May 13, 2013

Le Bremner in Old Montreal: new chef Danny Smiles has the chops

Le Bremner: cozy and dimly-lit, old stone walls   Credit: Le Bremner
by Alexandra Forbes

We all have our prejudices. Few admit it, but we all do.

I'm a bit tired of typical Montreal dude food. Tasty but heavy, pork-centric, always a piece of foie gras or pork belly used to kick things up a notch, industrial quantities of fat added to dishes with abandon. You Montreal diners must know what I mean.

So the first time I went to Le Bremner I got hit with a whole lot of dude food. Tasted good at the time, but weighed me down afterwards. Too much fat. Too much... everything. Overkill.

Subconsciously, perhaps, I decided I didn't need to go back to Le Bremner for more of that.

And then my friend Hivron dragged me back, saying: "you'll love it now, I just know it".

She's a tenacious one, too, so after some resisting... off we went. And you know what? I'm so glad. My prejudices went out the window. I was so incredibly surprised by the change. An evident improvement. Sure, there's still dude food to be had there, and I really screwed up our wine order, which put a dent in the experience, but overall I was quite impressed.

One look at my first appetizer is enough to see that it's not something you'd expect to eat at a place owned and run by Chuck Hughes:

Halibut gravlax with crème fraiche, chiken "chicharrones", dehydrated kale, fried capers

It was like an ussuzukuri, but creamier and richer, the chicken "chicharrones" giving it a welcome crisp.

Don't get me wrong: I love Chuck, used to have great nights at Garde Manger before this TV fans invaded it. But he doesn't usually do dainty like this. Yet the young guy he's not put in charge of Le Bremner does. And thank God for that!

Danny Smiles is his name. Yes, I should know, if I watched TV. He's on Top Chef Canada. But, alas, I don't watch TV so it was all new to me. And it was very hard to resist his charm and the food he sent out. 

The second course was a bit more reminiscent of Garde Manger, to me... snow crab and kimchi on rice cakes. Poor crab was a bit overshadowed but still... very tasty.

I won't describe dish-by-dish.... I wasn't taking notes, too busy enjoying the food, wine and company. But suffice to say that never once did I take a bit that seemed heavy or overly fatty - which had been my fear.

Albacore tuna, trout and cod roe, micro cilantro, crispy shallots, tahini

Of course, one can't really say that pancakes for dessert are a light ending to a meal. But oddly enough, they worked. Fluffy and only barely sweet. Plus, I liked the twist of the butter laced with Pimm's on top.

Overall, a great dinner. Prepared under the direction of a great kid. I liked his drive and ambition, his friendliness and his will to prove me wrong.

To get an idea of his (big) personality, here is his audition vid for Top Chef:

Le Bremner: 362 St Paul St. East, Old Montreal, tel. (514) 544-0446