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Le Piment Rouge - review + pics

Le Piment Rouge has been on my list of places to try since last fall. The place seems to bring out a range of opinions – from food media reviews that recently named Piment Rouge the Best Restaurant in Montreal (CBC, RDI, Le Devoir, etc.) to some chowhounders who vocally and frequently complain about the place. So… let’s throw one more review into the mix. A group of six of us went to try the restaurant for an anniversary celebration. Here is my review…

Positives: (1) excellent food, (2) beautiful dining room, (3) huge wine list with many affordable wines (100+ wines under $50/bottle), (4) polished and friendly service
Negatives: (1) slow delivery time on main courses, (2) frustrating parking
Price: For food, $45 per person, before tax and tip. Plus: two bottles of wine ($38 and $60), three glasses of dessert wine ($30), tea and coffee ($18).

The dining room is really quite impressive and beautiful in the old Windsor building – one of the nicest in the city. But this is not your typical modest neighborhood bistro that is at the core of our city’s dining scene. Here you have tall, ornate molded plaster ceilings and panoramic views of Dominion Square Park from almost every window. The dining room is accented with huge gray crystal chandeliers, silver and black retro wallpaper, Chinese bronze buddhas and massive white lacquered Chinese screens. Lots of expensive bottles (Petrus, Margaux, Lafite etc.) in the imposing glass cellar remind you that many special occasions and business deals happen here.

The sauces, food presentation and quality of ingredients all scored high marks with us. The menu has mainly authentic Chinese items but also some Americanized Chinese options, as well as a seasonal tasting menu (25+ items) and a half-dozen daily specials. Two of our dinner companions are Chinese (actually, Canadian-born husband and wife recently from Hong Kong, both celebrating their anniversary), so we basically avoided the Americanized items. For appetizers, we ordered:

- Roasted Chinese pumpkin (kabocha) soup with candied walnuts (in seasonal menu) – complex layers of smoke, luscious meat soup stock flavours mixed in with pumpkin purée and candied walnuts.

- Lobster wontons with crab meat and crab roe sauce over Chinese greens (in seasonal menu) – the crab sauce was delicious with lots of snow crab meat, and big chunks of tender lobster in the wontons.

-Dim sum selection – shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings all perfectly steamed to perfection.

- Hunan dumplings with peanut and sesame sauce – Delicious rich sauce and savoury meaty pork dumplings, but was told not authentic Chinese by my friends. I didn’t care – basically licked my plate clean!

For main course dishes:

- Fresh whole sole sautéed with black beans and sugar snap peas (daily special item) – the fish fillets were deboned and sautéed with black bean sauce, placed in a crispy basket made from the fish bone rack which was also edible (seasoned with Chinese spiced salt).

- Soy and wine braised eggplant in clay pot (in seasonal menu) – very tender eggplant with a rich and zesty soy wine sauce thoroughly infused into the velvety eggplant strips.

- Poet’s pork (Dong Bo Rou) – for Montrealers who love their pork, this is one more decadent dish to add to the city’s list! This was my favourite dish of the entire meal - the soy sauce and red rice wine reduction sauce is so rich, and the pork (fatty belly cut) is so tender and delicious! The meat just melts in your mouth.

- Home-made “Silver Needle” rice noodles with seasonal vegetables and XO sauce (daily special item) – I never even knew such noodles existed! Wok tossed with Chinese “XO” sauce that is a combination of tiny sundried seafood morsels (scallops, brine shrimp, squid) and chili oil. Amazing combination of flavours – salty briny, sweet and spicy all in the same mouthful.

- Whole clams stir fried in Bi Feng Tang sauce (daily special item) – BFT is a traditional Chinese seasoning consisting of tiny pieces of garlic seasoned with a variety of other spices (salt, chilies, ginger). The clams were very tender and juicy.

- Lemon Shrimp – too sweet for my personal taste, but these giant but tender shrimp were also cooked very nicely and seasonedwith razor thin shreds of fresh lemon peel.

We were stuffed, but ordered desserts for the anniversary. The crispy mango pastries were very nice with crispy phyllo outsides and a combo of mango-anise custard and stewed fresh mango on the inside.

We were particularly impressed with the service. The manager personally opened the door for us on the way out. Our servers and the manager were very attentive even though the dining room was almost full of customers. However, our main courses took much longer than expected to come out (30 minutes after appetizers), but the manager was quite apologetic in explaining that the kitchen was short staffed that night.

My pet peeve for the night was the parking situation. It was a Bell Centre hockey night, so impossible to find parking. Didn’t want to spend $15-20 at a pay lot – they should have validated parking at a nearby facility.

They have a huge wine list! We counted about 700 selections! But we were delighted to see over 100 wines under $50 a bottle, of which even 30 were under $40 a bottle. Also, we noticed a huge variety (40+) of wines by the glass, from $8. Our servers were quite helpful and knowledgeable about the wines. Also, Instead of just plain tap water, they served fresh fruit-infused filtered ice water – lime, lemon, orange and pomegranate. Chocolate dipped fortune cookies, mints and candied ginger also came free at the end of the meal with the bill. Nice little details from beginning to end all added up to a delightful anniversary celebration.

Le Piment Rouge Windsor
1170 Rue Peel, Montreal, QC H3B4P2, CA

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  1. My wife and I had received a gift certificate for this place which we had never used. After seeing the La Presse article, we decided to try it. You are correct that the dining room is very nice, service was quite good (although a bit uneven when we went as many servers came to ask for drinks and if we had ordered). The food was very good. What really pissed us off though was after ordering a dish of dumplings wih peanut sauce, my wife requested extra sauce. They charged us 5$ for the extra sauce even though our bill was almost 200$ in food and drinks. Also, 30 min to wait for mains because the kitchen was understaffed shouldn't happen at a high end restaurant. We have several other excellent Chinese options in this city, I'm not sure I would return to this restaurant.

    1. Your photos have me mouthwatering, especially the pumpkin walnut soup. That's addictive stuff. The other items I crave are their lamb chops with Gobi desert spices and their black bean and chilli sauce razor clams. Can't wait to go back to Piment Rouge on my next trip to Montreal. We have lots of excellent Chinese restaurants in California, but nothing quite reaches the quality level of the food at Le Piment Rouge.

      1. Nice review! Always enjoy going to Piment Rouge – high quality food and great selection of wines. They were also named one of the top ten Chinese restaurants in the world by China Air flight magazine.

        2 Replies
        1. re: HappyMtl

          Im almost positive that is a rating you pay for

          1. re: kpaxonite

            kpaxonite, I don't think the ratings were bought. It wasn't one of those "best steakhouses in America" type advertisements that you see in many flight magazines. It was a while since I read the article, but the reviews did include Ding Tai Fung in Taipei and Lee Garden and Lung King Heen/Four Seasons in Hong Kong. These restaurants have no reason to pay for the ratings because they are already the center of attention and always overbooked. The format of the article reminded me of the annual best new restaurant list published by Air Canada.

        2. Beautiful pictures! Thank you for the detailed review. Wow you even included price estimates.

          I'd love to try this place but the price point is a little high for my budget. Maybe in a few years when i'm comfortably out of my student loans.

          3 Replies
          1. re: SourberryLily

            SourberryLily, I went back to Le Piment Rouge last week for lunch. While not as decadent and impressive as a full dinner there, the lunch prix fixe menu is more reasonably priced and with generous portions. If I remember correctly, they are from approx. $18 to $25 and includes three courses.

            1. re: VinnyRW

              Oh that's not so bad! Maybe i'll try it for lunch. Thanks for posting it :)

              1. re: SourberryLily

                i had this resto on my list to try for lunch but not sure anymore after reading review in this Saturday journal de montreal, you can read it online but wont be posted in archives til next week


          2. I finally went last week with people from work for a work function;it was a set menu of westernized Chinese items. Disappointing as this was, I could have lived with it, if they were better versions of these dishes (spareribs, Hunan dumplings, spring rolls, a stir-fry chicken dish, crispy beef, fried rice, sweet & sour shrimp and BBQ duck). Sadly, they were awful if not THE worse I've ever had; the duck was especially off-putting with a bad smell and the fried rice was bizarre: pink in color from ?fish roe and fishy smelling. The red dots strewn in the rice seemed to be similar to what you find on sushi rolls. The rest was equally sub par. No one at our table was impressed including 2 colleagues of Chinese origin. Granted, it could have been the chosen set menu that sucked but honestly, it did not give me one ounce of desire to return and explore the regular menu.

            11 Replies
            1. re: hungryann

              The worst Chinese food I've ever eaten in recent memory was at Montrose restaurant on Somerled. Boy that was bad. I also had a very bad meal at Piment Rouge(in middle of their major renovations). Although my first meal at Piment Rouge restaurant years ago(maybe 10 years ago), was fairly good, but it's Westernized Chinese food. I don't why some Montreal restaurant critics rave about Piment Rouge, outside they don't know Asian food.

              Montrose Restaurant
              6550 Av Somerled, Montreal, QC H4V1S9, CA

              1. re: hungryann

                I was also at a group dinner at Piment Rouge last week for about 40 people. It was very good despite the large group, but we also had mainly Americanized items (Hunan dumplings, General Toa chicken, Szeshwan shrimp, etc.) - lowest common denominator to please everyone at a business function. However, their authentic Chinese dishes are much better, especially their daily seafood specials and the seasonal tasting menu. Though I agree with VinnyRW that the sauce for their Hunan dumplings is delicious and I haven't found any better in town.

                hungryann, I go often to Piment Rouge, but never seen some of the dishes you describe. They don't serve BBQ duck, nor do they serve sweet and sour shrimp or fried rice with fish roe (this one really sounds so bizzare!). Are these special order items for your group?

                BLM, one of the food critics raving about Piment Rouge is Phillipe Molle of Le Devoir. He reviewed them right after their big renovation: http://www.ledevoir.com/loisirs/resta... He lived and worked as a chef for many years in Japan, Tahiti and Hong Kong and writes often about his annual trips to Asia. However, I'm not sure how much the other Montreal food critics know about Asian food - some of them are more Europe focused when it comes to their travels and knowledge.

                1. re: HappyMtl

                  Well, I may be wrong about the sweet and sour shrimp, maybe it was szechuan,; the sauce was orange and sweet yet tangy, so that's why I assumed it was sweet & sour shrimp. We did not have a written menu; the waiters just came around and introduced the plates as duck, shrimp, chicken, beef, etc. On second thought maybe the duck was roasted; I didn't have very much since I was turned off by the smell and the fatty blob of skin sitting atop the meat. The shrimp was as described...very weird! Hardly anybody ate it and the waiter called it fried rice!?!? I doubt they were specially ordered for our group, it was probably some kind of set menu offered. Our group was also about 35-40 people but I was not involved for booking the venue or choosing the menu.

                  1. re: hungryann

                    I"ve never had a bad meal at Piment Rouge before, but your shrimp (?) or fish roe (??) fried rice is truly bizzare - it must be a special order item because I'm pretty sure it's not on their menu. I'm ok with fat on duck - even a good duck confit (oozing in it's own fat) or a nice magret de canard with a thick fat layer does look kinda gross and smells odd, but tastes great!

                    1. re: HappyMtl

                      "The shrimp was as described", I meant the rice was as described. I know how duck skin can look but this was all kinds of wrong; it was probably undercooked making it very chewy and fatty but not in a good way.

                    2. re: hungryann

                      The shrimp sounds like Szechuan Shrimps, orange sauce, full of small onion bits, tangy, spicy and sweet all at the same time, but none of those 3 overpowering the other.

                      1. re: westaust

                        here is the review from journal de montreal, just got posted online, a brutal critique gave half a star (probably for decor!) out of 5

                        1. re: wilmagrace

                          Wow, how can anyone take this review seriously? I guess sensationalism sells tabloid newspapers. I'm not sure if the chowhound censors will allow this post to stay, but Thierry Daraize sure knows how to fan the flames of controversy. Piment Rouge has one of Quebec's best sommeliers and Wine Spectator awards (and the critic says the wine is corked?), has chefs from Hong Kong Michelin-starred restaurants (and every dish was horrendous?) and Piment Rouge chefs staff the Chinese embassy kitchen in Ottawa when they have official government functions (and yet even a basic bowl rice was cold, crusty and dry?). It would be more believable if everything wasn't painted the same shade of bad.

                          1. re: Jasper1

                            That review and hungryann's report are quite similar; will wait for other reviews to see in what direction it goes.

                          2. re: wilmagrace

                            The description of the duck is pretty accurate; I hesitated to call it Peking duck since the skin was in a different zip code from crispy and there weren't the usual accompaniments. Also, he's right about the waiters serving you " a la pince" and taking back the leftovers to the kitchen. What's up with that? Even though , nobody wanted extras, it was a bit curious.

                          3. re: westaust

                            I had the Szechuan shrimps on my last visit. They were excellent - the shrimp were huge with no fillers on the plate, and as westaust described, a good equal balance of tangy, spicy and sweet, with a nice caramelized onion aroma mixed with the other tastes.

                    3. I don't believe the Journal de Montreal article. Our group had a wonderful dinner at Piment Rouge in March, and a great business dinner there a couple of weeks ago. To Maximilien's observation: Le Devoir, the Gazette and CBC all recently had good reviews.

                      I also posted earlier questioning the reliability of Thierry Daraize's review given the ugly racial stereotypes he uses in the article, but our dear chowhound moderators asked me to repost in the news and media section which I have done at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785728 It looks like vanierstudent reported the offensive Journal de Montreal review to Conseil de presse du Quebec (post also removed by the moderators).

                      1. Intrigued by the polarized reviews of Le Piment Rouge my wife and I decided to try it for the first time a coupe days ago. It turns out the bad reviews are right - this place is truly, truly terrible. Completely overrated on all counts. Where to start...

                        We decide, somewhat atypically to order cocktails off their menu instead of our usual Negroni. A few minutes after ordering, the waiter returns with two drinks, plunking down a Lychee martini for my wife, telling her "Sorry, the drink you ordered is no longer available so I made you this instead". It was on the house, which kind of makes up for the odd service choice of just bringing something that wasn't requested, but still, kind of a weird start.

                        We then ask our server for some recommendations, telling him we're thinking of having the Pumpkin soup, lobster wontons, and peking duck to start, and the pork belly, and salt and pepper shrimps for a main course. He emphatically recommends the General Tao chicken - the most utterly North American style dish on the menu! He also tells us the salt and pepper shrimp are tasteless and that we should have the Szechuan shrimps instead. Again, weird. We make the changes he recommends, and I tell him that I'm intrigued by how good he says the General Tao chicken is, and ask him for an order, and explain to him that I know it's too much food, but we'll bring home the extra. We also ask for rice to accompany the meal. At this point we're still hopeful, but it's all downhill from here.

                        Oh, I forgot to mention - this 700 choice wine list? Not that I saw - they had a tiny wine list (100-ish choices), mostly low-end bottles, I didn't see anything over $200, and most were in the $50 range. We ordered a Clos-de-Jordanne Pinot, which admittedly was not marked up all that much, so pretty decent wine value.

                        The soup never shows up, the first dish to arrive are the wontons.

                        As has been remarked elsewhere, the servers dish up everything, and walk away with food on the plate every time - again, really odd. The won-ton wrappers were home-made, and the dough was not bad, but the lobster filling was obviously shredded canned crab, and most of it had leaked out into the broth, so these big ravioli sized won-tons were literally filled with a single half mushroom. Totally inept execution, and villainously overpriced at $22 for four mostly empty husks.

                        Next up was the Peking Duck. Yet another totally inept dish. They advertise "Mandarin pancake and duck sauce", but what you get are two standard pancakes, and two premade rolls, a little cucumber and onion, and a *tiny* leg of warmed up crispy skinned duck. The premade rolls had no sauce in them, but of course we had to bite into to them to know this, at which point we unrolled them to see what was going on, doctored them back up - messy, and aggravating. The duck was "ok", but for the price ($22) we could have bought a whole duck down the street in chinatown. Oh, the sauce, out of a jar for sure - sickly sweet.

                        At this point we're on to the main course, and it just keeps getting worse. They brought us one tiny bowl of rice to share, and it was crusty on top like it had been sitting under a heat lamp.

                        The pork belly are these massive (half a rubick's cube sized) slabs of fat with an inedible carapace of caramelized skin, with a chunk of mysteriously dry white pork meat in the middle. I've had pork belly all over the place, and this was easily the worst. You expect the fat and meat blend together into a sumptuous crackly skinned bite - but the only way to eat this dish was to scrape the fat and skin to the side, and shred the cube of dry pork and mix it with whatever sauce you could find to moisten it up. Disgusting - we didn't eat most of it - $36 down the drain.

                        The szechuan shrimps were the most edible of all the dishes, being more boring than outright bad. The shrimps were fairly large and tasty, but the sauce was more sweet and sour than szechuan, the only flavour or spice coming from the mass of caramelized onions that permeated the sauce. Not a chili to be found anywhere. At $34 for what was basically a "Just Noodles" calibre sauce this one stung, but at least we got some food in our belly!

                        Oh, the General Tao that the waiter pushed on us - it didn't show up either. Two forgotten dishes in one meal. Crazy.

                        A few minutes after they clear our plates, two manager looking guys show up and bring us a plate with fortune cookies, mints, and a book of toothpicks - Hey guys, no tea, no dessert order - what the hell!? We're pretty keen to get out of there at this point anyway, so we're not complaining, but it was yet another weird moment. While we're waiting for our bill the manager guys come back with a sparkler wedged into a slice of strawberry shortcake - I had booked for our anniversary, but I guess the hostess understood "anniversaire" (birthday in french), and so had brought us a piece of birthday cake - we started to explain the mistake, and then just took the cake - it was too complicated. We had a couple of bites of the clearly store bought (Safeway quality) whipped cream and angel food cake monstrosity - paid our check, and bolted.

                        This probably sounds like a really harsh review - but it's more sad than angry. The servers were affable, and the decor is pretty nice, the wine value above average, but the food is just really, really bad. I'm astounded by some of the positive things people have had to say about it, because this was the kind of bad where you know that it isn't an off night - the dishes are flawed to their core, there's a fair amount of store-bought ingredients, and there's very little subtlety in the execution.

                        I was hoping to discover my new "goto" Chinese restaurant, but much like the fortune in my cookie "You are never bitter, or petty", this turned out not to be the case.

                        Le Piment Rouge Windsor
                        1170 Rue Peel, Montreal, QC H3B4P2, CA

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: BobaHoTep

                          This place is a joke. It confirms that when I went with a group the fault wasn't with the chosen menu but rather with the kitchen.

                          1. re: hungryann

                            sheesh. the last time i was in montreal to do a reading i was looking for a place that could handle a fairly large table (12 of us) and also a mix of vegetarians and carnivores. piment rouge seemed like a reasonable choice, and we had quite an excellent & leisurely lunch. everything we ordered was at least pretty damn good, and a couple of people left saying it was the best chinese they'd ever had.

                            i'll admit that my friends are bohemians rather than foodies, but they're well traveled and know what they like. my wife and i agreed that it was a fine meal. the wine list was extremely reasonable as well. and i don't recall the service as being slow, but with a lively table of 12, with the wine flowing, who would really notice?

                            anyway, i would highly commend this place, especially for a group. we got out for about $50 a head, and i was happy to pay the tab.