Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Montreal Dessert Club goes to Les Chèvres

It's official, the second meeting of the Montreal Dessert Club (MDC; the other MDC) was a success, even if I was the only member who actually attended both events. What can I say? We're a busy bunch of club members. That this is the first post about the MDC is my fault: I dropped the ball after our first outing, a trip to Brontë to sample their dessert menu.

This time around, the grande finale was a visit to Les Chèvres for a special desserts-only tasting menu, but before we got there, we had some other stops to make (!). You see, the original idea for this outing came from Thea, who suggested that we do a culinary tour of Van Horne, stopping at a few pastry shops and boucheries, before ending up at our final destination. Had Thea been able to join us, she would have learned an important lesson: there is such a thing as overkill.

We met at the Outremont Metro station for the first leg of the tour, and at this point there were only three of us, as two others were only able to meet up at 6:30. Our first stop was Lescurier. When I first moved here years ago, I was charmed by the tiny patisseries everywhere and gorged myself on Opéras, Royals, and miniature mousse cakes. These days, though, I go to Montreal’s pastry shops and I generally find myself asking, "Why do they all have the same cakes and pastries?" I asked that same question when I stepped through the door at Lescurier. We had a look around and, more half-heartedly than anything else, chose a palet au rhum, a slice of citrus, and a cup of black currant and mango mousse. Then we marched onwards to Boucherie France-Canada.

The idea was to get a slice of paté or terrine to balance the sweet-savoury ratio. Unfortunately, they were closed, even though I swear to God I checked to make sure they'd be open. So much for savoury. Next up, Paltoquet.

When Paltoquet's croissants are good, they are the best. Nothing can touch them. When they are bad, and believe me, I have had them when they've been bad more than once, they are dense, floury, and tasteless. Why? Who knows? When we got there, their shelves were empty. Only a few items remained. We got a croissant, a brioche, and three pâtes de fruits: pear, apricot, and raspberry. It's probably a good thing we weren't able get any more. We made our way to Camilla's house nearby and had our own little informal tasting with tea.

I am happy to report that the croissant was not one of the bad ones--but it wasn't one of the good ones, either. It was in between, with a nice buttery taste, but somehow both burnt and undercooked in places (?). The brioche was plain. We asked ourselves why we'd chosen it. Oh, well. The pâtes de fruits varied wildly. Pear came away the winner: a pleasant, natural pear flavour and a nice texture. The apricot one was so-so. Nothing too special. The raspberry had seeds in it, which I thought was a good sign. Not so: it had a very strange aftertaste, not unlike iodine (not that I spend that much time ingesting iodine, but...). Next.

We couldn't believe we'd chosen the palet au rhum. It was basically a nicely shaped rum ball. Anyone who has been to pastry school knows what goes into rum balls. Since both Camilla and I are in the know, we had a good laugh at our expense. It wasn't bad. Just forgettable. The citrus slice was a subtle lemon mousse. With chocolate. I don't know what I imagined when I chose it. Yes, I do. A beautiful little citrus-chocolate cake I got at Christian Constant in Paris last summer. It was divine. This one was not. Blah. And we barely touched the black currant and mango mousse. One spoon each. Double blah.

At this point, any normal person, having reached her limit, would have called it a night and gone home, but we were on the road to redemption.

carpaccio de rhubarbe
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

We met up with Benoit and Maike at Les Chèvres and had a look at the a la carte menu. Should we get one of each and share? Should we each order what we want no matter if there's repetition. Then the waiter came over and asked, "Will you have the dessert tasting menu?" It reminded me of my experience at Au Pied du Cochon: "Will madame have foie gras with that?" There is only one possible answer to these types of questions. Yes.

*NOTE: I don't think that this dessert tasting menu is on offer every night. Correct me if I'm wrong.*

Pictured above is the first plate in what turned out to be a four-course + mignardises parade of desserts. It was one of the big favourites of the evening: a rhubarb carpaccio with fromage blanc battu, pistachio nougatine, and rhubarb sorbet. A few drops of very perfumed olive oil finished the plate. So fresh and light--a welcome change from the genre of sweets we'd eaten earlier. Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits--after pomegranate, of course. Since starting my stage with the pastry chef at Les Chèvres, Patrice Demers, I have been bugging him to put a rhubarb dessert on the menu. He found the loveliest pink rhubarb any of us had ever seen. This was just one of his "experiments" (if you can believe that). A+.

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

When the next dessert came out, I started to get the feeling that it was only the beginning. (Besides, everytime we peered into the kitchen, the pastry team all had mischievous looks on their faces...) This is a miniature version of the current agrumes dessert on the menu. A coconut milk gelee with a candied kumquat slice, date purée, honey granité, and mandarin and clementine juice. It was even lighter than the first dessert, with a gentle sweetness to it. The textures came together perfectly. I realized that snacking on the individual ingredients of Patrice's desserts somehow add up to his finished creations. We sat back and took a breath, when...

Little bowls came out looking inconspicuous enough. Inside was sapote panna cotta with caramelized honey gelée and almond nougatine. This is when our table went crazy. One bite of this sent Patricia to heaven, while Benoit turned towards the kitchen and said, "Mais, non, il est malade." That's how good it was. Sapote is a hard-to-find spice which tastes of almond and is very fragrant. A seed was brought to the table so we could see and smell it in its natural state. It was simply divine.

chocolate et abricot
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

The last plated dessert we were served was a miniature version of a new dessert on the menu at Les Chèvres: chocolat et abricot. An apricot gelée topped with two thin, crisp cookies which are filled with a chocolate cream. Alongside are poached apricots and lavender ice cream. This is a fantastic combination. I am very partial to the lavender ice cream. I think Patrice has found the perfect strength at which to use lavender. Too often lavender desserts are overpowering and even soapy. Believe me, his ice cream tops any flavour at Bilboquet. It would have been the perfect last course, except...

The mignardises arrived, and they were plentiful, including tiny ice cream sandwiches, grapefruit pâtes de fruit, lemon and black pepper financiers, sablés topped with an olive oil ganache and candied lemon peel, passionfruit marshmallows, ricotta cardamom beignes with clemantine marmalade.... My God. Is it possible we were actually able to eat them all? Satisfied, in awe, and experiencing heart palpitations (the good kind), we left for home.

Though I highly recommend the dessert tasting menu at Les Chèvres, please refrain from trying the full Van Horne dessert tour. Our dessert club clearly has an unnatural threshhold for sweets. Somehow it seems fitting that I've just started reading Cooking for Kings, a biography of Carème, the master chef. He, too, knew a thing or two about grand gestures with food.

[this edition of the Montreal Dessert Club consisted of Michelle, Camilla, Patricia, Benoit, and Maike]

Les Chèvres, 1201 Van Horne (corner Bloomfield), 514-270-1119
Dessert tasting menu: $15 without tax, tip or drinks.



sandy said...

Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

Sounds really yummy. I'm in Montreal.. How do I join up?

michelle said...

Hello there, everyone is welcome to join.
If you send me your email address, I will add you to the list.
Write to michellemarek1975@yahoo.com


michelle said...

Note: the dessert menu is on offer to anyone who requests it. Reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I stumbled on this site. I've been looking for something like this for the longest time. I'm in high school right now and dream, more than anything, of becoming a pastry chef. Any advice?

michelle said...

Hi anonymous, truth be told, I must warn you about working in a kitchen. Low pay, hard work, weird hours, no benefits. Sound good? Not really, but if you have a burning need to do it, you accept these shortcomings. Maybe try it out part-time at a local bakery first. Then you'll have a better idea what you're getting into. Good luck.