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Toqué!:

The Lunch to Rule Them All

RESTAURANT FRENCH NOUVELLE CUISINE OLD MONTREAL UPSCALE <$40

The Pitch

I feel silly reviewing an institution requiring no introduction such as Toqué.  Unless you live under a rock, are new in town or both, you should have heard of this Montreal monument of sorts.  And if you're a self-proclaimed foodie, you must have tried it at least once.

Owned and helmed by now-famous chef Normand Laprise since 1993, Toqué has also become a laboratory kitchen that is pushing the envelope of modern Quebecois cuisine – in the same spirit as René Redzepi's influence on Nordic cuisine.

The Mood

Mood image

Situated on scenic Place Jean-Paul Riopelle since 2004, in the heart of the Quartier International, Toqué is one of a few remaining restaurants which can be classified as formal.  White tablecloths and preppy-attired waiters occupy a multi-color, high-ceiling space featuring lots of windows letting in an abundance of sunlight.

The dining room was half full at noon on this Thursday, with a predominance of suited-up business types along with a handful of excessively-casual shorts-and-sandals tourists.

tagged:  POWER LUNCH

The Food

Food Image

Chef Laprise has been a champion of local products since day one, way before that became a trend; and today's menu keeps that promise, going as far as to list the multitude of farmers and producers supplying the menu's ingredients.

The table d'hôte for lunch comprises a starter, main dish and coffee – cheese and dessert come at an extra cost.  Priced at $30 to $54, it can get steep; but considering the pedigree at work, it is well worth the tag.  Every plate is paired with a glass of wine if desired; a half-glass option is available too, a good idea if you want to stay awake in the office later.

Our meal started with a lacklustre bread service comprising ciabatta and toasted baguette, but things went upward from there.  A duck tartare with tomatillo puree had the perfect texture and seasoning while a braised goatling shoulder was deliciously fatty and gamey, sitting aside a medley of root vegetables.  Plating is beautiful and colorful, while the food is refined and inventive without being fussy.

Maquereau en escabèche thumbnail (click to enlarge)

Starter

Starter

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Maquereau en escabèche

"sriracha mayo, green beans, smashed potato, puffed quinoa, lemon vinaigrette"

Tartare de canard thumbnail (click to enlarge)

Starter

Starter

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Tartare de canard

"hazelnuts, tomatillo puree, flaxseed tuile, cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette"

Suprême de pintade thumbnail (click to enlarge)

Main

Main

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Suprême de pintade

"broccoli, oyster mushrooms, potatoes, radish leaf puree, joi choi, poivrade sauce"

Épaule de chevreau braisée thumbnail (click to enlarge)

Main

Main

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Épaule de chevreau braisée

"green pea and mint puree, king eryngii mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, turnip"

Le baluchon et le foin de grève thumbnail (click to enlarge)

Digestif

Digestif

$12

$12

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Le baluchon et le foin de grève

"pickled vegs, bbq croutons, smoked duck yolk confit, fried capers, mustard cress"

tagged:  TABLE D'HÔTE

The Service

We were lead to our table from the captain's station by a hostess, at which point a waiter took over.  I was reminded of Paris' prestigious grandes tables with details such as the under-table purse hanger we were provided as well as a round of mignardises offered with coffee.  Otherwise our waiter was sharp and knowledgeable and answered all of our questions with ease and precision.

The Verdict

As good as lunch was today, it is obviously not the service that puts any restaurant on the map.  Toqué is most renowned for its seven-course tasting menu at night which showcases chef Laprise's vision and craft.  Having tried it over a decade ago, I would classify it as a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.

From the emphasis on local to superior technique and creativity on display, it is no wonder Mr. Laprise is Quebec's first celebrity chef while his world-class, list-topping restaurant is a Quebecois landmark and cultural icon.

tagged:  SOLID

Price per person:  $38.50

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514eats

Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink.  We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.

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