I’ve been following the career of Stelio Perombelon, the new chef of Sinclair, the restaurant of the stylish Hotel Saint Sulpice in Vieux Montreal, since I first joined eGullet in April of 2003 around the time he and Patrice Demers opened their delightful vegetable and dessert oriented restaurant Les Chevres. That restaurant lasted almost three years before it succumbed to financial pressures and Chef Perombelon went on to other positions. My wife and our son recently returned to Montreal, in part to visit Sinclair and see for ourselves what Chef Perombelon is currently up to.
The restaurant is located in the basement of the Hotel, but has its own street entrance in addition to the one from the hotel itself. The room has a busy,dark, modern-ish design that reminds me more of the latter half of the twentieth century than it does the beginning of the twenty-first. While the decor was not something I would or did swoon over, it was comfortable enough and to my joy had excellent spot lighting. We could actually enjoy the visual appeal of our food in addition to its gustatory attractions.
Chef Perombelon prepared a special menu for us. My wife and I opted to partake in wine pairings with the meal. We quickly received bread and butter. The black beer bread was outstanding. The crust was achingly crisp with a pillowy crumb. The flavor was hearty and complex. Had we not been anticipating a large meal, I easily could have kept on eating and enjoying this fabulous bread.The wonderful bread made its way into our amuse. Some luscious radishes were served with basil butter and croutons made from the black beer bread. This was simple, but effective, demonstrating the effect good ingredients can have when allowed to shine. Perombelon proved his facility with vegetables at Les Chevres and we were getting a nice refresher on that here at Sinclair. His cooking was certainly not vegan, but vegetables certainly play major roles in his cuisine and play them very, very well. These leeks picked up a touch of sweetness from the ice wine, which was used to balance the foie gras “snow” generously shaken over the plate. The leaves were from horseradish and added haunting notes of that root. Another subtle non-vegetarian component was a bit of smoked marrow to add depth. A pairing with a 2010 white Bordeaux from Chateau Ducasse added a nice crisp freshness that blended well with the leeks. This was more of a savory dish than I expected given the presence of ice wine. It was light and delightfully refreshing. The next dish featured a surf and turf combo of raw albacore tuna with LaQuercia ham, thinly sliced raw button mushrooms, sweet and sour shallots and romesco sauce that brought everything together. This was a combination that I did not find to be intuitive, but it worked nicely together nevertheless. It was paired with a Burgundy from Isabel and Denis Pommier. The wine was fairly oak heavy without much discernible fruit. I didn’t particularly care for it on its own, but it wasn’t terribly alcoholic(12.5%) and actually proved to be a good pairing for the dish. The red snapper was beautifully cooked and flavorful, though the skin was not cooked to a crisp finish, as I would have preferred. Romaine hearts had been braised to a sumptuous texture. An oyster mushroom placed underneath the fish offered earthy flavor and a meaty texture and a streak of meyer lemon pulp brightened the dish with a touch of sweetness and acidity. The pairing was with a 2009 Marsannay from Domaine Marc Roy called “Les Champs Perdrix.” Though it had noticeable oak up front, the bright acid levels quickly tamed that and let the minerals dominate. This was a lovely white Burgundy that restored my confidence in chardonnay. The wine continued to serve well through the next course. The only real flaw of this course was not having a spoon or a fish knife to lap up the remaining juices. The distinctive flavors had melded together into that delicious broth. This was a light and delicate dish. The gnocchi, which looked more like canneloni, were stuffed with tiny bits of broccoli and ricotta. Surrounding them was a foamed broth of caramelized onions. This dish was all about an ethereal lightness and subtlety, not over-the-top flavors. Unfortunately, this too suffered from a lack of a spoon to lap up the remaining liquids! Vegetarian, but most definitely not vegan, this “meaty” vegetable dish was the antithesis to the delicate and subtle gnocchi. fully flavored and loaded with butter, this was a delicious, vegetarian tour de force. The buttery, flaky pastry shell was magnificent and totally decadent. The rich squash, coated with an equally rich mushroom and citrus duxelles, was cooked to the perfect consistency, resembling a fork tender beef tenderloin in texture and even somewhat in flavor. A dollop of cranberries added a bit of acidic sweetness, while a light oat infusion cast additional earthiness on the dish. While the gnocchi displayed a flair for the nouvelle, this dish harkened back to the classic French cuisine of Escoffier, though with a modern touch. Both the Wellington and the gnocchi were vegetarian dishes. They were each delightful, but I enjoyed the dishes all the more because of their contrasts and order of service. Chef Pelombelon made it abundantly clear that he still possesses an unusual creative finesse with vegetable cookery. A 2010 full bodied Fleurie from Christophe Pacalet was a superb accompaniment to the Wellington. Chf Perombelon may have made a reputation with vegetables, but we were reminded of his skill with meat as well. This crepinette was stuffed with a Raspberry Point oyster, sat upon potato puree and was topped with crisped potato and fried kale. The plate showed a more rustic side to his cooking. Perombelon’s duck was perfect. Medium rare, lean with crisp skin, juicy and packed with flavor, this is one of my favorite things to eat. His plate included beet puree, red endives, birch syrup, salsify and a roasted cippoline onion. All but the onion were harmonious on the plate. Nothing was technically wrong with the onion, but it didn’t mesh with the other components. I found it superfluous and the only mis-step of the meal. As a mis-step, though, it was minor. I left the uneaten portion on the plate. Both meat courses were paired with a Spanish wine, a 2008 Brunus from Monsant. At 14% alcohol, it could have been called “Bruiser,” but it did have good acid and was chosen for the correct courses. At Les Chevres, Perombelon had the benefit of working with Patrice Demers, an extraordinary pastry chef. At Sinclair he is doing the pastry himself and showed us a deft hand. This first desserts was outstanding. It was a fabulous blend of textures and complementary tastes. The honey ice cream hit just the right notes against the vacuum sealed apple and a celestial vacherin. Ginger added spicy notes without overdoing it. This was a wonderfully refreshing, delicious and memorable dessert. The poached pear with vanilla, white chocolate, oil cake and blueberry flowers was good, but not rapturous like the first dessert was. The third dessert exuded Canadian flavor. A goat’s milk panna cotta was accompanied by a maple crumble, pecans and squash puree. This was another delicious composition. Our meal finished with an offering of well executed profiteroles. The desserts were all excellent with the vacherin particularly outstanding. Perombelon’s cooking was as good and maybe even better than I remembered, which is not faint praise. The room is comfortable enough, even if it isn’t a personal favorite for the decor. The service remains a work in progress, though to their defense, the still new restaurant was packed the evening we were there having just received a glowing review that had just been published that very morning in the French language newspaper La Presse.