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One and a thousand nights

The sommelier and I got along fine after I told him that I had absolutely no idea whether or not it took our bottle of wine some time to open up but , yes, we liked it very much. We talked for a few minutes about how and where to get wines that are imported in to Québec but not sold at the SAQ and agreed that even if they are producing some decent wine in Ontario it's still hard to feel good about buying them.

The rest of the wait staff was not nearly so much fun. There seemed to be a different person for every aspect of our meal whether it was clearing the plates or bringing the bread or peddling desperately over-priced water . And they became visibly nervous when you asked them to do something that was, apparently, the domain of another waiter. I guess one of the side-effects of only being given one job is that you stand around all night waiting, with bated breath, for an opportunity to do it. I try to sympathize with situations like that but there is no getting around just how annoying it is while you're eating.

(No one thought to ask when the English had suddenly become the arbiters of quality fizzy water but by the end of the night we might have.)


I have good friends and the other night they took me to Les Chevres which only after being told many time that it was West of Parc Avenue did I figure out was in Outremont and not some tiny little spot tucked into the industrial buildings that ring the top of Mile End.

Les Chevres is supposed to be all the shit these days and they clearly went out of their way to hire designers to make it look that way. If you ignore the fact that they look a little too much like sheep you can sort of imagine the two goat silhouettes on the front window having a White Stripes album cover quality to them. Albeit Gap-ified and in delicate pastels. The kidney beans and other celular automata painted on the walls, also in passive-aggresive lime greens and bitter pinks, were kind of annoying but all the chairs had tasteful brown fun-fur! (Not a phrase I ever thought I'd say.)

The overall design is a bit heavy on the intimidate anyone whose pocket book hasn't swollen their self-esteem to new heights of arrogance and generally bad behaviour schtick, but it is otherwise a very nice and very elegant place to eat a meal. Did I mention the fun-fur?

Whenever you read about this sort of fancy, high-end restaurant, sooner or later you stumble over the word innovation . I'm all for innovation, in principle, but I am not willing to overlook it's abuse as an all-purpose get out of jail card for the kind of intellectual navel-gazing that gave the world colour-field painting.

I'm also always suspicious of the context; namely the rarified air that people who can afford to eat at these places, on a regular basis, breath. I'm sure that avocado soup — with oranges and cilantro, no less — seems innovative in the middle of the winter but I also go to the market every week and I know that this part of North America is enjoying a recent harvesting of avocados from Mexico or California.

It was very good, as were all the appetizers. At this point it's worth pausing, before I forget, to say these three words together : parsnip; toast; good. No, really.

Ask yourself : Is there anything that warm porcini mushrooms can't do?

[big plates, small food] — this is the place-holder I left myself while drafting this piece. It sums it up nicely but always leaves me wondering : Why do people who like to spend so much money eating out eat so little?

And why do French restaurants insist on trying to make risotto? No one can deny the contribution the French have made to the art, science and all-around good times when it comes to food and the celebration thereof. But sweet Jesus, can't they just accept the fact that this is the one dish they are wholely unprepared to handle? You can dress it up in tasty, carmelized biologically pure carrots but it's of dubious effort if you can't cook the bloody rice properly !

Nothing was actually bad — I mean, except the risotto. My only disappointment was the sense that it could easily have been so much better and that the people in the kitchen didn't see any point in trying too hard. That is, it all tasted a bit too much like the art of opportunity rather than the art of eating.


At this point the waiters started trying to steal our wine glasses.

One of the bonuses of living in Québec is never having to suffer the indignity of being told that the Brie de Meaux has been pre-wrapped and in the next aisle, below the grateables. We may not have l'Union Syndicale Interprofessionnelle de Défense du Brie de Meaux (I kid you not) but we do at least try to give cheese the respect it properly deserves. In our case, we promptly ordered another bottle of wine and started badgering the table-monkeys for more bread.

We ordered a smattering of everything they brought to us on the cheese tray; a collection of chevres and tommes from France and Québec. The drama queen of the lot was an electric orange (some flavourless pigment which begs the question) cheese that reminded us of Parmesan in its taste and texture. Everyone else liked it but I prefered the semi-soft cheese from St. Jean.

Ask yourself: Who can you resist a sweaty goat cheese covered in ash?

In the end a good time was had by all and we sauntered out, smugly and in search of vanilla ice cream, confident that I could make a better dessert.



The morning after #2 ←  → Norman Walsh : Practical RDF