Monday, March 28, 2011

LE ST-URBAIN


In a couple of years when Ahuntsic becomes the new "in" neighborhood like the Plateau and we start to see hipsters moving north of the old Chabanel garment district to live, we'll have Le St-Urbain to thank for reviving the area. We had an outstanding dinner there on Saturday night and we're happy to spend some time Sunday talking them up on our blog.

We were seated in the corner by the front window and the totally open dining room was packed. Le St- Urbain is another one of these restaurants that neglects to print any menus because they write it all on a blackboard on the wall - a design aspect that is getting to be a little redundant. Perhaps our critique of this was amplified by the fact that we had been seated right up against the "menu wall" forcing the person in the outside seat to read the entire menu to their dinner company. Yes, its true that you could always ask the waiter, but who really wants to be so obnoxious as to ask the waiter to stand before you recanting the entire menu. Being read the specials of the night or table d'hote table-side is one thing, having the entire menu read to you is another. If your dining room happens to be larger than 40 seats or so, it's probably too big to see the blackboard menu from every corner and inconvenient seating position you have put a table in. In such a case, would putting blackboards on more than one wall to accommodate all the diners OR providing printed menu's be such a large request? Also, for most bilingual Montrealers reading a menu in english or french is as easy as putting your left sock on before your right or vice-versa, but to only write a menu in french, is in our opinion, slightly presumptuous. That being said Le St-Urbain is not the only restaurant guilty of the above mentioned pet peeves of ours, it's not even the first restaurant we have reviewed in which this was the case. Our unfortunate seating position that night simply exaggerated  this itch we've yet to scratch in writing.

Now that our knit picking is finished with, we would love to get on to talking about how fantastic the food and service were, which after all are ultimately the most important part. We started our meal with 2 appetizers. First, a clever take on caesar salad made exclusively from the ribs of romaine leaves dressed with tiny croutons, a bit of sliced bitter radicchio, shaved pecorino cheese and an emulsified anchovy dressing served along side a magnificently prepared piece of veal tongue that had initially been smoked in-house for a short time and then crisped up with a really hard sear in a pan to order. Our second appetizer would at first glance be mistaken for a soup, but it was certainly no soup. It was a light as air savory foam of cauliflower that had cubed potato, crispy chorizo sausage and plump mussels folded into it. The dish was truly made interesting by its potentially dominating flavored parts juxtaposed against its abundantly light texture and form.  The edge of the dish had been garnished with an individual piece of each of the dishes components with a dusting of smoked paprika and a wafer thin parsnip chip.

 Cauliflower Foam, Mussels, Chorizo, Smoked Paprika -13$
 Veal Tongue, Romaine, Pecorino, Anchovy Vinaigrette - 13$

Our mains certainly kept us impressed, we ordered a lobster and pork belly risotto dish and a dish of blood sausage paired with seared scallops. The lobster risotto was half of a lobster (half tail, knuckle meat and one claw) and a piece of crispy pork belly served over an extremely well prepared saffron risotto. The risotto itself had an ideally runny consistency, not in the least bit clumpy heavy or seized, it had tiny florets of green cauliflower and pieces of salsifis mixed in. It was bright yellow and tasted just enough of saffron with absolutely no perfume like after taste you sometime find when saffron has been used a little bit too liberally. The lobster was well cooked and the gorgeously fatty, crispy pork belly seemed to have been prepared in the exact same way as the tongue we had in our appetizer : smoked and crisped to order in a pan. The dish was finished with a drizzle of brightly flavored puréed salsa verde and a lobster and mussel foam which, to be honest, was a little bit lacking in flavor and didn't add too much to the dish. The scallop and blood sausage dish was outrageously good. The scallops had been perfectly seared unilaterally (only cooked on one side allowing the heat to permeate through the meat to barely cook the opposite half rather than searing both sides). The blood sausage was really more of a blood cake. It seemed to have been prepared in a cake pan and then cut into large cubes for serving portions rather than in sausage casings. We loved its slightly crumbly texture and the fact that it was still discernible that you were eating blood. When we order blood sausage we're specifically looking for that iron like, mineraly organ meat taste to be still recognizable, not for it to have been completely masked with a heavy dose of ground cloves; Le St-Urbain's blood sausage delivered. The scallops were served on top of wilted brussels sprout leaves and caramelized onion and the similar spicy qualities in the blood sausage and butternut squash puree complimented each other very well. A little bit of orange-anise flavored caramel and raisins were added to the dish for a sweet balance.

 Scallops, Blood Sausage, Squash, Orange-Anise Caramel - 25$
 Lobster Risotto, Smoked Pork Belly, Safron, Salsifis - 27$

After our mains we still had a reasonable amount of wine left in the bottle we had ordered and our waiter suggested a small cheese course. He arrived with a beautiful variety of cheeses on a board. We chose a 60g selection of 3 cheeses, Bellavitano by Satori,  a cheese from Wisconsin that had been soaked in raspberry beer, Le Douanier by Fritz Kaiser, a semi firm washed-rind cheese with a line of ash running through it made here in Quebec, and Chevre D'Or a popular mold rind goat's cheese from Loire valley in France. It's not often that we opt for the cheese course because although it definitely shouldn't, it tends to sometimes feel pretentious in nature. Nights like this remind us why there's nothing pretentious about great cheese and why the cheese course is truly an under-appreciated and wonderful way to end a meal. Until of course, we see the giant plate of churros at the table next to us and realize we're not quite ready to walk out the door. The churros, which are free-form, stick shaped, spanish style donuts were a very generous portion, dusted with powdered sugar and served with a little cup of salted caramel sauce to dip them in. They were fun, delicious and casual, but best of all they were perfect for sharing which can often be a hallmark of great dessert.

We enjoyed ourselves a lot at Le St-Urbain this weekend. Their presentation and plating were really well done, the food was excellent and the service was quick and courteous. We noticed after ordering that they also offer 6 course tasting menus, well have to make it back soon to try that. Until then, thank you to the kitchen and front of house staff at Le St-Urbain, we had a wonderful time.

 Cheese Plate 60g - 8.50$
Churros - 6$


Restaurant Le St Urbain
96 Fleury O, near St-Urbain
Montreal, QC
514-504-7700
www.lesturbain.com

Le St-Urbain on Urbanspoon

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