Sunday, May 15, 2011

LES 400 COUPS


On Friday and only Friday restaurant Les 400 Coups offers a lunch menu. Either 2 courses, appetizer and main for 20$ or 3 courses including dessert for 25$. Considering that mains alone in this Old Montreal hot spot usually sell for an average of 25$ on their dinner menu, it seemed like a deal that was not to be missed. The restaurant is on Notre-Dame East near Marché Bonsecours, as we enter the restaurant we notice that every table is occupied, most with what we presume based on their attire to be the local business crowd.

We are seated very rapidly and offered drinks. We order beers that we are told by our waiter are made by Le Dieu du Ciel, a local brewery. We begin looking around, the staff are well dressed, the bar and the floors are very tasteful, but the standout feature is by far the antique tin tiled ceiling. It's the type of design feature prospective restaurant owners romanticize about on their wish lists.

Dieu du Ciel! - La Païenne - SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS!

As we look over the menu we are happy to realize that not only does the value of this meal show a lot of  promise but there is also a very surprising amount of choices and there does not seem to have been much compromise in the sense of holding back on some of what you might call the higher food-cost items. There's a choice of 3 appetizers, 3 mains and 3 desserts with an extra 4th optional appetizer and main with a designated additional cost printed next to them.

We order a cauliflower soup with buttermilk mousse and bottarga as well as a piglet terrine dish for appetizers. The cauliflower soup tastes vividly of cauliflower, not simply of a creamy white substance that could just as easily be potato. We find that this happens often with delicate tastes like cauliflower coming from less talented kitchens, but not here. The buttermilk mousse provided a slightly sour tang that cut the velvety rich consistency of the soup very well, the shaved bottarga added a lightly salty, briny ocean flavor. It was a particularly nice afternoon soup. The piglet terrine was tremendous, it was done similar to the style of a head cheese with an aspic gelatin. The tender fatty meat is topped with small mushrooms that have been lightly pickled in a honey and vinegar based marinade and paper thin crispy slices of radish. On the side there is a smear of a thickened greek style yogurt  flavored with yuzu. This dish was nothing short of incredible, everything was in perfect harmony, all of the flavor and texture bases were covered. On top of it all it looked beautiful. We finish our plates as fast as humanly possible whilst appearing civilized and our empty dishes are removed from the table promptly by the staff. Our mains come out soon after, the timing seems to be moving fluidly for the staff and dishes are flying out through the pass that is visible from the dining room. No one it seems, is waiting too long for their meals - a key to a successful lunch service.

Cauliflower soup, Buttermilk Mousse, Bottarga
Piglet Terrine, Marinated Honey Mushrooms, Radish, Yuzu Yogurt

After an extremely reasonable ten minutes our mains arrive. We ordered spelt spaghetti with rock shrimp, tomato, kale and sea urchin butter and opt for the additional cost main of seared scallops with edamame beans, homemade bacon and carrots served on a bed of ramp cream. The spaghetti had a great texture, it was tossed with fresh tomatoes, perfectly cooked tender rock shrimp, subtle tasting sea urchin butter and kale; which just coincidentally happens to be one of our new favorite vegetables to cook at home. It was finished with a sprinkle of crunchy breadcrumb, overall a good pasta dish. The scallop dish was an extra 5$ but the use of ramps and the promise of homemade bacon was too much to resist, we're happy we didn't. The scallops were stellar, it would be impossible to cook scallops better, only - as well. The menu said they were served with carrots but they instead came with sautéed mushrooms, which were great. We didn't feel as though the substitution was unwelcome and we didn't miss the carrot in the dish. The homemade bacon had been made into lardons and it was terrificly smokey; it would have been a shame to have missed the opportunity to taste it. The edamame beans offered nice firm texture contrast and the ramp cream was a bright green puddle of delicious. The plate was unabashedly wiped clean.

Spelt Spaghetti, Rock Shrimp, Tomatoes, Kale, Sea Urchin Butter
Seared Scallops, Edamame Beans, Homemade Bacon, Mushrooms, Ramp Cream (Extra 5$)

For dessert we had a chocolate "pot-de-crème" with caramel and maldon salt. It came served in a short mason jar, it was decadent and chocolaty and this flavor combination is always a home run; but its certainly not the most original thing we've seen. Most restaurants lately seem to have what they're calling a "verrine" of one sort of chocolate or another served in a mason jar, which are often equally successful. On the other hand the second dessert we had was the complete opposite, easily one of the best dessert dishes we've had, ever. It was certainly on par with desserts we've eaten in world class restaurants before from NYC to Las Vegas. It was a ricotta tart unlike any we've ever had. The ricotta did not have its usual texture, it was uniformly silky, almost as though it had been mixed in a blender or food processor and had  just enough gelatin added to it to help it set into a texture slightly more dense than a pana cotta and slightly less dense than a crème caramel or flan. There was no visual trace or taste of egg having been used. It was set into a tasty and tender rectangular tart shell and cut in piano key size pieces to serve. The most singularly surprising and elevating component of the dish was the use of fennel, yes fennel for dessert. Narrow fennel shoots had been sliced into extremely thin coins and small pieces of fennel frawns were plucked and laid on top of drops of a thick clear vanilla syrup with visible vanilla bean specks suspended in it. The licorice qualities of the fennel allowed it to work splendidly in a dessert context. A quenelle of excellent quality smooth mango sorbet sat next to the tart. It was beautiful, extremely original and tasted amazing, truly a world class dessert, we loved it.

Lunch at Les 400 Coups was a resounding success, the food was fantastic and so was the service. The food was without question uncompromising in flavor and originality and came at an unbeatable value. It was overall a meal that could have without question been served for twice the price if it were a 7:30 PM dinner service instead of 1:00 PM lunch service. Remember, Les 400 Coups only serves this 25$ lunch menu on Fridays so plan it out with your lunch partner(s) and don't procrastinate - we enthusiastically  recommend trying it for yourselves, you won't be disappointed.

 Chocolate "Pot-de-Crème'', Caramel, Maldon Salt
Ricotta Tart, Mango Sorbet, Fennel, Vanilla

Restaurant Les 400 Coups
400 Notre-Dame Est, near Bonsecours
Montreal, QC
514-985-0400

Dieu du Ciel! Brewery
29 Laurier Ouest
Montreal, QC
514-490-9555


Les 400 coups on Urbanspoon

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