Montreal: You’ve come a long way, baby.
When I lived in Vermont from 1988 to 1999, I made many trips to Montreal in desperate search for more diverse food. My typical day might include the mandatory smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s, dinner and grocery shopping in Chinatown, and the pick-up of a couple of bags of bagels from Fairmount Bagel. During those years, the dining scene wasn’t especially sophisticated. Nor was my palate.
Far too many miles from Montreal now, I rarely get back. So when a recent business trip to upstate New York gave me Montreal as a choice of airports, I pounced on the opportunity to pay a visit. Food choices are now far more fabulous. Needless to say, I stuffed myself silly, sloshing through the snow and sacrificing my stomach to make the most of my very limited time in the city. The result: I have recommendations of restaurants and more for an idyllic day of eating in this special city.
Whatever time you wake up, know that bagels are waiting. Both Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel Shop are open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. You can watch the bagel-making in both places. While I like both, Fairmount is a slight favorite as I surprisingly prefer the slightly sweeter flavor of the bagels. These are best eaten fresh, or at most within an hour of purchase, but you can get plastic bags for longer storage. (And they’ll still be better than Seattle bagels.) I ate one of each immediately after purchasing both stores’ bagels.
For the scope of this article, I’ll skip the dozen or so bakeries I visited—most in the Mile End area of Montreal. While the quality of the baked goods isn’t quite as high as what I found in Paris, it’s clear that the French influence is strong and that you can find incredible croissants, kouign amann, and much more. I’m including a few photos in the slideshow above, and invite you to check my Gastrolust blog for future reports about sweets in Montreal.
As for coffee, the Third Wave coffee movement is starting to thrive in Montreal. In the Mile End neighborhood, I enjoyed a macchiato at Caffé in Gamba, but even better was my cortado at Café Différance near Old Montreal.
You can’t go wrong with a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. Really, Schwartz’s is a must. It’s well-worth braving the inevitable lines if you’ve never been.
As much as a smoked meat sandwich tempted me, I was in Montreal on a Friday afternoon, which meant a chance to enjoy lunch at Les 400 Coups. Friday is the only day of the week that lunch is served, so I was glad to go to Old Montreal, allowing a little extra time for a walk through the historic area. At $22 for an appetizer and entrée or entrée and dessert, and $28 for all three courses, this is an affordable way to experience an elegant restaurant with sparkling service and fantastic food. The plating is beautiful, and you’ll want to save room for at least one of pastry chef Patrice Demers’ desserts. (You’ll see two, plus my savory dishes, in the slideshow! And you can read more about the desserts here.)
I’m always on the hunt for bold flavors and interesting ingredient combinations, especially if offal is a possibility. (In Montreal, it’s more than a possibility!) Many people steered me to Lawrence, which turned out to be my kind of restaurant. I had been eyeing Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins, which also gets rave reviews, but it was rather raucous in there, whereas Lawrence was quiet and mellow, especially at the bar.
My challenge was choosing just a couple of plates from the heavenly meat-heavy menu. This night the selection included pig’s trotter, rabbit saddle, pig’s head, rib steak, and the daily charcuterie plate. I settled on striped bass and kid’s brains, dishes that were far more complex and satisfying than I initially imagined.
Staying meat-heavy, two of the top recommendations I continually received for Montreal were Joe Beef and Au Pied du Cochon. As I was in for late-night dining, APDC was the better choice, a classic restaurant with a fun atmosphere. While more “sophisticated” dining is developing, this is the heart of Quebecois cooking.
You should check out Anthony Bourdain’s visit to see what APDC is all about. He ate seemingly everything. I, on the other hand, had to choose wisely. The menu is full of crave-worthy carnivorous treats like bison tongue, guinea hen liver mousse, foie gras poutine, and duck in a can. What to order?
One dish did it: Plogue a Champlain. It wasn’t on the menu, but my server said he could make it happen. With pancake, potatoes, foie gras, maple syrup, thick-cut maple-cured bacon, and cheddar cheese, it’s breakfast and dinner and dessert rolled into one plate.
I asked the server about a salad to counter the heavy dish, hoping for something healthy. “We don’t have anything healthy here,” he replied, explaining they throw pork into everything, then adding “You might find that Plogue to be enough.” It was. Happily.
After a full day of eating, you can count on a restful night of sleep at Hotel Zero 1. This unique boutique hotel is conveniently situated just steps from Chinatown, Old Montreal, and the Quartier des Spectacles—the center of cultural events and festivals.
I like the contemporary rooms with hardwood floors (though surprisingly no noise from the floor above), tiled bathrooms, and comfortable beds. The POP room is cozy but with sufficient space, with the HIP room giving you just a little more room to spread out. If you can upgrade to a LOFT room, you get a little lounge area for relaxation, while the PANORAMA rooms feel most luxurious, with floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s free wifi and a nice terrace, with morning muffins and coffee free in the lobby for those not rushing out to continue the fat-filled feeding frenzy.
Continue on for all the photos…
Always open: Fairmount Bagel for your bagel fix all day long
Making bagels at Fairmount
A closer look at Fairmount’s bagels
Inside St-Viateur Bagel Shop, also open 24/7/365
St-Viateur’s product list
Man in shtreimel in Jewish neighborhood of Montreal, photographed from my car
Halfway to Abbey Road?
Display case at Olivier Potier in downtown Montreal
Patisserie Mr Pinchot on a snowy street in Montreal
A look inside Fous Desserts
This is the croissant you want to find in Montreal!
Macchiato at Caffé in Gamba
Cortado (on right) at Café Différance
Start of service at Les 400 Coups
Rabbit terrine with red beets, radish, and mustard yogurt at Les 400 Coups
Spanish mackerel with calamari, carrots, and lobster bisque at Les 400 Coups
Dessert #1 at Les 400 Coups: litchi granité, creamy white chocolate yogurt, grapefruit, Campari, and flowers
Dessert #2 at Les 400 Coups: sapote cheesecake with pear sorbet, oats, and pecans
The bar (and me) at Les 400 Coups
Striped bass with Jerusalem artichokes and salt lemon at Lawrence
Kid brains with capers and sage on toast at Lawrence
Inside Au Pied du Cochon, including a guy eating duck in a can
The “Plogue a Champlain” at Au Pied du Cochon
Exterior shot of Hotel Zero 1
Small room at Hotel Zero 1
Room with a lounge area at Hotel Zero 1 (Hotel photos courtesy of the hotel.)
Tags: beyond Seattle
This week, Serious Eats posted my “A Sandwich a Day” feature about the Croque Madame at La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC. An excerpt:
It’s served on toasted La Farm Bread–their signature light sourdough made in a three-day process–with ham, imported gruyère, homemade Mornay sauce, and fresh chopped chives. In case that’s not decadent enough, the sandwich is topped with a mozzarella-provolone blend as well as two fried eggs.
Naturally, this is a knife-and-fork affair, as the egg yolks ooze out beautifully into the chewy, buttery bread. The flavors are well-balanced, with the meat mingling well with the melted cheese. If you’re looking to green up the croque madam, you can add sautéed spinach for under a dollar. At lunch, there’s a “petite salade” with housemade champagne vinaigrette to counter the intensity of the sandwich, while at breakfast the croque madame comes with fruit.
For more information, check out the Serious Eats story, here.
Tags: beyond Seattle
This week, Serious Eats posted my “Sugar Rush” article about the desserts at Les 400 Coups in Montreal. An excerpt:
Walking through the door into Old Montreal’s Les 400 Coups is a transition from charm to elegance. Both of those traits are evident in pastry chef Patrice Demers’ desserts.
Demers is no stranger in Canada: he hosts a weekly television show called Les Desserts de Patrice and has published two pastry books. I’d heard many good things about his signature Chocolate ‘Pot-de-Crème’, but my server steered me instead to the Sapote Cheesecake ($10), citing its unusual form.
Far from a customary cheesecake, this creamy, custardy square was slightly nutty, earthy, and sweet. Pecans and oats offered crunchy contrast to the silken cheesecake, while caramel added sweetness. Best of all was the accompanying pear sorbet, made in a Pacojet and bursting with fruit flavor.
For more information about the desserts and the restaurant, check out the Serious Eats story, here.
Tags: beyond Seattle
More than two years into writing the Sexy Feast column, I learned of a Bellevue cafe called Brief Encounter. Brief Encounter? I haven’t had one this easy since I spotted Big Wong restaurant in New York.
Brief Encounter, open since 1957, is a popular Eastside joint open daily from 7am to 2pm. So, yes, it’s breakfast and lunch, with no dinner.
In early, I ordered Green Eggs and Ham, going for the pesto flavoring in the scrambled eggs. I combined this with home fries and toast with butter and jam. While this would have been plenty, I was in a voracious mood, so I doubled down on the carbs and asked for a pancake just to check the flapjackability of the restaurant. Everything was just okay. The food came quickly, and in terms of flavor, I had no real complaints, but nothing was worth a wow.
So what does Brief Encounter teach us about sex?
It’s all about the quickie.
Especially with people waiting for tables, my stay at Brief Encounter wasn’t long. Nor is a sexual quickie.
So, quickly, what’s the attraction of a quickie? While it can certainly be planned, a quickie is often impulsive, with great potential for instant gratification. And while it will be far from breaking records in terms of marathon love-making sessions, a quickie can be a fast way of showing desire for someone, perhaps even making love last in a relationship. Why? Well, the quickie can add variety in time, location, and positions for sex.
It’s often daring, as you do it while away from the kids ever-so-briefly, or when likely to be late for work or some other commitment. Moreover, quickies are often public, like in the office, the car, the airplane bathroom, or maybe the elevator.
You might put yourself at risk of an injury, and you might not reach orgasm (have the lube ready, as there’s no time for foreplay), but a quickie can be good for a laugh or a workout. Or perhaps as a tease for more play later.
And that’s a quickie about quickies. They’re essentially the fast food of sex, though in both sex and food, you may prefer ultimately prefer low and slow.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on March 28, 2013.
Okashii Okashi samples Japanese (and occasionally other Asian) snacks (okashi) that are strange and amusing (okashii).
Lotte is an Asian conglomerate (despite the German-inspired name) with a bit of a complicated history. Founded in Tokyo in 1948 by a man of Korean descent, the company maintains operations in Korea and Japan, as well as a host of other Asian countries. And while Lotte does business in shopping centers, hotels, oil companies, baseball teams, and even an amusement park, it’s Lotte Confectionary, based in Seoul, which concerns us here.
I found Lotte’s Kancho in the Bellevue Uwajimaya store, which seems to have a large snack section than the Seattle location. This “choco biscuit” comes in a pink box and features male and female cookie characters named Kany and Chony winking and giving the thumbs up, exclaiming “taste good!” Inside are little bite-sized biscuits filled with chocolate, each cookie containing a drawing of a character or an object like an umbrella or house. Some simply said the word “Love.”
Kancho are crisp with a rather plain flavor, much like the Yan Yan I described in the previous Okashii Okashi column, though less interactive. Don’t look for high-quality chocolate in these biscuits, but do look for strawberry flavor in the U.S. if you’re seeking something different. If you get to Asia, you might find more diverse flavors, such as honeydew.
Lotte packages essentially the same biscuit in Japan under the name Koala’s March (also known as Koala’s Yummies in the U.S.), with proceeds supporting the Australian conservation group Australian Koala Foundation. The biscuits are shaped like little koala bears (depicted on each cookie doing various activities) and come in a hexagon-shaped box. In the battle of the bears, rival biscuits include Meiji’s Hello Panda and Edo’s Hugging Koala.
Lotte introduced both Kancho and Koala’s March in 1984. The word “kancho” has no meaning in Korea, but was ill-advised for use in Japan, as it’s a Japanese prank of extending and inserting one’s fingers (in a Charlie’s Angels-like gesture) into someone’s butt. You see, this kancho, written in katakana, is a slang adaptation of kancho written in kanji, which is Japanese for enema. While an old Kancho website (where you can learn more, including a viewing of a “kanchomentary”) calls kancho a “friendly enema,” others can rightly argue that it’s actually a form of sexual assault. Let’s hope that Kany and Chony have a more consentual and cuddly relationship than this.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on March 21, 2013.
This week, the James Beard Foundation whittled down its list of nominees, announcing finalists for culinary distinction.
For cookbook awards, locals made the list in three categories. In “Baking and Dessert,” Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance are finalists for The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle. Nathan Myhrvold (whose lecture I attended a little over a year ago) and Maxime Bilet received a nomination in the “General Cooking” category for Modernist Cuisine at Home. And in “Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian,” Michael Natkin is a nominee for his Herbivoracious cookbook. (This carnivoracious food writer wants Natkin to wow him with a non-meat meal sometime!)
As for the chef and restaurant awards, the Seattle area has strong talent facing some stiff competition. Blaine Wetzel is a finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year. I was lucky to dine at the Willows Inn earlier in his tenure there, and I was impressed—though I’ve also been impressed by others in the category, like Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food and Jimmy Bannos at the Purple Pig (where I had one of my most memorable meals in the past few years).
Portland outscored Seattle in the “Best Chef: Northwest” category. Beast’s Naomi Pomeroy, Nostrana’s Cathy Whims, and Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker are all fabulous chefs, and I’ve enthusiastically sent many Seattleites to their restaurants in the Rose City. Representing Seattle is Canlis’ Jason Franey, fresh from his win at Seattle’s Cochon 555. Meanwhile, Ethan Stowell is nominated under the Staple & Fancy Mercantile name, though I recently caught up with him at Bar Cotto(pictured), his new Parma-style salumeria and cocktail bar in Capitol Hill.
Cookbook award winners will be announced May 3, followed by the chef and restaurant awards on May 6. The Seattle area can celebrate now, though, as Brendan McGill just won as People’s Best New Chef in the Food & Wine magazine contest. His Hitchcock restaurant on Bainbridge Island is something special. I visited recently and picked his duck breast dish as one of the best bites in Winslow, and I’ll soon have more about the amazing food at his restaurant and adjoining deli as part of a fuller story about the culinary scene just a short ferry ride away.
Tags: events and adventures
In this installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Jay Friedman spars with himself about the issue of religion in restaurants.
Religion in Restaurants? I Stay Away.
When I used to fly on Alaska Airlines, I’d always ask for the oppression-free meal. Most flight attendants would nod knowingly, offering empathy, some later telling me in the galley how much they disagreed with the practice of putting prayer cards on the meal trays. This practice ended just last year when, according to an Alaska Airlines spokesperson, enough people complained. (Or was it simply due to the end of in-flight meals?)
For years, the corporate office responded to my complaints by saying “Many people like the prayer cards.” But like doesn’t make right, and it shouldn’t be majority rules when it comes to religion. As I listened to the captain say “We know you have a choice of airlines” as I flew to, say, Juneau, I felt captive on the plane and subject to religious oppression–or at least evangelism.
On the ground, I have the ability to vote with my feet and free myself from the shackles of religiously affiliated restaurants, especially those which use their beliefs to bully customers or employees. No Chik-fil-A using Christianity as an excuse to recycle Cracker Barrel’s hatred toward homosexuality for me, thanks. No Domino’s pizza, either, as I don’t want to contribute to Tom Monaghan’s vision of a birth control-free world as he works toward building a Catholic town and a Catholic country.
Religion aside, those restaurants are easy to avoid because of the poor quality of the food.
Then there’s In-N-Out. I liked In-N-Out’s burgers…until I saw the(ir) light. The evangelism is subtle here, but felt sabotaged to discover Biblical citations on the paper products. I have to live with God on my paper money and coins (again, little choice), but I can choose to live without God when satisfying my burger cravings.
My beef is not just with Christianity. Even the spiritual stroking of the Loving Hut (with Supreme Master Ching Hai) and the local Silence-Heart-Nest (with Indian Spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy) freak me out, though some might argue that my discomfort with these restaurants lies with their vegan and vegetarian food.
Some restaurants wear religion on their sleeves–and chests. Heaven Sent Fried Chicken’s religious connection is not only in its name, but on the storefront (and webfront), where owner/operator Ezell Stephens is pictured in a “God is good all the time” t-shirt. Meanwhile, Toshio’s Teriyaki (pictured, top of the article) on Rainier in Beacon Hill has its walls filled with religious messages, as owners Yoko and James Wang are evangelical Christians. A corner of the dining room is devoted to prayer, and multilingual signs exhort faith in God and Jesus. Most amusing, or perhaps disturbing, is a sign for side orders that show charges for teriyaki sauce, hot sauce, and salad dressing, but “holy sauce” offered for free. The family claims to not be “into your faces” with religion, but they’re proud to be a ministry, and the scene made me flee.
I didn’t expect religion at a place like Izumi, in Kirkland. Japanese people have long and successfully shunned attempts at conversion by organized religion. Shinto-Buddhism is a bit of a joy, as believers stop off at the temple or shrine when the spirit compels. So I was surprised to go out for sushi and see brochures as the only item on a table at the entry, where I’d otherwise expect menus. The owners are Makuya, which is some sort of a Japanese-for-Jews-for-Jesus type of thing. I spoke with one of the workers about this, and she lit up in explanation and encouragement that I attend a meeting.
“We love Israel,” she told me, explaining that some Japanese people make an annual pilgrimage there to pray for the country. “So you support Judaism?” I asked, to which she replied, “No, but Christ was born there, so we support Israel.” Thank “god” the sushi was just so-so, so that I’m not compelled to go back, and won’t worry about them serving me a spiritu-roll.
Religion in Restaurants? Maybe It’s OK.
I can always play dumb, like if I just really want a Double-Double at In-N-Out, perhaps Animal Style from the not-so secret menu. There’s always hope that they’ve dropped their policy of printing the Biblical citations on the paper products. Even if they haven’t, I can pretend they did, not looking on the lip at the bottom of the soda or milkshake cup, and ignoring the sandwich wrapper after diving in. Or I can justify my visit as a friend says he does: By donating an amount equal to his purchase to the ACLU to help them fight for religious freedom.
I could be contributing to a religious group without even knowing it, so why fight it? When H Mart opens this fall in downtown Seattle, I’m sure there will be an evangelical Mrs. Park who decides to park outside the doors, handing out religious literature. I don’t know if she does this with the store’s blessing. Maybe I should research if H Mart donates to the church (a la the Koreans who own Forever 21 and put the John 3:16 verse on their shopping bags)–or maybe I just don’t want to know, and plead that ignorance is bliss. (I once stumbled upon a list of contributors to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and after finding owners of a couple of my favorite restaurants, I wished I hadn’t seen the list.)
There’s also the question of where to draw the line on religious expression. I see altars in so many Asian restaurants, but a shrine to one’s ancestors or a business Buddha doesn’t seem to bother me. I see this as cultural expression rather than religious evangelicalism.
And then there are times where it’s just hard to avoid religion, like in the South. Back in the days of phone books, in some towns I’d see a Jesus Fish in almost every restaurant display ad, making me wonder if I’d picked up a Christian Yellow Pages.
Who says religion has to be bad? I recently visited a barbecue joint in eastern Tennessee, and after placing my order, walked to my table and saw prayer cards on the table. (Somehow I hadn’t noticed the Christian rock coming through the speakers.) By then I’d paid cash and was pretty committed to my food. I didn’t want to like it, but it was delicious–and so delicious that I returned the next day. How’s that for situational ethics? The workers took note of me and were over-the-top sweet, offering me samples of basically everything they were barbecuing. You can say that, in a way, they converted me–at least to the idea of being open-minded and breaking bread together.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on March 20, 2013. [I should clarify that I'm not trying to remove religion from places of business, though I do not believe we should allow religious images in publicly funding places, like city halls, etc.]
Tags: events and adventures
Yesterday, Serious Eats posted my “A Sandwich a Day” feature about Olio in Richmond, VA. An excerpt:
I knew I wanted a sandwich that would take advantage of the quality bread, meat, cheese, produce, and condiments I was seeing. There were lots of tempting choices on the menu, but my love of stinky cheese tilted my decision to the Italian Picnic ($8.49). The sandwich features a generous portion of freshly sliced, house-roasted turkey that’s nice and moist. Granny Smith apples add crunchiness, their sweetness combining with that of the fig jam to be a good counterbalance to the Taleggio cheese. The cheese melts slightly on the fresh-baked, warm baguette, which is slathered with garlic aioli spread for extra zing. Each bite of the sandwich reveals the mingling of all the flavors.
For more information, check out the Serious Eats story, here.
Tags: beyond Seattle
Yesterday, Serious Eats posted my report on Cochon 555 in Seattle. An excerpt:
This was true nose-to-tail eating, most prominent in the long-cooking broths with head parts, the ubiquitous use of lardo, the addictive chicharrones, and the appearance of pork in the desserts. Judges sometimes received more “courses” than the general public, giving more to weigh in judging and causing us to weigh more as a result—such that I barely stumbled out to the floor for a “Family Meal” of barbecued pig, as well as another round of swine and sweets for dessert.
My personal favorite bites were Sundstrom’s Double Pork Broth with nettles, cilantro, basil, and pork tenderloin, liver and crispy ear; Yang and Chirchi’s Squealing Noodles made with pickled pig skin, green curry, and prik; and Franey’s Pork Pot de Crème with bacon brittle, cinnamon macaron and green apple espuma. As much as my stomach needs a rest, I’d gladly have a round of those three items for my next meal.
For more information about the event, including a look at all of the food I judged (the plate from Jonathan Sundstrom of Lark is shown above), check out the Serious Eats story, here.
Tags: events and adventures
This week, Serious Eats posted my report on the 9 best bites in Winslow on Bainbridge Island in Washington. An excerpt:
When a tourist in Seattle asks for anything interesting to do that’s not-so-Seattle, I recommend a trip to Bainbridge Island, which is both a city and the island on which the city is found. You can reach Bainbridge by boarding a ferry from downtown Seattle, arriving at the island just 35 minutes after crossing Puget Sound. There’s no need for a car if you just want to explore the downtown area known as Winslow. Steps from the ferry terminal, Winslow is a walkable stretch of street (and adjoining areas) with a number of interesting cafés, bakeries, and restaurants worth a look.
There are a number of “classic” spots in Winslow that will suit an old-schooler who sees Seattle as a place far, far away….I walked and walked and walked in Winslow, scouring the streets and sampling the food to find places to recommend, which include an old-time diner, a new-style restaurant, a French bistro, a local coffee roaster, and what some say is the best ice cream shop in the country.
For more information about the best bites I found at Hitchcock Restaurant (duck breast pictured, above), Restaurant Marche, Mora Iced Creamery, Fork and Spoon, The Four Swallows, Blackbird Bakery, Madison Diner, Pegasus Coffee House, and Hitchcock Deli, check out the Serious Eats story, here.
(More on my meals in Winslow to follow in a future post…)
Tags: beyond Seattle