What’s cheesier than a buffet? How about a buffet in a revolving rooftop restaurant? Sounds like a Green Bay Packers tailgate party waiting to happen — until you visit Chef Hervé Dumont, of Le Tour de Ville at Montréal’s Delta Centre-Ville.
Don’t look for overdone meats in brown sauce or Jell-O desserts here on the 30th floor. Though Dumont prepares an extravagant à la carte menu Tuesday to Thursday — think rabbit spring rolls with Cortland apple compote, or local veal with St. Benoit-du-Lac blue-cheese sauce — it’s on weekends that he really shines.
Sunday brunch features exquisite produce straight from Jean-Talon Market and made-to-order pancakes and waffles. Even veal paupiettes in mushroom cream sauce.
But on Friday and Saturday nights, Dumont presents an internationally themed buffet, ranging from Malaysian to Italian, for $55 Canadian. A self-described “traveler person since a long time,” the French-born and -educated Dumont says that when preparing each new international menu, he breaks out a road atlas and history books to consider the “geographic situation,” the first inhabitants and “influence from other nations … After that I’m able to do a selection of which places can be reflected on the menu.”
The chef applies the same culinary scrutiny to his own adopted country: Canada. From May through October, Dumont’s Friday and Saturday night theme dinners showcase local fare: “dishes emanating countless flavors that reflect Canada from coast to coast.”
Though Canada covers a wide expanse of land, its regional cuisines are not as clearly defined as, say, Cajun or Southwestern in the U.S. For the Canadian theme dinners, Dumont tries to get all of his produce from within Québec, or whatever region is appropriate to the dish. For example, the sauce on a juicy, carved-to-order strip loin is made from the evergreen Labrador tea plant, curiously known in Labrador as Indian tea. Dumont works closely with wildcrafter François Lamontagne of Les Saveurs Sauvages, who supplies him with everything from herbs and seaweed to local chanterelles. Some specialty veggies, such as ramps, come from Lamontagne, but Dumont buys many others at Jean-Talon.
Dumont says he spotlights Canadian cuisine in the summer not only for the seasonal produce, but because July and August are the heaviest tourist seasons. “We have many tours from France, Mexico, U.S.A. and Japan, and it’s a nice opportunity for us to demonstrate that we have culinary histories in Canada,” he explains.
The line snaking into the restaurant for the 8:30 p.m. seating suggests even greater diversity than promised. A Chinese woman chatters excitedly with her two daughters. As we ascend the circular staircase to the dining room, a couple break from their Indian dialect to discuss their reservation with the manager.
Comfortably entrenched in a circular booth, our almost embarrassingly indulgent server, Naj, brings a ringed metal basket filled with olive ciabatta rolls and a warm butter rosette. We look down at an Ernst & Young skyscraper and face a bright landscape painting by Québecois artist Yves Groulx. The next time we look, the trees have turned from vivid red and orange to varying shades of green. The restaurant is turning, and with the revolution, a series of Groulx’s paintings colors the view.
Conveniently, our table is right next to the buffet featuring salads and appetizers. With 17 dishes represented, it’s not easy to choose. Several seafood salads are credited as Amerindian, including a delicate combination of green beans and smoked salmon. In a post-dinner interview, Dumont explains that he found that recipe during a 1994 trip to James Bay, where he met some “Amerindian fishermen and hunting man” who introduced him to their food. From that experience also came Dumont’s fusion dish of Native American black lentils and cranberries with a duck confit he makes himself.
The confit process is labor-intensive enough when you’re working with a few duck legs. How long does it take to prepare dozens of them, as well as at least 35 other dishes with numerous individual components? According to Dumont, doing the research is what takes the longest. Once the menu is planned, each buffet takes two days of prep work. Four chefs work all day to ensure each dish is up to par on Friday and Saturday nights.
One unique appetizer is a ginger- and sesame-redolent spring roll made with rabbit from Québec’s Eastern Townships. This elegant dish is $13.75 on the à la carte menu. A tangy game terrine in wild sprout marinade is made in house and includes whichever animals — venison, bison, wild boar or pheasant — happen to get baked in a gloriously buttery and flaky pastry.
Our table is well positioned for the next course, too, which features soups and entrées. A chicken and corn bisque is creamy without sacrificing the fresh maïs taste therein. Even better is the chilled cape gooseberry and cranberry soup, though the delectably sweet broth may have made more sense as a dessert.
One chafing dish is filled with pegs of squash painstakingly hollowed out to contain maple-kissed turnip purée. There’s also a barley casserole and a tray of mixed roots. Everything else in the line is meat. Pheasant appears again, this time as sliced supremes in a cider reduction with a side of zesty apple-raspberry compote. Remarkably, the skin remains crisp. Another favorite is the Québec milk-fed piglet in black currant sauce. Trout filet marinated in ginger and lime with local strawberry salsa stays moist, as does the cod, crusted with salted wild herbs.
How do these meats retain their character while languishing in chafing dishes? Executive sous-chef Réné Jungling explains, “We bring out very small amounts at a time. We don’t want to be like a Chinese buffet, sorry to say.”
Then there's the veal, served quite red and drenched in a sauce of caviar-like oyster mushrooms. “We try to serve red meat rare,” says Dumont. That explains the rack of lamb: gorgeously bloody, perfectly seasoned, cleanly presented and accompanied by garlic-cedar jelly, a deliciously pine-y take on the usual mint confiture.
As I wait in line for made-to-order rotini with an addictive rosé sauce, one half of my body begins to move. I have inadvertently found the seam in the floor. I step back onto the carpeted section and glide further away from the carving table. So that’s how it works … A three-tiered system includes the stationary center of the room, which holds the kitchen and buffet lines. Diners are seated on a rotating platform, which, despite the odd bump, does not feel like it is moving. The art changes because the walls and windows also stay in place.
My efforts at understanding the room’s engineering make me hungry for dessert. I opt to bypass the table full of regional cheeses in favor of the sweet stuff. Though Dumont is more than proficient in the art of pâtisserie — he is French, after all, and studied pastry as part of his culinary education in the historic ski resort town of Chamonix — here he gets desserts from an outside bakery: Aux Gourmandises de l’Arlequin.
Each day the pâtisserie churns out fresh cakes, tarts and even ice cream for the hotel, which also includes the more casual eatery Chez Antoine and banquet service. The glace sits on ice, vivid renditions of vanilla and strawberry, with raspberry and mango compotes on the side. Single cape gooseberries appear atop several desserts, including a perfectly Gallic fruit tart and a chocolate mousse cake. A blueberry mousse cake is the star, though: Creamy layers generously dotted with tiny wild blueberries alternate with moist but sturdy cake, which I’m finishing just as our table comes full circle, back to the Ernst & Young building.
After speaking with Dumont about his dessert recipes, I wish I’d been present at his Japanese buffet, for which he commissioned a wasabi tart. This adventurous spirit makes each buffet exciting for its chef. “I like to work at Centre-Ville because I have the opportunity to do a different cuisine all the time,” he says. Dumont describes an event for which he teamed up with a Malaysian chef. When shopping for obscure ingredients, he says, “We found everything you need in Montréal.”
That includes assistance. To buffer his own ample knowledge and abilities, Dumont admits that he goes into ethnic markets for advice. “When I have the chance, I ask for help from people in the city from that country.” For a Portuguese-themed buffet, “I go to a Portuguese market and say, ‘Can you come with me and show me how to do it?’”
Starting in September, Dumont will switch his offerings to “the Cuisine of the Southern United States.” After that, holiday extravagance takes over, including a dish of foie gras, which Dumont prepares differently every year. Last year’s version was sweetened with a cape gooseberry sauce. In the New Year, who knows? It depends where the traveling chef lands and picks up what he calls “traditional recipes and new vision of cooking around the world.”