5024 Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges/at Queen Mary & Chemin Frere Andre
Tel: (514) 735-3886
Chef Hats: 3
Cost: $ 45.62 per person
When it comes to Russian restaurants in Montreal I can name only but a few that have withstood the test of time. Restaurant Ermitage is one of them. Opened in 1998, it was originally located on Queen Mary road, a skip away from Snowdon metro. It has since relocated next to Duc Lorraine Bakery known for its famous croissants on Chemin Frere Andre/Cote des Neiges.
I had never been to the old location on Queen Mary at the time of inception but always heard good reviews and it came highly recommended. The restaurants’ name stems from a mix of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Hermitage Restaurant in Moscow, where the Russian Salad was invented. Restaurant Ermitage (Montreal) goal is to keep up the traditions of both institutions in Russia by combining both artistic atmosphere and fine French/Russian cuisine.
Back in the days what kept me away was not its location or the fact that I did not like Russian food, but just time constraints and popularity factor. I had gone to other Russian restaurants in the city with friends. Troika on Crescent Street was a proverbial favorite and La Georgia on Decarie Street /Queen Mary was the other. If I wanted Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff, it was on the menu at home all the time for a while, along with Pierogies and other Eastern European favorites.
My favorite Russian restaurant in this city was Troika on Crescent Street with its flamboyant ambiance. I loved the velvet red chairs and curtains which transported us to Saint Basil Cathedral in The Red Square with its red brick façade and multicolored helmeted cupolas. We felt like we were in the bowels of some seedy clandestine nightclub drinking gallons of vodka and hiding from the KGB (or at least we pretended). Troika closed in 2012 and just in time as it was in terrible decline and reviews were horrific. The last time I dined there was in 2004, the décor looked so outdated and consumed , the red plush velvet chairs so worn down you can see the threading, the red curtains has lost their luster and were totally faded. The food was tasteless, rancid, and stinky and service was so slow and null. Meanwhile prices were still astronomical and a 15% gratuity was imposed. . It died a slow death like a mean tattooed Russian mafia boss.
Since then, the Russian community has grown over the years, and a few more restaurants have opened .Mostly concentrated in the Decarie area which is a stronghold of the Russian community. Most have live music and dancing which is synonymous with Russian way of life and of courses plenty of frozen vodka shots. This is a good route to go if entertainment is for you. For those who want a quiet evening in a classic setting than Ermitage is a definite contender with its formal dining, and offerings of traditional Russian & European fare.
I have to admit that I was impressed when I walked into Ermitage; the ambiance is pleasant, well decorated, and clean. Run by a Russian matriarch with an iron fist who has been stealing this show for over a decade. The walls are tastefully decorated with paintings, a bar in the corner and Cornish framed mirror on the ceiling. They have white table cloth service and a nice circular bay window looking out onto the street. The restaurant is a small place but spacious, seating around 30 people. It is very quaint and can border on the fancy side for some but not at all pretentious.
What threw me off were the mirrored frames on the ceiling that I noticed as I sat there waiting for other guests to arrive. Unbeknownst at the time, but to which I discovered upon researching the meaning of mirrors on ceilings. Is that in Russian culture there is a belief steeped in old world traditions, that the presence of mirrors shapes the production of imagination, self-creation and social interactions. Used as an illusionistic décor and as a tool for obtaining knowledge, this had to be a well thought out idea somewhat subliminal for those who are unknowing. Hmm, very KGB was my afterthought, exactly! Kidding aside, I thought it cool and very smart thinking after my kinky thoughts subsided.
I was brought the menu shortly after I arrived by a young waiter with a heavy Russian accent and was asked in broken English if I wanted to order a cocktail before dinner. I chose a glass of Chardonnay- $ 7.00. I was going to wait for the bottle service of Grey Goose vodka at $ 115.00 till my friends arrived.
Ermitage has an extensive menu with all the classical Russian favorites and some classic French dishes too. The table hôte starts at $ 35.00, which gives you two courses and coffee or tea, but no dessert, that is an extra $4.00. You could go all out and have the tasting menu at $ 85.00 which will give you a good sample of Russian cuisine.
A must is the caviar and blinis, with a shot of Stolichnaya for $ 16.00. You have not tasted Russian culture if you do not go this route, even if just for fun. Of course they have all the other favorites too on the à la carte menu like Pirozhki, Vareniki, Pelmeni, Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev, and all at a reasonable price.
This evening I went with the Balkan salad for $ 8.50, as I wanted to eat light. This was not a good idea. The salad looked great, a healthy mix of greens, romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, onions and cubed feta with sprigs of fresh parsley it looked very refreshing and appetizing, but the salad dressing was overpowering. The chef must have accidently dropped too much garlic powder and dry mustard into the dressing. After a couple of bites it was burning my palate. I left most of it behind, as it was not edible. I was not asked if it was to my liking.
My main dish was the Chicken Kiev, for $ 19.00 which was a good price. The dish will not win awards in plate presentations, but the chicken was tender and packed with loads of parsley butter. Lightly breaded and sautéed, it came served with a side of potatoes and delicious sautéed vegetables and cranberry sauce.
My dining partner, Daniel went with the Table hôte and chose a cream of mushroom soup and a Salmon in Cream for $ 35.00. The soup was okay, but of the generic sort that comes out of a can, nothing to write home about.He enjoyed the salmon which was tender and not too overcooked. It came topped with slivers of almonds and a light citrus cream sauce. The salmon was also served with a side of sautéed seasonal vegetables, potatoes and lemon garnish.
Too complete our meal we had a complimentary shot of vodka that was totally unexpected. We had coffee to complete the meal but opted out for dessert. Desserts are not listed and you have to ask for the daily specials.
We were so stuffed; we could not eat another bite. Russian meals tend to be heavy and very filling. We liked Ermitage and were happy with the way our evening turned out, would definitely recommend it, even though some items are a hit or miss. Nonetheless, Ermitage is a good choice for decent old style Russian comfort food in a nice setting.