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Raza on Mother's Day

lipoff May 13, 2010 02:45 PM

On a very short trip to Montreal, my friend and I went to Raza for dinner on Sunday evening. Apparently they are not usually open on Sundays, but were that Sunday for mother's day, and offered a five-course prix-fixe menu.

We made a reservation for 7 PM, but were so exhausted from rushing about all day that we called just after 6 PM and asked if we could move the reservation back to 8 PM. I didn't realize until later that this would mean we'd be the last people in the restaurant, but they very graciously accepted our request and never made us feel rushed during the dinner.

Let me just mention that this was an exceptional restaurant, with a beautiful décor inside, kind service, inventive food, and very good (if not flawless) execution.

First course was a duck ceviche (in lime juice) with Serrano pepper, fennel, and a slice of jicama that was marinated in beet juice. It was served on top of a sweet potato purée. It was one of my favorites of the evening. The duck was tender but not too tender, and each flavor --- the duck itself, the citrus of the lime, the heat of the pepper and the cooling of the fennel all came together in each bite. I was skeptical that a sweet potato purée would work, but it did. The richness of the purée balanced the astringency of the beet soaked jicama.

Second course was a small piece of seared sea bass, in a garlic milk foam, sitting on top of a potato pancake stuffed with crab meat. The garlic milk foam blended wonderfully with the sea bass, although I thought the sea bass itself with just a touch overcooked. The potato pancake was more like a blini than a latke, and served as a good medium to deliver the salty crab meat.

Third course consisted of three beautiful pieces of quail, sitting on top of a parsnip purée, infused with truffles. On top of this was perched a perfectly poached egg, with a slightly spicy, astringent sauce, and two delicately arranged slices of green bean. The quail was so good I had to gnaw on the bones. The poached egg really was perfectly poached, and the spices on the egg reminded me of Chinese la4 jiang4. Even the little slices of green bean had their place. In this respect, Raza reminded me of Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York, where every little ingredient is carefully chosen for a purpose.

The fourth course was supposed to be a beef tenderloin with a blue cheese reduction and foie gras. My dining companion, despite living in England for more than ten years, really dislikes blue cheese. Instead the kitchen prepared it a different way, with a chorizo foam, bacon bits, quinoa, and some wonderful mushrooms, also with some slices of green bean. While this was enjoyable, it was my least favorite course of the night. I found the bacon taste to be oppressive and overshadowing the beef, the quinoa nothing special, the green beans less successful here than in the previous dish, and the mushrooms would have been better on their own.

The fifth course was dessert, and what a dessert it was. There was a bed of avocado moose, topped with a chica (morada) sorbet, a dollop of a different kind of avocado moose, studded with chocolate cereal and garnished with dehydrated chocolate. I find it hard to put into words, because this is seriously one of the absolutely best desserts I've ever had. I found it surprising that anything could top the quail dish, but this will be seared into my mind. If I get the chance to return to Montreal, I will call ahead to try to have this dessert again. The avocado moose was airy yet firm, and definitely tasted of avocado, yet was not out of place in a dessert, while also not being too sweet. The little chocolate cereal provided a welcome crunchy contrast, as did the dehydrated chocolate, while remaining distinct from each other. The dollop of avocado moose on top was different --- more gelatinous and concentrated and slightly sweeter. The purple corn sorbet had a wonderful texture and a deep flavor. It was a dessert to remember, with complex layers and was sweet (not savory) but not too sweet at all.

They had a fine wine list, but instead of drinking we asked if they could make something non-alcoholic. In addition to the usual juices and sparkling waters, the waiter offered to make a chica morada (Peruvian purple corn) lemonade. It was topped with a dollop of lemon foam, in a "molecular gastronomy" touch.

Again, service and décor couldn't have been any nicer, even though we were the only people in the restaurant for most of our time there. (There were a few other tables there when we came in). While going to the bathroom I passed the miniscule kitchen and saw immaculate counters and beautiful copper pots. It was hard to imagine that such complicated dishes emerged from such a small space.

  1. f
    foodlovergeneral Dec 18, 2011 06:21 AM

    Raza is a great rstauarant with an inventive chef and wonderful and unique flavors. The chef did a stint at Daniel, which is on one of hte top 50 restaurant in the world lists. I had some amazing bottle of a cremonere wine from Chile there, and I am excited to go back to this place at some point asap. Can anyone explain why it doesn't do such a great busienss? I am at a loss here.

    10 Replies
    1. re: foodlovergeneral
      wattacetti Dec 18, 2011 07:15 AM

      I'm going to be heaped by criticism but this is my personal view: much of the local dining population will find the food somewhat "adventurous" (bright colors, strong flavors) for the collective palate, and there is the issue that some diners are taken aback from Navarrete not speaking French (his wife is francophone Gaspésienne). I have personally observed clients halting their orders and walking out of Raza over the language thing, so the "pas de chez nous" attitude is a definite issue.

      On a larger front, the success of Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef means that restauranteurs will continue to open new establishments which offer Montreal large plates of brown comfort food (with brown sauce), charcuterie and organic/biodynamic wines. It's a formula that has had success in the past and still continues to do so.

      1. re: wattacetti
        foodlovergeneral Dec 18, 2011 07:22 AM

        How unfortunate. When I go into a restaurant, I usually start with an apology. "Je suis des etats uni. Pardonez moi, mais je ne parle pas beaucoup to francais. Est ce que vous m'aidez en Anglais." Then I get polite service.

        1. re: wattacetti
          BarackHObama Dec 18, 2011 10:51 AM

          those who walk out are subhumans

          food like music is supposed to transcend such triviality

          1. re: wattacetti
            foodlovergeneral Dec 19, 2011 09:38 AM

            Could there also be a "flocking" mentality that requires that the other "birds" be there? We had some friends who went with us. They loved the place. But they are very suspicious since the restaurant is so empty. Whenever we talk about this place, they say, "how come nobody goes? What's wrong with the place? " doubting their own judgement of the quality of the cooking.

            Does this really go on here in Quebec that people would actually walk out of a restaurant because they don't speak French? The waiter was a francophone when we went.

            1. re: foodlovergeneral
              wattacetti Dec 19, 2011 10:35 AM

              Any city's dining scene has attention deficit disorder so after everyone goes to the brand new spot, it's on to the next new thing with no repeats. Montreal is not unique in this regard and it's fairly easy to identify people who flock. It's also easy to identify those who return to any given establishment.

              That said, Raza's food has a different flavor and visual profile for a city that's seems to be connstantly be looking for combinations of large, pork, fried and brown. If this were NYC, Chicago, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, you'd be waiting but here, it is what it is.

              Navarrete's FOH has always been bilingual or better, but the fact that he likes to meet and chat with clients is where the comments about his lack of French come about. It's never "we're happy you're bringing us something interesting" with the understanding that he immigrated, rather it's virtually "why doesn't he speak French?".

              So does this really go on here in *Montreal* that people would actually walk out? Yes. Seen it. I also know people who have openly and loudly commented about lodging complaints to the Office because bilingual wait staff have served *another table* in English. The current Canadiens coaching debacle should give you an idea as to how deep-rooted this is.

              1. re: wattacetti
                foodlovergeneral Dec 19, 2011 11:01 AM

                So Montreal is unique in some regards.

                In other cities, good restaurants tend to have good patronage, even after some initial "fad" has worn off, so I am not quite sure what you mean.

                1. re: foodlovergeneral
                  wattacetti Dec 19, 2011 11:12 AM

                  Every city has a group of "eaters" who migrate from one new opening to the next as it's important to be "seen" whenever there is buzz. That's the group that goes once and only returns if the place is re-reviewed unless the establishment gets media attention (your choice of talking head food shows) at which point the flock returns.

                  The regular "eaters" will make the rounds, revisiting places 2-3 times/year (or more).

                2. re: wattacetti
                  Glaff Dec 19, 2011 12:34 PM

                  Walk out of a restaurant because the owner / chef don't speak french ? Never seen that. Most people in a restaurant don't even know / care about who the chef is to start with... and when do you get the chance to go talk to the chef in the kitchen anyway?

                  One thing's for sure, a chef who doesn't speak french gets less chance to be on (french) TV shows and give exposure to his restaurants... which is normal of course... but I don't think it's the only reason.

                  But still, I doubt that his restaurants are always empty... How would he still be in business with 3 empty restaurants after all those years.

                  1. re: Glaff
                    wattacetti Dec 19, 2011 01:11 PM

                    I didn't say it was the only thing.

                    " large, pork, fried and brown" seems to be the current mantra for cutting edge

                    1. re: Glaff
                      foodlovergeneral Dec 19, 2011 03:02 PM

                      1. I talked to the chef in the kitchen at Raza in answer to your second question. (when do you get the chance to go talk to the chef in the kitchen anyway) You proffered this with incredulity, and yet it came to pass.

                      2. As for your challenge that you doubt our reports about his three restaurants being empty, I don't think anyone suggested that about his restaurants, but people here went and it was empty, and there are other chow posts that say the same. Perhaps you can go see for yourself to see if your doubts about our reporting is so inaccurate.

            2. souschef May 14, 2010 05:22 AM

              Dehydrated chocoate? Never heard of it before.

              2 Replies
              1. re: souschef
                wattacetti May 14, 2010 05:35 AM

                Dehydrated chocolate mousse.

                1. re: wattacetti
                  wilmagrace May 16, 2010 03:57 AM

                  thanks for taking the time to share your review and the scrumptious photos, much appreciated (:

              2. TheSnowpea May 13, 2010 05:05 PM

                Wow, thank you for this very complete review!

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