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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – Montréal

After doing a bit of research on fine dining in Montreal, I decided to give L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon another try.  I wasn’t overly impressed with it when I was in Hong Kong, but I had delayed planning a nice dinner until late in the game and I couldn’t find a reservation that would fit into our overall schedule. L’Atelier it is!  I didn’t realize, until the day of the reservations, that the restaurant is actually in the Casino, which honestly, if I had known, I likely would have changed my plans. Casino food can be hit or miss and if I wasn’t sold in the excellence of L’Atelier from a previous visit, I was sure the locale wouldn’t make it better.  Plus, it was too late to cancel without a forfeiture fee.

I roll into the casino about 5 minutes before my reservation and like all casinos, it was like a maze finding the restaurant.  Eventually, after a few escalators, an elevator and a flight of stairs, I walk up to the Maitre d’ and was greeted by name. The restaurant was booked full and I was a single diner showing up about 10 minutes after my reservation time – process of deduction lead them to me.  

The welcome crew was great, no comment about my tardiness – there were a couple of single seats around the counter, of which I had my choice.  Selecting a corner seat gave me extra elbow room and only one opportunity to have a talkative neighbor.

As I sat down the menu was delivered and before I could even get situated, I was presented a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was asked if I’d be joining in a pre-dinner glass of champagne.  OUI! Madam, OUI!

Veuve Clicquot branded champagne flute

As I sipped my champagne and perused the menu, I finally got a chance to check out the restaurant. It looked remarkably like the Hong Kong version, bar seating, highboy tables around the perimeter, although this restaurant looked out on the river and was quite bright and sunny, despite the deep red and black lacquer finished.

The Kitchen Moved So Eloquently

The Plating Area was Quite Frenetic

The food terrarium

Decourverte de Saison Menu

Experience Menu

I had basically decided I’d be doing the tasting menu this evening.  The final decision was which menu to try, the Decouvert de Saison or the Experience.  I was pushing for the Experience, but I didn’t want the sweetbreads and I couldn’t swap out a course, so it was the Decouvert for me.  It wasn’t a big let down, I just really wish I could have had the canard – I love duck.

I decided to do the wine pairings as well – why not, right?  So I sat at the bar, alone, enjoying a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and I couldn’t be happier.  First up, an amazing bread basket was delivered. I knew I wouldn’t eat all that bread by myself…but I did a damn good job. I just left one of the olive loafs behind.  So perfect, so buttery, so not needed based on the amount of food I was eating!

The Bread Basket was Amazing — Every Selection Better Than the Previous!

Service was surprisingly smooth and knowledgeable.  I kept replaying the dinner in Hong Kong and how disappointing it was.  Not at all like that here.  The service was well timed – a glass delivered, then the wine poured with about 20-30 seconds of explanation of the grape, the region and why it was chosen to pair with the next course.  I’d have about a minute or two to smell, taste and admire the wine before the plate was delivered – again with a 20-30 second explanation of the dish, then I’d be left to enjoy it in peace.  Dinner continued like that for about two and a half hours.

Pour Commencer
Cold Pea Veloute Over Fresh Mint Jelly

Sea Urchin Royale with Fennel Coulis

La Saint-Jacques
Golden Scallop Over Lettuce Coulis, Crisp Leaves Sprinkled with Ginger

L’Asperge Blanche
White Asparagus and Fresh Morel Mushrooms with Yellow Wine Emulsion

Le Fletan
Halibut with Lemongrass, Purple Artichokes and Green Asparagus

Le Bison
Rossini-Style Bison Tenderloin and Foie Gras with Cranberry Elixir, Watercress Salad

Le Bison
Rossini-Style Bison Tenderloin and Foie Gras with Cranberry Elixir, Watercress Salad

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Le Chocolat Tendance
Araguani Chocolate Cremeaux, Crumbled Biscuit, Cocoa Sorbet

Le Chocolat Tendance
Araguani Chocolate Cremeaux, Crumbled Biscuit, Cocoa Sorbet

By the time the L’Asperge Blanche was delivered (which was SCALDING hot by the way), a couple sat next to me.  She was loud and brash.  She ordered a double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary.  The server confirmed and gave her fair warning that that drink would likely destroy her palate, truly diminishing the tasting menu.  She ordered the tasting menu…and a second double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary…before the champagne was served.

Despite my initial frustration with this woman, we ended up having a really great time chatting.  Her husband (boyfriend?) was more of the silent, look at his phone type of guy and she was a chatty Kathy.  She ended up being quite respectful, when my dish would arrive, she’d turn and lavish attention on her date, who couldn’t care less about her (or so it seemed) and once I was done, she let me savor for a moment, then she’d jump right back into her story, without missing a beat.  It made for an enjoyable experience.

Finally the petits fours were delivered.  Eric Gonzalez, the head chef, came out and chatted with me for about 15 minutes.  We spent a lot of time talking about port (I love a beautiful Portuguese fortified wine) and about proper duck preparation and how he doesn’t really dig the whole duck press service.  I loved pressed duck, but many places do it so poorly.

Petit Four

My early dinner came to an acceptably timely close a little before 22h00, which gave me plenty of time to head back to the hotel, change and meet up with my friends that evening.  The L’Atelier in Montreal is head an shoulders better than the one in Hong Kong.  I was thoroughly disappointed in so much of the Hong Kong experience and despite the casino location, this team did a phenomenal job.  I’d head back and dine here in a heartbeat — but will I dine in Paris, or Shanghai or Taipei or any of the other cities with a Joël Robuchon restaurant?  Time will tell.

Have you dined at any of the incarnations of Joël Robuchon’s restaurants?  What did you love?  How was the service?


Rosemary Salt – Preserving Fresh Herbs

It is that time of year – our gardens are roaring into full production.  We’ve just started getting our tomatoes, but our peppers have been coming in for a couple of weeks and our eggplant will be ready for harvest by the end of the week.  We’ve had a great crop of fresh herbs for almost two months now.  We can’t use all the fresh herbs that we’ve grown, so we’re doing everything we can to preserve them.  I’ve been making and freezing fresh basil pesto every week now, I’ve also started making flavored salts too.  I made a half cup of rosemary salt this weekend and thought I’d share my simple recipe that is so easily scalable – make a half teaspoon or a cup, it’s the same process.

Here’s what you need to make a tablespoon of rosemary salt:

Another way to preserve fresh herbs

1 Sprigs rosemary, stemmed and roughed chopped
1 tablespoons sea salt

  1. Place the chopped rosemary and salt in a mortar and pestle (I didn’t use the M&P, I just used a knife to chop the salt and rosemary into a finer powder

Finished product – Rosemary Salt

You can use the rosemary salt on anything and everything that could use a little pop of rosemary!  Try it as you roast some vegetables, on steaks or chicken before they hit the grill, or to finish off a salad.  Personally, we love it on pork chops.

Prepped and ready for the grill

Do you make flavored herb salts?  Do you have an easier process?  What are your favorite flavor combinations and how do you use them?

IPNC Day Two: On Campus

After an amazing first full day at IPNC, Group A, of which we were a part, remained on campus. The breakfast on days one and two are pretty much identical – amazingly fresh berries and stone fruit (if you haven’t been to Oregon in berry season, you are missing out on one of life’s amazing pleasures), fresh buttery pastries, bacon or sausage, some yogurt, juice and coffee. Nothing terribly fancy, but delicious and nothing too wild that will destroy your palate before the tastings.

The main event is the Grand Seminar, where everyone who was off campus the day before goes to Linfield’s gym for a tasting seminar. This year’s seminar was Two Vineyards | Six Hands, which was an in-depth exploration of six wines from two vineyards. These wines were made especially for IPNC. We actually skipped this session. We decided to head off campus and grab breakfast with some local friends. We’ve had mixed results with the Grand Seminar – sometimes they are really great and other times they can drag on for way too long. Everyone we talked to said we missed out on a really great seminar this year.

After the Grand Seminar was the Lunch on the Lawn. This al fresco dining experience, like the Grand Dinner the night before it is a plated and served lunch where each table has a winemaker sharing a selection of wines they brought and the somms providing larger tastings (half glasses) of other wines from the library. We sat with one person we had met before at another IPNC and everyone else was new to us. Our winery partner was Sokol-Blosser – where we had an off-campus experience a few years ago. Our entire table was such fun and Robin Hawley the Associate Winemaker was a generous host as well. She was inquisitive and engaging – a real delight to sit with. We also had a couple of first-timers at our table, so it was great to get their impressions and to offer sage advice.

Lunch on the Lawn Place Seetting and Menu

Marinated Dungeness Crab, Washington Nectarine, Mint and White Balsamic Vinaigrette, with Cucumber and Fennel

Macaron Pavlova aux Fruits Rouges

Following lunch we had our University of Pinot class, which centered on Austrian Pinot Noirs. There were about a dozen different 90 minute courses you could take – and we actively selected into this course as we do visit Vienna from time to time. The class had three Austrian winemakers showcasing the geography, the diversity and the uniqueness of their wines. These wines definitely had a lighter, crisper feel than a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir, but this is really one of the main points. It is the INTERNATIONAL Pinot Noir Celebration, not the Oregon PNC. The winemakers were insightful and made me want to hope on a plane and pay them a visit. The worst part, this class lasted 25 minutes longer than scheduled, which cut into the Afternoon Activities. We could have left, but we sat in such a place that we couldn’t actually leave without being very disruptive. Next time, plan better!

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! Map

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! Full Tasting Setup

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! The Winemakers

Saturday’s Afternoon Activities were focusing on Rosés and Jamón. I will still pretty full from lunch, but I’ve always got room for proper Ibérico Ham, which was served with heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese and the most wonderful sardines I’ve ever eaten. The line was long for Jamón, but we had a rosé to keep us company. I will admit, I was in the Jamón line twice – the second time we spent more time chatting with one of the Austrian winemakers too. We’ll be visiting him on our next trip to Austria.

Like the first day, there is an al fresco tasting before dinner. Tables with dozens of wineries pouring a curated selection of wines sit underneath old oak trees. You get direct access to the winemakers and owners of these great wineries. Plus, this is a great time to mingle and chat with the new friends you met earlier in the weekend.

The final dinner is the famous Salmon Bake. This buffet dinner is the only part of the weekend that is open to non-attendees of IPNC. Separate tickets can be purchased ($225 per ticket) from the IPNC website. Like all meals, there is no assigned seating, it is first-come-first-served seating. There are two strategies for the Salmon bake 1) Hurry and select a table for you and your friends or 2) Head straight into the buffet line, then once you have a full plate, strikeout to find a seat.

The star of this dinner is the salmon, which is roasted over an open flame in the style that indigenous people of the pacific northwest would cook it. In addition to the salmon, there is beef and pork, plus tons of salads and sides – all made with fresh, local ingredients by excellent regional chefs.

Salmon Bake – Open Fire

Salmon Bake – Slow Roasting

Like the lunches and previous dinner, the somms are assigned to certain tables and they keep your glasses full. They are always rotating different wines including, chardonnays, rieslings and of course pinot noir. There is a ton of food at the buffets, so multiple trips are required.  The separate dessert stations open up about an hour after the main meal is served – dozens of small dessert pastries and even full slices of pie.

The casual dinner allows for easy walking and chatting with new friends.  People also bring their own bottles to share with friends old and new.  We find our selves walking around the tables, exploring new wines and continuing to meet new people.

Beautiful Evening in Oregon. Salmon Bake is fan favorite.

At the end of the night, we always grab a few friends and a couple chairs and sit by the remains of the Salmon Bake Fire.  We have so much fun at this part of the night, it is a sad time as the great weekend is coming to a close.

End of the Night. Salmon Bake Fire Dies Down, While the Conversations Continue

Need Advice: Three Days in Singapore!

I’m taking a bit of a last minute trip to Singapore – spending just about three days, no less.  This will be my first trip to the city.  Since my time is so limited, I’d love to get some advice from people who have been before.  What do you recommend?  Where should I eat? What should I skip?

Courtesy of Lifestyleasia.com

My initial thoughts:

  • A bike tour is a must. I love biking in new cities – we just did Bruges and Ghent a few weeks ago.
  • Explore a Hawker Centre or two
  • Eat Chili Crab
  • Explore to Bontanic Gardens
  • Grab a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel (it’s actually under reno, but they have a pop up shop available)
  • Try the Chilli Padi Mary at the St. Regis (I love trying the different recipes offered all over the world)
  • Swim at the infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (how can I accomplish this without staying there?)
  • Dine at the only Michelin Starred Food Stalls

What am I missing?  Any museums I must see?  What is your favorite Singapore destination?  Where do you dine?

IPNC Day One: Off Campus

The International Pinot Noir celebration is the last weekend of July each year. For the past 32 years pinot lovers from all over the world have descended on McMinnville Oregon, 40 miles south of Portland to eat, drink and celebrate the wonderful Pinot Noir grape.

We have attended this event for nearly a decade now and really look forward to it each year. This year we were in Group A, which means our first day was off campus. After breakfast, we hopped on waiting motor coaches which schlepped our group to the beautiful Archery Summit Winery. The 20 minute drive through the picturesque Willamette Valley and up winding roads would usually be filled with deep anticipation. “Where are we going?”, “What will the tasting focus on?” – these questions and the speculative answers would fill the bus. This time, not so much, our host spilled the beans on our destination before we even left Linfield. Not really a big deal, and he felt awful about it, but I do prefer the surprise and the fun of guessing.

Vineyard Views

Vineyard views

Once we arrived we were greeted by the new winemaker Ian Burch and vineyard manager Tim Scott. While we got acquainted with the vineyard, the winery and their process, we enjoyed a lovely 2016 Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay.

A bucket of Chardonnay

Archery Summit Wine Glass

Learning about the winery from the winemaker and vineyard manager

We moved inside for the main tasting. This blind tasting pitted three Oregon Pinots against a Californian and one from Burgundy. We smelled, tasted and talked about each of the wines and the specific winemaking process, then we had to pair up the wines with each of the wineries. I got three of five correct.

The blind tasting setup in the barrel room

The winemakers guiding us through the blind tasting

Prepped and ready for the blind tasting

The tasting results – 3/5 isn’t too bad.

Next we moved outside again, this time for lunch. I strategically took a seat between two reserved (for winemakers) seats and was fortunate enough to sit next to Ian. We enjoyed a lovely lunch prepared by Sybaris Bistro from Albany Oregon.

Vineyard Views

Lunch Menu

Cave-aged Gruyere gougere cave, onion tart

Chapa chopped procini, verjus, garlic, parsley

Grilled quail, soft polenta, black currant jus

Oregon cane berries, chocolate “basalt”

There were too many people for us all to go on a tour of the wine caves, but Ian asked one of his colleagues to take just us down for a quick tour. It was quick, but quite lovely. We got back with just enough time to order a mixed case and hop on the bus. We kept it a secret that we’d been given a private tour.

Barrel Room

Tasting setup in the caves

The wines served at lunch and the blind tasting

Once back on campus we head over to the for the Afternoon Activities, which included some sparkling tastings and lawn games. The tasting continued with the first al fresco tasting, where two dozen wineries pour one of their selections. You get some great time with the winemakers or their representatives while continuing to enjoy a beautiful Oregon summer.

Finally, the first day closed out with the Grand Dinner. This casual dinner is a plated affair. Each table has a winemaker pouring some of their own wines, while the wandering somms (who are paired with just two tables to ensure proper coverage) continue to pour various selections. Your glasses are never dry. The meal is prepared by several chefs from the area. It was delectable.

Grand Dinner

Grand Dinner

The Grand Dinner Menu

Dinner Menu

Oregon Dungeness Crab and Newport Pink Shrimp, Wildflower Honey-Roasted Black Plum, Chanterelle-Parsley Salad

Seared Oregon Albacore Tuna, Smoked Tomato Coulis, Shell and Pole Beans, Creme Fraiche, Fried Black Pepper

Braised Beef Short Ribs, Summer Squash and Herb Puree, Chanterelle, Corn and Cherry Tomato Salad, Pinot Noir and Black Garlic Jus

We were fortunate enough to snag a seat with our friends Scott and Lisa from Coeur de Terre. We always drink great wine and laugh a little too much with them. We met them at IPNC a few years earlier and have always enjoyed reconnecting with them upon our return. That’s the beauty of IPNC, it is full of approachable people, who love wine. Be they on the production or consumption side – in general you are getting to know genuine people without the snobbiness of other wine and food events.

Day one comes to a close.  A really great day and a perfect first half of IPNC.  Must rest up, this all starts again tomorrow at 07h30!