Saturday, June 25, 2011
Lunching at Les 400 Coups in Montreal
If I were to use one word to describe Les 400 Coups I would say "soothing". If I were to use many words, I would say trendy, hip, creative, superlative, flavourful, sophisticated, unpretentious, welcoming, detailed, attentive, fun. I might even use that uninteresting, universal word "yummy".
Business brought us to Montreal and it was at the last minute I was organizing the more fundamental details, like where to eat. It's a task I usually relish but this time it wasn't going as smoothly.
I have a Montreal 'list' of places to try. The many, many foodie-related scribbles have been collecting as hot tips come my way. A friend makes a discovery. A Twitter tweet floats by. A review in the Gazette seems compelling. Les 400 Coups is on that list. How and when, I don't remember.
Getting a bit bogged down on some of the restaurant planning, I turned to Twitter friend, Francis at Laloux late Thursday for lunch advice for the next day. He was clear and decisive. Les 400 Coups in Old Montreal. It was on my list! No hesitation. I booked.
When we arrived, I was a bit jittery from just driving 2 hours, re-familiarizing myself with the city, wondering if we would make it on time, questioning the weather, figuring out where to park, heaps of too many things on my mind.
I had no idea what to expect in this city on their June 24th holiday - St. Jean Baptiste Day. Old Montreal was quiet of cars and people. We arrived at the restaurant early and enjoyed a brightly lit table in the front corner by the two almost floor-to-ceiling windows. This was a wonderful treat.
With my mind moving like a marble in a pinball machine, it took me a bit to settle and enjoy the ambiance. Because we were early, the lunch crowd had yet to form and other than one earlier couple, we enjoyed the place to ourselves for the first part of our meal. The solitude helped me to take it all in.
The lunch menu is straight forward. 2 courses for $20 or 3 courses for $25. There were 4 appetizer choices, 4 main course choices and 3 dessert choices.
I started with a glass of their one rosé offering. The mister was going to be working in the afternoon and chose to keep a clear head! We also nibbled on their warmed and tempting baguette. Actually, we more than nibbled. They did offer us seconds and we continued on. Foolish on our part as our courses were generous for a lunch service.
My first course was the salad. Frisée, cucumber, melon and fresh goat cheese, garnished with croutons, chives and microgreens. The deep bowl was filled with bright, fresh ingredients. I loved how the melon and goat cheese played together. A repeat dish if I can resist the temptation of the other appetizer choices.
The mister had the chicken liver mousse, marinated mushrooms, quail egg, shaves of celery dressed with a mustard sour cream. I did not sneak a taste but he said he very much enjoyed it. The presentation was beautiful.
My second course was the guinea fowl. (I almost always pick seafood but the mister had already laid claim to it this time.) The crisp skin was a beautiful dark caramel but I found the meat a bit dry. Not enough to stop me from finishing it. The dish was accompanied with carrots, mushrooms, kale and watercress purée.
The mister had the Atlantic cod. It was plated with mushrooms, edamames (many, many edamames), bacon and ramps emulsion. We have a weakness for anything ramps. The perfectly prepared fish was a hearty portion for a lunch serving. He enjoyed every bite, though didn't manage his way through all of the edamames.
We had absolutely no intentions of having dessert. When the mister saw their arrival at a table nearby, all good judgement was lost. My will-power too collapsed like a house of cards.
The rhubarb lured me in to my choice.
I had the ginger and vanilla mousse, rhubarb compote with shortbread crumble. It was sprinkled with blueberry flowers.
The surprise waiting inside was a ball of sorbet bursting with rhubarb.
The mister is fairly transparent when it comes to dessert. He goes for chocolate. He had the pot de crème. It was layered with a Madagascar chocolate mousse, then a crumble of dark chocolate cookie topped with caramel and maldon salt custard.
Remember, I came to Les 400 Coups on the suggestion of Francis, endorsed by their name being scribbled on my loosely organized 'eat in Montreal' list. I didn't spend time reading the website or reviews to bring myself up-to-date. There are pluses and minuses to doing that. We came in with no preconceived ideas. Little did we know at the time that pastry chef, Patrice Demers is renowned for his dessert 'Vert'.
Bless Les 400 Coups for saving us from ourselves. When they brought our dessert choices they also brought Vert. Although we loved our picks, Vert stood head and shoulders above its dessert companions.
This splendid dessert is a combination of diced green apple, pistachios, olive oil, cilantro and creamy white chocolate yogurt.
We finished our meal with cappuccinos. (They don't do brewed coffee.)
Today I read (re-read actually) Lesley Chesterman's April review. It is probably how this place made it on my 'list' in the first place. Between her review and their website, you can get a full appreciation for the dynamic trio (Marc-André Jetté, Patrice Demers and Marie-Josée Beaudoin) that make this place happen and also the beautiful interior. I now understand why Francis at Laloux gave his recommendation without hesitation.
Les 400 Coups did for me what I needed it to do. Soothe me. Settle me into the city for a busy weekend. It did that with its architecturally rich setting, the fabulous gourmet food, the top-notch service and the very warm welcome.
I would go back in a heartbeat.
Les 400 Coups
400 Notre-Dame Est
Facebook: Restaurant Les 400 Coups
Friday only: 11:30 am - 2 pm
Tues to Wed: 5:30 - 10:30 pm
Thurs to Sat: 5:30 - 11 pm
Closed on Sunday and Monday.
Maximum seating is for 50 people.