Le Fantôme: the kind of dining experience that great restaurants are all about
By Anne McDougall – mtltimes.ca
It took us a while to actually find Le Fantôme on William st., in Griffintown. We circled the block three times before we realized where it was, since the restaurant only bears a simple triangular sign without a name on it. We were a bit stressed that we our lateness might have made us lost our reserved table, but once inside the door, the warm welcome we received by the maitre d and owner Kabir Kapoor helped us to forget about it all.
The space is decorated in the popular industrial style with high ceilings, steel beams and wood accents. There are large modern collages on the walls which were created by a family member and the beautiful (yet sometimes chipped) dinnerware is made by the chef’s mother. The noise level is high, with upbeat lounge music competing with the busy table voices.
Our waitress brought us some complimentary fennel-wrapped appetizers to nibble on while we perused the menu. I reflected to Henri that restaurant dining experiences should be like renovation projects. When you hire a contractor to do the work, you don’t want to be able to say to yourself that you could have done the work on your own for less. You want to be in awe at the perfect combination of expertise and creativity that the person you have hired has put into the project. This is what I look forward to when dining out: I want to see and taste the work of a creative professional, someone who is a technical master and is able to put distinctive tastes into a dish. I think that Henri was more or less listening to my ramblings, since he was busy reading the menu and preparing questions for the waitress.
She appeared shortly and was able to give us detailed descriptions of each dish, which helped us to make our choices. We began by ordering two appetizers: an endive, black walnut and apple salad ($10), which offered a light and refreshing combination of bitter, tangy and sweet tastes, while the scallop, pork belly and chestnut dish ($16) was a more solid and filling offering. Henri liked the gravy accompanying the pork belly dish so much that he asked for some bread to soak it up. We were served a freshly baked brioche which was still warm and just the thing needed for the job.
I don’t want to say that we can be somewhat blase about dining out, but we have enough experience -like most Montrealers who dine out somewhat regularly- to know that dining out can be a hit or miss in this city. During some of our meals out, we mostly talk about other things, and the food is the backdrop to our chats. Not at Le Fantôme. The food commanded our attention and the topic of our conversation during the meal was how chef Jason Morris was able to create distinctive and delicious taste combinations in each dish we tasted.
We eagerly awaited the three main dishes we had ordered. This might seem like a lot of food, but the portions are not huge, and this is why we figured three shared dishes would be just enough for the two of us. My favourite was a morels and garlic toffee recipe ($16), which was a refreshing and innovative sweet and salty dish. The fish, fennel jam and samphire ($23) was also delicious and the sirloin steak, salsify and truffle ($24) had us smacking our lips and fighting over the leftover brioche to soak up more gravy.
It seems to be that when the appetizers and the main dishes are as dazzling as the ones we had tasted, the desserts usually follow through impressively. This is why Henri and I did not hesitate to order all three dessert items. It might seem like a lot, but we have a sweet tooth, and we are a bad influence on each other. I usually take a spoonful or two of each and leave the rest, but I was not able to stop eating the phyllo and hazelnut dessert with fig ice cream ($7). It was perfectly comforting, at once subtle and light yet rich: just delicious! If you are going to pick one dessert, take this one. If you plan on ordering two desserts, you will also be impressed with the white chocolate, curry and blueberry dish ($6). The malt ice cream sandwich ($4) was also quite good, but one of the dishes has to come in third, so there it is.
Le Fantôme is likely going to be one of those restaurants that people will name when they want to illustrate that Montreal has talented chefs. It is the restaurant you will think of as a sure thing.
1832 William St. (near St-Martin St.)
Open: Tues.-Sat. 6 p.m. to closing.