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Les Deux Singes de Montarvie

January 7, 2015

After what seemed like 2 quick nights in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, my husband and I boarded a train and took a one and a half hour train ride to Montreal, the heart of French-Canada, a melting pot of cultures and people and most importantly, food.  Montreal is known as a food lover’s paradise and we were so excited to have a couple of days in the city to experience it all.  In advance of the trip, my husband and been concerned that we might miss out of some of the great food the city had to offer as he knew that I wasn’t a French cuisine fan.  The idea of escargot, and mushrooms, and foi gras just doesn’t do it for me, and a lot of authentic French favorites are just not things I would find that pleasing.  However, I had read a few times about a small little restaurant that consistently received reviews that were nothing short of spectacular.  In fact, it is the #1 rated restaurant in Montreal on TripAdvisor.  When you read review after review for months at a time giving a restaurant nothing but the highest marks, you figure the restaurant must be doing something right.  After checking out the menu, I decided this French restaurant had a modern enough interpretation of food that I could probably find something I would enjoy, and I know that my husband would definitely enjoy it.  After telling my husband I was interested in this restaurant, he quickly got on board, and more than 2 months before our trip, I made a reservation.  Keeping in mind that this is a small restaurant consisting of not more than perhaps 10 tables, and really only one seating per night, we needed to get in our reservation as soon as possible to guarantee us a table during our trip.

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Located in the eclectic Mile End neighborhood, not too far from Mont Royal, Les Deux Signes de Montarvie, which translates in English to the Two Monkeys of Montarvie, is located on the bustling St. Viateur Blvd which is filled with numerous kitschy eateries, bars and restaurants.  Without knowing what to look for, you could easily walk right by this cozy restaurant and never know what was inside.  With a small storefront with roll up, garage-door style glass windows that open up during the warm summer months, the restaurant features a small intimate dining area and an open kitchen and bar.

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When you step into the restaurant, you almost feel like you’re stepping into someone’s house and you’re enjoying dinner as a valued guest inside a home.  Les Deux prides itself on serving what they call “gastronomic French cuisine,” marrying fresh, local ingredients with French techniques honed through the years.  In the kitchen, you can see pots filled with fresh herbs that are utilized for every dish the restaurant churns out each day.  If you don’t have a reservation here, you can kiss your chance of getting a seat goodbye, especially in the warmer summer months when dining inside the restaurant with its outer windows opened up to the boulevard out front the perfect atmosphere to linger for hours over the perfect meal.  Each table inside the restaurant is marked with a small clay rectangle upon which each diner’s name is written in chalk to reserve their table for the night.  This was definitely the most cozy, and unique restaurant that I’ve ever dined at and certainly a break from the normal of type of restaurant that my husband and I would find ourselves at either at home or while we are traveling.

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Upon being seated, we were immediately greeted warmly by our waitress who gave us each a cocktail menu to peruse.  The restaurant has a reputation for electric, handcrafted cocktails and an extensive and comprehensive wine menu.  After a few minutes with the cocktail menu I had to ask the waitress for a non-alcoholic drink she could recommend.  She told me that she could make me a virgin mojito and I decided to go for it.  As an aside, the waitress came back later to ask me if I was ok with my food being cooked with alcohol or if she should adjust my food order to ensure the kitchen didn’t use alcohol.  I thought that was really thoughtful of her and very forward thinking.  No matter how many times I have ordered non-alcoholic drinks at a restaurant, or specifically asked my waiter for non-alcoholic options, I’ve never had anyone ask me if I was ok with my food being cooked with alcohol.  This gesture alone already told me all I needed to know about Les Deux, we were in for one heck of an amazing experience with this restaurant.  Made with muddled mint, soda and lime, my virgin mojito was cool and refreshing on this warm summer night.  As mentioned before, the restaurant tries to utilize fresh herbs which they grow themselves in everything they make, their cocktails being no different.  You can see in my drink fresh sprigs of mint muddled and used as garnish from mint growing in a small container right next in the kitchen.  The use of fresh mint really brought out the flavors and essence of the mint in the mojito, which is exactly what you’re looking for.

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My husband got a bit adventurous and ordered a drink called the “Ntawmbe.”  The cocktail consisted of sambucca, vodka, strawberry puree, soda and lemon juice.  It was the sambucca that really caught my husband’s eye as he’s a big fan of the anise-flavored, licorice liqueur.  The cocktail glass was rimmed in simple syrup and pink peppercorns with a fresh strawberry as garnish.  My husband loved his drink.  The flavor of the sambucca really came through and the strawberry puree gave the drink a naturally sweetness to it.  In fact, my husband enjoyed his cocktail so much so that for the first time ever he ordered a second Ntawmbe.  He liked it enough that he didn’t even want to bother looking over the cocktail menu again and ordering something different.  He wanted another Ntawmbe.

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Fresh out of the oven, we were presented with a homemade bread basket and some whipped butter.  Maybe we were starving, but this homemade bread and butter were just incredible.  So flavorful and yeasty and piping hot out of the oven.  We devoured the crusty bread so quickly that we had to ask for a second bread basket.  Oops!

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Compliments of the chef, we were each given an amuse bouche to start our meal.  The waitress explained to us that it was a chicken with coriander and other spices dumpling served with a squash flower and other fresh herbs from the kitchen all over a spicy sauce.  I suspect that the spicy red sauce was sriracha, of which my husband agreed.  I’m not a fan of sriracha at all, but I really wanted to try the dumpling.  And boy was the dumpling worth dealing with the sriracha.  So delicate and tender, the spices with the chicken were perfectly matched, and the dumpling was perfectly cooked.  A terrific amuse bouche to preview what was to come.

Under the auspices that we were starved, considering that we neither had breakfast or lunch due to our traveling from Ottawa to Montreal, we decided to go all out on this meal tonight.  After all, this restaurant was rated the #1 restaurant in Montreal, we might as well test it out and see if the reviews were really up to snuff.  So, instead of each ordering an appetizer and being good with that, we actually ordered 3 appetizer.  Scandalous!  We actually didn’t intend to order three appetizers, considering that the restaurant’s menu isn’t that broad since they specialize in just a few dishes that they do very well every night, but once our waitress recited the soup of the day to me, I couldn’t resist and begged my husband to order it as a third appetizer that we could split.

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The soup of the day was corn chowder with potato puree and spicy chorizo.  I was a bit concerned about the spicy chorizo and hoped that it wouldn’t be that bad.  But it was the allure of the corn chowder that got me.  I know it’s summer and chowders are probably better as a winter dish, but I’ve always been a fan of creamy, sweet corn chowder and I’m definitely a potato kind of girl so corn chowder with potato puree had to be a good thing.  In fact, this corn chowder was unlike anything I’d ever had before.  Instead of being a chunky chowder filled with corn kernels and other vegetables, it was really a pureed soup rather than what I’d call a chowder.  The potato puree was essentially homemade mashed potatoes that were scooped into the center of the soup bowl.  The chowder, or rather the pureed corn chowder was poured atop the pureed potatoes and then some spicy chorizo was spooned on top with a drizzle of chili oil and scallions to finish off the dish.  The chorizo actually wasn’t spicy at all and the chili oil just helped to enhance the flavor of the soup.  The combination of the pureed corn chowder with spoonfuls of mashed potatoes was heavenly.  The combination was creamy, rich and so silky smooth.  The chorizo gave the dish that added flavor punch it needed.  For a soup described as corn chowder with potato puree, this was probably the most unique soup that I’ve ever had and definitely one of the tastiest.

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My husband chose for his appetizer the entrée of duck ravioli with crème of foie gras.  We learned that in French the word entrée actually refers a starter rather than the main course.  This dish is obviously one of the restaurant’s most popular as it’s offered as both an appetizer and a main course.  My husband chose this as his starter as the sinful combination of duck and foie gras was too much for him to resist.  An absolutely decadent dish, the ravioli in crème of foie gras was finished off with some herb oil made from the herbs grown at the restaurant and topped with some fresh basil.  My husband thought that the dish was heavenly.  He ate every last bite of the duck ravioli and used the left over bread from our bread basket to sop up every last drop of the crème of foie gras.  From what my husband told me, this dish is every bit as sinful, and rich and decadent as it’s description would lead you to believe.  My husband certainly became a believer.

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For my appetizer I chose the bison tartare.  Made with bison meat over a salad of avocado, parsley oil, beet juice and then topped off with a quail egg.  The appetizer was exquisite.  The avocado salad was a nice dimension to the dish with the fatty, creamy avocado to pair with the lean bison meat.  The parsley oil and been juice adding a bit of flavor, and the creaminess of the yolk from the quail egg acting as a perfect binding agent.  The tartare was just the right size.  A little bigger and I never would have finished it as it was so incredibly rich and filling.  I’ve had some great steak tartare, but this bison tartare was just so incredibly fresh and the meaty flavor of the bison shines through much more than it does in steak.  The freshness of the ingredients and the added care in the addition of the fresh herbs really made the dish come together as one cohesive dish.  It was just spectacular.

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When it came to the entrees, the main dishes, my husband and I both with went a meat dish.  I chose the black garlic and molasses glazed pork belly which was served with butternut squash, picked fennel, asparagus and home-made black mustard.  This dish was absolutely out of this world.  The black garlic and molasses glazed pork belly was so tender and melt-in-your-mouth I thought I was going to die.  While it was fatty, because of course it’s pork belly, it also consisted of a nice piece of tender pork.  The pork belly was so tender that I didn’t even need a knife.  The garnish of thin-sliced radish atop the pork belly was also terrific as it added a bit of a bite to the pork belly.  The pork belly was resting atop a mound of mashed, roasted butternut squash, which made it feel like mashed potatoes.  A meat and potatoes kind of dish, kind of, which is exactly what I love.  The grilled asparagus was so fresh and tender and full of flavor and the pickled fennel was an interest touch to the dish as it gave the dish the tangy flavor to cut through the fat.  The home-made black mustard also was a nice touch and added a flavor dimension that helped cut through the fatty pork belly as well.  As with every other dish we’d been served, this dish was also accented with edible flowers and garnishes of the various herbs growing on the kitchen counter.  The presentation was spectacular, and you really got the feel that the dishes that come out of the restaurant’s kitchen are meant to be part artwork in the presentation and part gastronomical fare because the flavor is just as wonderful as the look of the dish.

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My husband chose the milk-fed veal tenderloin for his main course.  The veal was served with a béchamel of Roquefort – yeah, my husband loves his cheese! – and was accompanied by a sauté of market vegetables, lemon butter and beet coulis.  First off, again, this dish was a thing of beauty with the beautiful edible flower and the arrangement of the sauté of market vegetables and the use of herb oil and garnishes of various herbs from the kitchen garden.   There is just a level of flair and creativity and artistry that goes into making these dishes that I’ve not seen before.  But, the dish isn’t a great dish unless the food is good and my husband loved his veal tenderloin.  Again, it was tender and moist and delicious and he couldn’t get over the béchamel of Roquefort, which he said really brought the whole dish together.  The béchamel was tangy and creamy and was a great compliment to the veal, but also added a creaminess to the sautéed vegetables as well.  All through our meal, my husband and I couldn’t stop raving over how terrific he restaurant was, how spectacular the service and attentiveness of the staff was, how dedicated to their craft the kitchen was and how amazing and delicious the food was.  It was an experience unlike any other.

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While we were full from our appetizers and our meals, we hadn’t eaten all day, the atmosphere was so relaxed and we knew that there were no other patrons to take over our table after we left, so we lingered at the restaurant.  My husband and I both ordered after dinner coffee, cappuccino for my husband, latte for me and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and the setting.  Even the coffee drinks felt luxurious and almost like a piece of art.  Les Deux Signes de Montarvie was, by far, the most outstanding restaurant experience either of us had ever been privileged to be a part of.  We just couldn’t leave Les Deux without a taste of their homemade desserts.  And of course, as I’ve said, we don’t share well, so we each had to order our own dessert.

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My husband ordered a dessert composed of panna cotta infused with vanilla and lemon and served with fresh melon and pistachio, or at least that’s what the description of the dessert described.  What arrived at the table was nothing short of a work of art.  A beautiful, perfectly set panna cotta sitting atop a bed of blue-green citrusy syrup surrounded by fresh melon.  The panna cotta was topped with crushed pistachios which added to the texture and flavor of the vanilla and lemon panna cotta.  My husband loved the panna cotta as the flavors of the vanilla and the lemon really came through and created such a complex, but wonderful, flavor profile.  The fresh fruit just added another layer of flavor and texture.  I tried a spoonful of the panna cotta and loved it as well.  You could definitely taste all of the flavors of the citrus and the vanilla and it paired together so well.  How much more beautiful, and delicious of a dessert could you find?  This was a perfect ending for my husband.

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For my dessert, I chose the a dish called the ile flottante, or translated as the floating island.  The dessert was composed of meringue with pecans and almonds sitting atop a bed of crème anglaise topped with berry coulis.  The addition of the fresh berries, and especially having the “island” topped by the star fruit, was terrific.  The meringue was baked perfectly and the chopped almonds and pecans were all throughout the meringue.  I’m not a fan of nuts, but somehow being baked into the meringue only added to their flavor and to the texture of the meringue.  The crème anglaise was just the right amount of vanilla and sweetness to add flavor to the dessert since meringue is pretty flavorless.  The berry coulis and the fresh fruit added the punch of added tartness to contrast against the sweet crème anglaise.  And the meringue and crème anglaise were light enough that the dessert wasn’t very filling at all.

By the time we walked out of the restaurant, my husband and I knew that Les Deux Signes de Montarvie was the hands-down best restaurant experience we’d ever had in our lives.  It would be near impossible to ever find an experience to top this one.  The attention to detail that went into every aspect of our dining experience was spectacular, from the finding our name on the table when we arrived, to the care and dedication put into the cocktail menu and crafting these beverages, to the amuse bouche, to the starters to the care and artistry used to craft our meals to the after dinner drinks all the way through the dessert, this may have been the best 3 hours of our life just spent enjoying the beauty that is the beautiful city of Montreal, the French food that is the life blood of this city, and the each others company as we took it all in.  I’ve never experienced a dining experience where every aspect from the time we walked through the doors to the time we walked out the doors was cared for, nurtured and looked after every step of the way.  The wait staff and the kitchen staff want nothing more than for you to have the dining experience of your life, to enjoy what they’ve created for you and for you to feel the same passion they feel when they created these drinks and meals for you.  I can see now why Les Deux Signes de Montarvie is consistently named by TripAdvisor as the top restaurant in Montreal, and it deserves every ounce of accolade that it receives.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. leumas permalink
    January 9, 2015 9:40 pm

    Best dining experience ever. Nothing else even comes close.

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