I was in Montreal this week. Here, to work a gruelling number of heavy lifting, fast paced graveyard shifts. Tonight, I had completed my service and it was my last night in the French city. Looking to celebrate and capture what little time I had, I ventured a block out of my hotel to Toqué, for some self-indulgence. The name sounded French Canadian specific, and its 30 years of history should count for something. Not to mention no one has recommended it to me, so I thought maybe I could discover it now, to recommend to others in the future.
I would be dining with just me, myself, and I so opted for a bar seat and the best lighting in the house. Reality is I’m not about to come to a fine dining establishment and not have my photos turn out.
Humming and hawing over the menu, I could not decide to either commit to their 7-course tasting menu or to go a la carte. Truthfully, I was hungry a few hours before, so indulged then. Therefore, coming to this now I was not as enthusiastic to eat as I could have been. Although I was leaning towards the former as it was mentioned as the best way to experience the restaurant. Blind courses of a menu meant to surprise and delight, which included the option to have it with or without foie gras. But naturally, for the full experience, you want it as intended by the kitchen.
Apparently the kitchen and bar gets together weekly to best pair food to drink, so both are in constant flux and highly recommended to accompany one another.
Nonetheless my indecisive nature came through, but thankfully my server did too. He took care to inquire with the Chef in the kitchen and they agreed to boil it down to 5, just as meaningful courses, instead of the menu mentioned 7. Here, their customer service chops shone through, and would continue well into the night.
I was assured that it was okay to ask for lemon or seasonings throughout any course, and to dictate the pace in which they should proceed. I was in no rush, having had a nap just before and not needing to tend to parking, I was here to simmer and enjoy.
To start, Sourdough bread made with wheat and rye with unsalted and uncultured butter, severed in a separate dish with mini metal cloche. The presentation got me excited for the courses to come. Served at room temperature the bread was tough and crusty. And the butter added no flavour, just a smooth finish and some needed moisture. I would eventually lean on this during the foie gras course.
My formal meal began with an Amuse bouche of Sea urchin panna cotta, trout eggs, puffed rice, sea buckthorn purée. This was a single, light, and well-balanced neutral bite. I liked how they were able to clean all the strong flavours for a finish similar to celery. Although at the same time I like uni and was sad to miss its iconic taste in this one. If the server had not announced the dish, I would not have known it was sea urchin, but think a buttery squash. Although as a palate cleanser and appetite tickler, it did well to pique my interest.
My selected add on of a 5 course wine pairing started with a French white from the Burgundy region of France. It came with a history lesson on the label and description of the vintage. Well known for their use of new oak, it came through in the vibrant and fresh white. Slightly on the sweet side with plenty of tannins to coat your mouth. As promised, its gentle acidity was a great accompaniment to the sweet soy in the first course pairing to following.
Course number one was a local Quebec tuna belly wrapped in a thin slice of kohlrabi, fried leak, vegetable glaze, yellow beans, and cream with ponderosa citrus. Once again, they managed to cure any overt flavour in the protein to allow it to seamlessly meld with the naturally light flavours of the vegetable. It was not fatty as I know tuna belly to be, with just a whisper of its flavour. Four morsels to try, taste, appreciate, and leave you wanting more. I was especially impressed with the presentation and the care to create such patterned cut outs of the beets, their fuchsia hue matched perfectly with the veins of the radicchio leaves.
Here I will note the dainty feel of the cutlery that really best matched the flow of the dishes. For each course I would be equipped with a new set, placed ever so gingerly at a diagonal with optional ease of reach for my right hand. Everything was well curated and calibrated as promised.
The second pairing was another white wine from France, from a region know for its sweet wines. This was a late harvest wine blend, chosen for its sweeter nature. However, I actually got more umami notes from it with mushroom and gasoline on the nose. At a vintage of 1994, it had a more alcoholic finish to it. In taste I got plum, and found it more acidic and closer to a spirit on the palate than that of the younger wine before. I would expect a bolder protein to pair with the one and I would be correct. The wine was the ideal breath of fresh air to offset the weight and richness of the foie gras below.
Pan seared local duck foie gras over a brioche with apple gel, brand purée, meritage shiitake mushrooms, and roasted hazelnut. This was the heaviest take on foie gras I have ever had. This was oily duck liver that coated the mouth. The first bite was a surprise, the second was too much that I worried about being able to finish it. I leaned on the side of bread I was saving, and took breaks with wine. The gels, nuts, and mushrooms on the side helped to distract. I didn’t find the bold nature of the hazelnut the best accompaniment and preferred the briny pickled-like button mushroom and fresh apple instead.
Truthfully I didn’t not like this one as much as I thought I would. In hindsight guess I should not have opted in for the foie gras, and it should not be a surprise to me that I did not like it, as I know I don’t like the feel of fat on my lips. Yet here I was, and I did not want it to go to waste. Clearly the $$$$ on the bill pertained to this, but sadly I was not going to get my monies worth here. I ended up blotting out the oil on the plate and discarded the toast bottom that soaked up the grease. It helped, but I was left with 1/4 going to waste. I had more bread instead.
My fourth course came with a bold red from the North part of Italy, made by a small village using a single distinct grape. The tangy finish of the acidic red matched the balsamic notes of the jus in my main course to come.
Steak fillet in a red wine jus with a rutabaga, purée, and romesco purée with grey oyster mushrooms and cauliflower. A classically done rare steak with crisp root vegetables, earthy mushrooms, and a sumptuously buttery layer of potato that melted like it was mash. This portion had just the right amount of food.
My last course came with a German off-white Riesling, which I was told, came from one of the most celebrated wine makers in the region. The area is known for its colder climate, where they yield fairly ripe grapes that still retain their beautiful acidity. Here, th notes of the wine absolutely ran parallel with the icy grenadine.
Dessert was a chocolate and herb sponge cake with a gin and fir tree grenadine, jasmine and white chocolate ganache, smoked honey tuile, and blue honeyed suckle berry. Thankfully this was not a heavy or rich dessert, given what I had above. You got the rich flavour of chocolate in the cake, but none of its sugars. I found it a nice palate cleansing end thanks to the icy grenadine with its minty fresh finish.
The bill comes with a final complimentary treat. A milk cap sugar fudge made with mushrooms and a lingonberry jelly served on a flat slate rock for an extra umph in presentation.
The former is like maple butter, it crumbles and melts under the weight of your tongue, but there is no mistaking mushrooms in the finish. This was truly original, so much so that I had to ask if I could purchase some to take home. The answer was no.
And the gel was a squishy jelly that was more juicy than sweet, even despite its coating of sugar crystals.
And before I left, I was given one last treat, an exclusive tour of their underground wine cellar. The staff saw my meticulous note-taking and photography and gave me reason to do more. We descended down the glass shaft that centred the dining area, into a room of narrowly spaced shelves, stocked well with wine.
Truly this was an amazing overall experience and a great way to taste first hand the caliber of this long standing restaurant. I highly recommend visiting the next time you are in Montreal. As their published cookbook advertises, they are the “Creators of a New Quebec Gastronomy”.
900 Pl. Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Montréal, QC H2Z 2B2, Canada