Friday, April 4, 2008

Bistro Cocagne, 3842 St-Denis, Montreal, 2008

Many moons ago, back when the mighty American dollar was trumping (no pun intended) our own, a good friend of mine was in town on business and wanted to treat us students to one of the premiere restaurants in town. Given that she was coming from silicon valley and had a fairly healthy meal stipend to dispose of, I wasn’t feeling bad about choosing a restaurant beyond our usual price bracket. This restaurant was, of course, Toque. The meal was outstanding, but sadly, too long ago to review here. Now, many years later, Toque’s old space on St. Denis street houses Bistro Cocagne, a restaurant helmed by Normand Laprise’s once-sous-chef – Alexandre Loiseau. Looking to celebrate my dining companion’s birthday, it was to Cocagne we ventured on a recent Sunday night.

Feeling sheepish about arriving a little late for our 7:30pm reservation, I needn’t have worried as the restaurant was only one third full, at best. Our jackets promptly whisked away, we were invited to choose any table we liked. While the restaurant is resplendent in warm wood, soft yellows and deep burgundies, it was the food that impressed most.

The menu at Cocagne is rooted in cusine du terroir, although not quite the same as that popularized by Au pied de cochon (think less pork). We both opted for the chef’s tasting menu, being attracted by the foie gras (gasp) and the venison. We began our meal with a kir and my dining companion ordered a couple of oysters on the half-shell. The first course of the evening consisted of a cappuccino mug filled with a frothy cream of fennel soup, drizzled with a home-made arugula oil. It was absolutely delicious -- not too heavy and just faintly flavoured with the fennel. It was also a treat to drink the soup out of the mug (as our wonderfully apt waitress suggested). The second course featured a piece of very mild smoked salmon (this suited me best, as I am not a fan of fishy fish). The piece of fish was served atop a layer of fresh cheese and the whole thing was topped with tiny salted croutons. The entire dish was terribly light and a good follow-up to the soup (although my dining companion would have preferred more salt). The third course was definitely the stand-out. Described as a macaronade, the dish consisted of home-made flat noodles, tossed with a medley of wild mushrooms and topped with a piece of perfectly seared fois-gras. The entire dish was brought together by a heavenly foie gras sauce. At this point, the meal could have ended right there and I would have been happily satiated. As a side-note, our waitress said that the macaronade had ended up on the menu quite by accident. One night, several years ago, the kitchen had run out of the daily special and had quickly thrown together this macaronade as a replacement. The dish met such rave reviews that it became one of the menu’s mainstays. Following the macaronade, we had a perfectly-cooked piece of venison, which was flavourful and toothsome. It was accompanied with more wild mushrooms and roasted potatoes. Following the meat courses, we had a cheese plate with four types of cheeses, including Riopelle and an aged gouda. The dessert consisted of a “pudding chomeur” for two (served in the saucepan!), topped with a scoop of cardamom-laced ice cream and a caramel sauce. The dessert was absolutely delicious, but a little heavy for a tasting menu…

All in all, the evening was a tremendous success. While the chef made the rounds to the “fancy” tables (there seemed to be many regulars and/or vedettes in the room), he didn’t give us the chance to compliment him on the wonderful meal. That aside, our waitress was very attentive, terribly knowledgeable (she had put the wine list together herself and had recommended a lovely wine, of which, I am embarrassed to say, I don’t remember the name).While not as pricey as Toque, it remained an expensive evening, but they do have a $25-30 and $35-40 menu. To conclude, I can’t recommend this place enough. I would hate to see another excellent restaurant close because of poor attendance. Just make sure you bring along a somewhat wealthy benefactor, or somebody with an expense account.


Mains: $25-40