Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Hidden Gem in Montreal : Garde Manger

You'll never find this restaurant if you didn't know what you were looking for and came looking. The "Garde Manger" sign is inside the restaurant and there is nothing outside but a street number to help you out. We initially wanted a reservation for Saturday but no one answered the phone and all the restaurant reviews indicated that it was impossible to get a seat without a reservation. The restaurant is only open for service from 6PM till 11:30 PM, but we decided to visit during the day just to see what it was like.

We walked up and down St. francois Xavier 3 times without luck finding the restaurant. Finally I googled the exact address and found it that way. There was a small wooden door with the plate 408 on top, nothing else. I decided to try the door and it was open! When you first walk in, there is a small hall way with "Garde Manger" printed on a black board, surrounded by all the cut-outs from newspapers and magazines featuring Chuck Hughes. As you walk further, there is a black curtain that leads to the dining room area and the kitchen. As I walked in, I saw a girl sitting at a dinner table, on the phone, with huge binders laid out in front of her. The kitchen is exposed to the dining area, almost like a sushi bar where you can see the chefs in action. There was one chef in the kitchen at the time, probably preparing ingredients for service that night, sadly it wasn't Chuck and I learned that he was in Toronto for the weekend.  They didn't seem to mind my intrusion at all, or rather it was like they didn't even see me. I tried to make a reservation with the girl after she got off the phone, but had no luck. I left disappointed, but took a bunch of pictures at the door.

A while later, I got a call from Garde Manger to say that a table was free on Sunday at 6PM. I was so excited that it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. There were several things to consider though: if we ate at 6 and left Montreal at 8, Kevin and Kate won't make it back to Guelph until 1AM, and Chris would have to stay up late to finish the assignments due for Monday. To make up for all these inconveniences, the food had to be amazing. And it was.

I wondered around the restaurant as we waited for our food. They didn't seem to mind me snapping pictures as they worked. 
Bruschetta with Swiss Chard, lentils, Goat Cheese, Crispy Prosciutto
We ordered an appetizer to share as we waited for our mains. Bruschetta sounded like something shareable, but I guess at fancy restaurants that's not the case. We split it into quarters and tried to make it as even as possible so we get to taste all the ingredients. There was a lot going on on this plate but it worked out so well. There was tanginess from the greens, sweetness from the tomato, saltiness and crunch from the prosciutto. The goat cheese and the lentils provided subtle flavours that complemented everything else. Using Chris's words, we were bombarded with flavours, but it was perfect.

Lobster Risotto

Short Rib with Goat Cheese Mash

Flank Steak with Fried Cheese Balls and Bone Marrow

My dish was the flank steak. I lucked out with that one because every component was delicious. The flank steak was charred so that it was really crispy and had a nice smoky flavour. The cheese balls were also a nice addition. I'm guessing its potatoes and mozzarella so I'm gonna try recreating it.

Chicken Pot Pie and Duck Confit
Chris's dish was good, but I don't think I would order it again or recommend it. The duck on top was too salty even for me, and my palet can take some pretty strong flavours. The chicken pot pie had a cream base that held flavours that were odd to me. At first I thought it was nutmeg but it was really a combination of star anise, cinnamon, and smoked rock salt. It's not your regular white sauce so be prepared. Otherwise it was a great dish and I enjoyed beautifully flavoured chicken and how crispy the duck legs were.

If you are a foodie and ever come to Montreal, this is a place you absolutely must visit. Don't be like me and try to get a reservation last minute, call 2 weeks ahead. If you really can't get a reservation at Garde Manger, you can try Le Bremner. It's Chuck's second restaurant that opened in July without any press or advertisement, staying in line with their "low key" theme. It apparently has a different vibe to it, but many prefer it over Garde Manger, which has a younger, more hipster atmosphere. I have yet to try Le Bremner so I'll speak for it next time. Until then, I loved Garde Manger.

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