More than a month after a three star rave for Le Shinji in Griffintown, Lesley Chesterman (behind the paywall) visits another Jeff Stinco restaurant for The Gazette.
Laurea, the splashy reboot of Laurier BBQ from Stinco and partners Cindy Simard, Éric Le François, Jean Benoit Hinse, Rebecca Bourque et al., is a charmer. Kudos go to Bourque in particular for her gorgeous makeover of the landmark. The professional wine service from Hinse is also a plus.
Less impressive, alas, is the food from chef Hakim Chajar and company.
If only I were as enthusiastic about the food. Chajar has a solid technique and his plate presentations are beautiful. Yet many of his plates left me wanting. Sometimes it was an excess of salt, sometimes a lack of spark, and sometimes an odd clash of flavours. Case in point: a starter featuring slices of flash seared beef with sweet potato foam, tatsoi, grilled mushrooms and ginger. The beef was mushy, the sweet potato foam was overwhelming and the mushrooms and tatsoi leaves underneath were heavily salted. If ever there was a dish that was trying too hard, this was it.
Chesterman's disappointment extends to mains as well:
The majority of chefs haven’t a clue how to present a vegetarian option as a main course.
"A dish named 'Harvest: a selection of market vegetables' was served lukewarm and appeared to consist of a row of all the vegetables on the other plates mixed together. With no central focus, this dish did nothing to alter my belief that the majority of chefs haven’t a clue how to present a vegetarian option as a main course."
Despite the lapses, Laurea earns a respectable two and a half stars. No thanks to the food, however.
I would come back to this restaurant for absolutely everything, EXCEPT the food.
"The wows came from the room, solicitous service and impressive wine program. But the food has to be more focused — frankly less weird and artsy — to draw in return customers. I would come back to this restaurant for absolutely everything, EXCEPT the food. And in the end, isn’t that what counts most?"