I’m told that time at the restaurant L’Auberge Saint Gabriel in Montreal is considered to fall in two different eras – before Eric Gonzalez and after Eric Gonzalez. Before Gonzalez, this place had the reputation of being a a great space searching for an identity. With Gonzalez, they found that identity. The Provence born veteran chef, now a year and a half at L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel, brought his traditional French techniques along with a few contemporary touches to the beautiful and bountiful produce of Quebec and has now matched them with a space that conjures magic.
One of the attributes of Montreal I most appreciate is the sense of not just being in another country, but of being in another continent. L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel magnifies that pleasure. With its ancient walls (the building is original and was the first inn in North America – built by a French soldier in 1688) and Gallic influenced food, it is easy to feel like one is in Europe, however, it is the Quebecois touch that really elevates the place. The ingredients and the sense of place shine through to make this a special place on its own terms, terms that are enhanced by its obvious sense of history and its connections to Europe.
Sitting outside on a terrace on a perfect August afternoon for lunch is one of life’s great pleasures. The Auberge’s terrace is particularly pleasant, filled with old world charm and flowering hibiscus. Sitting in a shady spot we perused the reasonably priced menu and asked Chef Gonzalez to send what he thought best.While the initial dish looked interesting on the menu, I would not have ordered it on my own and that would have been a mistake. The consommé was the very essence of summer tomato, but light and refreshing. It’s clear, golden color flowed beautifully over the log of fresh garlicky chevre that lay along the bottom of the bowl covered by shaved vegetables, herbs, tapenade and fresh tomato slices. A quenelle of tomato sorbet slowly melted into the bowl from its perch on the rim. This was a sensational burst of flavor and amalgam of texture and temperature! It was beautiful and truly delicious.
The perfect wine for a perfect summer afternoon proved to be this lovely 2010 Corsican Rosé, Cuvee Fiumeseccu, from Domaine D’Alzipratu. Crisp and clean, the wine was cooled to an appropriate temperature and proved entirely refreshing.
Could a dish be more French than this one? The cod was moist and firm with loads of flavor from the fennel and herbs. The leek parmentier was so soft and wonderful with the briny pop from the red mullet roe a nice touch. The one thing that could have improved this dish would have been crisping the fish skin, which was limp and tasteless. The plate itself was actually a heated piece of slate.The heated slate plate returned once again, this time bearing what may have been the single most delicious pork chop I have ever eaten. While that may be a slight exaggeration, this Quebec chop was damn near perfect. Moist and packed with savory pork flavor, I couldn’t get enough of it or anything else that came on the plate. The polenta was creamy and cheesy, loaded with Comte cheese and the mushrooms were pure umami. By the time I was finished, were it not for the bone, my plate could have been used for the next serving. It may not be difficult to make a pork chop delicious, but it isn’t easy to make it elegant. This was both comfort food and haute cuisine.
Though not quite on as exciting as the rest of the meal, the desserts were tasty, relatively simple, clean and well made. In the foreground are scones with red berries jam and an ethereal cheesecake foam. In the background in the mason jar is white chocolate panna cotta with lime cream, coconut crumbles and raspberries. While it was quite light, I was surprised to see the cheesecake “foam” labeled as such. While the technique has not disappeared, nor should it, I rarely see it called that anymore as the term seems to have suffered a backlash from its former ubiquity.
I finished my lunch at L’Auberge full and satisfied. I could not have eaten more then, but the meal left me with a desire to return and try more of what Chef Gonzalez has to offer. Before leaving I took a look around the restaurant. The space is truly grand. here are some photos: