Aszu -Your Thoughts?
My wife and I just recently visited Montreal and stumbled upon an new restaurant on the corner of Notre-Dame O and St. Francois Xavier named Aszu. Although we only had three nights in Motreal we enjoyed our expereince so much we decided to eat there twice (not to mention that the prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food). I know the place is new, but there are no postings on this restaurant. I was wondering what the local Montreal Chowhounds thought of the place.
I wrote that article in the Gazette, and I'm sorry to hear you had such a disappointing meal. I'm also sorry to hear the waitress wasn't more on the ball concerning wine recommendations, because that was the main criticism of my review last month. They told me they were having trouble finding staff.
I have to also tell you that that lobster streudel was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. Sounds to me like they were overwhelmed with the extra business. Of course, that's their problem, not yours. Too bad. When I dined there it was almost empty -- at both lunch and dinner.
It does seem as if Aszu may be slow in adjusting to the transition from relative obscurity to relative fame and the full-to-the-rafters patronage it may start attracting. I should say that our very hard-pressed waitress did take the effort to go to the kitchen to find out for me the name of the (unknown to me) root vegetable: céleri-rave. Also the South African red wine that was suggested to be paired with the duck comfit was a good choice that I certainly would not have chosen on my own (I didn’t find out what the constituent grape or grapes were, but it was reminiscent of an intense Australian Shiraz.) À propos of your published review, you might be glad to hear that the pasta on the duck ravioli served to me was cooked to perfection, neither too firm nor too limp. So your comment on that was apparently taken note of.
My husband and I tried Aszu in November after reading a review in Voir and adding it to our list. We had hadn't heard anything else about it but wanted something new. I had an onion tart to start - good pastry and onions were not overly sweet, perfectly soft. My husband had the trio of tartar - not exceptional but good. My main was a nice surprise - tuna "nicoise" served on a bed of cold greens - lovely! My partner had deer possibly - again, no complaints, but not memorable enough for details. Service was attentive, but uneven long/short waits - like the servers were finding their pace. But they were gracious and knew the wines - suggesting good pairings. It is reasonable - $180/2 with wine/tip and a shared dessert.
I had been looking forward to trying out the relatively new Aszu in Montreal. I had made reservations for 1 o’clock on the Friday before Christmas a couple of weeks in advance. As soon as I walked into the place I wanted to like this place with it ambience both warm and modern. They had reserved our table in the back beyond the bar area (with its attractive modernistic fireplace) behind two office parties but not in either of the two little enclaves in the very back of the restaurant. With the stone walls, the narrow room was so loud as to make communication with the servers or your dinner companion decidedly difficult.
We decided to start with glasses of two different champagnes from a choice of four. My companion ordered a couple of oysters (at $3 a piece). Both champagnes were excellent, in generous “pours” in attractive tall flutes. The oysters were served with a choice of four condiments; my companion pronounced them "quite good." We both ordered the triple “flight” of lobster bisques, and then the lobster strudel for her and a ravioli of duck comfit for me; also we asked for the waitress to select wines to go with each of the courses. The waitress didn’t have much to say about the possible choices of wine, but it was very loud and she was clearly hard pressed caring for all the customers in her section (the place appeared to be close to totally full). It took a very, very long time for our bisques to arrive and they were set down unceremoniously with no explanation by a fellow who looked like he had been pressed as a stopgap into the role of a server. We eventually got a hold of a regular waitress to explain the three flavors. The bisques were served in three small glasses with miniature spoons in each, one tarragon, one ginger and one citrus flavored. This was definitely an enjoyable experience of contrasts; there was also on the side a stack of matchstick-sized slivers of a white root vegetable (later we learned it was "célari rave") – tasty with a nice texture, but difficult to eat except as finger food. We both had chardonnays with this.
Then another very, very long wait. My companion was very disappointed with the “lobster strudel” the pastry being excessively oily and the “sauce” an uninspiring lake of butter that had start to re-congeal. My main (served with a potent South African red wine) was one very large ravioli with shredded duck comfit in the interior on a bed of warm oriental-style vegetables. The whole concoction was tasty and generous and surprisingly harmonious. Again a long wait. We ordered a cappuccino and an espresso. My espresso while smooth and well-made but was just a barely above tepid; I decided to start drinking it immediately; the tray of three (very ordinary) sweets arrived quite a bit later after I had nearly finished my espresso.
While the two waitress working in our section were clearly working very hard and were helpful if directly asked a question when one could get their attention, the overall service side of the operation was totally disorganized that afternoon. It may have emanated from problems in the kitchen. The level of disorganization was great enough that I doubt I would come back for another meal in the near future. I hope they get their act together because the ambience and the overall concept are highly commendable (especially the large number of wines by the glass available). I might someday order a drink (the single glasses of champagne are especially welcome) in the front bar area and a single side dish if I were in the area. (The next day the Gazette listed this as one of the top ten Montreal restaurants of 2006 – well, it wasn’t the afternoon we visited.)
By now, the restaurant has been around for a year - I liked it when I went, but I am kind of easy to please. Since then, I've managed to find a few critical comments - Fritzy, you're not the only one who has reservations about the food. This reviewer, for example, complains about salt:
Anybody else think their food was oversalted?
Aszu is an up and coming new resto in the old port, with the emphasis on wine pairing, and local products.The sommelier (Jean Francois Demers) and chef have ganged up to create a menu that is warm and creative. I have been a few times, as i heard that they had a special automated wine by the glass system that allowed me to taste wines that i would never be able to afford by the bottle. I have been twice for lunch and 3 times for dinner since...the staff are professional and i felt very welcome (the beautiful fireplace helps too!)
Some items i have tried:
Trio of tartars which had robust duck, beef and deer tartar.
Ham and mushroom risotto with truffle oil
Delicious sweetbreads with mashed sweet potatoes...and once i had the lobster strudel i was hooked.
The prices are great, and the best part about it for me was that i was able to try a different wine with every dish..all complimented perfectly!
It is indeed a nice spot..
I guess French bistro, but the presentation was very straight forward. For starters we shared a tapas platter for two. It was an interesting selection of items: grilled shrimp, breschetta, smoked meats, onion rings, stuffed jalopenos, olives, etc. Sounds like a mess, but everything was very tasty. My favorite entry was quail with a chicken liver risotto which had white raison in a port reduction. The rice was prepared perfectly and although the quail portion was very small it was delicious. My wife had grilled scallops which were also cooked to perfection. I also had lamb on an earlier visit which was also great. Truly I usually like more casual ethnic places, but these dishes were truly wonderful. These prices for the entries were between $12 to $25 canadian with I found to be fairly reasonable compared to the other restaraunts in the area. If you decide to go I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!