For a while in the late '80s and early '90s, one of Montreal's best restaurants from just about every viewpoint (imaginative cooking, bang for the buck, warmth of the welcome, quality of ingredients, enlightened wine policy, etc.) was Christophe on Lajoie St. in Outremont, in the premises formerly occupied by L'Auvergnat and currently occupied by Delfino.
When he opened the restaurant, French-born chef Christophe Geffrey was in his early 20s but already had an impressive résumé: he had started cooking professionally at age 14, trained with Bernard Loiseau at the Michelin-starred Côte d'Or and worked for a few years as Mitterand's private chef.
To give you an idea of what Geffrey is about, indulge me while I describe the first meal I ate there (flavours so pure I remember them to this day), the C$45 tasting menu, the chef's response to the ubiquitous "festivals du hommard" that were then the rage:
- cold vegetable and lobster terrine
- lobster-stuffed cabbage roll in a lobster bisque
- sauté of lobster medallions and sweetbreads in a veal demi-glâce sauce
- salad of baby greens (this was eons before such salads were run of the mill)
- orange and chocolate "checkerboard" (a slice of a terrine made from alternating strips of dense dark chocolate mousse and bitter orange gélée, napped with an ethereal crème anglaise, and served with a glass of late-harvest muscat from St-Jean de Minervois, a stunning food-wine match).
Christophe's menus often featured foie gras--once en papillotes with Quebec truffles (so they claimed)--and barely sweetened or even unsweetened chocolate desserts of an almost overwhelming intensity. The funny thing was, you could eat your fill and still walk away feeling as light as a feather: Geffrey told the Gazette's Helen Rochester that in the first three months the restaurant was open, he'd used less than a pound of butter and not a drop of cream! All his glorious sauces were achieved by reduction and other feats of culinary prestidigitation.
So, it was a sad day in Mudville when Christophe closed. The eponymous chef did a short stint at Société Café in the Hôtel Vogue before being lured away to head the kitchen at Club Saint-Denis, a private club for the francophone millionaires. Rumour had it that he couldn't be happier with his new position and that he planned to stay put for a very long time.
Imagine my delight, then, when I picked up the August 22 issue of Voir and read a glowing review by Richard Beauchemin of Christophe, the *new* bistro on Van Horne in Outremont! A few quotes (my sloppy translation): "How good it is to rediscover a young, talented and resourceful chef, full of enthusiasm, who offers us cooking that is generous and honest, cooking that makes a believer out of you. From now on, I'm swearing by him and him only! ... How does he pull it off? He does his own shopping, chooses seasonal products, and draws inspiration from--without becoming the victim of--trends ... The menu is short and changes with the chef's mood ... table d'hôte during the week runs around C$25, dessert included. There's a C$45 tasting menu on the weekend, with four or five courses ... Examples? A starter of young greens dressed with a truffle vinaigrette redefines the meaning of a summer salad. To a base of jus de viande, the chef adds a dash of truffle vinegar, truffle oil and bits of fresh truffle that he emulsifies in the blender ... Chanterelles simply sautéed in butter and olive oil are served with three quail eggs ... Main dishes of lamb leg, sliced, set on a dense, honest jus, served with miniature eggplants stuffed with zucchini and accompanied by a sautéed artichoke ... sautéed scallops napped with parley jus flavoured with a few drops of jus de viande ... cooking that is sophisticated without being fussy. As if to prove the point, a duck breast topped with a thin slice of foie gras--one of the chef's predilections--and a spoonful of sauce perfumed with blueberry liqueur would almost be banal were it not so transparent ... a peach soup flavoured with star anise and rose water ... a kind of unctuous and irresistable chocolate soufflé accompanied by a spoonful of mint-milk sorbet ... Count on C$75, all included, for a memorable meal for two. Half that for lunch, yes, lunch! ... Pluses: The precision, the rightness, refined, never a clumsy muddle of flavours; it's the cooking that rules. Minuses: Caught between hesitation and naïveté, the service still has some rough edges. But it's all done with a smile that makes up for any shortcomings, at least for now."
The original French review is in the current issue of Voir, on the stands until Thursday of this week. It can also be read online at www.voir.ca/mtl.asp (clickable link below if this works as advertised).
Have any of you been yet? We're planning to visit in the next week or two. Here's hoping history repeats itself!
1187 Van Horne Ave.