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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.

Arrival

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 arrive.  The Maitre d’ greeted me by name as I walked up. 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.

The menu was delivered right as I sat down. 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 glassware.

Veuve Clicquot branded glassware.

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.

Kitchen View at Joel Robuchon

The Kitchen Moved So Eloquently

Open View to the Kitchen

The Plating Area was Quite Frenetic

Fine dining table scape

Food terrarium

Fine Dining Menu

Fine Dining 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!

Beautify Bread Basket

It Begins

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.

Soup in a Shot Glass

Pour Commencer Cold Pea Veloute Over Fresh Mint Jelly

Sea Urchin

L’oursin Sea Urchin Royale with Fennel Coulis

Scallops

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

Asparagus Soup

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

Halibut Course

Le Fletan Halibut with Lemongrass, Purple Artichokes and Green Asparagus

Bison Tenderloin

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

Bison Tenderloin

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

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

The dessert plating was on point.

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

The dessert plating was on point.

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

Neighbors

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.  All 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). Once I finished, 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

Petit Four

The Departing Conclusion

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?

Language Study – 2015 Plan

I’ve been studying French at L’Alliance Francaise de Chicago since the July 2011.  I’ve been taking a two hour class each week.  The classes are grouped into 8 week sessions that build off of each other and utilize the spiral learning method – wherein you touch on a topic briefly initially (quick introduction) then get reintroduced in a more in depth fashion a few weeks later, then again and again.  I end up missing one or two classes each 8 week session because of work or vacation commitments.  I do the homework and I participate in class, but I’m not where I want to be in my language study.  After 3.5 years of studying, I’d like to feel comfortable enough to vacation in France and basically function in French.

I can order food and drinks in restaurants. I can ask for directions (and understand the basic responses).  I can read signs and menus. I can’t carry on basic back and forth with a server in a restaurant or a shopkeeper.  My listening skills aren’t where I want them to be and the quickness of my mind isn’t there either.

I use Anki to study the vocabulary words from the immediate session we are studying in class — and I can memorize these terms pretty quickly.  I feel I’m a bit ahead of the rest of my class in this regard — but not in many other parts.

I can listen to a dialog  and read along with it and can respond pretty quickly, but without the subtitles or a script along with it, I struggle.  This is not where I want to be.  I don’t feel I spend enough time each week studying — I think I need to focus more.

I’ve decided for 2015 to put together an official Language Study Plan  that I hope will allow me to progress to the level I feel I should be.  I want to focus on all aspects of Language Study – Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.  My plan is below:

  • Continue to take classes at L’Alliance each term
  • Flashcards – Daily
    • Continue Chapter Vocab
    • Learn Other Critical Words
      • Food
      • Shopping
      • Travl
  • Read two French Language Books in 2015
    • L’Etranger (I love this book by Albert Camus and know the story very well and it’s a small book). Finish by 6/30
    • Any suggestions for the other book? I hear reading a children’s book is good too. Finish by 12/31
  • Write a one page essay each month (and share with my French classmates to critique, and share on Tim-Foolery.com)
    • February – Autobiography
    • March – Winter
    • April – Spring
    • May – Wine
    • June – Our Garden
    • July – L’Etranger Book Report
    • August – International Pinot Noir Celebration / Vacation
    • September – Summer
    • October – French Foods / Recipes
    • November – Fall
    • December – Christmas
  • Listen to the Michel Thomas Language Lessons (for listening/speaking)
    • Two 30 Minute Sessions Each Week
  • Watch one French Film each month
  • Watch TV5 News twice weekly
  • Watch 30 minutes of non-news each week on TV5
  • Travel to one French Speaking Country in 2015

This is my plan as it stands now.  Do you have any recommendations or suggested ways to tweak my plan for 2015?  What are your language study plans for the year?  What languages are you studying now?

Travel: 2014 Year in Review

2014 was a good year for me, not only in travel but in general. Let’s review my travels over the past twelve months, shall we?

By the Numbers: (2014 / 2013)

Total Miles Flown: 53,322 / 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 37 / 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded): 4 (United, Air Canada, Brussels, Lufthansa) / 7
Total Hotel Nights: 56 / 71
Total Hotel Stays: 32 / 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 37,500 / 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 134,000 / 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 6+1 (Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland + Germany) / 8+1
Longest Single Segment: MUC-ORD @ 4,535 / ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: YUL-YQB @ 145 (I redeemed miles for this flight too)
Northernmost Airport: ARN (Stockholm) / LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: MCO (Orlando) / SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport I visited was YYZ (Toronto). I didn’t do a lot of repeat business outside of ORD. Last year BNA (Nashville) and LAX were on my frequent list – I only visited each of those once this year.

I flew enough miles this year to circumnavigate the Earth only twice – or enough miles to get a quarter of the way to the moon.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

How did your 2014 treat you? Did you meet all of your travel goals? What are you planning for 2015?

Quebec City – Help Me Travel

I’m heading off to Quebec City soon and I need your help.  We’ve booked our room – we’re staying at the Chateau Frontenac, which I’m super stoked about.  We booked through Hotels.com which had the lowest rate out there (lower than other Online Travel Agents and lower than the hotels website – even for the fully prepaid rate).  We don’t stay at Fairmonts often (ever??) so we aren’t concerned about hotel loyalty points for this stay.

Photo Courtesy of BonjourQuebec.com

Chateau Frontenac

I need your help with activities, restaurants and shopping.  I’d like to spend most meals eating traditional French / Quebecois.  I’ve got a couple restaurants I’m looking at – do you have any experience at any of these:

  • Panache
  • Le Saint-Amour
  • Restaurant La Cremaillere
  • Le Hobbit
  • Bati Bassak (Cambodian)
  • Le Hobbit

I’ll be bumming around the City by myself during the day – as this is a ski trip and I don’t ski – so I’m also looking for great little lunch places.  Also I’m looking forward to using my French in a practical  format – not just in class.

If you had 2 full days in QC, what would you do?