Thursday, February 24, 2011

Koko welcomes Annisa to the Main

8 Sherbrooke Ouest
Montréal, Québec

My sister L was nice enough to guest post about her recent dinner at the Montréal Highlights Festival (and check out her outfit details on her blog).

My friend M and I snagged tickets to the opening night of Anita Lo at Koko for the Montréal Highlights Festival. Koko is a very trendy restaurant that is part of the also trendy Opus Hotel.


I was pretty excited to find out that the theme of this year’s festival was "Celebrating Women" and even more so when I saw that Anita Lo, executive chef and owner of Anissa Restaurant in New York, was one of the headliners. M was also enthusiastic about eating food cooked by this Top Chef Masters and Michelin star chef.

We arrived right on time for our 6 pm reservation. We were then sent to the restaurant lobby where our coats were checked and we had to wait a bit more. We finally were seated at a small table next to a huge lounging square leather bench that was a little too trendy for my liking. Unfortunately, we missed out first chance to order a drink (we had quick phone calls to make) and it took a while for the waiter to get back to us. We could see the maître d' and hostess running around; the waiters were still getting last minute info as we were seated but we were pretty much the first guests to arrive.

When the waiter finally arrived to ask us if we’d be taking the wine flight ($125) or not ($75), we asked if there was still time for a cocktail. We were told yes and happily took the waiter's suggestion of the house cocktail: a vodka, passion fruit and blood orange martini served since the opening of the hotel ($12.49). We were not disappointed. It was amazing; the blood orange really came through.

The first course consisted of tuna sashimi with mentaiko and radishes. It was amazing. The tuna was so fresh and the texture was perfect. It was accompanied by thin slices of radishes, microgreens, scallions, and (I’m pretty sure) rice paddy herb. The pollock roe was in a mayonnaise-like sauce which tasted strangely egg-y to me; I could have gone without. M really appreciated the accompaniment of radishes for texture. It was accompanied by Kinuyuki Junmai Ginjo, a sake sake which we were not digging.

Tuna sashimi with mentaiko and radishes.

The service glitch came about at this time, on top of not geting a bread basket until the second course. We were served our wine pairing but didn’t see our second course until the waiter came to give us our third wine pairing and we told him we hadn’t received the second course yet. He was surprised, served us our third wine anyway and mumbled something about a rush. We were working really hard on the dissatisfied faces at this point. It took us two hours to get 2 courses. I think that since our neighbors complained the rush was put on them at our expense.

The second course, sea urchin and chanterelle chawan mushi with lotus roots, intrigued us and pushed our adventurous side. Having heard so much of chawan mushi I was looking forward to trying it, but savoury custard is not really my thing. This one tasted like a miso soup in custard form. The sea urchin was a bit lost on me. The texture was very similar to the custard and the fresh ocean salt taste was a bit lost in the dashi-soy flavouring of the custard (and M kept jabbering about it being booggers). The one thing I did appreciate was the chanterelles and the cubes of crunchy lotus seeds that we didn’t realize were sitting at the bottom of our ramekin (I figured the lotus root chip topping was it!). This was our least favourite dish of the evening. The wine, D’Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne (McLaren Vale 2008, AUS), was lovely and had a grassy very unexpected bouquet but tasted nothing like what it smelled. Sorry can’t get much more into it than that.

Sea urchin and chanterelle chawan mushi with lotus roots.

The third course of grilled sea scallops with loufah (sic), sweet miso and bacon was a homerun! Two scallops charred to perfection sat on thinly sliced loofah with a runny sauce and dabs of sweet miso sprinkled with crunchy bits of bacon topped with microgreens. The bitterness of the char brought out the sweetness of the scallops, which were amazingly fresh. This was a hit with both of us as was the fourth course. The scallops were so good I don’t remember the wine (it was Sella & Mosca, Thilion, Alghero DOC, Sardinia 2008, ITA).

Grilled sea scallops with loufah (sic), sweet miso and bacon

Following the third course, we received a quick visit from the owner or manager (information carefully garnered by M’s eavesdropping) of the restaurant who was wining and dining food critics (including Lesley Chesterman of Gazette fame) around us, one of which was pretty out there but also providing us which much needed entertainment! She asked us how things were going and I was too polite to say anything and she was very quick so I felt I didn’t get the chance to, and was quickly scolded for it by M who didn’t dare either! M suggested she was trying to save the situation after the mishap.

The waiter returned for the wine pairing (Pfeiffer Shiraz, Rutherglen 2009, AUS) for the next course and committed a major faux pas by firstly, pouring a red into a white wine glass and secondly a glass that had been already used. The roasted rack of lamb with South African flavourings was cooked perfectly, with a side of meat stuffing with peanuts, raisins and spices that strangely reminded me of a Moroccan influence. The stuffing was topped with a white disk that resembled paneer in texture and taste but we were both unsure of what it was. There was a very acidic dark sauce also laced with spices that I wasn’t fond of but M enjoyed. The roasted carrots were glazed and deliciously sweet. The shiraz was very nice and paired well, but I can’t say I can distinguish it from other shiraz I’ve liked.

Roasted rack of lamb with South African flavourings.

The last course, warm poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd, was underwhelming in description, but really delicious. The bread pudding had the loveliest texture and offered great contrast with the crunchy crust. The Meyer lemon sauce was out of this world. The sweet Muscat (Rosenblum Cellars, Gallagher Reserve, Black Muscat, California 2006, USA) paired quite well with the acidity of the curd.

Warm poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd.

The restaurant owner/manager visited again at the end of our meal and I missed my second chance to bring up our issues. It was interesting to see ingredients that I’m familiar with used in other applications such as the rice paddy herb and the loofah. All in all a great meal, the service could have been better, the waiter was polite and more attentive than most but waiting an hour for a course was definitely not appreciated. But we will definitely be keeping our eyes out next year for another dinner to try.

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