A few weeks ago we connected with an old friend and discovered he was another food blogger who runs the site Jarred Reviews. We made plans to go for dinner a short time later at a restaurant that we all wanted to try but none of us had yet been to; after a short deliberation we agreed on L'Orignal.
The restaurant is on Saint-Alexis, a small cobblestone street in Old Montreal. The door is solitary on the block the restaurant is situated on, the signage is low-key and the lighting is inviting. You enter to find a basement restaurant that feels as though a designer made a strong effort to try and make it feel cottage-cozy. Upon closer examination the handful of birch tree branches, wildlife and landscape wallpaper and the carved moose head on the wall just came off feeling a little forced and polished for a true lodge feeling. Exceptions were a beautiful oyster bar, great floors and really nice tables and chairs. Overall the ambiance and decor are nice, but not quite authentic in the chalet or lodge sense. Seriously though - an authentic mounted moose head was glaringly absent in a restaurant named L'Orignal.
Our waiter brings us menus and explains that there are two parts to it: L'Orignal classics which are always on the menu, and the Menu du Chef which changes on a regular basis. We begin our meal with an appetizer from each side. We order grilled octopus from the classics side and a foie gras and piglet heart parfait served with brioche, pine nuts and Quebec strawberries on the chef's menu.
The foie gras and piglet heart parfait had a great smooth texture. The bold flavor of the heart was present but not so much so as to overpower the foie gras you're clearly looking for when you order the dish, it was a real treat. The toasted brioche it was served with was very rich and buttery but slightly too soft. The Quebec strawberries were super sweet and beautiful, they paired very well with the richness of the parfait. The dish was garnished with toasted pine nuts which added well rounded texture. The grilled octopus was excellent, it was a dish that our waiter recommended to us, telling us that "the chef is Portuguese, he really knows his octopus" and he didn't lie. Tender grilled octopus was ideally charred and served over a well seasoned and pleasantly textured lima bean purée, it was topped with a crisp, refreshing fennel and radish salad. The menu mentioned a red pepper glaze and you could see the color in the dish but it wasn't really assertive, nonetheless the dish was a really big winner and it's easy to see why its a regular menu item.
Foie Gras & Piglet Heart Parfait, Brioche, Pine Nut Butter, Strawberries - 18$
Grilled Octopus, Lima Bean Purée, Fennel & Radish Salad, Red Pepper Glaze - 14$
Both mains we chose were on the chefs menu, first was a dish of braised veal with lobster, peas, radishes and morel mushrooms. The veal was plentiful, superbly tender and absolutely delicious, but unfortunately the lobster was a little bit on the stingy side coming in the form of two or three popcorn size morsels of overly salty but well cooked knuckle meat. The peas were bright and sweet but the morels were again, far too salty. You don't very often see cooked radishes even though they're great, in cooking them they loose a little bit of their peppery edge but retain their crisp texture, we loved them. There was a very tasty emulsified coffee butter sauce and a few dollops of tangy crème fraiche on the plate. In addition to tasting great, the crème friache also helped take the edge off some of the salty items on the plate and when it was mixed with the sauce and the braised veal it gave off a comforting stroganoff sort-of feel that was really enjoyable. Also, although it certainly didn't affect enjoying the dish, it should be acknowledged that the presentation was, in our opinion, a little sloppy.
Braised Veal, Lobster, Radish, Fresh Peas, Morels, Coffee Butter - 28$
Our second main was for the most part very good. Perfectly cooked, fatty arctic char was served perched on top of a pile of beautiful vegetables, swiss chard, blue potatoes and cauliflower to keep the fish off the bottom of the dish where there was a pool of terrific fish broth. If you've never had arctic char before its an orange-pink fleshed fish, which is often referred to as being halfway between trout and salmon. The only flaw with the fish was although the skin side up presentation can look very nice, it doesn't really work with fish like arctic char where unless you render the skin very crisp, it remains pretty much inedible. This problem is less obvious when this type of fish is served flesh side up and you can simply leave the skin behind. Serving it skin side up however, forces you to peel it off which can be slighlty unwelcomed in a restaurant atmosphere. On top of the fish was a punchy, brightly flavored salsa with tender rock shrimp and some crisp pieces of dried sausage that were frankly a little too dry, they were really the only big miss on the plate. The bottom line was the bones of this dish were strong. The fish was delicious and perfectly done (minus the skin), the broth in the bottom of the dish was top knotch, the shrimp in the salsa were tender, the vegetables were not your average overused choices and tasted great, and the presentation was very nice.
Roasted Arctic Char, Blue Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Fish Broth, Rock Shrimp Salsa, Dried Sausage - 27$
We finished our meal by sharing a dessert of white chocolate crème brulée with a sweet blueberry compote spooned over the top of it. The ornate dish the ramekin came served on was gorgeous. A lot of times when people add additional flavors to crème brulée, especially chocolate, it can play havoc on the texture of the custard once it has set. In this case the white chocolate didn't affect the texture at all, everything was spot-on. The custard was smooth and flavorful, the burnt sugar coating cracked under the spoon and the blueberry compote was delightful. This dessert ended the meal on a very high note.
White Chocolate Crème Brulée, Blueberry Compote
We had a very nice evening at L'Orignal with our friends Jarred and Ashley. This review is the opinion of Foodie Date Night alone, we do not speak for our company nor do we review our company's dishes. Our meal was very good with only a few small stumbles. The themed decor missed the mark for us but we can certainly say that it is without a doubt a nice restaurant. The service was very good, there were no long waits, our waiter was very knowledgeable about the menu and he gave us plenty of time and space; there was no feeling of being uncomfortable or rushed. We were also happy to see another restaurant supporting local business and selling Bierbrier. The bill was admittedly a little bit pricey, some of the menu item's price-points put L'Orignal in direct competition with some pretty big contenders in the Montreal restaurant scene, but likely this is due in part to their location. Ultimately, we left with satisfied appetites, and smiles on our faces.