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La Chronique

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Over the past two years, and especially over the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to try as many of this city’s culinary treasures as possible. After all, leaving Montreal without gaining some sort of understanding of its culinary culture is nearly a crime. So, this past Wednesday my girlfriend and I paid my first visit to La Chronique, the final restaurant on my ‘must try’ list.

La Chronique is perhaps the most uncontroversial of Montreal’s top restaurants. Even the mighty Toque! went through a period of fairly harsh criticism and I’ve seen Anise skewered on numerous occasions. La Chronique appears to only meet with praise. This could be for one of two reasons: either the restaurant is consistently great or it is unchallenging, appealing to all palates without reaching for higher heights. To make my visit more interesting, in celebration of Poisson d’Avril, every year Chef Marc de Canck turns La Chronique in Montreal’s own La Bernardin; the tasting menu is composed entirely of fish and sea related dishes.

The room itself is elegant but unspectacular. Easily the smallest high-end restaurant I’ve ever visited, the dining room seats no more the thirty or thirty-five guests. Peeking into the back, the kitchen is nearly as large as the main room. The walls are red and adorned with photos mostly of people reading. We began the meal with drinks, an especially nice house kir royale, and ordered the degustation with the less expensive set of wine pairings ($145 vs. $195 per head).

The “mise en bouch” came promptly, consisting of a fairly large strip of marinated salmon accompanied with an avocado and green apple mouse, garnished slightly with basil oil. A perfect amuse, it livened the palate with the acidity of the marinade and green apple cutting through the butteriness of the salmon and avocado flavours. It also set the tone for the rest of the meal. The focus of each was to very much be on the flavours of one or two ingredients, subtly accented by accompaniments.

From there, we moved on to what I thought was one of the more interesting dishes on the menu: smoked scallops served over a salad of tomato confite, buffalo mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar. While the smoked scallop peaked my curiosity, the buffalo mozzarella salad is probably the most staid idea in dining next to the crème brulee. I should have had more faith. The smoked scallop was served over the tomato, mozzarella, and, the key to the entire dish, a balsamic jelly. While the mozzarella was the best I’ve ever had, the intensity of the balsamic jelly acted in counterpoint to the smokiness of the scallop. Similarly, the tomato confite was really concentrated in flavour. The scallop had all the sweetness of a scallop but also a lovely smoky flavour. Be rearranging the typical ingredients, La Chronique elevated a tired dish into something fresh, new, and powerful.

The next course was flounder, with a sort of garlic puree, served over a bouillon of bouillabaisse. This was probably the least impressive dish of the meal. The broth itself was little better than that from other fish soups I’ve had in Montreal. Although the garlic added an interesting pungency, the fish was slightly overcooked and the skin, from being submerged in the broth, was no longer crispy. The star of the course was the Riesling that played off nicely with the garlicky elements of the dish.

Trout flambéed in whisky, served over a risotto of barley and radicchio and covered in a whisky cream sauce was next. It was stunning. I’m tempted to call this the single best fish course I’ve had in the city. The only comparable one was the poached salmon over fennel and green apple at CC&P. The trout was cooked to an absolutely perfect degree. It was moist, soft, and barely warm in the middle. Similarly, the barley risotto had the perfect al dente pop and risotto creaminess. The sauce itself was pure luxury: rich and creamy with just a hint of whisky. Even the slight bitterness of the radicchio was apparent. What made the course special was the classical nature of the preparation and saucing combined with the relative minimalism of the ingredients. Everything was clear, distinct and articulated its own flavour. Bravo.

The main dish was a grilled tuna served with a vinaigrette of grilled vegetables. While the course played homage to the typical grilled beef and grilled vegetables that we all make in our backyards, it failed to attain the heights of earlier dishes. Although still raw in the middle, the tuna was slightly overdone for my tastes and the composition lacked the wow factor that the previous course had.

The cheese service featured a delicious camembert which was served with a brandade de morue, a salt cod and garlic puree. It was very good. Desert was an apricot tart, spiced vanilla ice cream, and seared foie gras. Yes, foie gras for desert. It was a brilliant idea. The richness and needed sweet counterpoint make foie a logical desert ingredient. The foie itself was about as good as anywhere else in the city, except for Toque! where the quality of the liver is worlds above. The apricot tart was good, although I felt it was a little too sweet. Still, excellent.

Chef de Canck has an interesting style; not nearly as modern as other restaurants in the city but is by no means classical. Precision, clarity, focus and seasonality are the strengths of this restaurant. His dishes centre around only one or two main ingredients, thereby articulating the freshness and quality of the products themselves. There is very little manipulation of the raw ingredients, instead they are cooked with exactness. This accentuates small flaws, like the slight overcooking of two of the courses. Similarly, flavours are clear and distinct, meaning that if anything is substandard it will show. The balance must be perfect every time. When executed as planned the results are superlative, as with the trout. Luckily, La Chronique makes very few errors. This gives the restaurant a sort of timelessness; where other restaurants in the city will have to evolve, Chronique never will. This is not a bad thing. People will always want to eat great ingredients immaculately prepared. Thus, perhaps the chronicle referenced is not a chronicle of the times, but a chronicle of the seasons. Indeed, La Chronique is not why Montreal is a hot food city right now, the non-faddish nature of its cooking is why Montreal will always be a great food city.

Edited by Adrian3891 (log)
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I'm happy to see a thread on La Chronique, a restaurant that really can astound with its bold use of ingredients.

My main comment about that review is the bit about the restaurant not having to evolve. Funny thing is, it has evolved tremendously. I can still remember the early days when de Canck was making dishes similar to what was being served in high end hotels at the time and dessert trios decorated with a squiggle of hard caramel. The thing that always strikes me when I dine there is how much the restaurant has evolved over the year, from rather ordinary to pretty extraordinary, I think.

I remember a well-known food writer from Toronto telling me she thought La Chronique was not that hot. All I could think was, no lady, La Chronique is a great restaurant. You just didn't get it.

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LC - maybe she had the same impression as me

whats the big deal?!

we have to be a bit more careful with the phrase 'great restaurant'

certainly it do not have the consistentcy of LE BERNARDIN and for sure there is not the same genius at work

to make a fish tasting menu is to be able to make a perfect fish each time which is very hard

even for the michelin stars in france

i will say that i had some of the best dessert in montreal there and also a good wine list

and the room itself is special and intimate and basic strait forward - very montreal

i do not remember the tasting menu of $195, but if they pour GREAT wines then maybe this is ok

Edited by Vinfidel (log)
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La Chronique is one of my favorite.

A serious contender for the best in Montreal!

Vinfidel, Le Bernadin for fish is in a class of it's own. I have a reservation at Bernadin again for May 19th. Philippe from Club Chasse et Pêche is coming with me.

Did you see our wine web-site Vinfidel?

Edited by jfl91 (log)
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no i did not see it. is this the wine series with superstars with Club Chasse? Who is coming next

please share the link

good luck with bernardin; i did not eat there in some time but when i worked in nyc this was the place for special occasions. i feel lucky to have attended a montrachet tasting in the salon upstairs with a special menu of very simple dishes prepared by eric

with all these good things about la chronique and with the warm weather now i will book a lunch soon and try the fish tasting

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Just to quickly respond:

Lesley, I think you slightly misunderstand me when I say that the restaurant does not need to evolve. I'm in no position to judge how the restaurant has changed over the years, I've only been once. It seems to me that, unlike Toque! which is a very modern restaurant, La Chronique has reached a place where its food is served in a very timeless way. The style of cooking at La Chronique works as well in 2006 as it would have in 1986 or will in 2026. Contrast that with some of the dishes at Toque!, which I do think is serving the best food in the city, which I don't believe will be as exciting as they are now in five or ten years time. Toque! is a restaurant that must be constantly evolving where Chronique is a place that can always serve food in the style it does now.

Vinfidel, I didn't mean to say La Chronique was on the level of Le Bernardin. I have sadly never been to Le Bernardin. All I meant to say is that every April Chronique does something like Le Bernardin does; it makes fish the focus of its entire set menu. I did not mean to insinuate that Chronique is operating on the level of a multistarred, seafood-focused restaurant. Either way, it was a really fun menu to experience.

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Over the past two years, and especially over the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to try as many of this city’s culinary treasures as possible. 

I love this... What a great and fun idea...a mission, a purpose in live, going to as many good restaurant as possible...Can we expect the same kind of lenghty reviews about the other restaurants on your list? :biggrin:

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Vinfidel, thewineaddict.com

The 2 previous times I was at Le Bernardin, it was just fabulous.

And not crazy expensive like Per Se or Ducasse.

cool i will check it

btw i the last few times i eat at DUCASSE was during the essex house reno

it was not expensive in fact discount

during this time ducasse was fixing the menu

also our friends for DUBAI bought essex house to make it jumeirah

the room was amazing and the food intense and beautiful

good luck on your new site!

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Adrian3981, thanks for this thread! We were in Montreal for Easter weekend, and had the same menu as you describe. On the whole, I agree with your assessment of the dishes (we found the scallops to be the highlight of the evening). Personally, though, by the time dessert came, I was not looking for something as rich as foie gras. Although very well done, it was too much for me, so my wife had a double-dose of foie for dessert! (Not that she was complaining... :laugh: )

We did opt for the more expensive degustation. I don't know that I would again; maybe I'm just not knowledgeable enough about wines to appreciate the difference.

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