Manitoba

30 Aug

All throughout 2014, I kept hearing and reading great things about a new restaurant in the relatively obscure Mile-Ex neighbourhood – at least from a food perspective. A place that was doing some unique things in terms of local foraging and doing it in a cool setting. All of this talk made restaurant Manitoba one of the hit newcomers in 2014 and a place I dearly wanted to try out. After many months, I finally decided that I really needed to go before the summer was over so I made it a date night and brought my girlfriend along for what I hoped would a great experience for both me and her of course.

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Located in the old industrial neighbourhood of Mile-Ex – stuck in the middle of Little Italy and Parc Extension, Manitoba is very unassuming as you approach – simply a wood terrasse in front of a simple door and window. Once you enter, it is truly a space in keeping with its neighbourhood and its approach of food – Industrial and clean but with touches of nature. A gorgeous bar along the left side of the room all the way to the open kitchen. The use of wood trunks on the ceiling with the light coming through them. The all-black wall and blackboard menu. The back garden and terrasse space with patio lights all a-glow. The vibe is hip and cool.

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Service is attentive and friendly. It is surprising how I froze up at simply being asked if I’d had a nice day – not exactly what you expect from your waiter. Even the chefs were chatty and friendly as one of the sous-chef kindly answered our questions about some of the plants and herbs they use that we didn’t know too well. We did have a bit of an issue with the service of our cocktails – way too long between the order and arrival of them – but otherwise great all around from the staff.

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After a quick discussion with our waiter, we decided to start with the deer heart gravlax served with cauliflower puree, corn, sunflower seeds, labrador tea oil and stonecrop. What an awesome way to start a meal. The rich gaminess of the deer heart was not lost in the gravlax process. Add the creaminess of the puree, the sweetness of the corn and the little crunch from the seeds and this was a great balanced dish.

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As a main dish, my girlfriend opted for the scallops from iles-de-la-madeleine served with lobster mushrooms, salicornia, green pea puree and emulsion. The scallops were nicely sized and wonderfully fresh with a beautiful sear all around. The beautiful lobster mushrooms brought a nice contrast to that freshness with their earthy tones. I was also very intrigued about the green pea puree and emulsion. An interesting bite of technique that maintained a strong pea flavour. Very good all around.

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In my case, I decided to order something I had never had before: Maple brulé bone marrow served with chokeberry, maïtake, swiss chard and toast. From my vantage point watching the chefs use a blowtorch to burn the maple sugar made me pine for this dish pretty quickly. Bone marrow was something I suspected I would enjoy and yeah… turns out I was right. Definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but dear god did I love this. Rich and fatty with a great sweetness and crunch from the maple syrup, I could have had many many more. The chokeberry mixture on top added some tartness and then add in some wonderful toast to put the whole mixture on top of…. just wonderful. Simply wonderful. In my mind, a must-try if it’s on the menu.

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After those great dishes, we were then left to decide on dessert. We ended up going with both options of the evening. First was a honey, indian celery and black walnut cookie served with raspberry ice cream and lichen dipped in chocolate. The cookie had a nice crunch with subtle hint of both the honey and the walnuts. The ice cream was smooth and flavourful and the use of lichen was an interesting component to bring forth.

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The second dish was a spruce panna cotta with candied pumpkin seeds and wild blueberries. This was a very cool surprise. The texture you expect from panna cotta – rich and smooth – but the true surprise was just how strong the spruce came through. The combination of blueberry and pumpkin seeds were a nice pairing here as well. A strong finish.

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Manitoba was what a had hoped for – a great unique mixture of dishes in a cool looking and feeling restaurant. As we sat outside in the back garden with a glass of wine partway through our meal, I thought to myself “Yeah this is pretty great”. Pretty much says it all.

Cheers!

Manitoba
271 St Zotique Ouest
514 270 8000

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Kinoya

25 Jul

Izakayas or Japanese-style pubs have becoming very popular in and around Montreal over the past year or so. Previously, there was Imadake and…. well no others really. Now, each neighbourhood seems to have one and more are soon the way. Through a friend’s birthday gathering, I found myself at Kinoya along St-Denis curious to see if this particular Izakaya holds up to my previous experiences itself in the city and elsewhere.

Walking into the wooden hut/grotto Kinoya has structured within the standard plateau storefront, the restaurant definitely has a unique visual appearance compared to many of the new Japanese pubs in town. They do have the classic “salute” from the staff when you walk in – which I’ve always loved despite the awkwardness that it can create for the uninitiated. Also, it is rather weird to be saluted in Japanese by an entire French Canadian staff I must admit but I digress….. The space is nice overall however the low ceilings created by the grotto look creates more cacophony than is ideal.

We were at a pub after all so a drink is a must. Given the presence of some speciality cocktails on the menu, we decided to try a couple. First was the Zen – Sake, Midori and Lychee Juice. Very strong on the Lychee side of things which worked for my girlfriend but not so much for me.

My choice was the Gingin – Gin, Ginger Ale, Fresh Ginger Juice And Soda. Once again, the non-alcoholic components overpowered the alcohol. I enjoy ginger but not on the level that this drink brought forth. A totally miss on my end here.

Given the nature of an Izakaya, over the course of the evening, we ordered a much of plates in no particular order. The key is that process is that service is spot-on and the dishes come quickly which is exactly what occurred. First up, I can never say no to a nice bowl of salty edamame.

The Tako Kimchi or octopus and cucumber with spicy kimchi sauce was less successful. The spicy kimchi was good but the octopus was a little chewy and frankly the portion was much too small given the price of the dish. The plate could barely be shared by 2 people. I know an Izayaka is all about small plates but this was pushing it a little too far.

The Kamo Carpaccio – seared duck breast carpaccio with spicy tahini sauce – was a better success. The rich fatty duck was sliced thinly and paired well with the sauce although it wasn’t as spicy was perhaps I would have expected.

I couldn’t help ordered some Gyoza – pan-fried Japanese dumplings – as well. The dumplings were okay nothing more sadly. The filling was nice and meaty but I wanted them a little more fried up and the sauce was unremarkable.

The big hit was the Ikayaki – squid marinated in sake and grilled with shichimi spice and mayo. The squid was beautifully tender and grilled nicely although the sake marinate really wasn’t noticeable flavour-wise. The spicy mayo provided a nice kick and a good pairing to the squid.

I also wanted to try the Kara-Age – Japanese style fried chicken marinated in fresh ginger and soya sauce. Very enjoyable on my end. Great crunch to the chicken while still keeping the meat tender and juicy. Again, the marinade wasn’t noticeable flavour-wise but it was good regardless.

Lastly, I felt the need for a dessert so I went with the Anmitsu – mochi pearls in red bean sauce with ice cream and matcha. A very nice dessert – I love red bean sauce and matcha with vanilla ice cream matched well with that sauce. A great way to end the meal.

Kinoya was a good experience but not a memorable one. Some dishes were hits. Others were disappointments. With an Izayaka, the ambience is very important but if the dishes don’t hit consistently, it is hard to be a memorable night regardless of the rest. Kinoya goes into the mix of all of the other Japanese pubs in town but doesn’t elevate above the fray to be one of the best.

Cheers!

Kinoya
4250 Saint Denis
514 508 5200

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Majestique

29 Jun

Moving away from the Main as I have recently have led me to think about all the great restaurants up and down the Main that I have enjoyed over my 9 years a short walk away… The only disappointment to my new location is I now have to bike or drive to them all! Despite my best attempts, there were also a few spots that I never got to in my time so close by.. luckily a beautiful Sunday evening recently allowed me to cross another one off the list, Majestique.

Located in an old Lester’s deli, owned by the Holder brothers and with the menu designed by the former Chef-de-Cuisine at Toque, Charles-Antoine Crète, Majestique recently has an interesting pedigree within the Montreal restaurant scene. The vibe is very casual but the menu and cocktails speak to a certain level of refinement. Looking at the menu, it’s an interesting mix of dishes but one that really doesn’t fit any true designation. Given the beautiful day, we requested a table on their small terrasse but as there would be a slight wait, we started our evening inside in a room that is probably best described as hipster deli/chalet. The old deli is still clearly visible but just covered in an insane amount of knickknacks ranging from sports pinnies to bowling pins and coke bottles. The look is not from everyone but I really enjoyed it.

As we waited for our table outside, I went with the SPF 45 cocktail – White Barbancourt rum, lime juice, kaffir lime syrup and dashfire chinese bitters. A surprisingly mild cocktail where the lime really comes through. A solid summer terrasse drink.

Very shortly after, we sat down on the terrasse and ordered some oysters to start because my girlfriend had never had some raw before and because why not? Served with a classic mignonette and a very interesting apple cider mignonette, these oysters were beautiful and fresh. As always, more could have been ordered but with the rest of the food ordered, we held off to save some room.

The first of our entrees came up next. First was the tostada topped with sushi rice, avocado and nori. What a lovely dish! The tostada in this case was using rice paper which had a light and fluffy texture. The combination of creamy avocado, sticky rice, the nori and a spicy mayo worked very nicely on top.

The next dish was whelk served with herb butter and fried bread, so sea snails served like traditional snails but with a twist. The herb butter was a great discovery on my end – didn’t overpower the natural fattiness of the whelk like traditional garlic butter but still brought a subtle adjustment to the flavour. The whelk has delicious and the fried bread added a bit of crunch to the combination.

Then came the squid salad with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and fava beans. Such beautiful squid – so rich and tender. Paired simply with the fresh veggies and herbs, the squid is so good that frankly it could have been the only thing on the plate and I would still love the dish!

A dish that definitely surprised was the burnt salmon confit served with an apple and almond salad. I really didn’t know what to expect from salmon confit and the answer was a ridiculously soft texture. It may perhaps be seen as too soft, almost mushy to some people but we really dug it. The salad was very non-descript and honestly just felt like filler on the plate.

We couldn’t say no to a side-order of fries and those came through nicely as well. Good sized with a nice crunch and already salted, they paired very well with our final main dish – the foot-long Nordic shrimp roll. Best dish all night and it’s not that close despite the positives I stated of the previous plates. Great flavourful shrimp filling in an insane toasted brioche-like hot dog bun. Best hot dog bum I’ve ever had without a shadow of a doubt. Knowing what this ended up being, I would have skipped one of the previous dishes to order another just for myself. So so good…

For dessert, we had two options available to us – sucre à la creme and cheesecake with rhubarb. The sucre à la creme was small in portion but oh so good. Dangerous little sugar packages. The cheesecake was nice and creamy with a nice rhubarb jelly over top. Solid sweet options to end our meal.

Majestique was quite a nice meal from beginning to end. Solid cocktails, great technique and execution throughout the meal. The overall menu left me somewhat baffled in terms of how one describes this place. Regardless, the quality of the food and the fact that the kitchen is open late nights makes this a great option for a late bite along the Main. Majestic is just another sign that the heart of the Main food wise continues to work its way northward and now I have another reason to re-visit my old neighbourhood.

Cheers!

Majestique
4105 Saint Laurent
514 439 1850

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Tuck Shop

7 Jun

About 5 years ago now, I read a review from Lesley Chesterman in the Montreal Gazette about a restaurant in St-Henri – a neighbourhood I knew nothing about – called Tuck Shop. Everything about what she wrote about the restaurant – from the food to the decor to the music even – peaked my interest and I made a note of it. Fast forward to now – I have moved to Pointe St-Charles and have spent tons of time in St-Henri visiting all the great new restaurants and spots that have popped up…. except for Tuck Shop. The one initial reason I even knew about the neighbourhood. Well that needed to change. Taking advantage of a rare evening free for both myself and my girlfriend, I set up a last minute dinner date to finally see if Tuck Shop was worthy of its high spot on my to-visit list.

Relatively nondescript when you walk by, Tuck Shop is a 40-ish seat place with a great mixture of hardwood floors, white brick tiles and wooden walls. The open kitchen in the back creates a more dynamic feel to the space and I love the granite countertop bar in the middle of the room. The room is adored with mason jars filled with marinades and sauces which provide a homey touch. The music the entire night was right up my alley and kept me humming along the whole meal – from CCR to Grease to Steve Miller Band. Noise level was moderately high – you could still have a conversation but not in a hush tone. Service was punctual and on point – I particularly enjoyed when we received our menus and were recommended to try a cocktail…. especially since the server in question was the one who made them. And in fact, the menu said cocktails by Seabass. Loved the friendly and fun way that was done. The entire team all night brought the same energy and vibe. Well done.

After being sold by Seabass, I couldn’t say no to one of his cocktails. I went with the Maple Rhubarb – Brandy, maple syrup, mint, lemon and rhubarb bitters. The rhubarb taste was subtle but there. The overall drink was sweet enough that my girlfriend enjoyed it but balanced enough that I could taste the brandy and not feel I was being stiffed. An solid starter.

We decided to share an appetizer and went for the Florida soft shell crab with green papaya, coloured carrots, cucumber, radish, coriander, chili, peanuts and kaffir lime mayonnaise. A wonderfully light but flavourful dish. The crab was beautifully rich and tender with the outer crust providing a bit of crunch. The green papaya salad underneath provided some sweetness and a bit of heat which could be countered by the lime mayonnaise. A beautiful dish throughout.

The first of our mains was the fish of the day – in this case, salmon – with herbed ricotta gnocchi, morels, fiddleheads, fava beans, carrots, Tokyo turnips, sorrel, daylillies, salsa verde and root vegetable puree. The fish was beautiful but the star here was the herbed ricotta gnocchi – rich and fluffy delights. The inherent earthiness of the fiddleheads, morels and fav bears were an interesting pairing with the creaminess of the puree and the fresh kick from the salsa verde. Enjoyable all around.

Our second main was the Cornish Hen with Littleneck clams, homemade chorizo, fennel, white beans, kale, coriander, chili, charred onion puree and tomatillo. I simply loved this dish! So much going on but oh so good…. The chorizo was the driving force flavour-wise – spicy almost to the point of overwhelming the palate but it didn’t. The hen was juicy and crisp on the outside. The underlying clams and white beans helped to dull the chorizo as did the sweetness of the puree. The jalapeño added even more hotness if you were so inclined.

With a bit of room left, we went for the brownie with noix de Grenoble and homemade vanilla bean ice cream. Loved the ice cream – great rich vanilla taste however the texture of the brownie was a bit too dry for my preference.

Outside of the minor quibble at dessert, Tuck Shop was exactly what I had hoped it would be even all the years later – A beautifully relaxed atmosphere serving kickass refined comfort market driven food. My biggest disappointment is that I waited so long to eat there. Believe me, that will not happen again. It’s great to see such an awesome spot holding down in St-Henri for this long now. There were one of the first here. Here’s hoping they continue to do so for many years longer.

Cheers!

Tuck Shop
4662 Notre Dame Ouest
514 439 7432

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Maison June Rose

31 May

When ones hears of All-You-Can-Eat Chinese, you tend to automatically think about dingy looking places in strip malls where everything is fried, the tables are covered in plastic and plenty of little kids are screaming about. Not the most enjoyable experience for sure. Well, the people who brought us Big in Japan last year ventured into this space with the opening of Maison June Rose just around the corner from their restaurant. Being a fan of Big of Japan, I could not help to be intrigued by June Rose and how exactly they would do All-You-Can-Eat.

First thing, this space is just beautiful. A beautiful ornate wall welcomes you when you walk in and then your eyes focus on all the lanterns above you. About 75 or so from my rough count which provide nice diffuse lighting to go with the candles in the booths around the edge of the room or on the larger U-shaped counter in the center of the room. And while the look is certainly old school Chinese, the sound certainly is not. A mixture of classic oldies from the Beatles to Steve Miller Band to the Four Tops played throughout the evening. Certainly a winner for me and likely most of the patrons who come here off of the Main late night. Service was quick and attentive as well.

The format at Maison June Rose is pretty simple – 25$ per person for the All-You-Can-Eat menu. Extra for alcohol and desserts. The menu consists of 18 items which the staff recommends you order in group of 2-3 at a time. The portions are Tapas-size so pretty small but the service is quick so you can have a steady stream of dishes coming to you without too much difficulty. Which is what we did as we ordered every item on the menu safe for the marinated vegetables… just didn’t feel like them for some reason. Looking at the dishes, you will notice that most of the items are definitely not of the classic “Chinese” variety that most of us are used to and also the plating is pretty nice for what is an All-You-Can-Eat place. Definitely not the kind of attention to detail you would expect.

We were first presented with an amuse-bouche of prosciutto with pear and pickles. A nice combo of fat, sweetness and saltiness.

The chilled Won Ton soup was an interesting idea for the season – a warm pork ravioli in a cold broth. Nicely sized and fully stuffed with pork, I loved the ravioli. The cold broth was okay. The right flavours but the temperature change didn’t work for me.

The scrapple Imperial rolls were served with a roasted peppercorn vinegar. One of the big hits for us – a nice crunch on the rolls and meaty goodness inside. I also really enjoyed the dipping sauce – a cool mixture of pepper and acidity that added an interesting component.

The duck rillettes were okay. Nothing that special and frankly the use of jalapeño overpowered the fatty duck. The use of a very large rice pancake also made it impossible to eat in a single bite which seemed to be the point in the first place.

The BBQ Char Siu pork was served with hoisin sauce. Thinly sliced, I enjoyed the flavour of the pork but the hoisin sauce was way too sweet to be used more than once in my case.

Our first vegetable dish was the Wok-fried Chinese broccoli. Perfect texture to the broccoli as the leaves were wilted while the stems stayed a bit crisp.

The mustard greens were exactly as one would expect – strong mustard-like taste but cooked down enough to have a softer texture.

The braised eggplant and pork was another favourite. Nice soft but slightly firm texture to the eggplant although the pork was only crumbs in the sauce which was not what we expected when it arrived. Larger pieces of pork would have been nice.

The salt and pepper tofu was a real surprise. I hate tofu. My girlfriend as well. Neither one of us could believe how this preparation gave the tofu a nice crispy exterior while the interior was soft but not the mushy kind we both despise. Served on some wilted fried spinach, this was the surprise hit of the night.

The salt and pepper smelts were essentially the same preparation as the tofu but with fish. That gave this dish more saltiness and fattiness than the tofu. The additions of some cooked onions provided some sweetness to offset.

The Kung Pao chicken had strong flavour although a touch too sweet perhaps. The fried texture was perfect as well although the fact that they were small bones to contend with, despite having been warned by the waitress in advance, made this less enjoyable to deal with.

The black vinegar cloud ear mushrooms were very vinegary in flavour which I enjoyed however texture wise, the addition of the egg folk made this dish almost gelatinous which wasn’t as much of a hit.

The Singapore curry rice noodles were exactly what you expected and wanted. Noodles were perfect, the mixture of onions, celery and scallions worked well and the scrambled egg put it all together.

The orange beef served with a caramelized orange was a slightly disappointment. The very thinly sliced cold beef was good but I didn’t get the orange flavour I expected. The orange itself brought that instead.

Shepherd’s pie with sweet and sour sauce. This was awesome. The use of a sweet and sour sauce really made this an Asian play on a classic Quebecois dish.

Roasted salmon head was something I never would have ordered if it wasn’t for the fact this was All-You-Can-Eat. Preparation was excellent and what I eat of it was good. Some good fatty meat to grab hold of there but definitely not a favorite.

At the end, we then treated to the combination of fortune cookies and oranges where the pulp had been pureed and placed back on the rind. A cool approach that worked pretty well.

After all of that, I am ambivalent about Maison June Rose. Love the look and feel of the space so much. I also loved the All-You-Can-Eat approach and how the dished are not too your usual “Chinese” junk. However, when it comes to the dishes themselves, there were only a couple of items that were true hits to me. The vast majority were good but not enough to make me really want to order them again. And there in lies my issue. I enjoyed Maison June Rose enough to know I could have a good meal there but I’m not sure I have a strong pull to go out of my way to visit again.

Cheers!

Maison June Rose
16 Des Pins Est
514 439 7054

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Il Focolaio

31 May

Pizza is a deeply personal thing. While most of us can tell what is a good pizza and what is a bad pizza, it is the differentiation between good pizzas where people argue. Details like the tang of the tomato sauce, the amount of each ingredient present, thin crust vs. thick crust…. all of these lead to many discussions about which pizza is “best”. Here in Montreal, we are spoiled with many great options. Personally, I am a huge fan of thin crust pizza and a certain place in Little Italy right now that I won’t mention here to avoid direct comparison through this post. I took my girlfriend there and while she enjoyed it, she told me that she preferred her personal spot. And thus, we had no choice but to go to Il Focolaio right by Phillips Square to see how it would rank for me.

Open since 1984, Il Focolaio does thin crust pizza in a maple wood burning oven. The crazy part about their menu is that they have 75 different pizzas! That is an insane number and frankly one that made me a little scared…. when a menu gets that big, I wonder how many can be truly great. I still kept an open mind and plus it was a beautiful night so we sat on the terrasse with a beer ready to enjoy some pizzas.

Given we had a friend with us on this Friday night, we tried three pizzas. First up was La Milanese – tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, capicollo, mushrooms, black olives and mozzarella. A nice crispy crust on the underside – the pizza held up to grabbing with one hand. On the flip side, I found the top of the crust to be a little burnt in spots and a little too flaky to my liking. In an ideal world, I want crunch but still chewy once I bit in. All three pizzas were the same so they are consistent with the cooking in the oven. In this instance, I suppose it is more a matter of personal taste. Each pizza is about 12 inches so a solid size as a personal pizza. Plenty of ingredients as well which cover the entirety of the pizza. This particular mix of ingredients wasn’t my favourite – I liked the fatty capicollo and the mozzarella but I’ve never found artichokes and mushrooms very enjoyable on a pizza especially if they are rough cut as they were. I also hate olives – I guess you can tell by now this wasn’t my choice – which didn’t help.

Our second pizza was the Spinarto – Tomato sauce, spinach, garlic, artichokes, mozzarella and olives. This one – again not my choice… darn olives! – was more enjoyable to me. The garlic and spinach worked well and somehow helped to make the artichokes less noticeable to me.

Finally we get to my choice, the Renaissance – Tomato sauce, spinach, garlic, olives, mozzarella and spicy pancetta… without the olives of course! The extra kick of the pancetta gave this pizza more bite compared to the more vegetarian pizzas we had before. Also the cheese was a little bit more golden on the top than the previous ones which provided a little different flavour and texture. Pretty enjoyable to me.

Lastly, while Il Focolaio doesn’t have many things on the menu other than pizzas, they do have Sicilian cannolis which I can never say no to! Solid crunchy shell with a nice creamy filling, these were a solid way to finish off the meal.

In the end, I enjoyed Il Focolaio but its pizza didn’t blow me away. It’s definitely the best one in the downtown core I’ve tried so but left me firmly believing in my own personal favourite at the moment. My girlfriend didn’t succeed in swaying me which means that pizza will remain a point of contention between the two of us. Guess we will just have to alternate between spots for a while if we want harmony to remain!

Cheers!

El Focolaio
1223 Phillips Square
514 879 1045

Il Focolaio Pizza Resto on Urbanspoon

Kaza Maza

13 Apr

My enjoyment of Middle Eastern cuisine is a very recent occurrence. Part of that was never being exposed to it younger outside of bad shawarma at fast food joints. Hard to enjoy something when you’ve only known the bad stuff. My discovery of Sumac a few months ago peaked my interest in this cuisine and I’m now more inclined to try some stuff I perhaps wasn’t previously. This came into play a few weeks ago when a friend of my girlfriend’s invited us to a restaurant for what she called the best eggplant dish ever. The catch was she wouldn’t tell us where we were going! The day of, she told us to meet her at Parc and Mont-Royal. Because I couldn’t resisted guessing, I thought about possible restaurants nearby where an eggplant dish would be likely. My reasoning led me to Kaza Maza which is exactly where she brought us. I clearly have a little too much knowledge of Montreal restaurants at the moment!

Kaza Maza is located on Parc Avenue in a non-descript brickhouse. The space is sparse but nice – very much in keeping with the neighborhood and the building itself. Brick walls, white crown moldings, old wood floors, an old fireplace, minimal artwork and some nice chandeliers. There is also a bar which is nice but because of the layout of the space, it is not really intregrated with the dining room.

The menu is a variety of Middle Eastern dishes – most of which I had no clue about prior to entering the restaurant. As a starter, we went with a trio of spreads to go with some pitas. First was the mutabbal betteraves – roasted beet puree with tahini, yogourt, lemon and garlic. The vibrant pink colour of this dish is a clear indicator of just how much beet there is. I am not a beet fan generally speaking but I loved the flavour of this puree. Not overbearing in the least. The inclusion of the yogourt provided a nice smooth consistency.

The second spread was the mouhammara – ground walnuts with bread crumbs, pomegranate molasses and spices. A grainier consistency than the previously one and a much different flavour profile as well. Much more nutty and spiced with that hint of sweetness from the pomegranate molasses. Very enjoyable.

Our last starter was the one I already knew prior to this meal – Labneh. A thick yogourt, this was a rich, creamy and slightly sour spread that provided a perfect constrast to the other two.

Once we finished off the spreads, our mains arrived. First we had the arrayes kefta – Grilled pita stuffed with spiced minced lamb served with hummus and pomegranate molasses. To me, this dish was a slight miss. Compared to what we had so far, this felt fad and lacked strong flavour which is a surprise given the use of spiced lamb.

The grilled octopus with lentils was a much bigger success. The octopus was grilled perfectly….I simply wish there had been more! If that is my only complaint, you know the dish works well.

The final main was the catalyst for the whole evening – The fattet makdous – layers of fried eggplant, crispy pita bread, yogourt tahini sauce, garlic tomato sauce, pine nuts and almonds. Yeah…. this is an excellent eggplant dish. The use of crispy pitas seems weird when you read it in the description but it works beautifully to add some crunch to the mix. The sweetness of the tomato sauce, the creaminess of the tahini sauce, the nuttyness of the almonds and pine nuts – all of it works well with the fried eggplant and makes this a very satifying dish. Is it the best eggplant dish in Montreal? Not willing to go that far but it’s top of the list for now!

For dessert, we had classic baklavas as well as. The baklavas, thankfully not drenched in honey, were just sweet enough without getting on my nerves – an issue I’ve always run into with baklavas. We also had what I believe to have been halawets – our waitress told us but I honestly forgot the name. Pretty good as well – once again, not too sweet and a nice creamy texture.

Kaza Maza was a great meal and a wonderful introduction for me to new Middle Eastern dishes. In cases like this, it is always great when I can order a meal of almost entirely unknown dishes and have a great night. I know that Middle Eastern cuisine isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I highly recommend you give Kaza Maza a try and yeah… don’t forget the eggplant dish.

Cheers!

Kaza Maza
4629 Avenue du Parc
514 844 6292

Kaza Maza on Urbanspoon

London 2015 – Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen

13 Apr

As a final treat in London prior to our departure back towards Montreal, we made a reservation at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, Fifteen. Located in central London, Fifteen’s claim to fame is their “non-profit” status. All profits from the restaurant go to the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. On top of that, the restaurant has an apprentice programme which provides challenged youth with training and mentorship in the food industry. A very cool and worthwhile project within a high-end restaurant.

Located on a weird, almost dead-end street that is very easy to miss, Fifteen is a beautiful space. The main floor has a nice bar and lounge space which was quite busy when we arrived for our reservation. Visually, I really loved the space – great use of the old brick walls subtly accented by dark wood counters, leather seats and metal tables. The low lighting, when mixed with the music and chatter from the bar/lounge area, created a cool speakeasy type vibe.

We were seated in the basement area right in front of the open kitchen – which was cool in order to observe the work being done over the course of the evening. The primary downside however was that the ambience that was present upstairs was less so by the kitchen – I was more aware of the wait staff and kitchen staff buzzing around us retrieving plates.

First we ordered a basket of their home-made sourdough with butter. I absolutely love sourdough bread so I couldn’t resist trying it. Nice crunch on the crust but still moist and fluffy on the inside. Had that classic sourdough taste as well. This was a great start of the meal for me.

On to the starters now, I went with the crispy pig’s cheek with slow cooked egg, goldrush apple and kimchi. I was rather intrigued by the combination of ingredients as listed on the menu and how they would mix together. The answer is perfectly. The crunch and fattiness of the pig’s cheek, the spiciness of the kimchi, the richness and creaminess of the egg and finally the sweetness of the apple all worked beautifully as a mixture of texture.

Our other starter was the house-cured salmon with parsley root, dill and pickled mustard seed. A very elegant dish compared to the strong notes of the previous starter. The star is clearly the salmon and all the other ingredients here act to enhance its inherent flavours. The dill was most notable although part of that to me is how well dill seems to pair with salmon – it seems to make that spice pop more so than others. Very nice dish.

My main of choice on this evening was the gnocchi with butternut squash, spinach and goat’s curd. Texture-wise, the gnocchi was very interesting – quite a bit more crunch on the exterior than I’ve typically gotten with gnocchi but thankfully they still kept their pillowy texture inside. The combination of the squash with the goat’s curd made for a rather creamy sauce to pair with it. The spinach was good but frankly didn’t feel all that necessary in the construction of the plate.

Our second main was the Hereford short rib with jerusalem artichoke and pickled walnut dressing. The short rib was heavenly – rich and fatty and fall-apart texture. The pureed artichokes were a nice contrast to the meat and the walnut dressing added some spiciness of the equation. Very enjoyable overall.

Looking at the dessert options next, we couldn’t say no to some of the options laid before us. First up was the hazelnut ice cream sandwich. Great smooth texture to the ice cream as well as a strong hazelnut flavour. Ideally I would have preferred true cookies to create a full sandwich you could grab but regardless, I did enjoy the crunch from the cookie “bites” here.

Our other dessert was organic chocolate mousse with blood orange and creme fraiche. A beautiful looking dessert and a delicious one at that. Great contrast between the tartness of the chocolate mousse, the acidity of the orange and the creaminess of the creme fraiche. A nice mixture of textures and flavours.

Fifteen was a wonderful experience to finish off our time in London. It’s great to see Jamie Oliver set up a restaurant in this non-profit fashion and still ensure that it has the look and feel of a high-end restaurant. The quality you would look for in a Jamie Oliver restaurant was still there and it’s great to know that my enjoyment of a great meal may help someone get future employment in the industry. A truly worthwhile cause to support.

Cheers!

Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen
15 Westland Pl
London, UK
(020) 3375 1515

Jamie Oliver's Fifteen on Urbanspoon

London 2015 – London House

31 Mar

Last month, I went on a quick vacation to the UK trying to cram as much as I physically could in 6 days abroad. Outside of visiting the usual sights, of course, I couldn’t help but try to experience some nice British cuisine while there. Personally, when I think of British chefs, I think Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal. Blumenthal was completely out of range for this trip – both in location and cost – but frankly my dining partner (my sister) wanted nothing to do with the menu. However, we did find a way to enjoy cuisine from the other two during the trip. First up was our Gordon Ramsay’s experience – out in Battersea (Southwest London essentially) at London House.

I’ll admit that I hate Gordon Ramsay the TV personality – too blowhard and bombastic for me. None of his shows ever kept my interest. However I totally respect his cooking acumen and was curious to see what one of his higher end spots would provide. One of his more recent opening in London, London House is described as a “relaxed, cosy restaurant and bar offering Modern European cooking”. The space is definitely going for a more relaxed vibe – using leather banquettes, leather sofas, dim lighting and even a fireplace near the entrance. However, the cozy vibe was lacking due to the relatively empty space due to lack of patrons. Now I understand what we did go on a Thursday night but I still expected more of an ambience. As such, the room felt a little cold with staff moving around with little to do. Service was top notch throughout the night although given our waiter had only 2 tables to take care of while we were there, I would have been exceptionally surprised to experience the contrary.

Food-wise, the modern European statement fit the menu. Not your standard British fare to be sure. Many interesting combinations to try out. We went with two starters to get the night going. The first one was a wild mushroom ragout on toast with quail egg and tarragon mayonnaise. I really enjoyed this dish – the earthy mushroom mixed with the creamy rich quail egg worked really well with the tarragon as well. Wonderful execution across the entire plate and a beautiful presentation.

Our second starter was shaved cauliflower salad with asiago cheese beignets. I never thought I would enjoy a salad of shaved cauliflower but here we are. Very fresh and I liked how the sharpness of the asiago cheese worked well with the vegetables here. Very nice once again.

The themes of strong execution and presentation continued through to the mains. First up, we had the braised lentils with caramelized leeks and pumpkin. A subtle dish but one with great flavour. The caramelized leeks were to die for and I loved the roasted pumpkin. Personally I want more of a protein for a main but my sister really took to this one.

On my end, I went with the pork belly with apple puree, pancetta compote and sage. Great combination of fattiness, sweetness and saltiness. The crispy skin on the pork belly was simply beautiful – such an amazing crunch without feeling like you just bit into a rock. My only real lament here was that I simply wanted more belly on the plate. Everything else was wonderful.

Desserts were solid as well. I went for the spiced pecan steamed pudding with mulled pear puree. I really enjoyed the soft chewy pudding. The nutty flavour mixed well with the more fruity pear puree. The other dessert was the chocolate tart with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. While very skeptical of artichoke ice cream, I was quite impressed by it – it actually worked here! The tart was dark chocolate at its finest – tart in flavour but beautifully smooth in texture.

London House was a great experience in culinary technique – pretty much exactly what I had expected from a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. The food was enjoyable from end to end. My only disappointment was the overall vibe of the setting which, I’m guessing, had more to do with the night we went than everything else. For a chef who appears to pride himself on execution, it’s nice to know that Gordon can still set up a restaurant in that image. A spot worthy for my quick trip.

Cheers!

London House
9 Battersea Sq
Greater London, UK
(020) 7592 8545

London House on Urbanspoon

Maison Publique

11 Mar

Warning: this post will be of the rather gluttonous variety. Copious amounts of food was tried and enjoyed on this particular occasion – even more than usual for yours truly. What was the reason you ask? Well for the occasion of my best friend’s wedding, I was tasked to find a good dinner option for the groomsmen, fathers and brothers the night before the actual wedding. One of my many Best Man duties as it turns out. After a little bit of last minute drama – my original reservation elsewhere somehow didn’t exist anymore the day before after I had called 2 months prior to book it! – I was saved by chef Derek Dammann and Maison Publique. Able to accommodate a party of 10 on a Friday night with only a day’s notice…. I will forever be grateful.







While a huge fan of their brunch service, I had never found time to experience dinner at Maison Publique. I was very excited to try the dinner menu and also introduce this wonderful restaurant to my best friend and the rest of the group. As I wrote in my original brunch post a couple of years ago, I just love the vibe and look of Maison Publique. I’m happy to see that it remains the same and even better during dinner. Great music, relaxed vibe – our group just loved the space. Such an beautifully eclectic joint for the neighbourhood. If I lived any closer, I would come in for a beer on a regular basis.









As a large group, we had two different group tasting options for us to try. Best friend’s wedding so we said F it and went for the bigger option of the two. We wanted to make it count. Prior to the food arriving, we went for a few… okay make that many growlers of Beau’s Brewing Company beer. The fact that Maison Publique has Beau’s on tap just makes them that much better – love that they support Canadian brewers.



As we enjoyed some drinks, the first batch of menu items came over. First up, we had the Maiale Tonnato which is boiled pork with pureed tuna sauce on top. It doesn’t sound that great but believe me, as the picture shows, this was a beautiful dish. Topped with some fresh herbs and some grated cheese, I loved the saltiness of meat with the creaminess of the sauce. Great technique showcased in a seemingly simple dish.



2nd dish of this first round was baked oysters. Such a decadent dish. Massive fresh oysters topped with bacon and cheese. Tasted like a baked potato but with oysters…. huge hit at the table. Loved the different play on oysters.



The final dish of the first round was raw Albacore tuna with lemon and horseradish. Simple and elegant – quite the contrast from the oyster dish. The tuna was beautiful – fresh and flavourful. Subtle hint of the other ingredients but the tuna was the star.



Great first round of dishes so the kitchen staff decided to give us a mini break with….foie gras on toast. Yeah clearly this meal wasn’t going to be light. If you hate foie gras, this wasn’t going to sway you. For the rest of us, simply heavenly. Rich and creamy foie gras with a bit of salt and parsley on toasted bread. Loved the simple addition of salt to play off the inherent fattiness of the foie gras. Thankfully a few people at the table didn’t like foie gras so I got a couple extra pieces!



On to the second round now! First up, Andouille sausage, herring (or at least I think it was herring.. my memory is failing me this time) and a mini slaw on croutons. Very nice mixture of ingredients and flavours. The fresh fish and the acidic slaw paired nicely with the very spicy sausage. The Andouille started off soft but left quite an impression afterwards. Unless you had a strong stomach, two croutons was as much as any of us could handle.



The final dish of this round was the beef salaison – cured beef with a black pepper rub served with a creamy slaw (again… I have forgotten exactly what the slaw was made of… damn poor memory). Beautiful texture to the cured meat and a strong peppery taste. The hint of oil and salt over top helped to dull that a bit as did the wonderfully creamy and cool slaw. Great contrast again in this dish.



At this point we still haven’t gotten to the main yet! First one was the baked cod with lima beans and leeks. Coated with a parmesan and terragon mixture, the fish simply fell apart as you took a fork to it. The nature of serving it as a whole fish meant that we had to deal with the fish bones – minor quibble but one to note for those of you who don’t like to search from them in your fish. Such great flavour from that fish. The roasted leeks and lima beans underneath were simply delicious as well. I need to start using leeks more in my cooking… I don’t think I ever realized how good they can be when used this way.



To pair with the fish, the other main we were served was the fried rabbit (pardon the picture – badly timed flash from across the table that I didn’t notice until the next day…). Served with some lettuce, the rabbit was game meat at it finest – tender and flavourful. The added crunch from the frying process brought a nice texture to the dish. Loved this dish as did the table – I think the serving plate was empty within 2 minutes!!



The final dish of the third round was a plate of seasonal winter vegetables. A mixture of carrots, beets, potatoes and celery with a small sauce. Very much appreciated the lightness of this dish after all the meats… and made me feel less guilty about the meal since I now got my vegetables in.



After all of this, we still needed to keep some room for dessert! First we had the butterscotch pot de creme. Smoothy and creamy, a wonderful dessert that I wish had been bigger!



The ricotta cheesecake was perfection. Fluffy yet creamy and smooth. Topped with some prunes and some maple syrup, a very nice combination indeed.



And lastly we had the des bois and amelanchier ice cream. Flavours I’d never had before and now hope to have again. Perfect texture to the ice cream itself. None of these desserts lasted more than 10 minutes despite all of us being stuffed to the gills.



Chef Derek and his team simply knocked it out of the park for us. From the level of execution throughout, the amazing flavours, the quantity of food and the great service, this meal was one that my best friend and the rest of the wedding party raved about afterwards. Simply for getting me out of a jam in my Best Man duties, Maison Publique would hold a special place for me but the overall experience on this evening confirmed that more than that, Maison Publique is one of the best Montreal has to offer. Thanks again Chef! and Bravo!

Cheers!

Maison Publique
4720 Marquette
514 507 0555

Maison Publique on Urbanspoon

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