Montreal is a foodie’s paradise, with its French undertones and ethnic cuisine inspired by a mosaic of different cultures; it comes as no surprise that Chuck Hughes opened Garde Manger deep in Old Montreal. As mentioned before, Diva #2 worked with Hughes and is a fan of both his television show and his food…she even has a signed copy of his Garde Manger cookbook…BITCH!Besides the chance to catch a glimpse of Chuck Hughes, Garde Manger is known for two things: a chalkboard menu featuring delectable delights and a loooooooooooooong waiting list. After months of anticipation, the Divas happily got a reservation and entered the Garde Manger to celebrate some good news…we are really good at celebrating.
Keep in mind that the Divas entered Garde Manger with the same trepidations as when they entered Joe Beef…celebrity restaurants are often disappointing because there is so much hype that you’re expecting perfection. But Garde Manger delivers perfection, the waiting list is worth it and the testimonies are true.
We sat close to their chalkboard menu and spent too long of a time deciding what to eat because everything looked irresistible. Garde Manger is known for its elaborate menu but some items are frequent contenders, and they must be ordered if you see them up on the board. They are the seafood platter (oysters, scallops, shrimp and crab), the lobster poutine and the braised ribs. On this fine night the seafood platter was available but there were too many options on the menu to limit ourselves to sharing a large platter. But we did choose an appetizer of half a dozen east coast oysters. Fresh, salty and delicious, these oysters did not disappoint and arrived in a beautiful long trough decorated with seaweed and served with a cocktail sauce, lemon, two types of Tabasco and the usual onion vinaigrette.
Though the braised ribs did not appear on the menu that night, the infamous lobster poutine did. Diva #1 is not a poutine fan, I know, I know, what sort of Quebecoise does not like poutine? That being said, this poutine was perfection. The matchstick fries were crispy, the gravy tasted like a richer lobster bisque, and the curds plentiful. More importantly, the lobster chunks were huge, which was unexpected, and we seriously contemplated ordering a second serving….
Although we were only three (good ol’ Bellatrix was with us), we decided to order a third appetizer, the Jerk Crab legs. Hey there was no one around to impress, so sucking the meat out of crab legs was completely à propos. This dish was rich in spices and hot hot hot! It was served with lime and decorated with rosemary; the lime added a great citrus flavour that cut away from the spiciness. This was a great dish, but not to be enjoyed on a first date because you really had to get dirty to enjoy these succulent legs that were filled with sweet meat. The jerk spices made this a unique way of enjoying crab… the Divas like to get dirty, when necessary. Unfortunately because the dish was spicy we drank a lot of wine…and then ordered some more…
For our main meals we were torn and wanted to order them all. Diva #1 ordered the veal cheeks with foie gras on a waffle lathered in a thick sweet sauce. Words do not describe this dish and if you love foie gras (Diva #1 swears by it) then you should not hesitate if this dish appears on Garde Manger’s menu. The foie gras was surprisingly a substantial piece, the veal succulent and the whole dish was just bursting with unique flavours.
Much to the Divas’ chagrin we chastised Bellatrix for ordering the chicken; you do not get plainer than a pathetic piece of chicken. But she smugly glared at us after we tasted her plate; this was not your typical chicken. The meat was tender, almost as if slow cooked and it was topped with a caramelized sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes. Bellatrix called this dish “Chicken Crème Brulée.” She has not let us forget that we ALMOST stopped her from ordering the chicken.
For our last dish, Diva #2 ordered the seared scallops served with greens and roasted carrots on a bed of mini gnocchi in carrot butter; cooked to perfection! The scallops were so fresh and even though they were covered by a rich sauce, their unique taste really came through. This was another amazing plate and we were soon happily eating in silence (for once).
Of course we still had room for dessert. Another Hughes’ specialty is his deep fried Mars bar à la mode with pineapple. We ordered this dessert because we had to, it was an in house specialty and though it sounded like it would be too sweet and probably gimmicky, we bit the bullet for our dear readers and decided to try this much raved about dessert. Mars bars aren’t even up there in our top favorite chocolate bars, but this dessert deserves a standing ovation. The deep fried crust is crunchy but not greasy and when we broke through it, a melted confection of chocolate and caramel greeted us. Since tasting this dessert, the Divas have seen similarities popping up on other menus, like Art:Brgr which tries a similar variation… please, who can compete with Garde Manger?
Unfortunately as the night wore on, the music got louder and louder and the atmosphere became almost club-like, this was unfortunate because we would have stayed for more drinks…the Divas love to drink. Fortunately for Garde Manger, the food is too amazing for that to matter, truly a celebrity restaurant that is worth its celebrity status.
For another Chuck Hughes haunt, go to Le Bremner, which we hope to review soon, and see what they have to offer. Le Bremner’s food is less adventurous than Garde Manger, as well as less expensive and less well known. Yes, Garde Manger is expensive but god damn it the food is worth it! The Montreal Food Divas love indulging…
Our Rating: Always on Thursdays