Review: Le Piment Rouge

1170 rue Peel, Montreal – 514-866-7816 – Website

Piment Rouge 1

Date of Visit: January 10, 2013

While traveling for work purposes recently, I had a full day layover in Montreal and took the opportunity to check out a couple of restaurants in the downtown ‘Golden Square Mile.’ I would have liked to have visited Chinatown for a Dim Sum brunch on this trip but it didn’t quite fit with my plans and so I scanned the web for a Chinese establishment closer to my hotel and discovered Le Piment Rouge to be the only one that remotely interested me. Of all those I found, it looked like the only establishment (with one possible exception) that didn’t wasn’t a highly highly westernized, ‘sweet and sour/chop suey’ type of place, and the online menu actually looked quite interesting. As it happened, however, although the establishment has earned something of a stellar reputation (and, indeed, prominently displays several prestigious awards), I left the place feeling somewhat less than favorably impressed…

Ambience and Service

Piment Rouge 2

Le Piment Rouge is certainly very luxuriously appointed, with plush furnishings and ornate chandeliers. It is a place which carries the promise of fine dining and commensurate high prices, and, at least far as the latter goes, this impression is rewarded. The prices are not outrageous by an means, but, at the same time, this is not a restaurant one would wish to visit for a cheap meal.

I arrived at a little after 11;30 on a Thursday morning and I was the first customer of the day. Within fifteen minutes,  though, the place started to fill up quite quickly and it was nearly three  quarters full by the middle of the noon-hour. The dining area is well laid out, though, and it is spacious enough that the proximity of other diners was neither intrusive nor cramped. All in all, I found the place to be quite comfortable and pleasant and I would rate the ambience at a well-deserved 4 out of 5.

The service, unfortunately, while generally efficient, was exceptionally slow. I counted 6 or 7 waiters on the floor during my visit and I was  served, at one time or other, by four of them. The attendance of these four ranged from being warm and friendly to a rather distant formality that, while polite, was distinctly stand-offish.

I came to the restaurant with the notion of trying a series of appetizers over a long and relatively leisurely lunch but, this notwithstanding, I found the average wait for each of these to be an unnacceptable 25 minutes and I ended up drumming my fingers a little impatiently at a few points during my 2 hour stay. In one instance, I ordered two small appetizers together and when they arrived one, although due to an honest misunderstanding, was a dish I had not selected. It was immediately taken away but I then had to wait a further twenty minutes for the right dish to come in its place. Other tables too, had the same problem (although nobody actually complained, as far as I could see), but I did note that the party immediately next to me waited a good thirty minutes for their soup course, and another thirty minutes for their entrée’s after the first course had been cleared away. Obviously, this deficiency cannot be blamed on the wait staff (who were fairly attentive, actually) but, taken as a whole, the service can best be described as mediocre and rated, at best, a 3 out of 5.

The Dishes

On a general note, I have to say that the presentation of the various dishes I had, or saw being served, was not particularly impressive. The flatware and garnishes were, I thought, ill-chosen, and the food amateurishly and unattractively plated for a place with the reputation that this establishment commands. One of my appetizers, and some of the dishes I saw serves to other parties, were plated by the wait staff at the table and, while somewhat novel, I didn’t feel that this added much to the experience at all.

Piment Rouge 3

Grilled Whole Calamari with Soy and Rice Wine Sauce – The squid itself was fairly good, I have to say; it was nicely grilled, with a bit of tasty charring here and there. The body sections, while having a nice texture, were just a little dried out, but the ‘wings’ and tentacles were pleasantly succulent. The plating job, however, was very poor, in my opinion, and the sauce was an abysmal failure. It was simply an overly sweet caramelized sugar preparation as far as I could tell and reminded me of nothing as much as a cheap oyster sauce from which all traces of umami flavor had been removed. This dish needed something with a little sparkle (something spicy or tangy, perhaps), and this sauce just did not fit the bill. I gave this selection an overall rating of 3 out of 5.

Piment Rouge 4

Crispy Sticky Rice Dumplings Stuffed with Seafood – The English name for this dish was rendered in Chinese characters on the menu as咸水角, which is a fairly common offering in Dim Sum restaurants. The waiter misheard me when I used the English name and so I then used the Mandarin ‘xiánshuǐ jiǎo’, only to be corrected, a little snottily, I thought, with the Cantonese pronunciation ‘Ham shui gok’.

In any event, what I received was a pretty good rendering of this particular specialty, if not exactly conforming to the description in the English name. The wrapper was as good as any I have had before, being nicely chewy beneath the crisp exterior, but the filling was definitely not as advertised…

Piment Rouge 5

Here, you can see that the dumpling is hardly ‘stuffed with seafood’ as promised. The bulk of the filling was, as far as I could tell, tiny chunks of chicken, and each dumpling contained no more than a single tiny shrimp, neither of which added to the taste. The overall flavor was actually very tasty but, though I would have otherwise rated the dumplings at a 4 out of 5, I felt that the misrepresentation dropped them to a 3 out of 5 only.

Piment Rouge 6

Steamed dumplings with shrimp – These were what are commonly known as ‘Har Gow’ on dim sum menus. I generally use these as a benchmark for the quality of the dim sum at a given restaurant and I have to say that, despite being very prettily formed, these were the absolutely worst I have ever had…

First of all, the dumplings were brought to the table in a very nice little steamer but then unceremoniously spooned out on to my plate without any thought for careful plating. No sauce was provided or offered and, while I often don’t use any myself (other than a little soy or black vinegar, occasionally), these definitely needed some sort of help. The wrapper, though translucent, was overly thick and tough, while the chunks of shrimp inside were dry and tasteless and bound together with some sort of starch that was congealed and chewy. I have had far better at the meanest hole-in-the-wall type of establishment and can only describe these as being so laughably bad that a place charging these sorts of prices should be thoroughly ashamed of this atrocious effort. I can only rate these dumplings at a grudging 1 out of 5.

Piment Rouge 7

Eggplant with Yu Xiang Sauce – Despite my earlier comments about the general quality of plating at this establishment, I thought that the presentation of this selection was both novel and attractive. It was also very nicely cooked, with the eggplant pieces being creamily succulent but still firm to the bite. The sauce, however, while tasty, was not a very accurate rendering of the ‘Yu Xiang’ (fish-fragrant) flavor one would expect in a proper Sichuan or Hunan restaurant.

A ‘Yu Xiang’ dish begins with the classic scallion, ginger, garlic trio, and then is built upon with the spicy-umami body of chili-bean paste complimented by a sweet-sour background. This rendition was sweet, to be sure, but there were no sour notes at all and there was a hint of ginger but no garlic. The spicy heat came from just a few flecks of dried chili visible in the sauce, but the umami quality (absolutely essential for this type of dish) was glaringly absent. I liked it, to be fair, but the poor execution of a classic Chinese flavor combination only allowed for a generous rating of 3 out of 5.

Overall

When I have a poor experience in a restaurant I am sometimes willing to put it down to a case of the establishment in question having an ‘off-day’. In this case, however, I less inclined to be charitable given the slow service (which other critics have noted), and the fact that I paid a substantial bill for several dishes that were either mediocre or downright awful. I was genuinely left with the impression that Le Piment Rouge is a place that has rested on its laurels for too long and provides an experience that is not worth the price. I was disappointed, to say the least…

Le Piment Rouge Windsor on Urbanspoon

16 thoughts on “Review: Le Piment Rouge”

  1. After several similar experiences with friends who insisted on ‘going Chinese’ to their recommended restaurants – this is years ago – I decided I just didn’t like Chinese food. There had been only one exception, a restaurant in Liverpool’s ‘china town’ – this was in the 1970s – where I did enjoy the meal. Then I was lucky enough to go to Shanghai. What a revelation. Every single thing I ate in about two weeks there – 1984 – was superb – from street food to ‘top’ restaurants. I shall only go to a Chinese restaurant if I’m lucky enough to go to China again.

    1. Actually … you can really have great Chinese food in the west if you look in the right places. My best experiences have been in tiny ‘mom and pop’ type establishments that don’t look that hot from the outside. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but if you see that the majority of the customers are Chinese families in casual dress, it is often a good bet that good, non-westernized cuisine is available. I hate to generalize, but it really does seem to me that highly plush and luxurious surroundings in a ‘Chinese’ restaurant are often indicators of mediocre food.

      1. i do have to add this though: I have dim sum with my family in Chinatown every Sunday. The place we go is packed to overflowing with Chinese people.

        And the food is TERRIBLE. Really TERRIBLE. Even the staff knows it’s terrible. Every time we go, my uncles ask if the food is hot, the staff always says it’s hot, and it’s not. ever. hot. We’re not the only ones who ask if it’s hot either. There are other diners. After the hurricane, the question I heard the most in the restaurant was whether the food was fresh. Because it’s not very fresh either.

        So why is it packed? Well, I hate to say this, but there are a lot of Chinese people who refuse to go to a Chinese restaurant if there are Westerners in there. My family included. It baffles and frustrates me to death. And my favorite place in Chinatown is actually run by an American-born like myself. He took over his family’s business, upped the quality of the ingredients, has the dim sum cooked to order, and it is amazing.

        And the only Chinese people in there are sadly other American-born ones like me.

  2. Whoa boy. Doesn’t that look DREADFUL! The squid looks so SAD slapped on top of what looks like iceberg lettuce! And those three shrimp dumplings? Worst presentation ever. I’m sorry, John. It looked like a waste of fancy interior decorating!

    1. I don’t believe I’ve actually eaten in a Montreal restaurant that billed itself as offering French cuisine (and I would be inclined to go to Quebec City for that)… There is a huge Italian population in Montreal and many, many Italian restaurants, not to mention some great (and famous) Jewish Delicatessens. Chinatown in Montreal is larger than Ottawa’s but not as good food-wise (in my opinion) and not even remotely close to the fantastic Chinese food available in Vancouver. There are some nice restaurants in Montreal for sure but I don’t think of it as a great food city…

      1. Hmmm, one less reason to go to Montreal then. Perhaps I should have written “French-Canadian” rather than French, but I’m not even sure if such a thing exists.
        Montreal has always had appeal to me since I like the idea of a French-speaking city in Canada, but I’ve never been.

      2. Montreal is supposed to be the second largest French-speaking City in the world (next to Paris) but you hear English as often as French. Quebec City is much more unilingual French and I suspect you might find the restaurant siutuation much more to your liking… I haven’t been in many years but I still recall some great food.

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