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Fine Dining

2 stars1831 Guilford St. (corner Cartier St.)Vegetarian friendly: Not especiallyI hear from many readers who tell me they love to read restaurant reviews but that they rarely dine out. "I dine out vicariously through you," is a line I've heard more than once. When I ask why, the answer is always the same: Restaurants are just too expensive. Had they no interest in food, I could understand. But how unfortunate that the closest some food lovers think they can get to a fine dining experience is to read a review, because there are ways to dine out on a tight budget.

When pressed for cash, I stick to the table d'hte or the cheapest items on the menu. You'll get a good sense of a restaurant's style by ordering two appetizers in lieu of a main course. Then there are the obvious sacrifices like bottled water and pricey wines. If you choose to axe the wine, you might prefer to try a bring your own wine restaurant. And if you are interested in the BYOB option, you'll be well advised to try out the oh so affordable Le Pgase.

Located on a residential street in the heart of the Plateau, Le Pgase has a homey look and feel shared by many of the bring your own wine establishments in the area. The space includes a mere 35 seats divided between two rooms, and the decor is pretty bare bones, with bistro furniture, subdued prints, white tablecloths and orange and ochre walls, one of which is emblazoned with a gorgeous mural of a leaping Pegasus.

The last time I spotted this winged horse mural was when I reviewed the restaurant six years ago. The menu hasn't changed much, and it turns out this restaurant's strong points remain its strong points and the odd weak spot is still there. But on the whole, I'd agree with my assessment back in 2002 that this is a relaxed little bistro where we can "eat good food, chat with friends, unwind and come home with a few bucks to spare."

What I like best about Le Pgase is that it offers a generous menu, with the option of an extra appetizer and/or cheese plate. Despite the laid back ambience, the food is upscale French bistro, which though a little dated is a good notch above the comfort food that most of us are serving at home. And though the menu appears to be short, there are enough options here to please both conservative and adventurous palates.

A recent meal began with a choice of soup or salad. The soup, cauliflower and curry, was hot, silky and nicely seasoned. The salad, a mound of mesclun tossed with a feisty lemon vinaigrette, was perfect.

The next course included gravlax, scallops, and foie gras "au torchon." The gravlax plate consisted of a few slices of marinated salmon twirled into a rose shape served with flavoured oils. Good enough, I guess, but the oils lacked that extra bit of flavour that could have elevated the fish to a more exciting level. I didn't taste much to get excited about on the scallop plate, either. Wrapped in a ruffle of golden phyllo, a half dozen or so bay scallops were bathed in a cream sauce that lacked the promised basil flavouring. Cream, pastry and blah scallops do not a memorable starter make. But the foie gras au torchon ($10 supplement) was memorable, mainly because the foie gras was highly seasoned, properly deveined and neither too firm nor too soft. Just right.

Main courses all offered a generous hunk of meat plus the same lineup of vegetable accompaniments, including a spoonful of miniature ratatouille, a square of scalloped potatoes and a wedge of butternut squash flan. As for the meat, the best of the three sampled was an ostrich filet that was tender and flavourful. Ostrich meat tastes a bit like a cross between steak and calves' liver, and this filet was zuzzed up with a sauce made from cranberries.

Also delicious was a pork filet, cooked to the ideal ros and served with a mango chutney. The only meat I wasn't too wild about was my duck filet, which lacked the crisp skin I crave in any duck dish, as well as a pinky red interior and toothsome texture. This filet was soft, not all that flavourful, and drowned in a gloopy orange sauce. Not great, but I devoured it nonetheless.

The real treats arrived with the next two courses. The first was an all Quebec cheese plate ($7 supplement) featuring four small slices, the best of which were a nutty Grs des Champs and a pleasantly pungent Ermite Bleu. And then came three fab desserts. I loved the tarte Tatin imbued with salted caramel and served with a lovely vanilla ice cream. I usually like my Tatin warm, but when it's this good you can eat it straight from the fridge. I also enjoyed the chocolate profiteroles made with more of that vanilla ice cream, crisp cream puff pastry and a dribble of chocolate sauce. Last but not least was a molten chocolate cake that could satisfy any chocoholic's craving for something serious.

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