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.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Liverpool House, 2501 Notre Dame, West, Montreal

When Joe Beef opened a few years ago with great pomp and circumstance, many flocked to the new restaurant which promised to marry a more “working-class” casual atmosphere with high-quality simple fare. Located in St. Henri, it became part of a larger trend of fancy-ish restaurants opening up in the somewhat gentrified neighbourhood.
While there was no way I could afford Joe Beef on my limited income, I was intrigued by its younger, more affordable, brother Liverpool House.

Located in the same block as Joe Beef, Liverpool House appears as two large dusty windows filled with plants and other odds and sods. Once inside, you find yourself surrounded by a décor that can only be described as Hamptons-chic; white wainscoting and contemporary art (think Ed Burtynsky), not to mention the very young, stylish Montreal urbanites filling all of the tables, make you feel like you are at the center of something. When the music finally filters through the noise of a packed house, we hear the strains of Bon Jovi, followed by Depeche Mode, the Ramones and other classics. Someone has obviously taken great pains to put together a hip soundtrack. If much of this review tends to focus on the physical aspects of the restaurant, it is because this restaurant obviously puts in a lot of effort when it comes to aesthetics. Our waitress, while beautiful and stylish, wasn’t very accommodating, or even friendly; she was absent for most of the evening and spent the majority of her time chatting up other tables.

All of this being said, the food at LH is good, over-priced yes, but good. An appetizer of grilled vegetables was tasty, but failed to mention that the dish also included anchovy fillets. This was quickly realized when one of my dining companions (who hates fish), popped what she thought was a pale green bean into her mouth, only to find out it came from the sea. I had read somewhere that LH’s menu wasn’t descriptive enough (the evening’s menu is written on a blackboard along one wall of the resto), normally I don’t mind a little mystery, but for a vegetarian diner, you might want to make sure that what you are ordering doesn’t have a little meat thrown in for good measure. As for mains, they were generally quite delicious, if a little pricey. The ‘small’ steak was perfectly seasoned and cooked to the diner’s specifications and came with the requisite side dishes (potatoes and a green). While my mind is a little foggy concerning the price, it was certainly no less than $35 and maybe more around $40. My main complaint came with my main course. My friend and I were intrigued by the gnocchi appetizer and asked our waitress if we could have it made into our main dish. She came back from the kitchen saying that it was indeed possible and seeing as though it was really filling, the chef would add half of another appetizer portion. While the dish itself was quite tasty, we didn’t think it merited the $34 we were charged. If the appetizer was $16 and we were only getting another half portion, it would stand to reason that the dish should be around $24. Anyways, barring that irritation, all of the other mains were quite delicious and the desserts were knock-outs: not only did they taste heavenly, but the presentation was superb. The chocolate pot-de-crème was served in a mason jar and the blackberry sorbet (and other delectables) was served in an antique tea cup.

All in all I enjoyed my experience at Liverpool House, but make no mistake, this isn’t “budget dining,” even though the restaurant claims to be affordable-comfort food-chic. For my next visit, I will dress up in my hippest outfit, stick to what’s on the menu and maybe wait until my parents come to town…


Mains: $28-40

Friday, June 20, 2008

Le P’tit Plateau, 330, Marie-Anne, East, Montreal

Not to sound cliché, but one thing, among many, that I love about Montreal is the abundance of BYOW/B restaurants. While I often take this aspect of Montreal dining for granted, a recent trip to New York reminded me of why this city rocks. While dining at a relatively expensive restaurant which encouraged you to “bring your own wine,” I was shocked by the corkage fee which was at least twice the cost of our bottle. All of that to uncork and pour a couple of glasses of wine? Needless to say we put the bottle back in our bag to enjoy at a later, more Canadian, date. Which brings me to the point of this post – while there are many BYOB restos in Montreal, I recently revisited an old favorite: Le P’tit Plateau.

Le P’tit Plateau is a small-ish restaurant tucked away on a residential corner. Before I continue, let me warn you that this restaurant can get very noisy, so if you are looking for a romantic evening, best to visit on a week-night. The last two times I dined there (both within the same week), I went with a group of six (we may have been the cause of some of the din) and then again with my dining companion and a cousin with whom I had not spoken in some time (again, we may have contributed to much of the noise). Let it also be known that this restaurant gets very, very warm in the summertime. All of this being said, you should not be deterred from trying this restaurant – everything about this restaurant exudes Montreal (hence why I took my out-of-town cousin).

The restaurant itself is light and airy with a hammered tin ceiling. The kitchen is relatively open and the menu is written on chalkboards above the opening to the kitchen. Diners may choose from the “a la carte” menu, or from a number of prix fixe dishes which include soup or salad, main course and tea or coffee. On both of my recent visits, I began my meal with the salad (given the early summer heat this seemed like a good choice). A fair size, filled with cherry tomatoes and tossed in a light vinaigrette, the salad was the perfect way to start the meal. My main consisted of the filet de cerf (red deer) which was topped with a mixture of mushrooms and a light reduction. The meat was perfectly cooked, flavourful and tender. The venison was accompanied by the ubiquitous, but no less tasty, scalloped potatoes and a phyllo cup filled with carrots and cream (surprisingly good). The dish was so good that I ordered it again the second time I visited. On both occasions, other dining companions sampled the lobster wonton ravioli (rave reviews), the magret de canard stuffed with foie gras (not for the faint of heart, but melting in its richness) and the souris d’agneau, which also garnered a positive report.
With our coffee and tea, we tried a number of the desserts, which included the profiteroles and the praline mousse/cake. While both were delicious, the winner had to be the profiteroles.

A note about the service: it is personable and efficient, but I was a little put out by the stern-faced proprietesse who kept hovering near our table. I wasn’t sure if she was perturbed by the noise we were generating or merely just keeping a watchful eye on her culinary domain. Either way, it didn’t hamper what was, both times, a terribly enjoyable dining experience. While this might not be the BEST meal you will ever eat, it will no doubt leave you full, content and just wakeful enough to stumble to the nearest watering hole for a nightcap.


Menu prix fixe: $27-37

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Terrace Justine, Corner of Champagneur and Lajoie, Outremont

First there was Bistro Justine, and then Bistro Justine – Bistro a vin, now comes Terrace Justine. With his winning combination of small portions and small prices, the proprietor continues his mini-monopoly of small well-priced bistros in the Outremont/Mile End/Plateau area. While Bistro Justine seems a bit more intimate and romantic with its dark wood tables, warm lighting and cream walls, Terrace Justine is like its sunnier, less sophisticated partner. With its bright orange walls, white tiled floor, nautical mirrors and wall mosaics, it feels more like a day-glo evening at the beach, which I suppose was the intent.

The menu set-up at Terrace Justine is much the same as the Bistro, i.e. reasonably priced appetizers, mains and desserts. Having dined there on two occasions, I began both meals with the aubergine terrine - pieces of eggplant layered with goat cheese and served with a confit of onions (if memory serves). The terrine was absolutely delicious both times. I should also mention that dinner begins with a basket of fresh baguette and a lovely grassy olive oil in which to dip your bread. As for mains, most dishes are cooked “a la plancha” – lightly grilled on a metal plate. There are many seafood and fish options, as well as beef and fowl. For my first meal, I sampled the filet mignon served with a Bearnaise sauce. The beef was perfectly cooked to medium rare and the accompanying sauce was rich and tart. The beef was served with Bistro Justine’s trademark scalloped potato stack and a vol-au-vent shell filled with vegetables. My second meal at the Terrace consisted of the dinner-sized goat cheese salad, which consisted of no less than a large bowl of micro greens tossed in a lemony vinaigrette with a couple of rounds of toasted baguette and goat cheese. Good for lunch, or as a meal starter, but a little bland for a main course. As for dessert, Terrace Justine follows in the footsteps of the Bistro with a number of affordable delicious desserts. While we sampled a quite respectable crème brulee, the winner turned out to be a simple glass of ice cream, topped with a shot of espresso – simple and delicious.

A note about the wine list. The restaurant carries a number of very affordable private importations. On both occasions we ordered a bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone which suited our meat quite well.

Oh, and finally, this review wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the bathrooms. While I get the whole “Mediterranean beach-side” vibe of the resto, the bathroom looks like it was decorated by a hyper-active three year old with an Ikea corporate credit card. While I am all for imaginative interior decorating, shower curtains generally belong in showers and sponge flowers on the wall of said toddler’s bedroom.


Mains: $15-20

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Who container gardens? We container garden.

After many years of exhausting all window box possibilities, we decided to branch out this spring and experiment with container gardening. Last year we had a modicum of success growing two types of small tomatoes (pear tomatoes and “pink lady” tomatoes) and small cucumbers and thought we’d continue in the same vein, only this time we’d use two very large Ikea plastic containers. After an aborted attempt at Reno Depot (the lines ran the length of the store and people were arm wrestling for the picked-over basil plants), we headed off to Home De(s)pot where we found most of what we were looking for (anybody know where we can find some arugula plants?).

Once home, we began by drilling several drainage holes in the bottom of the containers (luckily the boxes already had “feet” so there was room for the water to drain…). We then filled the boxes with a mixture of soil and planted three types of tomatoes, two types of peppers, zucchini, lettuce, broccoli (!), two types of cucumbers and a variety of herbs including, but not limited to, flat-leaf parsley, chives, sage, oregano, etc. My dining companion also promises to re-pot all of the dying basil plants lining up on our kitchen counters…

We also planted a variety of flowers and a decorative lavender plant just because it smells pretty. Despite some cold and windy weather and the claustrophobia our balcony now induces, the containers/gardens seem to be holding up well and I look forward to sampling the fruits of our labour (although not really any fruit…).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

La Montee du lait, 71 Villeneuve, est, Montreal, 2008

I had been interested in trying this small restaurant for a number of years now, and upon hearing that it had altered its menu (making it more of a fine-dining establishment and less of a wine and cheese bar), I was more eager than ever. Thus, on a recent Thursday night – looking for a nice restaurant to celebrate a friend’s academic accomplishment – we headed to the small restaurant on a quiet corner, just West of St. Denis.

To begin, the restaurant is quite small (as previously mentioned), which makes for loud dining. Sitting at a spacious table for four, our little trio had troubles hearing each other, and thus spent much of the dinner admiring the blonde wood accents of the restaurant. Many years ago, while conversing with my father on the subject of Montreal restaurants, he suggested that restos should come with a noise rating. At the time I scoffed at his paternal hearing impairment, but even at 32, I found the noise to be distracting.

But, on to the food. The set-up at LMDL is not unlike Atelier (another fine Plateau/Mile End restaurant), where diners make up their own tasting menus. At LMDL, one can choose the four or seven course tasting menu (there is also an ‘a la carte’ option), with each course being paired with a featured wine by the glass. I began the meal with an aubergine “pancake,” which consisted of a pancake... of eggplant and other odds and sods, topped with a piece of wonderfully light and creamy goat cheese and a mixture of greens. The pancake was sitting atop a layer of onion confit and surrounded by a grape/balsamic flavoured reduction. The dish was outstanding -- a perfect starter. At this point, I should mention that the portions are just right, neither too big, nor too small, however, I could have been happy with three courses rather than the suggested four. My next course consisted of a “deconstructed” romesco sauce served atop a seared skirt steak (served Tataki style). Each piece of rare beef was topped by one element of the romesco sauce – almond (a kind of almond butter), tomato (tomato foam), garlic (garlic chips), etc. The beef was perfectly done and despite the seemingly pretentiousness of the ‘deconstruction,’ it actually worked. The third course was described as ‘glazed suckling pig breast,’ but the waiter informed us that they had run out of breast and were now serving the loin. Although still delicious, we couldn’t help but think that the other cut would have been better suited to the dish; however I do appreciate the fact that the waiter alerted us to the replacement.

For our fourth courses, we were torn between a dessert (they looked wonderful) and a cheese course. Given that we had Cocoa Locale cupcakes waiting for us at home and that we were at a wine and cheese bar, it seemed only fair to forgo the desserts. And indeed it was the right choice. With three of us choosing the cheese plate, we had a sampling of six different cheeses, ranging from a Tomme to a creamy blue, which were accompanied by lightly-spiced almonds, prunes and of course, fresh baguette.

All in all, the meal was delicious. With regards to the food, there were no off-notes. The service was a trifle confusing, as we seemed to be served at the beginning by one of the ‘head’ waiters and then were attended to by a myriad of other servers. A quick note about the wine list: while the wine list is vast and features a number of very interesting wines, there are very few (especially red) under the $50 range. Instead, we opted for several glasses of the featured wine pairings which worked just as well.

Would I go back to La Montee du Lait? In a heartbeat. Would I wait until tax refunds come? Yes.

Thanks for visiting, Jen-Jen.


Four course tasting menu: $44

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bistro Cocagne, 3842 St-Denis, Montreal, 2008

Many moons ago, back when the mighty American dollar was trumping (no pun intended) our own, a good friend of mine was in town on business and wanted to treat us students to one of the premiere restaurants in town. Given that she was coming from silicon valley and had a fairly healthy meal stipend to dispose of, I wasn’t feeling bad about choosing a restaurant beyond our usual price bracket. This restaurant was, of course, Toque. The meal was outstanding, but sadly, too long ago to review here. Now, many years later, Toque’s old space on St. Denis street houses Bistro Cocagne, a restaurant helmed by Normand Laprise’s once-sous-chef – Alexandre Loiseau. Looking to celebrate my dining companion’s birthday, it was to Cocagne we ventured on a recent Sunday night.

Feeling sheepish about arriving a little late for our 7:30pm reservation, I needn’t have worried as the restaurant was only one third full, at best. Our jackets promptly whisked away, we were invited to choose any table we liked. While the restaurant is resplendent in warm wood, soft yellows and deep burgundies, it was the food that impressed most.

The menu at Cocagne is rooted in cusine du terroir, although not quite the same as that popularized by Au pied de cochon (think less pork). We both opted for the chef’s tasting menu, being attracted by the foie gras (gasp) and the venison. We began our meal with a kir and my dining companion ordered a couple of oysters on the half-shell. The first course of the evening consisted of a cappuccino mug filled with a frothy cream of fennel soup, drizzled with a home-made arugula oil. It was absolutely delicious -- not too heavy and just faintly flavoured with the fennel. It was also a treat to drink the soup out of the mug (as our wonderfully apt waitress suggested). The second course featured a piece of very mild smoked salmon (this suited me best, as I am not a fan of fishy fish). The piece of fish was served atop a layer of fresh cheese and the whole thing was topped with tiny salted croutons. The entire dish was terribly light and a good follow-up to the soup (although my dining companion would have preferred more salt). The third course was definitely the stand-out. Described as a macaronade, the dish consisted of home-made flat noodles, tossed with a medley of wild mushrooms and topped with a piece of perfectly seared fois-gras. The entire dish was brought together by a heavenly foie gras sauce. At this point, the meal could have ended right there and I would have been happily satiated. As a side-note, our waitress said that the macaronade had ended up on the menu quite by accident. One night, several years ago, the kitchen had run out of the daily special and had quickly thrown together this macaronade as a replacement. The dish met such rave reviews that it became one of the menu’s mainstays. Following the macaronade, we had a perfectly-cooked piece of venison, which was flavourful and toothsome. It was accompanied with more wild mushrooms and roasted potatoes. Following the meat courses, we had a cheese plate with four types of cheeses, including Riopelle and an aged gouda. The dessert consisted of a “pudding chomeur” for two (served in the saucepan!), topped with a scoop of cardamom-laced ice cream and a caramel sauce. The dessert was absolutely delicious, but a little heavy for a tasting menu…

All in all, the evening was a tremendous success. While the chef made the rounds to the “fancy” tables (there seemed to be many regulars and/or vedettes in the room), he didn’t give us the chance to compliment him on the wonderful meal. That aside, our waitress was very attentive, terribly knowledgeable (she had put the wine list together herself and had recommended a lovely wine, of which, I am embarrassed to say, I don’t remember the name).While not as pricey as Toque, it remained an expensive evening, but they do have a $25-30 and $35-40 menu. To conclude, I can’t recommend this place enough. I would hate to see another excellent restaurant close because of poor attendance. Just make sure you bring along a somewhat wealthy benefactor, or somebody with an expense account.


Mains: $25-40

Monday, March 24, 2008

No more google...

Now you can comment on this blog without a google account.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tasting Menu, March 2008, Montreal

Every February, Montreal plays host to the HIGHTLIGHTS FESTIVAL which, among other things, brings in chefs from around the world to create menus in some of Montreal’s finer restaurants. This year, one of my friends and I decided to make a concerted effort to partake of the highlight festivities (read: tasting menu) at one of our favourite restaurants – Le Jolifou. However, due to last minute financial restrictions, we decided rather than heading out for a tasting menu, we’d invite a number of guests and bring the tasting menu in. The menu plan for the evening was simple: each guest was to bring one small course along with a wine-pairing. We had briefly consulted with each other beforehand to make sure there were no duplicate dishes (we almost came to blows over beets – beets on repeat).

The evening began with cocktails, or rather hard liquor. While we sipped on any one of the following: whisky, vodka -- herbed and otherwise, as well as aged rum, we munched on spiced cashews and toasted baguette with herbed goat cheese and grapes. Following the hors d’oeuvres, the first course consisted of a small espresso cup filled with lentil soup. It must be said that this was one of the best lentil soups I had ever tasted (an “old country” recipe) -- it was hearty, without being heavy and had the perfect amount of spice. The soup was paired with a glass of “La vielle ferme” – a good Cotes de Ventoux stand-by. The second course consisted of a toasted corn tortilla (fresh from the Mayan store down the street-ish), topped with a combination of slow-cooked black beans, yam, onions, cherry tomatoes, cilantro and feta. The delicious dish was paired with a Domaine de Moulines “vin bio” merlot (2006), which promised, and did, go quite well with the vegetarian dish which was the only one to follow Jolifou’s menu of Latin-inspired dishes. The next course comprised roasted beets topped with a slice of ashed goat cheese and arugula, surrounded by a beet reduction. While the beets were tasty, the “reduction” suffered from being heated, and reheated ad infinitum, and ended up being dubbed “beet candy,” as it hardened as soon as it hit the plate. I can be critical as it was my own dish. The wine pairing fared better. I had asked the SAQ guy for a wine that would pair well with beets and goat cheese. He suggested a Cabernet Franc, and I ended up with an Alain Lorieux Chinon from 2005 -- also quite a good match. The fourth course consisted of a mushroom charlotte topped with a port sauce -- it was rich and filling and a perfect end to the savory part of the meal. As we already had a number of unfinished bottles of wine, we skipped the wine pairings and continued with the wines already on the go. The tasting menu was rounded out by a key-lime-esque pie with a hint of cream cheese and a graham cracker crust. The wonderfully tart and tangy slice of pie was equally well-matched with an amazing sparkling dessert wine -- Nivole Moscato d’Asti (certainly the wine highlight of the evening for me).

All in all it was an excellent evening. There was little jockeying for the kitchen, all of the courses were well-paced and there was a wide variety in the dishes. I had planned to take photos of each of the courses, but as the wine-tasting progressed, the photography suffered. The above photo is one of the few that turned out (and even that’s debatable). As such, I would have to pronounce the tasting menu a success. We may not have had the culinary chops of the Highlight chefs, but we made up for lack of skill in unbridled enthusiasm… or something like that.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Cab by any other name… or price.

A curious thing happened last month…

Attempting to stave off the winter blues, my dining companion and I decided to spend the weekend in the Laurentians with assorted friends and family. In addition to all of the skating and board-gaming to be done, we were all looking forward to some cabin-comfort-food, which would naturally include grilled meat, a little beer, a little wine and a few martinis. The second day in, after spending the day skating on some picturesque lake, we retired to the cabin for a dinner of grilled steak, potatoes and assorted vegetables.

Having recently returned from a “boy’s trip” to the States, my dining companion had brought with us to the cabin, a few bottles of Californian wine, purchased at a very reasonable price ($15-$20 max). Just as dinner was coming to a close, and after everyone had imbibed their fair share of any one of the following: beer, rum, scotch, and/or vodka, we decided to open one of KC’s bottles of California Cabernet Sauvignon. Declaring it a tremendous bottle of wine, we marveled at the $14.99 price tag on the bottle (its price was doubly-impressive in that this summer, while on a road trip through California, we had purchased the cheapest bottle of Stag’s Leap we could find and that rang in at about $60 USD). Upon closer inspection of the tag, we noticed that there was no decimal point and in fact, the price tag read $14999. While my dining companion was fairly sure he would have noticed a credit bill with a $150 charge for one bottle of wine, it was enough to cause some concern. In turn, it made us all a little sorry that we had not started the evening off with the good stuff. I would like to be able to comment on the wine’s bouquet, body, finish, etc., but I can honestly say that beyond being an incredible glass of wine, I don’t remember much else.

After returning home the following day (which had begun with a breakfast of no less than five or six meats!), and after comforting ourselves with the fact that KC did indeed only pay $14.99 USD for the bottle, we both did a bit of internet research only to discover that our bottle of Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner’s Blend retailed anywhere between $150 and $200. Did we feel a little guilty? Yes. But as this is a blog that focuses on culinary and oenophile experience, rather than ethical responsibility, we’ll enjoy it for what it was – a heck of a deal!

Stag’s Leap Cask 23, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Restaurant Review - Bombay Mahal, 1001 Jean-Talon Ouest

Bombay Mahal…Now Zagat-Rated

A number of years ago, a friend of mine spent three months in India at an artists’ residency. Upon her return to Montreal, she went in search of the best, reasonably-priced Indian food she could find (after living in India, it seemed absurd to pay $20 for a dish of palak paneer). With no surprises, her search wound up in Parc Ex, at the stoop of Bombay Mahal. Since then, it has been my Indian restaurant of choice. Recently however, my dining companion and I branched out -- at the behest of friends and family -- and tried a number of other Parc Ex offerings. After trying Pushap (reviewed), Mali Sweet and Maison Indian Curry (a steadfast favorite of friends of ours), we came to the conclusion that Bombay Mahal was still our favorite.

With little, or no décor to speak of (they recently took down the Inuit (?) print that was hanging above the stairs leading to the basement) and inconsistent service (although recently service has been quite amenable), the little restaurant more than makes up for it in ambiance which is mostly provided by the multitude of diners squished into every nook and cranny. Did I mention that it is BYOB? With no SAQ within real walking distance and few deps (for beer, not wine), it’s best to bring a bottle of wine/beer from home. One of the huge draws for me is the thali plate. I like compartmentalized food. I’m not one of those obsessive people who hates their food touching, but I like to eat things one at a time, and this prison tray-like plate allows me to concentrate on one dish at a time. The non-veg thali plate comes with a vegetable curry (delicious), chicken curry (you can substitute this for the Westernized butter chicken for a meager price increase), a lentil curry, rice, one naan and a pity salad. All of this rings in at $7 or less. The size of the thali is enormous and I end up bringing half of it home for lunch the next day. If prison trays don’t float your boat, there is a wide selection of other dishes -- favorites include the chicken korma, lamb madras and bagnan bharta. I also love the dal and my dining companion recently tried the “South-Indian-style” soup which was intensely spiced and full-bodied. While they lack the desserts of Pushap (you can always wander one block over and buy some to go), they do serve a wonderful Indian tea – although not after 8pm!

On our last outing, we brought my dining companion’s father who had recently returned from a couple of years working in Bombay… I mean Mumbai. While declaring the food not quite as spicy as in India, he seemed pleased overall and introduced us to a number of dishes that were not included on the menu.

While settling down to our meal, friends of ours wandered over from across the street where they had been dining at their favorite Indian place – Maison Indian Curry, proving that when it comes to Indian food, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… or something like that.

Mains: $6-10


Restaurant Review - Alloy, Calgary, AB

Continuing my foray into Calgary’s newest restaurants (ok, Brava wasn’t all that new), my brother, dining companion and I, opted to try Alloy, a new restaurant established in an unusual locale. Located amidst the industrial-ish section of Calgary, just east of Macleod Trail, Alloy looks like it could be a ceramic tile store, rather than a bastion of fine dining. According to my brother, the low, flat, horizontal building (seemingly lacking any windows to speak of) once housed a condo rental facility. After some renovations to the exterior, the dark grey/blue structure looks more like a 1970s California bungalow – all modern, clean lines. The interior is something else entirely, it is all blonde wood on white – white linens, white rounded banquettes, (some) white walls, low-hung white light fixtures and a long line of (seemingly) patio doors leading out to a very Asian-inspired garden and terrace. The interior is fairly stunning and I admit to having been worried that the chic interior would outshine the food.

I needn’t have worried as the food, for the most part, stood up to the décor. After a very good wine recommendation from our waitress, we began our meal with a complimentary (to first-time diners only) plate of humus, olives and home-made naan bread. All of which were delicious and demonstrated early-on that this menu was to focus on a mish-mash of culinary styles (Lebanese, Asian, Californian, fusion, etc.). It should be noted that the name Alloy, referring to a mixture of different metals, refers to the fact that the menu was created by two chefs with very different styles. This was also evident in the first courses. Always being a sucker for Caeser salad, I chose the romaine hearts with Miso Caeser dressing and parmesan tuilles, which was surprisingly delicious and light. My brother had the prosciutto and melon plate – a stand-by, but worthwhile with top quality ingredients, as was the case with Alloy’s take on the classic. My dining companion opted for the tempura soft-shell crab which was light and tasty, not to mention the accompanying “salsa.” The mains were generally very good as well. My duck breast was perfectly pink, very moist and the accompanying orange glaze/reduction stood up well to the meat and the accompanying vegetables (including yellow beets – oh my!) were expertly cooked which brought out the vegetables full flavour. My brother had the short ribs, which were simple, yet satisfactorily prepared, while the accompanying sweet potato puree was a little bland. Lastly, my dining companion tried the monkfish with accompanying risotto. While the monkfish was light and fresh-tasting, the accompanying ginger sauce affected the risotto, turning it, inexplicably, into something like macaroni and cheese. The flavours were not bad at all, but the dish was somewhat misrepresented.

As for the dessert course, we hummed and hawed a bit, and eventually decided on splitting their assorted panna cottas. Rather than the usual cream and gelatin formula, Alloy cuts their panna cotta with yogurt which makes it less firm and more like a gelatinous creamy yogurt, but which in turn gives the creaminess an appreciated edge. While the panna cotta itself was delicious, what really made the dish were the accompanying compotes. The three small servings of panna cotta were topped with kiwi and jalapeno, pear and habanero, and strawberry and chili, respectively. The combination of heat, fruit and cool cream was spectacular. It is very rare that I am blown away by a dessert -- I would even hazard to say that the dessert was the best part of the meal.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Reading-Week a-go-go

After an interminable first half of the semester, I am now able to relax a little and post some of the reviews, etc., that have been sitting mouldering on my computer.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cowboys, horses and fine restaurants, oh my.

1. Brava Bistro, 723 17th Ave. S.W.

I don’t know if I’ve changed or if the city has changed. Back in the day, a visit home to Calgary did not imply fine dining -- a dinner out meant either Earl’s, or the pizza place down the street (the now defunct “Willow Park Pizza” made the best pizza I have ever had). These days it would seem that Calgary has a multitude of fine dining establishments and where once it shunned its culinary prairie roots, you can now find any number of excellent restaurants specializing in local game (and prairie oysters). This could have a lot to do with the large influx of 20-30 somethings now taking advantage of the job boom (the local chicken-on-the-go joint was offering $16/hour to sling chicken thighs). Regardless of the reason, I welcomed this burgeoning dining trend and spent some of my recent holiday sampling these new offerings.

Located on 17th Avenue in an unassuming spot between a Starbucks and a Subway (?), Brava Bistro has quickly made a name for itself as one of the trendier restaurants in the city. For over a year now, my brother has been heckling me to try this classy restaurant located but a stone’s throw from our high school. From their outdoor patio (not that we were trying it out in frigid December), you can see the front lawn of the school where I played hacky-sack in my army boots so many years ago. Nostalgia aside, the restaurant interior is chic in taupe, with a mixture of high bar-style tables and low tables with both banquettes and chairs. As is the recent trend, the restaurant also features a long bar at which many lone businessmen and groups of ladies sat for both dinner and drinks. My brother and I were quickly seated at what I considered to be the best table in the house, and what my brother saw as the worst table. This demonstrates my wish for privacy when it comes to dining out and my brother’s wish to see and be seen.

We began the meal with a cheese plate (my dining companion would scoff at our audacity to start the meal with cheese -- how very gauche and Western Canadian!), which was paired with a wonderful Oregonian wine. After a recent road trip down the West coast, I opt for Oregonian wines whenever possible. The cheese selections were unique and varied. While my brother preferred the soft, mild cheeses, I preferred the strong, old cheeses (my brother turned his nose up at some Oka cheese I offered up for Christmas dinner). As for our main courses -- when in Alberta, order beef! We both had the beef tenderloin which was cooked perfectly to the requested medium rare. It is such a treat ordering beef in Alberta – mad cow be damned! The beef was accompanied by some of the best mashed potatoes I have ever sampled (this might have to do with the addition of truffles) and steamed spinach. We rounded off the evening with espresso (excellent) and a piece of lemon tart.

All in all a most enjoyable evening out. The food was delicious, the prices were fair and the service was excellent (our Jared Leto lookalike waiter was attentive and knowledgeable).

Mains: $15-35


Next post - review of Alloy: Blue-collar meets white-collar meets California.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Back from the land of pierogies and kielbassa!

Part I

Well, this is not entirely true, I only had a brief sojourn in the "big onion." While in Edmonton, I took my dining companion on a tour of the more salient culinary institutions, such as Marchyshyn's - the only place for Ukrainian food (hmmm, Stawnichy's is also pretty good). Sadly though, we visited too close to Ukrainian Christmas and nothing was left on the shelves but a few robust Kielbassa rings and vats of poppy seeds and wheat. To amp up our Ukrainian Christmas dinner, we hit the Edmonton Farmer's Market and procured home-made pierogies and holubchi from a great Baba with dyed black hair and a Christmas sweater.

We also visited some of my favourite Edmontonian haunts, including The New York Bagel Cafe, which has since relocated to a larger space on Calgary Trail. While it lost some of its cozy atmosphere, it still makes great bagel platters, including one featuring Russian caviar which will set you back $96. We settled for the home-made dill cream cheese and rye bagel, which comes with excellent potato salad and a dill pickle. My dining companion opted for the pickled herring, which apparently doesn't lend itself well to a bagel sandwich. I should make brief mention of the reading material available for perusal. The cafe features many window wells holding many books, including a treatise on the psychoanalytic analysis of the vegetarian and a book of erotic dance positions.

We also visited one of the University of Alberta's mainstays: The Sugar Bowl. While they have since instituted a weekend brunch which makes it impossible to get a seat, we did grab two espressos for the long drive back to Calgary. This kept my dining companion awake until we experienced the one curve in the highway at Red Deer, after which he promptly fell asleep. I drove on listening to the new Christine Fellows cd, which is a great accompaniment to a prairie drive.

I have featured a photo of the world's largest kielbassa ring, located in Mundare, Alberta.