Friday, 14 May 2010
Summer is at the Gates (ironically, it's not warm at all here in Mtl, despite being in the middle of May..anyways..). Time for some seafood feast!
When it comes to seafood, I skip lots of requirements I would usually look for in most dining situations such as the best value for my money or the layout at my eatery: I just fly deep into my gustatory involvement of the quality of the seafood that is put before me. What brought me to food has always been my lifetime sacred veneration for Seafood. The problem: being born and raised on the banks of the Indian Ocean with Dad, on his spare times, fishing the freshest seafood one tastebud can imagine raving over from the warmest sea waters, and I devouring them right there on the beach with barely any long delays between fishing to eating...you just grow up with very high expectations about seafood. Moving far from my memorable seafood pals, being in so many places where seafood rose as pure jokes, I litterally hoped that I turned allergic to them. But for some reasons, I just could not stop myself to try seafood everywhere I went with some places truely giving the seafood of my childhood an almost close "run for their money".
Everywhere I go I knock at all possible doors that has seafood on their menu. Montreal is no exception.
Montreal is a city that many regard as a great city for French/North American Bistro fares BUT only decent on the Seafood department. The reality is actually brigther than just "decent": Lots of seafood tables like Milos and La Mer offer seafood shipped from abroad (Mediterranea in the case of both previous mentionned restaurants) on top of some North American seafood products as well. In my humble opinion, there's in Montreal, a nice selection of restaurants who are truely serious about providing some solid quality seafood. It is just a matter of rigourously stepping into the field and finding them.
With time some few seafood tables in this city made their way among those I adopted as personal frequent reliable seafood favourite tables, based solely on the remarquable high quality of their seafood (Le Nantua when I want to be alone or with my sweat half in a quiet atmosphere of Classic French elegance, Milos --- their lunch and late night dinner specials are un-matched bargains for such high quality seafood in this City --, Joe Beef when I am with a bunch of folks and feel like partying over high quality fresh seafood in a cool warm bistro-esque setting, Trinity when I feel the need of a touch of the stunning beauty of Mediterranea, La Mer once in a while, and -- although I found myself at both places on very very few occasions --- La Queue de Cheval, Rib N' Reef. The latest are primarily Steakhouses BUT they do offer stunning Quality fresh Seafood.). And you have many more (Restaurant Les Crustacés is another one great seafood place that had served me top quality seafood too, Oyster Shack did a good job last time I was there about couple of weeks ago, and virtually the big majority of tables do offer seafood..so drop me a word about those that have emerged as your favourite seafood restaurants in Montreal) , but those I mentionned previously stand out of the pack as far as top quality seafood goes in this city.
Naturally, one smart reminder would be this: you can't buy top Caviar with Loonies! As most will guess, for Seafood, you truely get what you pay for: do not expect stunning seafood in a $8 Lunch, or a $12 lobster please...I am not here to launch a debate over how much a lobster should cost. I am not here to debate over the best value for your $$$. I am here to talk about the best freshest quality seafood and to remind you that there's a cost to it! And that cost, If one is well placed to have challenged it, it is your humble who used to pick the freshest top quality seafood right from the sea, for free! But I won't. I wont because there's no point for this: we are not at a stone throw from the Ocean, we are not fishermen and we need to be conscient that we have to pay for the cost behind a top quality seafood. Basta!
Event: Dinner @ Lucille's Oyster Dive
Friday May 14th 2010, 18PM
Type of cuisine: Seafood
5626, avenue de Monkland (Montreal, QC)
Phone: 514 482-1471
Lately, I was curious about this seafood eatery
that is attracting hordes of eaters in the Western side of Montreal and where I never went to: Lucille Oyster Dive.
I went paying a visit to Lucille Oyster Dive this Friday evening and I was warned by friends who went there: this is a small and very busy table, as busy as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Le St-Urbain. Exactly what I was seeking for: feasting as in seafood, feasting as in crowded! I went earlier than the 6PM opening to maximize my chances of shooting photos before the rush hits the place.
I came at Lucille's Oyster Dive
with pre-defined orders in mind (Rfaol): I was in for some oysters (I came close to ask if they could grill it like at Etxebarri in Spain...I am telling you, I just can't take that place out of my mind. I need to go there, in this life or the next!) , Lobster roll (Heard that Lucille has the best ones in town: what do you think? Let me know. Not that I am a huge fan of lobster rolls -- I prefer raw seafood usually and if cooked, I like them served on their own, with nothing surrounding them so that I sense them in their pristine purity or close to that ---but this place is known for it's lobster rolls so I had to pick this item) and a Grilled Lobster (If you ask me what have been my most memorable lifetime meals, the answer my friend are those tremendously fresh Grilled lobsters "'with a bit of garlic butter aside" from my tender Childhood ...Ah the beauty of the simple things, so delicious, so pure, that just make you so happy! ). And If I could humanly eat more without getting full, I would have surely asked for crabs, fish, and the sea too!
Kicked off with Blackberries Mojitos:
Sorry, but this was not a successful cocktail: more watery than memorable (rhum was muted and prdominance of lime would be better than those berries). Anyways, berries do not seem to be a friendly mojito ingredient. Just keep it classic (white rum, sugar lime, sparkling water and mint) and it will sing! 2/10
Jannice picked the Salmon tartare:
The wine I chose to accompany our diner:
2008 Simi Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County - Perhaps the most memorable white wine I ever enjoyed since a while: Oozing of unparralel freshness, it's concerto of amazing fruity notes (guava, apricot. melon, apple) makes of this wine one that can be a crowd teaser particularly in summer with high quality fresh seafood. I now understand why this wine is highly rated among wine experts (it was the first time I was trying it). Lucille has identity, Lucille has personality as in hosting that heavenly wine in a an unexpected cute recycled Heinz Ketchup tin can:
Started off with my first order:
Although I have rarely came across bivalve molluscs of stunning quality as those the Indian Ocean pampered me with, I still enjoy my bivalve molluscs friends everywhere I go: Sometimes, I was amazingly satisfied On some rare occasions, they were the opportunity for me to crack some smart jokes at the wait staff like "It's from the Sea and not the fridge that you should have picked it up!'''.
SO at Lucille Oyster Dive, I started my seafood journey with an order of 12 bivalve molluscs and while sampling them with the hightest respect I always pay to anything coming from the sea, I scribbled some notes:
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the oyster: TOP
-Work of the shacker: 10/10
-Level of deliciousness: SUBLIME!
Their oysters come from various locations: New Brunswick, The Main, British Columbia.They offer some from the West (British Columbia), some from the East (Main, etc). Western ones were bigger in size, did I notice. Briny, with a remarquable depth of marine robustness, those oysters were among the best I ever had on any Montreal seafood tables and I am including the big names here! EXCELLENT oysters! They were served with the classic mignonette sauce (expertly executed with perfect balanced acidity from the vinegar and an amazing freshness oozing out of the shallots), a Tabasco Green Pepper sauce (nice idea, try it! I prefer my oysters in their natural state but pick just one oyster, match it with that sauce and see if you like), and their in house tomatoey sauce:
You will never ever see me mixing oysters with sauces (I am a purist), but I had their in house hot sauce sampled separately from the oysters and that sauce rocks: it's a delicious spicy tomatoey sauce, dense and instense, made of scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar. Delish! I know some friends who would love mixing up that sauce with anything, oysters to start with. 10/10 (the oysters, on this specific visit, were simply stunning!)
The Lobster Roll: I am not a huge fan of lobster roll. As you would expect from someone who favors high quality seafood in it's full pristine greatness, a lobster roll is just a comfort food item that can be undoubtly tasty when done well, so this is an exercice that I find pretty straightforward: I will judge my lobster roll not based on pre-defined expectations (just make it tasty and I'll be a happy camper!) but solely based on how tasty it turns out to be.
-Quality of the lobster meat: Top
-Cooking of the lobster meat: Top
-Quality of the Mayo: Top (not overhelming. gently spiced, still flavorfully enjoyable)
-Quality of the roll: (Fresh bun, nicely cooked hot dog looking bun)
-Type of roll: it's hot dog bun roll as you can see on the pic
-Level of deliciousness: High. I have no complaint here. Realy well done, but I am just not into lobster rolls in general being a purist in anything seafood. 7/10
@ALL- So where could your favourite lobster roll be found (New England, I guess)? Let me know! To me, my lobster roll should be an equation of: great quality lobster meat + mastered seasoning/taste + an appropriately thought bun (I am not a baker, but there is surely some fun evolutive work to do on this department) + a well balanced mayo mix (way too much requirrements for comfort food, hein?)
Poached? Grilled? After a slight hesitation I went with my lifetime favourite cooking of the lobster: grilled! Just put a bit of garlic butter aside, keep that lobster fresh, simple and I'll walk away with a huge smile on my face.
In Montreal, you can get lobster virtually anywhere. The thing is to get it cooked the way I like it (yeah..yeah..ya..they all say it is easy to cook a lobster..sure..sure..sure...but very few have delivered the proper balance of nice cooking/great quality lobster/resulting memorable taste I search for. To me, a meal of Lobster is the epitome of the equation "talent behind a kitchen" + "top quality ingredient").
So, here again, the notes that I scribbled on this one:
-Marine robustness: HIGH
-Quality of the lobster meat: HIGH
-Cooking of the lobster meat: SUPERB
-Level of deliciousness: PERFECT
-Work of the Fishermen: Lol..just kidding on this one ;p I highly respect fishermen, especially them!
Before heading to a location, especially for seafood, I always phone and enquire about where the seafood comes from: the Gentleman over the phone explained that the lobster currently served (at this moment) at the restaurant comes from Nova Scotia. Their lobster weight around 1.5lbs/Maximum 2lbs and cost between $can28 - $can 32 (In Montreal, you can pay in between $52 to $80++ for some top of the top lobsters of that size..but again, that pricing probably reflects the fact that those tables are not seafood distributors/providers). Quite a bargain for top quality lobster, imho, but they explained to me that they are also distributor/providers of their own seafood, which explains the low cost. Their lobster is of exact same high end equality as those I had at $80 elsewhere ...! At barely $30, half the $$$ I would pay at some highly regarded seafood spots, this lobster was remarquable: perfect depth of flavor, tasty, well cooked and of top quality. The classic garlicky aside sauce was superb too. Excellent! 10/10 (This one lobster, on this specific visit, soared so high in terms of exceptional quality ).
Seafood soup - This place has idendity/personality. And this soup is just one example of just that: done differently from your usual seafood soups -> instead of a bowl full of seafood broth, you have here the seafood morsels shining atop (crab, clams) and a bit of the broth seating beneath. The freshness of the seafood continues to impress here: delish, tatsy and oozing of enjoyable saline flavors. The bit of broth beneath was delicious and harmoniously flavored. 9/10
Even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone:
Impressed, I should concede: even when the boat could have sunk, Lucille fought back and shone as in very little details like those that will follow -- very little details, barely noticeable to the most, but that I am taking time to write about because they mean a lot in my own appreciation of this seafood spot:
Detail #1: At some point, while Jannice was talking to our main waitress, a young very tall charming lady, she ..the waitress...out of nowhere .. cut short to the discussion, dived in distraction, and hop la ..reappeared! I then said to myself "Oh NO, I think Jannice will hate this move"...Jannice was a long time waitress, and such little details are noticeable to her. And she did notice it. BUT, the waitress came back, charming and focused as ever! From there on, she was shining on par with all best wait staff I ever encountered in this province. When you come back strong like that, how to not fall under the charm of it all? Great come back ;p
Detail #2: Before going there, the Gentleman over the phone told me they usually have lobster in the kitchen and that I could just request that one is grilled. The same main waitress, instead of verifying with the kitchen, told me straight that there was no grilled lobster available. I told her that I was informed they would have lobsters in the kitchen but that it's fine, we could forget about it. BUT she smartly thought about the most important principle in a restaurant: pleasing your guests as she managed to find a lobster for me. Another GREAT come back!
I know those are little details, but they mean a lot to a guest: it shows ACCOMODATION and DESIRE TO PLEASE! All of a sudden, the little futile sorrows turn into MINES OF GOLD!
The wait staff in general was great (always made sure that water was available, wine refilled, table cleaned from water drops. One young charming Gentleman even came and promptly fixed the unbalanced table we chose) and I should say .. HANDSOME.
Lucille Oyster Dive has deeply seduced me: this charming tiny spot has seriously made it's way to the top of my favourite seafood tables in Montreal for it's stunning quality of seafood, charming service, and cute minimalist and yet warm bistro alike decor. And this place gets crowded very fast (make no mistake: my pics were taken early, as soon as they opened the doors, a bit before people arrived, but less than half an hour later it got busy), so book in advance (albeit you still can find seats at the bar if you haven't booked and are lucky enough).
Service on this dinner had perfect timing: we started at 6PM, were done by 7:40PM with no feel of being rushed and enough space in between services to digest before the next food item would hit the table.Furthermore, the staff was accomodating with regards to the timeframe we wanted to follow. But anyways, this is purely a subjective matter: you should not go to a restaurant to complain about delays JUST arrange your timeframe with the wait staff (I never understood people complaining about slowness in a restaurant...what about talking to the wait staff and telling what you really want..instead of expecting them to guess for you??)
Lucille knows how to be distinct
I do not know for you, but to me , as little as they may appear, I like little details that makes a table distinct from others. I know that the wine presentation (in a Ketchup tin can) or the unexpected rendition of the seafood soup (focused more on upfront presence of the fresh and top quality seafood items with just a little bit of soupy broth underneath as opposed to be entirely brothy) will not revolutionize the Gastro world, but they sent to me a clear message: this table is passionate about what it does.
Bottom line: Seafood is not just seafood. At least, an iodized saline soul like me can't think that way. Quality in seafood is priceless, and Lucille Oyster Dive impressed me with top quality fresh seafood like I wish I could find everywhere else. I will run back at Lucille's Oyster Dive way before running back at any of my other favourite seafood tables in Mtl, because of the overall cool, charming, unpretentious mood and above all, for the freshest seafood that this city has to offer. This report is disproportioned, purposely reflecting my sacred epic lifetime fascination for seafood.
Respect to the sea! Thanks for reading, Aromes.
WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER - My initial meal at LOD was a superb one in regard of the seafood bistrot standards here and abroad. Not only the food was delicious, but it was technically well accomplished. It remains, years later, one of the finest meals I ever had in a Montreal restaurant. The typical kind of issue that unfortunately awaits this type of place (quality seafood bistrot) is this: people, when things are pricey (quality seafood can't be cheap) .. they do not care about details such as the cooking skills, the quality of the food. It is the price tag that dictates how good is your food. And I will add that the nice looking wait staff at LOD may bother some with a very high level of jealousy ;p Oh well, too bad for those. There's also the fact that ppl tend to associate a certain type of experience with a price tag: for example, Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer is one of world's finest seafood bistrots. Consequently, since it is quality seafood that is served there, there's a price that comes with it. And yet, many flock there to complain about the place being a ..bistrot and that it's too $$$ for a bistrot. A way of foolishly suggesting that they expect a certain price tag to be associated with fine dining only … as if bistrots are condemned to earlier century’s clichés with you know…the bottle in the hands…the hunter’s hat…It's being a while that I haven't re-visited LOD (it's far from where I leave), but I hope they keep up with the standards I found on that initial visit (my second and third visits here were not complete meals. I took oysters only, but quality oysters always leave a deep hole in a pocket when you pick them at restaurants, so I'll need to try another proper seafood meal here). But yes, it is not cheap as expected