Mar 22, 2011

Chef Martin Picard's cabane à sucre: a visit from chefs Pic and Laprise

To say it was a culture shock would be an understatement: chef Anne-Sophie Pic, the diminutive, ultra-polite chef from France's three-Michelin-starred Maison Pic spent a day in the woods with the adorable-but-brutish chef Martin Picard. Talk about a crazy contrast of styles and personalities!

More specifically, she went to visit his legendary cabane à sucre, where he serves his own high-end version of a typical sugar shack meal in the springtime to a legion of adoring fans (who book a year ahead!!).
Chef Pic was in town to cook for two nights at Toqué!, and to preside over the annual Highlights Festival.

Chef Normand Laprise of Toqué! restaurant, also in Montreal, drove chef Pic and her entourage to Picard's cabane à sucre (sugar shack) in the Laurentians. The place was just about to open for the season but wasn't serving customers yet.

Picard gave the group a quick how-to-make-maple-syrup lesson and showed them his pigs. The rest you can see for yourselves, in the video below:

Mar 10, 2011

Chefs Patrice Demers and Marc André Jetté open a pop-up cabane à sucre

Yep, there I was, on opening night, sugar-shacking it at the Old Port in Montreal at La Cabane. Not sure if you guys know what a sugar shack is, but it usually entails wolfing down industrial amounts of beans, maple syrup, pork, lard and pies at a shack somewhere in the countryside. But not here, nananina. There was no sign of a lumberjack-type menu at La Cabane, which struck me as definitely more of an urban-hip-and-way-too-cool-for-meat-pie sorta shack.

If the food looks and tastes fancier than the usual sugar shack fare, that's to be expected when you've got the chef-partners Marc-André Jetté and Patrice Demers of Les 400 Coups restaurant behind it. Last night - the official opening - they were both there, working the stoves and the crowd - but in all truth, I doubt they'll be able to be so present the rest of the time. After all, Les 400 Coups is still in its infancy, and a "baby" that requires much tlc...

In any case, it was great to see both chefs go at it for the big opening. The amuses were the lower point of a five-course feast that hit many highs. The chicken-liver in a glass was apropriately silky and benefitted from the blanket of maple jelly on top but the game-terrine-on-a-stick was too fatty, too coarse, and with the chunk of marinated beet on top, too big for one bite. I much preferred the devilled eggs which came with an ever-so-subtle dusting of maple crunchies...

The smoked pumpkin soup that followed was so thick it reminded me of spiced-up baby food - but hey, I actually love the stuff. In the center, just to remind us that this is indeed a sugar shack, a piece of salmon confit in duck fat and cipollinis in maple syrup.

Rather than going classic and serving some sort of meat pie or pork dish as a main, the chefs created a nicely executed casserole of beans, carrots, turkey and fresh parsley where everything had its own very specific cuisson. The turkey, sous-vide (and therefore super tender and juicy); the beans, al dente; the parsley leaves, whole and fresh. Crowning the whole, a generous heap of oreilles de crisse, also prepared sous-vide (necessary?). A peasant dish and a humble combo refined by precise technique.

The main dessert was a trio of ultra-sweet treats. In a jar, chocolate ganache topped by cocoa crumbs and a maple and sea salt foam. Sophisticated, but a bit too déjà vu for me. There were a couple of maple-almond financiers (no fireworks there, either) and a predictably delicious maple-ly ice cream sandwich.

The more crowd-pleasing maple-meringue-poached-in-liquid-nitrogen post-dessert got way more attention, I thought (video to come shortly...).

But for me, the best sweet of the evening was the ice cider on snow, an elegant take on the traditional tire à l'érable. Nothing is added to the cider - it simply rolls up on snow the same way as maple, to create an amorphous and droopy lollipop that is incredibly delicious. Tart and sweet, unctuous and sticky, and oh-so-sugar-shacky.

Reignier Julien of Boutique Point G with his cidre de glace....

The man behind the golden nightcap-on-a-stick is Reignier Julien, co-owner of the pastry shop Boutique Point G. I was informed of this by the Montreal foodie Andrea Donida, who was literally aghast when I confessed I'd never heard of the diminutive pastry master from France, renowned for his macaroons... oops! Liv'n'learn...

Here, he prepares my very own "ice cider and snow lollipop":
Photo: Clarah Germain

La Cabane: until April 15th at the Old Port of Montreal, directly below the Jacques Cartier esplanade. 
Wednesday - Saturday, one seating at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, one seating at 11:30 a.m.
$ 55 per person, plus tax and service; $15 for children under 12
tel. (514) 444-4383

 And here's a video of my evening at La Cabane:

And here, just as a basis for comparison, are a couple of photos taken at a very traditional sugar shack in North Hatley, 1 hour from Montreal, as a crowd enjoyed their tire-sur-la-neige:

Mar 4, 2011

Lawrence restaurant on Saint-Laurent Boulevard: hip AND excellent!

Oh, the joys of dropping everything, mid-day, to go for a leisurely lunch at the part of town known  as Mile End... And this wasn't just any lunch, but rather, lunch at Montréal's most talked-about lunch/brunch spot, Lawrence. Every inch the hipster central I expected.....

Good thing I went mid-week, because.... even on a Friday, the place was overflowing with hungry young mothers (bébés in tow) and a thirtysomething local crowd. No matter: I figured the wait would be worth it.
And how right I was! First up, beautiful Glacier Bay oysters (actually seasoning them with the mignonette sauce would be sinful):

Even though I opted to order appetizers only - followed by a generous cheese tasting - I ate like a queen. Deliciously rich and hearty octopus tentacles tossed with salicorne and parmesan was so much more than the sum of its parts...

And for those who might think lettuce soup sounds boring, I've got news.... not at Lawrence, it's not! Peasant-style, with the greens thoroughly cooked and swimming in a rich broth gussied up with a brandade, it was the perfect pick-me-up for that chilly afternoon.

Another winner: mussels with fat cubes of good-quality bacon, on a soda cracker. Yum.

The cheeses were served comme il faut: at room temperature. (Sounds obvious but it's so rarely done!) I might have liked some bread or thin toast to complement the (crumbly, ultrafresh) oatcakes but... that's just me being overly picky.

The whole meal, with plenty of top-notch beers, came out to $100, tax and tip included. Not bad at all, I say!

My verdict? I like!

Lawrence: 5201 Saint-Laurent Blvd., tel. (514) 503-1070

ps. I'm not the only one that loves the place. It got raving reviews last weekend from the city's two top restaurant critics: Lesley Chesterman, in The Gazette, and Marie-Claude Lortie in La Presse.