We don't think we stand alone saying that we're sick and tired of overhyped New Year's Eve parties that always seem to under-deliver on expectations. Whether it's a bar with loud obnoxious crowds that can't hold their booze, supper-clubs with cooler than you DJ's, mandatory bottle service and vapid, characterless food or nightclubs with overpriced mixed drinks and expensive cover charges these things just don't do it for us anymore, maybe we're getting old. In any case, for the past several years we have chosen to forgo the disappointment of another one of the underwhelming celebrations for either dinner parties with close friends or fixed menu events at good restaurants, of which Montreal has plenty to choose from so long as you don't wait until the last minute to make reservations.
This year we visited Le Club Chasse et Pêche for a fixed price, 8 course menu. It would be our first ever visit to the restaurant, considered by many to be one of the top tables in Montreal. Le Club Chasse et Pêche is on St-Claude street in Old Montreal, almost hidden in plain site with nothing but a crest hanging above a nondescript door to identify it's whereabouts; it appears they don't really need a sign, everyone knows where "Le Club" is, as those who frequent the place always like to call it. We're not regulars, trendy one-uppers, nor residents of the pricey neighborhood though so we'll stick with the full name, thanks.
We entered the restaurant to find the maitre'd in the vestibule laughing, smiling and double-cheek kissing guests, most of whom he appeared to know on a first name basis. Everyone wants to feel like a somebody it seems and this gentleman was clearly a true professional, making every last guest feel as though they were a VIP from the moment they walked in the door. We checked our coats and were immediately shown to our table. As we looked around we were a little bit surprised by our surroundings. Perhaps we had unwarrantedly high expectations of a place that gives off an impression of exclusivity without actually being exclusive but the decor was neither that remarkable nor particularly original. The walls were painted in a dark grey color, the windows were treated and covered so as not to permit you to see through them and the low ceilings covered in wallpaper stenciled with the restaurant's crest made the dining room appear dark and smaller than it actually was. We settled in to beautiful leather lounge chairs at our table that were extremely comfortable for drinking and chatting in between courses but although not unreasonably so, they were not quite as conducive to sitting up straight and eating in.
The meal began with a complimentary glass of champagne accompanied by a trio of hors d'oeuvres. We aren't normally the biggest fans of champagne, even the really pricey stuff but the Larmandier-Bernier we were served was very enjoyable. From left to right in the photo below were raw salmon and celery root, kobe beef tataki with a purée of maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms topped with fried shallot, and a tempura fried oyster. We differed in opinion completely on the salmon, one of us thought the celery root tasted starchy almost like an undercooked potato and that the bite was teetering on the bland side while the other one of us felt the salmon was too salty and that the celery root tasted fine. We disagreed on the faults but agreed it was not a big hit overall. The kobe beef was prepared tataki style, which is to say flash seared on the outside and raw inside. It was meltingly tender and well seasoned. The fried shallots on top provided good texture to the bite but the maitake purée beneath while delicious, overpowered the ritzy kobe beef that we would have preferred to be the star. The tempura fried oyster was crisp, briny and awesome tasting, certainly the best of the three.
Hors d'oeuvres - Salmon & Celery Root, Kobe Beef Tataki, Tempura Oyster
The first appetizer was a pristine princess scallop sliced and served raw in it's shell with jicama, a grapefruit segment, fennel pollen, lemon balm and avocado. If there was any jicama in the dish we couldn't find it but didn't miss it either, it didn't really seem necessary. The scallop was immaculate; fresh as can be, firm and naturally sweet. The fennel pollen which can be a very powerful ingredient, was used sparingly lending a delicate and splendid anise flavor. The grapefruit segment provided acidity and additional sweetness while the avocado offered a creamy and pleasant texture in the mouth. It was garnished with a sprig of lemon balm that looked lovely but didn't offer much in the way of flavor. An excellent foot to begin our meal on, this dish truly tasted as spectacular as it looked.
Princess Scallop, Jicama, Grapefruit, Fennel Pollen, Lemon Balm
Following the scallop was partridge two ways with cavatelli, snails, black trumpet mushrooms and sage. The dark meat of the partridge was prepared confit and mixed with the earthy black trumpet mushrooms, chopped snails and aromatized with a subtle amount of sage forming a little bit of a ragout with which the homemade cavatelli noodles were dressed. The breast of the partridge was seared and placed over the top of the pasta. The dish was a little on the salty side but nonetheless tasted great. Our only grievance was that we would have liked a slightly larger portion of this dish, but that was no basis for complaining with 5 courses left to come.
Partridge Two Ways, Cavatelli, Snails, Black Trumpets, Sage
Next up, slow-cooked piglet served with a halved roasted fig, salsifis purée, white radish and a porcini mushroom jus. The salsifis purée was smooth as silk and well seasoned, it worked a lot like a mashed potato might, soaking up the porcini jus and juices from the meat which was pleasing. The white radish was par-cooked retaining much of it's textural bite. It tasted subdued, imparting no fiery bite normally associated with radish. The fig was gorgeous eaten on its own, we have had fig paired with cured or smoked pig products such as, but not limited to bacon, where it's sweetness works great in contrast to saltiness but when eaten in the same bite as the more delicately flavored piglet it was completely dominant rather than harmonious. The piglet itself tasted great but was a little bit of a let down. After having been described as being "slow-cooked" we were anticipating a piece of fork tender pork. No serrated knife was provided and cutting it with a butter knife proved to be a little bit of a struggle. The dish assumedly was not served with a proper knife because the restaurant was expecting it to be as tender as we were, but unfortunately that plan didn't play out so well. We finished the dish and enjoyed the flavors but it wasn't without it's faults.
Slow-Cooked Piglet, Roasted Fig, Salsifis, White Radish, Porcini Jus
The main dish was the hands-down star of the night. A surf and turf duo of lobster and bison filet that was altogether satisfying and completely exemplary in every way. A substantial portion of impeccably cooked rare bison filet was served over a purée of smoked onion, which tasted sweet and sufficiently smokey without going overboard. Along side it was a little grilled maitake mushroom and a bit of lamb's lettuce (mache). Opposite the bison on the plate was a butter poached lobster claw that in a million years could not have been more perfectly cooked, you could presumably cook it as well, but never better. The lobster was sitting on a side of chopped cauliflower that played a good supporting role and a dollop of lobster bisque that reinforced the lobster with deep crustacean flavor. The whole thing was doused in a beurre blanc with an abundant amount of chopped truffle in it. Decadent and absolutely phenomenal, if it weren't for a dining room full of people in suits and ties that plate could have and should have been licked clean of that spectacular truffled beurre blanc. Every aspect of this dish was sensational, we can't say enough good things about it.
Bison Filet, Smoked Onion, Maitake, Poached Lobster, Cauliflower, Truffle, Bisque
Our meal began winding down with a velvety smooth foie gras parfait. It was served set in the bottom of a small bowl topped with a thin film of sweet gelatinized Minus 8 ice wine vinegar, which did a solid job of cutting through the richness of the foie. A few frosted grapes were used for garnish, which paired well with the ice wine jelly while simultaneously providing texture and temperature contrast to the dish. A couple of pieces of crispy, sweet pecan bread which was really more like a cracker than bread was served for the foie to be eaten with, we liked it a lot. Regrettably not nearly enough of the bread was served with each plate in comparison to the generous volume of foie gras beneath. We understand the importance of presentation, however we believe that form should enhance but never preside over function. If the kitchen liked the way the dish looked with two slices of bread in the bowl that's perfectly fine, but they should have still acknowledged that the proportion of foie gras required additional bread to be served on the side. We were not shy to request more bread, and our waiter was pleased to oblige with a plate of additional pieces, but we noticed most people in the dining room didn't consider doing the same. Most left the majority of their foie gras unfinished because they ran out of bread and eating it without the bread would have been like eating butter with a spoon. It's unfortunate too because more bread was an easy fix, it was a thoroughly enjoyable dish that only suffered in popularity for what appeared to be aesthetic reasons.
Foie Gras Parfait, Minus 8 Jelly, Frosted Grapes, Pecan Bread
Our dessert was a bit of a disappointment, certainly the least successful course of the evening. A Paris-Brest, a dessert made of choux-pastry (the same dough as eclairs and profiteroles), was served classically filled with a praline cream but not so classically adorned with a scoop of popcorn flavored ice cream, nut crumble and a drizzle of caramel sauce. The combination was what appeared to be a clever play on the flavor profile of caramel covered nuts and popcorn like crackerjacks but while it worked flavor wise it missed the mark texturally. The pastry was soggy and not even remotely crisp, it tasted like it had been filled with the forgettable praline cream ahead of time and stored in the fridge, which robbed it of it's texture. Contrarily the popcorn ice cream on top was terrific and really did taste strongly of buttered popcorn which we loved, the caramel sauce was good too. They would have been better off tasting the soggy pastry, eliminating it from the menu and serving a scoop of that splendid ice cream on it's own with a sprinkling of nuts and a drizzle of caramel. Sometimes in the kitchen when things don't work out as planned you just have to cut your losses and work with what you've got. If that means pulling a component, that's better than sending out something you're not proud of. They would have done themselves a favor by doing so on this one.
Paris-Brest, Pralined Cream, Popcorn Ice Cream, Nut Crumble
Luckily, mignardises followed dessert, which saved the day to end the meal on a far more triumphant note than the dessert would have. From left to right in the photo below were one bite morsels of pistachio and shortbread, handmade chocolates and raspberry macarons, all of which were excellent. We had a really nice night celebrating New Year's Eve at Le Club Chasse et Pêche. The meal had it's highs and lows but the overall experience was positive and a minimal amount of small stumbles are to be expected in a menu of this magnitude with so many components and a dining room full to capacity. The decor might not be what brings you back here but the food and service are unquestionably of a very high calibre. Our waiter was attentive, knowledgeable and friendly and the ingredients used are of the highest level of quality. We're looking forward to returning to eat from their à la carte menu to get a more accurate representation of the price and variety of Le Club Chasse et Pêche on a "regular" night. Perhaps we'll save it for when the weather gets nicer, we hear they have a striking terrasse.
Le Club Chasse et Pêche
423 Rue Saint-Claude