Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bice - a Restaurant Review

I was quite amused at the rather caustic review of Bice by a certain "Westmounter" as he identified himself as, which I found off Directly quoting him, Westmounter said: "The geriatric crowd that lives in the condos across the street fill this place. The food is very bland, because the chef can't use too much garlic or spices so the blue hairs don't get gas. Great place to bring your grandmother. It's too bad because it could really be a good restaurant if they can ditch the old farts." Hahaha...

Unfortunately for him, it seems like the loyal senior patrons are there to stay just as they have been for the past decade of the trendy franchise's existence, owing of course to it's consistent delivery of great fusion Italian fare in a swanky atmosphere. If Westmounter wanted to socialize with the younger set, he should have walked a few blocks down to Crescent or Peel street or driven a bit further east to the Main. (There certainly is no lack of great restaurants in Montreal where wining and dining and cafe-ing is a lifestyle. There's a place for everyone depending on what you're looking for - gastronomics or ambience.) Westmounter definitely wouldn't be missed, as for Bice, they could even get away with having such a snooty maitre 'd whom frankly, I really didn't care too much for.

When Kumar told his Harry Rosen colleague, Martine, that we were going to Bice's for our eighth year wedding anniversary, she told him that the place is indeed frequented by rich sixty-somethings & over, so we were forewarned, and sure enough, shortly after we got settled at our table in the cozy candlelit garden area (which really is Bice's main attraction besides the food), the senior regulars began to file in. But it wasn't limited to just them. Pretty soon the place was teeming with a multi-aged & ethnic cohort of diners that included a Carrie Bradshaw & the gang-ish group of ladies in silky and tafetta confections sipping on Bellinis and Cosmos by the bar, two of Kumar's clients - one a fresh-grad plastic surgeon, the other a young entrepreneur and his lovely wife, a sikh man with a friend and a family gathered to celebrate an occasion among others. That night, restaurant was a microcosm of the city, you got a perfect slice of what is Montreal
demographically - diverse and cosmopolitan, a real melting pot. It's really not a bad place to be seen at all as Westmounter would like to lead you to believe.

Getting to the food, we came hungry but at the same time I didn't want to fill up on entrees, besides we were already noshing on the complimentary canapes/crostinis with three kinds of dips that was promptly set before us. One of the dips was caramelized onions folded into what I consider the Rolls Royce of mayonnaise - an emulsion of raw egg and what you could tell was good quality extra virgin olive oil and vintage wine vinegar. The other was a fresh guacamole dip and the third one was what had to be cannelini bean puree. So I didn't want an
entree, but Kumar decided he would have the classic, fried calamari to start. Our waiter (which both Kumar and I agreed looked like Gerald Butler) himself offered to split the order between us saving us the trouble of having to ask, although I would've been fine to pick off Kumar's
plate, like I usually do! The calamari was excellent. At first I was worried that it might taste a bit burnt because they looked a tad more golden and well-done than what I'm used to getting at medium-scale and/or mom & pop places, but it was melt-in-your mouth perfect. Looking back it's almost funny though, because the rings were arranged over the same complimentary guacamole (that didn't escape my critical eye!) albeit sprinkled with a bit of acidic salsa to cut the rich avocado and deep fried calamari, nevertheless, the combination made for an Ital-Mex marriage made in heaven!!!

As for the "prima piatti," I wasn't feeling like neither "carni" nor "pesce," so I decided on having linguine alle vongole with New Zealand mussels, Manila clams (hey wazz uppp!!!) pancetta, mushrooms, and wild arugula. The plate was amazing. The pasta was perfectly "al dente," the two kinds of shellfish made for some yummy and sweetish (and exotic!) variety, the pancetta added a meaty saltiness, the mushrooms, a nice earthiness, and the arugula, a pleasant bitterness...a pretty well-rounded dish, the only right way to eat it is with a fork, and yes, a spoon in true Italiano fashion! Kumar is a huge seafood fan and was debating on either the lobster spaghetti or the seafood risotto, and finally chose the latter which was similar to a Portuguese seafood and rice casserole that he had really
enjoyed at Ferreira's before. His risotto was extra creamy thanks to the added mascarpone and yet still had that bite. It was obvious that the chef painstakingly babysat the arborio rice as it reduced and then added a final splash of vermouth for good measure. The seafood included rock crab and succulent shrimp in generous chunks, which is really, traditionally Italian, reminiscent of mamma's and nonna's largish portions and just as comforting. For beverages, I'm off the booze for the moment so I stuck to the ice-cold San Benedetto sparkling water and Kumar just had a limoncello. His rich plate left him way to stuffed for dessert, but I couldn't resist taking a peek at the dessert menu. After all, I was still in search of a creme brulee runner up to the best ever one I've had at the now closed, Garcon.

I get a real kick out of creme brulee. I love cracking into the caramelized shell. It's like breaking into a soft-boiled egg, only so much more exciting - to me it's like, uh, rapture! Eating creme brulee is like my third life's purpose! Bice's creme brulee alla vaniglia was yummy - I particularly like how the cream had been whipped to a thicker consistency, unlike the runnier versions I've had and it was beautifully garnished too, with a black and regular sesame brittle/wafer, a single ground cherry, a blackberry and an unhulled strawberry dusted lightly of course with confectioner's sugar. Now, was the food any good? Absolutely, in all it's artery-clogging goodness, heck, yes! Would we come back? Definitely, next time with our friends and to specifically try the osso bucco and the hazelnut pudding with chocolate and Frangelico! Ciao:)

** This definitely isn't Architectural Digest so I won't talk too much about the restaurant's overall design, although I am quite familiar (lol) with the general contractor that oversaw it's recent renovation. I must say that they, along with the design team did an impeccable job in updating Bice's look. I did notice the nice mosaic-y tiled stall walls in the ladies washroom, and of course there was the popular open-air garden. It's funny how we come up with euphemisms for certain things, like how we call the extra fat around the mid-section, "love handles" or wrinkles, "character lines." Well, that's exactly what the scratches & scuffs on the chairs that I've noticed are - "character marks" - from day after day of restauranting success!!!!

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