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