Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BRASSERIE T!


Historically in Quebec, a brasserie refers to a blue-collar, working class dining establishment with vast menus, daily specials and of course, plenty of beer. Lately the term has been used by chefs and restauranteurs in a form less true to it's roots, referring to more casual versions of high-end dining restaurants. Brasserie T! is a more financially accessible version of renowned chef Normand Laprise's restaurant Toqué which is a world class, five diamond, four star dining experience.

The same technique, attention to detail and respect for only the best quality ingredients that Toqué is famous for remains constant at Brasserie T! but the menu choices may be a little more familiar to most customers. The restaurant is in a very unique building immediately between Place des Arts and Place de la Paix, the rectangular building must be five or six times as long as it is wide. You enter off the sidewalk through a large glass door to find a restaurant that feels like you're in an elongated shipping container, albeit a very fancy shipping container. Panoramic glass skylights stretch across the entire ceiling and right down the walls every 12 feet or so almost wrapping the restaurant in sunlight like  ribbons on a gift box. Tables with plastic chairs are set up about three wide the length of the dining room and a terrasse outside must certainly double the restaurants seating capacity. The only thing we weren't fans of design-wise was the adjustable track lighting that seemed, well.. a little bit dated which is surprising since the restaurant opened so recently.

This past week we went to Brasserie T! after seeing a comedy show. The restaurant was absolutely full to capacity inside and out, as well as people lining up out the door waiting for a table. The neighborhood was buzzing with thousands of people and street performers all there for the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Upon arriving, we let the hostess know that we had a reservation and were greeted and seated immediately despite the overwhelmingly busy atmosphere, a testament to the emphasis on and consistency of their service. Our waitress promptly brought us menus, bread and butter and a mason jar of outrageously good house-made gherkins which tasted quite strongly of fennel. They were so good we nearly finished the entire jar even before our first dish would arrive.

We began our meal with a dish of smoked herring folded with whipped cream from the section of the menu called "Bouchées" - a word that translates to bite-sized. The dish arrived and we were very surprised to see how enormous the portion was. What we had expected to be a few bite sized morsels ended up being an appetizer dish that could have easily been shared with two more people. Ultimately this was no reason to be disappointed, after all for the price of the dish if we were to be happy with a few bites we were certainly happy with a generous plate. Smoked herring was cut into a small dice and folded with unsweetened whipped cream served with croutons and a lightly dressed simple salad. The cream had been whipped quite thick, certainly passed what would be considered stiff peaks and folded with a very generous amount of smoked herring. The clean and light flavor and texture of the cream balanced the flavors extremely well while the smokiness of the fish remained powerful and didn't take a back seat in the dish, you knew there was smoked fish in there and it was delicious to scoop on pieces of crisp crouton and munch on with a drink. The salad and its vinaigrette offered a nice, fresh tasting and acidic counterpoint to the fatty-oiliness of the cream and smoked fish; an excellent starter.

 Smoked Herring, Whipped Cream, Croutons - 8$

Next up we went with two choices from the charcuterie section of the menu. We had chicken liver mousse and headcheese, both of which came served on wax paper covered chopping blocks with toast and a little fleur de sel. Chicken liver has experienced somewhat of a revival lately making it out of delis and your grandmother's kitchen to appear on many restaurant menus around the city. It might be jazzed up with some fancy name but make no mistakes about it, that "foie de vollaile" you're swooning over on that charcuterie plate is wonderful chicken liver, love it - own it. This particular chicken liver mousse is excellent, smooth textured and not at all shy on the liver flavor. It comes served with wildly good, super sweet caramelized onions; there's certainly a secret to these onions and we couldn't figure it out. The headcheese was also very good, there were plenty of those really tasty fatty pieces suspended in the aspic gelatin which was surprisingly delicately flavored. It came chilled, served with a sauce gribiche in a small mason jar, which is a mayonnaise based sauce with chopped capers and hard boiled egg mixed in. The headcheese lends itself particularly well to the sauce because of the familiarity most of us correlate between egg flavor and gelatinous texture. 

 Chicken Liver Mousse - 9$
Headcheese, Sauce Gribiche - 9$

After an appropriately short pause our mains arrived. First the bavette or flank steak served with french fries and a knob of "Toqué!" butter which was basically Maître d'Hôtel butter with the addition of tarragon. Truthfully, we were a little bit discouraged to see the portion of steak that arrived. Earlier in our meal we had seen the table next to us order the flank steak, it looked great and influenced us to order it as well. The portion they received however, was unquestionably larger that the one we did. We joked amongst ourselves that perhaps the kitchen received two orders for steak before having a chance to inform the wait staff that the item had been 86'd and they had to cut their last portion of steak in half. All jokes aside though, in a restaurant consistency is key and although the steak was perfectly cooked and tasted terrific the portion was unfortunate. Perhaps we wouldn't have felt that way if we hadn't seen other portions of the same dish leave the kitchen first but we can't pretend we didn't, if the price remains constant from client to client, so should the portion. This would be the only error in our otherwise flawless visit. 

  Flank Steak, "Toqué!" Butter, French Fries - 20$

Our second main was Coquille St Jacques, tender scallops and shrimp with sautéed spinach and mushroom, surrounded by piped mashed potato, and topped with melted cheese; all served in a scallop shell perched on a bed of coarse sea salt. The dish was rich and heavy, but comforting in a shepherds pie sort of way. The portion seemed modest at first but after digging in it quickly became clear that a larger portion would have been very unnecessary. Without question the best executed Coquille St Jacques either one of us had ever eaten. 

 Coquille St. Jacques - 24$

For our dessert we had asked for profiteroles, but our waitress returned to our table to regrettably tell us that there were none left. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the "Trottoir Aux Fruits" we ordered instead was wonderful. Strawberry, raspberry & rhubarb jam was spread thick on a buttery flaky pastry crust and served with a side of perfect whipped cream. A delightfully light and fruity way to end our meal.

 "Trottoir Aux Fruits" - 7$

Minus the gaffe with the steak portion our meal at Brasserie T! was flawless. The service was excellent, the food was classic, unpretentious and all executed professionally and the prices represented very good value. We look forward to our next visit, which may be sooner than later given how easy of a recommendation the approachability of the menu offers to just about any dinner company.  


Brasserie T!
1425 Rue Jeanne-Mance
Montreal, QC
514-282-0808


Brasserie T! on Urbanspoon

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