It was a shock to my system, to be honest.
I landed in Montreal with a temperature that was minus 17 degrees; yep, that’s right, a temperature where man cannot really survive for long.
When you’re in the depths of winter, you really look for that hearty and warming meal that both keeps you warm, and is completely fulfilling. I was hoping to have such a meal at one of Montreal’s best restaurants.
The Canadian outlet of one of New York’s finest chefs, Daniel Boulud, is ranked as the 38th best restaurant in all of Canada; that and the fact that the restaurant occupies pride of place on the ground floor of the Ritz Carlton, had me hoping for an amazing meal.
Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way.
Braving the cold conditions, my Uber driver kept driving around in circles; roadworks had made it difficult to actually get close to the restaurant. So I spent a few minutes walking in the freezing temperatures to the Ritz Carlton; never having been so happy to get indoors.
Arriving at the restaurant entrance, I felt warm enough to strip my many layers of warm clothing, beanie and gloves and pass them over to the maitre’d. The first thing that struck me was that the main dining area of Maison Boulud looked quite modern, especially given the Ritz Carlton was a very old style of building. Walking a roaring fire in the centre of the restaurant, I was hopeful of scoring a seat nearby; watching flames can be captivating, and it would have been a wonderful way to while away a meal while dining solo.
But, we kept walking through the main dining area, with its funky tables and modern setting, to the back of the restaurant; which was anything but modern! I was seated at a table that felt more like a picnic table, and a seat to match; I felt like I’d gone back in time and was no longer in a fine dining restaurant, but a quaint old chateau.
Oh well, a setting is a setting and I was really there to eat a lovely meal. I was given a menu to look over, which had a good mix of options that mixed the local produce and French cuisine. It was to be expected really, a French restaurant in the Quebec region was always going to be very Frenchy!
As I was contemplating my meal, my waitress for the evening brought over a plate that contained a huge truffle, and alerted me to the special truffle menu that was on offer. A huge fan of truffle, it was enough to sway me.
Moments after placing my order, it struck me. While the truffle looked amazing, when it was placed in front of me, I didn’t catch any of that sweet aroma that signified really fresh truffle. In fact, it wasn’t until my first dish arrived that the memory came back with a thud!
The Pomme De Terre was a potato velouté with chicken and truffle boudin blanc and grilled leek oil; the creamy and velvety soup poured at the table. The dish itself looked quite lovely, a potato ‘scallop’ in the centre of the bowl had a lovely caramel colour and was soft; but a little lacking in flavour. The shaved black truffle that covered the dish had almost no impact on the dish, there was no sweet umami hit from the delicacy at all. The whole dish was a little flat; very light-on in flavour and was really missing some seasoning, which would have elevated the potato velouté (I mean salt works great with potato, right?)
I’d also ordered the Risotto a la Truffle Niore, which came directly from the special truffle menu. The dish had sounded really interesting, mostly due to the addition of a veal jus to the otherwise vegetarian menu. The plating itself was very beige, the only spark of colour coming from the mushrooms, which had a slightly orange tint. The plate was served traditional style, quite flat on a large plate, and the addition of a generous amount of shaved truffle gave the overall appearance of a pizza! The risotto itself was expertly cooked, the rice al dente, but it did look a little boring.
Initially, the star of the dish was that veal jus, it was punchy and added a rich meaty flavour to the otherwise benign rice. It was quite peppery, which at first was lovely, but as the dish wore on, became quite overpowering and ultimately killed any other flavours that might have been on the dish. Infuriatingly, there was absolutely no truffle flavour or smell; I got some of that earthy flavour from the various mushrooms that were abundant on the plate, but none of the wonderful truffle hit I was hoping for.
It was around the time of my main that the restaurant started to fill up; I noticed that the tables around me were getting an amuse bouche, something that I’d not been offered at all. That was another little disappointment, compounding my woes from my rather bland dishes to date.
I was hoping that a great dessert would help round out the meal and give me a good parting from my first Montreal meal. Often called a chocolate fondant or lava cake, I ordered the Chocolat Coulant; molten chocolate cake with fleur de sel caramel and caramelised milk ice cream. It was the most appealing plating that I’d experienced for the night, the perfect quenelle of ice cream, connected to the molten cake with a smear of melted chocolate. Unfortunately, the ice cream was the best part of the dessert, the molten cake looked the goods, topped with gold leaf, and oozed chocolate when I cracked it open. Unfortunately, the oozy chocolate was quite cold and a little unpleasant to eat; the cake exterior was hot and well cooked, but quite thin; maybe the cake needed a little more time in the oven for the ‘molten’ centre to warm?
Either way, it was weird.
The last time I had a full meal at a Daniel Boulud restaurant was in Manhattan, while it was still a three star restaurant and ranked in the world’s top 50 restaurants. I’d kind of been hoping for a similar experience, especially given Maison Boulud’s reputation in Montreal. But it just didn’t happen for me; I didn’t really feel the love.
It’s entirely possible that I just picked the wrong dishes, it happens from time to time; and I definitely think that the truffle choices were a red herring, especially given the lack of truffle flavour on any of my dishes. However, I’m not sure there should be any dishes on the menu of such a restaurant that are not up to the required standard.
It was not quite the full disaster though; while my meal was not up to expectations, it was still quite warming, one of the elements that I’d really been wanting on the night. And apart from not getting my amuse bouche, service was also warm and professional.
But, to cap off the night, as I collected my gear to head back out into
the depths of hell a cold Montreal night, my very warm gloves had gone missing! Thankfully, a quick trip back to the restaurant and a short search ensured my hands wouldn’t get frostbite on the way back to my hotel.
When I mentioned my Maison Boulud woes to my Canadian work colleagues, they were a little surprised; determined to ensure that I had a fantastic meal while in town, plans were made to book in for another Canadian gem; one that was rated in the top two restaurants in the country.
But that’s a story for another time.