Toque on top
February 28th, 2007
Toque remains on top in my books, no contest, when it comes to fine dining. I like simple food a lot of the time.. cheese and charcuterie, a no fuss bistro, a simple salad, a vegetable stir-fry, steak tartare. A good sandwich is probably my favourite meal. But with chef friends in from out of town for a couple of days of power eating and the Montreal Highlights festival in full swing, it was time for some fancypants food. Despite the many events going on simultaneously last Wednesday, we chose a non-event, and booked Toqué, which turned out to be quite the event.
We opted for the surprise tasting menu, which showcases their best in a series of small plates with wine pairing. A few bonus courses were graciously thrown in taking us into the 10+ range. Only at Toque do I not get bored or saturated with this length or complexity of a meal these days. It’s because Normand and his team master the tasting menu, with small but adequate portions, enough flavour and innovation to excite while keeping it subtle and easy on the palate. The service was also perfect in the same kind of way, delivering inspired wine pairing, everything we needed and enough information to satisfy and stimulate, yet tasteful and restrained, just the right amount of distraction.
The feast started with a Raspberry Point oyster on the half-shell with a citrusy fruit salsa, and fragrant olive oil. Next up was the most delicate little potato chip sandwich stuffed with gravelax, crème fraiche, caviar and a chive. Crisp and greaseless, with a silken, creamy, salty center, it was down right delicious. A tataki of big-eye tuna with a vinegary yellow beet brunoise, sesame (I think), and red beet paint followed, delightfully fresh and bright. I loved a miniscule calamari salad with sprouts, tiny enoki mushrooms, lime and almonds that was rich in textures, but again refreshing and delicate in taste. Spanish Mackerel with a vegetable glaze, a paper thin wafer of herbed toast and red pepper was another composition of textures and tastes, with a perfect cuisson and a savory, vaguely smoky taste. At this point, while others at the table had seared foie-gras, I had a scallop - brandade dish. This plate was intriguing with a lot going on for a Toqué plate, but all the tastes played off one another beautifully; the scallop was crusty and salty-sweet, the chunky brandade was perfect as an accompaniment (alone, I would like it zingier); there was a super smooth puree of cauliflower, a strand of braised lettuce that tasted like basmati rice and some teeny, toothsome mushrooms in a jus. We moved into meat with the next course, an upside down, open-face Cavaletti (fresh pasta) over succulent braised beef cheek in a rich pan sauce and subtle spicing reminiscent of anise or Chinese 5 spice. The ‘main’ consisted of a few slices of canneton (female duck) supreme, tender and pink in a sweet jus with raisins, hazelnuts, pearl onion and baby veg. The cheese course was divine, with a slice of melted Le Grand Manitou from L’Assomption atop a mini potato-onion layer cake. The pre-dessert was tart and refreshingly cool, featuring a mysterious yellow berry from the Townships (arbousière) as a sorbet showered with petals sweet and sour wafer made from the same fruit, all thankfully mellowed by an accompanying yogurt-white chocolate mousse. The final dessert course was a chocolate crème brulée with airelles and orange zest, decadent in taste, and comfortingly soft and creamy beneath the crust; however, it was too rich for any of us to finish. Thank God the mignardises were thumbnail size bursts of flavour, nothing more. Voilà. Extravagant, eh?
Can you believe I ate all that? Without anything to say, but wow. Without feeling like I was going to explode. It was all so elegant, a study in balance. Chapeau. The meal was so intricate and the conversation so engaging, that unfortunately, some of the details got lost along the way. And I barely remember any of the wines, except for a Catalan red that I really enjoyed. Oh well, there is only so much even a foodie like me can take in. Especially when everything is so tasty and flawless, the unfolding of the evening so smooth, you kind of get lulled into a dream like state, won over, putty in their hands, no longer able to think. Kind of like Elaine when she was having too much sex, happily numb and dumb from sensual excess.
In any case, I am sure I could not have eaten any better at any of the special staged events around town. You don’t need the Highlights Festival for culinary fireworks when you have Toqué any day. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing quite like it in Montreal . When you are in that kind of mood.