Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Adventures in Montreal: Europea

Europea wasn't on the list of places to visit in Montreal originally, but after doing some research I knew it'd be the perfect counterpoint to Au Pied de Cochon. The place is a little more upscale, the food is a little more fun, the portions are smaller so you can add some variety to your meal. 

I knew it'd be a great dinner, but I can't say I expected it to be quite so memorable. With the parade of creative amuse bouches, it reminded me of our dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, only more fun, less pretentious, and oh yeah -- way more affordable! Three of us had the $70 pre-fixe and shared everything. Since we got to choose from three appetizers and four mains, we got to try almost everything in this range (in case you're wondering, the only thing we missed out on was the cornish hen). 

The amuses started with Parmesan lollipops and truffled popcorn. Putting their playful foot forward. 

Next, Canadian prosciutto hanging on a miniature clothes line. The smiles had already started by now. Such a cute idea, and the pork had this unique texture like it was laminated flat.

Then came the breadsticks. We were fooled into thinking things were regular again...

Until the woman that was not our waiter (but we wished she was -- she was so much fun!) presented us with a cigar box and asked us with a straight face if we would like a cigar before our meal came. We shook our heads. She asked if we would like to take one home for later. Again we said uh, no, thank you. Then she opened the box and asked if maybe now we would change our minds? It was three mozzarella sticks. Easily the best mozzarella stick any of us had ever had. I didn't know anyone had ever even attempted to gourmet-ify a childhood favorite of mine!

Now the bread and butter. I don't think the bread was necessarily better than APC's, but the butters were on par. The plain was great, but there were also three flavors -- a colorful flower butter, a creamy rum butter and a salty seaweed butter. Check out the beauty of the flower power!

You might think the amuses are done, but you're wrong. Now there's a tiny olive muffin. And rice crisps in a takeout container.

And then the best one! A lobster cream cappuccino, which I thought was loads better than the one we had at the Modern a few years ago. It was like a foamy bisque, and the truffle oil added an extra element of decadence.

But we're still not done. My favorite amuse bouche was the final one. Our fun lady jester of the evening gave each of us a book that we were invited to open when we were ready. The anticipation heightened. We opened the books and a cloud of smoke poured out. When the smoke cleared, we saw a tiny freshly-wood-smoked salmon tartlet on lemon cream. Reminded me a bit of the amuses we frequently get at Annisa, but with chicken liver mousse. Something about those little bite-sized cups that get me every time.

Okay. Finally, the starters. As Frank Bruni once said, everyone always has a special affinity for whatever it is they order when sharing with a group. It was true for the appetizers in this case. Soup made with chestnut and porcini cream with artichokes, burrata and crunchy fried quinoa for texture.

Now the surprise of the starters -- the calamari, which I typically cannot stand and was blown away by here. Somehow they make the squid into tender noodles that aren't unlike pasta (it actually is called "tagliatelle of lemony calamari") and topped with a poached quail egg and squid ink. I can't say I was expecting to enjoy it, and then I was left trying not to eat more than my portion.

And, of course, the foie gras. The foie is placed to sizzle on a hot stone at the table. Then it's covered in a glass case and you have to rely on self control to wait out the four minutes while the crispy lobe caramelizes in ice wine sauce. It's worth the wait. And it's so beautiful to watch the steam billow around the glorified goose liver. It's like something out of Willy Wonka. 

The palate cleaner was one of the most memorable parts of the meal. Believe it or not! It's actually one of the few things I knew I had to take notes on because I didn't want to forget. Dig your spoon past the top layer of foam and you'll find bits of granny smith apple with flavors of yuzu and cucumber, and a bit of ice cream at the bottom. Seems like it would confuse your taste buds, right? But really, it sets them up for the second round so perfectly. I would gladly eat a bowl of this for dessert any day.

My favorite main was the scallops wrapped in a "celery veil" with meringue powder, enokis and bleurre blanc. The scallops almost seemed to be enveloped in dough, and the sauce was so addicting it was hard to limit myself to my own two little dollops.

I think I ordered the dud of the group. The tagliolinis were good and all, perfectly cooked and clearly house made, but even with the mushrooms I felt it lacked flavor. There was white truffle oil, but it seemed to disappear as the foam dissipated. There were a few kernels of popcorn, but it seemed out of place. Plus it had that weird consistency of overbuttered-to-the-point-of-stale.

Finally, the veal cheek with salsify roots and more foam. The meaty sauce might have been my favorite, again.

There is no dessert menu. There is only "passport to sweetness." Which sounds a little silly until you realize that the desserts. Never. Stop. And then you don't mind so much. Somebody stamp that sucker ASAP.

First, a GIANT cloud of pink cotton candy. Chocolate lollipops rolled in poprocks. We're kids at the fair again. "I'll be back with the rest," says our court jester.

Then a little pina colada for each of us...

A container full of lemony madelines...

A champagne macaron, a passionfruit marshmallow and a caramel cookie with fleur de sel. One trio for each of us. "I'll be right back with the rest..."

We've circled back around to breakfast: a fried egg and french toast sticks. It freaked me out to see what looked like a peppery egg and tasting...  apricot puree inside an emulsion. The french toast was coated marshmallows. Great presentation. Not my favorite though.

And now the desserts for the ride home. Two freshly-baked brioche. A bag of cookies. FOR EACH OF US. With the leftover madelines and two bags each, we walked back to the car with our arms full.

Then we headed over to Au Pied de Cochon for second dinner. Total rockstar weekend.

Okay, so APC was amazing and all, but I have to admit that Europea will stick out in my mind for much longer. The ongoing parade of carnival treats was endlessly entertaining. There was a lot of excitement of wondering what would come next. And, as I write this post, I realize it incorporates components of some of the best of the best meals I've had. Amuse bouches like at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, lobster cappuccino like at The Modern, madelines like at DB Bistro Moderne, soup with intense chestnut flavors like the ice cream at Nougatine, tartlets like at Annisa. 

I can't think of another restaurant I could recommend more.

1227 Rue de la Montagne
Montreal, QC

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