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Chez L'Epicier


docsconz
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Just returned from a wonderful, albeit short culinary jaunt to Montreal. I stayed at The Hotel Nelligan, a wonderful new boutique hotel in Vieux Montreal. I provided a report on lunch at Rosalie on it's thread, but now wish to report on a fabulous dinner at one of my all-time favorite restaurants - Chez L'Epicier.

It is one thing for food to be created with wit and style and it is another thing for combinations of ingredients to coalesce into a mouth-stimulating force. It is yet another, when the above events coincide in a synergy to dazzle the senses and the mind. Such are the meals that I have had from the kitchen of Laurent Godbout at Chez L'Epicier.

Last night, not only was not an exception to the above, it was the exclamation point to the rule. My brother and I had a late reservation (9PM), which turned out fabulously. Rather than order from the menu, I asked if it would be possible to have the chef create a dinner for us. We were in luck as Chef Godbout agreed to do so for us.

The first course of the dinner was an amuse bouche of a cleverly deconstructed "Bloody Caeser". This consisted of a line of chopped dried tomato adjacent to a linee of chopped celery adjacent to a line of sour cream adjacent to a steamed clam adjacent to a line of pepper adjacent to worcestire gelee. The plate was finished with a spray of vodka over all. Mixed together it provided a fun and tasty morsel.

I ws then served the parsnip pureee with beurre noisette, orange caramel, string beans and ginger chips, while my brother was served the spicy vegetable broth, shrimp croquette and saffron rouille. Both were excellent.

The first entree was the snail shepard's pie for my brother and the beef tartare with wild mushroom marmelade and truffle flavored sauce.. Once again, both superb in presentation and taste.

The second entrees were the quail glazed with mole for my brother (an absolutely spectacular theatrical presentation) and the foie gras with sweet potato tempura, duck confit tandoori sauce and pineapple for me. Both were exquisite.

The main courses were piglet with wild mushrooms, lardoons and fresh peas with a hint of mint for me and roasted Chilean Sea bass with Hawaiian sea salt, fresh herb broth and rice cake for my brother. My piglet was absolutely delightful, however, the chilean sea bass was the one relatively sour note of the evening. This wasn't because it didn't taste good or wasn't well presented. I would have just preferred it if it were not served at the restaurant due to it's endangered status.

In the meantime, we met Chef Godbout and even had a tour of his kitchen. He is a very charming man with an incredible amount of creativity.

Our main course was followed by a "cheese" course. Not a simple slab of epoisse herer! No, we each had a platter with a brioche of goat cheese (that while good was outdistanced by the other occupants of the platter), shredded apple with fresh rosemary, a parfait of mashed prunes with blue cheese and walnut foam and a drizzle of amazing truffled honey with an olive. The truffled honey had the most intense truffle flavor (with a mild sweetness) that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

The wine of the vening was a 1999 Savigny Sepentieres, whose versatility worked very well with each course at a very reasonable price.

The dessert platter wass also astounding. My brother and I were each served a signature "club sandwich". In addition, I was served grand marnier creme brulee, chocolate cake with whiskey sauce and raisin ice cream and a marvellous "melontini", which was fresh honeydew juice with cinammon gelee and honeydew "olives".

Throughout the course of the evening the service was stellar.

I love Montreal! Thank you Chef Godbout and staff for a marvellous evening.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sounds like a great meal. If you don't mind saying, about how much did they charge for the food? Also, that Bloody Caesar sounds awfully similar to Grant Achatz's Bloody Mary at Trio in Chicago which is tomato confit, celery granita, horseradish cream, and cubes of Worcestershire gelée with a mist of vodka. If Laurent copied it at least he changed it to the Caesar I guess, but I'll give him credit for doing it himself for now since the concept is really not so far-fetched.

Edited by Chazzy (log)
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Sounds like a great meal. If you don't mind saying, about how much did they charge for the food? Also, that Bloody Caesar sounds awfully similar to Grant Achatz's Bloody Mary at Trio in Chicago which is tomato confit, celery granita, horseradish cream, and cubes of Worcestershire gelée with a mist of vodka.  If Laurent copied it at least he changed it to the Caesar I guess, but I'll give him credit for doing it himself for now since the concept is really not so far-fetched.

They charged us $75pp, which was an absolute bargain even before taking the exchange rate into consideration. The Bloody Caeser certainly was very similar to what you described with some minor variations.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Also, that Bloody Caesar sounds awfully similar to Grant Achatz's Bloody Mary at Trio in Chicago which is tomato confit, celery granita, horseradish cream, and cubes of Worcestershire gelée with a mist of vodka.  If Laurent copied it at least he changed it to the Caesar I guess, but I'll give him credit for doing it himself for now since the concept is really not so far-fetched.

Chef Godbout dinned at Trio in the late summer of the past year. It's all good. He was a nice guy.

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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One point I should probably emphasize is that the Bloody Caeser amuse was not one served routinely at the restaurant. It was served only to us as part of a meal in which I asked the Chef to make us whatever he wanted. I do not believe that it is something he serves on a regular basis. His usual amuse bouche is the tartare and sour cream ice cream cone, which apparently has roots with Thomas Keller. It is certainly not unusual for chefs to "borrow" ideas from each other (e.g. the now ubiquitous, but still delicious molten chocolate cake that I believe came from Jean-George). While Chef Godbout may borrow from time to time, it has been my experience that he has more than enough creativity of his own to "lend" ideas to other chefs as well. Borrowed or original, his food remains expertly crafted.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Chazzy,

What is it they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Unless its against the law, which I'm sure this is not, I see no reason why a chef should not be inspired by another chef's genius and treat his customers to it. Regardless of how many people have copied him, people know that Jean-Georges was the inspiration for the molten chocolate cake. Is this any different?

Porkpa

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Yes, but do you really think the people in Montreal being served that amuse are aware that it was "inspired" by Grant Achatz? When a chef works to create a unique experience for the patrons of their restaurant, it hardly seems fair for another chef to simply steal the idea and use it to garner his/her own critical acclaim when they contributed nothing to the dish's conception in the first place.

To me, it's like taking an artists painting, maybe adding a stroke or two, and resigning it with your own signature.

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Well first of all I don't really think Jean-Georges deserves the credit for inventing the molten chocolate cake, but that's another issue. I think, or at least would prefer to see, chefs imitate only basic ideas and techniques rather than complete recipes. Obviously this is a tough line to draw between imitating technique and imitating recipes, but look at other restaurants that serve cones as amuses (many these days) most fill them with something other than the tartar and creme fraiche that Keller is famous for. I don't have any problem with that at all, though Chef Achatz has said he personally wouldn't use a cornet, presumably because of his close relationship to Keller. In fact my feelings are best summed up by Chef Achatz's second response here.

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Pixel, I'm the fine dining critic for the Montreal Gazette. It's my job to be "in the loop" of my city's scene. :smile:

Chefs rip off each other dishes all the time. Especially young chefs who are still searching for their style. If a chef has worked for a famous chef and repeats that dish at a new restaurant, I don't mind because he learned it at the hand of the inventor. If Laurent had worked at Trio it wouldn't quite be the same would it?

But I recently reviewed Chez L'Epicier and I thought the food was very special and the tastes were interesting. I didn't see the bloody mary dish. I think he's at his best outside of such gimmicky dishes.

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There are two things that make Chez L'Epicier special to me. First and foremost, the food is well prepared and delicious. Second is the charm and wit with which the food is presented at each course. Does that mean that each dish is the absolute invention of the chef. Obviously not. Nevertheless the approach is presenting delicious food with a fun style. There are at least a couple of dishes that I see as "signature" dishes for Chez L'Epicier. As far as I know they are Chef Godbout's inventions. The first is his escargot Shepard's Pie. The second and particularly fun is his "Club Sandwich" dessert. This is a cake served looking literally like a club sandwich (but much more delicious :biggrin: ) with a side of "fries" (fried pineapple sticks) and "cole slaw" (shredded melon with if I remember correctly a vanilla sauce "mayonnaise"). If he occassionally borrows items to complement his style, I see nothing wrong with that. If everything was copied, the restaurant would still be good and worth going to since it is done well, but it wouldn't be quite as much fun as knowing you were eating the art of a creative master.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Michel Bras sounds like a restaurant I must get to, seeing how much I enjoy witty presentation :smile:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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There is no question in my mind that Chefs cannot "reinvent the wheel", the bases for experimentation then becomes solid technique and ingredient sourcing. When someone uses deconstruction as a tool, they have to insure that it doesn't become simply a different way to plate a dish.

Chefs also need to be aware that, eventually, certain trends become recognizable and can be associated with this or that Chef. It is a sign, maybe, that things have become formulaic. But isn't that how certain Carême, Escoffier, Dugléré even Bocuse dishes or techniques became part of the modern culinary lexicon. Only time will tell.

As far as working for a certain Chef legitimizing the use of their trade mark techniques or dishes, I wonder.

What is working for a Chef ? Does a short "stage" count, observation for a couple of weeks, 6 months, a year, two and so on. The claim to have been at the side of so and so does not guarantee a full comprehension of what was going on in said kitchen; it takes a very long time, in my humble opinion, to grasp what a Chef is trying to achieve, before they are willing to let go of their vision or direction. And only solid training and search for knowledge can assist anyone in reaching another level of culinary creativity.

Edited by chopper (log)

Michel

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Actually, the molten chocolate cake was ripped off from Michel Bras.

Dispite the fact that Michel Bras' was the inspiration for the molten chocolate cake, I believe his involved cooking a chocolate cake with a plug of frozen chocolate ganache inside that melted when cooked. That would make it somewhat distinct from the molten chocolate cakes I have eaten in Montreal. All of these involved a single batter that could be undercooked to give that molten centre. Is it still a rip-off? How far must an original dish evolve before it is a distinct creation?

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Hi Chewie, and welcome to eGullet! :smile:

Well I remember seeing Jean-Georges making the molten cake on Martha Stewart and he claimed, right there in front of millions, that he invented it. I think he also makes that claim in his book. The technique is different (and inferior I think) but the idea seems to have originated with Bras. I've also seen versions by Frederic Bau and Raymond Blanc using different techniques. But in the end, hey, it's a molten chocolate cake. Right now, it seems Bras did it first.

If any of these fellows would like to come on here to defend themselves, I'd be thrilled to hear their side of the molten chocolate cake fiasco. :biggrin:

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Hey Lesley, how do you feel about eating an undercooked cake? If i was to serve you an undercooked carrot you would probably be dissapointed and write it down in your column. So tell me where this thing got started. Are we really ready to ignore basic principles of cooking to be original? (note that i myself served the choc.cake at one moment)

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Guru--I won't try to speak for Lesley--but your point is very interesting. Most pastry chefs are starting to figure out that some chocolate items are better if they are under-cooked or under-heated--especially if you work with good chocolate. More of the inherent flavor and interest of the chocolate is retained because prolonged exposure to very high heat is damaging flavor-wise. And I neither use the Bras method (a coulant with ganache inserted into the cake batter) nor the Jean-Georges method (more like an underdone souffle--still baked for a long time, though--baked in a ramekin or tin and inverted to unmold). The Thomas Keller liquid center chocolate cake technique, which he demonstrated on the LA Times website, was similar to Bras.

What I use is the Philippe Conticini technique--which is the simple chocolate/butter/sugar/egg/flour brownie-like batter--but baked at very high heat (500) very quickly in an aluminum timbale mold to crisp the outside yet keep the inside creamy. In this case undercooked chocolate tastes better--more of the chocolate nature is retained--so that's gain #1 and when eaten in direct contrast to the cooked, firm exterior there's nice contrast--gain #2. I also don't invert it. So in this we're not ignoring basic principles of cooking by undercooking--but demonstrating we know what's inherently better for an ingredient--and how to treat that ingredient.

I would hope a critic and diner would keep an open mind about any carrot dish or preparation--and only question how it might have been prepared after first assessing how good it was--how well it imparted its flavors and its "carrotness." Guru--if you served an uncooked or undercooked carrot dish--say you found a way to rework carrot into a gelatin or cream or polenta or soft carrot couscous--the way Adria has created a cous cous dish of cauliflower--I wouldn't hold the fact that you undercooked the carrot as long as the flavor and the texture "worked."

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Aha! It depends how it is described on the menu. If this cake is called a mi-cuit or a coulant, it had better be half-cooked and runny.

You say your carrot is mi-cuit that's fine, but otherwise I'll think it's a mistake. I'm not wild about undercooked carrots. :wacko:

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One of the things I love about eGullet is that each thread develops a life of it's own. I started this thread with a report about dinner at Chez L'Epicier - a dinner I found very enjoyable. It then developed into a discussion on a particular dish I had and described, followed by a discussion of originality vs. copying a dish and now an education on a specific dish (molten chocolate cake) that wasn't even part of the original meal. I certainly could not have predicted the direction this thread has taken. I'm absolutely serious when I say that I love this. This really is a fun way to learn all about food in ways both expected and unexpected.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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