Dirty Dogs

21 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Dirty Dogs
25 Mont-Royal Est
514 508 3647

Dirty Dogs on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Gema

16 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Pizzeria Gema
6827 Saint Dominique
514 419 4448

Pizzeria Gema on Urbanspoon

Le Boucan

13 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Le Boucan
1886 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 439 4555

Le Boucan on Urbanspoon

Bevo Bar + Pizzeria

16 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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

BEVO Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Leméac

4 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Leméac
1045 Laurier Ouest
514 270 0999

Leméac on Urbanspoon

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

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