A person who is gourmandise generally means one who is well versed in the culinary arts, but at one time in history the notion of being a gourmand was contradictory to the church's teaching of modesty. The seven deadly sins, or in French "les sept péchés capitaux" refer to the seven most unforgiving vices that a person may act upon in their lifetime. The fifth, gluttony or gourmandise in French, can be defined as the uncontrollable desire and anticipation to over consume. There is however nothing at all sinful about the restaurant we visited this past weekend - Au Cinquième Péché.
Au Cinquième Péché is a bistro style restaurant on St Denis a few steps from the corner of Mont Royal. We had never been before but heard that it was one of the best, and only places in the city where one can regularly find seal meat on the menu. The restaurant has very little in the way of a design concept, but where good food is concerned, this rarely matters to us. There's a small mural on your right-hand side as you enter, all the walls have been taken down to expose the original stone, nice antique style light bulbs hang over the bar where the stools look a little bit like tall office chairs and the tables and chairs in the dining room are all wood, which brings a little warmth to the color palette. The menu is short and as we would learn, not always as descriptive as it could be with about 5 mains, 5 appetizers, and 3 desserts posted on blackboards on the wall. Also on the blackboards are 4 or 5 choices each of red and white wines by the glass all under 10$.
We are seated promptly after arriving and provided a wine list. As we look it over we're very happily surprised at how modestly priced it is, with most choices at or below the 50$ price point. We ordered a 2009 Sancerre Vincent and took a moment to look over the menu. Our waiter came right back with our wine and a complimentary amuse bouche of homemade hummus with a few croutons as well as bread and butter. The texture of the hummus was perfect, not completely puréed, still barely chunky. We ate it all and enjoyed it but it did taste a little bit too strongly of lemon for a hummus. We notice that the only seal option on the menu is an appetizer named "phoquonailles" a play on cochonailles we assume, which is usually a small celebration of all things pork, except in this case it would be seal. For our second appetizer we ordered what was described on the blackboard menu as "pork shank, foie gras, confit peach".
Amuse Bouche - Hummus
The moment we had been waiting for came quickly in the form of an appetizer course, our much anticipated first taste of seal meat. Our phoquonailles platter was small, lightly spicy salami like sausages made of an 80/20 mix of seal to pork respectively which did taste a little bit of seal but the spices really came through strongest. They were mixed with crisp, thin sliced radish and lightly vinegary marinated king oyster mushrooms, crunchy glassworts, and sour-sweet little sea-buckthorn berries. The dish was topped with a few pieces of what our waiter described as seal tataki. The seal tataki was extraordinary, barely seared on the outside and completely raw most of the way through. The meat was deep and red in color like raw deer and ultra lean, absolutely no fat. We later found out this is because all of the seal's fat exists in an easily removable blubbery layer surrounding the animal that helps to insulate it in cold water. When people speak of fresh fish they often describe it as "tasting of the ocean", we have done this before, but never before have we tasted anything that tasted so much like the ocean until eating seal. The flavor is so clean, so astoundingly delicious. It is particularly astonishing because the idea of the taste of the ocean is not one our minds associate with the sight of red meat. We loved the seal, it was an enormous success and we can't wait for next time. We should also mention that we love glassworts, we enjoy eating them as often as we can but have never eaten them with anything that they paired so well with as the seal. Without hesitation we would say that this dish, was in one word - magnificent.
"Phoquonailles" Platter - 13$
At first glance our second appetizer was a little bit of a let down, but it turned out to be terrific. It was a frigid summer night after ample evening rain and we had read "pork shank, foie gras, confit peach" on the menu. By the description we expected it would be a warm dish to lift our spirits, but it arrived in the form of a chilled terrine. Two slices of pork shank terrine with nice pieces of foie gras suspended in the center of it were served along side a few croutons and a half of a confit peach on a rectangular slate piece of stone. The terrine was slightly but not overpoweringly smokey and decadently fatty with the addition of the foie gras, it was very good but it was the peach that really elevated the dish to another level. Adding the sweet pieces of velvety soft peach to each bite really created a well rounded flavor profile cutting the richness of the pork and foie gras. We enjoyed the dish a lot and would probably order it again if given the chance but objectively, we still feel the menu should have mentioned that it was a terrine. To play devils advocate though, simply asking our waiter for an explanation of the dish could have avoided this mixup, then again we may not have ordered it if we knew it was a cold terrine and it would have been a shame to miss out on the dish. Ultimately, it was a very tasty "all's well that ends well" situation.
Pork Shank, Foie Gras, Confit Peach - 16$
Our first main was another case of the blackboard menu having a less than complete explanation of the dish that, in this case, turned out to be an awesome surprise. The menu read "deer, blood gnocchi, braised endive" but when the dish arrived it was, in fact, a duo plate. Deer chops had been cooked ideally rare, removed from the bone, sliced, and fanned out over the bone for presentation on top of a pile of kale, sliced snow peas, sweet corn and blood gnocchi. On the opposite side of the plate was a wonderful surprise not mentioned in the menu description; a decadently fatty, sticky slab of tender pork belly was served topped with a half of a braised endive cut lengthwise. There were also small dots of a roasted garlic purée sporadically scattered around the plate. The doneness on the deer was spot on, and it was very well seasoned, the lightly bitter kale and sweet snow peas and corn beneath added color and texture to the dish. The blood gnocchi had been made from pigs blood and we found them to be a little bit dense and lacking the irony mineral flavor of blood we were expecting, they were the only component of this dish that didn't really hit the bulls-eye. The pork belly was soft and barely sweet, basted in pan juices that were also used for saucing the plate. The belly added the fat to the dish that the lean deer meat inherently lacks and the endive had been braised until it surrendered its crunch and provided a lightly almost radicchio like pleasant bitterness. The presentation on this dish was beautiful and it overall struck us as a very well thought out and refined plate that was a just a hair short of being 100% flawless.
Deer, Blood Gnocchi, Pork Belly, Braised Endive - 29$
For our second main we had first planned on ordering a sweetbread option on the menu, until we saw our table neighbors order the fish; it looked so appealing that we changed our minds and went with it. Lake walleye was nothing short of exemplarily seared with a crisp skin second to none. The fish was paired with a savory house made classic boudin blanc, a white meat sausage made primarily of chicken and bread soaked in milk with eggs for binding and various seasonings. The fish was served over a seasonal vegetable sautée of brussels sprouts, green and yellow wax beans and baby bokchoy. The fish was moist and separated so easily with a fork and the crisp skin was superb complimenting the fish the same way a perfect skin on a roast chicken does. Surrounding the dish were a few dollops of earthy, grassy parsnip and sea-parsley purée that was barely sweet in that root vegetable sort of way. We had never eaten or heard of sea parsley before but google searched it when we got home and learned that it is an edible coastal plant native to Australia but can be found all over the world. It very closely resembles the look and taste of traditional flat leaf parsley and can also sometimes go by the name sea celery. This dish rounded out two courses and 4 marvelous dishes which had provided us with an unbelievably positive first impression of Au Cinquième Péché.
Lake Walleye, Boudin Blanc, Parsnip Purée, Sautéed Veg - 26$
There were only three dessert options on the menu plus an option for a cheese plate. Our plan was to order a cheese plate followed by a dessert to share but we double checked our bottle to find we had no wine left to enjoy the cheese plate with. We instead ordered two desserts, one cheesecake with rhubarb compote and another dessert that was described as "sablé, pistachio, strawberry salad". The cheesecake was an individual sized portion that looked like it had been formed and turned out of a ramekin. It had a classic graham cracker crust and and it was topped with a tart and sweet rhubarb compote and a sprinkling of more crushed graham crackers. The cheese was a little bit too crumbly in our opinion, it was good, we ate it all, but it wasn't the best cheesecake we've ever had. The rhubarb was really the strongest component on the plate. The second dessert was another case of unclear menu description but by this point it was really our fault for not asking. After two courses of being surprised by our plates it was up to us to simply ask our waiter if we weren't sure. Nonetheless, it was a very good dessert, certainly the better of the two. It was a play on the classic dessert Sablé Breton or shortbread with strawberries. A bright green mixture of pistachio and almond paste were set on top of a tender, sweet shortbread cookie base and cut into a nice rectangle for serving. It was then topped with a generous amount of sweet fresh Quebec strawberries lightly dressed with lemon and drops of strawberry coulis. Judging by the description of ingredients in this dessert we had expected it to be lighter and the pistachio flavor didn't come through as forcefully as we had hoped having been mixed with almond. Regardless, it was a very nice looking and tasting summer dessert and a nice way to end our meal.
Cheesecake, Rhubarb - 8$
Sablé Breton, Pistachio, Strawberry Salad - 9$
We went to Au Cinquième Péché looking to eat seal meat and ended up finding so much more than that. A romantic bistro atmosphere with outstanding food, first-rate service and knowledgeable and courteous staff. They're using fresh, unique ingredients sourced from Quebec terroir and they're executing it at a very high level. Combine all of this with a fantastic and reasonably priced wine list, an accessible downtown location and available terrasse and how can you miss? We loved our meal at Au Cinquième Péché and will certainly return.
Au Cinquième Péché
4475 Rue Saint-Denis