ON BEING SURPRISED

You know, I actually had a really great Valentine’s Day! It’s not a holiday that I usually make a fuss about, but this year, the day was thoroughly magical. Lunchtime was my responsibility, and my surprise…

Of course, I made roast chicken. If there ever was a dish that more signified love, happiness, family, and contentment, I don’t know it.

I kept it very simple and tucked sage leaves underneath the skin prior to roasting, and provided plenty of lemon wedges and flaky salt for dressing afterward.

I served the chicken with a fresh, wholesome couscous salad, which contained red onion, diced zucchini, plump golden raisins, toasted walnuts, minced parsley, garlic and turmeric.

But as delicious as it was, I had no idea what was in store for me later that night. I was given one hint about our mystery dinner date: onion rings. I was told to wear my beloved necklace, and that was it…

We took a short cab ride to Mont-Royal and Parc and arrived at Le Filet, the brand new, long-awaited fish and seafood restaurant opened by the team at iconic Montreal restaurant, Club chasse et pêche! And, lest I bury my lede, let me say right now: this is currently the most exciting and romantic restaurant in Montreal.

The restaurant was less than two days old — it had opened specifically for Valentine’s Day weekend — and I spotted both Hubert Marsolais and Claude Pelletier on the floor, helping people and keeping an eye on things. The menu was flawless and extremely well-priced; we indulged by ordering as much as possible.

We started with two appetite-whetting bites: a plate of cool, smooth beets, blanketed in a translucent layer of creme fraiche and fresh marjoram; a scoop of tender mackerel rillettes and matchsticks of apple on sesame crackers. Both were simple, unassuming, and braced us for what was to come.

Knowing the kitchen’s strengths were seafood preparation, we were urged to try a few trios of oysters. We opted for three Kumamotos (my favorite, shipped all the way from Washington) and three Raspberry Points (a briny P.E.I. specialty).

We decided to leave the dressing choices up to the chef, and they soon arrived ‘miso gratin’ and ‘bloody mary’ style. I definitely prefer to eat my oysters raw, ice cold, and with a shot of eye-opening sea water; these flash-cooked oysters were a luxurious deviation, but ultimately all I really need is hot sauce, horseradish, and a teaspoon of mignonette.

We started our meal with champagne, but then we moved onto the real stuff: 2005 Simon Bize & Files Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains. Holy cow. Adam would like to chime in at this point and say that even better than the 2005 white Burgundy was the 2009 Régnié we had by Guy Breton. He’s right. It was magnificent, but sadly I didn’t get a photo. (It’s worth noting that their concise wine list is remarkably well-priced, as well).

We chose one fish dish each, even though I wanted to order everything (the next time, we are ordering the lobster and sweetbreads). Ultimately, I went with the Omble de Gaspé (char), served on a bed of sorrel, clams, tender navy beans, and tomato. The fish was supple, warm and light, the beans firm and creamy.

We both agreed that this was the most incredible thing we had all night: a golden filet of crispy black cod, served atop a smooth celeryroot purée, carrots, and chorizo “croutons.” This dish represents why I go out to restaurants. We’ve tried to make fish this crispy at home, and it has never worked. I’ve tried dredging in flour, I’ve tried an extra-hot pan, I’ve tried the broiler. I’ve tried butter, oil, non-stick pans. But I will never make fish this properly cooked at home. Ever.

We also knew we had to order the seared scallop, which arrived with the same crispy, caramelized, burnt edges as the black cod, while its core was almost perfectly raw and translucent. How do they do it?

The giant scallop was so superlative, I nearly neglected the lovely pork shank, braised until meltingly tender, and served over a mousseline-style polenta.

Though we were both keen to focus on seafood, I also wanted to try the escargot tartelette, which was soaked in garlicky, parsley-flecked butter. The snails were luscious, comforting and rich, though I could have gone without the disc of heavy puff pastry.

But my favorite part of the meal — which I alluded to at the beginning of this monstrous post — was the onion rings, which my bf somehow knew in advance were quite special. He was right. Le Filet makes, quite simply, the best onion ring I have ever eaten. Who knew an onion ring could taste so complex? These were leaping off of the plate with abundant umami, with faint notes of sour and tang (we surmised from buttermilk in the batter), sweetness from the onions, and plenty of salt from the crunchy coating. They were faultless, and so transcendent in flavor and texture that no dipping sauces were needed. I was very happy, indeed…

During my brief time in Montreal, I’ve grown accustomed to the decadent aesthetic of the over-the-top, meat-heavy, and sloppily-presented meals pioneered by chefs at Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef. But the impeccable technique, restraint, intimacy, care and romance imparted to all of the food at Le Filet was inspiring and seductive — we can’t wait to return.

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3 responses to “ON BEING SURPRISED

  1. This is the restaurant secret to golden brown-

    pre-heat over to 350-
    in a hot but not too hot pan-stainless steel is grand-
    you’ve seasoned your cod with salt and peper-and then lightly dredged it in Wondra-and shaken off the excess
    add grapeseed oil 1 TBS –’til it smokes
    add the fish rough side down and immediately press it down-
    and leave it-don’t move it for 30 seconds-then with the finest kitchen tool the fish spatula, lightly move it and crisscross it where it was resting=-
    add a knob of butter and let it melt As the butter melts, tilt and pull the skillet toward you and start basting the fish, using the big spoon to pour the bubbling butter over the fish. Continue to bast constantly for 3-4 minutes.
    then flip the fish over and put it in the oven for 3 more minutes
    you’ll know when it’s done-

    • oooo awesome tip, love the butter-basting idea. need a fish spatula for sure. the ones i have all kind of wreck delicate flesh. will report back with (hopefully successful) results!

  2. Pingback: TRYING OUT GAME HENS | popcorn plays

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