Saturday, September 14, 2013

Don't cry for me Argentina... (the truth is I've died and gone to food heaven) - L'Atelier d'Argentine

Sooo I just came back from my first restaurant invite ever, courtesy of L'Atelier d'Argentine, and it was simultaneously exciting and terrifying, since I generally have no idea how these things go down. I kind of felt like a country bumpkin entering the city. But enough of my deep-seated social anxiety issues... This is a food blog, and food is what you're here for, right?

I know there's some kind of unwritten food blogger code where you're supposed to try restaurants anonymously in order to get an accurate review, and since this was an invite, this will be more of a restaurant feature post than my regular grading review, mmkay?

Okay, I'm a bit in love with the ambiance of this restaurant. It's located in the Old Port, so it has the European stone building look going for it on the outside, and it has a very clean and modern look on the inside, classy without being gaudy.

Outside the restaurant
We were seated on this ledge, separated from the main dining area and surrounded by big glass windows, so we got a nice view of the water and the weird lego-shaped condo building, whose artistic architecture is perhaps far beyond my simple understanding. We also got to sit on a rocking bench!

Our seat, and one of our views.

As you can expect from a restaurant of this caliber, the service was exceptional. Of course, it could be because of the invite, but due to a little hiccup that came up at the end of the meal, I have the feeling that there was a mix up, and that the waiter perhaps didn't know we were invited. If that was the case, then the service is very profession, courteous and attentive without feeling intrusive. When we asked for recommendations, the waiter explained the entire menu in detail, and offered his personal preferences as recommendations, which we took and ended up enjoying very much.

There was one sour note in the evening that came with the aforementioned mix up. Another waiter had come to ask us to pay, which I didn't mind doing, but since I was invited and was told that the bill would be taken care of, I didn't want there to be a mix up. So I told the waiter the name of the Sales and Marketing director who had invited me, and he replied with: "Am I supposed to know this person?" He probably could have been a bit more tactful, but hey, beggars can't be choosers! It all worked out in the end, with an apologetic manager coming in and smoothing the situation out.


Pimm's Cup cocktail
 We started off with a complimentary cocktail, which I believe is called the Pimm's cup.  It's essentially a lemonade with a bit of lime juice, orange liqueur and Pimm No 1, which is a type of gin. I don't know anything about cocktails or alcohol, but this particular cocktail is very tart, with the sugar crystals swirling and slowly dissolving in the cocktail, adding just a hint of sweetness. I quite enjoy sour things, so this cocktail was right up my alley. Plus, sour things help open up your appetite for all the yummy foods to come!

Terrina de Pulpo
 At the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered the Terrina de Pulpo, which is an octopus terrine (kind of like a jellied meatloaf, but with octopus). It's made by shocking the octopus meat in hot water, then placing it in a mould with seasoning and other ingredients, chilling it, and then cutting it into thing slices.

No, unfortunately, it's not a square octopus.
Since I had never even heard of an octopus terrine before, let alone tried one, I thought this dish was very interesting. The octopus was surprisingly soft and easy to chew, unlike the tough and stringy octopus I'm accustomed to eating at sushi. Did you think that the purple sauce on the octopus was some kind of blueberry sauce? Because I did! But nope, it's actually some sort of (I'm guessing) pureed black olive, olive oil and lime mixture. The olive flavour was very bold, and took me by surprise, but it went well with the fresh crispness of the arugula. Overall, a very enjoyable and complex-flavoured dish.

Crudo de Corvina
We were also recommended one of their most popular appetizers, which is the Crudo de Corvina, or raw corvina, a type of saltwater fish. The corvina is thinly sliced, and drizzled with lime juice and olive oil, with a fine dusting of paprika on top. The fish is then topped with a chopped avocado, bell pepper and diced onion salad, and garnished with a thin, waffle-like potato chip.  The presentation of this dish eye-catchingly beautiful, with the vibrant contrast between the bright cherry tomatoes, the green avocado mixture, and the soft, opalescent corvina (what? I like pretty things...).

The tastes and textures of the dish had an equally appealing contrast, with the crunch of the chip contrasting nicely against the soft, buttery texture of the corvina and the smooth yet crispy avocado salad. The corvina itself had a very delicate briny taste, kind of like the taste of sea bass, and was paired well with zesty lime juice. The paprika gave every bite of fish an unexpected kick at the end, working well with the natural sweetness of the fish. I thought the dish could have done with a tiny bit more salt, but those with refined palates can probably appreciate wide range of subtle flavours as they already are.

 I know Argentinean restaurants are probably most known for their steaks, and my friend and I had come fully prepared to try their famous steaks. However, lamb is my friend's kryptonite, and moment the waiter gave us his recommendation for the lamb dish, she instantly caved and decided to go for the lamb. The cordero consists of a pan roasted lamb chop and braised leg of lamb cooked in its own juices, seasoned with rosemary, oak honey and malbec wine, and accompanied by roasted vegetables.

 I don't usually order lamb at restaurants, for fear of it tasting too gamey, but I have to admit, this is probably one of the better lamb dishes I've had so far. The lamb flavour was subtle, and more fragrant than overpowering. The lamb chop had a nice sear on the outside, and was tender and pink on the inside, just the way we like it. I thought the roasted veggies were pretty phenomenal too, with the caramelization bringing out the natural sweetness of the vegetables. My only complaint was that the braised lamb was a little on the dry side.

 Again, under the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered the 10 oz Lomo, or the tenderloin steak. Ah. Now this is feature presentation, the moment we'd all been waiting for. I don't know why, or even how to explain it, but the moment I laid eyes on this steak, I thought: ruby. Which wasn't too far off. This hulking steak came with two dipping sauces, the chimichurri (right) and the criolla sauce (left), as is custom with Argentinian steaks. Both sauces were light in flavour, but acidic enough to cut down the heaviness of the massive steak.

If you're hardcore, though, you could probably do with eating the steak as is. The perfect medium rare cook, the freshness of beef, the sea salt seasoning, and the smokey char on the steak already lend plenty flavours to the steak. The meat was also incredibly juicy. One slice of the knife had the steak bursting at the seams and juices spilling out all over the plate (as shown in the picture above), giving it a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. 

Flan de Papa
 Your steaks can come with a choice of side, which includes a variety of salads, fries, etc. I again went with the waiter's recommendation and got the Flan de Papa, which is a potato and goat cheese gratin. I thought the gratin was pretty well done, with the baked potato skins giving the potatoes a little extra crunch, but I was so full from the main course that I barely touched this.

 At my friend's urging, we decided to split a dessert, and man, am I ever glad we did. We ordered the Panqueques, which is a crepe stuffed with burnt-sugar bananas and dulche de leche, and sprinkled with honey-roasted walnuts. It's served with a milk semifreddo, which is a frozen whipped-cream/ice cream cake.
The dulce de leche gave the dessert a certain decadent salty sweetness, while the honey roasted wallnut and burnt sugar brought a nice crunch to it. My friend likened the dessert to a banana crepe and creme brulee in one. The semifreddo was also light and airy on the outside, and denser and more creamy towards the middle. It also had a hint of coconut. I'm a total sucker for desserts, and dulce de leche is probably my kryptonite, so this dish definitely made my evening.

Price - $$$
Soooo I realize now that we probably unintentionally ordered all the pricier items on the menu, which I'm feeling a little guilty about. The Pimm's Cup would have been $10 each, the Terrina de Pulpo $14, the Crudo de Corvina $12, the Cordero $31, the Lomo $34 and the Panqueques $8. That being said, most of the appetizers are around $12, the mains around $25, and the desserts around $8. So for a restaurant in its location and of its stature, I'd say it's pretty affordable. I mean, in the old port, I've seen a lot worse for a lot more. But seeing as how I'm still a student (thus poor, and without class), I'll probably be too intimidated to be returning anytime soon.

Final Remarks
Even though the circumstances of my visit was due to an invitation, I have to say, I was genuinely impressed with L'Atelier d'Argentine. The restaurant has a great ambiance, and is great for business dinners, or even a night out with friends or loved ones. The food is nicely presented and original, with some really memorable dishes, like the steak and the Panqueques. The prices are reasonable, given its location and class, but still out of my price range (well, what isn't?). An excellent experience overall, even if there was a slight mix-up.

And finally, I'd like to thank L'Atelier d'Argentine and Mr. Head of Sales and Marketing of Tom Nacos Group (can I say his name? Probably shouldn't...) for giving me the opportunity to try and write about your lovely restaurant! It's been a blast. :)

L'Atelier d'Argentine
355 Rue Marguerite d'Youville, Montreal

(514) 287-3362

L'Atelier d'Argentine on Urbanspoon


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