Intrigued by the polarized reviews of Le Piment Rouge my wife and I decided to try it for the first time a coupe days ago. It turns out the bad reviews are right - this place is truly, truly terrible. Completely overrated on all counts. Where to start...
We decide, somewhat atypically to order cocktails off their menu instead of our usual Negroni. A few minutes after ordering, the waiter returns with two drinks, plunking down a Lychee martini for my wife, telling her "Sorry, the drink you ordered is no longer available so I made you this instead". It was on the house, which kind of makes up for the odd service choice of just bringing something that wasn't requested, but still, kind of a weird start.
We then ask our server for some recommendations, telling him we're thinking of having the Pumpkin soup, lobster wontons, and peking duck to start, and the pork belly, and salt and pepper shrimps for a main course. He emphatically recommends the General Tao chicken - the most utterly North American style dish on the menu! He also tells us the salt and pepper shrimp are tasteless and that we should have the Szechuan shrimps instead. Again, weird. We make the changes he recommends, and I tell him that I'm intrigued by how good he says the General Tao chicken is, and ask him for an order, and explain to him that I know it's too much food, but we'll bring home the extra. We also ask for rice to accompany the meal. At this point we're still hopeful, but it's all downhill from here.
Oh, I forgot to mention - this 700 choice wine list? Not that I saw - they had a tiny wine list (100-ish choices), mostly low-end bottles, I didn't see anything over $200, and most were in the $50 range. We ordered a Clos-de-Jordanne Pinot, which admittedly was not marked up all that much, so pretty decent wine value.
The soup never shows up, the first dish to arrive are the wontons.
As has been remarked elsewhere, the servers dish up everything, and walk away with food on the plate every time - again, really odd. The won-ton wrappers were home-made, and the dough was not bad, but the lobster filling was obviously shredded canned crab, and most of it had leaked out into the broth, so these big ravioli sized won-tons were literally filled with a single half mushroom. Totally inept execution, and villainously overpriced at $22 for four mostly empty husks.
Next up was the Peking Duck. Yet another totally inept dish. They advertise "Mandarin pancake and duck sauce", but what you get are two standard pancakes, and two premade rolls, a little cucumber and onion, and a *tiny* leg of warmed up crispy skinned duck. The premade rolls had no sauce in them, but of course we had to bite into to them to know this, at which point we unrolled them to see what was going on, doctored them back up - messy, and aggravating. The duck was "ok", but for the price ($22) we could have bought a whole duck down the street in chinatown. Oh, the sauce, out of a jar for sure - sickly sweet.
At this point we're on to the main course, and it just keeps getting worse. They brought us one tiny bowl of rice to share, and it was crusty on top like it had been sitting under a heat lamp.
The pork belly are these massive (half a rubick's cube sized) slabs of fat with an inedible carapace of caramelized skin, with a chunk of mysteriously dry white pork meat in the middle. I've had pork belly all over the place, and this was easily the worst. You expect the fat and meat blend together into a sumptuous crackly skinned bite - but the only way to eat this dish was to scrape the fat and skin to the side, and shred the cube of dry pork and mix it with whatever sauce you could find to moisten it up. Disgusting - we didn't eat most of it - $36 down the drain.
The szechuan shrimps were the most edible of all the dishes, being more boring than outright bad. The shrimps were fairly large and tasty, but the sauce was more sweet and sour than szechuan, the only flavour or spice coming from the mass of caramelized onions that permeated the sauce. Not a chili to be found anywhere. At $34 for what was basically a "Just Noodles" calibre sauce this one stung, but at least we got some food in our belly!
Oh, the General Tao that the waiter pushed on us - it didn't show up either. Two forgotten dishes in one meal. Crazy.
A few minutes after they clear our plates, two manager looking guys show up and bring us a plate with fortune cookies, mints, and a book of toothpicks - Hey guys, no tea, no dessert order - what the hell!? We're pretty keen to get out of there at this point anyway, so we're not complaining, but it was yet another weird moment. While we're waiting for our bill the manager guys come back with a sparkler wedged into a slice of strawberry shortcake - I had booked for our anniversary, but I guess the hostess understood "anniversaire" (birthday in french), and so had brought us a piece of birthday cake - we started to explain the mistake, and then just took the cake - it was too complicated. We had a couple of bites of the clearly store bought (Safeway quality) whipped cream and angel food cake monstrosity - paid our check, and bolted.
This probably sounds like a really harsh review - but it's more sad than angry. The servers were affable, and the decor is pretty nice, the wine value above average, but the food is just really, really bad. I'm astounded by some of the positive things people have had to say about it, because this was the kind of bad where you know that it isn't an off night - the dishes are flawed to their core, there's a fair amount of store-bought ingredients, and there's very little subtlety in the execution.
I was hoping to discover my new "goto" Chinese restaurant, but much like the fortune in my cookie "You are never bitter, or petty", this turned out not to be the case.
Ya, i told her the service was slow, and inattentive, but she wasn't actually interested in fixing anything, she was calling me out because *she* was offended. Pretty unbelievable actually that they would think it appropriate to have a guest answer for a poor tip.
Bookends suggestion to sit at the bar is probably a good one - treat the place as a casual night out, and you might have a better time - not me though, i won't be going back anytime soon (I'll stick to l'Inconnu, still the best place of that ilk around)
Went as a foursome to La Salle a Manger on Mont Royal (www.lasalleamanger.ca) last night and was very disappointed. Firstly they sat us at the front of the restaurant, where they have an Applebee's-esque hostess stand. Besides being a bit on the tacky side, the placement of the stand proved very distracting since the baseball capped maitre'd hung out all night chatting with the wait staff and his friends that kept coming in.
On the plus side, the dining room is pretty spectacular, with orange-y bare filament bulbs for light, and reclaimed wood tables, as well as an exposed kitchen. As we settled in, preparing to ignore the hip-hop host, we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, waiting 20 minutes to receive aperitifs, and bread did not bode well for the rest of the evening. Looking around the rest of the dining room one saw many necks craning for a glimpse of their server. By my count there were, including the host, 5 front of house staff members working. When we sat down, there were no more than 10 tables, so the delay, and lack attentive service was mystifying.
Then there's the food. I had read a review that said the sweetbreads at La Salle a Manger were the best in the city. What a joke. These sweetbreads were an undercooked mess, full of sinewy filament, and tasting organ-y and slick in the mouth, the exact opposite of what a crispy, meaty sweetbread should be. I've eaten sweetbreads all over the city, and these were easily the worst. I left a good size chunk that was visibly undercooked on my plate, but no-one bothered to ask if there was a problem. Sigh...My wife had the scallop ceviche, which was pleasantly tart, and quite fresh, so it wasn't all bad.
The mains were a mixed bag as well. We didn't really know what we were ordering, since our server didn't bother to tell us about any of the dishes, or the specials. The menu is fairly light on details, so I didn't really know how the rabbit leg was prepared, and when I asked for details, I got "oh, it's a rabbit leg...", as if she was either too uninterested to describe the preparation, or didn't know.
Ultimately, all the dishes seemed to rely heavily on cubed bacon for the flavor, though the rabbit leg (which came stuffed with a very mushy chorizo paste, sitting on a bed of baked beans!), was 'ok', it certainly wasn't anything to write home about. My wife ordered what turned out to be a pork chop, though on the menu it had some more flowery name that didn't indicate this - not suprisingly the server didn't say anything. So, she didn't really expect what she received (though again, we didn't know what to expect anyway), but it was, while a little on the dry side, an adequately cooked pork chop, with a nice side of bok-choy.
Finally, after sitting around for another 15 minutes, with a thimbleful of water and wine each, that we were preserving lest we never see our server again (at one point I made eye contact with another server who was polishing cutlery in the back, to no avail) I finally stopped our server, somewhat curtly asking if we might see a dessert list, and order coffee. She snapped that they didn't have a dessert menu, and pointed me 180 degrees to the back of the dining room where their dessert specials were written on the wall. Guess I would have seen that if I had eyes in the back of my head.
We decided to cut our losses and bail. Of course it took another 10 minutes for anyone to grab the credit cards off the table. In the end, the server confronted me at the door, presumably because of the poor tip I left, asking if she had offended me in some way. Pretty unbelievable that they can provide such lackluster service, and not even know it. She was genuinely surprised!
Beware the allure of the dining room; the service is brutal, and the food overrated at La Salle a Manger!
My wife and I went to l'Inconnu for the 4th or 5th time last night. Over the last couple years we've watched as the restaurant has become more and more dead. Even at its peak, I don't think I ever saw them full, but certainly any bustle that used to exist seems to be snuffed out now. Yesterday when we arrived at 9pm there was one solitary diner. When the wait staff outnumbers the guests, it's not usually a good sign. We considered bailing on our reservation, but decided to stay, thinking this would be our swan song meal at l'Inconnu, and we hoped that it wasn't going to be terrible.
The meal started off with the customary complimentary amuse bouche (always a nice touch). It was a watermelon gazpacho, with sweet chili and coriander. Absolutely tasty and refeshing.
For starters I had my usual ris de veau/sweetbreads. L'Inconnu is the first place I ever had sweetbreads, and now after trying them all over Montreal at L'Express (gross), LTPB (good, but part of a larger dish), and others, I am sure that L'Inconnu has the best sweetbreads in the entire city. Crispy on the outside, plump, but not squishy on the inside, and sitting on a bed of mushrooms in a port (?) reduction, this is a dish to be savored. I have to close my eyes sometimes, it's that good. My wife had a snowcrab salad that was fresh, and infused with a lemony tartness. It was good, but hard to compare with the richness of l'Inconnu's sweetbreads.
For mains, my wife had a halibut roasted with market vegetables, including seasonal fiddleheads. Like much of the fish at Inconnu, it was a simple preparation that let the freshness of the fish dominate.
I had the duck duo, which included sliced duck breast slathered in a fig reduction sauce, and with an odd little ball on the side. When I broke open the ball I was met with tender shredded duck confit, with a fried duckfat 'cracker' on the side. These "duo" dishes are a specialty at l'Inconnu and are always interesting and tasty.
This meal was so good, making the fact that the restaurant was so dead, soooo wrong. I just had to post something for my fellow Chowhounds to try to get you to give l'Inconnu a shot. The restaurant is a tad off the beaten path (if you consider a 5 minute walk from St Denis and Pine off the beaten path!), the interior is immaculate, warm and inviting, and the service, if not impeccable, at least friendly and familial.
Help keep l'Inconnu alive. I can't live in a world where restaurants with great food, and great ambiance lose out to the slop houses along lower St. Denis!