This is my second time in Montreal and I was determined to dine at Chuck Hughes' new restaruant, Le Bremner. The menu looked really simple online and I must admit I had my doubts. Like Garde Manger, Le Bremner is very low key. It's located on Rue St-Paul along with other fancy restaurants, however, the store front is barely existent. The sign “restaurant” hangs at the entrance in red letters and an old set of stairs leads down to the restaurant which is located at the basement of a clothing store. If you didn't know about it, it would be impossible to stumble upon it.
As expected, the restaurant is almost at full capacity...Probably with reservations alone. It's small, simple, but elegant with dimmed lighting, chandliers, and old, rugged decorations. It seems like the decorations would clash, but somehow they work together. Separating the bar and the restaurant is a row of old windows with frames that look like they've been painted 20 times over. The bathroom counter is covered with a layer of dimes with the tail side up, the symbol of a sail boat signifing the food served at the restaurant: seafood. On the wall is a flower basket made out of 3 frying baskets stacked together. Brilliant.
The menu is set up in 3 sections: Things to start with, Foccacias to share, From the stovetop and broiler. Most of the items are in the $20-$30 range but the portions are fairly small so the server would suggest that you order2-3 dishes per person. We had just ate a couple of hours before so we were well fed with 5 dishes: 2 starters, 1 foccacia, and 2 mains.
As for drinks, they make all their soft drinks in house. My dad tried the “coca cola” . It was good but tasted more like plum juice than coke. I ordered the special of the night, Rhubarb Capanna. It's made with rhubarb puree, rhubarb bitters, a litle bit of lime juice and spiked with 2 ozs of cachac. It's tangy from the lime and rhubarb with a hint of sweetness. The taste of alcohol doesn't have much presence in the drink. I ordered my mom a cosmopolitan but it was too strong for her so we ended up making a trade.
The starter menu are all raw fish and meat items. We started with the Pork Cracking with Raw Fluke and Spciy Mayo. The Fluke is tossed with roe and a spicy miso mayo. A spoonful sits on a piece of deep fried pork crackling and topped with baby parsley. The strong parsley flavour acts as a refreshing balance to the warm flavours from the spicy mayo. The fluke is chewy and tender while the pork
provides a nice crisp to the dish.
Our second dish is the Striped Bass, Pimienta, and Pistachio. The bass filet is marinated in a Asian sauce (somewhat Thai) and arranged in a single layer on the plate. It's sprinkled with pistachios and chopped mint and topped with crispy fish skin. It reminds me of pad thai but an upscale version. One other thing I'd like to note is that most of the dishes are influenced by Asian flavours to some extent.
The third is the Snow Crab Foccacia. It's very similar to a pizza but dryer. The foccacia is topped with mozzarella for the chewy and stringy texture and Parmesan for flavour. Then snow crab is piled on top and finished off with bitter baby arugula. I'm not a huge fan of arugula but it worked here with the sweet crab and mild mozzarella.
Our fourth dish is the Hake and Clams with Maple Dashi. Dashi is a Japanese seafood soup base and it's used as often as we use chicken broth. I've used the powdered stuff in my cooking before but I'm not too sure how he does it at the restaurant. Hake is very mild, like cod. It's slightly sweet but doesn't have too much flavour otherwise. The soup is savory from the Dashi, sweet from the maple with a hint of dairy. The fish and clams are topped with bread crumbs and broiled. I thought it was nice and refreshing.
We probably should have had the Hake and Clams last as a pallet cleanser since this next dish had some pretty strong flavours. It was the Smoked Sardines with Sausage and Fingerling Potatoes. It wasn't my favorite dish. In fact I can't say I liked it at all. When I think sardines I think fishy and I don't think having fresh smoked sardines made a difference. To be fair, it wasn't a bad dish, just not my preferred way of treating fish. The sausages in the dish I loved. It was a course ground mix of Veal and Chuck in a sausage casing. It was like a mild Italian sausage with amazing texture because you can still bite down on chunks of beef.
Now, my favorite. The dessert. Nothing on the dessert menu stands out for me like the creme brulee does. This one was a Vanilla Creme Brulee with Fresh Pineapples. The custard was thick and creamy and full of vanilla flavour. You can tell when something is made with real vanilla beans because the flavour is much more complex. I sat there searching for words to describe the "other" ingredients he used when it hit me that it was just good vanilla beans.The pineapples act as a perfect balance both in terms of texture and taste. It's crunchy and tangy so the smooth custard is not over whelming.