Restaurant: Chez L’Épicier
Cuisine: Québécois/French/Bistro/Fine Dining
Last visited: November 9, 2012
Location: Montreal, QC (Old Montréal)
Address: 311 Rue St-Paul E
Transit: Station Champ-de-Mars
Where I stayed: Le Place d’Armes Hôtel & Suites
Price Range: $50+ (Mains $30-40)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 2000
- Chef-owner Laurent Godbout
- Modern Québécois cusine
- Modernist techniques
- Seasonal menu
- Global ingredients
- Semi-formal atmosphere
- Chef’s Tasting Menus
- Good wine list
- Speciality grocery store
- Les Saveurs de L’Épicier label
- Thurs-Fri 11:30am-2pm
- Mon-Sun 5:30pm-10pm
**Recommendations: n/a It was my first “set-up” and Tourism Montreal played matchmaker. Follow Me Foodie to Montreal – Round 2 was all thanks to their “Dinner with a Blogger Contest“. I was delighted to be chosen as one of their 6 food and travel bloggers in North America for their campaign to support the 1st Annual Taste Montreal Restaurant Week. Part of the contest included matching us with a participating restaurant which aligned with our personal dining styles.
When I was asked “what is your dining style?” I found it difficult to answer. I appreciate hole in the wall restaurants as much as I do fine dining, but on very different levels. There isn’t a cuisine I don’t like and while I’m all for local ingredients I also enjoy global ingredients. I’m very open when it comes to food, but I’m very specific when it comes to questions and answers. It’s probably why my posts tend to be so long… I can’t help it.
When I get asked “what’s your favourite ____?” or “what’s the best _____?” I find it very challenging to answer. I had to give them something to go with though, so this was my reply…
“Modern, Innovative & Fun! I like to discover new ingredients, interesting techniques and sophisticated flavour combinations. Creative food with scientific thought and artistic style that is made by a chef who is truly passionate and happy to be in the kitchen.”
I gave that answer specifically for this campaign though. I knew the prize would be a trip to Montreal and I wanted the contest winners to have an unique and memorable experience if they chose me to have dinner with. I considered it a special occasion dinner and assuming they were food enthusiasts or “foodies” I wanted them to be impressed. Montreal is also known for arts and culture, so I figured what better way to experience it than to eat it!
So based on my dining style, Tourism Montreal set me up with this! Welcome to chef-owner Laurent Godbout’s restaurant Chez L’Épicier located in the beautiful Old Montreal. It was actually on my personal itinerary for Follow Me Foodie to Montreal last year and a friend who lived in Montreal called him “[Montreal’s] homegrown celebrity chef”.
Chef Godbout is a highly regarded chef and Chez L’Épicier is one of Montreal’s most raved about upscale restaurants. Perhaps not as “famous” as some other nationally recognized restaurants in the city, this one is locally celebrated. It attracts a mix of locals and tourists, but it’s a restaurant you don’t really stumble upon. It’s kind of discrete, although many restaurants are in Montreal.
Chez L’Épicier calls itself a “French bistro”, but I found it closer to fine dining with the white tablecloths and higher prices. It had a few bistro like aspects (chalkboard menu being one of them), but the environment felt more formal. Also, any restaurant offering a refined chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings is more than a simple meal.
A gourmet supermarket offering a small selection of his in house label, Les Saveurs de L’Épicier, and his cook book can be found at the entrance. It was a charming spot with a personal feel and it was in fact “Modern, Innovative & Fun!”… the “fun” was really due to the company I had though!
I was joined with Catherine from Tourism Montreal and contest winner Courtney and her partner Danielle from Vancouver, Washington. I know! Such a coincidence to have a “Vancouver” winner. Being a blog I know almost anyone can read Follow Me Foodie, but I still get overwhelmed every time I meet somebody who reads it. The feeling is always exciting and incredible for me and I love being able to say thank you for supporting me in person. Anyway these ladies were a riot and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to dine with them.
The dinner at Chez L’Épicier was specially arranged for the “Dinner with a Blogger Contest” so it was just a taste of what they can do. It may or may not be representable of what they do on a regular night so I’ll refrain from “rating” and commenting too much. Due to the nature of the event we were treated to a customized 9 course Chef’s Tasting Menu, but otherwise they offer a 7 course Chef’s Tasting Menu for $85 (+$60 for wine pairings) on any other night. Based on what I tried, it was basically what I had asked for. It was a place I would have tried regardless of winning the contest.
On the table:
- It was just the amuse bouche and it was one of my favourite dishes of the night. It could have been top 2 actually.
- I was going foraging for macarons!
- I’m beginning to see black olive (not olive oil) used in desserts lately and my first experience with it was in Follow Me Foodie to Whistler at the Bearfoot Bistro – see Nectarine and Olive Oil dessert.
- It’s really an incredible combination of sweet and savoury and this was well balanced.
- The goat cheese was almost the “buttercream” and it was sweet and cheesy and I could taste the olive in the nose.
- I’m not sure if the macarons were pistachio flavoured, but they had a crisp shell, moist and tender centre, and soft chew.
- They were actually very well made macarons. They offer “Better than Ladurée Macaroons” for $2/portion as well.
- I’ve had Laduree Macarons though and I wasn’t as keen, and based on these amuse bouche mini versions I liked these macarons better.
- For fantastic macarons another place worth visiting is Point G Parisian Macarons in Montreal.
- I always talk about the bread because it can tell you a lot about a restaurant.
- For the most part the bread and butter is always better in Montreal than it is in Vancouver, BC (my hometown).
- First off, they usually make the bread in house just like the one here.
- The bread was served cold and it was a bit hard, but I appreciated the artisan butters served with it.
- There was a black olive butter and then a regular butter, but both were very good quality.
- Smoked yogurt bavarois, parsley jelly, zucchini, cuttlefish ink, brown butter pecan crumble
- Butternut squash soups are always popular during this time of year and it’s one of my favourite soups.
- The addition of cuttlefish ink is what set this butternut squash soup apart from other ones although I couldn’t taste it.
- Velouté soups are one of my favourite soups and it’s the “Mother of all French soups”.
- It’s a rich and creamy style of soup and it’s quite hearty and indulgent.
- The sweet pecan crumble was sweeter than the soup and it was almost like a pie crumble. It made for great texture.
- The flavour of the soup was quite natural and I loved the hint of smoky yogurt which gave it richness as well as acidity.
- It was a twist from crème fraîche or goat cheese which I’ve had served with butternut squash soups.
- The parsley gel was also a change from parsley oil or simply parsley sprinkled on top and it was good for aromatics.
- I just really wish there was a squid aspect to this or that the squid ink had contributed in flavour and not just presentation.
- Marinated French shallots, Chioggia beet purée, extra virgin olive oil, yuzu extract, yuzu pearls
- This wasn’t quite “French bistro” and I guess it was a take on tuna tartare, but it seemed more Japanese in style.
- The sashimi was a bit fishy and usually this fish is in season until end of October so this was just slightly past.
- Naturally it has a mineral like flavour which was quite evident when eating it as sashimi.
- The yuzu pearls and extract gave it nice citrus notes and the beets gave it sweetness.
AmByth Estate 2009 Priscus, California – A biodynamic Californian wine was unexpected, but I liked this. It had lower alcohol content so that the flavours could shine and the winery does not filter or fine their wines.
- Blackburn cheese, onion anchovy puree, fried capers, mustard sprouts, gastrique and pan seared foie gras
- I loved this! This was another favourite course of the night. It was in my top 2 alongside the goat cheese and black olive macaron.
- Perhaps it was because it was foie gras, but it’s not “haute Quebecois cuisine” without the foie.
- It was presented simply seared on both sides which is the best way to have it. Such a precious ingredient is good as is.
- I’m loving the use of cauliflower lately and I predict it will be one of the most celebrated ingredients for 2013. Just like kale was and is for 2012.
- The anchovy puree was creamed with cauliflower and it was almost like hummus. The umami was wonderful in this.
- The anchovy and foie gras combination was almost like a deconstucted Spanish pâté and it was an interesting pairing for foie gras.
- The cauliflower tart was a cheesy caramelized onion and minced cauliflower tart with flakey and buttery puff pastry.
- I wish the tart had some caramelized apples or fruit in it too for some sweetness to enhance that foie gras flavour.
- It was my first encounter with Blackburn cheese (local Quebec cheese), but I couldn’t really taste its flavour. It is a hard and nutty cheese though.
- The gastrique helped cut the buttery richness of the foie gras with the sharper tang of vinegar.
- It was a very traditional way of presenting foie gras, but the flavour combinations and ingredients were new.
- Overall it was a very savoury dish with nice textures and it was a highlight dish from my whole trip.
- Quebec cabbage, parsnip puree, apple cider balsamic vinegar reduction
- I wouldn’t have minded a palate cleanser before this just because the last foie gras dish was so rich.
- This would have been even more “Quebecois” cuisine had it been rabbit instead of chicken, but I did like the dish and presentation.
- Chef made chicken breast exciting.
- It was a chicken cigar without the phyllo, although some crispy texture would have been great.
- The chicken was almost like a soft mousse and it was very tender.
- The cabbage held it together and gave it texture so it wasn’t mushy.
- The chicken seemed sous vide and it was almost like a meatball with shredded meat texture. It was a good quality chicken with natural flavour.
- The parsnip puree was also very natural and sweet and the carrots had a good quality flavour as well.
- Everything was sourced well in this dish and the ingredients spoke for themselves.
- The vinegar reduction gave it tang and that part held up to the wine nicely.
- The Côte de Nuits Villages pinot noir paired with this course better than the chicken.
- Pan seared veal sweetbreads, Bordelaise, porcini mushrom puree
- It’s an “official Quebecois meal” when you get foie gras and sweetbreads in one seating. I loved it!
- Sweetbreads are the thymus glands, throat or pancreas of an animal and it’s a classic ingredient in French cuisine.
- It has a very mild and almost milky flavour and if made well they should be pillowy light with a crisp pan fried exterior.
- In this case the sweetbread was a giant chunk and it was a bit stringy still so perhaps not cleaned as well.
- It was crispy and well seasoned and I loved the earthy and savoury porcini mushrom puree with it.
- Pan seared Black Tiger Shrimp, spinach puree, honey mushrooms, boiled onions, sea asparagus
- The shrimp was perfectly seared, but I just wish it came with the crispy head which is always delicious.
- I enjoyed the shrimp with the sea asparagus which is grown by the ocean so it has a briney flavour and natural saltiness to it.
- The spinach puree I wasn’t as keen on and I would have liked an herb puree or some other vegetable puree, but the shrimp was also fine as is.
Ambyth Estates, Zinfandel “Bailey Ranch” , California, 2010 – I didn’t expect to try another wine from the same winery, but it didn’t bother me either because the company was new to me. It was an organic wine with big flavours and no added sulphites. I needed this to air out quite a bit and it could age more. It was quite strong with white pepper and I expected a heavy meat to go with it.
- Sous vide cinnamon spiced venison, Bordelaise sauce, organic Quebec carrot puree, cipollini onions, sour cranberries
- Deer! It was local Quebec deer. It’s a game meat, but it wasn’t gamey tasting.
- Sometimes veinson can be very gamey, but this one was not and I liked it better.
- It was sous vide so it was very tender and moist.
- The cinnamon was quite subtle, almost undetectable, but it gave it a nice warm spice which I had to really look for.
- Chef seems to love purees, and again the puree was brilliant. The carrots he is using are great.
- The dish was sweet, tart, and savoury and all together quite well balanced although nothing particularly new either.
- I “plated” mine with kale chips, carrot chips, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios and edible flowers.
- I prefer a traditional cheese plate, but when it comes to inventive dining like this, then foams are expected.
- The foam just changed the texture, and perhaps gave it a milder flavour.
- I wondered if it was the same goat cheese used in the macaron and it was fluffy, silky and mild in cheese flavour. It was almost like a mascarpone.
- Foams bother many people, and I find it’s because most of the time they’re executed poorly or used without purpose.
- This was a very well made foam and it kept its body and consistent texture. The plate was also warm and the cheese wasn’t melting.
- Crunchy Apple pogo, apple cider sorbet, tatin revisitée ($10 a la carte)
- Part of me was hoping for their famous Chocolate club sandwich, pineapple fries and creamy melon salad with fresh mint ($10 a la carte), but this “Apple in Four Ways” was nothing to be sad about.
- When this came out it reminded me of Grant Achatz’s Anjou Pear “cheese/pre-dessert course” at Alinea.
- It was the burning cinnamon stick which was used to excite the nose and palate that reminded me of the course.
- I would not be surprised if this was Achatz-inspired since he is a leader when it comes to modernist cuisine.
- The apple cider sorbet was quite boozy and acidic, but it was a nice palate cleanser.
- The apple tart tatin was served with tangy and citrusy lemon creme fraîche which I loved to cut the sweetness.
- The tart had a grilled shortbread like cookie crust which I found a bit too thick and hard for the one biter, but I liked the encapsulated apple pie filling on top.
- The near transparent apple chip was simple, crisp and aesthetically pleasing for an apple chip.
- It was no ordinary “apple chip” and I don’t know how it didn’t curl in the cooking process.
- The apple pogo was my favourite component. It was a dessert version of a corn dog.
- It was almost a stuffed doughnut meets a deep fried apple pie and sprinkled in cinnamon sugar like a churro.
- It had a crisp, thin and airy light batter and a creamy tender centre. It was not bready.
- The inside was stuffed with apples, but they got a bit mealy.
- I would have loved some brie in this as well and this part reminded me of the Anjou Pear dessert.
- The espresso cookie crumble “dirt” was slightly random, but I think he was going for that “naturesque” or autumn theme. It was part of his art and I respected that.