Thursday, June 2, 2011

Travel Thursday: Montreal's DNA Restaurant

housemade charcuterie & pickles
I'm in a food coma.


Even though I've been back in Toronto for 3 days, I'm still feeling the after effect of the this past weekend. The boy took me to Montreal for four days packed full of food and a little bit of touristy stuff.  As I planned the trip I turned to where I often do when looking for suggestions on things to eat or do, Twitter.  I mean who doesn't right?

When I tweeted looking for Montreal suggestions, I instantly got a slew of great ones and started to compile a list of places to research. Then a few hours later, one came through from @dnaderek (Chef Derek Dammann) suggesting I go, where else?  DNA.  Now let me just be clear, DNA had crossed my mind, we had an amazing meal when we stopped through Montreal last summer on our honeymoon.  Why else would I be following the restaurant's chef? We had just wanted to try new spots on this trip. But as we sat there discussing the merits of our last meal at DNA, coupled with the fact that the chef himself essentially asked us to come, we decided we had to do it, new restaurants be damned.

I booked a reservation and tweeted to the chef that we'd be there.  He got back to me right away saying he'd note when we were coming in and put together a menu for us.  If we hadn't been excited before, we absolutely were then.
DNA's location in Old Montreal
A week and a half later we arrived in Montreal, putzed around for a bit (details to come in a future post) and got ready for our dinner.  DNA is located in Old Montreal, which was perfect since we stayed at the St. Sulpice Hotel, also in Old Montreal, so it was a really easy walk. 

I need to note that before we left the hotel I made a conscious decision not to lug my big DSLR to dinner. This was essentially my birthday dinner (albeit a bit belated) with the boy and I just wanted to enjoy it as a foodie not as a blogger.  The photos aren't my best, but it's what you get with a blackberry, since once we sat down I felt a smidge of remorse once I saw what Chef Dammann had in store and knew it had to be shared.

Moving on.  

Upon entering DNA I'm reminded of a hip lounge in LA or NYC, the opposite of what I'd expect walking through cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.  It's a nice contrast and the upscale nature of the space makes it great for special occasions.

While we're drooling over the menu, a plate of house made charcuterie was sent up from the chef.  Not a bad way to start the meal.  We dove right in trying each type and nibbling on the pickled vegetables in between, from wild garlic, to artichokes to cucumber pickles, they were the perfect foil to the rich and flavorful meats.  Knowing that the chef had put together a menu for us, we ordered the tasting with wine to really but the chef in control of our meal, confident we wouldn't be let down.  

Shortly after ordering Alex Cruz, the wine director, came over to pour our first wine and tell us a bit about what we could expect from the wines throughout the night, mostly Canadian wines from smaller vineyards, which we were both excited about. He poured us a taste and placed the bottle on the table.  I don't know if this is standard practice at DNA for a tasting with wine, but I've had quite a few tastings over the years and never has the wine bottle been placed on the table to help yourself to throughout the course.  

And here's where the food began.  It only seems right to give you a rundown, as I remember it, of what we sampled:
bone marrow custard
1st course
bone marrow custard on brioche topped with freshwater caviar
2008 Charles Baker Riesling
squid stuffed with spicy sausage with tomato & fiddlehead sauce
2nd course
lobster salad on brioche 
squid stuffed with spicy sausage perched atop a tomato sauce with fiddleheads
2009 Pilastro

3rd course
wild boar liver fra diavolo with a cucumber and tomato salad
2009 Averill Creek Gewurtztraminer
housemade cavatelli with goat belly ragu & house made ricotta

4th course
housemade cavatelli with goat belly ragu and house  made ricotta
spaghetti alla chittara flavored with jalapeno and topped with baby shrimp, toasted bread crumbs and a duck yolk
2009 Road 13 Jackpot Pinot Noir
housemade spaghetti all chittara with jalapeno, baby shrimp, duck yolk and toasted breadcrumbs
5th course
cast iron roasted rabbit with a green salad with thin sliced onions
mackerel topped with a beet, shaved asparagus and fennel salad
2007 Painted Rock Merlot
mackerel topped with beet, shaved asparagus & fennel salad

6th course aka pre-dessert
house made ricotta on toast with roasted apples
house wood teas
caramelized hazelnut tart

7th course - dessert
caramelized hazelnut tart
blood crepe
Pilastro Terracotta
blood crepe
To say it was alot of food is an understatement. But each course was better than the last, each bite was more exciting. Even though my food coma set in around the 4th course, I couldn't help but continue to eat just to see what the chef prepared for us next. 

I would love to write on an on about the merits of each dish, but I'll stick to my highlights.
lobster salad with housemade mascarpone, mint & toasted bread crumbs atop brioche
The lobster salad may be one of the best lobster salad's I've ever had and I'm from New England. The chunks, actually they were full on pieces almost too big to eat in one bite, were lightly dressed and topped with a dollop of whipped housemade mascarpone, toasted bread crumbs and tons of fresh mint.  I'd never think of pairing mint and lobster, but will in the future.  The freshness of the mint cut through the rich mascarpone and really enhanced the sweetness of the lobster meat. I would eat this lobster salad every day for the rest of my life.
wild boar kidney fra diavolo
The wild boar liver coated in an uber spicy fra diavolo.  Liver is very rich and so not for everyone.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't take me a minute to dive into this dish, but boy am I glad I did.  The spicy sauce really cut the richness of the liver, making it a special dish that I can't imagine I'd ever have anywhere else. The fresh cucumber and tomato offered a nice break from the heat and the slightly sweet wine that was poured paired beautifully.
cast iron roasted rabbit
When Chef Dammann brought out the rabbit, he described it by saying it should taste like a campfire.  When I closed my eyes and smelled it I could almost imagine that I was out in the woods cooking ever and open fire. That smokiness was right there, and yet not overpowering.  I dug in and from the cornmeal crust to the perfectly tender meat there was a rustic smokiness throughout making it one of my favorites of the night.  I love simple and rustic food, food that it feels like I could make myself, but doubt it would taste as good or be as special as it was on this night.

I think you can see now why I'm still in a food coma.  And this was only our first night!

All in all it was an amazing evening.  We will have a tough time not returning to DNA on each trip to Montreal. From the hospitable staff to the special food I cannot recommend this restaurant enough.  The tasting is a commitment on your belly and your wallet, but ordering a few dishes off the menu will absolutely give you as special an experience.  It's what we did on our first trip and we loved it enough to return.

DNA Restaurant
355 Rue Marguerite d'Youville

All food at DNA is sustainably raised and harvest in Canada.

They also have a store where they sell house made charcuterie, pickles, jams and many other local ingredients.

I've got all kinds of things up my sleeve from Costa Rica, Montreal, LA and Boulder.  Tell me, what di you want to see next? 

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