Every so called ‘foodie’ is in constant pursuit of that next level meal. The search for that ingredient, dish, or experience that just transcends what you already perceive as good food. It could be a hole-in-the-wall with incredible Szechuan cuisine (like Mission Chinese), a food truck that serves up the best doner kebab, or a fine dining restaurant that really pushes the culinary envelope.
Although these experiences are hard to come by, on a recent trip to Montreal I found exactly that at Le Mousso, a contemporary restaurant opened in late 2015 by Chef and Owner, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard. The restaurant only has one menu, and that’s the seven course chef’s tasting menu ($65 USD). On any given night the menu will be completely different from the previous day, based on what is seasonally available in the local region. Le Mousso also offers wine pairings, as well as one supplemental course that can be added for an additional price.
As is with any tasting menu, the portions are small so that the diner can enjoy the full range of courses and not get fatigued towards the beginning of the menu. The dining experience begins with the waiter handing you that night’s featured menu. The menu will be in French, but can easily be translated by your server or your iPhone. The only choices to make are whether you wish to do the wine pairings and/or the supplemental course, which on that evening was a lobster dish sprinkled with crispy chicken skin.
By the time you’ve glanced over the menu trying to figure out what certain French words mean, the servers asks “so, are you ready to begin?” Before the amuse-bouche comes out (not counted as one of the seven courses) you can finally take in how cool Le Mousso truly is. The restaurant’s whole look is very minimalistic. In fact, you could easily walk right by the front door since there is no sign announcing the restaurant. On that particular evening the weather was textbook perfect, so the large accordion windows were open at the front of the restaurant. Thankfully we sat right in front of the window, as the cool breeze came in and the additional light was much appreciated for my photos.
The small interior has exposed brick walls that have been painted white and are accented by one bright modern painting on each wall. The middle of the restaurant has the bar area, as well as an open staircase leading down to the exposed kitchen. The black wood tables give the restaurant a nice casual but refined atmosphere in which there isn’t really a dress code.
It didn’t take long for the amuse to arrive. It featured local oysters, a bite of hay smoked potato with salmon roe, and a leafy green sprinkled with a sharp Canadian cheese. The presentation of the oysters was beautiful – the oysters were already shucked but had the top shell intact as they lay on a bed of pebbles. As you uncap one of the oysters you see the addition of waygu beef tartar sharing the shell with the juicy oysters. Waygu beef aside, these were some of the tastiest oysters I’ve had, brimming with a salty freshness that paired great with the rich beef. The potatoes were set on fire in front of our eyes, and then covered by another dish to lightly smoke them. We were instructed to dress the potatoes as we please with the house-made sour cream and local salmon roe. The leafy green was delicious with the cheese but couldn’t follow the oyster and tartar act.
Next was the seafood pie, made with a sea urchin mousse and a squid ink crust. The dish was visually stunning, with the fresh edible flowers and herbs giving contrasting flavors and colors to the dish. I didn’t get a ton of sea urchin from the mousse, but it was still delicious. A nice addition would have maybe been a piece of sea urchin on top, if I were to knit pick.
Keeping with the seafood theme, our next course was a shrimp taco, but not just any shrimp taco. The taco shell itself was made from pork fat, which was incredible since it was so delicate and didn’t have that overpowering taste that is often characteristic of pork fat. The shrimps were a local smaller shrimp that was really sweet, served chilled with some house made aioli. As for toppings, it was essentially a garden of fresh herbs and greens that were perfectly crisp and refreshing. This dish was stellar, both in creativity and taste, and could be one of Antonin’s signatures in my opinion. I’ve read that for past menus he’s done this dish with crab instead of shrimp, which I’m sure was also otherworldly.
Our last seafood course before the richer dishes was a bluefin tuna caught in New Brunswick. As far as tuna alone goes, this was the freshest and tastiest tuna I’ve ever had, more so that my previous personal record setters at Azumi and Charleston. This preparation of tuna featured a tomato miso with baby white radishes and a chilled dashi poured tableside. The chilled dashi really accented the cold tuna nicely, and made for a very refreshing and light dish. The tomato miso paste wasn’t my favorite, and maybe a lighter yellow miso with more subtle flavor would have paired better with the tuna. The baby white radishes were absolutely amazing, such concentrated flavor that added a slight bitterness to the dish. Honestly, this dish would have been perfect with just the tuna, radishes and dashi, but I think it will get refined over time if it stays on the menu to something flawless.
Our first meat dish was a roasted duck breast with rhubarb and black garlic. Let me start by saying that ever since I spotted this dish on Le Mousso’s Instagram feed I had hoped it would be on the menu when we dined there. This dish delivered in what could easily be another of Antonin’s signature dishes. The piece of duck still had that richness that you get from the crisp duck skin, which was so nicely cut by the fresh red-orange piece of rhubarb. The black garlic emulsion was a perfect dipping sauce and added nice depth to the dish. My only complaint was that the duck could have been a bit more tender, and the rhubarb was so good I would have liked a larger piece.
Our final savory course was venison served with peas. This was the only dish I didn’t love. I’m not the biggest venison fan and the peas added a certain flavor that made the venison taste even more gamey. I don’t mind proteins cooked medium rare, but when the protein is a bit gamey, cooking it to that temperature gives it a certain funk that can be hard on the palette at times. Having to follow the duck dish also didn’t do the venison many favors.
The first of two dessert courses was a buttermilk ice cream with fresh berries, balsamic, pepper, and large meringue chips. The ice cream and berries were hidden in the deep bowl by the large piece of solid meringue, which you had to crack to find the rest of the dish. I found this dessert delicious and I didn’t get a heavy essence from the pepper. I usually don’t like meringue but this rendition melted into the ice cream and was quite nice.
Our final course was a chamomile Popsicle served with on a stick (literally) with freeze dried foie gras sprinkled on top. As with every course, the dish was visually stunning. I don’t entirely think the foie gras made sense with the deliciously delicate chamomile Popsicle. In fact, I wiped the foie gras off and ate it separately. I think for a final course, something refreshing and palette cleansing like chamomile is perfect and it didn’t need the added richness or saltiness from the foie gras.
To say that Le Mousso was an incredible meal is an understatement. This caliber of food, with this level of creativity, service and presentation, would easily run you $200+ per person in NY, Chicago or San Francisco. I think certain dishes needed minimal tweaking, but we can’t forget how new this restaurant still is – they will get it right, and when they do I’m sure the prices will increase accordingly. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention how accommodating the staff was to certain requests, like allowing me to take pictures of the kitchen as the chefs worked, or arranging for me to meet the chef as well. Chef Antonin welcomed me into the kitchen and asked what else we have planned while in Montreal, and even gave me some recommendations for other restaurants he likes.
Montreal as a whole is a culinary mecca that culminates with Le Mousso. The city offers cuisine beyond the stereotypical croissant or poutine, and does so at prices very affordable (relatively speaking) to Americans because of the USD to CAD conversion rate. For any foodie, Le Mousso is at absolute must. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance by phone, since they don’t have a website or online reservation system.