>> Tuesday, September 25, 2012
This is the second post in the Oh Canada series, summarizing some of the great eats I had when visiting various Canadian cities this past year. Other posts in this series include St. Viateur Bagels.
Chuck Hughes is Canada's darling when it comes to food TV. He was one of only two Canadians ever to win Iron Chef America on TV, beating Bobby Flay. He currently has a show called "Chuck's Day Off".
Le Bremner is Chef Hughes' second restaurant. Located hidden almost beneath street level with the inconspicuous words "restaurant", we almost missed it. In fact, the cab driver had to recheck the address again before we confirmed that, yes, indeed this little red sign was our destination.
Although his first restaurant Garde-Manger is more popular and harder to secure, more than one food enthusiast has remarked that Le Bremner actually is better and it's where Chuck hangs out more, often working the line.
Le Bremner is dark inside, with almost a taverny feel. There's a definitely loud energy to the dining room, complete with a funky blend of "oldies" ranging from Cheap Trick to Bryan Adams (well, I guess he is Canadian).
All their sodas are made in house, such as their root beer, lemon soda, cola, and tonic water. The special drinks offered that day sounded fabulous, but I decided to go with the simple gin & tonic.
It was good, although a bit too sweet for my tastes. I still preferred Jaleo's versions of gin & tonic.
The menu definitely focuses on seafood (yay!) and is divided up into seven sections: Chilled Items, From the Outside, Bread & Cheese, From the Stovetop, From the Broiler, Vegetables, and Dessert.
Many of the dishes are designed to be shared, sort of like tapas. Because there were three of us, we were able to order a nice, wide variety of dishes to share, which made it really fun.
Scallops on the half shell ($6) were served with a pickled celery vinaigrette and lemon, though the server actually suggested skipping the mignonette and just eating it straight up with lemon. These were pretty good, though not the best I've ever had (not quite as good as the incredible raw scallops in the sushi world). Still perfectly enjoyable, of course.
Raw Scallops Tartare (one of the specials of the day) was fresh, flavorful, and delicious.
Spicy Raw Salmon ($18) sounds simple enough, but it's actually salmon that has been cured in beet juice so it looks like tuna. It's topped with a dill mayonnaise, capers, and crispy tempura flakes. Lovely flavors, even though it was weird to eat something that tasted like salmon but looked like tuna.
Kimchee Snow Crab with Crispy Rice Cake ($22) definitely had the strong, bold flavors of kimchee. I personally felt that the kimchee overpowered the delicate sweetness of the snow crab. Nevertheless, the dish did have an interesting textural interplay between the crispy rice cake base, soft tender crab, and mushy, fibrous kimchee.
This creamy seafood dip (I can't for the life of me remember if it was raw fish or scallops!) was fresh and creamy with subtle flavors from various herbs and spices. The salty umami of the pork cracklings added just the right amount of zing and crunch to really completed the entire flavor and texture profile. I enjoyed this one a lot and definitely came back for second helpings.
Lobster Toast au Gratin was under their "foccacia" section, though I really had a hard time distinguishing this from a good old pizza. It was nice enough, with a buttery crust and flavorful, bold toppings. However, it was a bit underwhelming for me since it really just seemed like a nice, fancy pizza. They did crack a poached (or sous vide?) egg on top, which was quite lovely.
Hake and Clams ($25) was beautifully flavorful - what a good idea to combine clams with any fish, really. The pieces of hake were cut up and almost stuffed inside the clams. Although the clams were a bit rubbery, the dish had a lovely, very flavorful seafood broth that was fantastic. I loved the bits of Brussels sprouts on the side as well - one of my favorite dishes.
Cornbread With Broiled Garlic Shrimp ($20) was nice and savory, an inspired twist on shrimp and grits. The cornbread is pan seared in butter (oh my) and then topped with a fragrant sauce (made with seafood stock, herbs, celery) as well as microgreens. The flavor combinations definitely reminded me of shrimp & grits, but probably much healthier!
The Beignets came with three filling choices, of which I can only remember two: chocolate and raspberry. These were fine, but nothing particularly special.
The Blueberry Lemon Tart had wonderfully juicy blueberries (and generous amounts of it, might I add), which worked great with the tart.
My favorite? The Pancakes were incredible! - soft, fluffy, buttery, reasonably yeasty (or was it baking soda?) and nicely salty. It was addictive with the sucre and melted butter on top. Even though I was full, I took several helpings of this one. It was fabulous and most definitely my favorite dessert.
I had a fabulous time at this little restaurant. The food is excellent, though definitely a bit expensive for the portion size. We ordered the equivalent of 3-4 courses a person, and we essentially ate everything. Both appetizers and main entrees hover in the $20ish range, so it can add up pretty quickly,
The ambiance is dark, pretty casual, and very comfortable. The service was great. The server spoke fluent French and English (almost everyone in Montreal does), and she offered a lot of great advice about the food.
Though we did not take advantage of it, the restaurant has an amazing "terrace" where you can eat outside.
Afterwards, if your feet are up to it, walk down the cobbly roads through old Montreal back to downtown. It's a lovely walk (if the weather is cooperating), and you really get a great tour of old Montreal.
Of course, I paid for it with a horrible blister (yes, I was wearing heels), but I don't regret it one bit.
361 St. Paul