I believe it can safely be declared that Maison Boulud has been the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2012 in Montreal. After many months of delays, it has finally opened its doors inside the luxuriously renovated Ritz Carlton in downtown Montreal, and what a perfect fit it is within the sumptuous grand hotel.
I walked into the calm oasis of the restaurant’s nearly finished garden amid the chaos of Grand Prix weekend last week. I was meeting with the man himself, chef Daniel Boulud, for an interview just before sitting down to dinner. The teak furniture in the garden is temporary and will be replaced by custom made pieces. I was immediately transported back a few years to a time when I used to visit the Ritz’s garden for brunch and to watch the ducks frolic in the pond. The ducks are not back yet but the Ritz in all its splendor definitely is.
The restaurant’s decor is luxurious and sophisticated yet it feels unpretentious and comfortable. Warm wood tones, coloured glass partitions and dominant, contemporary fireplaces lend the space a certain welcoming warmth. It’s posh without being pretentious. The first thing you see upon walking in is the brightly lit and nicely framed open kitchen on your left where you can peak in at the 22 cooks buzzing around like a very well organized bee hive. You may catch a glimpse of executive chef Riccardo Bertolino, a 4-year veteran of Boulud’s restaurant empire who is now at the helm of this latest venture.
This is the 13th restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, who I had already met on a couple of occasions. Chef Boulud chose Montreal because of his love for our “most European” of all North American cities and because many of his friends – Martin, Normand and Carlos just to name a few – live here. He is also an admirer of the fraternity that exists among chefs in Montreal and between those same chefs and their suppliers. He is a regular in our city and will be visiting even more often now, to the delight of all Montrealers I’m sure.
The dinner menu is divided into an à la carte section and a 4-course table d’hôte section. In addition to original creations on the menu, the chefs also got inspired by several dishes created for other Boulud restaurants throughout the planet, from New York to Pekin. Chef Bertolino’s Italian roots are apparent in the menu where several of the items boast Italian origins. The cuisine at Maison Boulud is contemporary French with a special focus on the product, whether it’s for seasonal or proximity reasons. Chef Boulud was already familiar with some Quebec products (notably Gaspor pork which he uses in some of his New York restaurants) but it was this search for the best and most unique local products that was a most important aspect of opening Maison Boulud in Montreal.
Katerine, Andrea and I sat down for dinner in the new solarium adjacent to the garden. Th strength of a Boulud restaurant according to the chef, is in its people and this one is no different. The service is impeccable and the staff knowledgeable and attentive but never pretentious or stuffy. It’s a great balance of elegance and casualness that makes this restaurant a great fit on the Montreal food scene. As for the food, all the dishes we ordered were perfectly cooked, except for my pork dish, which was a bit overcooked. The flavours and textures of every dish were beautiful, the combinations solid classics although not super creative. Some of my favourites include the fried artichokes with a delicious aïoli and nipitella (wild Italian mint), the grilled octopus with marcona almonds, one of the most tender octopus I’ve ever had and the scallop with white asparagus and morels, the perfect spring dish. The menu will get an overhaul every season but it will also change often organically, depending on the availability of certain seasonal and local products.
Right before we ordered dessert, Chef Boulud came out of the kitchen to have a chat with the guests, as he often does in all his restaurants. He sat down at our table for a long chat and told us all bout his love for our city and for that joie de vivre that reigns in Montreal. He noted that this year marked his 8th time in the city for Grand Prix weekend but that it was the first time he had to work through it. Opening a restaurant is hard work and his whole team of executives from New York, from managers to chefs, is in town for a few weeks until Maison Boulud runs smoothly on its own. He then offered to give us a taste of the whole dessert menu since we were hesitating with our choices!
For those of you who have a sweet tooth like me, the desserts created by Suyin Wong are beautiful and delicious. The pastry chef worked at Boulud’s Vancouver restaurant before it closed. She then did a stage with Pierre Hermé in Paris and came back to the Boulud family. Her rhubarbe vacherin is just beautiful to look at, almost too beautiful to eat but we did anyway! The chocolate coulant with liquid salted caramel oozing out of it might be the must cutting edge of desserts but it’s still one of my favourites and this one was exceptional. The strawberry and orange blossom dessert surprised us all – in a good way! – with its punch of middle eastern flavours.
I am certain that Maison Boulud will become as much (if not more) of a classic and an institution in Montreal as its predecessor. It’s a beautiful dining experience in a gorgeous setting with impeccable service and perfectly executed food. I know that it will become a classic in my repertoire and I cannot wait to go back to try the lunch and the brunch.
Maison Boulud accepts reservations by phone or online up to a month ahead of time.
1228 Sherbrooke West
514 842 4224
Monday to Friday 7am – 10.30am
Saturday and Sunday 7am – 11am
Brunch (starting on Sunday June 17th 2012 – Menu to come)
Sunday 11.30am – 2.30pm
Monday to Saturday 12.00pm -2.30pm
Sunday to Thursday 5.30pm – 10pm
Friday and Saturday 5.30pm – 10.30pm
This meal was offered by Maison Boulud