Usually Diva #2 plans everything to the smallest detail, but this year Diva #2 left her birthday plans until the last minute. Correction, last minute for her is only planning a dinner two weeks before, for Diva #1 last minute is planning a dinner an hour before dinner. Needless to say that Diva #2 is a little anal, as well as a stickler for the rules, but you need varied characters to make a successful group of friends. Joe Mercuri, who has been dormant for the last couple of years, has jumped back into the restaurant scene with the opening of Mercuri restaurant, and Mercuri Bar just next door. Excited to try something new, Diva #2 opted for Mercuri restaurant as the starting point of her birthday.
The usual suspects were in attendance, both Divas, Sweet Pea, Sensei and this time, even Kool-Aid. Sadly Kool-Aid is such a picky eater that we usually avoid bringing her to dinner in fear that our frustration over her lack of a palate would lead to us bludgeoning her to death. The Divas take our love of food very seriously! Upscale and gorgeous, Mercuri is a beautiful restaurant, very modern and trendy. Our waiter was more than attentive, the sommelier was sent over when we needed a consult on our wine and we were more than pleased with our experience.
The ambiance was relaxed and date night, very calm, quite unlike the Divas. We began by sharing almost all of their appetizers. The pappardelle with rabbit and porcini was divine. The papperdelle was perfectly al dente, the porcini were meaty and delicious but there could have been more rabbit meat. The sauce was creamy yet it was partially frothed like a mousse. Made with the juices from the rabbit meat, it perfected the dish.
Kool-Aid kept it easy and had the red and yellow Heirloom tomatoes, with spiced nuts and radish. This is not something that we would have ordered but it was delicious. Sprinkled with quinoa, tamarind and Montreal steak spice, this was definitely different than your usual tomato salad. With a mango sorbet topping the tomatoes, the dish was innovative but in our opinion it was somewhat overpriced.
The beef tartare was perfection. This appetizer had a good amount of beef and was perfectly cubed so as not to be too chunky. Citrusy with radish slivers, parmigiano reggiano, capers and edible flowers, this dish was rather refreshing. Tiny deep fried shallots made mini onion rings and added a crunch to the beef tartare. Successful dishes do not only have varied flavours but varied textures too. Mercuri’s beef tartare was impressive.
Sensei ordered the octopus, while we wanted to try the soft shell crab but we were warned that it was a small amount. Instead Sensei opted for the octopus with potatoes, olives and chilli. Sitting on a potato purée, there was complexity to this appetizer. Lightly charred on the outside, the octopus was not over cooked and it was spiced well. This was not your typical Mediterranean octopus dish and the Divas were rather surprised with the flavours.
The thickly cut red tuna was a special of the night and it was without competition our favourite of the appetizers. This deconstructed dish was made with the freshest of fish, dollops of mango cream, with sprinklings of tobiko, cilantro and a black sesame crumble. What was interesting was that it had an adult version of gummy worms that added a sweetness and textural element. The tuna was almost candied, very different, and the whole dish had an Asian inspiration with a twist.
Though expensive, our favourite main was the risotto with truffle, morels and pistachios. This creamy dish did not skimp out on the morels and the truffle flavouring was apparent too. Stracchino is an Italian cow’s milk cheese that topped the risotto. Stracchino is known for its mild flavour and it melted into the risotto adding more creaminess to the dish. The risotto was a hit, easily one of the best risotto dishes that we had ever had.
They had run out of halibut, so they offered us the black salmon instead, it was good but it didn’t wow us like the risotto. The fish was a touch overcooked. Served with asparagus, wild rice and king eryngil mushrooms, it did not live up to Mercuri’s previous dishes. The fish was not as tender as we were expecting, this is even evident in the picture where it doesn’t seem like it is flaking off. The mushrooms were meaty and a delightful addition to the dish, but the radishes were unnecessary. It was decent but at this point in our meal we had begun to expect more from Mercuri.
Sensei ordered the veal tenderloin; he ate it so fast that Diva #2 barely had a chance to steal a bite before he attempted to stab her with his fork. Cooked perfectly to medium rare, the center was pink and the meat was tender and buttery. The gremolata added a kick of freshness and the flavours all blended together effortlessly. Sensei was pleased, which is a rarity, usually he is crabby and cantankerous !
When choosing a dessert for Diva #2 we were quite happy to see a shortbread cake with pear, lime cucumber and gin. Cucumber and gin are the foundations of Diva #2’s favourite drink: Hendricks Tonic. It came to no surprise that we chose this dessert to sing her Happy Birthday and toast to another year. The cucumber and gin was made into a granita, the shortbread cake was moist, and the lime added a citrusy element. It was the perfect summer dessert, very refreshing and once again, innovative, something that we had now come to expect from Joe Mercuri.
The Cousins and Haitian Immigrant soon arrived to add to this group of misfits. More desserts were ordered like a coconut cherry chocolate tea explosion deconstruction that was decent but didn’t wow anyone, and a candy cap pudding with pomegranate and pecans. Again, the candy cap pudding was good but not as impressive as the shortbread with cucumber and gin dessert which was both original and absolutely delicious!
In the end we can say that Joe Mercuri has wowed Montrealers yet again. Many dishes were innovative and the food was both texturally complex and in in taste. Some dishes were overpriced for what was being offered but this is often, but not always, the case in Old Montreal. We are now eager to try Mercuri Bar next door!
We drove off to Flyjin and Garde Manger for cocktails, but alas the night couldn’t simply end well. Drama is always associated with the Divas. Diva #1 squeezed Diva #2, Kool-Aid, the Haitian Immigrant and Sweet Pea into her 4-person Mini Cooper. Already they were snug but when Diva #1 found the perfect parking spot on St-Paul right in front of Flyjin she just had to have it. Only a scooter was in her way, so Sweet Pea jokingly offered to move it “like we do in Greece” … Diva #1 took her up on that offer. Sadly Sweet Pea had had one too many and the scooter was soon on its side with Sweet Pea looking mortified. The Haitian Immigrant went to help, all the while fearing a criminal record ending in deportation and Sensei and the Cousins laughed and took photos from the side. Another successful end to Diva #2’s birthday, there is always an adventure with the Divas!
Our Rating: Splendid