Last week I arrived in Montreal late in the evening, and while part of me wanted to just jump in the shower and into my hotel bed, I was still partly on California time so 10 p.m. felt like dinner time. Luckily, in my pre-trip research, I knew there was a notable restaurant just a few blocks from where I was staying.
Bouillon Bilk is a modern restaurant that opened on the edge of the city’s entertainment district, known as Quartier des Spectacles. It seemed like an unlikely spot for a fancy restaurant as I walked past a comedy club, office repair shop, and what looked like a computer lab school. The restaurant still has an old sign above the door from what apparently used to be an electronic repair store.
But inside, there’s no mistaking this for anything but a stylish restaurant, with its large U-shaped bar (where I ended up dining since I had no reservations) and the white-cloth-covered tables. It recently went through a facelift and expansion. The warm glow of the dimmed lights was brightened by the light coming through a small window into the kitchen.
One thing I should say about dining in French-speaking Montreal: many of the hosts and servers speak English, and many restaurants print bilingual menus. So it’s easy to maneuver meals here.
Bouillon Bilk’s menu from Chef Francois Nadon wasn’t very extensive (about a dozen starters and mains, and fresh oysters), but it had an abundance of ingredients. Each course listed between four to five ingredients after the featured item.
I started off with something off the menu. My server told me about a special amuse available for order. While I think of most amuse bouches as a complimentary bite from the kitchen, Bouillon Bilk had a special amuse available for CAN$6 (or $4.60). It was a sea urchin bite, and since I love uni I had to get it.
Served in its prickly shell, the fresh uni meat was topped with bacon bits and sat in a sauce. (So I’m going to have to admit that when dining in Montreal, it was difficult for me to remember the description of the dishes — especially when it came to the sauces — because there were way too much happening in them to recall.) What I did remember about the sauce, however, was the tiny bits of green apple that added a brightness from the slight tartness that helped cut into the rich sauce and uni. It really kicked off my meal in the right direction.
BTW, I had a glass of a French white wine — a 2014 Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire Sure Lie from Domaine Landron Chartier. As expected, many of the Montreal restaurants serve French and Italian wine. (I found very few California wine, at least served by the glass.)
For my appetizer, I ordered the lobster salad with peanuts, peach slices, daikon, coriander, and wild rice (CAN$19 or $14.60) because I was on vacation so why not, right? The delicately poached chunks of lobster meat were beautifully presented with dollops of sauces that hinted at either the sweetness of the peach or the savoriness of coriander. I didn’t remember much of the wild rice, but I remember there was a lot happening on the plate.
That’s a realization I’d come to during the course of my dinner at Bouillon Bilk; that there were just a lot happening on the plate. And most times — like the sea urchin amuse — they all blend harmoniously.
But then there were times when I felt that a dish may have benefited from some editing, such as my main course of scallops (CAN$31 or $23.85). The seared scallops (slightly smaller than what I’m used to in California but at least there were several pieces on the plate) were surrounded by zucchini ribbons, shiitake (that came in the size of button mushrooms), pear, watercress and a beurre noisette (warm butter) sauce — and finally topped off with a deep-fried squash blossom.
I sometimes felt the strong flavor of the zucchini or shiitake, or even the sauce for that matter, took attention away from the sweet scallops. Still, it was a substantial dish, and maybe that was the thinking of making the dish worthy of a main?
Side note: The menu had some tempting desserts like a kouign amann and pumpkin cake, but I didn’t want to overeat right before going to bed. I kept saying I would come back another night for desserts but my schedule never allowed a return, which is one of my regrets about the trip.
For a first meal in Montreal, I thought I did pretty well in choosing Bouillon Bilk, one of the many contemporary restaurants helping to elevate Montreal dining. The warm and often-busy space (I could tell as I walked by every night on my way to or from the metro station) and friendly service makes this a place to enjoy a complete dining experience.
The deets: Bouillon Bilk, 1595 Boul Saint-Laurent, Montreal. (Nearest metro station: Saint Laurent) PH: 514.845.1595. Open for dinner daily from 5:30 to 11 p.m.; weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.bouillonbilk.com
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