Tastiness Factor: 8/10
Locavore Approved? Kinda- While many of their tasting menu dishes do seem to repeat themselves all year round, I was impressed with the seasonality of my vegetarian tasting menu and their very local-friendly cheese course offerings (pretty much all from Quebec).
Reservations required? Although we booked pretty close to the date for our Wednesday night reservation with no trouble, you will want to book with some time to spare for a weekend reservation.
Europea, known for its showy, out of the box dishes, had been recommended to me by several people before I made my way there a short while ago with co-workers while visiting Montreal for a conference. It has the prestigious Relais and Chateau designation and as per their website, they also own quite a number of other restaurants in town.
Although its style of food preparation and presentation is modern, the setting at Europea is pretty old-school. It is located in an old historic row house off Rue St. Catherine, Montreal's renowned shopping street. Its two floors are divided into a number of rooms. We were seated in a back room to one side of the kitchen that had only 4 tables in it, making us feel as though we had our own semi-private alcove. Having said that, I did miss the energy that you usually feel in a busy restaurant when surrounded by others, and felt a little secluded. The decor is quite dated, with some elements starting to look a little worn. There are a few over-the-top elements, like the large modern statue near us which looked a little out of place in this historic building.
Service was up and down. Some servers were lovely and warm. The nicest by far was the server we met near the end of the meal, when we went to choose the cheeses for our tasting menu in the "cheese cave". I confessed that I am not a real cheese lover and he very kindly worked with me to choose some to my liking. The sommelier was quite good at describing our wine pairings, and was obviously passionate and knowledgeable about his craft. Unfortunately, there were a few others throughout the evening who appeared quite exasperated and were quite flippant, particularly towards us English speakers at the table. The worst part however was the speed of service. I have no idea why but we ended up being the last ones in the whole restaurant despite having a 7pm reservation. It was a 5 hour meal! I have had plenty of tasting menus in my day and am more than happy to enjoy a 3-3.5 hour meal, but 5 hours is excessive! We sometimes waited 20-30 minutes between courses which, for a 15+ course tasting menu, is just too long. Other tables around us seemed to be finished much quicker so I am a bit puzzled as to why ours dragged on for what seemed like forever. To top it all off, they rudely started setting tables for the next day around us when we were still working on our entree courses. Talk about making customers feel unappreciated! Overall, the attention to detail and overall customer service fell below what I would expect from a Relais and Chateau restaurant of this caliber.
Switching gears now to the menu, we were first offered 3 wine pairing options to choose from- elegant, prestige, deluxe. Elegant was reasonably priced at $79, while the Delux was several hundred dollars. For true wine lovers, the Deluxe pairing may be well worth it, as there were some pretty special wines and champagnes offered throughout the meal that the sommelier was obviously giddy about.
In terms of food, chef Jerome Ferrer prepares French food that is anything but classic French. Europea is famous for its whimsical and playful preparations (lots of molecular gastronomy) that certainly kept us entertained. Diners can choose the 15+ courses signature menu, the vegetarian tasting menu (not on the printed menu, but is on their website) or a la carte option (which also comes with some "extras" along the way). I ordered the vegetarian menu and, while I did really appreciate the use of seasonal produce (squash, root veg, artichoke for fall), I felt that I received quite a bit less than the signature menu in terms of both food quality and quantity which would have been acceptable had it been at a lower price point. There were certainly a few stand-out dishes (I adored the spaghetti squash dish), while some other dishes were simply a few bland vegetables on the plate. My dinner mates had the signature tasting menu and were served a nice mix of seafood, poultry and pork (heavier on the seafood end). Overall, they enjoyed the dishes quite a bit, but overall enjoyed the earlier small dishes better than the later "main" dishes.
Here is a look at our tasting menus (dishes from both the vegetarian and standard tasting menus included). In reading previous reviews, it appears as though many dishes stay the same for months at a time and some are permanently left on the menu, so you may recognize many of these if you dine there.
In many ways, Europea is an experience that delights the senses and provides a an over-the-top experience full of smoke and mirrors. While myself and my dining companions enjoyed the surprises along the way, the service was a bit of a let down for the price. I also felt as though the flashiness sometimes got in the way of food quality.
If you have money to spare, go check it out, otherwise you may be better served elsewhere.