The Gist: http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/
The Why: Recommended by a Montreal contact when I inquired about a classy/classic French restaurant where I could take my mother and aunt without breaking the bank, La Chronique struck me as a great place to start off our dining in Montreal. Knowing full well that my family does not have the same appreciation for haute-French as I, Chef Marc De Canck’s take on provincial French seemed to strike a good balance between accessible and refined and with a convenient location on L’Avenue Laurier and a “business casual” lunch compared to the “jackets suggested” dinner destination I made a reservation for noon on a Monday.
The Reservation: Thankfully available via Opentable as neither the website nor the phone-lines offer much in the way of English, securing a reservation was simple and with plentiful street parking our arrival was timely with only two other tables seated throughout our visit.
The Space: White tablecloths, big wine list, black and white tiled floors, and wooden chairs with black & white photos on the wall La Chronique would not at all be out of place in Paris and it certainly was not out of place in Montreal. Having no real idea of just HOW French Montreal was until we arrived there was nothing English in the restaurant and although I’ve been to France twice this was definitely an immersion experience for my mother and aunt. Comfortable and bright with a semi open kitchen visible from our banquette and a collection of French chanson playing overhead it felt like Le Regalade St. Honore all over again.
The Service: With only one server present during the lunch hour and serving as hostess, captain, busser, concierge, and sommelier I have to say the young woman did a great job even despite my sub-par French. Dishes were described to the best of her ability, supplements disclosed on the items necessitating upcharge, and all items arrived promptly from the kitchen even when the restaurant reached its lunchtime peak of five tables.
The food: Two 2-course prix-fixe lunches and one 3-course prix fixe lunch ($24 and $29 respectively, plus a few upcharges, most notably $12 for the foie gras.) A well culled wine list also offered some afternoon by the glass deals, but we did not imbibe.
Oregano Potato Bread, Nuts and Grains Bread, Cows Milk Butter and Fleur de Sel: Complements of the house, served piping hot, and replenished without request the “nuts and grains” bread was as good as many pain au cereal in Paris while the potato bread was light, aromatic, and airy. Generally a fan of selection this was one of those cases where a few very well made options were plenty.
Duo de Foie Gras de Canard / pain d’epices, puree de coing, gelee d’abricots: My obvious choice, and a wonderful one at that, this presentation of Palmex Farm’s fatted duck liver was presented both seared and en terrine. With the warm preparation served over spiced bread quince puree and the creamy chilled portion topped with a thin piece of golden bread and brown sugar crumble there was nothing particularly elaborate about this dish, just high quality ingredients paired beautifully, the sweet cutting the fat and the aromatics perfuming the palate.
Filet de Proc Fume / Polenta, Courgettes, Moutarde: My plat principal, this dish was suggested as our waitress’ favorite and a chef’s signature with good reason. Again quite rustic in its construction but featuring an ample cut of lean pork loin smoked and placed over toothsome polenta tinged with mustard seeds the highlight of this dish was actually the jus – a pan reduction of bacon, zucchini, and cocoa that fit somewhere between sweet and savory thus working well to meld the pork and polenta without overpowering either.
Onglet de Boeuf Angus / Salsifis, Choux de Bruxelles, Champignons: A surprising order for my mother who rarely orders beef this was another hearty dish that would have fit nicely on any French bistro menu as the tender Alberta sourced hanger steak was cooked to medium well served over a sort of confit of Brussels sprouts and salsify with lightly pickled at the side. With mom focusing on the steak, dense and aromatic with just a touch of smoke and char I particularly appreciated the sprouts – caramelized but still pungent and a good foil to the richness of the protein.
Risotto vert-pre / Epinards, Edamamaes, Courgettes: At first I thought my aunt was truly puzzled by my translation from French, but assuring us she wanted the vegetarian offering of the afternoon I must say it turned out quite nicely with the Carnaroli rice cooked to a medium tenderness in a creamy reduction of mushrooms and peas before being garnished with chopped zucchini, shelled edemame, and shredded spinach. Rich, vegetal, and substantial in portion the dish was anything but light but considering I rarely associate risotto with French cooking I was rather impressed.
Petit Basque Sheep’s Cheese with Caramelized Nuts, Apricots, Grilled Bread: Listed only as a cheese plate on the menu this one was a bit of a letdown for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Petit Basque, especially when nicely aged as this one was – but being in Montreal I couldn’t help but hope for a local cheese and while the accoutrements were nice it just wasn’t what I’d anticipated at a $6 supplement.
Chocolate Profiteroles with sliced almonds: A second bummer on the dessert menu were the profiteroles ordered by my mother – two small balls of admittedly nice choux pastry encompassing rather bland vanilla ice cream but thankfully topped with dense melted chocolate. While admittedly not a fan of profiteroles to begin with the almonds were a nice touch, but not enough to save the plate.
Valrhona Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Pineapple Mango Salsa, Caramel: Another $6 supplemental dessert this one would actually prove to be worth the time, calories, and money – literally because it was made of entirely different chocolate and vanilla than the profiteroles. Beginning first with the cake – sticky, dense, and cooked to the perfect point to maintain the liquid center this oft duplicated dessert poured forth the dense 72% chocolate in plethora and although expectedly bitter the cocoa met an ample foil in the intense vanilla bean ice cream, sweet salsa and caramel, plus brown sugar crumble.
The Verdict: In the end I liked La Chronique well enough; the setting is lovely, the service excellent, and the prices fair for the quality (and more so the portions) given, but in comparison to the rest of our dining in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and points between it was largely unmemorable. A nice spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch or romantic dinner they certainly have the skills to make a classic French meal – I guess I’d just hoped for more creativity and better desserts given the cost of admission and supplements.