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Restaurant Bonaparte continues to flourish on  its 40th anniversary

    Located in a historic building on rue Saint-François-Xaxier and next door to the Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal, fine French cuisine restaurant Bonaparte turned 40  in March. It was wonderful to dine there again recently.

    Recognized as one of Open Table’s top 100 romantic restaurants, Bonaparte is a culinary institution for theatre-goers, tourists and international stars such as Halle Berry, Charles Aznavour, Julia Roberts, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Lionel Richie, all of whom have fallen under the spell of its authentic French cuisine, impeccable service and unique cachet.

    The restaurant was founded in 1984 by Louis H Ladouceur when Montreal’s Old Port was not the tourist magnet it is today. The early years were difficult, but Chef Claude Postel’s exquisite French cuisine saved the day.

    A few years later, in 1987, with the release of the iconic film Le Festin de Babette starring French actress Juliette Binoche, the founder had the stroke of genius to offer this epic meal at Restaurant Bonaparte, which caused quite a stir in the media and led to an incredible surge in popularity.  Riding this wave of success, the visionary owner acquired the entire building in the early 1990s, demolishing all five floors to build a hotel.

    At the tender age of 19, Martin Bédard made his debut at Bonaparte as a busboy and absorbed everything around him. From 1992 to 1996, he explored beyond  Bonaparte, working alongside renowned chefs such as Alain Ducasse in New York and Daniel Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton.  Upon his return, rich in new experiences and ideas, Louis promoted him to the position of director, and he continues to help shape the warm, impeccable experience that  Bonaparte offers today.

    Having met Martin many times, I was not aware until my most recent visit that he had a real passion for the stage. “I was a singer, dancer and actor,” he told me. “I spent 10 years in New York performing and was on a national tour of 42nd Street.”

    Just before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Bedard rented the Rialto Theatre, hired some dancers and musicians and presented several shows. He has even written a book. A return to the stage is on his bucket list when retirement comes calling.

    In the kitchen, Claude Postel was the original head chef. Dedicated to customer satisfaction, he actively solicited guests’ opinions and refined recipes to achieve a harmonious menu. Two decades later, the menu remains largely unchanged, and their chef since 2019, Kamal Abdul, maintains classic, consistent French cuisine in all its splendor, where everything is made on-site with the utmost care.

    In 2017, experienced hotelier Silvio Sicoli and his partner Gino Melatti, both owners of the Épik Collection Hotel Group, acquired the inn, which became the Bonaparte boutique hotel, in which the founder remains a shareholder. The Bonaparte restaurant as it stands today seats 112, including seven at the bar, and offers three dining rooms with three different atmospheres, including La verrière, a small 20-seat room that can be used for special events.

    Word of mouth has certainly worked its magic for this restaurant since its inception. “We turn away customers almost every night,” says  Bédard. “Our ability to adapt over the decades is also part of our winning recipe. The decor has been changed several times over the years, and we modernized it in 2017 while retaining our classic style when we were purchased by Groupe Épik. 

    “We have loyal customers from all over the world, and when they come to Montreal, we’re the place they choose to eat. Certain signature recipes are always the same, and customers order them with their eyes closed. Mushroom ravioli with sage as a starter, smoked salmon with truffles smoked on site, veal chop and lobster with vanilla are recipes that have never changed and that customers ask for again and again. Our philosophy is to maintain the authenticity of the restaurant while bringing it up to date and to always offer warm, friendly service. We’ve upped the ante with our tasting menu, which comes with a wine and food pairing, and we also accommodate gluten-free customers.”

    The theatre menu is also a great success during the Centaur season. It’s a three-course table d’hôte menu available from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m 

     “We used to have portraits of 12 women on our walls, representing the 12 months of the revolutionary calendar,” said Bédard. “We decided to bring back the concept to mark our 40th anniversary by having new paintings made. Each month this year, the mixologists have created a cocktail inspired by each of these women. They will give customers who order this cocktail a souvenir card featuring, on one side, the woman’s portrait and, on the other, a poem composed with the cocktail’s ingredients. By the end of the year, there will be 12 paintings hanging on the walls of the Grand Salle impératric.”

    At  Bonaparte, in addition to delicious food, you’ll find sumptuous décor, an exquisite cocktail menu, magnificent service, a lively atmosphere and palpable energy.  Also check out the secret sauce.

    My guest and I opted in favor of the tasting menu. Our server Mathieu guided us through the selections.

    ‍We started with piping hot bowls of lobster bisque, enhanced with ginger. Next came homemade smoked salmon, served with truffle oil for me and Duck foie gras crème brulée,  with sautéed apples for my friend.  I then opted for the shrimps and scallops flavoured, with vanilla while my friend chose the trademark mushroom ravioli perfumed with fresh sage. It was then time for the main course. For me, the breast of duck, flavored with maple syrup and wild berries, was an easy choice. This is not an item you see on many restaurant menus. My companion enjoyed the roasted rack of lamb and port wine jus.  So how do you top this all off? The decadent lime pie and maple cheesecake were worthy conclusions to a sumptuous meal. Oh yes, let me add that the tasting menu includes the option of a wine pairing for each item. Frederic is the mixologist on staff and the team here raves about his work. I second the motion!

    Bonaparte is located at 447, rue Saint-François-Xavier. It is open every evening from   5:30 pm to 10:30 pm.  For more information at www.bonaparte.com  or call 514- 844-4368.

    Mike Cohen

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