Monday, December 10, 2007

Restaurant Review - Orexi, 1270 Avenue Bernard, Montreal


If there is one thing that Montreal is certainly not lacking, it is the Greek restaurant. Living in a predominantly Greek neighourhood, I have an unending plethora of tavernas -- from greasy, but affordable Arahova (my dinning companion swears by it), to pricier endeavors, such as the crème de la crème of Greek restos – Milos. So, it was with a weary eye that I watched the arrival of yet another Greek restaurant, Orexi, in Mile End/Outremont. While initially deciding to ignore it for the time being, I was recently persuaded to visit by a positive review in the Montreal Gazette, attesting to the good food, fine ambiance and personable staff.

To begin, my dinning companion and I chose to visit the restaurant on a blustery, snowy December evening. While snow and wind might not encourage one in the direction of grilled fish and other Mediterranean delicacies, it was, in fact, just the thing to counter the crappy weather. The interior of the restaurant is warm, boisterous and certainly Mediterranean – blue lights play off of exposed stone walls which are lined with fabric banquettes and light-coloured pillows -- not to mention the fully-stocked bar to the back of the restaurant. While I did find the requisite Greek statue, the rest of the resto was surprisingly un-tacky. In addition to the warm décor, I must say that the staff was certainly friendly. We were welcomed by no less than three fellows, all seemingly from the same jovial family.

It should be said at the outset that I think this restaurant fares best when ordering share-ware. Many serving dishes went by with entire grilled fish, family-sized portions of rice, potatoes, calamari, octopus and other sea-worthy items. We began by sharing a plate of feta and olives, which was very simply prepared, but with top-of-the-line ingredients. Surprisingly enough, the hit of the dish was the dried oregano, which the owners of the restaurant bring back from the family stead in Greece. We then shared a plate of grilled octopus. Now, I am only recently embarking on the seafood/fish train and even I could tell that this was delicious. The meat was tender, moist and with a light grilled flavour. It was tossed, seemingly, in olive oil and lemon, which played off the tender meat. In terms of main dishes, my dinning companion ordered the swordfish steak. With regards to my current introduction to fish, I am finding that I can handle most shellfish, but actual fish seems to be more of a problem. This swordfish though, was light, moist and fresh-tasting, nothing like a fishy tire. My lamb, the grandmother’s “special of the day,” was a little over-done for my taste. While it was a braised leg of lamb, it tasted like it had been recently reheated and lost a bit of its lamb-y flavour. The accompanying potatoes and rice (potatoes for the lamb and rice for the fish) were quite delicious. We finished off our meal with a nice glass of ouzo.

It would seem that the seafood is definitely the way to go at Orexi. In addition to the grilled fish, the appetizers, with their ample size, are perfect for sharing with a large group of people and could certainly constitute a dinner. One last thing -- the service remained attentive, energetic and Greek throughout the evening. As the evening wore on, large groups of women came in for martinis and a little male attention from the staff – they were more than obliging.

Mains: $18-30

7/10

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Album Review - Kevin Drew, "Spirit If", Arts and Crafts Records, 2007.


At the outset of this blog, I mentioned that this would be a place for me to revel in my various pastimes – one of such pastimes being music (the listening to, not the making of – unless car singing counts). And while I have been lax on this in 2007, I have, in the past, been rewarded monetarily for my cd reviewing skills. All of this to say, I will, on occasion, include the odd album review, which will go a long way in explaining the following:

One of the positive things about commuting to work – and I have a long commute – is the opportunity to listen to music uninterrupted. I am embarrassed however, to say that more often than not, I listen to Agatha Christie audio books– gasp!. Anyways, to break myself of this erstwhile habit, I decided to acquire some new music to listen to in the car, some kind of concept-ish album, that is experienced best when listened to all of the way through. Given that the last Broken Social Scene album was just such an effort, I decided to pick up Kevin Drew’s, or rather “Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew’s,” Spirit If, released last month on Arts and Crafts Records.

While not a concept album per se, it still feels like a unified album, rather than a collection of singles. Not surprisingly, most, if not all, of the fractured BSC members make appearances on this album, plus a number of greatly-appreciated guest spots - who knew I had such a fondness for Tom Cochrane? This album is a perfect melding of the last two BSC albums -- there are the spacey, sometimes discordant sounds of the last album, mixed with the more pop, melodic sounds of You Forgot it in People. Brought together, these two styles bring out the best in BSC, er, Kevin Drew. Thinking back to the first BSC album, it was those two songs “I’m still your fag” and “Lover’s spit,” both featuring Drew’s semi-whispered vocals, which were my favorites. Therefore, it should stand to reason that I would appreciate this album. Two stand-out singles from “Spirit If” include “Lucky Ones” and “Gangbang Suicide” (a song-titler par excellence, he is not). All in all, a very good album and one that provides a nice sound-track to the Montreal – QC trek.

8.5/10

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Restaurant Review - Pushap

Pushap, 975, rue Jean-Talon Ouest, Montreal (one of three locations)

As many a Montrealer know, Park-Ex is a hot-bed for excellent and reasonably-priced (and by reasonably-priced, I mean downright cheap) Indian food. Everyone has their favourites and so it was last week that I forewent a trip to my usual Indian spot (I’ll save that review for another time) and tried Pushap, a restaurant recommended by several of my cohorts. Known for its vegetarian fare, Pushap also houses a remarkable dessert counter, with many a brightly-coloured treat. Arriving at the restaurant for lunch on a chilly Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves among the first guests in an otherwise empty restaurant, with things seemingly just getting underway in the kitchen. First impressions: while no one is going to return to Pushap simply for the décor, we were met by a friendly hostess who had our meals served to us within ten minutes of arrival. We both opted for the thali plates which were designated on the menu as a “house specialty.” My dining companion chose the more expensive thali plate, which came with an “appetizer” of papadum and raita. The thali plates themselves were spicy, delicious and filling. Each “prison tray” (the thalis are perfect for anyone who likes compartmentalized food), contained three different kinds of curry – lentil (or chickpea) , mixed vegetable and a somewhat mysterious one which was most likely eggplant, onion and maybe tomato? While each curry was quite good, it was the latter - the mystery curry, which stood-out – it was rich, without being greasy, quite spicy and boldly flavoured. Each thali also comes with rice, cabbage salad and fried, or non-fried, naan-like bread. Having sampled the two, the non-fried is the way to go.

Following this more-than-ample lunch, we tried two of the mystery desserts. As a result of a communication breakdown, we never did find out what we were eating, but the first dessert was a small honey and milk-soaked, coconut-covered dessert ball and the second was a bright green diamond of perhaps almond/chickpea paste and rose water. Both desserts were absolutely delicious, with each of us preferring our own dessert over the other. These desserts were accompanied by a healthy serving of Indian tea. Towards the end of our meal the place became quite busy, with a long line-up for take-out samosas and sweets. I won’t even mention how much we paid for lunch for two, sufficed to say it was under $15 – highway robbery! Will Pushap replace my regular stand-by for Indian fare in the Ex? No, but is it still worth a return visit? Most definitely.

Thali plates: $5-7

7/10

Monday, November 19, 2007

Restaurant Review - The Good Fork, Brooklyn



3) The Good Fork - 391 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY

In getting back to the original intent of the last post, my dining companion and I wanted to treat ourselves to one of the many restaurants featured on the pages of the various cooking magazines to which we subscribe. Due to time constraints -- i.e. trying to see everything/everyone we wanted in such a short period – we were forced to make a reservation the morning of our desired evening out. After many attempts, we finally secured a reservation at “The Good Fork,” a small restaurant in the burgeoning neighourhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn. This restaurant had been featured in one of the latest issues of “Bon Appetit” in a section devoted to various small up-and-coming restaurants. Given the choice of a 6:30pm or 11:00pm reservation, we opted for the earlier of the two, which meant leaving “the city” at least an hour beforehand.

Getting to the restaurant was the first adventure. Our hostess had suggested against walking the 20 minutes from the subway stop, as this area of Brooklyn is mostly a collection of warehouses and housing projects with a couple of tony streets thrown in for good measure. We ordered a car service (de rigeur for Brooklyn) and made it to the restaurant only a few minutes late. First, let it be noted that the décor in this place is incredible. The restaurant is a mixture of exposed brick and copious amounts of blond wood. As you enter the restaurant you first notice the molded wood ceiling/wall piece which curves from the ceiling down onto the brick. The effect is not unlike a ship’s warm interior and adds to the cozy feeling of this little romantic restaurant. As for the service, it was likewise warm and attentive – we were given, in my opinion – the best table in the house, a little cozy window alcove near the front of the restaurant, but far enough away from the door. We began our meals with cocktails, I had a lemon gin drink (the name of which escapes me, although I think it might have been French) and my man friend ordered a “Dark and Stormy” his new drink of choice, since sampling it at a yachting event. As for our starters, we tried the roasted beets (which were perfectly done and nicely enhanced by walnuts, shallots and ricotta) and the featured appetizer which were sweetbreads, also quite delicious. For our main courses, we sampled the seared duck breast with French lentils and the homemade ravioli with radicchio ricotta filling and mushroom chestnut cream sauce. The duck was perfectly done with an accompanying red wine reduction and the lentils were out of this world (which are strong words for lentils). The ravioli was equally as satisfying and the perfect amount of pasta to boot.

On the whole, this was one lovely dining experience. The only off-note came when we ordered a 2004 bottle of California cabernet, only to be brought the 2005 without explanation. Although, in a night filled with plusses, this was really the only minus. Two last things: upon perusing the list of main courses, I was thrown off by the “Korean-style steak and eggs” and it was only upon later reading the magazine article that I found out that the owner’s wife, and chef of the restaurant, is Korean, which would explain the faint Korean leanings in an otherwise fairly bistro-esque menu (next time I will definitely try the steak and eggs). And finally, I want to mention that although we had an early dinner reservation and presumably they had the table booked for a later reservation, we never felt rushed and loitered for two and a half hours capping off our evening with a piece of key lime pie and excellent espresso.

8.5/10

Mains: $10-20

New York City - Part III

So… dinner in the city. What to do with so many options? Stay in Brooklyn, that’s what I say. Looking at three potential dinners out, we decided to take advantage of the all-mighty Canadian dollar, do a little bit of research and treat ourselves to one “fancy-ish” meal out (keep in mind we are still dining on quasi-student budgets) – more on that in a minute.

1) Flatbush Farm - 76-78 St. Marks Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn

For our first evening out in Brooklyn, our hostess brought us to Flatbush Farm, a small, stylish restaurant, a mere stone’s throw from her apartment. With the darkly-lit interior, warm candles and dark wood, this restaurant set the tone for a perfect autumn dinner out. Bearing in mind that this restaurant’s raison d’être is organic farm fresh produce and given that we were plum in the middle of root vegetable season, I was surprised at the lack of produce (seasonal or otherwise) on the menu. There were a number of bar-food options (easily explained by the fact that the restaurant also comprises a bar next door) and a couple of bistro stand-bys. We began our evening with the charcuterie plate which was quite delicious. I then opted for a main course of duck with potatoes, while my dining companion sampled the Hungarian goulash. Both dishes were good, but not great and once again, given the fact that this restaurant calls itself “farm,” there were surprisingly few vegetables. Ho-hum.

Mains: $15-25

6/10


2) Raymunds’s - 124 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

When searching for the address of this place, I stumbled upon a review which referred to Raymund’s as the “Polish hooters.” While it is true our waitress was wearing a snug sweater, I can’t say the rest of the décor (white stucco walls, timber beams, 1970s design) fit the bill. Actually, in re-reading that last sentence, it does sound like an Eastern European equivalent. Anyways, barring the décor, and the somewhat slow, but capable service, the food is all about Polish grandmotherly love. We all began the meal with a Polish beer - something like a pilsner - the name of which I only partially remember and have no clue how to spell. Knowing that the portions were likely to be large, we forewent the requisite beet or tripe soup and headed straight for the main courses. Between the lot of us, we were about nine, we sampled most of what was on the menu. I ordered the pierogi plate, which was delicious -- the dumplings were moist, tasty and served with the requisite fried onions, apple sauce and sour cream. Each dish also comes with two sides, so having skipped the borscht, I chose the beet salad and hot cabbage – both of which were homey and hearty. I rounded off the plate with a piece of smoky, garlic-y kielbasa, which was definitely overkill, but enjoyable all the same. So, if ever you find yourself in Williamsburg with a hankering for some hearty home-cooked fare, this restaurant is a must – both delicious and affordable.

Mains: $8-15

8/10

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New York - Part II - Amy Ruth's, Bergen Sub


Dining in New York is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The main issue I have with food and the big apple is that there is just too much choice. With each planned trip I vow to do a respectable amount of research so that we can make sound and informed dining choices. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for spontaneity and some of the best meals I have ever had have been random snap decisions (ah, the accidental Spaghetti Carbonara in Brey-sur-Roya, France), but just once I would have liked to have been prepared. We did have the forethought to bring a copy of one of the latest issues of “Bon Appetit,” which featured a review of several new (and small) New York restos (more on that later), but relied mostly on word-of-mouth and the Zagat guide. What follows is a review of two lunch spots, one suggested by our faithful Zagat and the other by our generous hostess.


1) Amy Ruth’s – 113 West 116th Street, Harlem

While fighting the notorious traffic on the BQE, completing the final leg of our Adirondack voyage, my companion and I decided to spend the time constructively and enumerate the few things we wanted to accomplish while in New York. One of such things was a trip to Harlem (neither of us had ever been) and a lunch comprised of “soul food.” Consulting the Zagat guide for a little direction, we came upon “Amy Ruth’s” which promised to satisfy our southern food cravings. In between the new constructions of low-income housing “paid for by Bloomberg,” Harlem houses numerous food shops, hair salons and little lunch counters, each one smelling better than the last. Amy Ruth’s is of a fair size and while the décor is a little lacklustre, the sparse surroundings only put further emphasis on the food. While waiting for someone to take our order (the service is a little slow), we snacked on complimentary cornbread which was warm and delicious. It would seem that Amy Ruth’s is also something of a waffle house, but not waffle as I understand it (a receptacle for fruit and syrup), but rather a bed for steak, fried chicken or short ribs. Neither of us decided to experiment with the waffles (probably a shame), but both ordered tried and true Southern classics. Never having had “real” fried chicken (despite a sojourn in the Southern United States), I opted for the fried chicken with a side of collard greens and mashed potatoes (each dish comes with a choice of two sides). My dining companion sampled the beef short ribs, macaroni and cheese and fried okra. Everything was wonderful, but the stand-outs were definitely the collard greens (they were hearty, smoky, spicy and just plain delicious) and the fried chicken (light, crispy and a little spicy). The fried okra were a little over-the-top, but dare I say it, the mashed potatoes and gravy were some of the best I have ever had. A few notes: the “sweet tea” is incredibly sweet and the portions are huge, so it might be useful to share a dish rather than each ordering his/her own plate. We had plenty of leftovers, but no desire to schlep them around Manhattan for the rest of the day, as we planned to walk the length of the park after lunch.

8.5/10

Mains: $8-18



2) Bergen Sub: Bergen St. near Flatbush, Brooklyn

I wish I had an address for this place, because it really is worth a visit. Being a little tuckered out from our previous day’s meanderings, lunch on Saturday was a quiet affair. We had spent the morning wandering around Park Slope with our hostess, looking in shops and gawking at all of the over-priced brownstones and decided to bring sandwiches back to their place. Our hostess promised us the “best” sandwiches in Brooklyn and Bergen Sub did not disappoint. A little hole-in-the-wall deli, Bergen Sub features a board of over twenty different kinds of sub sandwiches and all of the requisite accompaniments (pop and chips). There is not much table room here (maybe one or two picnic-style tables in the back) so it is worth it to get the sandwiches to go. My friend and I shared a #19 which featured two different kinds of freshly-cut meat (I don’t remember which, may have been ham and pepperoni), cheddar cheese, and a slew of toppings, including tomatoes, olives, peppers, cucumbers, pickles – all of the usual suspects. It was bar-none the best sub I have ever had, the bread was delicious, the toppings were plenty and fresh-cut, they had large home-made pickles and all sorts of vinaigrettes and other sauces. We supplemented our sandwiches with ginger and root beer and some local jalapeno chips. Despite all of this sustenance, I still lost at bowling that afternoon.

8/10
Sandwiches: $4-6

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ravioli-Off 2007

Dinner is a difficult time at our house. Prior to meeting my current dining-companion, I was the cook, now I am one of two cooks and we battle regularly for the use of the kitchen. Often “let’s make dinner together” turns into working on my dining companion’s cookbook project and me being relegated to duties such as chopping or grating. Because there is always the push to “make progress on the project,” we have resorted to cook-offs. This way, my dining companion can work on his project without feeling that he is sharing too much of the work, and I can cook in my own right. It was one of these typical bust-ups which led to today’s “ravioli-off.” Stay tuned as my “Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter” takes on KC’s “Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Sage Ravioli with Hazelnut Brown Butter Sauce” in a battle for the ages.

Monday, November 5, 2007

NYC - Part I

NYC – Part I










As anyone who knows me will confirm, I feel there is no better way to experience a new neighourhood/city than by sampling its coffee shops. (On a recent road trip from Calgary, AB to San Francisco, CA, I took the opportunity to sample the wares at most roadside espresso shacks -- they do exist and are remarkably quite good -- and drove my family nuts by my insistence on having copious amounts of espresso and driving). It was in this same experiential vein that I took to the streets of my temporary home of Park Slope/Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, this past weekend. What follows, is a brief re-cap (no pun intended) of my findings.

Gorilla Coffee (97, Ave, Brooklyn) – Number one with a bullet. In a neighourhood that is becoming over-run by yuppie moms with SUV strollers, this Brooklyn mainstay is seemingly mom-free. While the interior, decorated in red and black, seems to cater to the lone wi-fi user, the outside benches and window counter provide ideal resting spots in which to both people-watch and imbibe excellent espresso. If you can handle the line-ups on a Saturday morning, it is worth it to stop by, pick up a pumpkin muffin, the coffee drink of your choice and go sit in the park. Their coffee is so good that my dining companion and I used a portion of our legal cross-border shopping funds to bring home a couple bags of espresso beans. 4.5/5

Joyce’s Bake Shop (646 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn) – A little tony-er, this bake shop serves Gorilla coffee and excellent sweets and pastries in a brightly-lit lemon/lime-walls-meets-tin-ceiling space. On separate occasions we sampled their cherry chocolate muffins and ham and cheese croissant – er, I mean cressahnt. I can’t even spell it phonetically. Both were excellent and that’s saying something coming from the land of patisseries. The bake shop experience was also amped up by this eager and friendly local who – seeing us flipping through the Zagat guide – offered us many tips on local dining establishments (reviews of which to follow), in addition to inviting us up to her terrace to enjoy the Brooklyn view. Needless to say, we declined. 4/5

Heights Coffee Lounge (335 Flatbush Avenue) – Had I noticed that this place was called a “coffee lounge,” I may not have tried it, but, as a person forced out of her habitual ways, I thought I’d try the new kid on the block. This place was a bit of a let down, the coffee was uninspiring and pretty bland, as was the décor. With all of the other places in the neighourhood, they would have had to wow me with excellent coffee to get me out of my rut, but no such luck. 2/5

Stay tuned for part deux of my NYC odyssey, which will include a trip to Harlem and my first experience with authentic “soul food.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Montrealer in New York... well, maybe just Brooklyn.

My dining companion and I are getting set for a whirlwind trip to visit family and friends in Brooklyn. Barring any border troubles, I will be back on Monday with New York restaurant reviews, perhaps the odd beer review and the word on the street is that we will be frequenting a bar/resto/bowling alley. I expect there might also be a trip (or two) to the Brooklyn Brewery. Stay tuned for all of the news that’s fit to print and some exemplary photo documentation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Resto Review - Bazaar

Bazaar 514-276-6999, 104 rue Laurier Ouest, Montréal

For years I had wanted to try Racha Bassoul’s restaurant on Laurier, however it had always seemed a little out of my price range and frankly, a little uninviting. That being said, I was nevertheless quite saddened to hear of its closing a couple of months ago. With so many restaurant closures in my neighbourhood (I am still mourning a wonderful little French bistro which used to house the same spot as the now over-priced Rumi) it was only par for the course to see another one bite the dust. Thus, I was more than pleased to hear that Anise wasn’t so much closing as it was reinventing itself as a more casual eatery, with smaller portions and less fussy fare. After a meal there the other night, I can safely say it was worth the wait.

Arriving at the restaurant, I was a little disappointed to see that they had misplaced our reservation, but the waiter was very accommodating and thankfully there was one last table for two near the bar. Incidentally, I would definitely recommend making a reservation. The meal began with a small dish of home-made hummus (delicious), labneh (even better), toasted pita and olives. To follow, we ordered two appetizers: the Lebanese sausages and lamb samosas. While both were delicious, they were a little pricey. As for the main courses, both of our choices were wonderful. While I thought there was nothing better than a simply grilled Cornish hen, I was proven wrong by the restaurant’s take on veal cheeks. They were melt-in-the-mouth tender and every drop of the accompanying sauce was sopped up by my companion’s bread. While I was initially a little under-whelmed by the choice of accompaniments that were on offer, I ended up being quite impressed by the very robust ratatouille and requisite pommes de terre frites. But perhaps the best part of the meal came at the end. While we were both too full for a complete dessert, we opted to share the “Douceurs du Bazaar” which at $3 was an amazing find. The little dessert was made up of a small piece of baklava (or some variation thereof), a few spoonfuls of some kind of molasses and tahini-inspired sauce and lastly, but certainly not least, a small piece of the most delicious halawa (at least that’s what we suspect it was) I have ever eaten. The texture was both soft and resistant and tasted of pistachio and rose. There is nothing I like better than a floral dessert.

I should also mention the wine list. While quite pricey (there are no bottles under $40 and few even at that price range), they had many excellent choices by the glass, the highlight of which was a glass of red Wildass from the Niagara Peninsula.

As an academic, no review would be complete without some form of evaluation.

8.5/10

Mains: $18-$28

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inauguration!

I strongly dislike inaugural blog posts, but I suppose it is useful to chart out one’s blogging territory. Being new at this (they don’t call me “analog girl” for nothing), this blog may yet became many things, but for now, it’s a place for me to write about and document the various leisure-y things, mostly food and wine, some travel and much miscellany, with which I come in contact. This may include, but is not limited to, restaurant and wine reviews, the occasional recipe, travelogues and other food-related items. Please join me, as I finally come to terms with my penchant for bourgeois pastimes.