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

Ludger

28 Jun

Always on the lookout for somewhere different to celebrate the start of the weekend, I met some friends at their office in Westmount a few Fridays ago and walked down the hill to Ludger. I have had my eye on visiting this new trendy St-Henri spot on Notre-Dame Ouest for a while and this beautiful evening seemed like the right time to check them out.

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Ludger labels itself as a buvette with a gourmet accent aka we are a bar but also have high-end food. Located on a corner on Notre-Dame, they have taken over an old storefront with the old recessed entranced and all-window facade and spruce it up with a massive rural on the side and a beautiful wooden terrasse as well. I can’t speak for the inside because we never set foot in there – no tables available there so we sat outside. The noise emanating from the windows told of a noisy environment – not totally unexpected given it was Friday night. The terrasse itself was nice and quiet with build-in wooden banquets instead of chairs. It’s also on the cross street, not Notre Dame itself so there was no cars driving by us which was nice.

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Ludger has a nice cocktail menu, a decent selection of wine and a food menu that I would characterize as eclectic. No real obvious “type” here but very intriguing. Before we grabbed a bottle of wine, I tried their special of the night, bourbon lemonade – my summer drink of choice. I was exposed to this beverage at Icehouse a couple of years ago, I have been hooked and have converted many friends and family. At this point, summer without it just seems wrong! Sadly, in this case, I was left disappointed. This version was overcome with sweetness to the point where the natural acidity of the lemon and the smokiness of bourbon were left wanting. The ideal bourbon lemonade blends all of these aspects smoothly. This one did not.

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Food-wise, we stuck to the appetizer options as we were not all that particularly hungry. First up, fried veal sweetbreads with kimchi and peanuts. Very creative dish and one I never would have thought about prior to this. The fried sweetbreads were crispy enough on the outside without losing the fatty goodness inside. The kimchi with its inherent spiciness added some nice heat to the dish and the peanuts brought some texture. Add some micro greens, shitake mushrooms with a piece of crispy chicken skin and you have a excellent dish. If you have an aversion to sweetbreads, this dish won’t convince you otherwise but I love them so it worked for me.

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Next up, we had their polenta fries. Another creative approach from the kitchen here – they got enough of a crunch on the fries without losing the texture of the polenta. Paired with a nice mayo as well. My only issue here was the amount of fries we got for the cost of the dish. I frankly would have been preferred sweet potato fries or just regular fries if we would have gotten us more to enjoy. Good but not enough to truly enjoy.

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After that, we went for the meat plate – a combination of rosette de Lyon, prosciutto, duck breast and others with some olives and bread. Overall a solid dish – I’m always a big fan of this kind of plate… well other than the olives which I despise but we’ll skip on that discussion for now. Again, a little small given the price but still delicious.

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Our last dish of the evening was grilled squid with chick peas. A deliciously meaty piece of squid, grilled wonderfully with a nice creamy yogourt sauce paired with it and the chick peas. Following the theme of the meal, delicious but again, somewhat small for the price.

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Ludger was a pleasant experience although one that I would characterize as overpriced for what it is. Loved the overall vibe, the setting and the creativity of the food menu. The rest of cocktail menu gets me interested as well. Not sure I will get bang for my buck food wise to make this a good dinner option however this is definitely a worthwhile drink spot with perhaps a dish or 2 and will be the site of future happy hours to come on my end. Now I probably just need to visit the interior as some point….

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Cheers!

Ludger
4001 Notre Dame Ouest
438 383 3229

Ludger on Urbanspoon

Le Petit Italien

24 Jun

There is a certain timeless quality to Outremont. The nice residential townhouses, the mature tree lined streets, the old theatre, the many cafes with beautiful terraces to enjoy – this is a neighbourhood that, if I could afford, would love to live it. I don’t really spend enough time on Bernard street as I love it so much. A few weeks ago, at my sister’s recommendation, we went to Le Petit Italien, a restaurant I had gone by numerous times but never actually tried yet. As the name implies, Le Petit Italien is a old school Italian restaurant – here was hoping however that it would rise above the base level Italian and show me something more – because there is nothing quite as sad food-wise as an Italian restaurant that seems not to try. The food just seems lifeless in those cases.

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As this is an Outremont restaurant, the space is rather compressed and longer than it is wide. As such, Le Petit Italien needs to utilize the space efficiently and they do. A moon-shaped bar divides the interior dining area in two. The overall look is one of modern elements within a old space. I particularly loved their use of the exposed brick walls and tomato sauce cans as decor accents. Sadly the weather was not up to par for sitting outside so the beautiful terrasse was not available. Too bad.

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We started with 2 appetizers. First up, whipped ricotta with black pepper, thyme and grilled bread. Whipping the ricotta added a light and fluffy texture to the inherently creamy and rich cheese. The addition of pepper, thyme and olive oil brought some extra elements but nothing that took away from the ricotta itself. Spread on the grilled bread and enjoyed thoroughly.

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The other appetizer was the insalata prosciutto – prosciutto, arugula, red onions, parmesan and white balsamic vinegar. The first thing that hits you when you see this dish is that amount of prosciutto draped over the salad. As a lover of prosciutto, automatic winner for me already! The prosciutto was perfect, cut nice and thinly. The salad itself was nicely balanced but nothing special – the peppery arugula, the sweetness of the red onions, the rich parmesan and the acidic dressing all worked well together. Another solid dish.

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I got to try three different mains after that. First up, the risotto fruit di mare – shellfish stock, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, red pepper puree and fennel. I am not a huge risotto guy – I enjoy it but it is rarely something I will order myself. This one was pretty good – the seafood was plentiful and the addition of the shellfish stock brought a deeper seafood flavour to the dish. The risotto itself was creamy and the rice was perfectly cooked – always a concern when one deals with risotto.

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The second dish was the classic veal parmigiana served with pappardelle and pomodoro sauce. A large breaded veal cutlet covered in melted mozzarella, the veal was cooked well and still moist. The pasta choice of pappardelle and pomodoro was excellent and complimented the veal well. Another solid dish.

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The final main was the penne con anatra – duck confit ragu with bell peppers and green onions. The real star here was the duck ragu – deliciously rich and meaty. Everything else here was simply a platform on which the duck was presented. I honestly barely remember any hint of pepper or green onion but frankly the ragu was so good, I didn’t even care whether the pasta was penne or a simple macaroni. Loved this plate – thankfully since it was what I ordered myself.

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For dessert, they had cannolis on the menu, so of course I had to have one – my addiction to them is too strong. Something about the combination of ricotta, orange zest and that crunchy shell gets me every time and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed here. Not necessarily as fluffy as I expected but the cream was nice and rich – the orange zest brought a little acidic and chew that was noticeable. The outer shell itself was good as well. After i finished it, I wanted another one…. usually a good sign and further proof of my cannoli problem.

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Lastly, we had a trio of profiteroles with chocolate ganache. Excellent cool gelato, fluffy buns and a rich decadent chocolate ganache. I was happy I had the cannoli first because it ensured that I wouldn’t eat most of this myself. A excellent way to finish the meal.

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Le Petit Italien was Italian cuisine done right which made me happy. It is not doing anything revolutionary menu-wise but everything we had was honest and well executed. A nice little evening in Outremont. The only true downside of the meal was not being able to sit on the terrasse but that just means I need to re-visit them again eventually.

Cheers!

Le Petit Italien
1265 Bernard Ouest
514 278 0888

Petit Italien on Urbanspoon

Bitoque

23 Jun

A good BYOW is a hard thing to find and certainly something you cherish once you find one. Especially in Montreal where outside of a few well-known ones, it is a somewhat barren wasteland – mostly in terms of the quality of the meal itself. It is nice to save on the alcohol cost but if the meal is not up to standards, I would rather pay the premium elsewhere. After a long weekend course, I was invited to a dinner with my family at a portuguese BYOW near the Atwater market that I had never noticed before, Bitoque.

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From a visual point of view, the space is nice and functional. Thankfully Bitoque stays away from the kitschy look can see in some “traditional” Portuguese restaurants. Cream-colored walls with nice artwork all around the room, banquets, wooden chairs and honest-to-goodness white tablecloths. On a busy Saturday as it was, the room was rather noisy but not overbearing. My one issues was that the tables were rather close together so when the room is fully occupied as it was, there really isn’t much room to move or even sit slightly away from your table.

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Bitoque offers both a standard “a la carte” menu as well as a tapas menu. For this particular evening, we stuck to the tapas offering. First up, pastéis de bacalhau – fresh cod croquettes on wakame salad and cilantro aïoli. I could leave the salad underneath but the cod croquettes had the right exterior crunch to pair with the flaky fish inside. The aioli brought some nice freshness and creaminess to the dish as well. Not the best I’ve ever had but a solid starting point.

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Next up, we had the chouriço grelhado – grilled chorizo on coleslaw. The coleslaw here was rich and cool which was very important because dear god, their chorizo was hot! Hot in the spicy sense of course…. note that I am a bit of a wuss in terms of spiciness so the rest of you may laugh at me here when you order this dish. Given my previous experiences with chorizo, I wasn’t expected that so the coleslaw helped soften the blow so to speak. Regardless, the chorizo was nicely grilled up and very flavourful.

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Our third dish was lulas grelhadas – grilled calamari with lemon vinaigrette. As one would expect from a solid Portuguese restaurant, the calamari was nicely fresh and perfectly grilled. The unique touch here was that lemon vinaigrette – creamy and acidic, it was a nice change to the usual squeeze of lemon we usually do. Note that there was still a wedge of lemon present if you wanted to but frankly that would have made the dish too lemony and not really enjoyable.

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The special of the night was a portuguese poutine. Funny how I have had two Portuguese plays of poutine in such a short time apart! This one was quite good if not as rich as the previous one I’d had at Taverne F. A nice mix of flaky cod, cheese and crispy matchstick fries.

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Finally, to finish off the meal, we went with a staple and a family favourite – the pasteis de Nata. Served with some cinnamon, this lovely little egg tarts were the perfect end as they always are! At this rate, I should just learn to make them… I would save me some money although likely hurt the waistline somewhat!

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All in all, Bitoque was a solid tapas experience from beginning to end. While perhaps nothing really stood out, the quality was consistent across every dish and we left our table stuffed food wise and having gotten to enjoy a few excellent bottles of wine without gasping at the bill at the end of the night. I would call that a win-win. Bitoque, you have officially entered my rotation of BYOWs.

Cheers!

Bitoque
3706 Notre Dame Ouest
514 303 6402

Bitoque on Urbanspoon

Taverne F

2 Jun

Montreal is a happy hour haven. The 5 à 7 is a true institution of our fair city which really ramps up once the weather warms up and the terrasses get going. One of the few downsides of my actual job is that it doesn’t really allow me to enjoy downtown happy hours because I work in the West Island and my hours often go past happy hours. A few weeks ago, taking advantage of my family all being downtown for a change on a weeknight and me not being at work late, we met up in Quartier des Spectacles and decided to try Taverne F, the little brother to Cafe Ferrera.

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Taverne F is a Portuguese brasserie so its focus is on smaller plates to share as a group while you enjoy some wine or a cocktail. The shipping container-shaped space, located just beside Place des Arts, has a very modern and clean decor although the general narrowness of the space isn’t ideal. It causes problems at the entrance of the restaurant when you have patrons waiting for a table and the lack of a atrium causes those people to spill into the bar space right in front and then you can barely move out of your bar stool… which was a problem since we were sitting at the bar. When the beautiful terrasse is available, I suspect it really helps to open up the room and ease this issue.

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First dish I tried was Mama Rosa’s pork confit. Deliciously fatty pork that just fell apart with a fork. Mama Rosa’s spice mixture (whatever it was…) didn’t really come out all that much but it succeeded in getting such a great texture through the curing that it didn’t matter to me. A nice dish to share…. if you can pull yourself away from the dish in the first place which I wasn’t able to do in this instance.

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The second dish was the taverne poutine – a Portuguese play on a poutine with salted cod and wild oregano on top of the usual cheese curds and fries. Reading the description of the dish got me very intrigued. I love poutine and salted cod separately and the notice of combining them had never struck me before. In this case, the combination worked very well. The inherent saltiness of the cod plays very well with fries and its flakiness allowed the fish to blend well with the gooey cheese and sauce. The fries were nice and crispy as well (well… at least before the sauce got to them). This was a all-around solid dish and a nice twist on the poutine.

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Finally, I could not leave without getting a dessert especially when Taverne F has pastel de Natas on the menu – those delicious little custard egg tarts that I love so much. Flaky and rich with a nice hint of vanilla, Natas are desserts that I could eat everyday and Taverne F’s version was no exception. In this case, the pastel de Natas were served with Maria biscuit ice cream, not that we knew that when we ordered them. The ice cream was nice and smooth but the 3 of us could not for the life of us place the subtle sweet flavour of the ice cream in context until our waiter told us – which makes sense because none of us had ever had those cookies before. A solid end to a late happy hour.

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Taverne F, due to its location and format, really works well for a quick bite and drink before or after a concert or show. All of the different festivals that occur around it makes this place a happening all throughout the summer… as I have noticed when I have gone by the past few years. The food is solid and the drink options are plentiful. It is a Cafe Ferrera joint so it is not a cheap stop but a worthwhile one if you are in the surroundings, and with festival season around the corner, most of you most certainly will be close by.

Cheers!

Taverne F
1485 Rue Jeanne-Mance
514 289 4558

Taverne F on Urbanspoon

The Bee’s Knees (Augusta, GA)

19 May

Last month I got the opportunity to fulfill a bucket list item: going to Augusta National Golf Club to watch the Masters live. It was a beautiful day and one I will cherish forever (thanks partially to the over 1000 pictures we took while there). This was my first time in Georgia so obviously I had great plans food wise for the time I would be there…. however due to certain circumstances, we were only there for 3 days including travel days so that pretty much left me with one dinner to work with. Looking for sometime in and around Augusta itself, I discovered a quirky place right off Augusta’s main strip that had some good buzz – The Bee’s Knees.

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Labelling itself as a Tapas restaurant and lounge, The Bee’s Knees definitely has an eclectic feel to it. The building itself reminds you of a old store from the 50s with the recessed door entrance, tile walkway and windowed facade which has gone unchanged despite this now being a restaurant. Inside, the space is brick walls, funky artwork, concert posters, christmas lights and great alternative music. While the crowd at that moment was older due to the golf tournament, the vibe really catered more to my generation and I loved it.

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Sitting outside on their terrace, we were presented the menu by our waitress and offered some drinks. I selected the Ginger Old Fashioned – Johnny Drum bourbon, sugar cube, cherry bitters, fresh ginger, cherries and an orange. A nice play on a typical Old Fashioned – the addition of ginger worked surprisingly well.

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Food-wise, The Bee’s Knees goes for a global cuisine approach to tapas. For starters, we went for tequila-lime guacamole with fresh-fried tortilla chips, the house salad and the hand cut red potato fries with 2 of their sauces (dill feta and spicy aioli). The guacamole was of the thicker persuasion – the avocado not being pureed completely. The tortilla chips thankfully were thick enough to not break when scooping up the dip and the tequila addition came through just enough to add some punch. The house salad was okay – a good combination of fresh vegetables and a little light dressing – like most house salads. The fries were delicious – thick cut as I like them but with a good crunch to them. The 2 sauces were a good contrast – the spicy aioli provided some kick (likely from siracha) and the dill feta dulled that down.

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Coming to the mains now, the first one was from their usual tapas menu – sesame salmon tartare with a sesame-soy sauce, sticky rice & a fried wonton. Very flavourful fish although the sauce completely overpowered the salmon itself. The sticky rice was perfect and the wonton provided a nice vessel to combine the rice and the fish.

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The next dish was their market fish of the day – wild stripped bass with white wine rosemary cream sauce, garlic mash, roasted beets and lemon arugula. Just a knockout of a dish – well executed and great depth of flavours. The fresh bass was cooked beautifully and paired nicely with the creaminess of both the sauce and the mash. The rosemary cream sauce had great notes of rosemary and white wine without overpowering the natural flavours of the bass. The rest of the dish mixed nicely and brought some other elements to the plate – citrus and pepper from the lemon arugula and some earthiness from the beets. Wonderful all around.

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The final main was their daily bird – chicken and waffles with yeast gravy and maple syrup. I wasn’t planning on eating this here but when I saw it was the special, I had no choice. I wasn’t going to come down to the South without trying some fried chicken and waffles somewhere! The fried chicken was on point – cripsy yet moist. The waffle was the right mix of crunch and fluffy and thankfully they had actual maple syrup….

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Finally for dessert, i had their creme brûlée. Nice and sweet, it was very well executed but somewhat unremarkable.

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A solid 2 hours on a terrace in April… I really couldn’t asked for more from my one real dinner in Georgia. Loved the food and the overall vibe. I could definitely see myself spending time there during their bar hours if I were a resident of Augusta. It also helped that the service was solid and quite friendly. It always impresses me how friendly and chatty American waiters and waitresses are. They genuinely want to converse with you – especially if they hear you speak French apparently! (Note to the friendly waitress whose name I have sadly forgotten since I waited too long to write this: Trust us, if you want to practice your French more, come to Montreal first before you visit France – it will be cheaper, lots of fun and an easier transition towards your desired trip to France. You won’t regret it!) Service like what we got is what makes people come back to a restaurant on top of great food. Should I get tickets to the Masters again, I will definitely spot by again!

Cheers!

The Bee’s Knees
211 10th St
Augusta, GA
706 828 3600

The Bee's Knees on Urbanspoon

Saka-Ba!

19 Apr

Minor culinary confession time: I had never had real ramen before. One of those food blind spots that I figured I would eventually correct given the right context. Truth to known, giving my lack of knowledge regarding ramen, I was never quite sure what to look for in good ramen or where even to find good ramen here in Montreal. Well, Chef Junichi Ikematsu, owner of JUNI on Laurier, solved that part for me with the opening of a Ramen Bar in the Plateau, Saka-Ba!. Taking advantage of some vacation time, I went down on a Sunday night with a couple of friends to finally try out some Ramen.

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Located on Mont-Royal east of Christophe Colomb, Saka-Ba! is a sight to behold when you walk in. Modern in look but still very welcoming – nice touches of Japanese culture (art prints, anime strips on the walls) amongst the wood floors, grey walls and bright red tabletops. The focus of the space is the massive red wrap-around bar which really makes an impression. The kitchen in the back is visible to all so you can see the craziness happening as you wait for your food. Saka-Ba doesn’t take reservations so depending on when you go, you may end up waiting. We were there for 8pm on a Sunday night and still needed to wait 30 minutes so please take that into consideration.

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Food-wise, the menu consists of 3 types of Ramen with a variety of Izakaya or Japanese pub dishes available as well. As we were 3 pretty hungry guys on this visit, we attacked the menu with fervour and eat almost everything available. First up, Tako kiuri – an octopus salad with a spicy sauce. Deliciously tender octopus tossed with some cucumber, green onions, sesame seeds and a little sauce – a very nice starting point. The killer here was the octopus – texturally perfect without any of the chewiness one fears with poorly prepared octopus.

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Next up, Kimchi daikon. Kimchi, for the un-initiated, is a fermented vegetable dish using a combination of spices which typically create a very strong and spicy flavour. In this case, the vegetable in question was daikon. Served in a tiny preserves jar, Saka-Ba!’s kimchi started off softly but packed a strong punch at the end.

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The third dish was the Gyoza – fried pork and cabbage dumplings. Big fan of these through my multiple Izakaya visits so these weren’t hard to enjoy on my end. Nice sear on the dumplings and the filling was quite flavourful – there really wasn’t much need for the dipping sauce in my opinion.

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Next, we had the Kara Age – fried organic chicken with spicy mayo. Probably the best of our starters – great crunch to the chicken while still remaining juicy and tender. The spicy mayo was also on point – even though we ran out of chicken, we finished off the sauce regardless!

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To follow the path of fried food, we also had the Corn cari – curry stuffed doughnuts. Probably the most disappointing dish sadly – the fried balls themselves were great however the curry mixture inside lacked much punch. It really didn’t add anything to the dish and left all 3 of us wanting.

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The final starter (yeah I know…. what can I say, we were hungry) was the Satsuma Age – sweet potato fries. Served with more of that great spicy mayo and lightly tossed with some paprika, these thickly cut fries were delicious and not over breaded either which was appreciated.

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And now we reach the main course – the Ramen. Saka-Ba! offers 3 types of broth each with their own extra ingredients to mix with the house made noodles and the boiled egg. First up, the Shoyu Ramen – pork and soy broth, braised pork, bean sprouts, bamboo and green onions. As a first experience with Ramen, this one struck me as a very good one. The broth was rich and flavourful – huge pork notes within the broth. The noodles were awesome – great texture with their own nice taste. The braised pork simply fell apart – so good. The egg added some rich creaminess to the mix and the rest of the ingredients provided some nice notes to the mixture. A great intro to Ramen for yours truly.

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The second variety was the Ebi Miso Ramen – Lobster and pork broth, miso, braised pork, corn, bean sprouts, bamboo and green onions. The addition of lobster in the broth and the miso brought forth a slightly less pork flavoured broth with not much of a lobster taste to be honest. The rest was as great as the first bowl.

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The final variety was the Tori shio Ramen – chicken and salt broth, pain seared upper leg chicken, fried onions, bean sprouts and green onions. This was a very different profile than the other two due to the lack of pork and the use of chicken. The chicken meat itself was nice and tender and the fried onion brought some crunch. The broth here was quite a bit saltier than the previous two – more noticeable for the two of us who primarily ate the other two than for the one who ordered this bowl but still. Of the three, I would likely stick to the 1st one but each had their strong point.

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As an introduction to Ramen, Saka-Ba! hit all the right notes – great decor, nice vibe and awesome food. As someone who hates waiting in-line for any meal (still the biggest reason why I don’t return to Kazu), I am not sure I would do so again for Ramen but Saka-Ba! certainly made a great impression on me. As a starting point for Ramen, I definitely feel I got the proper experience to judge future bowls. I’m sure you will as well.

Cheers!

Saka-Ba!
1279 Mont Royal Est
(514) 507-9885

Saka-Ba! on Urbanspoon

Bishop and Bagg

14 Apr

The Burgundy Lion guys opened a new pub even closer to my apartment. That’s pretty much all I needed to hear in order to run over and check out Bishop and Bagg. Located in Mile End on the corner of Clark and St-Viateur where an Italian café used to be, this English pub is right along my regular spring/summer bike path to and from the Market, so this could get very hairy for me as the warm weather rolls around. I was very excited to see in what ways this spot would differ from the Lion which continues to be my favourite pub in town.

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Bishop and Bagg is a smaller, more intimate place when compared to the Burgundy Lion. Part of that is the smaller floor space so less people in the pub but also the overall vibe – there are no TVs and the music is more ambient compared to the Lion’s higher decibel count (which is the one thing that is starting to bother me about the Lion – now scratched off the possible date spot list as conversation is basically impossible). The use of dark burgundy colours, old framed pictures and the old school wood bar really give it an authentic British pub look – perhaps even more than the Lion itself.

The other interesting aspect of Bishop and Bagg is how they seek to mimic a true pub experience through the service – there are no waiters per se. Everything is done at the bar – you order all food and drinks through the barman via your table number and it is sent to you as ready. Each “round” is added to a table tab and then you divide up the damage later on. Definitely a different take for a pub and one that I am curious to see how well it works on busier nights (I will have to do my research…). Either way, it creates a more relaxed vibe that is enjoyable.

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The drink menu will be familiar to anyone who frequents the Burgundy Lion – same varieties of beer with a few different cocktails showcased here. Pleasant surprise when I walked in – my favourite bartender from the Lion has made the move over it would appear, so I knew the cocktails would be on point. My multiple Boulevardiers (Bourbon, Campari and Sweet Vermouth) proved I wasn’t mistaken.

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As for the food, it is certainly not what one would call classic pub cuisine but Bishop and Bagg doesn’t aim for that anyway. Their website states that this is a “pub with great food”, one that isn’t traditionally British but what they call country pub inspired. All right then. First, we grabbed some small snacks – hickory styx and some spiced nuts with rosemary. Nice snacking options to go with some drinks – I was particularly enjoying the spiced nuts which had the right hint of rosemary on top of the other spices going on. The hickory styx were a nice alternative to basic chips.

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As main dishes, we tried two different ones. First up, lamb kebabs served on pitas with some tzatziki sauce, lettuce and vegetables. Nice favours across the board here – the lamb was cooked properly, the sauce added nice creaminess without overpowering the rest of the dish and the vegetables were nice & fresh.

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The second dish was porchetta with grilled escarole and white beans. Loved this dish – the fattiness of the porchetta, one of my favourite meat preparations, paired with the grilled escarole, the white beans, some parsley and a little onion as well. If you had told me this is what I would be eating at a pub, I would have probably laughed at you. This dish would seem much more at home in a different setting but it totally works. Well done all around.

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Loved my initial visit to Bishop and Bagg. Great food, great drinks and an awesome atmosphere – I cannot wait to go back shortly, especially knowing terrasse weather is on its way and as such, that little terrasse will be open as will the garage door windows. I may not go to the Burgundy Lion as often this summer but no worries to the ownership group, I will still be a frequent customer… just elsewhere.

Cheers!

Bishop & Bagg
52 St-Viateur O.
(514) 277-4400

Bishop & Bagg on Urbanspoon

Grumman 78

12 Apr

Hard to believe but I have already reached my 10 year high school reunion. Time clearly flies when you are having fun…. or at least let’s hope that’s it anyway. As we approach the actual reunion, some of us decided it was worthwhile to have a reunion dinner downtown to catch up, eat, drink, laugh…. and then likely cry and drink some more. As the “foodie” of the group, I was tasked with finding a fun place with good food to host a large group on a Friday… not the easiest challenge but one I figured I could handled. Based on what was required, I figured now was a good opportunity to try out the restaurant of one of my favourite food trucks here in Montreal, Grumman 78.

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Located in what appears to be an old converted garage and in what used to be (and still is) their prep kitchen for the truck itself, Grumman 78 has a nice relaxed vibe eminating from its locale. Funky artwork, old arcade machines, white brick walls, large wooden tables, old Christmas lights and good music – this is definitely not a formal restaurant. Given the open nature of the space and the fact it was Friday, a little noisy for conversation but it’s the kind of room that I could see being enjoyment on a different night and time.

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As we were a large group, we were beholden to a fixed menu but one that had been proposed to me in advance and which I had the option of making changes to. Given that it was a combination of many of their staple dishes, I had no issues with what they offered us. At this moment, I want to take a second to discuss the service of the evening. Our meal got off to a bit of rocky start due to no-shows on our end which delayed the start of the meal by a good hour and caused some issues as our number dropped from what we had confirmed for the fixed menu. While it got sorted out, it was a little surprising to see how we weren’t offered drinks more quickly as we waited for those who ended up not coming or that we weren’t checked on again until we eventually decided to assume those no-shows were actually not coming. That followed a bit of a pattern throughout the night of decidedly slow service despite our waiter being very friendly. An entire order of drinks never came and the wait times between the different dishes was surprisingly long. Now, I noticed that there were at least 2 other large (i.e 10+) groups in the restaurant at the same time which may explain some of the issues but regardless it was a disappointment. And now on to what should be the main focus – the food!

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The first appetizer was a Mackerel crudo. A combination of brined Mackerel, citrus fruits, pomegranate and avocado, this was a very light and fresh starter. Great combination between the salty Mackerel, the sweet acidic fruits and the creamy avocado. Tons of flavours without being overbearing.

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The other appetizer was a beet salad with apples, creme fraiche, croutons and herbs. Another interesting combination of items and flavours. The redness of the beets created quite a visually striking dish. The richness of the creme fraiche and acidity of the apples helped to freshen up the beets which are not a favourite of mine under normal circumstances.

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The next course was what made Grumman 78 in the first place: their soft shell tacos. In this instance, we were treated to two types: Bahn-Mi and Pimenton-Feta. The Bahn-Mi ones were comprised of pulled pork, hoisin sauce, pickled daikon and carrots. The Pimenton-Feta ones were Pimenton braised red beans, radish salad and feta. As we were a large group, there were served family style to allow you to build your own – although we had an issue in terms of quantity of tortillas. We eventually got extras but they were a little slow to come. Regardless, the tacos themselves were delicious – both were flavourful and texture rich. I had already had the Bahn-Mi before- it was the original taco I tried of theirs from their food truck. Nice combination of sweet and fatty. The Pimenton-Feta was a new one for me – not a huge fan of the beans themselves but the mix with the feta and the radish made it work rather nicely.

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The next service was the final main: Fried Chicken and Johnny Cakes (cornmeal pancakes) with coleslaw and Ranch dressing. I loved these – the fried chicken was crispy but still moist inside, the coleslaw was light and fresh, the ranch dressing added some creaminess and the pancakes were a perfect vehicle for the whole thing. I just wished that there had been more!

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For dessert, we got individual key lime pies. Now, I am a huge key lime pie fan so imitators need not present themselves to me at a restaurant. This one was quite good – a crunchy graham crust at the bottom and nice key lime filling. The key things for me are always the texture of the filling itself and the key lime flavour being strong but not overbearing. Grumman’s version hits these notes perfectly. A solid end to the meal.

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All in all, my time at Grumman 78 left me conflicted – the food was awesome as I had expected given my experiences with the food truck however the service issues on this evening left a slightly sour note for my dinner mates and I. I am generally more forgiving on these things but I suspect some of my friends won’t be based on our discussions at the bar afterwards. The food here is too good not to check out but perhaps I would recommend not bringing a large group firstly – a table of 2 or 4 should not run into the issues we did. At least visit the food truck when it comes out this summer. I certainly plan to.

Cheers!

Grumman 78
630 de Courcelle
514 290 5125

Grumman '78 on Urbanspoon

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