Let’s be honest, as Montrealers, we are spoiled rotten with great restaurants and talented chefs. When you go out for fabulous dinners once or twice a week, it becomes even harder for a restaurant to impress us. Some days we just feel like we have seen it all, the tartares, sweetbreads, the duck, etc. After hearing so much about the food at the newly opened Racines, we decided that it would be the perfect place to celebrate Femme Fatale’s birthday. Racines made the mistake of not inviting us to their opening event, but we will let that slide… this time. To make matters more exciting, Femme Fatale brought along her new Monsieur that Diva #1 was eager to evaluate. He started off with a few points because he agreed to go to dinner with three crazy women, knowing full well that we were going to be watching his every move.
Located on the corner of McGill and St. Maurice in the Old Port, Racines is a long and narrow restaurant. It is part of the group of restaurants belonging to the MTL Cuisine restaurant group which includes Bar & Boeuf, Helena, Venti and Les 400 coups. The Divas arrived first and were seated at a table facing the side of the restaurant that is almost entirely made of glass. There is also bar seating which gives you a closer look at the open kitchen, something we love to see in a restaurant.
We started with cocktails and the Divas both ordered the Hendrick’s cucumber. Refreshing and crisp, it was the perfect drink to start our night. Femme Fatale indulged in an Old Fashioned, though the cherry was missing, which upset her, and her Monsieur had a rum and coke.
Usually, restaurants will give you complimentary bread for the table. However, at Racines, you have to order the bread. At only a 2$ charge, the artisanal fresh bread is worth it. The bread is from the bakery of Hof Kelsten and Monsieur certainly enjoyed it, even snatching the slices of bread off of the ladies’ plates. The joke of the night was how he kept ordering more bread and eating it all. He got more points for being a glutton, we like that!
Our waitress explained the menu, saying it was tapas style and meant to be shared. The dishes ranged from light to heavy and she recommended three plates for women and four plates for men. The Divas already had their eyes on seven different plates. We’re not the type of women who order a salad to make a feminine, or delicate, first impression. We candidly admit that we are almost always hungry!!
We wanted to have wine with our dinner but finding one that everyone agreed on proved to be a challenge. La Femme Fatale wanted a sweeter white wine, whereas Diva #1 prefers a dryer wine. We had complicated requirements and each told our waitress what we liked and she somehow managed to find a white and a red that satisfied everyone.
Before any of our dishes were served, we were presented with an amuse bouche, which, aside from rarely being served in restaurants anymore, is usually boring. At Racines it was an oyster, which, in and of itself, won us over. It was dressed with buttermilk and shallots, and though we were expecting it to be sour because of the buttermilk, it instead added creaminess and was delicious!
Femme Fatale started with the foie gras and chastised us for not ordering it ourselves. The foie gras was combined with meringue, which isn’t a favourite, but once we tried it we loved it. The foie gras was made torchon style and was shaved into long curled pieces. It had the consistency of good country butter, cool and smooth. The meringue added a sweet little crunch and the black pepper was the perfect addition, tying it all in.
Her Monsieur enthralled us by ordering the raw beef with onions. We are always impressed by adventurous eaters, as well as men who know food and wine. This is one of the many reasons that Zeus and Mr. Wonderful intrigue us so, that and because we are stupid. Never forget that the Divas are all about bad decisions. Now back to the food. The onions were stewed and translucent, and added a slightly sweet flavour to the raw beef tartare. The meat was slightly warmed because of the cooked onions placed on top and the tasty juice pooling in the bowl. The beef itself was perfectly seasoned and savory.
The Divas saw some favourites on the menu and they were hard to resist. We started with the blood pudding, which Monsieur was adamant about not trying but we convinced him and soon the thought of coagulated blood didn’t disgust him. Always trust the Divas! Blood pudding often frightens people, but we recommend that you try it, you will be pleasantly surprised. It was served with wafer thin slices of turnips dusted with plenty of black pepper on top of a yogurt or sour cream based sauce. The small marinated pearl onions were sweet and the crunchy exterior of the blood pudding was deep and rich. The Divas may have converted la Femme Fatale and her Monsieur, they seemed to enjoy the dish.
The veal cheeks were served with endives and sunflower seeds. You had to peek under the tent of endive leaves to find the meat. The veal was tender and the sunflower seeds added an addictive little salty crunch to the supple meat. This was a really impressive addition because it added a unique element to the plate. The endives still had some bite to them, but they were properly cooked so they had lost their bitter edge which turns most people off. The Divas were turned on!
The shrimps were served with romaine lettuce on top and rested in a pool of chive butter which added a depth of richness to the shrimp which were pink and perfectly cooked. Dipping the romaine leaves in the butter was also a nice touch. Shrimp does not usually intrigue the Divas on a menu; it is something that we can make at home so we often opt for different seafood. Ordering this shrimp dish is worth it at Racines, the combination of flavours is unique and mouth watering.
Femme Fatale ordered the scallops which replaced the mackerel dish that night. Prepared the same way as their mackerel dish, the scallops were made with daikon and horseradish. Daikon is a type of radish that mixed with a few greens and the horseradish made an interesting accompaniment to the well cooked grilled scallops. This tapas was tasty but not necessarily our favourite of the night, especially in comparison to a few other more decadent tapas. Perhaps it would have been different with the mackerel.
So far, Femme Fatale’s Monsieur had impressed the Divas, and this had nothing to do with the fact that we were starting another bottle of red wine.
The veal tartare was another interesting tapas served with a thick dollop of mustard cream. The veal tartare was in tiny cubes, well seasoned and plentiful but there was a little too much cream on top of the meat, and it began to overpower the mild taste of the veal. Though the mustard cream was tasty, sometimes less is more.
The octopus was tender and had a lovely smoke flavour. It was topped with thin slices of radish which eliminated the usual strong, sometimes overpowering spicy taste of the radish. The sauce was made up of sour cream and a squirt of black squid ink in the center which made it visually appealing. Though this dish was tasty, the taste of the octopus was not evident enough, and we have had octopus prepared in better ways. Perhaps we are spoiled because we are of Mediterranean descent.
The Albacore tuna was one of our favourite dishes, served with a red kuri squash and pumpkin seeds. The tuna arrived as a slab, and the squash was made into a purée that topped the fish. The red kuri squash was creamy and slightly sweet, with a hint of chestnut. Simply divine! The tuna was exquisite, meaty and melted in your mouth. The pumpkin seeds added some saltiness and crunch to juxtapose the soft textures of the dish.
The sweetbreads piqued our interest and they were paired with smoked pasta. The sweetbreads themselves were cooked well – a crispy outside but very tender on the inside. The whole dish tasted very smokey and meaty, it was very good. The smoked pasta came in the form of a sheet of pappardelle and it was well seasoned and perfectly paired with the veal sweetbreads. The entire dish was smoky and well made.
Our waitress said one of their best dishes was the Gaspor piglet so Femme Fatale and her Monsieur ordered it. The pork was moist, the fat was crispy and was partly melted into the meat to add flavour. The skin was also very crispy and we were soon fighting over it. It was served on a bed of savory oatmeal, very different than the breakfast fare you are used to but the combination of flavours worked well. Diva #1 wasn’t very fond of the oatmeal but she generally doesn’t like it. The oatmeal was seasoned and topped with pork jus, but this little tapas is all about the piglet, never mind the oatmeal.
The breast of the guinea fowl was moist and tender and the skin was perfectly crisp. Served with cabbage, carrots and potatoes, it made for a satisfying, hearty winter dish. It was also served with a tarragon pesto-like sauce which was a great addition to the meat. The guinea fowl could have easily been bland but everything was well seasoned which seems to be a constant at Racines. This is great because the Divas hate bland cooking.
Next came the duck breast that was cooked a perfect medium rare with crispy skin. Nothing is worse than soggy duck skin! Served with tender leeks, which had a very subtle flavour, and on a bed of a kale pesto-like sauce that mixed well with the duck juices, this was another success. The sauce was very different to the usual berry or duck au jus sauces that come with duck. Though the Divas usually prefer duck legs to duck breasts, this was a succulent piece of meat.
A night out is never complete without a friend dropping in and this time, Vegan Vixen stopped by after work to have a drink (or two). She arrived just in time for dessert and though we were full, we decided to try at least one. And while Diva #1 teased Diva #2 about getting the dessert with the Jerusalem artichokes, a favourite of Diva #2, we settled on the apple cake. It was served with diced apples, a thick caramel sauce and more creaminess. The cake was moist and the caramel sauce added decadence to the dish. The diced apples on the side of the cake lacked a bit of flavour, but drizzled with the caramel sauce, their taste was improved. We expected the apples to be stewed, maybe in brown sugar, but we found that they were a bit bland.
Nonetheless we ended our night with cappuccinos and Diva #1 with a Grand Marnier, her favourite digestif. The Divas whispered amongst each other and concluded that we liked Femme Fatale’s new Monsieur. He was funny, charming and made her smile. More importantly they stayed together after he called her fat on the first date, and he moved in by just staying over one night and never leaving. He’s a keeper! Diva #1 is already being fitted for her flower girl dress, unbeknownst to them both.
So did Racines live up to all the hype that surrounded the opening? It definitely impressed the Divas! The style of the restaurant was great, the service was excellent, and the food delicious. We were the last to leave the restaurant after a great birthday celebration for an amazing friend, and her new beau survived the constant barrage of questions. He couldn’t have been that traumatized, we went out again with them the following week.
Our Rating: Splendid
Tagged: 444 McGill, Albacore Tuna, Amuse Bouche, Apple Cake, Artic Char, Blood Pudding, Chef Simon Mathys, Chive Butter, Cocktails, Duck, foie gras, French, Gaspor Piglet, Guinea Fowl, H2Y 2G1, Hof Kelsten Bakery, Jerusalem Artichokes, Mackerel, McGill, Meringue, Montreal, MTL Cuisine, Octopus, Old Montreal, Old Port, oysters, Piglet, Racines, Racines McGill, Racines Montreal, Racines Old Montreal, Raw, Raw Beef, Reservations Needed, Scallops, Shrimps, Smoked Pasta, Splendid, Squid Ink, Sweetbreads, tapas, Tartare, Veal, Veal Cheek, Veal Sweetbreads, Veal Tartare, wine