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Hopkins (Brunch Edition)

26 Mar

Being a fan of the restaurant scene in Montreal, you become very aware of the wonderful chefs that do great work in our city. When I hear about new restaurant openings through social media and online, most of the time I have heard about the chef in charge and where they have been before. You create an expectation for yourself based on what you know from their previous work. Every once in a while though, a place pops up surprisingly on scene without any foreshadowing and makes a mark. In less than a year, Hopkins would definitely make that list.

Since opening last summer, Hopkins has received great reviews across the board for Chef Liam Hopkins’ cuisine. They also received great marks for their brunch service so I made my way over on a Sunday morning with my sister for another episode of brother sister brunch.

Located in Monkland Village – a part of town that I have generally ignored for no obvious reason, Hopkins is quite a looker. The space has a clear modern chic style. Seating is either caramel-coloured chairs or pearl grey banquettes. The back of the room’s focal point is a gorgeous mirror-backed bar covered in orange candles. Lighting is provided by brass chandeliers but the tall windows in the front provided tons of natural light for a brunch service. Add some great music with very friendly and attentive wait staff – even when they say upfront that they are new – and Hopkins definitely plays the part of a fine dining establishment.

Even though it was 11am on a Sunday, I still went with a cocktail because it’s brunch and it’s socially acceptable to have a drink as a result… right? Anyway, I went one of their seasonal cocktails, the Tennessee Sour – Gentlemen Jack, dried peach syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white, bitters and nutmeg. Nicely balanced – a touch of smokiness from the Jack but very fresh and creamy. Great start.

The brunch menu is not huge but everything was quite interesting – it took much longer for both of us to decide what to pick! Regardless you are presented at your arrival with a plate of fruits and jam with fresh brioche bread. My sister went with the house smoked salmon served on ficelle served with crème fraîche, pickled red onion, avocado, radish, niçoise and split tomato vinaigrette. Beautiful presentation and very good to boot. The smoked salmon had a great texture and very flavourful. The rest of the dish was very fresh and light.

I went with the breakfast sandwich – a buttermilk biscuit with egg, cheddar, house Beaurivage bacon and crispy polenta hash on the side. This sandwich was insane – first I love a good buttermilk biscuit and this one was excellent. Combination of egg, cheese and bacon is always a good combo but when the house bacon is thick cut… eve better. The side of polenta hash was very interesting and pretty good – the little bites of polenta were crunchy on the outside but tender inside. A great dish all around.

Hopkins nailed it from start to end – great decor, great service and excellent food. NDG is not a regular location for me food wise but Hopkins has ensured that I need to come back more often….. now to try dinner!

Cheers!

Hopkins
5626 Monkland Avenue
514 379 1275

Hopkins Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Elena

20 Mar

When I heard that the group behind Nora Gray, one of my favourite restaurants in the city, was opening a second restaurant, I got excited. When I heard that it would based around pizza AND be in St-Henri, closer to my neighbourhood in the Point, well that made me very happy indeed. For many months, we heard online about details of the upcoming space until eventually Elena opened up. Reviews were very positive to start so I found myself there for a relax Sunday date night hoping that I had found a great pizza place to enjoy.

For a Sunday night, Elena was certainly busy! The space is a sparse modern vibe – lots of whites and grays. The lighting is mostly ambient and indirect – a strong similarity to Nora Gray but the size and colors of the space make Elena less intimate compared to its sister. The interesting element of the space is the serving counter in the middle of the room used for alcohol, olive oils, salt, pepper, wine glasses, etc. It adds a interestingly retro element but the modern style of the table fits the look they have going.

The menu is small but covers more than just pizza. There are also some salads, some entrees, some meats and pasta options to enjoy! We decided to start with a plate of Gnocco fritto – basically fried pizza dough puffs served with housemade red wine sausage, mortadella, soppressata and marinated eggplant. I found the soft pillowy texture of the fried dough nice but the real treat of this dish is the homemade charcuterie. Nice and rich across the board – I was a big fan of sopressata and the sausage.

For mains, we had a desire for pizza so we stuck to pizza. My fiancé went with the margherita – tomatos, basil and mozza di bufala. I went with the Bianco – potato, pancetta, onions and kénogami cheese. Elena does Napoletana-style pizza – the dough is lightly chewy, the crust barely charred and pillowy. There is no crunch to the bottom. The pizza requires you to fold it because it will not hold on its own. Based on that style, Elena nails the dough – if you are expecting a crispy base, you will not get that here. I enjoyed the chewy pillowy texture immensely.

However, we both had issues regarding the topping on our pizza. For the margherita, my fiancé found the tomato ‘sauce’ very thin and watery. It felt like the pizza should have had more tomatoes than it did and thus the balance between the cheese and tomatoes felt off. In my case, I liked the flavour of the Bianco but I also felt like there is a lack of the quantity of the toppings. When I compared to other Napoletana-style pizzas places in the city, I feel like I got more toppings on the pizza than this. It is a subtle thing but we both left feeling slightly disappointed in our pizzas.

I love Nora Gray so this visit was a bit of a letdown for me personally. It was fine but given how highly I rate Nora Gray, fine is not what I was expecting from their pizza. I am now very interesting in seeing what I get while in Naples this summer on our next trip because I wonder how close Elena is to traditional pizzas and how what I have had locally impacted my enjoyment of their pizza. Pizza can be a very personal experiment so I’m sure Elena’s pie will satisfy many but for the moment, it is not my preference.

Cheers!

Elena
5090 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 379 4883

Maggie Oakes

28 Jan

January in Montreal brings forth certain ideas to mind as Montrealers. For some, it is the %$?#ing snow and all that comes with it. For those who are looking to party, January means it is Igloofest. And for those of a more food specific point of view, January means Happening Gourmand is back in the Old Port. In its 11th year, Happening Gourmand is a event run by the Antonopoulos Group where they offer a discounted table d’hôte in their 9 Old Montreal restaurants. Basically MTL à Table but only theirs. Interesting enough as it is a chance to check out some interesting spots in the Old Port at a price that you don’t get to enjoy often in the Old Port. For the occasion of the birthdays of a couple of dear friends, we found ourselves at Maggie Oakes for dinner – curious what we would get for our money.

Maggie Oakes is located on a prime spot in Place Jacques-Cartier on the first floor of the William Gray boutique Hotel. It is apparently inspired by American bistros and steakhouses and strongly focuses on dry aged meats. Visually, the space is worthy of the Old Port. Very glamorous look – a mixture of marble, walnut and brass with a clear glass dry age meat cooler and wine cellar as well as a green wall where they appear to grow fresh herbs and micro-greens. The space is rather large but surprisingly wasn’t too noisy despite us being present on a busy Friday night.

For Happening Gourmand, we had access to a three course meal for 31$. We could still order extra off the regular menu so we started with some fresh Raspberry point oysters. Nice, fresh and a little salty – perfect start to the night.

For starters, we tried both options available. First was a butternut squash soup served with crab salad and fresh herbs. Nice creamy texture with a surprising kick of spice to it. I really enjoyed the addition of the crab to mix. The butternut squash flavour came through nicely although I didn’t get that hint of caramelized sweetness I was expecting.

Next was the smoked duck tartare with candied orange, peppers and pickled vegetables. Classic presentation and very well done overall. The duck was beautiful – its inherent fatty richness perfectly showcased here. I liked the use of the candied orange to add that nice sweetness that works so well with duck.

For mains, I first went with the handmade cavatelli served with wild mushrooms, cream sauce, tarragon and pecorino cheese. Excellent pasta dish. The pasta was cooked well and the cream sauce had the right mix of richness without being overwhelming. The mushroom added some nice earthiness and the pecorino a hint of sharpness. Very enjoyable.

My fiancé went with the slow cooking beef short ribs served with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and mashed sweet potatoes. The meat was perfectly fall off the bone good. Tender and very flavourful. The roasted veggies and the sweet mash are classic pairs with braised beef so of course they worked very well here.

For the last course, we had two options and tried both. Neither one really wowed us… especially compared to the previous courses. The raspberry cheesecake – a cream cheese mousse with vanilla, almond biscuit and raspberry confit – looked beautiful and tasted fine but didn’t leave much of a mark.

The chocolate cake – a chocolate biscuit with creamy dark chocolate and cream mounted chocolate milk – came off as dry. The cream was excellent but if the base isn’t solid, that doesn’t really matter.

Maggie Oakes was for 2 courses out of 3 a very pleasant surprise. The quality of food as well as the quantity was excellent and made for a great meal. The dessert course brought things back down to earth but overall, I can definitely recommend Maggie Oakes if one is looking to spend a nice evening in the Old Port. You will definitely be in the heart of the action.

Cheers!

Maggie Oakes
426 Place Jacques-Cartier
514 656 6000

Maggie Oakes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Foxy

24 Jan

Special occasions call for a certain kind of restaurant. A place of intimacy and finesse with killer food and a certain coolness as well. We are lucky in Montreal to have many places that suit these criteria. For this particular occasion – My fiancé and I celebrating our anniversary – we chose to try a restaurant in our neighbourhood that I had been dying to try – Foxy.

Located on the restaurant row that is Notre Dame Street in St-Henri and Little Burgundy, Foxy is the sister restaurant of Old Port staple bakery Olive+Gourmando. The space is long and narrow with an open kitchen about midway with lots of low lighting and a beautiful bar straight across. I had heard that the room could get very loud and noisy at times but we were there on a quiet night so that wasn’t at all an issue.

Foxy’s menu works around grilling over a live fire or roasting in a wood-burning oven. The menu is smallish but every dish inspired interest from both of us. We first started with a couple of entrées. The winter coleslaw composed of brussel sprouts, savoy cabbage, apple, duck confit and celery root puree was a big hit for me. Beautiful presentation and a very hearty portion as a appetizer. The flavour of the duck came through primarily but each of the other element brought something nice in terms of flavours and texture. The addition of what seemed like a cider vinaigrette added a nice acidic kick to top it all off. Probably as great a winter salad as I have had.

Our second dish was roasted cauliflower served with turmeric, zoug yogurt, fried shallots and almonds. Another hit for us – tons of flavours coming through with the roasted vegetable, the crunchy sweetness of the shallots, the heat of the turmeric and the coolness of the yogourt. Another hearty portion as well.

The positive vibes continued through the main courses. I went with the herb sausage served with pecorino cheese, mashed potatoes, blackened brussel sprouts and house gravy. Delicious from beginning to end. The herb sausage was surprisingly spicy but the addition of the cheese paired well with that. The mash and gravy mix is always a good one and more lovely roasted sprouts didn’t hurt either.

My fiancé went with the charcoal grilled sea bass served with aioli and cucumber celery salad. The charred sea bass was beautiful and had such a great grilled flavour to it. Just add a little lemon and we’re good. Even better though was the house aioli – great consistency and very strong flavour. Perfect complement to the fish. I don’t care much for a cucumber salad but my fiancé loved it so we’re good 😉

Dessert options seemed wonderful – the chocolate bourbon brownie had me at hello – but the portions of our dishes were so generous that we were completely full and needed to pass…. Too bad but a good sign otherwise! Add to that great food very solid service throughout the night and we left Foxy very satisfied with our meal and our choice of venue for our occasion. We continued to get spoiled in Montreal for the quality of our restaurants. Foxy quickly made its way up our list of go-tos. The fact that we can walk to it from our place just makes it even better. Now I guess I should finally go to Olive+Gourmando now…..

Cheers!

Foxy
1638 Notre Dame Ouest
514 925 7007

Foxy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Larrys

10 Jan

What is the ideal neighbourhood restaurant? Well… one imagines a small cozy place where you feel equally as comfortable just grabbing a drink and a snack or a full meal. A place that caters to all hours… not just a breakfast place or a dinner place. You want it to be accessible to everyone – somewhere you could see parents bring their kids on the weekend just as much as the young profession couple. And the food needs to great of course. Do such places exist? Well…. Mile End might have a good one based on my visits to Larrys.

Located in the old Cafe Sardine space on Fairmount, just east of the Main, Larrys is the little brother of the wonderful Lawrence restaurant just next door. I suppose you could call it a coffee shop by day and a wine bar by night but that strikes me somewhat as reductive and not truly indicative of what Larry’s offers. Larrys offers food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8am to 1pm every day as well as a great selection of beer, cocktails and wine. The space is small but very warm and welcoming. I love the use of the accent wall in the back and the huge shelving unit behind the bar. Definitely has the feel of place you could stay in all day.

On our first visit, we went early so we went for the breakfast options. My girlfriend went with a combination of the breakfast muffin with a plate of smoked salmon. The breakfast muffin was a combination of apple, nuts, cinnamon, oatmeal and flour. A very hardy and satisfying muffin. The smoked salmon was equally enjoyable. Much thicker than your typical smoked salmon but still with that lovely texture and taste.

I myself went with the breakfast sandwich and a side-order of bubble and squeak. I have loved it when I ate at Lawrence for brunch and it continues to be excellent. A pork sausage patty with melted cheese, a over-easy egg, lettuce and dijon mustard on a english muffin. The bite of the dijon is a nice touch to the classic egg sausage sandwich. The bubble and squeak – a mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage that has quickly become a personal favorite of mine – was nicely cooked and provided some hearty accompaniment to the sandwich.

The second time around, we were there for more of a brunch/lunch situation so ordered outside of the breakfast options. Hence, I ordered a corpse reviver – gin, lillet, amara, lemon and absinthe. It may have been 11 am at the time of order but no judging okay? Great balance and flavour – nice way to start the meal.

We still ordered the breakfast sandwich of course…. and it was still delicious. We also went with a plate of rillettes. Their butcher shop down the street has had great rillettes for years now so this was going to be a hit for sure. Great flavour and texture. Some people may find them too fatty but not me. Always excellent.

We then shared a trio of “lunch” dishes. First, roasted carrots with honey and muhamarah. The carrots were roasted perfectly and I loved the combination of the honey with the spicy but slightly sweet muhamarah. The fried potatoes were nicely golden and crispy. A touch of garlic and parsley came through and then you add a creamy mayo for dipping. An excellent side dish. The final dish was bulgur and pickled eggplant – a solid dish but probably the one that we enjoyed the least. Came across a little too vinegary from the pickled eggplant.

I love everything about Larrys. It helps that I love everything else that the group behind Lawrence does but still… there is something so wonderful about a place that can cater at all hours with a cuisine that is high quality and yet feels very homey and comfortable. If I lived in Mile End, I would definitely see Larrys as my neighbourhood hangout – the place to go for a drink, or a quick bit, or simply to get some work or enjoy a conversation with friends. Larrys nails the neighbourhood restaurant template perfectly.

Cheers!

Larrys
9 Fairmount Est

Larry’s Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brasseur de Montreal

5 Dec

For local beer fans, the name Brasseur de Montreal is definitely one you will know. The Griffintown-based brewer is a staple of the local microbrew scene and is a personal favorite of mine. However, what you may not know is that they have a full restaurant at their Griffintown brewery. Despite it being so close to my place, I hadn’t visited yet. I found myself there on a Saturday night with a small group curious to see if the food matchs the quality of the beer.

The space is rather big – very industrial in look with a window to the kettles behind the bar. They also have a great terrasse space but this being November at the time, not really the right time to enjoy it. On tap, you can find all their beers and some seasonal stuff…. or at least usually because on this occasion, many options were not available – such as all of their white beers. Not quite what you want from a brewpub. At least I could still get a classic Griffintown blond but that shouldn’t happen ever.

As a starter, we went for the BdM sweet potato fries with chives, garlic, parmesan and spicy mayo. Pretty good overall. The fries were crunch yet not overcooked inside. The mayo had a nice little kick to it. Solid starter. We also got to try the house made fried calamari served with chipotle mayo. Another solid dish – nice crunch to them but they kept the tenderness you want from calamari.

For mains, my fiancé went with the smoked and fresh salmon tartar mixed with apple, chives, sour cream and yogourt. Nice portion size and good presentation. The salmon was fresh and the mix of the smoked salmon is an interesting idea to bend into the tartare however the whole dish felt like it lacked flavour and seasoning – the taste of chives and apples were no where to be seen. The portion of fries that came with it was generous. The salad was okay but didn’t bring much.

I decided to go with the pulled pork sandwich – smoked pork shoulder served with bbq sauce, onion compote and gruyere. The pork itself was nice and tender, good smoke to it. The bbq sauce had a nice mix of sweet but smoky however the sandwich could have used more of it. The sandwich felt a little dry as a result. I enjoyed the use of gruyere and the sweetness of the compote worked well. The fries were also plentiful and very good – always love matchstick style.

I left the dinner a little disappointed. The food was okay – good but the lack of seasoning is what can make the difference between a good meal and a great meal. Brasseur de Montreal have great beer and clearly a great terrasse to enjoy – I just wish I could say the same for the food.

Cheers!

Brasseur de Montreal
1485 Rue Ottawa
514 788 4500

Brasseur de Montreal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toqué

4 Dec

Montreal’s place in the world as a culinary hotspot has everything to do with the amazing chefs and restauranteurs that our fair city is lucky to have. And I would argue that no one has done as much to build the Montreal scene as ‘The Godfather of Montreal Fine Dining’ as per Anthony Bourdain – Normand Laprise. Chef Laprise, previously through Citrus and now Toqué, helped push the use of Quebec produce year round in restaurants and helped developed some of the city’s best chefs including Martin Picard.

With all its accolades and prestige, Toqué has been top of my ‘to-do’ list for a while now but I hadn’t found the time to finally visit…. until recently when I got a reservation for MTLàTable this year. So, my fiancé and I got dressed up and made our way down to the Old Montreal to see if my expectations could be met.

Originally on St-Denis street, Toqué relocated in 2004 to The Quartier International of Montreal across the street from the Palais des Congres. The room itself is refined and much bigger than I expected. The room also feels more vacant. The tables are separated apart enough that you never really feel like there is anyone else around you and the restaurant never feels full despite there not being any tables free. The service throughout the night was impeccable – very professional and attentive. The kind of touches you hope to see in a fine dining establishment and that Toqué does very well.

For MTLàTable, Toqué was proposing a 3 course meal with a couple of options at each course. First up, I tried one of the cocktails they were offering for the occasion. The Adam and Eve – Apple Brandy, cider with clove, cardamome and anise syrup – was excellent. A nice balance of apple acidity, sweetness and the spice notes of the cloves and cardamome.

A little amuse-bouche was provided to start – tuna tartare with fennel seed – as well as fresh house baked bread.

For appetizers, we started with the deer carpaccio topped with marinated squash, oyster mushrooms, walnuts and parmigiana reggiano cheese. Beautiful presentation as one would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. The meat itself was sliced amazingly thin, very tender and flavourful on its own. The addition of the fall veggies, the fresh reggiano and some olive oil really made it pop and provided some nice contrasts of both texture and flavour. A Toqué classic for a reason.

Our other appetizer was stripped bass rilettes served with a bread tuile, dill and kohlrabi. Once again, excellent technique on display. The rillettes, using potato as the binder, were very nicely done with great rich flavour and a nice texture. I really enjoyed how the bass came through so nicely in a dish that I associate more with meat versus fish.

As a main, the duck breast was screaming out to me. Served with roasted squash, black garlic puree, wild rice, pleurotes and herbed jus – the duck was simply exquisite. Perfect cook on it and great flavour. The jus has great depth. I enjoyed the touch of the black garlic as well. And of course, beautiful presentation – one of the best duck dishes I have had.

My fiancé went with the Icelandic Cod served with roasted potatoes, celeriac puree, rabiole, brussel sprouts, romanesco and truffle butter. The cod was beautifully tender and flaky. The lightness of the fish was nicely complimented by the rich puree and the glorious truffle butter. Truffles always make things better!

Dessert kept things going strong. First, a milk chocolate mousse incased in a chocolate ball shell with cacao granola, raspberry jelly and hay caramel. Great depth of chocolate flavour and beautiful presentation again. I liked the jelly being in the center of the ball of mousse.

Our other dessert was caramelized apple jelly served over praline and cinnamon sponge cake, cranberry poached apples, oatmeal and marscapone cream, speculoos crumble and oatmeal ice cream. Lots of elements demanding tons of precision and technique. It was amazing how well the caramelized apple taste came though in the jelly. The poached apples were delicious, the cream was rich and smooth and the ice cream very strong on oatmeal. Tons of fall flavours coming through. Great creative dessert. We also received some little bites at the end – sucre à la creme and some raspberry jellies. Very flavourful and a nice finishing touch to a great meal.

I had very high hopes going in and Toqué successfully met them and then some. Amazing service from beginning to end, wonderful food with high technique and presentation – you understand how Chef Laprise and his crew came to be known as the high-end of Quebec cuisine and how they are able to maintain that level of excellence after all these years. Toqué is a amazing place and we are very lucky to have them here in Montreal.

Cheers!

Toqué
900 Pl Jean-Paul-Riopelle
514 499 2084

Toqué! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maine 2017 – Eventide Oyster Co.

23 Jul

When in Maine, I seek third things food wise – lobster, oysters and clams. My seafood “trifecta” if you will. I have my personal preferences for lobster rolls and fried clams in Maine – check out the articles from my previous vacations for those but oysters not yet. For a while, I have had a certain well known spot on my list to check out for some fresh Maine oysters amongst many things. For part 2 of my 30th birthday in Portland, Maine, I finally went for Eventide Oyster Co. ready to enjoy some super fresh Maine seafood.

Eventide Oyster Co. is located ironically almost across the street from Duckfat (see the previous article in this blog). Eventide is known as the first true oyster bar in the area and as such, is very popular. They too also have the no reservation issue like Duckfat (well… sort of. They take one group reservation a night). However, thankfully, turns out they have a text message system so we were able to go have a drink at a bar nearby in the meantime. 45 minutes later, we came back to a table outside on the terrasse ready to go.

We started with some cocktails. My muddled Old Fashioned was exquisite and done with great care and balance. The standout though was my friend’s Celery Gimlet of gin, celery and lime – she spent the next 2 days lauding its praises. The level of smoothness and strong celery flavour was so surprising.

First round of food was of course some fresh oysters. Eventide offers 9 different varieties from Maine as well as a few options from PEI, New Brunswick and New Hampshire. We went with 4 different types from Maine and a couple of accoutrements – red wine mignonette and kimchi ice. The kimchi ice was very interesting – they take some of the pickling liquid of kimchi and add it to shaved ice. Loved how the strong fermented taste of the kimchi paired with the amazingly fresh oysters. Beautifully shucked and so delicious. A great start to our dinner.

Eventide, of course, offers many other dishes. First, the New England Clam Chowder with potatoes, salt pork and saltines. The chowder was not as creamy as we expected but the flavours were so wonderful. The lobster came through strongly. The large pieces of salt pork brought some saltiness and richness and then the potatoes were cooked perfectly and gave some texture. The joy of the lack of the creaminess was how the chowder wasn’t nearly as heavy as you could have expected. Just wonderful.

The fried Maine Oysters with Thai apple slaw, mint and pickled ginger was a very creative and asian inspired-style to serving oysters. The oysters were delicious with a nice crunch. The Thai slaw with the mint and ginger provided a mix of sweetness, heat and freshness that paired wonderfully with the oysters. We also ordered a side of coleslaw – very flavourful, fresh and not too creamy.

Eventide is also known for their Brown Butter Lobster roll served on a steamed bun – think Bao Pork Bun with brown butter lobster instead. Sold! For the price, not very big but simply wonderful. The nuttiness of the brown butter paired so well with the inherent fattiness of the lobster and the use of a steamed bun is an interesting decision that makes the roll seem a little lighter overall. Wonderful roll outside of the norm.

Lastly, we had dessert by ordering one of their Ice cream sandwiches – in this case, double chocolate cookies and praline ice cream. This sandwich was massive – we shared it four ways and all felt we got a good portion. The chocolate were rich and very chocolatey. The ice cream was excellent as well. A great sandwich overall.

Eventide is a great oyster bar and definitely a must-visit if you are going to Portland. Great drinks, amazing seafood and friendly service. Round 2 of my birthday tour was a big success and I was happy to finally visit. Eventide is setting the bar for seafood restaurants all around – not just in Portland.

Cheers!

Eventide Oyster Co.
86 Middle Street
207 774 8538

Eventide Oyster Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maine 2017 – Duckfat

18 Jul

We in Quebec are very protective of our “National” dish, the Poutine. Everyone’s a critic and we all have our personal favorites. When we encounter poutine outside of Quebec, there can often be some derision and automatic negative thoughts about it. No way can this poutine be as good as back home! For a few years now, I had heard about an apparently great poutine in Portland, Maine. As I have gone to Maine every summer for the past 5 years, I had always told myself I needed to try it at some point. That some point was this summer for the first part of my 30th birthday in Portland (the other part will be the next article coming) so we sat down at Duckfat for a late lunch ready to see how their poutine stacked up.

Duckfat is a small spot located along Middle Street – the terrasse sits 24 or so and the inside a little bit more. This leads me to a quick tangent if you don’t mind. Duckfat doesn’t take reservations and, given its popularity and small size, thus requires you to give them your name and wait within 1.5 blocks with a pager device. Why in god’s name do Americans seem to be okay with this procedure!? At minimum, it should be your phone number and then they call you. What interest is there to stand outside and wait for 45 minutes to eat? Especially when there is nothing really interesting within the block to visit…. very frustrating to see this approach did exist. Anyway… tangent closed.

The menu is small and focused on fries, milkshakes, craft sodas and panini sandwiches. We tried two drinks: first, the Roots, Barks and Sticks soda made with sassafras, sarsaparilla root, birch bark, ceylon cinnamon and wintergreen. If you love root beer, you will love this one. Nice sweetness but not too much. Very refreshing.

The other drink was the Original Duckfat milkshake – vanilla gelato with creme anglaise and fresh Tahitian vanilla bean. Rich, smooth, creamy with lovely notes of vanilla – just a great milkshake to enjoy! Always love to see the specks of the vanilla bean within the milkshake. Easily more a dessert than a beverage but I wasn’t complaining.

We got a couple of the paninis as well. The overnight duck confit panini with spicy napa cabbage slaw, miso mayo and cilantro was lovely – the rich fatty duck with the kick from the slaw, the creamy mayo and the crunch from the bread. The house smoked brisket with vegetable chow chow, cheddar and BBQ sauce was a big hit for me, The brisket was fatty and smoky, the sweetness of the sauce paired very well with the meat and the cheddar worked also. Great sandwich.

Finally we get to the homemade Belgian fries. Of course, at a restaurant called duckfat, they are fried in duck fat. How could they not….You can either get the fries with a speciality mayo or in a poutine, served with local cheese curds, chives and a homemade duck gravy. The fries themselves are amazing…. perfect size, great crunch, tender inside and of course that amazing richness and flavour you get from the duckfat. We tried the curry mayo with the fries and it was very good. Strong curry kick but not overwhelming. As for the poutine, is it my favourite?… no but it is much closer than I expected honestly. The duck gravy is rich and yet not heavy and pairs up so well for the fries. The locally sourced cheese curds are good but they lacked that classic Quebec squeak – really the one element that holds me back from calling this the best. The chives brought some freshness and worked well. Very impressed overall.

Duckfat was a wonderful lunch spot and owns up to its name very well. Other than the service issue I stated earlier, this was an excellent experience food wise and showed that Americans can actually make a good poutine 😉 You may get annoyed by the wait time but believe me, it is worth it for those sweet sweet fries. Long live the joys of duckfat.

Cheers!

Duckfat
43 Middle St
207 774 8080

Duck Fat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jatoba

20 Mar

When one talks about dining in Montreal, we rarely talk about the downtown core as a big part of that. We talk a lot about Mile End, Old Montreal, Little Italy, Notre-Dame Street in the Sud Ouest…. but downtown isn’t as hyped. Part of it may be perception, part of it may be people not wanting to head downtown proper. Either way, there are definitely places worth checking out that are more than simply overpriced fare for the business crowd. One of these is Jatoba. Located in Phillips Square, Jatoba is a project headed by chef Olivier Vigneault, previously a sous-chef for Antonio Park (also a partner in this venture). For the event of my sister’s birthday, there was a request to come check in this place out as a family outing.

The space, conceived by La Chambre Design, is a beautiful combination of the old brownstone structure with some more modern touches. I love how they incorporate the brick facades all around the different rooms and make them focal points. The lighting is ample but slightly dimmed to create a nice intimate feel. Lots of wood warms up the space and the kitchen is exposed in the big backroom. The other big element is the use of tons of plant life to incorporate some nature into the space. The whole of the restaurant feels very warm and cozy. A perfect vibe for a relaxed evening dinner.

Jatoba has a pretty good cocktail menu and wine list. I started with a Lavender May – Lot 40, lavender and calico syrup, fresh lime juice, egg white, rhubarb bitters. I love egg white cocktails so this was an easy sell for me. Not too floral with a nice touch of both sweet and sour. The frothy texture of the egg white added some body to it as well. As for the wine, for the purpose of full disclosure, I know the sommelier of Jatoba – an old high school friend – so with his advice, we were treated to a lovely French Patrimonio that we had never heard of. Just the fact he got my parents to like a French wine is worth very high praise. Thanks Marc-Andre!

Food-wise, given the pedigree of the chef, you can imagine that the menu is Asian-inspired fusion fare. As a group of 5, we were able to share numerous items. First up, I can never say no to a bowl of edamame with yusuf powder, nanami togarashi and fleur de sel. Always love that salty kick.

We also tried the Brussel sprout chips with spices. Very thinly sliced and fried up, I personally loved the slightly bitter notes from the sprouts and the crunch that came from frying them.

Next up, we went for some dumplings. We tried three varieties – the Gyoza (pork, shrimp, chinese chives, spicy samba oelek soy and chinese vinegar), the Tori (chicken, napa cabbage, braised shiitakes, leek and sonomono sauce) and the Ha Gao (shrimp, green onion and red wine tobiko). All excellent – very flavourful with the subtle hints of the extra ingredients above the primary proteins. Kind of made me crave some true Dim Sum at that point….

My girlfriend and I felt like a soup so we shared the lemongrass soup – lemongrass and coconut cream, shrimp, lobster, tomatoes, thai basil, green onions and bamboo. A lovely well balanced soup. The lemongrass was strong but the sweetness of the coconut cream softened it slightly and created a super silky texture. The addition of shrimp and lobster gave it some more heft and the tomatoes brought some freshness and tanginess. One of the best soups I’ve had in a while.

As a rice dish, we went with the fried rice with duck confit which included an egg, vegetable medley, yukon gold chips, green onions, micro coriander and enoki mushrooms. Very generous portion of rice and lovely flavours all around. The rice had the crunch of a fried rice with some earthy notes. The addition of the duck confit provided a nice rich and fatty contrast to the rest of the rice dish.

Next up was sushi time. We went with The Roll – atlantic salmon, spicy hamachi, avocado, cucumber, tempura flakes, sweet soy and yusuf yogourt. A more upscale version of a classic “Kamikaze” roll and excellent all around. Key differentiation was the use of less of the binding elements like the tempura and more emphasis of the freshness of the salmon. The fish was beautiful and came through clearly within the roll. No hiding of the fish here. The tempura brought a touch of crunch and I liked the touch of sweet creaminess coming from the yogourt.

The final savoury dish we tried was the 1855 Beef Tataki seared with sesame oil, mini green beans with cider vinegar, dwarf truffle peaches, black quinoa soufflé and sonomono sauce. Beautiful elegant dish – the beef was sliced beautifully thin and super tender. The addition elements simply play to augment the natural flavours of the beef.

For dessert, we got the Chocolate Bomb and the Japanese cheesecake. The bomb – a combination of black and white triple chocolate brownie with hazelnut praline, dark chocolate and hazelnut truffle, dark chocolate mousse, marbled chocolate sphere and milk chocolate sauce – was a chocolate overload in all the best ways possible. I loved the different uses of texture and flavours within all the chocolate. The cheesecake served with maple spongy candy and black sesame ice cream was excellent texture-wise. Nice and creamy. The black sesame ice cream was not my thing but a cool pairing to the inherent richness and creaminess of the cake.

Jatoba was a lovely night out – wonderful drinks, awesome service and good food. Worked out perfectly as a celebration for my sister’s birthday so when you are thinking about dining out in Montreal, don’t forgot about the business district of our city, it is equally worth of your attention for a good night out!

Cheers!

Jatoba
1184 Place Phillips
514 871 1184

Jatoba Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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