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Dinner at Raza


wattacetti
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So, should you go? Yes! Most certainly. Run, don’t walk.

Four of us went for dinner last Friday, a little over five weeks after their opening. Raza itself is an elegant understated 24 seat space, with tables running along each side of the room. Pressed white tablecloths, white linens, white plates, and nice stemware and glassware; we kept playing with the interesting butter knives. There is a bar on the left side, and a comfortable reading area just before the kitchen entry where you can either watch Chef Mario Navarrete Jr. through the French doors to the kitchen, or have some quiet time running through the recipe books that are on hand. The front room is manned by co-owner David Neilsen, who provides service in English, French, Spanish and Italian (he doesn’t speak Latin, so you can’t do that Dan Quayle joke). The music is hip, complements the experience and is supplied in a really cool way.

When it came to ordering, we elected to go with the Menú degustación 6 platos (two with wine, and two without) because it really is the easiest way to run through the menu and see what Raza’s all about. Actually, we sprang for an unadvertised option, which adds a seventh course (foie gras, $10 extra). The wines served as part of the tasting menu include Errazuriz’s 2004 Fumé Blanc, Rothschild’s 2002 Escudo Rojo, and Cockburn’s Special Reserve port (more on wine later). There is some serious cooking here, with lots of foams, bright flavors, and plenty of clean visual appeal.

Raza’s bread is actually a bun made with sweet potato. It’s soft and moist, with a corn bread-like texture though there’s definitely a yeasty crumb. The danger with these things is that you can sit there and blissfully eat them until the cows come home without realizing that dinner’s about to start.

Sopa puree de zapallo, marshmallows de canela, aceite de trufas, emulsión de leche

The pumpkin soup came as an amuse-bouche in expresso cups. It’s a nice way to start off the meal; this is a hearty little pumpkin puree enhanced with truffle essence and cinnamon, but my main thought was “wow – he makes his own marshmallows”.

Tiradito de striped bass cocido en jugo de limon tropical, rocoto, shooter de leche de tigre con espuma de cilantro

My understanding of tiradito is that it’s a style of ceviche where the fish is cut very thinly (or flattened) so that it cooks more quickly in citrus; there are also no onions. The striped bass tiradito at Raza is cooked in key lime juice and served alongside a quenelle of mashed sweet potato that balances the acidity of the fish. Leche de tigre is the citrus that the fish is prepared in, and it’s served shooter-style topped off with a coriander foam. Don’t bother with the wine while eating this: the leche de tigre pretty much blows it away.

Pepitas suaves cubiertas con huancaína y ocopa, zanahorias orgánicas salteadas

These are a dressed-up version of a Peruvian cold potato dish. Raza’s version has balls of mashed potato topped with huancaína, a ají amarillo chile and cheese sauce, and ocopa, a peanut and cheese sauce. It’s a nice refresher after the tiradito; there is a substance to the dish, and the flavors have an earthier feel to them. The Fumé Blanc does not work with the huancaína, as you get an odd muddy flavor but it does pair very well with the ocopa.

Arepas de pescado con mojo criollo, tomates cerezas y mousseline de panais

It’s a sort-of fish croquette served with parsnip mousse and a mojo criollo. The fish is moist and delicately flavored, and the whole is enhanced with the mojo. A definite winner with the Fumé Blanc.

Vieras selladas, copo de camote, caviar tobiko, mousseline de alverjitas y salsa de mirasol

This is a nicely-seared scallop topped with sweet potato flakes and tobiko served with pea mousseline. The mirasol provided a nice bite to the sweetness of the scallop.

Empanada de foie gras, cerdo y chutney de manzana, reducción de maíz morado

I personally prefer to have my foie gras as a torchon and rarely order any of the seared ones found on local menus. Raza’s foie is served in a flaky empanada with a pork and apple filling and an arugula salad dressed with a purple corn reduction. It’s really good; the apple pairs well with and controls the richness of the foie, and the acidity and bite of the arugula and purple corn reduction tone down the sweetness of the apple. As a $10 addition to the tasting menu, it’s a steal. The Fumé Blanc is somewhat too light for this empanada, but did not detract from it.

Codorniz rostizada rellena de pan de maíz envuelta en prochuto, barbecue de guava y quinua salteada

This is a prosciutto-wrapped quail breast and leg served atop a guava-based barbecue sauce. The leg looked a little weird sitting on its own, but the breast was moist and had good flavor. Quinoa has been popping up at local restaurants recently (Marc Vezina’s been using it at La Gaudriole) but I haven’t quite made up my mind as to whether I like the stuff. The muscular Escudo Rojo seems like an odd pairing for quail, but it works well with guava in the barbecue sauce.

We were served a purple corn sorbet with blood orange segments to get us ready for. It’s got a purple Fruit Loops thing going for it, but the blood oranges keep that under control. A nice palate cleanser, though not necessarily always available.

Ravioles de chocolate rellenos de chutney de platano, helado de manjar blanco y almendras en caramelo

Really good ice cream! I’m not a big dessert fan, and I personally don’t like cooked bananas all that much, but this was a different experience. The banana chutney is encased in crisp chocolate ravioli and the sweetness comes from the ice cream.

I said I’d have a word about the wine list so here it is: it’s short. Three whites, five reds, two sparklers and two dessert wines. However, if you concentrate solely on the numeric count, you’re missing the point – David and Mario are trying to do focus on Latin wines (all the reds and whites come out of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) in support of Raza’s concept. Sort of defeats the purpose by stocking the list with French, Australian and Italian bottles for the sole purpose of increasing the list size, though a nice Albariño could be interesting. Though short, what Raza offers is a selection of approachable bottles that are fairly priced and which generally pair well with the menu. I think it’s a commendable effort and also quite the challenge, especially in light of the slim pickings on quality South American labels offered by the SAQ (even I have more South American selections in my personal cellar than the SAQ does).

So that’s the food and that’s the wine: how about service. The evening started out quietly enough, but there was quite a bit of walk-up crowd as the evening progressed. We weren’t crowded; everyone was spaced evenly throughout the room, and there was no sense of being hurried. Plates arrived in a timely manner, and service remained attentive though unobtrusive.

I had the opportunity to speak with David and Mario about their thoughts on what they’re offering to the Montreal dining scene: it is “French cuisine with a Nuevo Latino twist”. The kitchen influences are mostly Peruvian (e.g. ingredients, saucing) but Mario also pulls from other countries for inspiration. This is different from what David Ferguson is doing at Le Jolifou, which is to fuse French with Mexican influences. I have been to Le Jolifou and it merits the praise it’s received but for me, Raza’s approach on food is somewhat more harmonious: the South American concepts and ingredients mesh better with French style and there were no jarring flavor pairing, which I did find with the Mexican approach.

So, would I go back? Most certainly.

Edited by wattacetti (log)
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Raza is light and tasty

i had dinner at Raza last night. it was everything the review by wattacetti suggested - light, nouveau, fresh and harmonious flavours, and lovely presentation. the main complaint from some at the table was the portion size: we didn't opt for the tasting menu and instead ordered a more traditional one appy, one entree format, a meal which certainly was on the small side. having written that, i'm not sure what stopped us from ordering more... i will definitely go back and try the tasting menu to get a chance to try everything.

on a side note, it was very, very, very quiet when we went. it was a wednesday night, but still, it was, um, noticeable. i guess that's what happens when one eats ahead of the trend... i'm sure word will get out soon enough and it will fill up.

Le Jolifou and Raza are definitely the most interesting and tasty places i've been to in some time.

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I actually didn't look at the menu as a traditional entrée/plat principal/dessert setup because at first glance, it reads and is priced more like a small plate format (the most expensive item on the menu is the foie gras empanada). La Montée de Lait hovers around a similar price range as well, but does go out of its way to say 4 choices for $40.

If we hadn't gone for the tasting menu, I would have picked four items: tiradito, scallop, quail, lamb (like I said, not a big dessert type).

I had thought our Friday was going to be pretty quiet too (we had reserved for 6:15), and it was… for about an hour. Then the room started filling (walk-ups?).

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So, I took my own advice and went back for dinner at Raza yesterday. Being lazy, it was the Menú degustación 6 platos with the foie gras option again, but without wine service since the next day (today) is still a work day. I did order a half bottle of the De Martino Cabernet Sauvignon, which turned out to be a nice surprise: blackberry and oak, with soft tannins. It’s served decanted.

So, what’s changed from the two weeks since the last meal? Some interesting tuning has gone on, including a modified sweet potato bread which has a more pronounced sweet potato flavor but has changed in texture to be more like a soft bread and less like a corn bread.

Quail

Dinner started off with the quail, but this wasn’t the same preparation that’s listed on the menu. Yes, it’s a guava barbecue sauce, but it’s not as sweet and it’s smoother in texture. The quail was actually two legs made into confit (!) of all things and served with chunks of warm guava. The little legs were quite tender and only gave a slight saltiness after the bite was almost gone. The guava chunks have a slight acidity which ties the sauce and the bird together.

Definitely a way for Mario Navarrete to start off the tasting menu off with a bang.

Arepas de pescado con mojo criollo, tomates cerezas y mousseline de panais

Two small but interesting changes: the hake croquette has a crisp crust that’s not crunchy this time, and the roasted cherry tomato has more liquid and tomato-ey goodness than the grape tomato from the last round. The change in the tomato brings out a nice contrast to the parsnips and the mojo criollo.

Tiradito de striped bass cocido en jugo de limon tropical, rocoto, shooter de leche de tigre con espuma de cilantro

The tiradito looked the same but was significantly changed; the cooking liquid is not as acid which did a couple of things: it brings out a very nice taste in the striped bass and gives it a tataki-like consistency when eating it. As well, the leche de tigre is similarly modified: the coriander foam is less pronounced in coriander, the citrus is toned down, and Mario has added the little chunks of échallotes and chiles. In whole, the shooter now has an element of texture and a more harmonious depth of flavor.

Pepitas suaves cubiertas con huancaína y ocopa, zanahorias orgánicas salteadas

The accompaniments to the potatoes changed; served with the organic carrot were red cabbage sprouts dusted with a bit of fleur de sel and carrot powder and a sautéed organic yellow carrot. The sprouts are interesting; they’re slightly peppery and have a tiny ephemeral crunch. Oddly enough, the De Martino does not pair at all with the ocopa, as the fruitiness is completely gone and replaced by an asparagus flavor; the huancaína is better with this wine, which is the exact reverse of my impressions when first eating this dish with a Fumé Blanc.

Vieras selladas, copo de camote, caviar tobiko, mousseline de alverjitas y salsa de mirasol

Another nicely-seared scallop (mmm…). The pea mousseline is slightly chunky, which gives it a more toothsome texture that made it somewhat fun to eat with the tobiko.

Empanada de foie gras, cerdo y chutney de manzana, reducción de maíz morado

The empanada came on a bed of arugula and jicama salad, which had that bitter and crunchy apple mix to it. The interesting thing was having a glass of the late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc along with the empanada. The wine itself has a very floral bouquet similar to Gewurtztraminer, with hints of fruits and honey. This goes really well with the foie; the sweetness of the wine controls the richness of the foie, but the fruit element of its flavor pairs with the apple in the empanada.

Guiso de cordero con cilantro y cerveza, cassoulet de frijoles canario, naranja rallado, aciete de limon

My first time with the lamb: it’s a meltingly soft piece of shank that has a nice flavor coming from its beer marinade. The dish was not served with the cassoulet, but had quinoa instead. The quinoa soaked up some of the sauce and is much more palatable as a grain this way. A great winter dish that’s become less heavy just by switching out the beans.

Ravioles de chocolate rellenos de chutney de platano, helado de manjar blanco y almendras en caramelo

That really is a good praline ice cream. The ravioli was fluffier than before, which made it feel less heavy and paired better with the ice cream.

There was a banana and chocolate ice cream served afterwards that really threw me: it’s mauve under the lighting. The color had me thinking purple Fruit Loops again but the taste was anything but. All in all, a nice way to tie into the banana ravioli.

Thoughts about the meal? Looks very similar on paper to the first time around, but the flavor says otherwise. Those tiny little touches have brought in new elements to each dish which definitely ensured that it wasn’t a carbon copy of the first meal. Good stuff here.

If you’re interested in trying this menu, I would suggest running and not walking. Mario and David mentioned that the menu will soon undergo a refresh to run in line with the change to spring and the seasonality they want in their food. Definitely worth looking forward to.

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My first post!

I also have had the opportunity to eat dinner at Raza and I can say with honesty that this is a really good eatery. Mario and David have really put together something that is tasty and I think worth the effort to try.

About the restaurant, while at first glance it may seem somewhat understated, Mario and David have laid out a space that is simple, spartan and cozy. You will find latino music playing in the background and a couple of images that really add to the ambience. By their own admission they plan to add a little more decor and I am interested to see what they intend to do with their terasse in the spring/summer as they couldn't do anything in the cold of winter.

about the wines:

I'm not much of a wine drinker so I can't comment on it like Wattacetti did. That being said everything about the wines being from South America is true. They did mention that they might try for a Spanish or Californian addition in the future but overall they will stick with a Latin American influence.

food:

I was also able to sample the tasting menu (with the extra 10 dollar option) and I was very impressed. The menu was almost identical to Wattacetti's first experience so I won't really comment on every item. I will say that I loved everything but most especially:

Tiradito and tiger milk shooter: The lime flavour with the fish was really outstanding and added with the very cool tiger milk shooter, it was a winner.

Fish arepas: smelled wonderful, tasted wonderful and mixed with the flavour of the mousseline was simply outstanding.

Foie gras empanada: when I saw this on the menu my eyes bugged out. Empanada with foie gras? I've got to try it. Probably my favourite dish there although it is almost unto a meal in itself with the foie gras richness.

Chocolate raviolis (stuffed with banana chutney) and praline ice cream: Not everyone is a fan of dessert. Thankfully I am. A really nice dessert. Plus the ice cream is just awesome (especially with the pralines in them).

All in all, I really enjoyed myself here. The tasting menu as said is a really good way to sample what they are aiming for at this restaurant and from what I understand Mario will sometimes try new things with it that are not on the menu so you may be surprised. Mario and David are also both splendid people to talk to if you get the chance and it's not too busy.

Edited by larkhess (log)
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  • 2 months later...

Navarette and Nielsen have not been standing still and have made a couple of updates.

For those who enjoy al fresco dining, their terrace is now open, with seating for 6 (3 tables) available.

There are also some changes to the menu, as part of a seasonal update; MIA are the following three dishes:

Sopa puree de zapallo, marshmallows de canela, aceite de trufas, emulsión de leche

The pumpkin soup has been replaced by a more season-appropriate cold cream of corn soup served with fresh cheese and a fava bean salad. Great taste of corn, chicken stock and cream with the fava beans and tomato brunoise adding a nice counterpoint.

Guiso de cordero con cilantro y cerveza, cassoulet de frijoles canario, naranja rallado, aciete de limon

The lamb went bye-bye because it was (as Mario explained) something more wintery in his mind. One will now find a beef filet mignon served with trieo (yellow wheat), enoki mushrooms, mini-ratatouille and a panca pepper sauce. This was a just an overall nice steak dish with good balance in flavors.

Ravioles de chocolate rellenos de chutney de platano, helado de manjar blanco y almendras en caramelo

The ravioli have left the building. In their stead is a chocolate banana custard cake served with caramelized banana, almond praline, mirasol ice cream (just slightly spicy!) and a milk emulsion. Larkhess - you'll like this a lot.

The big surprise

There is a SECOND dessert available as of yesterday (I went on Wednesday and missed out on the launch). I don't have any solid details but I do know that it's innovative.

Tasting menu still seems to be the best way to go: we were fortunate enough to have an amuse-bouche of a small salad of roasted pineapple marinated in star anise and cinnamon served with arugula, carrot and jicama. This was just a really interesting interplay of flavor: if you luck out and have an opportunity to try this, I think you should keep the following word in mind: duck.

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Though it's not something I'd go out of my way to order, I'm going to see about going back this week to check out the second dessert (scheduling conflicts and the Grand Prix may make that somewhat difficult). I am very curious because it's actually described as a "surprise" and it apparently doesn't involve chocolate so I want to see what Mario pulls out of his hat.

There is a cocktail now available for those who want it (they did have martinis earlier in the year) and there will be something with pisco coming along shortly afterwards. I didn't order the cocktail so I don't really know what it is.

Their wine list however is under development for expansion so it will really be a matter of when rather than if. David's already accommodated a request I made at an earlier planned dinner to have some top-end Argentine and Chilean bottles so I think it'll all be good.

By the way, Pesce's terrace looks about the same size (about 3 tables) but they're using black leather(ette) tablecloths. So, three small terraces in the city. The rest of you can have my spot on the deck - I don't enjoy eating in the blazing sun.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Can someone help me out here? We're from Pennsylvania; our French is very weak, and Spanish non-existent. We love different restaurants, and Raza certainly seems to fit the bill, but we have some dietary limitations. I don't eat pork products, and I can't handle spicey food (although my wife can eat it as hot as they can make it).

Can Raza accommodate our limitations? Could we order the degustación, pass on our limitations to the waiter, and expect that the kitchen could comply, or do our limitations rule out this interesting restaurant?

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Can someone help me out here?  We're from Pennsylvania; our French is very weak, and Spanish non-existent.  We love different restaurants, and Raza certainly seems to fit the bill, but we have some dietary limitations.  I don't eat pork products, and I can't handle spicey food (although my wife can eat it as hot as they can make it). 

Can Raza accommodate our limitations?  Could we order the degustación, pass on our limitations to the waiter, and expect that the kitchen could comply, or do our limitations rule out this interesting restaurant?

The food that they serve isn't really that spicy. from that front you should be fine. You will want to avoid the fois-gras empanada and the quail since the chef incorporates pork into those dishes (pork in the empanada, prosciutto around the quail). Outside of that I think everything should be fine. However, let the waiter know your restrictions. They will be able to accomodate your restrictions in the degustacion accordingly.

Best of luck!

larkhess

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Made our visit on Saturday night to an almost empty restaurant. The meal was great, and I really can't add much more than that pointed out above. I had the beef filet, which was tender, done the way I like it, and very tasty. The chef came out to our table to talk to us which I thought was nice (ok, it was a quiet night, but nice non the less). I just can't understand why they were so empty on a Saturday. We got there at 7:00 which I know is early for Montreal, but even when we left, we were one of three tables. What gives?

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maybe it was the bad weather ?

Yes ...it was the bad weather...(all last week)...dont forget Raza is been open for 4 mounths and 2 weeks.....

remember Anise, Bronte...took more than few months to have their people....I belive in Raza , in the food..., services , wines...location so far people are happy ...thats the more important thing for me.

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QUOTE(identifiler @ Jun 6 2005, 08:50 PM)

hahahaha this thread is kind of funny in a way...

and what kind of way would that be?

Lesley's reply made me laugh. Rightly, so by the way. I also say WOW.

The crowd is not just a weather thing (let's get serious here... since when weather was a Montreal show stopper....)

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Lesley's reply made me laugh. Rightly, so by the way. I also say WOW.

The crowd is not just a weather thing (let's get serious here... since when weather was a Montreal show stopper....)

Well, nice to see that the thread is deemed entertaining. :laugh:

I'm not so sure about the weather: new places do depend a lot on walk-up (that, a good product and word-of-mouth).

By the way the second dessert is a pineapple surprise served with caramel, avocado ice cream and a "ceviche of blood orange zest". It looks like a cube of agedashi-tofu with toppings on it, but the phyllo box is filled with roasted pineapple suspended in pastry cream. Pretty good and an interesting departure from the chocolate/banana combo found in the previous offerings. I personally don't do well with sugar (my pancreas was begging for mercy) but dessert fanciers should be all over the cube.

Could someone give me some idea of where this place is located?

Right across the street from La Chronique, and couple of doors west of Anise. Closest cross-street is St-Urbain.

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I agree, this is one funny thread. Hats off to those plugging this restaurant, but you are starting to look a little desperate. Empty on a Saturday night? Doesn't sound to me like people are happy.

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