the cold and damp. It was a wonderful way to spend an evening. I love that place and will go back over and over. You should, too.

The following night we had reservations at L'Express, where we had not been in a year and a half, so it was nice to go back and find it unchanged and as friendly and polite as always. We actually got the same table we had last time, which amused us. I love many things about L'Express, and one of them is the offer of an aperitif for while you're perusing the menu. We both ordered a Dubonnet on the rocks and sipped away happily while debating main courses (we'd already determined that we'd be sharing the rillettes for starters). In the end, we went for less-rich mains than usual to balance the richness of the starter, which is essentially confit of shredded pork, with toasts for spreading and a jar of sharp cornichons for contrast. It was, as always, yummy, and we pretended not to know how bad it was for us.

Chris followed that up with the house ravioli, stuffed with spinach and meat and sauced with a mushroom demi-glace. The circles of pasta were perfectly cooked and the sauce was deeply flavoured without being overly rich. I ordered one of the night's specials, chunks of monkfish in a barely-perceptible cream and lemon sauce atop a bed of perfectly cooked basmati rice studded with carrots and mushrooms. All of the elements were perfectly cooked and gorgeously balanced, and I really enjoyed it. We had a half-bottle (I love L"Express for that) of Cotes du Rhone, Chateau Cosme I believe, which was very nice, if not of the superstar calibre of the wine I had at BU.

Dessert was a lemon tart - fabulous - for me, and some sort of ice cream cake concoction for Chris, with pear and raspberry layers. (He likes ice cream a lot, even in winter.) I had coffee, and Chris blissed out over a cup of verveine herbal tea. Altogether, a classy ad chilled out dinner, as always.

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