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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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Cafe Parvis

25 Oct

Working in the suburbs and the general nature of my actual profession limits my opportunities for a nice weekday lunch downtown. So many great options to enjoy if you have the chance. Last month, I had a random Friday off to enjoy downtown. Perfect chance to go out to lunch with my mother who works in town and have a nice lunch. Given the location of her work, I figured that Cafe Parvis would be worthwhile to try.

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Located on Mayor street, just a quick walk over from Place des Spectacles, Cafe Parvis is from the same people who run Bar Furco just next door. Similar to its sister, Cafe Parvis certainly has a look to it. An interesting mixture of exposed concrete, brick and wood creates a very lived-in feel. The use of vines and plants all over the interior plus the huge windows create a warmth and relaxed atmosphere. Too bad it was a little too cool to enjoy the terrasse in the front.

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Foodwise, Cafe Parvis is all about pizza and salads. My mother went for one of the salad. Beets, pears, arugula, noix de grenoble, goat cheese and a tarragon dressing. A very hearty portion – tons of ingredients and very flavourful. Nice mixture with the beets, the sweet pears, the rich goat cheese and that awesome tarragon dressing. My mother had just the salad and was quite full.

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The pizzas are served by the slice. Similar approach as the salad – tons of ingredients and high on flavour. The key thing though is that crust. If that doesn’t hold up, it doesn’t matter. Thankfully, the crust here was on point. Closer to the “Al Taglio” style, the crust was thick with a nice crunch but still chewy. First up, I had the lamb, feta and tzatziki pizza. Great flavour to the lamb and with a big dollop of tzatziki right on top. Excellent.

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Next was ricotta with spinach and roasted peppers. Great mixture of creamy rich ricotta and sweet peppers. Served almost as a sandwich means you get double the crunch compared to the other slices.

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The final pizza I tried was the duck confit with potatoes, cheddar, garlic oil and rosemary. Very flavourful once again. Loved the fatty duck and how it mixed with the potato and the cheese. However, with the amount of potato on the pizza, it made the pizza much dryer since there is no sauce to speak of. I would have needed more cheese to offset.

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Thankfully we got there just before noon because there was a lineup by the time we left. I understand why – excellent pizza, flavourful salads and a beautiful space to sit in as people seek a break from their workdays. Cafe Parvis certainly lived up to my hopes and made a beautiful Friday off that much more enjoyable. Anyone working nearby should certainly give it a look.

Cheers!

Cafe Parvis
433 Mayor
514 764 3589

Cafe Parvis Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Il Focolaio

31 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

El Focolaio
1223 Phillips Square
514 879 1045

Il Focolaio Pizza Resto on Urbanspoon

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