Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kam Fung, 1936 Blvd. Thimens, Montreal

Apologies for the radio silence. I’ll blame it on the recession.

When looking for brunch options around Montreal, we tend to forget the abundance of Dim Sum establishments. For those who are looking for some adventure in their bruncheon experience, Kam Fung is one of a number of restaurants that serve Dim Sum. This past week, friends and I decided to hit up Kam Fung in Ville St-Laurent (rather than their Chinatown locale) and dined on a variety of steamed and fried treats.

We began our meals with fried noodles, cooked oysters on the half-shell and cups full of hot Chinese tea. We then sampled an assortment of dumplings (pork, shrimp and peanut), Chinese broccoli, beef balls, spareribs, eggplant and rice balls. While most things were absolutely delicious, the bbq’d pork in pastry was a little off-putting; I am usually a great fan of savory/sweet combinations, but the pastry was way too sweet. For those of you who love pork desserts, this may be for you. The only other dud (in my opinion anyways), was the dish of spareribs; while the meat itself was fine, dusted with salt and pepper, the little ribs were virtually swimming in a small bowl of oil. This being said, the spare ribs were the only things that failed to impress, everything else was well-seasoned, not too greasy and incredibly flavorful. We finished our meals with more tea and those small sweet dumplings/donuts filled with red bean paste. While some may argue that Kam Fung’s Dim Sum is too “Westernzied,” I have to say that there was nary a General Tao chicken on the menu (which I have seen at other dim sum joints), but neither were there chicken feet or beef tendon (a staple at the Edmontonian Dim Sum places I used to frequent).

As for the service, it was speedy and solicitous: we were never without tea and the carts came by at regular intervals. A small note to vegetarians: don’t go. I have gone to Dim Sum with vegetarians in the past and things get complicated with the “Is there meat in this?” question. There are many items with “no meat, but yes, fish” at Kam Fung, so unless you want a meal of Chinese broccoli, fried tofu and sweets with red bean paste, it might be worth your while to try elsewhere. Plus, it makes it difficult when divvying up the bill…

Last but not least, one of my dining companions found a pearl in his oyster, well, either that or a part of his tooth chipped off. Either way, it seemed like a sign of good fortune, or at least a reason to return.


Avg. $15-20 per person.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Guistini

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

M:brgr, 2025 Drummond

To begin, let’s get a few beefs (ahem) out of the way:

1. I dislike the current trend to spell phonetically and to dispense with vowels
2. I dislike, and frankly don’t understand, supper clubs

Montreal’s new burger bar M:brgr achieves both of these things. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s list a few of the positives: 1) M:brgr exists as a much-needed casual contribution to the downtown dining scene. While there are many high-end restaurants, in addition to many greasy spoons, there are very few middle-of-the-road restaurants. Point two: most people love a good hamburger and generally speaking, M:brgr’s hamburgers are quite delicious and the variety of toppings, from pedestrian to haute-cuisine, are an interesting touch (although I can’t really see myself ordering a plain $20 kobe beef burger and piling on another $30 worth of high-end toppings, but I digress…). Point three: the sides that we sampled (Moishe’s Coleslaw, Moishe’s dill pickles, sweet potato fries and a vegetarian-friendly poutine) were all very tasty.

Some downsides: 1) I was forced to check my coat; I don’t mind doing this in a busy club or a high-end restaurant, but at a casual eatery, I find it kind of unnecessary (at least it was free). Point two: the spelling (or lack there of) of M:brgr should have served as an indication as to their clientele. On a recent Friday night, around 7:30 p.m., the place was swarming with tweens and teens munching on designer hamburgers and sipping bottles of Coke – I felt like I was crashing someone’s bar mitzvah, or a sweet-sixteen party. Point three: whether it was the gaggle of teenagers, or the size of the room, the noise level was pretty high and this was only compounded by the loud and incessant dance music that accompanied our meal. The music made any conversation rather difficult and produced a strange, pulsing vibration in my stomach while I was eating (see point two from introductory sentence). Lastly, the wine list was rather expensive for a burger bar. Most bottles began in the $50 range and while that might have been ok with my $60 kobe beef burger, it didn’t quite mesh with their $12 burger and fries special. Perhaps the above-average liquor prices were to discourage their over-18 diners, but the well-stocked, back-lit bar which runs the length of a wall and serves as one of the focal points of the restaurant, would suggest otherwise (not to mention the abundance of designer cocktails).

Anyways, all of this put together made me feel like I was frequenting a supper club aimed at the Miley Cyrus generation. Had we stayed later than 10:30 p.m., we might have witnessed a Much Music dance party. Bah Humbug! And it’s a shame, because the food was actually quite good and without the distracting club atmosphere, I would have definitely returned.

Mains: $20-$30


Monday, December 8, 2008

Buvette Chez Simone, 4869 Parc Avenue

It should first be noted, that with only an approximate address to go on, this small wine bar/resto was very difficult to find. Without much signage out front, and tucked into a nondescript space on a sleepy part of Parc Avenue between Villeneuve and St-Joseph, this bar can be easily missed. This being said, my first visit on a recent Saturday night demonstrated that the somewhat hidden location doesn’t prevent people from piling in. Seeing as though they don’t take reservations, my dining companions and I decided to get an early-ish start to our evening and arrived at the bar around 7:15pm and it is a good thing we did, by 8pm, there was not a spot to be found. On my second visit, I arrived just shortly after 5 and by 5:30pm, it was packed.

As far as wine bars go, I find Buvette Chez Simone to be like Pullman’s more casual cousin. The décor is less polished than Pullman, featuring a lot of raw wood and exposed orange industrial electrical cords. Surprisingly enough, it all works (in fact, I think BCS has already won some kind of Quebec design award). As for wines, they have a wide selection of very affordable varieties from all over the world; even better, is the fact that many of these wines are served by the glass. And although I have yet to try them, BCS also features two house wines, at a very affordable $5.50 (or so) a glass.

As for the food, I have nothing but good things to say… While most of the items on the menu are of the appetizer sort (i.e. olives, cheeses, charcuterie, small salads, etc.), there were a number of more “meal-oriented” dishes, such as a jarret d’agneau, a chicken sandwich and the full, half or quarter rotisserie chicken. On my first visit, my companions and I shared a rotisserie chicken and accompanying vegetables, a bowl of Greek salad and some olives. The perfectly-roasted chicken arrived, in its entirety, on a large wooden cutting board, with some roasted potatoes, onions and perhaps some carrots. The Greek salad was certainly better than average and served as a good match for the chicken. On a subsequent outing, my friend and I ordered a number of appetizers, which included an Italian cheese (served with bread, fruit and nuts), some rosette de Lyon, a few slices of cured beef which were not unlike beef jerky (and very tasty) and finally two little slices of toasted baguette, topped with an excellent slice of chorizo and a fried quail’s egg. All of the snacks were delicious, but the chorizo and quail egg was surprisingly excellent in their simplicity. While no one was interested in dessert, BCS does offer brownies, made with love and a lot of chocolate, from Cocoa Locale down the street.

Overall, my two excursions to Buvette Chez Simone were most enjoyable. The wines were very affordable and very pleasant, as was the food, and there was also great variety. While I would definitely recommend this little wine bar, I have to say that my dining companions did have one complaint: bad lighting. They found the industrial lighting to be a little lacking and had troubles reading their menus. As someone with a penchant for dark restaurants (as a young adult I thought that the lower the lighting, the fancier the restaurant), I had no problems with the muted atmosphere and in fact I felt it added to the coziness of the bar.

So to conclude: if you go, go early, or late and don’t be put-off by its somewhat hermetic location. Oh, and expect to spot a few Montreal vedettes tucked into its dark recesses.

Light meal and a few glasses of wine: $30


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Montreal's Best Eastern European Delis - Part II

3. Slovenia, 6424 Clark

Slovenia is part charcuterie and part lunch counter. Like Chopin, they have a wide selection of meats and sausages and a variety of canned goods and similar to Euro-Deli, they had an assortment of pickles, sauerkraut and pickled “every vegetable you could imagine.” Seeing as though we had already eaten, we only looked at the lunch counter which seemed to be serving up hot meals of kielbasa, cabbage rolls (the tomato sauce kind), pierogies and maybe some potato pancakes? While my friend ordered some head cheese and a few sausages, I took the time to look for pickled cabbages, but alas, they were nowhere to be found. On our way out the door, I stopped the deli lady and asked her if they had any pickled cabbage heads; she smiled pointed to a spot behind the counter and mentioned that a bunch had just arrived from Poland (!) earlier that day. Sure enough, she emerged from behind the counter with a vacuum-packed head of brined, wilted cabbage. What a delight! And a bargain too!

4. Bucarest, 4670 Decarie

Even though our search for pickled cabbage had ended, we still took the time to head to Bucarest - a Romanian deli and grocery store located near Charcuterie Chopin on Decarie. Bucarest is enormous and carries a huge variety of canned and frozen goods from Eastern Europe, as well as Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, etc. Besides a tasty-looking baked goods section and a wide variety of imported chocolate, we were most drawn to a number of large plastic vats, which looked like rubber oil drums. Lifting the lids, we found one vat to be filled with large pickles floating in brine and another vat filled with what looked like big rib bones floating in some kind of pickling liquid. Much to our delight, the last vat was filled with pickled cabbage heads! Rather than vacuum-packed in Poland, these cabbages appeared to be pickled on the premises.

While our search for pickled cabbages may be over, we are still looking for the city’s best kielbasa. Both Charcuterie Chopin and Euro-Deli Batory have good contenders, but all on-line banter points to one Charcuterie Felix Mish in Verdun. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Montreal's Best Eastern European Delis - Part I

Every year, around this time, I get a hankering for Ukrainian comfort food: you know, cabbage, beets, potatoes and kielbasa. When I was a kid, I used to turn my nose up at my Nanny’s (that’s grandmother, not au-pair) home-made borscht, cabbage rolls and god forbid you ever mention the word “head-cheese” around me. Nowadays I can’t get enough of said delights and am slowly coming around on head-cheese, so long as I don’t get any of the jumbly bits. While I have been making pierogies for a few years now (to moderate success), I decided a few weeks ago attempt my grandmother’s cabbage rolls. Unlike the more common variety (big, fat and covered in tomato sauce), my grandmother’s cabbage rolls were tiny, tightly wrapped and filled with rice, onions, bacon and a wee bit of ground beef. While I knew where to get the accompanying kielbasa and pierogies, I was a bit flummoxed as to where to find pickled cabbage heads. This, in turn, led me on an abbreviated tour of some of Montreal’s Eastern European delis.

Here are my findings:

1. Euro-Deli Batory, 115 Saint-Viateur West

As the closest on my list, Euro-Deli was my first stop in my quest for pickled cabbage heads. Having frequented this place for years, I knew I could find quality kielbasa and quite good frozen pierogies (and, if I am feeling lazy: beet stock for borscht), but would it carry pickled cabbage heads? After I milled about the store for a while, perusing their selection of pickles, sauerkraut and assorted sweets and juices, I finally asked the owner whether or not they carried this pickled staple. In a hushed tone, she informed me that following numerous requests, she had stocked pickled cabbage, but no one ever came in to avail her of the briny leaves and thus, has stopped carrying them. She suggested I try Slovenia.

2. Charcuterie Chopin, 4200 Blvd. Decarie

While the odds of finding pickled cabbage at this small NDG deli were slim, my dining companion and I were getting hungry and were looking for a lunch of pierogies and kielbasa. Chopin is more of a charcuterie than anything else and is known for its selection of cold-cuts and varieties of kielbasa. My dining companion and I each ordered some pierogies (served with a little bit of delicious pickled beet salad) and a piece of kielbasa. While we waited for the dumplings to be boiled, we were served a small plate topped with one big hunk of cold kielbasa; this was back to basics: no cooking, no mustard, no utensils, just one big chunk of meat. The sausage was wonderful, a perfect combination of garlic, pepper and smoked pork. The pierogies were also quite good, but I would have enjoyed a few filled with sauerkraut, rather than the regular potato/cheese filling. Needless to say, there were no pickled cabbage heads.

Stay tuned, as the search for pickled cabbage continues…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Le Pégase, 1831 Gilford, Montreal

One of the things I love most about Montreal, is the abundance of byob bistros. While the majority of these restaurants aren’t breaking new culinary ground, they are providing good quality French food at very affordable prices. There is nothing I like better than settling down for an evening in one of Montreal’s small French bistros, sipping a glass of wine that I lovingly chose for myself.

One of such restaurants is the Plateau’s Le Pégase. Located on the main floor of a residential duplex, Le Pégase spreads itself over two small rooms. While some may view this lack of space as cramped, I prefer to think of it as cozy; likewise, while some may find the noise irritating, I find it ambient… most of the time. It should be noted that the restaurant can get very loud – often, the combination of a small space, many diners and unfettered wine access can make for a very raucous evening. This is all fine and dandy when you are that group, but a mite annoying if you are not.

My most recent visit took place on a blustery October evening. As we unpacked our bottles of wine, we were met with baskets of warm baguette, accompanied by a mushroom mousse. Like many bistros, Le Pégase features a ‘table d’hôte,’ which includes a soup or salad, main course and coffee or tea. The ‘menu gourmet’ features a soup or salad, choice of entrée, main course, dessert and coffee or tea. On this particular visit, I chose the ‘menu gourmet’ and started with a very passable house salad, followed by the escargots with caramelized apples and blue cheese. Being only a recent admirer of the snail, I am rather picky when it comes to preparation. These were flavourful, but were a little gritty. The apples were a nice touch and played off the salty blue cheese, but the presentation could have been a bit more inspired. As for the main courses, I chose the ‘cerf de boileau’ and was presented with an enormous piece of deer with elderberry sauce, which had a strong tea flavour – most delicioius. The meat was perfectly prepared and had a very toothsome flavour. The deer came with the requisite serving of scalloped potatoes, something like a squash mousse and a piece of roasted turnip – all of which were good. The other main courses tasted equally as delicious: the ostrich was tender and full of flavour, as was the lamb and duck breast. The only mild complaint was that the salmon was a little salty. This was rectified by the fact that my dining companion’s sister despises raw tomatoes and removed the accompanying “sauce vierge” which may have contained much of the saltiness. As per usual, the desserts hit a high note. I opted for the profiteroles, which were the perfect accompaniment to my espresso.

All in all, our meals met with positive reviews. As we gathered our coats and packed up our extra bottles of wine, I noticed that we were the last table left in the restaurant and I can safely say that it was the hour, not our rowdiness, that had cleared the restaurant… at least this time.

Table d'hote (soup/salad, main, tea/coffee):$22-30


Monday, November 10, 2008


While perusing December’s “bon appétit” magazine, I came across a section entitled “The Bargain - Global Stretch.” This short feature was to appeal to the traveler who loved to sample international fare, but wasn’t interested in spending a lot of money. Several international cities were cited, including Buenos Aires, Bogota, Salemi and … Montreal. With a budget of $20, the author was looking for restaurants that featured “cheap, authentic and delicious” meals. With all of the international restaurants in Montreal, many of which feature very affordable meals, not to mention all of the restaurants featuring “cuisine du terroir,” I was surprised that the author chose Liverpool House as his “international bargain.” As stated in the preceding review, this restaurant is good, but not terribly economical: the $20 veal tongue terrine suggested by the reviewer strikes me as an enticing appetizer, but not necessarily a “bargain.” If the author was looking for something “international,” or at least local, he should have tried any number of restaurants in Park Ex. (i.e. Bombay Mahal) or any number of byob bistros featuring local game and produce (i.e. Les Heritiers, La Pegase, etc.). But don’t you worry, a “letter to the editor” is forthcoming.