Friday, 16 July 2010
Dinner @ Restaurant À Table
Friday July 16th 2010 17:30PM
Addr: 124 Fleury West, Montreal, QC
Web site: http://www.groupemnjr.com/
This week is marked by two restaurant openings in Montreal: Bistro Lustucru opened this Wednesday on Avenue du Parc, in Mile-End (on their Facebook page, I see Guilllaume Vignola as part of their culinary team. If this is the same Guillaume Vignola who was at ITHQ around 2006, then they have a potential world class Chef who could push QC's gastronomy to newer heights -- IF he wants to, of course) followed by the opening of Restaurant A Table in Ahuntsic neighborhood this Friday July 16th.
I have now a great reason to enjoy Ahuntsic: the latest restaurant of Mario Navarrete Jr., a Chef I already described as "a genius of creativity, an architect of stunning refined and researched tastes". Quite simply in my personal top 10 Canadian Chefs, top 5 Chefs in Montreal. I remember being blown away by a dinner on December 4th 2009 at his upscale Latin/French fusion table, Raza. A souvenir that is still ranked high in my 2009-2010 top 15 best dinners in Montreal.
Raza, Navarrete Jr's flagship restaurant, offers a cuisine known as Nuevo Latino, a modern blend of Latin American cuisine that's inventive and exciting. I'd define it as a superbly well done take on upscale French/Latin fine dining (lots of the cooking techniques are French, some of the ingredients are tropical, most are locally sourced). The thing to keep in mind is that this is food that appeals to our occidental palate: no shocking tastes. This evening, for this opening, the essential of the team behind Raza was working at A Table: the mastermind in person, Chef Navarrette Jr, was cooking alongside Chef de cuisine Rodrigo (Chef Rodrigo will be the main Chef at A Table / Find more about Chef Rodrigo at the end of this post). The food this evening, as you will see in the upcoming descriptions, were in pure Navarrete/Raza style: inventive, exciting, varied, tasty and backed by top quality ingredients .
First, some photos of the overall decor (as I usually do, whenever possible, I went there a bit earlier right before people start arriving, in order to take those pictures). :
As opposed to Raza, the restaurant A Table, a charming 24 to 28 seats eatery, opts for the Bistro trend with no tablecloths
And a menu written on a chalkboard:
The overall design includes warm neutrals (brown leather chairs), and bright accent colors as with the blonde wood tables:
light colored hardwood flooring, elegant touches of a few dark wood furniture
great penetration of natural light, thanks to the front glass window:
At the back, a tiny corridor with couple of tables for two:
As with most market cuisine restaurants, the menu will naturally vary. Today's menu (as you can see on the picture of the chalkboard below) can still give you an idea of what could be on offer:
This evening, appetizers (Ceviche of tuna, corn soup, duck carpaccio, etc) were priced in between $10 to $15, main courses (filet mignon, artic char, scallops, shrimp risotto) in between $24 to $28 and desserts (chocolate cake with Dulce de Leche Ice cream $7, caramelized peaches/orange mousse/fennel for $6). I found the prices to be reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients + what accompanies each dish (carefully look at what is on that chalkboard and you will notice that each food item comes with a variety of accompaniments).
I went for the tasting menu, a bargain at $50 for 6 courses (wine not included):
Salad of spinach, tomatoes,jicama - Fresh veggies of remarquable quality. Loved the playful interraction between the gentle sweet / subtly sour / delicate acidic flavors. The overall was dressed in a pear balsamic vinegar. The jicama was a well thought addition to the salad: tasty and enjoyably crunchy, the jicama is actually an ideal alternative to green apples in salads. For those who have not tasted jicama yet, it is a bit reminiscent of a green apple but without the upfront sour taste. Simple at first glance, but a lot of work and punch in there. Well done. 8/10
Pairing wine: 2008 Pircas Negras Torrontés. Excellent light and sweet refreshing white wine, with discrete floral consistency + aromas of green apple that reached out so well to the jicama. Nice match to the overall salad.
Tuna ceviche, Mango purée - This dish is a showcase of precision and exceptional skills. Why? Because in the hands of an average cook, a mango purée is the ticket to overwhelm anything that it is mixed with. In the hands of a genius cook like Chef Navarrete, it is a revelation. The purée, of outstanding light consistency and delicious taste, was of ideal combination with that fresh morsel of tuna (here again, a lot of brilliant work in balancing well the peppery/spicy/acidic marinated taste of the tuna ceviche). Genius work to let each ingredient oozing in their pristine purity and yet complementing themselves. This is of Michelin star caliber. 10/10
Pairing wine: 2006 Medalla Real Sauvignon blanc - Nicely balanced, great acidity, refreshing white wine with tropical aromas that reach out to the mango purée and the ceviche.
This soup, served cold, had a succulent rich milky buttery taste with an agreeable consistency that was neither too thick nor too light but rather harmonious. In the soup, a pristinely fresh morsel of crab (tasted wonderfully of open sea) that was incredibly tender, meaty and juicy woke up my taste buds. The warm potato salad, nicely cooked, tasty and earthy, added smartly well to the appreciated contrast of warm and cold temperatures. Again, in line with Chef Navarrete's well known ability to cook food that beautifully stays imprinted in the mind.. Excellent 10/10
Pairing wine: Santa Julia chardonnay 2008 - This fresh and crisp white wine matched well with the earthy potato + corn soup. It's elegant and subtle fruity aromas complement with the subtle sweetness of the corn. Smart pairing.
At this point, I moved to an another table. So the next pictures will not benefit of natural light as the previous. They are still taken in good conditions:
Artic char, caviar, quinoa, avocado, salsa verde - On top of the morsel of fish, a delicious light airy purée of fresh avocado. When mixed with the caviar, the taste and texture were simply outstanding . The tangy, zesty flavor of the salsa verde is remarquable. The fish, a morsel of superior quality and of outstanding marine freshness, was cooked with care and tasted great. Quinoa was ideally cooked and packed with flavour. The overall stood as a well structured and delicious dish. Another scrumptious meal. 9/10
Wine: Swan Bay Pinot Noir 2008 - In line with the meal, it has structure and character. It's an interesting wine that I kept rediscovering on each sip. It's earthy tone and firm enjoyable acidity + charry oak finish reach out so well to the seared morsel of fish. My type of wine and another clever match to the food.
Filet mignon (Angus AAA), chorizo sauce,mushrooms, butternut squash purée - Quality, quality, quality. Freshness, freshness, freshness. I kept repeating those words like prayers to myself upon savoring each bite of this lovely executed fork tender and intensely flavorful filet mignon. The cooking was masterful with a strong focus on optimizing the beef flavor . That is how I want my beef! The chorizo sauce was beefy and delicious. The butternut squash, nicely done. The green beans served along the filet mignon were barely cooked, paving the way to upfront freshness of the veggie. 8/10
Pairing wine: 2007 Cousino Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon - Excellent red (I highly recommend this one), with dark fruit aromas, great intensity and savory flavors that are perfect match to the filet mignon.
Concluded with the dessert:
Dulce de Leche ice cream, Chocolate cake - I think I've scared my main waiter, Jean-Francois, when I told him -- right before the dessert was served --- that my years in France is the result of me being extremely picky with desserts! Jean-Francois, no worries : although my palate was used to the mostly superb rich desserts of France, our beautiful province does great too: come to think about this, all desserts of Chef Navarrete have highly satisfied me and this one is no exception: a delicious milky rich flavorful ice cream of superior quality with a chocolate cake that was really well done. 7/10
Pairing wine: 2003 Cosecha Tardía Ocucaje - A lovely Peruvian white wine, made of Muscat grapes, marked by it's expected musky fresh-grape flavors, that I was discovering for the first time. It has the typical sweet floral aromas you expect from most Muscat based wines. The sweetness here is moderate (I can't stand overwhelming sweetness in white wines) and the overall is elegant/ well structured, characteristics that I seek for in my dessert wines. Balanced so well with that Chocolate cake/ice cream duo.
I've promised myself to cut a bit with the raves and superlatives when faced with excellent food. As we say in French "Trop, c'est comme pas assez"! But I can't: when food is that outstanding, my heart has to express it's full enjoyment. Mind you, unless a catastrophe occurs (of course, even the greatest have sometimes their weaknesses -- we'll cross that bridge whenever we'll get there), it's virtually impossible to find flaws when your reviews are focused on the works of Chefs like Laprise, Navarrete,Alexandre Loiseau, Pelletier, Mercuri..etc. Another saying in French goes like this: '''prends le pendant que ca passe!'''
Now, it's your turn to play, Chef Rodrigo!
There's lots of pride in Navarrete's cooking and it's impressive. So impressive that I can't see many Chefs being able to fill his shoes. Luckily for us, diners, Chef Rodrigo (the man who will be the permanent Chef at A Table) has an impressive background too: many years alongside Chef Navarrette Jr (he was his Chef at Madre), and strong experiences at Daniel Boulud's and Spain's Xavier Pellicer Abac restaurants. I'm excited at the idea of going back to A Table and this time enjoying chef Rodrigo's take on Navarrete's Jr high standards.
Also of high interest: a visit to Raza, Navarrete's stronghold (I personally compare Navarrete's creativity and talent to an open sea of discoveries...it never ends!).
Jean-Francois (he told me that he usually works at Raza), my waiter and sommelier of the evening, went with smart wine pairings. Service from his part was very attentive, knowledgeable, professional and courteous. Same could be said of the entire staff (amazingly in full control despite this one busy night).
Bottom line: This evening was of exceptional mention (the food was great, ambience was relax, service was focused and friendy). I am confident that Chef Rodrigo understands very well the importance of perpetuating Navarrete's high standards and look forward to indulge in Chef Rodrigo's talented cuisine.
Thanks for reading, Aromes
Brunch @ A Table
Sunday July 26th 2010, 11:00AM
NOTE: This brunch was cooked by the Mastermind, Chef Navarrete himself.
So, up to now I haven't had the opportunity to review the cuisine of A Table's permanent Chef, Rodrigo Flores. It will take me a while before I can review Chef Rodrigo Flores cuisine since I have couple of restaurants to visit in the short term (including a romantic dinner I want to book @ Raza with Jannice).
PAIN DORÉ, CHOCOLAT NOIR, PECHES CARAMÉLISÉES - This is the choice of my daughter. I had some bites of her french toast: I like the fact that for once, a Chef understands the importance of not cooking something his patron could have done at home. Instead of the common bread dipped in milk and egg, we have here a bread that is of outstanding quality with an eggy presence that is deep and remarquable (I need to know where he buys those fresh eggs!). In mouth, this was definitely not my common french toast. More accurately a gourmet french toast (the delicious sweet sauce was of high marks. Same could be said of the top quality chocolate with it's deep cocoa taste). Caramelized peaches were successful (well cooked and tasty).
BAVETTE AUX ÉPICES, OEUF, PATATES ROTIES ET AIOLI - Flavorful, juicy and meaty, the flank steak was cut in several tender pieces instead of one big steak. Nicely cooked potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans and a delicious meaty sauce completed this excellent dish. Chef Navarrete added his own touch of chorizo foam on top of the egg:
A Table brunch menu is short but smart: instead of a huge list of redundant ingredients and menus that unecessarily pertain to the book category, their menu ,on this brunch, was composed of 8 main courses covering the essential of a brunch meal: some with meats (''smoked salmon, salad of eggs, aioli, tomatoes'', ''smoked salmon with poached egg, potato crepe, caviar'', ''bavette aux épices, sunny side up egg, roasted potatoes"), some with french toast, some with crepes and one omelette accompanied by mushrooms, roasted potatoes, onions, sauteed tomatoes. You also have the usual juices and coffees + some aside offers like the soup of the day, sauteed chorizo, roasted potatoes.
I must admit that I am too picky with brunches and breaksfasts: in 5 years, very few brunches made it on my repeat list. Mtl's long time popular brunch / breakfast tables like Cosmo's, L'Avenue, Beauty's have not seduced me. It took 3 visits at the Sparrow, perhaps one of the latest most famous Mtl tables for it's amazing brunches, to get me enthusiastic about their brunch (I'm a fan of the Sparrow now. The 3rd visit there truely made a great impression). Even my all time favourite breakfast place (Le Cosmopolitain in Laval) has sometimes been challenged (bottom line, their breakfast at Le Cosmopolitan fare better on weekends, I found) by your host. For now, only 3 brunches are getting away with favorable opinions from my part: the one at XO Le Restaurant (a luxurious take on the brunch), this one at A Table (delicious, creative and refreshingly different), and the very last brunch I had @Sparrow (varied, homey,copious).