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.