There’s only one way to describe L’Aromate: très, très, chic. This restaurant and bar is located inside the highly-rated Hotel St. Martin on Maisonneuve and has a second location in Laval. At the door, palm trees tower over you making you feel like for just one moment, you’re no longer in freezing cold Montreal and instead, you’re steps away from warm and sunny South Beach.
The decor is urban and modern and from the outside and the restaurant looks like it's changing colour thanks to lighting behind the wall changing from purple to pink to green and back again. You may also notice your dishware and terrine changing colour as well. Enough about the decor. Let's get on to what really wowed me.
Owner and head chef Jean-François Plante combines rich flavours from all around the world. Offering everything from burgers on brioche to veal with fresh mozzarella, the menu stretches from Quebec to Italy and beyond. We ordered from the set menu for MTL à TABLE, the city-wide restaurant week that runs from October 30th to November 9th. The menu had plenty of options covering three courses, including some of their staples from the usual menu. Including much-loved favourites for a restaurant week menu is a smart move, considering the fact that creating a whole new menu is a big risk, a culinary faux pas if you will, and often leads to disappointing, tasteless dishes.
Practice makes perfect and Plante’s dishes were very, very close to perfect. I have yet to call a dish “perfect,” as I'm saving that for a three-starred Michelin restaurant (a meal which is at the top of every foodie's bucket list).
The first appetizer was a country-style terrine with marinated vegetables, mustard seeds and Port caramelized onions. Pork belly, chicken, and bacon were combined for a richy, meaty flavour that paired well with the tang of the veggies and mustard. As terrine is typically served with something sweet, usually a fruit jelly, the onions were a nice twist that were equally as sweet and delicious.
If you've read my previous reviews you'll know that I pretty much always order octopus if it’s on the menu. L’Aromate served grilled Moroccan Octopus on a bed of mesclun greens, jicama, and alfalfa sprouts. On the side was a chickpea puree, which I believe is becoming the haute word for hummus. If you ever want to bring out your inner Anthony Bourdain at your next dinner party or potluck, just whip up some crudités à la chickpea puree. I initially thought the addition of sumac-spiced popcorn was odd and far too fashion-forward, but the crunchy pop fared well with the soft meat. The stand-out ingredient by far was the sweet corn chutney. It was to die for. I think I could have eaten it by the spoonful.
The first main course was an Albacore tuna tartare with sweet potato fries and teriyaki mayonnaise. It was the perfect marriage of French and Japanese cuisines. It sat atop a mix of bean sprouts, green onions, and black sesame seeds, underneath a crispy slice of baguette. Although the traditional French fixings of mustard and pickles were nowhere to be found, the sweet and savory mayo topped off this stellar fusion dish.
Believe it or not, it gets even better. The main dish I ordered, the mushroom risotto, was absolutely, positively heaven on a plate. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge pasta lover, but I always like to try new creations. Because it was multigrain, the risotto was chewy and firm, just how I like it (no one wants a mushy risotto). It was in a balsamic cream sauce that was anything but bland and full of mushroom-y goodness. I got a huge chunk of Porcini mushroom in every bite, which gave it that much-needed earthy taste. One ingredient sparked my interest: truffled peaches. They are small “baby” peaches that look like olives because they are picked before they start to ripen. They’re then preserved and pickled in white truffle oil to bring out the sweet deep taste of truffles. The mix of buffalo mozzarella, truffled peaches and parmesan created a fantastic flavour that I had never really had before. I’m still struggling to describe it. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.
The finale was sugary, buttery and crunchy all at the same time. We ordered the sugar pie for dessert expecting the traditional Quebecois pie filled with creamy brown sugar. Instead, we were presented with little pie balls rolled in pecans and drizzled in caramel sauce. It was overly sweet, just how sugar pie is supposed to be and I loved every bite. Plante didn’t miss a beat, serving the “pie” à la mode with maple ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. Are you salivating yet?
I have yet to mention the plating and presentation, which you can see was done well, but honestly, if each dish was walloped onto a plate from a pot in a school cafeteria I'd happily take a spoonful and then some. It was that good.
Images are the author's own.