Before I travel to a new city, I tend to get obsessed with reading about where to go, what to do, and where to eat. Learning everything I can about a new place is part of the fun of traveling. But when researching restaurants in Montreal, I ran into a bit of a roadblock: in a city so focused on food, there were supposedly great restaurants all over the place. Overwhelmed with choices, I contacted the author of the Montreal-based food blog, Will Travel for Food, Mayssam, and asked for her recommendation of the best, most Montreal-ian restaurant. Her answer was Les 400 Coups.
|The minimalistic storefront of Les 400 Coups.|
Les 400 Coups is a small restaurant located in Old Montreal (see my post on exploring the historical architecture here). The interior is dark but cozy, with a nice bar and high ceilings. I sat at the mirror-lined bar so I could people-watch without being noticed and hopefully talk with some locals. (Ironically, the man sitting next to me was from Seattle! But the bartender provided some fun, Montreal-based conversations.)
Without much hesitation, I ordered the five-course tasting menu ($70 CAD). It seemed like a no-brainer as soon as I read that the format would be two appetizers, one main course, and two desserts. Every time Les 400 Coups is mentioned, either in conversation or written online, their amazing desserts are mentioned, so I thought the courses were perfect. I also went with the optional wine pairing (an additional $40 CAD).
I’m not usually a lobster fan, but this is an example of why tasting menus are so great: I never would have ordered this dish but it was amazing. Pieces of juicy lobster surrounded creamy Shitake mushrooms, topped with tiny apple cubes and crispy chicken skin (flaked to look like bacon bits) that added a tart and salty crunch to each bite. Overall, created a wonderful mouth-feel, especially when balanced with the acidicness of the wine.
A well-balanced fish dish, with all the right flavors: salty fish, sweet mashed potatoes, umami pancetta, bitter brussel sprouts and slightly sour mushrooms. The wine encouraged the mineralness of the fish, adding complexity. A light course that wasn’t trying too hard.
Beets and crispy pork, along with the wine, gave the whole course an overall sweetness that was awesome. The bits of greens added tiny bits of texture without taking away from the main stars. This one was the king of the courses for the night.
Already transitions into the sweets, this mid-dinner course was the perfect segue: soothing and subtle, discretely sweet and calming, with a slight amount of tartness to keep your tongue’s interests piqued.
Simply put, this dish was incredible. Thai basil was served in three different forms: a dried, hard sponge-like cake, in a puddle of crunchy seeds and au naturale in leaf form. The basil flavors were polarized on the other side of the spectrum with incredibly tart strawberry sorbet and sliced strawberries, while lime curd created the dish’s base, connecting all the flavors together. The sparkling wine mimicked the fizziness of the traditional coupling of strawberries and Champagne; an example of a perfect wine pairing. The mixture of textures and flavors was like a dance in my mouth. It was obvious why Les 400 Coups is famous for their sweets.
While there was only suppose to be five courses, the chef sent out another dessert, not only because of the restaurant’s reputation but because apparently they usually give couples two desserts–the basil dish to the women and the chocolate dish for the men. Since I was alone, the waiter explained, I got both. No complaints on my end! The chocolate was rich, contrasted with the expectedly tart lime sorbet, and rounded out by the almond butter and caramelized coco nibs. A little predictable, but delicious nonetheless.
The tasting menu at Les 400 Coups was my first sit-down meal in Montreal and the city was already living up to its hype as a foodie town. I left the restaurant satisfied in more ways than one. As I strolled back to my hotel through the city’s historical streets, I was on a high. It could have been the wine, it could have been the amazing meal, or it could have been the beautiful city, I wasn’t quite sure. Whatever it was, it was a wonderful feeling and I couldn’t wait to explore more.