Blame it on Daniel Boulud’s star power. The New York-based chef’s spanking-new Maison Boulud, at the iconic Ritz-Carlton Hotel, has been buzzing from the moment it opened its doors. The menu is a blend of Boulud hits and dishes that feature some of the Québec ingredients discovered by the chef on recent trips to the province, like excellent suckling pig from the Laurentians and arctic char from the Gaspésie region…
Although the restaurant feels fancier than a bistro, it follows the current move towards a more casual setting (think no tablecloths or flowers on the tables and wooden patio furniture by the garden). The décor looks typically hotel-like and corporate, and is heavy on light woods, beige and glass (glass bar shelves, glass wine showcases and even glass partitions).
What brings it to life is the buzzing open kitchen with colourful jars stacked high. But while the space is deliberately non-fancy, the clientele seems to find the Maison’s opening an occasion to toast and dress-up, with plenty of elegant older couples and men in suits filling the tables.
The definitive strongpoint is the quality of the food – not surprising, considering Boulud’s stellar reputation. He owns more than a dozen restaurants around the world, including six in New York, his home base, and whenever he opens another one he leaves nothing to chance. More business dynamo and kitchen maestro than cook, he jets around to inspect and direct, and has been watching his new baby very closely.
The lieutenant chosen to man the stoves is the young Riccardo Bertolino, whom, like other members of staff, were lengthily trained in the Boulud mold and “imported” to guarantee kitchen and dining room standards. Despite having to split his attention between so many businesses, he avows that being in Montreal and running Maison Boulud feels familiar and close to his heart.
To those who know how much Boulud likes Montreal, it rings true. He has close friends here (all big names in the biz, like Toqué’s Normand Laprise and Ferreira Café’s Carlos Ferreira) and has a fondness for the spirit of the city and the locals’ love of eating.
While his appreciation for the local culture and wealth of ingredients runs deep, Boulud’s menu is a medley that speaks many tongues. There are Mediterranean fried artichokes with aïoli (very good) and tropical-style shrimps served cold with heart of palm, avocado and cantaloupe (not the happiest combo). There are classically French seared scallops with white aspargus and morels (a winner) and a beautiful dessert of strawberries with the Middle-Eastern touch of orange flower.
Best bets are the decadent chunks of Québec pork served with crisp Pommes Anna (a much finer version of scalloped potatoes) and the oh-so-perfect agnolotti topped with large shavings of summer truffles (which, sadly, aren’t on the menu and are only made by special request).
Much like the Ritz-Carlton itself, Maison Boulud doesn’t aim to seem hip or young. Well-executed world cuisine based on French technique and a polished and grown-up approach to service are the name of the game.