When the hankering hits for giant prawns with cocktail sauce or a thick, juicy steak, and your vegan friends are all otherwise occupied, where should you head? What if the night is warm and fine, and you want to eat outside, but you sense the Market might be madness? It never occurred to me the answer might be ArÃ´me. But after few visits to the dining room of the Hilton Lac Leamy, inside and out, ArÃ´me strikes me as a clear option.
In addition to its basement hotel-looking dining room (pattern carpet, beige walls, plush chairs, heavy drapes, comfortably-spaced white linened tables) ArÃ´me has a patio, overlooking Lac Leamy, prettily lit at night. It also has a small wine bar that offers a den-like feel, for those who prefer that.
I like the service here. It’s not the rock of reliability its neighbour, Le Baccara, can be, but ArÃ´me has hired a fleet of anxious-to-please charmers that make the sometimes uneven pacing (main dish arrives before soup goes one night) odd mistakes (mousse cake delivered, brulÃ©e ordered) and some shaky answers to easy answers (“I’m new here”) forgivable. ArÃ´me is a hotel restaurant, after all, open long days, every day, with the usual challenges inherent in keeping, training and motivating a big, bureaucratic staff.
They start you off right, though, with Art-is-in Bakery toasties, and a refreshing little pot of garlicky tomato with which to top them. And unlike many grill restaurants, there are side dishes to recommend. I had a first class French onion soup here – the beef broth sweet, well seasoned, and given a citrus kick with Blanche de Chambly beer. The GruyÃ¨re cheese and Art-is-In toast were in perfect balance. Other soups on other nights work too. A mushroom chowder has good woodsy flavour, and a cream of asparagus is a delicate pleasure, crowned with crab. Servings of soup are generous.
The surprise starter one visit is lovely: grilled squid and scallops – tender, perfectly cooked – served with a hillock of tempura vegetables. Another night we start with the so-called tataki of beef, expecting thin slices of just-seared filet, and are surprised to find great thick slabs of the meat, seared but raw and tasting unseasoned, draped on top of some salty foie gras. A grilled pineapple salsa is the relief.
Sous vide pork is tender, served in many thick, juicy, pinkish slabs. If you like your rack of lamb left alone, you’ll like it here – salt, pepper, roasted to med-rare, full stop. The prime rib is luscious meat, and there\’s no shortage of it, though the side pot of demi glace is wildly salty.
They have what they call Kobe beef here (what’s loosely become a generic term for the American bred Wagyu beef) so just for fun, and because I’m not paying, I order a $26 ‘Hambourgeois Kobe’ for lunch. It is an embarrassingly expensive hamburger, fashioned, I suppose from all the bits of the prized cow that get ground up for hamburger meat. After scraping off the salty foie gras, I find a juicy, tasty burger, to be sure. But I enjoy it as much for the Art-is-in Bakery bun, the gooey Brie, the crunchy onion, the excellent side of frites, and the perky mound of pine-nutted salad that surround the fancy-patty. (Though for that price, something more interesting than bottled ketchup and ballpark mustard please!)
Butter-soused mashed potatoes are gluey one visit, lovely another. Generally, the vegetables that accompany the main event are admirable – baby zucchini and patty pan squash, roasted cauliflower, asparagus, sautÃ©ed wild mushrooms.
There is a dessert bar here, which suffers from dessert bar problems – dried out, too cold cakes and custards.
So there were some mixed mouthfuls, but for fresh seafood and quality meats with good provenance, washed down with a fine wine list, ArÃ´me delivers quite well.