Sumac

7 Dec

Outside of a few specific food items, I considered myself pretty adventurous food wise. While my parents did expose me to many different things outside of our French-Canadian customs, it wasn’t until I moved downtown for school did I learn to enjoy some more “obscure” (at least from my perspective) food cultures – proper Indian cuisine, great Ramen, true Mexican eats etc. Now, my adventures have not made me an expert in these fields yet but I continue to enjoy these experiences enough to keep them up and staying adventurous. All of this came to mind when I heard about a new restaurant in St-Henri – rapidly becoming one of my favourite neighbourhood and possible future living spot – seeking to be a true falafel shop and serving up great Middle Eastern cuisine. This type of cuisine is still a huge blind spot in my food knowledge so I was very hopeful that Sumac could show me the way.

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Located on the main strip of Notre Dame just west of the Atwater Market, Sumac has a very clean and sharp look. They beautifully utilize the brick wall of the old building and compliment it with pure white walls, light hardwood floors and solid wood tables. The ample lighting create a very bright space that creates a warm feel. They also add some nice music in the background to make the space feel comfortable. They have a slight different ordering procedure where you order at the counter and then serve you at your table using number cards. The issue, in the two times I have been, was that because the menu is only on the wall right by the cash, people take a little too long to order as they figure what to order. As such, the lineup at the counter gets long and takes longer than it probably should. The line spills into the seating space which isn’t great either for the patrons seating down. Also, there isn’t really a good spot for takeout people to wait either. Note that I went on two Friday nights so probably the peak period for this problem. I imagine it is much better the rest of the time – not a big deal, simply a minor observation.

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The menu is one befitting a falafel shop – falafels, chicken shawarma, beef kefta with a assortment of salads, grains, fries, hummus and baba. On my first visit, I decided to start with the hummus fries with hummus, tahini and s’rug. This dish was one of the first things I saw online from Sumac and peaked my interest tremendously. Just wonderful all around – the fries were nicely crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. The combination of the creamy tahini, the spice of the s’rug and the rich hummus worked exceptionally well – I had no knowledge of s’rug prior to this and my limited time with tahini never made me think of this combination. Great starter and a huge portion as well. A must-have for sure!

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Given the size of the fries, I decided to go with a chicken shawarma pita to finish off the meal. When you order a pita at Sumac, it is grilled and filled with hummus, tahina, chopped salad, white & purple cabbage and pickled turnip on top of your meal of choice. First off, the pita bread at Sumac is insanely good. Borderland obscene. Wherever they get them, I need to find out because they have put every other pita bread I’ve tried to shame. Thick but yet soft and chewy, the pita bread provided a great vessel for the rest of the ingredients. The chicken was nice and juicy and the vegetables fresh and crisp. An excellent pita all around.

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I was so enthused by my first visit that I decided to return two weeks later for a quick takeout. In this instance, I broke my own rule and didn’t order the fries in order to try some more of the menu. First, I went with the garlic labneh served with bulgarian feta, dukkah, paprika oil, mint and a side of grilled pita bread. A wonderful appetizer that needed a lot more bread than I got! I loved how the labneh and feta mixed together – combining the saltiness and firmer texture of the feta with the yogourt-like creaminess and sour taste of the labneh. The nutty mixture of the dukkah with the fresh mint and spicy paprika oil helped to ease up the heavy richness of the dish. Very nice all around and made for a great snack using the leftovers.

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My main course this second time was the falafel plat served with pita, hummus, tahini, pickled turnip and my choice of two salads. I went with the fried eggplant (with harissa, preserved lemon and coriander) and the Moroccan carrots with currants, cumin and parsley. Enjoyed the carrots although they weren’t as spicy as I expected. As for the eggplant, it was okay – something didn’t grab me and frankly I’m not sure what. As for the falafels themselves, loved them. Great crunch to the exterior but they still kept a nice moistness inside. Nice depth of flavour as well.

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Sumac provided me with a wonderful trip into Middle Eastern cuisine which was my hope. My initial visit got me interested enough to head back to try more and my second visit did more of the same. I may lack knowledge in this cuisine but I know enough about great cuisine to know that Sumac does it very well. For a quick lunch or a relaxed dinner, Sumac is a perfect option. Some of you may be scared away simply by the type of cuisine but believe me, you would be doing yourselves a grave disservice to ignore the wonderful food coming out of this little shop in St-Henri. Luckily for you, you should have time on your side if you change your mind – I suspect Sumac will be a staple in the neighbourhood for some time.

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Cheers!

Restaurant Sumac
3618 Notre Dame Ouest
514 935 1444

Sumac Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chez L’Épicier

16 Nov

For my final MTL a Table dinner, I went back to the Old Port to another longstanding member of my “need to try” list – Laurent Godbout’s Chez L’Épicier. About to open a sister restaurant down in Palm Beach, Chez L’Épicier has been a highly regarded restaurant in Old Montreal since its opening. A friend of mine continues to states that one of the best meals of his life has been here. Talk like that has made my visit long overdue. Hype level was high which can be scary when dealing with restaurants. There is nothing worse than overly heighten expectations setting you up for a disappointing experience. In these instances, you just need to go in and have faith that the restaurant can shine through with excellent dishes and a fine touch.

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Pre-starters, we were greeted with a cocktail of maple syrup and apple cider as well as an olive and goat cheese macaron amuse-bouche. Loved the combination in the cocktail – the acidic nature of the cider dull by the maple syrup while keeping the sweetness level strong. The macaron was a interesting idea – I had never had an non-sweet macaron before. My hatred of olives had me skeptical however the use of the creamy goat cheese eased that olive taste which I despite. Very nice level of technique.

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Our first starter was a squash velouté poured over homemade sour cream, onions, squash seed nougatine, parsley juice and brown butter vinaigrette. Cool little presentation element as the velouté was poured at the table over the bowl of accent ingredients. Loved the smooth and earthy nature of the soup and how each extra item brought a nice element to pair with the squash. A perfect fall starter.

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Our second starter was a slowly cold smoked trout filet with a miso and maple reduction, shallot fingerling potatoes and a maple vinegar mousse. Wonderful flaky texture to the trout with a subtle hint of sweetness from the reduction. The mousse was a quirky but nicely flavoured addition and the potatoes brought some more heft to the dish. Very good.

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The first of our mains was a sea bass fillet with herb polenta, lobster juice bouillabaisse and vegetables glazed with water butter. The real star here is the bouillabaisse – if only because the lobster juice overpowered everything else. The fish itself was solid. I am not a big fan of polenta up front so while this one was well done, it didn’t speak to me in any way. The vegetables were good but nothing to write home about (which is ironic as I am writing about them). Overall an okay dish. I feel like the fish should have had more of an impact in this dish.

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Our final main was beef shoulder lacquered with orange and olives served with onion and rosemary butter brandade and reduced juice with Cointreau. Huge winner in my eyes. The beef shoulder was cooked perfectly – to the point where you early had to touch it for it to fall apart. Great richness to the beef and the hints of orange and Cointreau came through nicely. The brandade was excellent as well.

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The first dessert was a carpaccio of compressed apples with tarragon granita and caramelized pecans. Sadly I didn’t get to try it because my friend finished it off so quickly which one can definitely take as a good thing. Loved the concept overall – the tarragon being an interesting addition to apples and pecans.

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The other dessert available was a tempura brownie with greek yogurt cream and white chocolate jelly. The brownie itself was moist and chocolatey – a key for me with any brownie. Personally, while the tempura was well done, I’m not sure how much of an addition it brought to the dish other than texturally. It kind of felt like an afterthought – added at the last minute to make the dish “unique”. I enjoyed the smoothness of the yogourt cream as well as the presence of the white chocolate and strawberries. A solid finish to the dish.

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I had high expectations for Chez L’Epicier and they were mostly met. Very high level technique was visible throughout the meal – the highs were oh so high. However a couple of dishes had a few elements that left us wanting more. Not things that were a big deal but when compared to the rest of the dishes, they stood out more than they should have. All in all, I was quite happy to finally cross Chez L’Epicier off my list. Looking at the regular menu after my visit, I was intrigued enough to want to come back which I suppose is all that needs to be said.

Cheers!

Chez L’Epicier
311 Saint-Paul Est
514 878 2232

Chez L'Epicier on Urbanspoon

Tapas 24

9 Nov

My trip to Spain last year was a wonderful experience through and through. Among the many things I enjoyed was all the wonderful food – especially the tapas “scene”. To be able to enjoy true Spanish tapas in Barcelona night after night was a thing to behold and made me realize that much of the “tapas” we have in Montreal isn’t quite up to snuff. Fast forward a year and we hear about Chef Carles Abellan and that his Tapas 24 concept is coming to Montreal. I didn’t get a chance to visit any of his restaurants while in Spain so the notion of trying his cuisine at home is quite appealing. The restaurant opened earlier this summer and finally, for the occasion of my grandfather’s birthday, I found a good reason to head over.

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Being a new restaurant in Old Montreal, Tapas 24 certainly tries to make a visual impression and succeeds in doing so. With the front of the restaurant being entirely windowed, the major use of natural coloured wood on the walls and at the first floor bar, when added to the ample lighting, makes the whole restaurant pop from the outside. The second floor mezzanine allows for the high ceiling to be utilized and gives the room a big presence. Part of the kitchen is visible from the bar downstairs as is the prep kitchen/ grade manger on the second floor although that part isn’t as nice to have visible as the kitchen. The music was present but unremarkable. The noise level was relatively loud but nothing abnormal for an Old Montreal restaurant on a busy Friday. Conversation could still be had but I wouldn’t said this is where you would have an hugely in-depth talk with a meal. The service was pretty good for us throughout the night unlike some of what you can read elsewhere so I guess this can be hit or miss. In our case, we had absolutely no complaints.

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Foodwise, we had originally planned to go for the MTL a Table menu but decided instead to simply order from the regular menu and share everything in order to enjoy a greater variety of dishes. These are the perks of being a larger group in this instance. First up, a few staple Spanish tapas. There was the Coca con Tomato – simply put tomato and olive oil on fresh warm bread. Simple but oh so good… especially since the bread comes from my favourite bakery Hof Kelsten. We then had the Iberian chorizo – freshly sliced and a perfect compliment to the bread dish. A spicy kick on top of the usual fattiness. The last of the staple trio was the patatas bravas – potatoes (in this case, french fries) with an aioli and the spicy tomato “brava” sauce. The fries themselves were nice and crispy but the key was the combination between the heat of the brava sauce and the creaminess of the aioli. These were so good that we had 3 separate orders over the course of the evening!

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The next set of dish were a little more unique. First up, la bomb de Barceloneta – a potato and meat croquette topped with the same aioli and brava sauce as before. Pretty good overall. Each individual croquette was rather big – lots of potato and meat stuffed inside. Great crunch on the outside without losing any moisture inside.

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Next up were the Gambas Al Ajillo – garlic shrimps with hot peppers. A solid dish but one that, compared to the rest, lacked any real punch or spark. Enough so that I even forgot to take a picture, so there you go.

We also have the strangely named Bikini Comerc 24 which essentially are mini grilled sandwiches of tramezzini, Iberian ham, mozzarella di buffalo and truffles. Extremely delicious – the combination of iberian ham and cheese is always a winner… and that is even before we add the truffles. The only complaints are these were how small they were. When a dish would need to be ordered more than once to purely satisfied hunger, you probably a sizing issue.

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The Atun con tomate y ponzu – or tuna with ponzu sauce – was a hit at our table. The tuna was beautiful – nice sized pieces well seasoned also. The ponzu added a nice hint of citrus to mix with the sweetness of the tomato. A light but well executed dish.

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Next were the alias de pollo con salsa “alegre” – boneless chicken wings with alegre sauce. Here, my camera failed me due to poor lighting but take my word for it, they are worth ordering next time you visit. The chicken was wonderfully moist and tender – simply fell apart using a fork. Great dish.

The final main tapas was actually a main that we added – the rabo de toro – oxtail stew with potato puree. The oxtail was amazing. The meat and fat was so cooked down that the two bones in the plate appeared to have never had any meat on them once we pulled the meat off them. Beautifully meaty and fatty goodness.

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Now, after all of the food, we may think that we were too full for dessert… and you would be wrong. There is always room for dessert, especially these ones. We went with three to share amongst the group. First, we had the molten chocolate fritters – bunuelos del tio nelo. Hot dark chocolate in a fried ball with some powdered sugar… what is there not to like!? They may be too tart for some as it is dark chocolate but delicious nevertheless.

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The second option was fresh ricotta and honey – Mel y Mato – a huge contrast when compared to the previous dish. Personally I loved the combination – a fresh and light alternative to standard dessert options. The sweetness of the honey worked very well with the creaminess of the ricotta. May not be everyone’s jam from a texture point of view but it worked for me.

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Lastly, we have in my opinion the best of the group – chocolate, pan, acetic y sal or simply put chocolate, bread, olive oil and fleur de sel. Milk chocolate mousse with a hint of olive oil, a touch of salt and a crunchy crouton. Simple but so wonderful in execution. Loved every bit of this one.

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All in all, with all the food and a few good bottles of wine, we left full and very satisfied of our experience at Tapas 24. The one stickler would be price point as this definitely wasn’t a cheap evening. This was a pretty penny for tapas. Be prepared to pay more than you probably expect. I saw a lot of negative reviews for this restaurant early on… other than the overpriced issue, I experienced none of what others have apparently faced here. In my eyes, Tapas 24 is definitely a worthwhile visit. It may not be Barcelona but I’ll take it. I suppose that your mileage may vary however.

Cheers!

Tapas 24
420 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 849 4424

Tapas 24 on Urbanspoon

Les 400 Coups

3 Nov

Pardon the writing break… life does in fact get in the way sometimes even when it comes to delicious food! Here in Montreal, we are currently in MTL à Table, a wonderful week-long period when many of our fine restaurants offer a special table d’hôte to allow people to try their fare at a relatively reduced rate. With so many wonderful restaurants to choose from, the challenge is always deciding where to go (and that’s even if there is room left in said restaurants). This year, I decided to hit up three different spots – 2 of which are longstanding members of my “to-go” list. The first of these was the current Old Montreal staple Les 400 Coups.

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I was first aware of Les 400 Coups a few years ago when Marc-André Jetté, Patrice Demers and Marie-Josée Beaudoin were running it. While the entire crew has changed since last year, I had heard enough great things about the new group – headlined by Guillaume Cantin, the original Les Chefs winner – that Les 400 coups remained a must-go to me. A couple of my friends were of the same opinion so off we went on a late Thursday night visit very eager and quite hungry.. mostly because a 10 pm reservation will do that to you!

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Les 400 Coups visually strikes a nice, relatively understated modern look. The high ceilings create the impression of a larger room than what is truly there. Black embossed ceiling tiles, simple black walls, leather banquettes and dark wood floors create a elegant style but the white marble bar, the wall-sized Parisian street picture on the western wall and the subtle use of brick add some punch to the room. I’ve heard that noise can be a problem (which makes sense with the high ceilings) but given the day and time of our reservation, it wasn’t at all an issue and actually made us more aware of the music – a strange collection for the setting (never thought of the Black Keys as suitable fine dining music) but still enjoyable. We were lucky enough to have the large banquette by the front window which gave us a great spot to relax, enjoy some good wine and get ready for a hopefully great meal.

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As a group, we decided to make sure that we tried every item on the special table d’hôte. For the appetizers, that gave us two dishes – a parsnip soup with smoked bison, wild blueberries, mustard and wintergreen as well as a liver pâté with peach, oat crumble, honey jelly and celery. The soup was such a treat – the use of the smoked bison and the tart blueberries meshed well with the earthy parsnip. Texturally smooth and delightful on every spoonful. The pâté was also a great hit. Similar to the soup, there was a great use of ingredients to enhance and contrast the inherently fatty pâté – the sweetness of honey and peaches, the freshness of celery and the crunch of the oats. A wonderful dish through and through – relatively simple but one that showed a great understanding of flavours.

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Next up we had the main courses: Brill with buckwheat, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce cream and wild caraway followed up by Pork cheeks with beets, smoked potatoes, stag horn sumac and dill. Beautiful technical detail here. The brill was cooked perfectly – great sear on the outside but still flaky and moist. The insane things here were the cauliflower “crumble” and the lettuce cream. That cream was so rich and flavourful – how exactly they achieved that using lettuce as a base I don’t know but dear lord… such a elegant dish across the board.

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The pork cheeks were a perfect dish for a cold autumn night. Rich and homely with great execution. Texturally, the cheeks just fell apart beautifully and had a great fatty taste. The beets and smoked potatoes paired well with them – I simply wished there had been more to enjoy!

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We were almost stuffed at this point but there were still desserts to enjoy. First was lemon cream with sunflower, crispy meringue and melon sorbet. Now, I hate melons but I can’t argue that it didn’t pair beautifully with the lemon cream here. And about that cream….. just wow. Great richness and a nice depth of flavour. The lemon was powerful but not too tart. The meringue added some crunch to the plate and mixed well with the other elements.

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The second dessert was a Dark Manjari chocolate tart with peanuts, caramel and concorde grape sorbet. Creamy and smooth tart, the strong chocolate taste was nicely paired with the peanuts, the sweet caramel and the beautiful sorbet. Another strong dish.

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Finally, just prior to the check, we received mini chocolate and almond cakes. Rich and fluffy with that hint of the almond. A subtle but wonderful item to finish off our meal.

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I had pretty high expectations for Les 400 Coups and they were met completely. The level of execution and technical proficiency on display was very impressive. Not a single dish disappointed or left a bad impression on us. Every plate was returned completely picked clean… and not just because we were starving due to the late reservation. Add to that a nice atmosphere, a great bottle of wine and excellent service (safe for a slight technology issue at payment time) and we were left with a wonderful evening. I took me a few years to finally get to Les 400 Coups but I can safely say it was worth the wait.

Cheers!

Les 400 Coups
400 Notre Dame Est
514 985 0400

Les 400 Coups on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Magpie

7 Sep

After a great experience at GEMA (see my previous post for that rundown), I got another hankering for a pizza the following weekend. I got some friends together and planned to head back for a second try when I discovered that they were closed for summer vacation. Darn….. well we still had a desire for pizza, so where to go? Thinking about places nearby, I had a flash and remembered Pizzeria Magpie, located across the street from Chez Serge bar in Mile End. One of those places I have had on my never-ending list for a while but kept forgetting about. We drove up hoping they had room for 4 on a Saturday night and luckily for us, they did.

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First thing I noticed walking in was the overall look and vibe. A small intimate space overall with the open window in the front to give a little terrasse feel, low lighting, a beautiful dark bar on the side, the blackboard menus and the ceramic-tiled pizza oven visible to all – Magpie gives off a relaxed cafe/bar feel but with enough intimacy to be a solid date place and enough “edge” to be a cool place to bring friends for a happy hour or late evening meal. Loved it completely – this place goes on the possible date locations list (whenever the heck that ever happens again… but that’s a story for another day).

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For starters, we grabbed some of their cocktails to get the evening started. My friends selected the Pimm’s Cup and the Magpie Caesar. The Pimm’s Cup, served with some mint and cucumber, had exactly the kind of citrus and spice flavours you look for. Very refreshing. As for the Caesar, it certainly looked impressive – especially with the steak spice used on the lip of the glass, however I hate Caesars (yes… another thing to add to the list) so I didn’t try it. My friend certainly enjoyed it though. In my case, I went for the Dark and Stormy – dark spiced rum mixed with the house made ginger soda. Very nice balance between the sweet rum and the ginger.

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Before the pizzas came, I just had to order some oysters. On this evening, Magpie had 3 varieties – Conway Royals, Gooseberry Bay and Tresor and I asked for the mix of all three. Served with fresh horseradish, lemon and lime wedges, a mignonette and some hot sauce, the oysters were all of good size and shucked perfectly. Nice start to the meal.

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But really, the key here is the pizza…Magpie is a pizzeria after all. There are 9 regular pizzas available as well as a special of the day. Since we were four people, we decided to order four different ones and share them in order to try as many as we could. Before we address the topping options, let’s talk dough – the foundation of the whole thing. Magpie, using that beautiful wood oven over in the corner, do it pretty well. Had I not been to GEMA about a week prior, I may have said it was best in Montreal. After that experience, I would say it is very good but just a level below the best. The crust has a good levity and chewiness to it with a decent crispiness on the bottom, however to get the crunch, we end up having some burnt spots on the pizzas. I wouldn’t have had an issue with it before but if we are going to compare the best pizza joints in Montreal, we are now at that point…

Anyway, the first one up was the special of the day – a gravlax pizza with onions, tomatoes and dill. A very creative option – the gravlax itself was delicious and quite plentiful on the pizza. The fresh dill, tomatoes and onions work well with gravlax normally so of course it would work on a pizza. Loved the overall quantity of topping as well. An excellent out-of-box option which in my opinion is worth keeping around as a regular option.

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Next up was the goat cheese pizza with pancetta, arugula, basil and tomato sauce. Due to photographer error, I don’t have a picture of this one to share but regardless you get the picture anyway. Great combination of the creamy goat cheese with the salty rich pancetta to elevate this one past the traditional Margherita. Excellent pizza.

The third one was the prosciutto pizza with arugula, cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and tomato sauce. Another solid pizza – any pizza with prosciutto is good by me – although personally I felt that there was way too much arugula over top of this pizza which kinda made it overly peppered.

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The final pizza was the Bianca – with roasted garlic, spicy capicollo, cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and herbs. This is one spicy pizza – a little too much for my liking personally. I was quite surprised at just how much the capicollo overpowered everything else on this pizza. I also would have enjoyed a bit more cheese on this one. Good but my least favourite of the four easily.

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Pizzeria Magpie is a solid entry in the Montreal pizza scene – and by far the best in Mile End in my eyes. The cocktail and oyster combo with the relaxed and intimate atmosphere make it a perfect place for a quick bite or drink before a larger meal – and that is without taking the pizzas into consideration. They also do weekend brunch now which intrigues me tremendously. Not my first choice for a pizza but close enough – both in quality and in location – for me to definitely be back in the near future.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Magpie
16 Maguire
514 507 2900

Pizzeria Magpie on Urbanspoon

Dirty Dogs

21 Aug

Every week (well almost anyway…), I head up the Main to Hof Kelsten for my dose of fresh rye or sourdough bread. Thinking about grabbing something different for lunch on one particular occasion, I was reminded that Dirty Dogs was only a minute away on foot serving up gourmet hot dogs. I had first heard of Dirty Dogs in the spring via some friends but never found the moment to go. My first chance had been during the Mont-Royal street fair earlier this summer but their free hot dog special that day created a lineup that snaked off Mont-Royal and down Saint-Laurent street so that didn’t happen. Seeming like the perfect lunch option in this instance, away I went with my loaf of bread in hand.

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Dirty Dogs is a small diner space with maybe 8 seats inside but thankfully there is a takeout window in the case where seating inside isn’t possible. The interior is a rustic diner look – dark wood bar counter, wood panels on the walls. It is a sparse space but functional. At least the music is a good mix as you wait for your order!

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The menu consists of 10 special dogs each with their own unique toppings and sausages. Each hot dog can also be modified for the vegetarians among us which is a cool touch from a hot dog place. To pair with the dogs, there are a number of sides and drinks to enjoy. Given that this was a solo mission on my first visit, I actually went back a second time to enjoy other items off the menu – good time I have a build-in excuse with my bakery of choice…

The side I tried was their mac n’ cheese – made to order nicely enough and topped with crispy bacon and green onions. Creamy enough but something didn’t click with me… perhaps the cheese wasn’t strong enough. Not sure to be honest. The bacon added some nice crunch although personally I would have preferred softer to get the fattiness into the macaroni. Might as well go full glutton.

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I went all in with my first visit so I ordered the “Maurice Richard” – Bourbon vanilla sausage with pan seared foie gras, bacon, 3 year old aged cheddar, caramlized onions and maple syrup. A pricy dog but one that packs a heck of a punch. The sweetness of the vanilla bourbon sausage is subtle but still noticeable which is a good thing given the sweet kick from the onions and the maple syrup. Add to that mix a general amount of foie gras and plenty of bacon and you have quite a hot dog on your hands! Only negative to me was the bun – i actually like the choice of bun used but they are barely served warm… I would preferred them more steamed or even grilled!

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For the second visit, I went a little more traditional in my choices. I ordered the “Denis Coderre” – Fine herb pork sausage, coleslaw, onions, yellow mustard and bagel seeds – with a side of regular fries and spicy mayo. Fine issue with the bun again. The hot dog itself is solid – you pick up the fine herb taste in the sausage, the coleslaw/onion/mustard combo is classic and continues to be so. The bagel seeds is an interesting addition that works well. The classic fries are exactly the kind of fries I like with my hot dogs – very reminiscent of your classic Belle Province/ Lafleur. The house spicy mayo had a nice kick to it as well. A solid second visit.

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All in all, Dirty Dogs is a solid bet from what I tried. I like the more unique approach to the dogs and the varied choices you have. The macaroni didn’t do it for me but I enjoyed the rest. The price on the higher end dogs may turn off some people used to more standard pataterie prices… same goes for waiting time since these dogs take longer than your regular steamey. Overall a worthwhile visit if you are in need of a bite near the plateau.

Cheers!

Dirty Dogs
25 Mont-Royal Est
514 508 3647

Dirty Dogs on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Gema

16 Aug

Ever since Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione of Impasto announced their second project would be a pizzeria, I have been eagerly anticipating its opening. The level of craft showed from them at Impasto left me no doubts that their approach of pizza would worth the wait. Each instagram post from Chef Forgione of his test runs made me more and more excited as we saw the level of perfectionism in its purest form. This pizza would be no slouch. Finally, at long last, I could find out for myself. Pizzeria Gema opened up last month just across the street from Impasto in the heart of Little Italy making the corner of Dante and St-Dominique an happening culinary corner.

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Gema itself is a relatively small restaurant – all of about 40 seats probably and they don’t take reservations, so you may have to wait to get in. In our case, we waited about 30 minutes. The nice part is that they will take your phone number down and call you so you can go from a walk or grab a drink elsewhere in the meantime. If you prefer, there is a takeout window on the side where you order a pizza to-go or some frozen custard. The interior is sparse but clean – old wood panels on the wall, aged hardwood on the floors with a weird light “tree” in the middle of the room adding some color to the space. The other focus point is the bar with its marble countertop although I got a good laugh that the bar chairs are the same Ikea ones I have in my apartment. The space isn’t a looker like its neighbour Impasto but that’s not an issue for me.

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The menu is small and concise. A few entrees, 8 or so pizza options and some frozen custard for dessert. As a starter, we went with the fried calamari. A nice portion of fresh calamari with a good crunch to them. They are served with a couple of lemon wedges, no mayo because they don’t need any sauce to enhance flavour. The calamari have plenty of flavours all by themselves.

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On the pizza side, we got 2 pizzas to enjoy. The first one was their basic “1889” margarita pizza with tomato sauce, fior di latte and fresh basil. The second one, because I am a huge meat-lovers fan, was the Giovanni Deluxe – tomato sauce, zampina, pepperoni, porchetta and lardo. Boy, did these pizzas not disappoint…. the pizza crust is just insane. Ridiculous. Whatever positive superlative you want to use applies to this dough. A nice crisp seer on the exterior without a single burnt spot to be seen…. and completely soft and moist inside. This level of dough mastery deserves the highest praise. Props to you Chef.

And we haven’t even gotten to the toppings yet. The classic margherita was excellent – the tomato sauce was tangy, the cheese creamy and rich, the basil brought that freshness and the overall ratio on the pizza was excellent – none of the ingredients were too present or not present enough. As for the Giovanni deluxe: house made pepperoni, the porchetta from Impasto, zampina, lardo…. this pizza had me from the description. Great combo of fatty rich meats on top of the base margherita. Simply heavenly. I just wished it had been bigger so I could enjoy it some more.

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Whatever you do however, make sure that you have room left for dessert because Gema has frozen custard… not ice cream but custard. The difference comes in terms of a richer, creamier texture which personally bought to mind a creamy version of Dairy Cream which hit childhood nostalgia for me every time. Gema has chocolate or vanilla so of course, we went with a twist of the two. There is also a handful of topping options – we went with crumbled baci, mixed nuts and butterscotch sauce. A perfect dessert for a pizzeria.

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Once again, Chefs Faita and Forgione hit it out of the park. Gema is a wonderful addition to the pizza scene in Montreal and for me, is currently the champion hands down. That crust means business. If they offered delivery to the McGill Ghetto, I would seriously be a weekly caller. At present, I will definitely be a regular visitor because they are other topping combinations I need to try and that pizza is too good to pass up for too long.

Cheers!

Pizzeria Gema
6827 Saint Dominique
514 419 4448

Pizzeria Gema on Urbanspoon

Le Boucan

13 Aug

Last month, for the event of my birthday, I was looking for a nice relaxed spot to enjoy a great meal amongst friends and perhaps have a few drinks along the way. After decided that (of course) the Burgundy Lion was the happy hour spot we would start at, Le Boucan seemed like the ideal location to continue the evening. It certainly helped that we could simply walk over from the pub… also I just love BBQ. I had only been once prior and quite honestly the events of that first visit are quite hazy for some reason or another. Because of that, I was quite excited to “re-try” Le Boucan.

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Located on a strip of Notre-Dame street that is quite literally booming, Le Boucan is a relatively small restaurant inside that was a nice terrasse out back to enjoy in the summer time. The interior has a rustic barn look – red wood panels on the walls, sliding barn doors at the washrooms, worn wood signs and hand drawn menu boards. The key focus point inside is the bar area with all the bourbon bottles exposed to the patrons to see. It is a very relaxed and enjoyable ambience.

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Le Boucan is a smokehouse so the menu is all BBQ – pulled pork, ribs, etc. On the drink side, they have a full bar menu with a particular focus on bourbon cocktails. As a starter, we ordered a pitcher of bourbon lemonade because well… I’m completely hooked to the stuff and can’t ignore it when it is on a menu. This particularly version of it was quite good – not as sweet of many variants around town but definitely the strongest in terms of bourbon which was perfect for our evening…. but which made the second pitcher ordered later on a little more problematic…

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Needed a bit of food now, we grabbed some entrees. First up was a plat of Le Boucan’s Nachos which I forgot to take a picture of….. either way, excellent plate of nachos with quite a nice amount of toppings over top. Sadly, you will just have to take my word for it. One of my friends ordered the meat balls. Topped with some scallions and served with some croutons and sauce, the meatballs were nice and moist. Nice flavour to them as well.

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I myself ordered the mac n’ cheese. Served in a onion soup bowl, topped with some scallions and some bread crumbs, it was a nice macaroni however the cheese sauce was not creamy enough for my personal tastes. As such, the cheese didn’t stick to the macaroni itself very well. The cheese sauce had a nice rich flavour at least but wasn’t really one of my favourites.

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For the mains, most of us wanted to order some pulled pork however our waitress informed us that they had run out! Not cool so we worked around it. However, they had enough for one dish so one of us got the pulled pork poutine. Such a heavenly combination – beautifully tender pork with nice fries, cheese curds and some gravy. I would come back for this dish alone…. I guess I just need to make sure to reserve my portion early when I dine later.

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Given the lack of pulled pork, I went for the full rack of ribs with fries and cheesy corn. The fries were solid and the cheesy corn is a play on creamed corn which I enjoyed. The real star of course were the ribs. A massive portion of ribs – tons of meat on the bones with a good crust on them. No knife required to remove the meat here… that is the level of tenderness we are talking about. Very nice all around.

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The only other different main on the table was the rib and chicken combo with the side of potato salad. The chicken was nicely smoked – tender and juicy with a nice smoky flavour. The potato salad was pretty good as well – more on the chunky side of things but still creamy enough. A solid dish all around. Dessert was tempting but frankly at this point, we were too full to even consider the options. That will have to wait until next time.

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Le Boucan was a solid evening of delicious BBQ and drinks – the perfect setting to celebrate me getting another year older. Our group of 7 walked out happy and contend which is all I could ask more on this evening. BBQ in Montreal is getting better and better – Le Boucan has a solid spot in the best this city has to offer… thankfully I can remember enjoying it this time.

Cheers!

Le Boucan
1886 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 439 4555

Le Boucan on Urbanspoon

Bevo Bar + Pizzeria

16 Jul

I like a good pizza. Scratch that – I love a good pizza. It has gotten to the point where I am experimenting at home making my own… and getting decent success as I keep working out the kinks. It’s not perfect but in the meantime, that is what good restaurants are for, am I right? Last month, following a wonderful few hours at La Mondiale de la Biere enjoying many many brews, my friends and I got the hankering for some pizza. Thinking about the options closest to us, I figured a visit to BEVO in the old port was in order. So we casually walked over ready to enjoy some good Italian cuisine.

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Located just off Place Jacques Cartier in the heart of the Old Port, BEVO visually is in keeping with many of the Old Port establishments – a mix of the old brick and stone foundations of the area buildings with some more modern elements to add some glam. In this case, BEVO uses red tinted glass around the atrium, a very large chandelier and an tile entry wait which includes a glass wine cellar. The first floor has a huge bar area where the backbar is lit up in red and the front of the actual bar is just a light box. Add an area where there are 70s-style hanging bubble chairs and you have a spot that is clearly a solid happy hour zone.

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On this occasion however, we were there too late for happy hour and too early for any late-night bar scene. The two dining areas are more straight forward than the bar – wooden tables and chairs, paper tablecloths with cute info-graphics about pizza making and red checkered napkins for that little old school Italian restaurant touch. On the first floor, the wood-fired pizza oven is visible for all to see and gets you excited for what is to come.

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Our first starter was salsiccia e Rapini – a house made sausage with garlic rapini. The sausages were delicious although a little small for my liking. Rapini is one of those vegetables you either love or hate – personally I am a fan of its bitterness. The combination of bitter with the garlic made a nice partner to the fatty sausages.

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The second starter was arancino – saffron parmesan risotto balls with meat ragu and mozzarella. The risotto ball itself had a good crust to it and that didn’t come at the cost of drying out the risotto itself. It still had nice creaminess although I really didn’t get any hint of saffron personally. The meat ragu draped over it had a nice meaty richness to it and paired very well to the ball itself. Like the previous starter, I just wanted more!

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Because one of the friends with me doesn’t eat cheese (i know, i know…. i’ve tried to show him the error of his ways) we did order one non-pizza main dish: the cavatelli bolognese – dumplings, meat ragu and fresh parsley. Excellent plate of pasta – same delicious meat ragu as before with the perfectly cooked cavatelli. A little bit of parmesan would have been nice but that was a lost battle from the start in this case.

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Now we arrive to the main attraction: the pizzas. First up, I got the parma in blanco – prosciutto di parma, arugula and reggiano. This is probably my favourite pizza type when dealing with classic thin crust pizzas. The salty rich prosciutto, the pepper arugula, the sharp reggiano and a little bit of olive oil… a perfect balance of items on top of a pizza. However, all of that is wasted if the actual pizza isn’t up to snuff. BEVO doesn’t have that problem. The wood-fired oven gives a nice crispness to the bottom but allows for just enough rise to create some chewiness. A wonderful pizza.

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The other pizza we ordered was the cotto e bocconcini – prosciutto cotto, portobello, tomato sauce, mozzarella and bocconcini. Same solid crust as my pizza although this one had been cooked a little more as the extra charring around the edge demonstrated. The melted bocconcini brought some more creaminess compared to just the mozzarella and the earthy portobellos added some contrast from the prosciutto. Another excellent pizza.

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BEVO is a solid experience from beginning to end. Solid starters, delicious pizzas and good pasta. All the beers from Beerfest prior eliminated our desire to test the cocktail and wine lists which seemed interesting. There was also the temptation of the nutella pizza for dessert but we decided to pass. Just gives me another reason to return. If you are looking for a good pizza in the Old Port or just a place to go enjoy a drink and a quick bit, BEVO is worth your consideration.

Cheers!

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria
410 Rue St-Vincent
514 861 5039

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Leméac

4 Jul

Special occasions call for certain restaurants. Restaurants where not only is the food delicious but the overall experience is from top to bottom impeccable and without fault. There are not too many of said places but for my family in particular, Leméac continues to be one of these and as such, it was the perfect place to go celebrate my sister’s 2nd university degree (tied with yours truly and soon to be passed me).

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For the uninitiated, Leméac is a classic French bistro on Laurier that has one of the best dinner terrasses in the city. Sadly, for this evening, we did not have a table there so we would have to make due inside. The interior has a modern bistro feel – stone tile floor, white walls, wooden chairs, white tablecloths and a gorgeous modern bar with leather bound high chairs. A very clean look that screams professional and upscale but still feels welcoming.

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As a a starter, I went with the house made blood pudding with celery root purée and cider sauce. Now… I know that blood pudding is not for everyone and a complete non-starter for some, however if you are tempted to try it, this would be the place to do so. Great texture to the pudding itself, the root purée nice and creamy and the richness of the sauce… dear god that cider sauce. So good. An excellent start all around.

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The other start I got to try was the escargots with portabella mushroom tomato ragout and basil sauce. Very different compared to the richness of the previous dish. Outside of the delicious escargots, the rest of the dish was all about freshness. Particular recognition must go to the sauce, a foamy basil sauce that paired everything together here so well. Amazing depth of flavour despite its consistency. The level of sauce work at Leméac has always blown my mind… and makes me feel wholly inadequate to attempt to make my own at home.

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We move on to the mains now. First up, a grilled shrimp salad and sesame oïl vinaigrette. Very asian-inspired dish in terms of flavours mostly because of the vinaigrette. The very large shrimps were grilled perfectly well and the mixed veggie salad underneath was nice.

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We also ordered a side of french fries because when one is at Leméac, you must order some whether it makes sense with your meal or not! Pretty much perfection in terms of fries – just the right cut and just the right mix of crunch and tenderness. Add a side of mayo for dipping and you are set to finish the entire bowl and order some more.

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My own main was the braised beef short rib with barley stew, swiss chard and mint pesto. The level of execution on the rib short blew my mind. I was able to pull the bone out without any effort and not a single strain of meat came with it. Just needed a fork to break it apart and enjoy the meaty goodness. The barley stew with the pesto and the chard were excellent as well but quite honestly, it didn’t matter what else was in that plate because of that glorious cut of beef.

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Lastly, I just needed to order their classic pain perdu with maple caramel and ice cream. This thing is massive. The picture doesn’t do it justice… unless you have skipped a course, you will need help to finish this. Beautifully fresh bread crisped up nicely with a truly decadent caramel and silky ice cream. Perfect execution once again.

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Leméac was, as it always is, a excellent experience. Every course screams technique and execution. Great depth of flavours across the board. Great food, excellent wine list and very solid service means that you can never really go wrong here. If you are looking for a great French bistro experience, there is nowhere in Montreal that I can recommend more highly than Leméac. Just try to sit outside if you can… it will make it even better.

Cheers!

Leméac
1045 Laurier Ouest
514 270 0999

Leméac on Urbanspoon

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