Sunday, December 05, 2004

scallops and tartare

After a hard day of food styling, my boyfriend invited my for a drink. Now considering that recently I've been working a grueling 1 day a week this drink was well deserved. It's one thing to work 10 hrs a day 5 days a week, entirely another to have a week of Moksha yoga ( ) and relaxation and then suffer an intense 12hr Friday.. especially when artisanal Calvados and Nappa Valley bubbly are involved.
It had been snowing for most of Friday and everything was covered in a disorienting white. We decided to head for Reservoir, a lovely brew pub pub and restaurant on Duluth just east of St Laurent. Now, I was weaned on british beer (gin and tonic as well but that's another story); some people think that beer is a preference, they don't realise that for some people (british and czech mostly) it's actually part of your genetic makeup. So all this is to say that although I do like the beer at Reservoir.. it just isn't flat and warm enough for me, and is ever so slightly too acidic. Be that as it may, I think brewpubs should be encouraged as anything beats the big name national brands (piss water mostly). And Reservoir is just oh so hip, all natural wood and glowing transparent photographs, slightly snobby staff (oh you french from france), and a clientele that just oozes their cool savoir vivre all over the floor. I once, during a slow happy hour, asked for a complete pint (the one I got was about a good two inches shy). What I got was a look of pure loveliness, pure unadulterated cold wet parisian winter I just stepped in dog shit loveliness And no top up. This is atypical though, usually the staff are just really really busy. Courteous but in no way overjoyed at being alive.
What I really love at Reservoir is the food. Lovely little dishes, somewhere between tapas, appetizer and small main course, based for the most part on Quebec and Canadian products. The blackboard is not extensive (5 or 6 choices) and there is a printed menu as well, but that doesn't make it any easier as I want to order them all. We opt for tartare of New Brunswick salmon with confit'd lemon, and scallops baked with cream an pecans. My boyfriend drinks the Scotch Ale (almmost always) which I find a bit too boozy. I go for the pale ale which is damn fine. As we sit at the bar watching other peoples food go out our hunger mounts. Finally... The scallops are delicious little fresh buggers from PEI, I've seen them at the fish market earlier in the week and what they lack in size they make up for in deliciousness. Baked on the half shell in fresh cream and sprinkled with ground pecans (or maybe a pecan breadcrumb mix?) these little devils are bliss. Screw dessert, I want more scallops. This recipe seems so simple that I'm totally sold on trying it myself. The tartare is perfect. Hand cut, and well seasoned with a small salad of greens and fennel shavings. The slighly charred grilled crouton that comes along with is a great rustic accompanyment. Both total winners.
Are the portions small. Yes. Is it priced a little on the high end. Yes. Is it worth it. Beyond all doubt.
Fortified by two pints each and now positively ravenous my mate wants to head for the Pied de Cochon. A gastro-temple of all that is meat, especially foie gras. The boyfriend has been sold on this place ever since our first visit, a carnivores paradise..... we trudge down Duluth and wait in line for 10 minutes only to discover that we're going to have to wait another 45 minutes if we want a seat. We head for L'express as one of us has never been there and well.. if you've never been to L'express and live in Montreal, it's inexcuasble, like having never eaten poutine.
We squeek into l'express, beating a group of cell phone wielding chinese who are defeated by their numerical superiority. The Maitre'd seems to relish exaggerating the wait time, and I love his slightly sadistic streak.... this is not the cool of Reservoir, this is an efficient man who deals with a full dining room on a daily basis.
Again we sit at the bar. Mr Masson the barman is, as always, at the height of his art. Running around, bantering with the clients in a crisp, humerous fashion. He forgets sugar cubes on a saucer and jokes that once again he is trying to save money for the maison. L'express is on a diffrent plane of reality than the rest of the city.. it rejoins a parisian arrondisment somewhere. This is full on theatre, the art of the bistro.
We start with little appero and cheers over a plate of fresh oysters on a bed of ice and seaweed. A bit on the scrawny side but in no way bad. I head for the Salade de pourpier as an apps, a nice pile of fried lardons (bacon cubes) and potato slices, deglazed with vinaigre and dumped on top of fresh purslane. Great flavours, meaty, fatty and beautifully cut with the acidic splash of vinaigre. My chum has the chevre chaud. a classic of warm creamy goats cheese on croutons, a bit of salad and that's all. Simple and exactly what you expect.
The Gwurts is too sweet but that's my poor wine knowledge at work.
We both opt fot he raviolis as mains, seems to be a little bit smaller on the portion side but that, I might be imagining. As a write about these raviolis I'm welling up inside. Little pillows drenched in a lovely veal based butter sauce. It is sin, it is indulgence, it is a must. I could easily eat a double portion but my heart would probably stop. My boyfriend was now solidly sauced. We settle up and head home.
I worked at L'express briefly when I was about 21. There I discovered what monté au beurre meant. Monst sauces were "Deglaze with booze, add veal stock and reduce, add butter and monté". At first I was aghast, the best sauces I had seen up to then were devoid of butter. Stock reductions, infusions and juices but no butter. This was a shocking discovery and quite revealing. People drench things in fat because it tastes good and the sauces at L'express were addictive, I discovered the respect of the cuisine bourgeoise for fat of all kind.

ADDRESS: 9 Duluth (corner St-Laurent)
TELEPHONE: 849-7779
CREDIT CARDS: Everything except Amex, but who needs Amex.
HOURS: Mon-Fri noon-3AM; Sat-Sun 11AM-3AM

3927 Saint-Denis. Sherbrooke métro—difficult to spot because only sign is in sidewalk
Tel. 845-5333. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Reservations required Thursday through Sunday, tables usually available without reservation after 2 pm and 10 pm.)


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