Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman pays a visit to Candide this week. The new restaurant inside the retooled St. Joseph’s Church in Little Burgundy, now part of urban renewal development Salon 1861, is helmed by John Winter-Russell, a chef Chesterman last encountered at Outremont's Van Horne in 2013. "While some of Winter-Russell’s dishes wowed, others left wanting, yet I was still intrigued by his game meat/foraged food/Into-the-Wild style."
With that, the critic takes stock of Winter-Russell's "very personal cuisine" at Candide. First up: fermented red cabbage, homemade yogurt, and smoked sturgeon. Chesterman likes the texture of the fish, but once gone, the rest "was just plain dull." On, then, to roasted carrots, pheasant, oats, and apple slices. "As much as I tried to like it, this appetizer lacked anything in the way of oomph."
Candide's mains are hit and miss. Venison, cipollini onions, saskatoon berries, and pine-enhanced jus is the dish of the night, but the meat, while tasty, "was under-seasoned and overcooked." Worse, Chesterman describes the next dish — a bowl of celery root, leeks, Arctic surf clams, and black cabbage tuiles — as "Gollum food." "It was all so bitter, clammy and grim. What the heck?" A cheese course and dessert (angelica cake, candied lovage, honey sabayon) don't perk the party up any. "[W]hen your dessert is grey and seafoam green, you gotta wonder what’s going on," Chesterman writes.
Bleak dinner aside (her words), the critic singles out other aspects of Candide for praise. Service and wine director Emily Campeau, namely. "Campeau is a passionate sommelier who defends her choices with conviction while taking your palate on a tour of some wild and wonderful flavours. What a treat! Service at Candide is definitely one of this restaurant’s strengths." Chesterman's enthusiasm stops there, however. Candide is just not fun, or delicious enough, she concludes. Two stars on four. It's the first negative review for Winter-Russell and company, after raves from Jean-Philippe Tastet and Thierry Daraize.
Chesterman defended her review today on Twitter.
@j_crosthwaite I engaged to the tune of $200. I ate the whole menu. I didn't like it. This isn't Kafka, it's dinner.— Lesley Chesterman (@lesleychestrman) February 5, 2016