As an epicurean I’m always on the lookout for a cool place to get good eats during my lunch hour at work. One of my coworkers introduced me to Le Cartet, apparently the cat’s meow of a fine foods market doubling as a gourmet restaurant. At first glance, one’s appetite comes alive just by looking at the restaurant/food store. The setting is absolutely gorgeous. It has the feel of an American general store from an old mill town, fused with a very modern feel. Every little detail has been exhaustively looked over by a very crafty team of designers. The staff is meticulously dressed and hired to look the part the restaurateurs desired. No Saran Wrap here, it’s a fine plastic wrapping you would find in a flower shop to pack roses. The facing of the product is immaculate. The table settings are just inviting and warm. It just reeks of Old Montreal Goodness. Local stars and Olympic athletes can be spotted grabbing a bite there.
It just looks perfect.
Emphasis on the “looks”. Sometimes a cake is crap but the icing makes it look good enough to eat anyway. And Le Cartet is such an example.
Let me take you through the culinary ordeal I went through. Let’s begin with the salad entrée I took. A simple looking salad, which is the way it should be to kick-start one’s digestion properly. It comes with a vinaigrette de Provence. Unless you have unclean or not so fresh lettuce, the dressing makes or breaks the salad. When I say Provence, if you enjoy wine, a nice wine-based dressing will most likely come to mind. Certainly not chili peppers, which are from Central and South America. Well, the dressing was made up of mostly chili peppers. Not being a lover of spicy foods (I feel spices take away the tastes of the food I’m eating) I immediately put aside the spice-ridden salad because it was awful.
Next in my meal was a simple egg salad sandwich on rye bread. I should spell that drye bread. It was too dry even for a corned beef sandwich. But wait, it gets worse. How they accomplished this is beyond me, but the egg salad was also dry. A good mayonnaise should be tangy and moist; I couldn’t taste anything of the sort other than flat, boring mayonnaise. Throw in some herbs at least or some garlic, give it some punch. And the piece of Romaine lettuce still had the heart attached to it. It was big enough to choke someone. But since I had to eat something and I wasn’t about to dole out another fifteen dollars for lunch, I finished the sandwich, washing it down with water so it could pass my oesophagus; yes it was that damn dry.
But that’s not all. Since it was my first run at the restaurant I even treated myself to some dessert — a lovely Tarte Tatin. This, for the uninitiated, is good ol’ apple pie from France — basically your regular apple pie but with the top caramelised with butter and sugar. Caramelised, not carbonised into extinction. When I took my first bite, hoping that the dessert would save me from this so far revolting experience, I cringed when I smelled the charred layer of burnt sugar and it was too late. The final straw.
The only thing that tasted okay was the water — the one in the Evian bottle.
The problem with gourmet restaurants is that they fear the fat — if you want taste, you must embrace the fat. It’s what makes food taste good, end of story. Slap on some butter, some cream, or some punchy mayonnaise. The fat is the drummer of the food band. If you ain’t got the beat, if you ain’t got the rhythm, it’s all for naught.
The restaurant gets a point for impeccable presentation and none for anything else. A big fat one out of five. Want good French cuisine in Old Montreal? For lunch, stick to Cluny’s, and put a cross over Le Cartet.