Montreal, Quebec – Van Horne

Restaurant: Van Horne
Cuisine: French/Canadian/Eclectic
Last visited: November 11, 2011
Location: Montreal, Quebec (Outremont)
Address: 1268 Avenue Van Horne
Subway stop: Outremont
Price Range: $30-50+ ($20-25 mains)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2011
  • “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Canada 2011″
  • Chef Eloi Dion
  • Seasonal menus
  • Creative/eclectic menu
  • Sophisticated/intimate
  • Hidden gem
  • Loval favourite
  • Higher priced
  • Wine list
  • Reservations recommended
  • Tuesday-Saturday: 5pm – 10:30pm
  • (Opening soon for lunch)

**Recommendations: Melon Canari, Cobia, Spiced Venison, Chocolate Pistachio Verrine, Apple Tart

As a tourist, or even a local, it is very unlikely you will walk by this restaurant or even notice it. It truly is a hidden gem and soon to be local favourite as it just opened merely six months ago. It was recently named one of the 2011 Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Canada by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine, so “enroute” to Montreal I was! From Van Houtte to Van Horne, and eventually back to Van-couver! Joining this Top 10 list is also L’Abattoir and Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver, BC.

So if you didn’t see this very discrete signage, you wouldn’t even know where you were dining. It’s definitely through word of mouth or research that you would be here. The look and feel kind of reminded me of ReFuel Restaurant in Vancouver, BC, but with an eclectic menu, neighbourhood feel and somewhat hipster vibe.The restaurant is small, and the environment is soft, fresh and inviting. Everything from the service to the delivery of the food felt personal. Personally, I wanted to pick it up and bring it back to Vancouver with me. Even though I was in Montreal, there was something about the menu and style that was reminiscent of home.

The menu features modern and creative dishes that are artistically presented with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. It’s a small menu with 4 appetizers and 4 mains, but from what I tried, each one seems well thought out and perfected.

Chef Eloi Dion is no doubt a culinary artist and his fine dining techniques were unexpected from such an unassuming restaurant. The food was fresh, the sauces were light and the presentation was clean and polished, much like the look of the restaurant. I actually find the cuisine took on a higher elegance than its atmosphere and the prices were slightly steeper than what the ambiance suggested. The menu was in French so I could only decipher so much, but I’m kind of glad I couldn’t read it because I might have ordered the whole thing.

For the Vancouver readers, if I compare it to L’Abattoir and Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver, I’d say it’s the underdog. As a tourist, I haven’t tried enough restaurants to put it in the context of Montreal, but my gut tells me it’s still an underdog, but in another way. It’s not located in glamourous Old Montreal and it doesn’t have the fancy space or “big name”, but it’s the little engine that could. The Van Horne experience and style felt familiar to the Vancouver dining scene, but refreshing to the Montreal one.

Note: Reservations were made under Tourism Montreal and the meal was fully paid. There are no expectations for the outcome of this post and the restaurant was my choice.

On the table:

Martini Quebecois

  • The garnish was a candied beet which tickled the martini pink.

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • Every restaurant I went to in Montreal had great bread to start and it was no different here.
  • It was served cold as it typically would be and it was hard not to get full off it.
  • It was crusty with a thin crispy exterior, moist in the middle with big holes, and had a great chew and flavour.

Carpaccio de Thon Albacore (Albacore Tuna Carpaccio) – 3.5/6

  • Squid ink mayonnaise with soy and mustard yogurt, green bean salad, black sesame $13
  • This was probably the only dish of the night that I wouldn’t care to order again although it was still good.
  • I’m from the West Coast and when it comes to Albacore Tuna Carpaccio executed with Asian fusion style, I have to say I’m spoiled being in Vancouver.
  • I found the portion small for the price, but in terms of presentation, it was beautiful.
  • I was expecting thin slices of albacore tuna, but instead it was a pounded thin tuna patty. Both are considered carpaccio, but I just prefer the slices.
  • I’m accustomed to a more bright and citrusy sashimi with flavours of ponzu or yuzu, so this just seemed a bit muted in flavours with the selected sauces.
  • I love squid ink anything, but I actually couldn’t taste its briny flavour too much and I wouldn’t have guessed it was that, even though I knew it was there.
  • The soy and mustard yogurt was a Westernized interpretation of wasabi and mayo, but I didn’t get the flavour of much mustard or spice and I missed that kick that goes so well with raw tuna.
  • The off centre salad was fresh with crisp green beans, mustard sprouts, sesame seeds and sweet potato chips, but it wasn’t as aromatic as it sounded and it could have used some sesame oil.
  • I probably would have preferred crispy fried garlic chips, shallots or puffed rice over the potato chips, but texturally it was satisfying.
  • It was good, but the flavours were stronger in the menu description than the finalized dish.

**Melon Canari (Canary Melon) - 6/6

  • Olive gelée, spicy watermelon, Bulgarian sheep cheese, tomatoes $11
  • I could have had 3 bowls of this. It’s probably one of the best chilled soups I’ve ever had!
  • I’m not a melon fan (besides watermelon) and I still loved this soup. I knew I would though based on the menu description.
  • I love sweet and salty flavours and this was a fruity take on a gazpacho meets a watermelon salad.
  • There were a million flavours and textures going on in my mouth and you almost have to hold onto it before the flavours disappear and the textures quickly melt away.
  • The olive gelée was so unique and new to my palate. I loved it! It added so much salty goodness to the sweet melon based soup and I would have never imagined that combination would work, but it did! I was inspired!
  • It was made with Canary Melon which is a smaller yellow Asian melon that looks like a cantaloupe when its cut, but it’s sweet like a honeydew.
  • The melon was liquified smooth with the pulp extracted and it was a bit foamy and frothy with perhaps added cucumber juice.
  • The soup was so refreshing, light and sweet.
  • The extra drizzle of olive oil added a bit of richness and made the soup silkier and even a bit fruitier and fuller.
  • The olive gelée would just melt with the natural temperature of my mouth so it played right into the soup.
  • I would also get bites of salty crumbled cheese, plump bursts of acidic cherry tomatoes, and then juicy cubes of spicy fresh watermelon, which was all very exciting to my palate.
  • It was the perfect balance of sweet and salty and it gave my taste buds quite the workout with an unexpected, but welcomed spicy kick at the end.
  • Some toasted pine nuts for crunchy texture and mint leaves could have topped this off, but that’s just me being greedy.
  • The only thing was that this was perfect for the summer… and it was fall.
  • The ingredients and chilled aspect weren’t really seasonal like the philosophy of the restaurant suggested, but regardless, I could enjoy it any day of the year!

Amuse Bouche

  • Kale and Apple Salad with Peanut Oil and Rose Sprouts
  • The amuse bouche came after the appetizers which was unusual, but always still appreciated. It was almost part of the expected quirk here.
  • It was a refreshing and tangy salad and the peanut oil gave it some body.
  • The apples came across as pears and the pink ribbons seemed like pickled watermelon beets.
  • I didn’t even notice the rose sprouts, but I still enjoyed the bite.

Cobia (Black King Salmon) – 5/6

  • Crusted with mustard, parsnip, green apples, cabbage, apple puree and grass oil $25
  • Wine pairing: Penedes Blanc de Pacs Parès Balta 2010 from Spain $8/glass
  • The plating was gorgeous, and it was a very light seafood dish.
  • This time it was only summery to the eyes, but the ingredients were of the season (fall).
  • The fish was perfectly crusted with crispy golden brown panko crumbs and the best part was that it included the crispy skin on the underside. Yay!
  • The salmon was perfectly cooked and well salted and it was so buttery, flaky, tender and moist that it almost could have been a sablefish.
  • The fish must have been super fatty because its oils were just creating a natural sauce and the hint of mustard was all it needed.
  • The apple puree was tart and sweet and there wasn’t really enough to play an impact on the fish, but I did appreciate it with the salad.
  • The warm parsnip and cabbage salad with fresh slices of paper thin apples were an ode to the fall.
  • The crunchy texture was refreshing and sweet, rather than pickled, and there was some shaved fennel in it as well for aromatics and crispness.
  • The grass oil was a first, and I wouldn’t have guessed that’s what it was, and it didn’t taste grassy. I would have thought it was just an herbed infused oil.
  • It looked fancy, but it was very simple and the ingredients spoke for themselves.
  • Although excellent, I’m not sure if it would leave a lasting impression beyond the moment it was enjoyed.

**Glazed & Spiced Venison5.5/6

  • Chestnuts, yellow glazed beets, parsley puree $27
  • Wine pairing: Meritage Ravine Vineyard $10.50/glass
  • It was a glazed (or laqué) venison and again the plating was pleasing.
  • The bright green parsley puree replaced the absence of a rich au jus or meat reduction, so it made for another light main despite it being a red game meat.
  • I love chestnuts and it was a great switch up from potatoes.
  • I loved the alternating textures and bites of firm starchy chestnuts, sweet yellow beets, and tender parsnips which were all caramelized and lightly coated with the same sweet glaze used on the venison.
  • I understand the absence of sauce was intentional, but I wouldn’t have minded more glaze in the chestnut medley since it was on the dry side.
  • I could have used some pickled pearl onions or caramelized apples too, because the dish was missing a tang and some juiciness, but it was still good as is.

  • The venison was executed with TLC and it was served intentionally warm.
  • It was incredibly tender, moist, buttery and smooth in texture and cooked to medium rare.
  • It was glazed multiple times and roasted, and I think it might have been sous vide before being seared.
  • It didn’t have a heavy spice rub or crust, or heavy jus, but it carried its own weight and the syrupy sweet and tangy glaze enhanced the silky texture.
  • The parsley puree was very strong and made with parsley root and leaves and it had a celery and grassy aftertaste to it.
  • The venison wasn’t gamey, but the herb puree gave the meat a lighter aromatic flare.
  • The dish was comforting and satisfying, but it seemed to be missing a component which would make it more unique to the restaurant.

Pre-Dessert

  • Chocolate ganache, pecan and chantilly
  • They served every table a complimentary pre-dessert which I’ve never seen done before outside of fine dining. It was a sweet gesture!
  • Thank goodness it was small because plain ganache can be overindulgent.
  • It was a bar of buttery, creamy bittersweet ganache with a crunchy toasted whole pecan and a light coffee chantilly, which helped ease the richness.

Desserts

There were three home made desserts on the menu, and all three ended up on the table. Trust me, you do not want to miss out on these desserts. There’s no in house pastry chef, but he could have fooled me. These artistically presented desserts are worth ordering even just to look at… but please don’t waste them either.

Red Wine Pears - 4/6

  • Dacquoise, ganache, anise mousse $8
  • This dessert was good, but because I had the others, it just became not as good as the others.
  • When I read “dacquoise” I was expected a multi-layered cake, but this was very reminiscent of a tiramisu with an added fruit aspect.
  • It was almost like a tirimisu meets a black forest cake, but with pears instead of cherries.
  • The melon balls of red wine poached pears were still crunchy and I would prefer them soft even though they were supposed to be crunchy.
  • They were sweet with the wine cooked out, but you could still get the aroma of wine.
  • The bottom layer was a very thinly soaked chocolate cake, which was topped with a thin layer of creamy rich chocolate ganache, which was then topped with the anise mousse.
  • The anise mousse was fluffy and creamy without being greasy. It had a very mild licorice flavour I could only taste in the beginning and it also wasn’t very sweet at all.
  • I kind of felt like it was two desserts because the pears were so big and crunchy that it didn’t gel with the light mousse.
  • If the pears were minced, or if the dessert was in layers, I think the components and flavours may have come together better.

**Verrine Choco-Pistaches - 5.5/6

  • Creamy milk chocolate, dried cherries, toasted pistachio, warm chocolate cake $8
  • Anything with pistachio is an easy sell for me. And oh god. This was really good!
  • A verrine is basically a parfait and this was a cup of deliciousness. I haven’t had anything quite like it.
  • The warm chocolate cake was super moist and it sat on top of an airy, fluffy and light pistachio mousse which melted away like clouds. It was lighter than a mousse, but thicker than a foam, and the only thing is that I couldn’t taste any pistachio in it.
  • You had to dig deep and get a bite of every single layer all at once to truly enjoy this dessert.
  • It was chocolaty without being too chocolaty, and it wasn’t even that rich or sweet because of the lighter foam to keep it balanced.
  • It was smooth in flavours with bits of tart dried cherries for chew and everything else just melted in your mouth with a creamy consistency.
  • There were three distinct textures and little random bits of crispy bittersweet chocolate sable cookie crumbs throughout which I loved.
  • I think there may have been a few pistachio nuts in there, but you couldn’t taste them and I really wanted more of them. Some on top would have been visually satisfying as well.
  • I’m usually not keen on just plain milk chocolate mousse, but this had texture and some of everything.
  • I really missed the pistachio flavour since I was expecting it, but otherwise it was excellent!
  • I think juicy Amarena cherries would be really good too. There’s so many ways you can switch up this dessert and I’m excited to play around with it!

**Apple Tart6/6

  • French butter cookie crust, cinnamon, Mimolette, sour cream $8
  • Montreal seems to be obsessed with tarts, but apple and maple tarts in particular. One or the other was almost guaranteed on the menus.
  • This was probably the most interesting interpretation I’ve had for an apple tart and it was freaking amazing!
  • This was almost like a fruit and cheese platter in one.
  • It was more like a warm apple bar and the apple filling was a fresh puree of apples so it just melted in my mouth.
  • The apples were creamy Cortland apples with a nice tartness and I felt like I was eating pure apple puree.
  • It sat on a rich, tender and sweetened shortbread like cookie crust and was topped with a crispy almond crumble, but there were no almonds.
  • I was hoping for some whole or slivered toasted almonds, but I guess they were ground right into the crumble.
  • There was maybe a hint of cinnamon and it’s interesting because I was told in Quebec City that cinnamon wasn’t used in apple pies in Quebec; but according to Montrealers, it is, and it was here.
  • My favourite part was the baked shavings of Mimolette cheese that was added to the almond crumble topping.
  • The cheese made it extra crispy and it was nice and salty, so it enhanced all the other flavours of the dessert.
  • It was served with two sauces and the red one was an apple skin puree which was very tart and it was dotted with sour cream.
  • I could have used more of both the sauces because it went very well with the apple bar and gave it an extra dimension of flavour and tartness.
  • If there was some sour cream gelato on the side I might have cried happy tears.
  • I made a Maple Bourbon Apple Pie with a Bacon Pecan Crust before, and adding cheddar cheese to that crust would work with that as well!

**Accommodations in Montreal were kindly provided by Hotel Chez Swann

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