Toque! Tasting Menu in Montreal

Many of the most memorable moments of my life have involved food and drinks in some form or another.  Whether it’s an intimate conversation over coffee, hysterical laughter between drinks, cooking a creative meal with someone or just having familiar comfort food at home, food has played a supporting role in a lot of my life.  Sharing a meal is one of my favorite ways to connect with someone.  But what about dining alone?
Toque rose wine
Toqué! rosé wine bottles hanging like chandeliers from the ceiling.

 

Whenever I am on vacation I like to splurge on an extravagant dinner.  Tasting menus are my favorite choice because it turns the evening into an entire adventure in itself.  (Good examples are Saison in San Francisco, Sho in New York City or Kichisen in Kyoto.)  For the culinary highlight of my Montréal trip, I decided to do a tasting menu at one of Canada’s best restaurants, Toqué!, whose chef was recently named the best in the country.  I went with the intention of exploring French food by myself and ended up meeting some great people.

Toque Tasting Menu Bread
Toqué bread basket and waiting-to-be-filled wine glass.

 

Toqué! is known for its creative dishes, specifically for combining surprising ingredients together in an elaborate presentation.  The restaurant focuses on fresh, local food inspired by French cuisine.  Diners can choose between the seven-course tasting menu ($110 CAD/person) or the a la carte menu.  The tasting menu is the better deal, as the dishes are a bit pricey.  Appetizers like foie gras terrine with cameline oil ice cream range from $19-25 CAD while the entrees, like suckling pig rack in an anis seed sauce with wild daisy and cauliflower purée, range from $42-48 CAD.  Two options are available for tasting menu wine pairings, each with five glasses each; “prestigious” for $110 CAD or “discovery” for $60 CAD.  (Or you can sort through a whole novel of wine options if you prefer to pick your own.)  I went with the tasting menu and the “discovery wine” pairing, which my server said he preferred.

It’s common for restaurants to sit solo dinners at the bar, which I usually despise because I feel like I’m on display.  But at Toqué, being at the bar ended up being one of the best parts of my meal.  I was able to ask the bartender questions on the food and even met a new friend.  So join me, as I take you through the incredible journey of the tasting menu at Toque!

 
Amuse Bouche :: Corn Mousse with melted butter.
Each spoonful started out light and airy, then became intensely salty, followed by an-almost-overwhelming corny taste.  I enjoyed it so much it made me giggle!  It was a great, simple introduction to the courses to follow.
Course #1 :: Scallops and apples, paired with a honey wine from Quebec.
The scallops were marinated in apple vinegar and topped with a creamy foam and tiny cubes of apples, giving a tangy crunch to the sensual scallops. The honey wine added an acidic and slightly bitter neutralization to the pairing.  I was already giddy with excitement over the food and my evening had just begun.
Course #2 :: Tuna Four Ways, paired with a Chateau de Bellet wine.
The tuna, which was caught in Quebec a few days beforehand by the chef himself, was served in four different preparations alongside mint leaves and dollops of lime mayonnaise.  The texture and intensity of tuna varied depending on the preparation, making each bite a variation on itself.  The mint added a cool, nasally flavor while the subtle lime mayo added a soothing creaminess.  The first bite made me whisper “mmmm” out loud–a bit awkward when sitting alone!
Course #3 :: Foie gras with corn brioche and quinoa, paired with an unfiltered Cavallina wine.
The foie gras (fattened duck liver) was fried, which gave the richness a bit of an edge, enhanced by the crunchiness of the roasted quinoa.  The corn provided a kick of freshness but the corn brioche and yogurt were somewhat forgettable.  The wine added a contrasting bitterness but didn’t complement the corn’s aftertaste.
Course #4 :: Tuna belly and root vegetables paired with Pinot Noir.
The fresh-caught tuna made another appearance, this time with a team of vegetables made up of radishes, leeks and other roots, mixed with a honey glaze and salty mushrooms.  The warm, rich tuna flavor compounded with the crisp vegetables and slightly sweet honey was fantastic, especially when the sweetness was enhanced with the wine.  Simple in structure but strangely seductive, it was my favorite course so far.
Course #5 :: Squab with anise sauce paired with a Les Matelles wine.
Squab(or pigeon, as you and I commonly call it) arrived next on a melody of rich, crunchy green beans and salty mushrooms in an anise sauce with garlic purée.  I liked the unique texture of the sliced green beans, which were more crunchy that normal.  The squab was juicy and delicious; a reminder of why it’s one of my favorite birds to eat.  (It reminds me of the greasiness of duck mixed with the flavor of dark-meat chicken.)  One of my favorite courses of all time.  Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name or type of the wine but it smelled like green peppers and tasted a bit sweet.

Course #6 :: Cheese plate with tomatoes, paired with a sweet Maury wine.
This course blew my mind.  Contrasts of every sort of texture and taste all dancing together on one plate.  Several variations of cheeses ranging from incredibly young (only four days old) to a semi-hard two-week old cheese rubbed with apple cider mingled with tomato sherbet (the pink blob in the center), tomato jam, tomato sugars, tomato reduction and tomato powder.  The different cheeses provided a range of richness while the tomatoes contrasted with dashes of tanginess, sweetness, crunchiness or coldness, depending on the variation.  This course is an example of a familiar flavor that was turned inside out–and, in turn, created a wonderful sensation of flavor and umami.  Easily one of the most interesting and memorable plates I have ever experienced.

Course #7 :: Poached pear with honey, paired with a honey wine.
The finale of the evening was a poached pear with honey-iced milk, dried olives (yes, salty black olives) drizzled with a honey glaze.  The elements of honey were incredibly rich but balance was maintained with the sweetness of the pear and the saltiness of the olives.  The honey wine helped further encourage the dessert-ness of the course.  A deliciously light to end the meal.
Introducing Utah’s High West whiskey to my new friend Karine.

 

Soon after I sat down at Toque!, I noticed a woman sitting a few seats down from me at the bar.  She was around my age, wearing a cute dress and having the tasting menu by herself.  She was like my French-Canadian counterpart! :) By the end of the night, the two of us were sharing a bottle of Champagne and discussing the amazing food.  She is a regular at the restaurant, so the chef came out to say hi and soon we were all hanging out.  Her and I exchanged phone numbers and I ended up meeting her and a friend the following night for wine and dessert.

Toque macaron
Teeny tiny macarons that arrived with my check. Almost too cute to eat! Almost.

 

Even when dining alone, food becomes a way to connect with others.  Karine and I bonded because of our mutual love of good food (I think our first conversation was about the foie gras) and ended up having a great time together.  I even got to introduce High West whiskey from “my hometown” to her!  My dinner at Toqué! was yet another incredibly memorable experience, not just because of the outstanding food, but because of the people I met while dining there.  Thank you to Karine, my server Gilbert and Chef Charles one of the best meals of my life.  Hope to see you all again soon!

Toqué! on Urbanspoon

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