Friday, January 05, 2007
I used to think that my dream job was to be a food critic, but the more I eat out, the more I realize that it wouldn't be as glamorous as I imagine. I get the feeling one would have to eat about ten mediocre dishes before coming across one great dish. Not a good ratio.
I recently ate at the Beaver Club, one of Montreal's long established fine restaurants located in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. It was my first 'hotel' dining experience and, as I expected, it was quite different than what I am used to.
This place is seeped in tradition, and who can blame them? It's worked for decades, so why change a thing? The hotel itself is famous for it's "John Lennon Suite" where John and Yoko chose to have their "Bed-in for peace" in 1969...You've seen the pictures. I got the feeling that some of the staff may have even been around for that long, too.
I'm glad the restaurant, in all it's old-school ways, does well, but it was not for me.
So, how do I put this? I would never go back; especially in a city like Montreal where excellent, affordable restaurants abound. Places where you don't feel like you're seated in the dining room of a cruise liner, waiting for the captain to walk by. Fun, cheerful restaurants where you are not constantly distracted by the heavy traffic flow caused by the constant passing of the cheese cart, the dessert wagon, the chateaubriand chariot, and various other trolleys whose purposes were unknown to me. With all the tableside cooking going on, one wonders what's left for the actual kitchen staff to prepare. Don't get me wrong, though, I appreciate how the Beaver Club still keeps up these seriously dated formalities.
I did enjoy certain aspects of my meal, as you will see in the notes and pictures to follow, and I also noted that the staff were warm, professional and helpful. It was curious that there were no female wait staff (save the sommelier) and I don't think any of them were under age 50. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you start to wonder if you are eating at your grandparents favorite restaurant.
One of the most delicious dishes of the meal, this artichoke capuccino was served as an amuse bouche shortly after we were seated. Warm, creamy, and with plenty of mild artichoke flavor.
Pan-seared foie gras: a dish I know well, having cooked on average about 15 kilograms a week at Toque! This was delicious with the red currant sauce that accompanied it and the foie was just the way it should be: crisp on the outside and melting on the inside. I was also please with the portion size.
My main course: roasted sea bass with vegetables. The fish was flawless, fork-tender and buttery, with a nice crust that comes from patient pan-roasting. The vegetables were a meager, dried up, sorry accompaniment of over-cooked white asparagus, mashed beets and bland, crispy green beans. I was expecting a little more, considering the $45 dollar a la carte price tag on this plate.
I was happy to see a bowl of whipped cream come with the sugar tray for the coffee. How decadent! Dessert, usually my favorite part of the meal, is up next!
This tray arrived with the coffee, consisting of sugared grapes and an assortment of chocolates that tasted about as good as a bad box of drugstore bonbons.
Coffee is brewed at the table in an old fashioned, pressurized, copper steam pot. This was entertaining, especially for the guys. Fun contraption, but the coffee tasted ordinary and I would have much preferred a cappuccino or espresso; in my opinion, the only way to finish off a rich meal.
The biggest disappointment of the night: my dessert, a trio of creme brulé served in egg shells. I think they were pistachio, praline and mocha-or something- I only had a small spoon of each as they were the most cloying, disgusting, over-flavored custard cups I have ever encountered. Creme brulé should be delicately flavoured and gentle on the palate, where these bad boys could have held their own for nine rounds.
I sent them back.
In case you were wondering, the bill was about $560 for six of us with two bottles of lower-priced wine. Fortunately, my brother-in-law works at the Q.E and we got a discount! While their prices are certainly indexed to 2007, the food is a bit behind the times(dessert especially).
Probably one of the highlights of the night, and also the most bizarre, was several chunks of dark flavorful banana bread served in the bread basket. Perhaps more suited to a Sunday brunch menu, but nevertheless, there it was and we ate it up. I was able to locate the recipe, thanks to it being published in the Gazette, and according the hotel's pastry department this is the one that goes back decades.
Not that I ever doubted that.
The Beaver Club's Famous Banana Bread
Makes 2 loaves
1 pound (about 4), bananas, peeled and very ripe
2 1/4 cups sugar
7 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F and set the rack in the middle of the oven. butter and flour 2 loaf pans.
Combine the bananas, sugar, baking soda, and salt, and blend at high speed in a blender for one minute. Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the flour alternately with the buttermilk and oil, and beat the mixture for two minutes or until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 21/2 hours.
Note: For a rich banana flavour, be sure to use very ripe bananas and bake for the full 2 1/2 hours. This banana bread improves with age and can keep for several days.