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Food notes from Montreal (Toque and others)

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I just returned from a trip to Montreal and Quebec City and wanted to share some thoughts on a couple of dining experiences there.

Toque was recommended by a couple of people on this board and elsewhere as well as by Conde Nast's list of "must-visit" Montreal restaurants. While indeed quite tasty, I can't really say that I found it to be "all that." Although my perception was clouded by having been seated next to this loud, drunken, obnoxious, ugly-American couple, the main dishes, nonetheless, were simply not that spectacular. I ordered a lamb dish, of a special type of lamb grown in Canada on a small island in the St. Lawrence River where the animals supposedly feed on salt-water-nurtured grasses. This was supposed to lend the meat a naturally salty taste. Guess what. It didn't. And since it was one of those places with a "confident" chef, there was no salt or pepper on the table. Consequently, I was left with a rather bland, tough, overcooked (I ordered it "medium" and got "well-done"), fatty hunk of lamb. I think the sides were interesting, but I don't remember what they were. The appetizers were fine, but I don't remember them either, and it's beside the point anyway, because an appetizer is not the meal itself. I skipped dessert - too depressed by the rest of the meal. Overall, consdering the price, I was a pretty disappointed.

Another place that did stand up to scrutiny was a place called Maestro S.V.P., located on Rue St. Laurent near Rue Prince Arthur. Excellent place for seafood. Lots of oysters on the half-shell to choose from (although the presentation was a bit odd: an overabundance of rock salt and a disarray of "condiments"). It wasn't a busy night, which translated to us getting our meals almost instantly. I was suspicious at first thinking they had thrown it together haphazardly and also because I wasn't sure how a Cajun seafood dish would fare that far north. I was pleasantly surprised. Although architecturally challenging and difficult to eat, my meal was stupendously flavorful: enormous prawns, a scattering of oysters and scallops, and an army of mussels with long strips of scallions and red and yellow peppers, all bathed in a creamy, sharp-n-spicy, bright orange sauce. Just amazing. Highly recommended.

We also spent two different nights wading through the sea of Greek restaurants on Rue Prince Arthur and ended up settling for the same one both times: Le Gourmet Grec. The first night I had a seafood platter (again!) loaded with lobster (scampi?), prawns, coquilles St. Jacques, some white fish filet, and potatoes. Pretty tasty all in all. The moussaka was also decent. The second time, I had a filet mignon brochette. Just so-so that time. Probably wouldn't go back to that one. But with so many other choices, who cares?

Lastly, a note on the much-touted Montreal bagel: the boastful claims are TRUE. Such heavenly bagels indeed, so chewy and dense. Wish we had even decent bagels here in San Francisco.

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  1. I haven't been to Toque -- every time I've tried to make a reservation the place has been closed -- but I have been to Maestro SVP, and I was seriously disappointed. I happen to adore oysters, and when I heard that there was a restaurant in Montreal (which I visit several times a year) specializing in oysters, I was ecstatic. The oysters were fine, if a bit overpriced, and the waitress was very knowledgeable about the different varieties. The main course, however, was simply awful. I can't remember what the dish was called - it may have been listed on the menu as a seafood pot-au-feu (even though almost everything in the dish was fried)-- but I do remember that it was touted as the restaurant's "specialty." The description sounded so good that I pestered my husband into sharing it with me (it was a serving for two). Big mistake. The dish was essentially a pile of greasy, overfried and inedibly hard and tasteless seafood. The jumbo "coconut prawns" were so tough that we both burst out laughing as we tried to chew them. The condiments were pretty awful too. I recall one dipping sauce that I am convinced contained only sour cream and tabasco. My impression at the time was that this was a dish prepared by someone who didn't care about food. Maybe they've hired a new chef since then, or maybe we hit the place on the proverbial bad night (the place was empty, so the kitchen was clearly not overworked that night). I dunno - but I won't be going back there.

    I do agree about the bagels, however. Nothing like a bag of hot St. Viateur bagels (white seeds only) to warm you up on the way back to the car on a cold Montreal evening. My friends and I used to plow through an entire bag of the hot bagels in one sitting. My mother regularly brings me 2 dozen when she comes to visit, even though I now live in New York City, the purported bagel capitol of the world.

    1. Sorry for the flame, but I seriously doubt this posters tastebuds.

      To be disappointed in Toque but to go to one of those shitty greek places on Prince Arthur TWICE.

      And to insult Salt Lamb? What?! Where are you from? And to call it tough? Tough is defined by any kind of meat you get from those shitty Greek places on St. Laurent.

      Maestro SVP? Yuck. Phey. You make me laugh.

      Lets be clear about two things: Toque rocks, and montreal bagels too.

      . dave "Used to live in Montreal, but now the Bay Area"

      1. You should not have skiped the desert at Toque. The dark warm chocolate cake with oozing dark chocolate inside is unbelievable.