Friday, 21 November 2008

Creating Stories with Food

Montréal... though like Toronto it's a cosmopolitan city, it has a different feel to it for some reason. Perhaps the European influence is just a bit more prevalent here. Perhaps it's the differing geography of these two cities. Perhaps it's the people in Montréal who have just a bit more of the joie de vivre mentality, which definitely complements my "don't work too hard" belief. Whatever it is, Montréal definitely has its share of fine dining joints that one can argue is unique from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and every other major Canadian city.

In spite of feisty competition from at least Toronto and Vancouver, as well as growing attention being paid to Calgary, Ottawa and others, Montréal has been known to be a haunt for gourmands; for example, Toqué reputedly has a long reservation waiting list and is such a fine restaurant that even New York élites (at least, the last I heard, while the economy was in a better situation) would take helicopter rides just to have dinner there. Yet, in spite of such a vast selection of places to eat in the Montréal region, my family and I had not tried as many "higher-end" restaurants compared to Ottawa and even Toronto. Having grabbed the November issue of Air Canada's En Route magazine on my Winnipeg-Ottawa flight, I found a selective listing of restaurants all over Canada, including the top 10 new restaurants of 2008. In the listing I found out about a few restaurants of interest in Montréal, but with my going only for a daytrip, I decided to try Brontë Restaurant with my parents.

Located on the northern edge of downtown along Rue Sherbrooke Ouest and only open for dinner, Brontë is just a few blocks from McGill University and near the shopping hub of Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest. The name may be inspired by an English author (personally, I wasn't a bit fan of her work), but the food and the interior are a whole different story (pardon the pun); the place seems to be inspired, both literally and metaphorically, by the multicultural nature of Montréal. Soft neon colours bathed the dining room with a mix of warm and cool glows. Wood, cloth and metal permeate the place, and even the metal is a mix of smooth and textured. As for the food, the restaurant offers fusion cuisine, although its anchor is prominently of a Western nature.

As we munched on several types of bread, of which the fig & anise bread I found the most unique, we were first offered an amuse-bouche of foie gras with dates on a homemade croûton slice. Here I could sense the dish playing out various opposites to each other swirling into a couple of bites. Sweet (the date) meets salty (the foie gras) and sour (the drops of balsamic vinegar). Soft and smooth meets crunchy. Richness is countered by lightness. It was a nice prologue that allowed for a gentle opening to the unfolding story that would be my dinner.

For the appetizer, I ordered the crispy sweetbrea, which was accompanied with pan-seared tuna. Again, opposites was the idée fixe of this dish, though much more elaborated here than in the amuse-bouche. Crispiness meets softness within the sweetbread, between the vegetables and the meats, between the baby zucchini and eryngii (aka king oyster) mushroom slices, and even between the tuna and the slice of daikon beneath. Sweetbread could be construed as a heavier ingredient, balanced against the flanking accompaniments. The meats were more savoury while the vegetables were naturally sweet and had a mild sourness to them. This dish was colourful and tasteful, and the sweetbread did not feel too filling.

Next I had milk-fed veal filet and shank as my main course. Here the contrasts are not as pronounced, but that theme still lingered in this new chapter. For one thing, the shank was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, while the filet, cooked to medium provided a firmer give to the teeth. This dish was relatively richer compared to my earlier dishes, and with respect to contrasts, this offered a greater variety of flavours and textures thanks to the various accompaniments beneath the veal. Both the risina bean purée and the sweet corn ragoût were some nice surprises to this dish, and the bean puree especially was reminiscent to me of French Canadian cuisine. Though this dish was nice, personally I would've liked my veal filet to have been cooked medium-rare; I was not asked by my server how I liked my veal done, and this was before the place got busy (in the eyes of many Montréalais, we started dinner early).

For dessert, I had the raspberry crumble shortcake. Topped with a mildly sweet foam, it was accompanied by a yogurt panna cotta with strawberries and coconut ice cream. None of these items were heavy on the sweetness factor, and the ice cream was given a crunchy dimension with a sugar-based crumble sprinkled as a bed for the ice cream. Presentation was clean and simple, and the flavours were alright, but here is where I perhaps would have preferred the contrast theme to have been dropped a bit. Strawberries and raspberries can complement one another, but coconut? At least my mother's dessert, palm sugar doughnuts with roasted banana and chocolate chipotle ice cream, complemented each other with the use of tropical flavours.

Overall I was not as impressed as I thought I would be, though it was still worth the visit and the atmosphere was welcoming. Brontë demonstrated why one should pay this restaurant some attention, and though it was a good place, I think it's safe for me to say that I've yet to try one of the best restaurants in Montréal to date. There was a whisper here, but, to borrow from Brontë the author, it was not a wuther.

Name: Brontë Restaurant
Address: 1800 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, QC
Cuisine: Fusion
Price Range: Dinner $60-$90
Accessible: Yes

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