Highlight Plates at MTL En Lumière

With  Montréal en Lumière 's panoply of special dinners, invited chefs, and tasting events now behind us, we're taking a moment to...

With Montréal en Lumière's panoply of special dinners, invited chefs, and tasting events now behind us, we're taking a moment to glance into the rearview for a recap of our top festival plates and some thoughts on the places behind them. But just how did we choose the winners after racing around town in a foodie frenzy during an intense couple of weeks? Easy. They're dishes that made us take special note, probe further into ingredients and cooking methods, and generally devour every last bite. Here they are:

Crédit photo : Frédérique Ménard-Aubin, Montréal en Lumière

Gregory Torrech's Boston Crab Cake with Seasoned Rice Wafer and House Tartar Sauce @ Chez Alexandre

We begin and end our culinary adventure at the city's quintessential French brasserie, and our introduction to Mr. Alain Creton, the ever-welcoming host who's presided over his establishment, almost daily, since opening in 1977. Over the years it's expanded to include a champagne bar where one can sabre their own bottle, a café-bistro menu, private rooms for 10-100, a second-floor English pub and, most recently, a well-stocked cigar lounge complete with burning fireplace. Pigeonholed by some as a party-hearty scene with more focus on the comely female wait staff catering to the biz crowd and tourists than on the food, our two recent visits proved just how much the kitchen merits greater consideration.

Boston was the featured American city at this year's festival, and our first lunch invitation shone the spotlight on that city's South End hotspot The Beehive, and Executive Chef Gregory Torrech's New England-inspired menu. A delectable crab cake was one of the starters, and stole the show with its lightly fried exterior and a delicate seasoning that was present throughout yet almost invisible to the eye. The perfect round came topped with a rice wafer that lent an awesome crunchy counter-texture, all of it brought together by a silky house tartar sauce. Full marks for presentation and for leaving us wanting just a little bit more.

Chez Alexandre et fils
1454 Peel St.
(514) 288-5105

Mathias Théau's Black Truffle Soup @ the ITHQ Restaurant

Living around the corner from the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec, and walking past its restaurant showcased across large windows to find the room often full, I'd wonder why I hadn't yet visited. Particularly with the foodie-attractive formula they've had going since 2005 where, during the week, the kitchen and dining room are staffed by the school's students, putting all they've learned into practice under the watchful eyes of their teachers. Granted dining here can sometimes feel like taking part in a final exam, 'tis minor compared to the professional-level care and attention diners receive for a very reasonable price. 

For the festival Chef Mathias Théau and his brigade presented a five-course tribute menu to four master chefs who were all honorary presidents of Montréal En Lumière in the past. While the entire meal excelled, the standout was an homage to France's Paul Bocuse and his famous black truffle soup. Woven into the French culinary tradition itself, it was created by Bocuse in 1975 for a banquet at the Élysée Palace, later becoming a menu fixture at his Michelin-starred restaurant l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges near Lyon. The fragrant recipe of grated black truffles, foie gras, consomme, and a medley of carrots, onions, celery, and mushrooms is served in a tureen that's been hermetically sealed with a layer of puff pastry to permit the soup to steam cook while locking in all the delicate and savoury flavours. Break the crust into the mixture, et voilà! 

Le Restaurant de L'Institut
3535 St.Denis St.
(514) 282-5155

Nicolas Ficuciello's Shrimp Roll with Red Cabbage Slaw @ État-Major

If HOMA is still considered a 'rough' neighbourhood, then this BYOB gem is the diamond in the so-called rough. My experiences here are limited to lunch, but never have I been when the large room wasn't full and bustling, the service warm and sharp, and the food terrific. For a special lunch menu, chef Nicolas Ficuciello's took us on an East Coast road trip that revisited classic dishes with the axiom that when simple ingredients of the utmost freshness are combined to maximize flavour, the results are nothing short of fantastic. 

Of greatest note was the shrimp roll on brioche bread, a take on the revered lobster version, here substituted for small matane shrimp and served with red cabbage slaw. Granted the main ingredient swap was done as a cost-control measure to help fit three courses into the $22 offering, the result was awesome. Toasted, eggy brioche serving as the perfect vehicle for the cool mixture of shrimp, celery, cucumber, dill, with the accompanying slaw given a measure of tartness thanks to some apple julienne. If any dish heralded summer, this was it.

4005 Ontario St. East
(514) 905-8288

Constant Mentzas' Black Truffle Gnudis in a Wild Mushroom Broth @ Ikanos

Surprisingly, of all our festival outings, dinner at Old MTL's praised address for refined Greek-Mediterranean turned out to be the weakest, as it felt like the kitchen was reaching a bit beyond its element and wasn't thrilled to be doing so. Billed as an immersive experience over three evenings, featuring video projections, soundscapes, and invited guest Alexandre Taillefer (first night only)the evening we went lacked impact but for some lovely etched panels suspended perpendicular to the bar to provide a nice touch of intimacy for patrons dining together. 

On paper the expectations were high: five courses, with each comprising two different dishes to be shared mezze-style for a total of ten different compositions, plus an optional amuse-bouche. Perhaps not so ironically, the best plate turned out to be the simplest with the black truffle gnudis is a wild mushrooom broth. Like gnocchi but made using ricotta and much less flour, the result was a plate of light-as-air puffs that delivered a glorious flavour explosion with the woody broth cutting through the slightly sweet ricotta centre.

Restaurant Ikanos
112 McGill St. #1
(514) 842-0867

Jonathan Rassi's General Tao Monkfish @ Quartier Général

A bit of research into the cuisine of the festival's feature city of Shenzhen revealed influences from across China thanks to the throngs of workers who settled there as the city industrialized. Commonly regarded to have been derived from Hunan cuisine, this staple of most Chinese-American restaurants was well-served by the top-notch Plateau BYOB, and given a flawless execution with a twist. Instead of chicken, Jonathan Rassi used monkfish or lotte in French, a lean, mild-tasting, white-flesh fish that lends itself well to any cooking method. 

Here it was served on a base of sticky rice and peas with several generous chunks of the lightly-battered fish, enhanced with bok choy and topped with crispy-fried onions. The rapture in making my way through this dish was the sauce, at once sweet, slightly salty, and with just enough stickiness without being cloying.  Don't get me wrong it was definitely on the rich side, perhaps too much so for a weekday lunch, but wonderfully memorable on a winter day nonetheless.

Le Quartier Général 
1251 Gilford St.
(514) 658-1839

Jerome Ferrer's Braised Beef Cheek with Smoked Black Tea Sauce, Potatoes, and Blue Potato Chips @ Europea  

Dining at Jérôme Ferrer's flagship restaurant is always an experience to witness seamless service protocol in action: staff navigate three floors of oddly-shaped dining nooks, all without an elevator, while a basement-level kitchen produces consistently innovative and artistic cuisine. On my last visit though, as I made my way up to our top floor table along the window looking down on de la Montagne, I couldn't help but notice the place looking a tad tired with its mix of dated wall colours, carpeting that's seen better days, and wildly varying degrees of lighting. Granted, we're talking about an old building that was never conceived for a restaurant, but a freshening up with an emphasis on design unity would greatly elevate the space to meet the rest of the offering. 

This of course didn't stop us from testing out their 5-course gastronomic lunch menu, and falling hardest for the braised beef cheek main course, a lean, fork-tender piece of meat that, together with the accompanying mushrooms, potatoes and black tea sauce, gave the dish a foraged appearance that recalled both the scarcity and abundance of the Canadian landscape. With every table decorated with an Inukshuk, it all made perfect sense.

1227 de la Montagne St.
(514) 398-9229

Alexandre Fortin's Pan-Seared Sweetbreads with Mushroom Beads @ Chez Alexandre 

Our last festival foray brought us back to Chez Alexandre for their special truffle menu, specially designed by a new chef that just joined the kitchen ranks and who we think you'll be hearing a lot more about in the near future. Fittingly, he goes by the name of Alexandre Fortin, is all of twenty-four years old, and comes by way of Paris where he worked the stoves in several Michelin-starred restaurants including Dominique BouchetLe Meurice, and Maison du Danemarkas well as a stint at Baroque Bistro in Sydney Australia. 

His style is simple and refined, with a mature quality that belies his age. The proof came in one of the courses: melt-in-you-mouth sweetbreads served with mushroom beads. In a preparation that is textbook French cuisine, Fortin first blanched the offal, then removed any tough membrane before pan frying in copious amounts of melted butter perfumed with sprigs of thyme. With a nod to the menu's theme, he ingeniously rolled mushroom duxelles with minute truffle shavings to mimic the prized tuber melanosporum (black truffle)Mr. Creton has already taken note of this whiz kid's talent and, in a stroke of great news for Montreal's dining public, declared his intention to keep him on and promote his talent. À suivre...

Chez Alexandre et fils
1454 Peel St.
(514) 288-5105

The 18th edition runs Feb. 23rd - Mar. 12th 2017. For more information check back at



Restaurant Ikanos 7349895039574955949

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