Why aren't people going to l'Inconnu? It's dead, but the food is great!
My wife and I went to l'Inconnu for the 4th or 5th time last night. Over the last couple years we've watched as the restaurant has become more and more dead. Even at its peak, I don't think I ever saw them full, but certainly any bustle that used to exist seems to be snuffed out now. Yesterday when we arrived at 9pm there was one solitary diner. When the wait staff outnumbers the guests, it's not usually a good sign. We considered bailing on our reservation, but decided to stay, thinking this would be our swan song meal at l'Inconnu, and we hoped that it wasn't going to be terrible.
The meal started off with the customary complimentary amuse bouche (always a nice touch). It was a watermelon gazpacho, with sweet chili and coriander. Absolutely tasty and refeshing.
For starters I had my usual ris de veau/sweetbreads. L'Inconnu is the first place I ever had sweetbreads, and now after trying them all over Montreal at L'Express (gross), LTPB (good, but part of a larger dish), and others, I am sure that L'Inconnu has the best sweetbreads in the entire city. Crispy on the outside, plump, but not squishy on the inside, and sitting on a bed of mushrooms in a port (?) reduction, this is a dish to be savored. I have to close my eyes sometimes, it's that good. My wife had a snowcrab salad that was fresh, and infused with a lemony tartness. It was good, but hard to compare with the richness of l'Inconnu's sweetbreads.
For mains, my wife had a halibut roasted with market vegetables, including seasonal fiddleheads. Like much of the fish at Inconnu, it was a simple preparation that let the freshness of the fish dominate.
I had the duck duo, which included sliced duck breast slathered in a fig reduction sauce, and with an odd little ball on the side. When I broke open the ball I was met with tender shredded duck confit, with a fried duckfat 'cracker' on the side. These "duo" dishes are a specialty at l'Inconnu and are always interesting and tasty.
This meal was so good, making the fact that the restaurant was so dead, soooo wrong. I just had to post something for my fellow Chowhounds to try to get you to give l'Inconnu a shot. The restaurant is a tad off the beaten path (if you consider a 5 minute walk from St Denis and Pine off the beaten path!), the interior is immaculate, warm and inviting, and the service, if not impeccable, at least friendly and familial.
Help keep l'Inconnu alive. I can't live in a world where restaurants with great food, and great ambiance lose out to the slop houses along lower St. Denis!
I'll be in Montreal for a week in June and am putting this place on my list! Thanks for sharing your dining review!
I was at L'inconnu 1 month ago and it was pretty quiet too. But it was a Tuesday and the weather was cold. It's too bad that it’s so quiet on weekends. I agree with you, the location is great. I had their amazing sweetbreads also. Let's hope l'Inconnu will survive...
Thank You ! Thank you for highlighting this place. Based upon this thread, my wife and I went there yesterday (Saturday) for a birthday celebration.
We had a reservation for 7pm, and walked in to an almost-deserted restaurant; there were two other tables occupied.
We opted for the 5-course tasting menu with accompanying wines, but asked if for the main course we could have sweetbreads instead of the veal filet, as we really went there for the sweetbreads; it was no problem.
The bread was baguette and cheese bread. Both warm and really tasty. As my wife said, it needed no butter.
The amuse bouche was a seafood cromesqui, served on some diced veggies. Very tasty.
First course: lobster salad. The lobster was cooked to purrfection, and the salad had a nice oniony bite to it. The wine was a Torres Moscatel from Spain; it was not as sweet as I expected it to be, and went very well with the salad.
Second course: Fiddlehead soup with morels and sweetbreads. The soup, which was pureed, had a wonderful flavour of fiddleheads, and was the right texture. The two small pieces of morel were tasty. I found the small piece of sweetbread a bit chewy; braising would have cured that. The wine was a Chardonnay/Moscatel blend that I did not care for, but then I dislike Chardonnay.
Third course: Quail, with a maple reduction. I expected it to be sweet, but it was nicely balanced so it was not. The dish was truly sublime, served with shitake mushrooms. The wine was a Riesling from New Zealand, and went well with the quail.
Fourth (main) course: Sweetbreads, roasted I think. It was served as one large sweetbread, instead of the usual slices or pieces. I found it unusual in that there were sections that were done just right, with the creamy texture that I value, whereas other sections were a bit chewy. They did have a nice crispy crust, though. In any case, they were far superior to the versions I had at Bronte and CC&P. The wine was a Cote de Provence (red).
Dessert was a molten chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream; no wine. It was very tasty, but I would have liked it more chocolatey and a little less cakey, but then I'm being very picky here as it was delicious.
Service was very friendly and efficient. Our water glasses were always filled, and when the cheese bread was gone we were offered more.
I am looking forward to returning to try their duo of rabbit, duo of duck, and trio of lamb- not all at the same time, of course. After all, I am not moh. Speaking of which, we need someone with real credibility like moh (unlike me) to visit L'Inconnu to put it on the map.
In one fell swoop L'Inconnu became one of or favourites, and I am very hard to please. It really deserves to do well. It did get busier as the evening went on, but when we left at 9:45 it was far from full.
Go there, people! Keep this place alive.
Souschef, very nice review! Please, I think you have more credibility than I do on the topic of fine dining, given your experience in French cuisine and cooking. I recall your thread about sweetbread pithiviers fondly.
I do love sweetbreads, and I have put this place high on the list of places to eat at soon.
Oooh, just took a look at the wine list. Short, but the list is well-selected, with some very fun choices. Mark-up is a little over double the SAQ price, very fair. Someone has put some thought into the list, especially the reds. The white wine list is very short, but again has nice variety and good drinkability.
The pain perdu and the crème brulee trio were the highlights of my two visits at this restaurant. Both times I went to l'Inconnu with friends, I really enjoyed every entrée and main. Well prepared, nice portions and very, very tasty. It was the desserts that blew me away however, especially the rosemary crème brulee, something I would have never picked would I have seen it all alone on the menu.
Argh! I thought I posted my notes on this but they're not here. It's been a year(!) but I had such a great experience that I think about it every so often and hope the restaurant is doing well. We were the only ones there and it seemed like such a shame, especially with the glut of restaurants not too far away on St-Denis. People came up to read the restaurant reviews in the window while we were eating and I kept hoping they'd come in. Hopefully they dined in on another day...
To start: divinely warm cheese bread. Amuse bouche: lobster soup. (I was stupid/excited and burned my tongue a little on it.) Toasted sweetbreads - I'd never had them before and was totally sold on them from other recommendation on this post. Delicious! My partner had the braised pork belly with port and maple reduction.
Main eats: I had the braised rabbit leg and stuffed loin with some pureed root veggies, my partner had the duck duo of magret and confit croquette. We shared a few bites of everything with each other and I thought everything was delicious.
White wine accompanied our meal (don't remember what we drank, sorry!).
Excellent service: the server was friendly and funny, kept our water glasses full, presented beautifully plated food with pride and appeared very impressed with our empty plates. He was the tiniest bit comic in his manner but I found it charming.
Dessert: When we asked for the bill (we were supposed to be at a friend’s place for drinks already) the server exclaimed: "But you must have dessert!" Later he asked what a frappucino is after trying to make my partner a mocha (something else the server didn't know about, or perhaps he was putting us Anglo's on?: "I drink only espresso, thank you very much" – lol!) Was very tempted by the creme brulee trio (chocolate, vanilla and rosemary...mmm!) but chose the ice water mint ice cream with profiteroles because (1) I've never had the latter, (2) my partner loves mint ice cream and (3) local spring water was used to make it. The mint was very floral (pineapple?) and unlike any mint ice cream I’ve had. Profiteroles have ruined Timbits for me – not that I even like those things but now they’re just about as horrid as non-Montreal-style bagels.
If you're ever in Victoria, BC, I hope you'll come visit Brasserie L'ecole or Cafe Brio - they're definitely on par and are regularly full, which I hope for L'inconnu!