No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more Ms. Nice Gal.
We've had a bit of a reputation for focusing on the positive as we've scoured Montreal's culinary landscape. A well-deserved one. It's not that we're the biggest, most shameless boosters or anything. Anyone who knows us, knows that we're prone to launch into the occasional rant (okay, more than occasional, just today the sight of what had become of the former Simcha's set us both on a 20-minute tirade), but our feeling has always been that if you love something (metro areas included) you've got to be willing to be critical, to point out deficiencies, to show that you care about how and where things are going. When it comes to "...an endless banquet," though, our reportage on Montreal has tended to be upbeat because we don't really enjoy having mediocre meals or getting taken for a ride. And it's not like we get paid to do what we do, so we've felt no real duty to prowl around town unmasking charlatans. That said, in spite of the impression the pages of "...an endless banquet" might give off, it's not like the life of an endless banqueteer is 100% charmed and we're really not all that nicey-nice. With this in mind, we've decided to drop the gloves, for once, and give a few Montreal establishments the sound drubbing they deserve. So without any further ado, here, in no particular order, are a few joints that you will never find on our Top Ten. In fact, together they comprise some kind of anti-Top Ten, a motley crew so bad there's actually eleven entries.
1. F & F, 163 Bernard W.--God knows this city could use some help in the pizza department. Okay, fine, now we've got Bottega as a new benchmark, but don't we deserve a full-scale pizza revival? Haven't we suffered long enough? When F & F set up shop on Bernard earlier this year, we thought, "Hmm, not exactly our style, but it could be promising. I mean, they're obviously going for something young, fresh, and boutique-y." So we gave them a ring and experienced a pizza that had all the charm and character of a 99-cent slice at $16-a-pie. Actually, it tasted worse than a 99-cent slice, because at least a 99-cent slice isn't pretentious enough to advertise "wild mushrooms."
2. Bouchon de Liège, 8497 St-Dominique--We'd heard promising things about Bouchon de Liège. Some kind of connection to the legendary La Chronique. Bistro fare. Reasonable prices. Our meal had its moments, but on the whole was pretty erratic and wildly overpriced (not that there's a right price for bad food). Then we got our dessert, which was the single worst dessert we've ever tasted in a Montreal restaurant (right up there with the bocconcini-chocolate fiasco we once had at a potluck). The rice in the rice pudding was so undercooked, the overall effect so sadistic, I began to wonder if the chef had apprenticed in a V.C. prisoner of war camp.
3. Binerie Mont Royal, 367 Mont-Royal E.--Yes, it's an institution and its interior is a true Montreal classic, virtually unchanged since its mid-20th century heyday. Problem is, they've also gotten some new management over the last couple of years. And my first experience of the "new, improved" Binerie was dismal. We're talking the very worst beans I've ever had in my life, hard (?), oily (?), and absolutely tasteless (??). Where I come from, there's no excuse for canned beans, but, good god, I'd take canned beans over the garbage I was served at Binerie any day.
4. Maison du Cari, 6892 Victoria Ave.--Another Montreal institution, another major disappointment. We wanted to love this Trini roti joint--we'd heard nothing but good things, and we love Trinidadian cuisine. Unfortunately, our first roti was so underwhelming (frozen vegetable mix?), we ordered a second one (processed chicken?). It wasn't all bad, but we'd never consider going back.
5. Pagel, 231 Rue St-Viateur and 7115 Rue St. Urbain in Montreal, and 3535 Autoroute Laval W. in Laval--This one's not even worth mentioning it's so bad, except that people continue to keep these bandits in business in spite of repeated crimes against pâtisserie, including people we know (which means that we tend to encounter boxes of Pagel's 100%-butter-free, trans-fat heavy "delicacies" at potlucks every now and then). Stop the madness.
6. Lester's, 1057 Bernard W.--Lester's is another puzzler. Who are these people that continue to claim that Lester's has the best smoked meat in town? I'll never understand it. (I'm shaking my head in disgust as I write this.) Come to think of it, they tend to be the same people who prefer St.-Viateur Bagels over Fairmount Bagels.
7. La Shangrila, 200 25th Ave., Lachine--Also, not worth mentioning, really, in this case because it's so off the beaten path. Except that some critics have lavished such praise on this Nepali/Italian (we kid you not) resto that it's prompted people like us on occasion (one was all it took) to convince one of our motor vehicle-owning friends to embark on an odyssey to darkest Lachine only to be punished with one of the worst meals we've ever had the displeasure to encounter.
8. Chocolantara, 263 Mont-Royal E.--As Michelle put it: "The only time my gag reflex kicked in after biting into a chocolate."
9. Senzala, 177 Bernard W. and 4218 De la Roche--I guess that Brazilian thing still has just enough cachet to carry this place because they continue to pack people in for brunches that can only be described as bunk. Not terrible, really, but this place is hugely overrated, their service so stoned out of its mind, it makes you want to run screaming.
10. Cremerie Mile End, 5443 Parc Ave., and D'une Glace a L'autre, Bernard W.--"Artisanal ice cream comes to Mile End." Yeah, right. I've got no problem with the occasional trash ice cream cone, but selling trash as artisanal ice cream at artisanal prices? The one and only time we went to Cremerie Mile End was the first time I'd ever thrown out an ice cream cone two bites in. Then we went to D'une Glace à L'Autre. Godawful.
And last, but certainly not least,
11. Garde Manger, 408 Saint François Xavier--What can you say about a place that's willing to try and pawn off a $4.99 Loblaw's pecan pie as one of their homemade, made-by-the-chef's-beloved-mother $7/slice pies to a birthday party that had special-ordered the homemade pie days in advance? As John Lydon once put it in an entirely different context: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
Okay, now that we've gotten that out of our system, onto bigger and better things...