Driving five hours for a meal is normally out of the question unless you go to Restaurant Bonaparte, a legendary Montreal ‘Institution.’
My quest for the best meal north of the border has been solved. This old-school restaurant, located within Hotel Bonaparte and on one of old Montreal’s famous cobblestone streets, has become an international mecca for fine dining in the province of Quebec. From a storied wine cellar to century-old bricks on the wall, the structure houses a shrine to the culinary industry.
Entering this establishment, you are greeted with sincerity from the staff, then seated in one of the many unique rooms at a white-linen table topped with fresh heaven-sent white flowers.
You are handed a menu – confusion begins almost immediately – should I order from the a la carte menu, the six-course tasting menu, or the six-course tasting menu paired with wines, many of which are Canadian?
I chose the latter.
Enthusiastic, well-mannered, bow-tied waiter Frederic Ryan appeared at the table gleaming as he recited the menu I had chosen paired with appropriate wines. I later found out he was the house wine expert and the person responsible for choosing the wines to pair with the array of prepared dishes. My future was in his hands. Frederic Ryan was the entertainment for the evening, and I was the audience. His recommendations on both ends mattered. What dish? What wine? We are at a crossroads. Selections were difficult, but, with this waiter’s palate, there were no issues. He knew that I grew up in New Orleans, lived in Europe, and married a woman of southern Italian descent. So, let’s start, I said. Help me choose what you would choose if I were you. And the evening began!
Frederic quickly returned with a cold glass of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace followed by a bowl of ‘Bisque de Homard reliever au gingembre’ (Lobster Bisque enhanced with ginger). The soup was velvety, full of depth, strained to the max, and luxurious. The faint ginger flavor with fragments of lobster pieces cut through this liquid homage to the lobster. The Cremant was an exceptional addition that made this out-of-this-world bisque a true tour de force. It’s hard to follow a true masterpiece, but I must admit the next course, a ‘Duck Foie Gras Crème Brûlée’ was as pleasing as a follow-up to the lobster bisque as a dish could be. The creamy, smooth egg custard combination opened the door to the rich, buttery liver pate, which was complimented with diced, sautéed apple pieces and toasted slivers of bread. A glass of Hemmingford (Quebec) Poire de Glacé, Domaine des Salamandes, was the perfect sweet wine to cut through this masterpiece.
No words could adequately describe the Mushroom Ravioli in a sage butter sauce.’ Perfection to the highest standards paired with Twenty Miles Bench (Ontario), Hancock, Bachelder 2020 Pinot Noir.
After this experience, Frederic came over and said it was time to clean my palate and take a short rest before the next courses appeared. He served me an elegant refreshing scoop of pear and tarragon sorbet. After this time out, Mr. Ryan suggested I sample the vanilla-flavored shrimp and scallop dish. Who knew how well the depth of Madagascar vanilla would enhance shrimp and scallops? Definitely, not me. A glass of rich Domaine Billaud-Simon 2020 Chablis heightened this outrageous dish. The main course was next, a full-size Duck Breast flavored with maple syrup and wild berries was presented like a painting. The duck breast was fanned out and was highlighted with a host of vegetables and purées. The sweet potato purée was my favorite compliment to soften the flawless and hearty main course. Only a Saumur-Champigny, Chateau Yvonne, 2019 Cabernet Franc could stand up to this extravagant dish.
Fortunately, I saved a little room for the pastry chef’s dessert selection, which was served with a double espresso in my case. Cheesecake, crème brûlée and a strawberry macaron were served.
Three memorable hours had passed. Thanks to my server, Frederic Ryan, my favorable experience at restaurant Bonaparte will last a lifetime. It was a true bargain for $130 with wine and $90 without the highly recommended wine pairing.
Make sure to ask for a window seat and demand Frederic Ryan to be your server.