Holiday desserts

LE Chou's patrice demers

What does the end of the year mean? There's still time to indulge, of course! So why not treat yourself to the deepest, darkest, dreamiest desserts before making those inevitable resolutions for 2006? In Montreal, 'tis the season for pastry chefs to dazzle the taste buds one last time before “Auld Lang Syne.” These hot spots will have you gladly giving in to temptation to the very end of the meal.

Le Chou

At intimate bistro Le Chou, supper unfolds in a series of small plates that offers a variety of tastes and textures, from arancini rice croquettes to tender veal tongue. The format has an added bonus: It helps ensure there's room for dessert. Whipped up by a three-person team led by pastry chef Patrice Demers, choices vary from week to week. The pot au chocolat, dangerously enough, is always available: Presented in a glass jar, it's made with 64-percent Valrhona chocolate and egg yolks, with counterpoints of crumbled cacao and Maldon sea salt, topped with foamed caramel mousse enhanced with notes of vanilla. The recipe is included in Demers' recently published cookbook, which reveals the secrets behind concoctions served at Le Chou and Les Chèvres, the adjacent gourmet restaurant.

1205 Avenue Van Horne, 514-270-2468



Downtown Montreal got even brighter this summer when Decca77 opened its windowed resto-lounge at the base of one of the city's most stunning glass office towers. Evenings begin with ultracool cocktails, followed by impeccable contemporary cuisine that paves the way for decadent desserts. Trained in France, pastry chef Vincent Le Guevel imparts a European esthetic to the table, inventing exquisite yet earthy desserts like orange and almond Basque cake, accompanied by goat cheese and blueberry coulis. His Canadianized mille feuille, constructed à la minute, has him quickly grilling wafers of nut loaf and layering them with fine slices of apple flambéed in Calvados. He tops off this delicate assembly with Calvados-laced caramel and a scoop of green apple sorbet for a cool finish.

1077 Rue Drummond, 514-934-1077



Exemplifying the newest wave of Nuevo Latino, chef Mario Navarette Jr. blends the top traditions of South America with haute cuisine techniques in his new white-walled space. His foie gras empanada is a case in point, and he continues the cultural melding for the final course. His personal favourite is sorpresa de piña, a playful entry that comes to the table like a present, in a little box made of caramelized filo dough. One strike of the fork reveals the surprise inside: roasted pineapple infused with star anise and cinnamon. It's served with avocado ice cream set off by a ceviche of orange and cilantro for bonus bite. Navarette further references his Hispanic roots in a series of sorbets highlighting tropical fruits, purple corn, chilies and, of course, chocolate, which owes its origins to the ancient Mayans.

114 Rue Laurier O., 514-227-8712



Brunoise's prix-fixe format means that every meal includes three courses of market-inspired cuisine conceived by chefs Michel Ross and Zach Suhl. Set in the midst of a residential neighbourhood, the restaurant has earned loyal fans for dishes such as organic beet salad with house-smoked duck and roasted sweetbreads with caramelized fennel. Appreciative murmurings about its signature dessert began as soon as it opened three years ago and have continued ever since: fresh panna cotta infused with vanilla, served under a lively topping of basil syrup and passion fruit pulp. A more recent addition to the list is a deconstructed opera cake, in which hazelnut pastry, milk chocolate ganache and coffee foam take on new forms.

3807 Rue Saint-André, 514-523-3885

Joe Beef

It's all laid out for your feasting pleasure at this small eatery with a low-key attitude and high-quality ingredients. Co-owned by Montreal epicurean entrepreneurs David MacMillan and Fred Morin, Joe Beef may sound like a steakhouse but, in fact, is named for a big-hearted if eccentric (he kept skeletons behind the bar) 19th-century tavern owner. The focus – from Malpeque oysters to Maritime lobster spaghetti – is on seafood. Befitting the straightforward approach, desserts are decidedly down to earth. That could mean sourdough bread pudding flavoured with ripened pears, drizzled in chocolate sauce and served with chocolate ice cream, or a lavish pot de crème topped with grape jelly made with red Concords from a nearby farm. There are two dessert selections daily, but if neither does the trick, potted Stilton served with dates and toast is a delectable last hurrah.

2491 Rue Notre-Dame O., 514-935-6504

(Sarah Musgrave is a Montreal-based food writer.)

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December 2005