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Le Bremner - review

Had the pleasure of dropping by Le Bremner last week. While there is another post with a few details, I thought I'd start a new one focused on reviewing the place. Here is the other post:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/750634

The restaurant is located in the basement of the retail outlet at 361 Rue Saint Paul East. You'll identify its location by a reddish-pink sign that reads simply "Restaurant". It's decently charming inside like only Old Montreal delivers, with large, unadorned stone walls with wooden structural elements. Garde Manger is the gussied-up prettier cousin of the two, with Le Bremner straddling the line between Vieux-Port and a Haligonian oyster bar.

My hotel ended up making a reservation after I had earlier left a message and received no response. I had asked for 9pm but they were solidly booked until 9:30pm on a Wednesday (indeed, when I arrived, the place was packed). I was a lone diner that night and decided to sidle up to the handsome wooden bar and hope for a handsome non-wooden stranger to join me (alas).

The menu is divided into different sections (e.g. raw,hot, cold) and prices primarily range from $7-$22 from what I recall. The bartender said the portions were larger than tapas but smaller than mains. He could have just said "appetizer-sized" but I suppose Chuck Hughes would never be so gauche.

But to the food! For that's what I heard restaurants are designed to provide:

"Appetizer" #1
While I had asked for a sea bass dish with kimchee, the bartender misheard and delivered a crudo variation sprinkled with fresh mint, julienned radishes, always exciting micro-greens, and a generous scattering of toasted pistachios. I doth protested, but the bartender assured me this was his favourite dish and that I would be thrilled (nice save). But I courageously put aside the bitchiness and devoured this spectacular dish. While not complex nor novel, the crunchiness of the pistachios perked up the silky freshness of the sea bass crudo slices and I devoured every last bite. Perhaps a slightly heavy hand was at work with the olive oil (and rice wine vinegar?) in which the fishy rested, but delicious all the same.

"Appetizer" #2
For my next healthy fix of protein, I gobbled up a ceviche of scallop sitting on a bed of firm ice. The chopped scallops were rolling around in curlicues of fennel, diced chives and what struck me as fried tempura bits to give the dish the uplifting crunch it needed. Lime was served on the side, but the pretentious purist in me just glared at it. The dish was quite good but the subtle sweetness of raw scallops was lost in the cacophony. If you switched the scallops with the sea bass in the previous appetizer, the tastes would play to their stronger points.

"Appetizer" #3
While more of a side, the sauteed rapini with fried anchovies and chopped hard boiled egg was the boring friend of the night. The anchovies tasted like over-friend bread crumbs and hid their umami flavours from the dish. The hard boiled egg was, well, hard boiled egg and looked to have been chopped by a hammer. C'mon - medium boil the embryo and let the yolky goodness envelop the rapini. Given the anchovies' muted presence, the dish could have used some flake or maldon salt.

Booze
With a wine list heavy on French and dotted by Spaniards, I took the bartender's recommendation of the Pazo de Senorans Albarino (2006?). An excellent slightly cirtusy accompaniment to my raw friends, the bartender was kind enough to serve me 2 glasses at 2/5s of the price of the bottle. There are no explicit wines by the glass, but the bartender is happy to serve you glasses or half-bottles without a low-volume markup (if that makes sense). I appreciated this policy and hope it's standard.

Happy to see the place is busy and patronized. I'll be back to try more dishes and hopefully snap a few pics.

Le Bremner
361 Rue Saint Paul East
514-544-0446

Google Streetview map of the place (you'll see the "Restaurant" sign):
http://maps.google.com/maps?q=361+sai...

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  1. "with a fair share of stupid tourists"...

    you lost me there.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien

      lost me at "pretentious purist".

      and yeah, tourism $$ is a GOOD thing.

      1. re: Maximilien

        Agreed, bad tourism comment, i'd remove it if i were you. Not only are we grateful to our wonderful savvy tourist for choosing to spend their precious dollar in our town, but how stupid are they really to snag a table at the same restaurant you dined at?

        On a lighter note, can you tell us the overall cost of the meal and how many people you were? One of the most important things about a review for me is knowing what to expect in terms of $$$

        1. re: SourberryLily

          Fair enough (and edited). In fact, I'm a tourist here and indeed supportive of the tourism, but there were 3 separate parties that joined me at the bar at various points. All were from the US and each conversation featured inane lines like "how come you don't have a lychee martini? You wouldn't be successful in New York", and "Montreal is such a stupid place. My cab driver didn't even speak English". Drove me bonkers.

          My bill came to $79.75 post-tax but pre-tip for one person. That was for the 3 dishes and 2 glasses of wine mentioned above .

          1. re: vidkid

            Thanks for the review and editing. I can certainly appreciate how other diners can sway one's impressions of a place, so thanks for clarifying what you meant by "stupid tourists". As nice as it is to have them, these particular ones do sound like they were a bit difficult.

            1. re: vidkid

              I think fellow CH'ers were a bit harsh regarding the tourism comment. The OP is entitled to her opinion.

              And yes the Vieux has its fair share of stupid tourists or rather ignorant, especially when it comes to food. I understand it's charming staying in a boutique hotel and eating in the vicinity, but I think most of the Montreal foodies would agree that most of the food in Old Montreal is overpriced, pretentious and often not so good (there's a few exceptions of course). While I totally understand the economic motives, you have to wonder if this is really the lasting impressions you want visitors to take home. Because let's be honest, most of the time it is run of the mill North-American fussy pretend inventive it's-expensive-so-it-must-be-good cuisine.
              Yes, most of these people don't know any better (and probably eat the same thing back home). But shouldn't we be on a mission to send them out to other neighbourhoods, sell them on our perfect baguette and croissants, affordable qc/french bistro food (where they can even bring an very expensive bottle of French wine without corkage fee) or even some of the best ethnic cuisine this city has to offer? The joie-de-vivre of eating classy food in a casual setting?

              So to vidkid, avoid those aforementioned tourists and ventoure out in the rest of the city. You'll find great people and even better food!

              1. re: estilker

                The OP retracted her/his comment and we're grateful.

                "stupid tourists" is indeed insulting because when i am in another city, i hate it when i am treated (or thought of) as such. In any case, that didn't seem so much like stupid tourists rather then stupid people. I've heard plenty of Montreal's make ignorant comments like the ones mentionned.

                Also, all this focus on tourists is making it sound like Bremner is just another tourist trap. Many, but not ALL restaurants in Old Montreal are tourist traps. The fact that they had reservations at Bremner means they might be in town specifically for that.

                1. re: SourberryLily

                  I was there yesterday... There was a lot of tourist and not much french spoken... Food was actually quite good but, as expected, on the pricey side.

                  Btw, not all tourist are made equal and Montreal has its fair share of stupid tourist.

            2. re: SourberryLily

              I also went this week.. We had a very enjoyable evening, but it's too bad the terrace was full! Hint: when you call for a reservation, you can specifically ask for a table on the terrace, which we didn't mention. We were a party of 3, we shared 6 dishes (crab with kimchee, sea bass sashimi with pistacchios, old cheddar with marinated veggies, naan pizza, spicy sea bass, grilled asparagus with poached egg), a bottle of wine and 2 desserts (jellied donuts, chocolate ganache pie).. The bill came out to $165 before tax and tip. The standout dish definitely was the sea bass sashimi with pistacchios... Service was great, even though the restaurant just opened 3 weeks ago, the server knew her menu very well.

          2. I didn't realize there was a haligonian oyster bar in Old Montreal.
            What was the cost for 3 apps and 2/5s bottle of wine?

            1. There is no sea bass and kimchee app...it is crab and kimchee so the bartender did not make a mistake. That being said, I've had and enjoyed both.

              1. Went to Bremner last night with a large group - 9 of us, and thought I would provide my impressions of the place since it doesn't seem CHers are talking about it much. Would love to hear others' opinions as well. Let me start by saying I have been to Garde Manger on a bunch of occasions, and love the food, atmosphere, and style of the place.

                I wonder if the menu has not changed since vidkid's original review, as none of the dishes reviewed appeared on the menu. The menu, unlike Garde's, is a plasticized, fixed menu. I assume this means it does not vary as the seasons change (unless they swap out the sheets), which is sort of disappointing - but I digress. We were divided into 2 booths, so I can comment on the dishes that we had at our table.

                The kimchee snowcrab, which I have heard much about, was sort of underwhelming. Beatifully presented, with snow crab and kimchee piled on a firm rice cracker. The subtle sweetness of the crab was lost to the kimchee, and all I was left with was a bit of spicy/sweetness from the cabbage, and a light fishy taste from the snow crab. The dish was $22 (I think) dollars, for 4 rice crackers and kimchee. the texture, which I assume is one of the highlights of this dish, was spoiled for me when I found chomped down on a large piece of cartilage that was missed when cleaning the crab.

                The raw tuna and sea bass, both coming in at around $20, were lively, fresh, and tasty. This is two separate dishes, I thought I would just lump them together. 6 or so slices of fish per dish were topped differently, but the combinations of flavours and textures worked for each. The details of the dish sort of escape me, but I remember I liked them. I will also add that I think both these dishes are outrageously over-priced - as there was literally 6 thin slices of fish per dish.

                A burrata dish, sprinkled with orange zest and topped with olive oil came accompanied with some lovely picked vegetables and a cracker (a fried pita bread, maybe?). This dish was probably my favourite, as the creamy burrata was perfectly contrasted by the crunchy veg and cracker. I will again add, however, that at $22 the dish is small (about a woman's palm size of cheese) the price is well over what I would be willing to pay again.

                The warm potato salad was wonderful - topped with what I think was a light arugula salad and bacon lardons, accompanied by a fantastic picked egg. My complaint, which is becoming the theme of this post, is again the price. At $15 or $16, the portion was very small.

                Finally, our first round included an order of onion rings ($10) and garlic bread with marinara sauce ($12). You guessed it, very pricey for what was provided. Their were 8 large onion rings per order which were perfectly seasoned and fried. The garlic bread was a fluffy, flat bread covered in garlic and parm accompanied by a spicy, bright marinara sauce. Good, but really - they were bread sticks, and I would probably skip this in the future.

                For a main I had a "steak and cheese" - rare steak on a very dense piece of garlic bread, topped with a shallot (?) demi-glace, friend bits of shallots, an arugula salad and dabs of triple-creme. The meat was excellent - perfectly seared, tender, and flavourful. The bread it came on top of however was probably over-done on the bottom as I had to saw through it with the provided knife - with great difficulty. All the flavours taken together were pleasant, but the demi-glace might have been a mite too sour for my tastes and masked the umami-flavour that we crave when eating steak.

                The kitchen were very accommodating to a vegan at the table, modifying the "spaghetti squash and meatballs (sic)" dish and making it vegetarian - subbing out the meatballs for additional veggies. My wife also ordered the squash and meatballs, so I had a chance to try it. The squash and marinara sauce were excellent, and accompanied each other beautifully. The meatballs, however, were much too heavy and dense for my tastes (tasted like italian sausage, fyi). I would say they were overcooked, but one of them was a little raw in the middle - which was also a bit of a disappointment as undercooked meatballs would be the last thing I would expect in any restaurant - much less on of this calibre.

                We skipped on dessert, as we were all full. Service was overall attentive, informative, and very friendly. Be patient when making drink orders, as this seems to be where we had the most hiccups - where 1 drink was forgotten, and one (rum and coke) took almost 20 minutes to arrive. For a cocktail, I had a caramelized pear and rosemary cocktail, which, if memory serves came with a dark rum. I like it at first, until my wife happily pointed out that it tastes like a hand soap I like (which is probably why I liked the cocktail - il Cucina, FYI). That ruined it for me, as every sip I took reminded me of washing dishes at home. Although I liked the service, one dish in the first round was forgotten and arrived late, and my wife's spaghetti squash arrived very late (she ate alone after were all done). This was probably why one of the meatballs was underdone, as they rushed the dish out.

                Overall, the food was good but I strongly feel the prices are too inflated for what you are receiving. It is clear that at Bremner you are paying a premium for the Hughes' stamp. I would easily recommend Garde Manger over Bremner, as I prefer the atmosphere and style of food at Garde over Bremner. I would also say the prices are much fairer at Garde, at least they were the last time I was there over the summer.

                The cost of the meal, by the way, was about $90 per person, tax tips and drinks included. Garde usually clocks in at $50-60 pp, depending on how many drinks we order. I haven't re-read the post as we got home late and I have three young kinds, so apologies for any spelling mistakes!

                -----
                Cucina Restaurant
                5134 Boul Saint-Laurent, Montreal, QC H2T1R8, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: Gregoso

                  I very much appreciated this review, seems very fair and it is helpful to know what to order, what to avoid. Is rather pricey place and I was surprised by the uncoordinated service.

                2. No recent review on this thread so i tought I would put mine.
                  We went there this week end, with my parents. The ambiance was perfect for a quiet diner, I was quite impressed with the generous space that is given to each table, no feeling crammed there. The music was also great, not too loud and service was exceptionnal and attentive.
                  The food was also delicious, we started with some fresh oyster, some jerusalem artichoke dish, tuna sashimi with tahini sauce and lamb heart dish. All were very good, stand-out for me was the lamb heart, which was thinly sliced, and the texture and taste was great.
                  As mains two of us got the fried quails with homemade ranch, which was my favorite mains, quails were perfectly fried, crunchy outside, moist inside, and debonned except for the leg and wings bones, which made for easy eating with the hands. We also tried the 'hot lobster' sandwich, which was good, but I tought the sauce was a bit too heavy and didnt let the lobster shine completely. And my mom had the salmon with bearnaise sauce and she was quite happy with it, but I didnt get to taste it unfortunately (I guess it was good if she didnt offer to share ha!) We had the sucre a la crème pancake and the chocolat and hazelnut creme/mousse, and the pancakes were awesome, the chocolate hazelnut very good too. The wine that was suggested for us by our waitress was great, perfect to go with all the dishes and pleased all of us.
                  All of us were all quite happy with our evening there, and I would definitely return. :)