Thursday, 03 May 2012
This Month's featuring review is the one I wrote about Bouillon Bilk, a restaurant that unsurprisingly (Chef Nadon was trained by the Mercuri brothers, Joe and Michelle, who count among my favourite Chefs around the globe) found itself in my top 3 bistrots in Montreal (along with Bistro Cocagne and Au 5e Péché). Chef Nadon was cooking on this meal, and when this gentleman is in his prime, he is as equally remarkable as Chef Alexandre Loiseau (Bistro Cocagne) and Chef Lenglet (Au 5e Péché), although what he is doing is more eclectic than the former two grand Chefs. When I wrote this review, I received many emails reminding that my title 'Novelty in gifted hands' was exaggerated since some found this not to be that 'novel'. Interestingly, one of those emails came from a long time experienced foodie that I admire a lot and who I won't name, but my answer to him was a reminder that novelty, as with anything else, is a relative assessment: 'Dear xxxx, you once raved over the novelty of a dish of yucca you had at Mugaritz and bragged that it was unique..guess what my friend: all along my childhood, I used to have that same dish and that was over 3 decades ago...". Bottom line, Novelty, when I use that term, is relative to a given location/circumstance. As a Bistro, and even at the time of writing this (almost 1 yr after my reviewed meal there at Bouillon Bilk), BB remains the breath of fresh air Montreal badly needed in its restaurant scene. I have written this only about a few Chefs and I'll re-iterate it, here: Chef Nadon is a gifted Chef.
Event: Dinner @ Bouillon Bilk
When: Wednesday July 20th, 2011 17:30
Type of cuisine: Mdern Cosmopolitan/French
Addr: 1595 Boul Saint Laurent (close to Metro Saint Laurent)
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)
(English review will follow) Plein de Chefs ouvrent des restos pour finalement offrir du déjà vu dans le contexte de leur propre délimitation géographique. A tel point que je renommerai leurs restaurants 'copie 1', 'copie 2 ', etc.. Le Chef Nadon du Bouillon Bilk coupe court à ce désolant scénario: il apporte la formule de fraicheur tant espérée depuis des lunes sur la scène des restos Montréalais, la créativité, l'audace de sortir du lot en insufflant une touche unique (dans les standards locaux) et tout cela agrémenté d'excellence technique, d'un travail des gouts qui est remarquable . Bouillon Bilk, c'est tout simplement brillant (dans mon top 3 de mes meilleurs bistrots à Mtl). Le Chef Nadon, bien au delà des standards locaux, c'est un grand talent dont les actuelles créations culinaires au Bouillon Bilk n'ont souvent rien à envier à ce que l'on peut trouver dans un excellent 1 Étoile Michelin en France. Allez, hop dans la liste de mes coups de coeur!
Montreal is getting all excited with the future opening of Gordon Ramsay's (I don't get that one!) and Daniel Boulud's ventures, but I would not. GR and DB will put Mtl on world's gastronomy map, perhaps, but Montreal has some serious homework to do before feasting: this city has thousands of restaurants ..thousands...and yet, I can count on the fingers of my hand the number of restaurants that I would care for. A handful! That's yet. There are many that are decent, indeed. But just a handful that worth the hype of international consideration we seem to seek through big names like GR and DB. Talking about GR and DB...you won't see one review of their restaurants on this site. I know this will change nothing in their life, but it won't neither in mine. GR and DB are welcomed in Montreal though. They will ensure more mileage to the remunarated fooc critics, but I beg to stay away from mutton's folly land! For the record, I am not the type to encourage celebrity chefs in their quest for perpetual expansion through name bearers: Pacaud, for ie, is a 3 star Michelin Chef who is way more talented than the likes of GR and DB. Pacaud is of the level of spectacular legendary Chefs like Robuchon, Fredy Girardet, and although on the verge of retirement (that 'real genius' is 65+ if I recall properly) ..he was there, behind his stoves, kicking a spectacular 3 star Michelin meal on a Friday lunch: this one. Now, imagine what I may think of name bearers promoted by some...
Which brings me to what I like to do most: discovering the food of the artisan Chefs who stand as true gems. I remember Chef Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant. I remember Chef Rouyé at La Porte. I remember Chef Navarrette Jr at Raza. I remember Chef Lenglet at Au 5e Péché. I remember Chef Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne. I remember Chef Belair at Le Marly. I remember those ones, because I truly think they stood out in their own ways. I know there are few more (Toque, Club Chasse et Peche, etc), but not so much more. Still, my doors are open: just bring some true talent...make sure it's true talent though...and I'm the first who will be enthused by the idea of discovering their Chef d'oeuvre. You won't fool me: I know what is pure empty buzz, and I know what is worthy of the buzz! When I heard that Chef François Nadon has opened his restaurant, that caught my attention: this gentleman is more busy expressing his cooking talent where it needs to rather than parading on TV cooking shows! He is more substance than fla fla. If I could say of a Chef that he went to the right school, then it would be of Chef François Nadon. Given his past experiences at ex-Bronte, XO Le Restaurant and Globe (those three restaurants have always welcomed raw talents..just think of the Mercuris, Eric Gonzalez, Frédéric Morin), I had to pay a visit to his new venture ( Personally, I would tend to play more attention at any Chef who has evolved at those 3 restaurants than most cooks who would pretend having spent times in 1,2,3 star-Michelin kitchens).
Off to the food report:
Linguini, bacon, roasted almonds, blue cheese, mushrooms - Write this down: roasted almonds and blue cheese ...done this way, cooked this way, tasting this way....mixed with pastas..is a hit! It might not be a benchmark (my 10/10) dish but this is simply excellent (a rich and memorable mouthfeel that deserves that I leave the comfort of home for. This could be easily a 10/10 (the taste, the flavor combinations were amazing) , but with respect to my strict rating standards, I'll give it a fair 9/10 (which means EXCELLENT, by the way!)
Grilled shrimps, bone marrow, orange, miso, céléri and thyme - An 8 over 10 (which means 'very good' in my standards), but here again ... be careful: this could be easily a 10/10 since I don't see how you can improve on this dish: the taste is irreprochable, textures are perfect, cooking technique right on point, the addition of subtle orange, miso, thyme and celeri flavors so inspiring. So why 8/10 and not 10/10: simply because I know the potential of this Chef. He is not an average chef and in his own standards, this is great but not stellar. This Gentleman can be stellar....trust me! The other reason is this: for someone like me who was born in front of an ocean of stunning seafood, the standards are very high when it comes to seafood. Not bragging here, just a reminder about how strict you become in such circumstances.So, take that 8 over 10 as a perfect score.
Braised pork (as a ragout), green peas ravioli, olive oil emulsion, pistachios - This is of pure benchmark material: the level of deliciousness being so high, the raviolis well done, the braised pork faultless. Each ingredient shining on its own is something we oftently see. But this went beyond: the rich and memorable individual tastes paired so well together. This is what I am willing to pay for when I dine out! 10/10
Duck Magret is my secret 'testing-weapon' when I visit a restaurant. It's those 'hey..this is easy thing to do' that most Chefs will tell you. Love this...because the easier things tend to route Chefs in Easy-Land...and I ... in Strict-Judging Land...Here again, this would be easily a 10/10 at most tables in Montreal...the most important task being fullfilled: the duck magret was superbly well cooked and tasted so great. The lentils, delicious with great mouthsome. But since Chef Nadon is not our average chef, we'll roam within his standards: Chef, elevate those two portions of duck terrine to stunning levels (they were great, don't get me wrong...but I know you can make this as stellar as let's say the terrine of foie I had at Biron, for ie) and this is an easy 10. It is an 8.5 over 10 for this occurence, but that's being insanely picky....which I can afford to be, knowing well the talent of Chef Nadon. Notice that there's no technical fault and no serious reproach, here!
Chocolate ganache, tia maria, black raspberry, hazelnut ice cream - A 9/10 of my standards (which is no benchmark, but excellent) for the delicious top-tier ingredients (the chocolate was of impeccable quality, same could be said of the raspberry). There's really nothing not to enjoy here, each component being perfectly well executed with taste to match!
Cheese cake, strawberry, basil, balsamic - I thought I had my share of cheese cakes with most of them being of top marks. Chef Nadon had a surprise for my palate: what about pushing the boundaries a bit higher? Which he successfully did...but the amazement of this one cheese cake can't be summed up in just those few words...Grandma used to tell me 'succulent dishes can't be described....they only can be tasted!". .10/10
Menu: The dinner menu on this given evening is small but varied. Six starters priced from $12 to $14 (well balanced between veal carpaccio, crab, fish, shrimps, etc). Five main courses (Pork, trout, scallops, lobster, duck) from $23 to $28 and 6 desserts (from $7 to $12). A rare occurence: they do excel on savouries as well as on desserts. An enticing menu, lots of combinations you seldomly find at other Montreal restaurants and a sense of detail/creativity that's among those few that stand out in town.
Wine: On this given evening, a small list of wines (1 sparkling wine which was a Prosecco Bisol $40 the bottle, $8 the glass/ 2 champagne which were Champagne Barbichon and Bollinger ) + 6 white wines, 9 red) that was smartly conceived and balanced with reasonable prices ranging from $35 (Beaujolais 2010, Raisins Gaulois, M. Lapierre / Coteaux d'Aix en Provence 2008, Chateau Revelette) to $120 (the bottle of champagne Bollinger). In between, lots of nicely priced bottles: for ie, an Anjou 2008, Chateau de la Guimonière was priced at $40 (8$ the glass), a Monferrato Freisa 2005, Canone Inverso, Cantine Valpane at $48 (9.5$ the glass), a Coteaux du Languedoc 2010, Mas Jullien at $42 (8.8 the glass), etc The wine was skillfully paired all along our meal (we basically paired each dish with a glass of wine, with some glasses of the Prosecco Bisol at the very beginning).
Service: Wherever and whenever you put someone open minded, who has travelled a lot and who is well mannered on my way, I am in heaven! The young woman who served us works for Air Canada, has travelled a lot and is as refreshingly interesting as a fun classy globetrotter! A 10!
Conclusion: Of this restaurant, food critic Marie-Claude Lortie writes that it is refreshing to see, finally, a table that refrains from re-editing what we see everywhere in town. Chef Nadon's unusual but mostly exciting combinations seem to appeal to her taste. Food critic Thierry Daraize underlines Chef Nadon's tremendous talent in his article, but wished the portions were more generous (Although not a big concern...I shared his feeling only with the the duck magret dish where I'd have requested a tad more lentils and a slightly bigger portion of those foie gras, but the portion of duck magret was fine. They were generous with all the rest, though! Even the wine was generously poured!). Both food columnists seemed not to feast on the 'crabe de gaspésie, fraises, fenouille' appetizer....and I presume Chef Nadon has good ears since this dish is now off the menu! Some little corrections here and there for those this might interest: Chef Nadon has never worked at Lemeac. Her business partner has! Chef Nadon's cooking, for now, is closer to Ex-Bronté's (the fans of the old Bronté, now closed, will be happy to learn this) cuisine. Bronté was easily among Montreal's top 5, btw! Both my wife and I had 3 courses each, wine pairings to each item for me, 2 glasses of wine for her and this came around $170. I honestly think that this was largely fair for such inspired cooking. I have experienced, in Montreal, dinners that did cost at least $80 more than this with some food items deserving nothing less than 0/10 ................
In Montreal standards, Chef Nadon stands among those who brings novelty (it might not be novelty abroad, but what he is doing remains new on current Montreal restaurant scene). I am a big fan of great classics superbly executed with taste to match (Les Mas des Oliviers, Le Bonaparte, Le Margaux, Chez la mère Michel), but would never run away from novelty that stands out. Here's a Chef who has not yet embraced the nonsense quest for fame. He is where it makes sense to find him: in his kitchen. He is where, as a patron, I do expect his talent to shine: in his kitchen, not on TV ..because he, at least, understood that a diner should bother with what a Chef is serving to his guests and not to what a cook is selling on TV!
Admittedly, although I value true artisan Chefs (as opposed to TV-boosted cooks), it has to be a talented Chef as well, or else I won't be enthusiastic. Chef Nadon does have such a superb talent that I can state, in total confidence, that he stands among Montreal's very best Cooks at this moment. As long as he does not follow the nonsense practices of some talented Chefs who lost the respect of some of their patrons because they were more interested by fame rather than efficient and effective great work, I can see Nadon marking memories of Montreal's gourmands for a long time. Nadon was cooking on this dinner (I am realistic: I have no clue how this amazing Chef will work his schedu;e, but I am not expecting him to work days and nights. If he does so, good for him..but it would be stupid to expect this. Personally, with such talented Chef, I'd rather opt for dinners, especially on Fridays and Saturdays: after all, lunches --- although affordable -- is always casual at most tables).
Chef Nadon, you have got a new fan as long as you shine where I expect you to excel, because YES.. TREMENDOUS TALENT (amazing techniques, a sense of taste that's impressive, and one of the few Chefs who reconciles me with sous-vidé cooking technique -- he masters this technique so well --- a cooking technique that is usually not my cup of tea in other instances) ... YOU HAVE!!
PROS: This was INSPIRED work all the way! Easily in my top tier tables in Montreal, and it vindicates Chef Nadon in my top 10 Chefs in town. I shall go back !
CONS: As far as I am concerned, Nothing to complain about
PS: A reminder before I go -> a review with at least a 9/10 and one 10/10 worths your upmost attention. There are, on this reviewed dinner, two 10/10, a 9/10 and other marks that would easily be 10s in other circumstances.
Overall food rating: 8.5/10 In between VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT for what I am accustomed to /thus do expect at comparable restaurants/dining category. For Montreal standards, as of lately, this is refreshing top stuff. I personally was not surprised: their Chef was trained alongside the Mega talented Chefs Joe and Michele Mercuri.
Overall service rating: 8/10 nice, Really nothing to say here. And on that day, I even met a waitress who share my passion of Travel, so whatmore can I ask, lol.
Décor: 7/10 The décor is very simple. Twotones of color from what I remember: white and grey. Basta, but this is perfect: it sends you back to the very food itself. No distraction needed.Hey..who is complaining about the décor at the Fat Duck in Bray, btw???
WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: I went back twice and I am still a huge fan. BB is the top 5 of my all time favourite Montreal restaurants, up there with Bistrot Cocagne, La Porte, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon. If you are one of those who feel they have seen it all and do expect things to be special, I suggest you travel to the moon or take a good booze, or else this is as good as you’ll get in Montreal in this genre of dining offering (a mix of bistrot and fine dining with modern French base and cosmopolite touches).