15 Jan Bouillon Bilk…More Than Your Mother’s Chicken Soup
1595 BOUL ST-LAURENT MONTRÉAL (QC) H2X 2S9
Harlie rating: 4/5
Walking down the still-defunct block of St.Laurent Blvd. between DeMaisonneuve and Ontario one is accosted by wholesale fell-off-the-back-of-a-truck electronics stores, empty storefronts, dingy depanneurs and other questionable business ventures whose heydays are long gone or never really hit that turning point like the rest of the Plateau.
And then, squished in-between two derelict-looking storefronts is the tiny Bouillon Bilk, whose window might startle a passerby such as myself, who would spy well-dressed diners in a minimalist, tiny, dim-lit space.
Since its opening in June 2011, Bouillon Bilk has twice made the En Route Canada’s Best Restaurants list. (A great reference you might want to get a hold of – I kept mine on my coffee table highlighted by circles and check-marks for two years until I felt I had tackled a large portion of my wishlist). It’s chef, François Nadon, made the rounds of local high-end spots and most recently was sous-chef at the esteemed XO at the St.James hotel.
It is definitely a special-occasion spot unless you are accustomed to regularly paying $100/head for a spectacular meal…in which case you are blessed and have great taste and feel free to call me any time.
Bouillon Bilk has a nice cocktail list with a few re-trendacized old-school sippers such as a Gin Fizz and Aperol Spritz. They have a heavy hand but I never complain about that.
Service started with a bit of a lag and there was an air of pretension I couldn’t ignore. Thankfully, it improved over the evening thanks to our down-to-earth and accommodating waitress. The rest of the staff could use some cheeriness-therapy.
Looking around the room, a few things struck me.
First, a podium in the middle of the restaurant where diners are welcomed but also where they store table accessories, disrupted the clean, un-cluttered environment. A bit like sitting at the end of a row at the theatre and seeing the actors waiting behind the curtains to go on.
Second, please please please DO NOT take plates away while other diners are still eating. The slow ones feel guilty and the others feel like little piggies.
And a final rant…cold rock-hard butter. This is a HUGE fail on the part of so many restaurants – even those that you would expect to pay attention to these details. It’s like that commercial where one guy orders the heavenly spreadable cream cheese and the other rips his bread to shreds with a slab of cold butter. I also find it somewhat humiliating when I am not given a plate on which to struggle with my cold butter which inevitably results in a flurry of crumbs in my lap. It may be in part due to my negligence but I think it is a restaurant’s responsibility to minimize the potential damage.
The amuse-bouche is one of those traditions I am glad to see reappear increasingly on menus.
Usually a small gesture to entice the palate, they’re more amusing when they’re free but at the modestly priced $4 I accepted and applauded their two-bite lobster with radish and tarragon purée.
Whenever I go out to eat with a large group, my fork inevitably finds itself poking around everyone else’s plates. During our meal I tried an appetizer of pork-belly that tasted something like BBQ Peking Duck; a result of a perfectly-balanced 5-spice seasoning.
For those of you not familiar with the 5-spice, it is a variable mixture of spices but usually comprised of star-anise, cloves, cinnamon, sichuan peppers and fennel seeds…an essential flavouring for those of you willing to tackle Asian cooking (and yes, you can find it at most supermarkets).
There was an equally stunning endive salad (who woulda thought) with dollops of mascarpone (silky cheese usually helps) and charcuterie (meat in salad…mmmm).
Portions were perfect and the rest of the meal unfaltering.
There was bacon-wrapped braised rabbit that tasted as exquisite as it looked. A venison so tender and so deep in flavour as if it had been marinating since the day it was hunted down. The surprisingly mellow accompaniment of cauliflower, grapes, chanterelles and juniper berries countered the richness of the meat. In fact, every dish had a richness eased with other flavours so we didn’t all have to be rolled out of the restaurant (although a couple did). There was not a bite I didn’t like – and we tried a good 90% of the menu between 8 of us.
Dessert my friends…was unlike any dessert I have ever experienced during my almost 35 years on this planet.
There was a parsnip soup – yes, you heard me right – parsnip for dessert. It was creamed with caramel, pear and hazelnut evoking a maple-syrup experience topped with flaked white chocolate, reminiscent of a Mekupelet, an Israeli snack I have trouble resisting (also known to North Americans as a Chocolate Log).
The pièce de resistance was other-wordly. An upside-down banana cake with caramel, valrhona chocolate, bananas, and smoked apples topped with FOIE GRAS. You heard me David Macmillan and Frederic Morin, the Double-Down’s got nothing on this triumph of dessert decadence.
We returned home with leftover home-made cookies and bellies just as soft, round, satisfied and ready to go back for more.