I spent Friday morning running around Old Montreal snapping photos in -20 degree weather. My finger tips had lost their sense of touch and my toes were proper numb. It was with great anticipation and excitement that I lurched into Relais & Chateaux Toque! at 11:30am just as the hostess unlocked their doors for service. I must have looked overly eager as I spilled into the lobby, my face rouge from the killer cold. Special thanks to Catherine Morellon from Montreal Tourism for hosting and joining me at the table.
Catherine warmed up by the window while I skipped around the room taking shots of the restaurants playful interior. Wine bottles dangle over the bar while a whimsy of energetic colours dance throughout the space. What a lucky guy I was, a few days prior I was dining at another Relais & Chateaux property in Cambridge, the ever so charming Langdon Hall. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to dine at two of Canada’s top restaurants all in the same week! Pinch me!
Culinary magician Normand Laprise is often referred to as the Godfather of Montreal’s haute cuisine machine. Many of the cities top chefs have one thing in common: they have put in time under the tutelage of Chef Laprise. The kitchen at Toque! is regarded as one of the top in the country, an incubator for culinary creativity. In the 1990s Normand was one of the first to showcase the concept of terroir to Quebec cuisine and played a pivotal role in propelling the development of local foie gras and raw milk cheese farmers. After speaking to a handful of Montrealers about my culinary tourism itinerary it was clear that they are passonate and patriotic about this place.
The ambiance and culinary creations offered at Toque! (which roughly translates as “loopy”) showcase Normand’s playful interpretation of haute cuisine. He pays attention to local flavours and focuses on showcasing the bounty of the season. I was most interested to observe the themes of Normand’s menu in the middle of winter. How would he interpret a Quebec covered in snow?
Over the course of the next hour Catherine and I adventured through Toque’s unique palate. Prominent flavours included: apple, cranberry, onion, maple syrup, root vegetables and foraged mushrooms. Each dish was perfectly executed and offered up a thoughtful and always surprising combination of flavours, colours and textures. I was delighted to have an opportunity to say hello to Chef Laprise as our meal came to a close. With a twinkle in his eye it was clear the team at Toque! have their fingers on the pulse of Quebec’s culinary heartbeat.
apple puree, endive salad
Smoked Duck Magret
cranberry compote, apple, celeriac
herb puree, onion
burned maple syrup, beets, cauliflower puree
mushrooms, meat jus, fried bread, parmesan
Toasted Cranberry Marshmallow
blackcurrant bush greens
olive powder, whipped cream, maldon salt