Laurie Raphael- Montreal
2050 rue Mansfield/President Kennedy
Chef Hats: 5
Cost: $269.33 (excluding tip)
We are almost at the end of our top restaurant wish list, the year is quickly coming to a close and for my first year as the Foo-Foodie I wanted to bring Frenchie to the city’s top restaurants to have him experience what I have eaten past and present. In other words I am trying to turn him into a foodie, not that I need try very hard, because he does this very well all on his own. I believe that his palate is more refined than mine at times, as I will eat anything and will always try something once. Moreover, I love what he calls junk food, mound of poutine with foie gras, humongous burgers in gargantuan portions with all kinds of toppings, pizza galore, and food trucks. It may come as a surprise but he detests poutine, so the adage that all French Canadians eat poutine does not apply here.
For my birthday this year I had booked Restaurant Laurie Raphael in Montreal months ahead. I always wanted to visit the one in Quebec City as far back as I can remember, but it seemed quite a way to go just for dinner and when I was visiting the city I never had the time to make reservations. Therefore it was only forthcoming that when Chef Daniel Vézina, the father of the nouvelle cuisine movement in Québec opened up a second Laurie Raphael in Hotel Le St. Germain in Montreal in Fall 2007 that I would eventually make my way there. This place was listed on my top favorite five restaurant wish list to dine at for the last seven years. As I said before, life got in the way but at least now Frenchie is there to help me indulge myself in life’s little pleasures. Since then the restaurant which has so appropriately been named after Vézina’s children Raphael and Laurie is manned by his son Raphael Vézina who is now in his late twenties.
So decked out in our finest, Frenchie in his James Bond Tom Ford Suit and me in my little black dress and leather jacket headed downtown to Laurie Raphael’s on this warm fall Saturday evening. We walked into this charming boutique hotel and up the marble stairs to the restaurant. The décor is modern chic with its dark wood wall panelling and glass chrome railing. Not an expanse of a place in terms of floor design, more like pockets of L shaped angles. Once you reach the top of the steps you will find banquettes to one side and the bar to the right. In front of you at the reception desk cleverly masked behind the wood panelling hides the cloak room. The Maitre D directed us to the back of the room to our table which was parallel to street level on the second floor. The area holds about 20 tables draped in white linens with about 40 comfortable black leather seats. The decor is a pleasant shade of brown and taupe’s. The lighting arrangement which consists of a multitude of white circles strung together cascading down the ceiling between the exterior windows of the hotel and the glass railing separating the tables create a whimsical fantasy of lights in purple hues.
The place was very quiet and you could hear a pin drop, at first I was a little intimidated being here, having heard so much about this chef and having watched him numerous times on French media on various shows on the Zeste channel and lately on ‘’Les Chefs”, which is a spinoff of America’s Top Chef.
I was afraid I was out of my element here.
I was soon comforted when our young and very shy waiter approached and started to explain the menu. I felt he was even more uncomfortable than I was, so I had to kind of break the ice by asking lots of questions. After a long discussion I decided to go with the Chef Chef Menu at $65.00 which I thought was a good deal. It gave me a starter, main meal and dessert, enough for me to chew on. The only issue here was that the names of the dishes are not listed and were going to be a total surprise, making it difficult to choose the proper wine. I asked if I could have a hint if my meal was more meat or fish heavy to help us in our selection. Our waiter then fetched the sommelier Hugo Deschenes who helped us choose the proper wine for both our menu choices, a red 2011 Memeloose -Estate Cabernet Franc -Idiots Vineyard –Columbia Gorge, of the Washington Oregon region in United States at $81.00. The wine was exceptional and it complimented my meal perfectly bringing out the flavors of the red meat. The sommelier was one of the best and knowledgeable that I have encountered in a long time. Very charming and charismatic and putting us totally at ease. Taking a wine course with him at Laurie Raphael would be something to think about in the future.
We sat there ingesting the scenery for a few moments before our wine arrived. The special lighting effects and our perfect table overlooking President Kennedy Avenue made this a special moment. We had gotten one of the best seats in the house, very nice I thought. With our first couple of sips of wine, the nervousness starting melting away and we began to relax and started to anticipate the meal ahead.
Our first courses arrived. I got as an entrée, Beef Tatami that was perfectly seared with a deconstructed kind of feel to it. It consisted of three pieces of tender squares of beef, with green and white asparagus tips, mixed greens and a sautéed crispy black poppy-seed garnish with an emulsion of Port Madeira sauce. It was delicious, tender and the flavors were enhanced by the wine tenfold.
Frenchie ordered the Potato Onion confit which came with a variation of roasted and pureed baby potatoes, caramelized onions, dates, burnt miso aioli and topped with Grés des champs cheese at $14.00. The melange was heavenly with the sweetness of the dates, the creaminess of the cheese balancing with the variation of potatoes and the aioli sauce was what brought it together and made it delectable.
For our main meal, my surprise dish was Wild Boar, again deconstructed, which consisted of two pieces of seared meat, not at all gamey, served with wild barley, sautéed oyster mushrooms and poached parsnips and onions in a sweet wine vinaigrette and cream reduction sauce. The taste of the boar was a mix between beef and pork. It was my first time trying boar; I found it different but savoury, the rest of the ingredients on my plate just as good and mixing well to bring out all the flavors of this dish.
Frenchie had Seared Foie Gras at $30.00; it came on a tourchon of foie gras, with a side order of sweet potato croquettes, sautéed figs, macadamia nut crumble, in a vanilla sauce topped with homemade chips. Absolutely decadent and a must try if you are a foie gras lover.
As an extra to complete our meal we ordered a platter of cheese to complete with our wine. It came on a wooden plank, six slices of Quebec Cheese: Chèvre, Elizabeth Blue, Oka, Brie and Emmenthal and a soft cheese from Charlevoix region with six variations of fruit to go with them to enhance the flavors of the cheese. We were brought extra bread and just these were delicious on its own, we had three variations of breads to choose from, olive, baguette and integral. And the bread kept coming throughout the meal.
For dessert, I ordered an espresso and the deconstructed orange sponge cake with slices of orange, dabs of lemon cream and sour cream quenelles atop a splash of chocolate sauce that was too dry and caked on to plate. My dessert was not much to write home about, I found the cake morsels dry, and too small. I would have preferred a portion at least about two inches in diameter and maybe a little more chocolate sauce to go with orange slices, cause the flavors paired wonderfully. The lemon cream and ice cream were delicious and I focused more on completing those, which was satisfactory for me, as even though I did not get much food, I was full.
Frenchie had two espresso alone with the deconstructed chocolate cake ,which contained sprinkles of powdered salted caramel, dabs of caramel and cream sauce and a quenelles of ricotta hazelnut ice cream and pieces of dark chocolate.
I can only recommend Laurie Raphael as the meal was closest to perfection as one can get. But do not expect big portions here. With the food being so good, one would like more. This was the biggest disappointment; otherwise it was a great dining experience all around for this foodie.