Monday, 10 November 2014

Boo in New York - Momofuku Ssäm Bar

The only must visit place for me during my recent New York trip was a Momofuku restaurant.  I didn't even mind which one.  David Chang's restaurants have always been on my wishlist, I'm a regular reader of his Lucky Peach magazine and as luck would have it, I was staying at my friend Suz's place in the East Village, a stone's throw from the Ssäm Bar.  We ended up lucking out and not even requiring a reservation for a group of 6, walking in at around 10pm on Halloween looking to fuel up before heading to Brooklyn for the night.


Starting with drinks, I tried the juniper#3, gin apricot, campari and lemon.  Served unexpectedly in a tumbler, it was short and really tart, great start.  Ellen's choice of a celery sour won, so great.  The scotch based Penicillin also went down well.  Cocktails here are excellent.  


We each opted for some buns ($10 for 2), Nibs and I shared the steamed variety with pork belly, hoisin and cucumber.  Really, really amazing.  I just love these things.  The pork was so succulent and tender, I resisted the urge to order more.  The girls also enjoyed the buffalo pork buns with blue cheese and hot sauce, and some of the veggie ones filled with mushrooms.


Molly's choice of country hams ($12) was brilliant, smoked ham with bread and red eye gravy from the small dishes section of the menu.  Other dishes falling into either raw, fall, fish or meat sections.  Non meaty options at the table included the scallop ceviche ($15) with lotus root, the kimchi mason jar ($5) and a fresh chilled market bean salad ($10) with XO and radish that had an almighty kick to it.  All excellent dishes.


For main I couldn't resist the beef offal stew with turnip and kale ($23).  The broth was fragrant and rich, the meat included tendon, oxtail and tripe.  Also pictured below is the fried moo kimchi with yuzu mayo ($8).  Everything we ate was incredible, there wasn't a single miss.  We shared some kind of pie for dessert which I have to admit wasn't particularly memorable, but it's me, not them.  Desserts = meh when you're in New York for Halloween and you have parties to go to.

 
I think this place is amazing.  As well as incredible food and cocktail menus, they also offer BYOB, group bookings with set menus, weekend brunch and drinks only at their bar, Booker and Dax.  If I lived in New York (one day yeah?) I'd be here all the time.  Loved it.  Just don't expect the politest service ever, they have a constant stream of diners and need to turn tables quickly so have little patience for indecisiveness or lingering guests. 

'Emojis, assemble'.  Best Halloween ever.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Avenue
East Village
New York
10003
9/10

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, 31 October 2014

October Round Up

Rounding up the month of October, some good brunches were the highlight.  A couple of close to work revisits that are worth a mention, had a great thai chicken meatball soup at Le Local, always a solid lunch choice and L'Orignal refurbished, rewrote the menu and relaunched.  Had a nice suckling pig dish there one night for dinner.  Here's the rest....

Restaurant Manitoba
I dined here early in the summer but didn't take pics, I was impressed with both what I ate that night and with the excellent personable charm of co-owner Elizabeth Cardin (we drank some gin shots together).  I've been meaning to revisit for brunch, which they recently started serving, but bizarrely they're not open on Saturdays.  This past Sunday Erika and I met there, it was really busy, there was a guy playing the cello and we propped ourselves up at the bar for a few hours.  Some people might find the vibe a little pretentious but I find it charming.  There's been a lot of attention to detail in the set up of the place and I really hope they do well.  It's only a 15 minute walk from my flat so I'll definitely be back again and again.  As for the food, it's really inventive.  A chalkboard on the wall lists the daily changing dishes, we both went for the squash spaghetti with poached egg and mushrooms.  I've honestly never had a dish like it.  Prices are reasonable (I paid around £15 for this and a few cups of herbal tea) and drinks are amazing.  If you're in Montreal, go.  I don't understand why more people don't rave about it already.


Dinette Triple Crown
This place has been on my list since before my first trip to Montreal.  Think fried chicken, mac & cheese, pulled pork etc.  They have a tiny little place in Mile End opposite a park, so in non snowy months you can grab a picnic basket and eat across the street.  They also deliver and, although I'm just outside the delivery zone, one hungover Sunday night they made an exception and came the extra distance to delivery to my place, wooo!  So we knew we had to have the mac & cheese, then we each picked a meat and threes, which is your pick of fried chicken, beef brisket or pulled pork with 3 sides.  We shared everything first up was brisket with mash and gravy, creamy slaw and greens.  So so so good.


The second option was 3 pieces of fried chicken with cornbread, sweet potatoes and hushpuppies.  Had to google the latter, they're like deep fried balls of corn batter served with a garlic dip.  It's obviously all hideously bad for you so a once in a while treat rather than a weekly takeout option but I was really impressed with the food.  Best mac & cheese I've had here so far, we got the small, the large must be massive.  We paid around $50 for this, but there was a lot of food.  We also opted for the pear and ginger pudding which was completely unnecessary but really lovely.  This will definitely be happening again on a cold winter night in the not too distant future.

Bar Bounya
I came here for lunch earlier in the year but didn't blog it because it was just a couple of hours before I flew back to London in July, so I was in a rush and didn't take pics.  Went back last weekend with Erika and Sar for Saturday brunch.   For $12 you get a main dish and a selection of treats including a tomato and ricotta salad (ricotta mixed with feta - so good), bread, jams, nuts, olives and honey with kaymak, a soft butter like spread.  This is such a bargain, can't wait to go back.  It's served sharing style on a board.


The main I opted for was shakshuka, served in the dish it's cooked in, it always suffers from the heat of the dish overcooking the eggs and this is exactly what happened.  2 hard cooked poached eggs is not a good thing.  The sauce of tomato, spinach and onions was nice enough, I ate that with more of the bread, but overcooked eggs is one of my worst things, unforgivable.  I do like the place though and you can't argue with a $12 breakfast, I'd pay that again for the cheese alone.

Juliette et Chocolat
I was invited to the Laval store opening of Juliette et Chocolat.  I'd not yet tried any of their cafes in the city, there are several located throughout Centre Ville and the Plateau, and now they're in Laval too. You can read about their story here.  The menu is obviously chocolate based, think hot chocolate, chocolate fountain, fruit covered chocolate, bars, truffles, mousse, biscuits, even chocolate lipstick.  They have a great range of Halloween based treats, chocolate skull anyone?  People visit for desserts apparently in the evenings, I rather like the idea of popping in after dinner somewhere.  I ate so much chocolate on the night that I felt quite queasy when I left.  Speaks volumes of the quality of the sweet treats on offer here, because I don't have much of a sweet tooth at all. 


Bolo Bolo 
I was also invited to a new restaurant opening on St Laurent in the Plateau.  The deal here is meatballs and cocktails.  The opening night was packed so it was pretty hard to get your hands on a decent drink, but there were plenty of meatballs on offer.  They even have a meatball topped bloody mary.  Best thing sampled on the night was the buffalo meatball, there are all kinds on the menu, it's a great location, more of a bar than a restaurant vibe but that could have been due to the launch party. 


La Societe
Before visiting La Societe, I'd read some negative reviews.  I was skeptical but wanted to check it out anyway and I wish I'd skipped it to be honest.  Many online reports told stories of shoddy service, ours was absolutely fine but the food was pretty poor.  It's the worst meal I've had in Montreal, actually a 4am poutine and 'burger club' at Fameux Viande Fumee probably holds that accolade.  Shudder.  Anyway, back to Societe, Lobster bisque ($13) was overly creamy and pretty tasteless, advertised as coming with truffle oil but there was none.  The New York strip steak ($29) I ordered was undercooked and tasteless and the peppercorn sauce was just awful.  Fries and aioli were good and the cheeseboard was passable.  We had a gin based cocktail which looked radioactive before moving onto white wine.  All the effort here seems to have been put into decorating the room, the floor and ceiling are both impressive, but the food really underwhelming.  I won't be revisiting. 



Restaurant Manitoba
271 Rue St Zotique Oeust
Parc Ex
H2V
9/10

Restaurant Manitoba on Urbanspoon

Dinette Triple Crown
6704 Rue Clark
Rosemount
H2S
8/10

Dinette Triple Crown on Urbanspoon

Barbounya
243 Laurier Ouest
Outemont
H2T
7/10

Barbounya on Urbanspoon

Juliette et Chocolat
Centropolis
Laval
H7T

I dined as a guest of Juliette et Chocolat

Juliette Et Chocolat on Urbanspoon

Bolo Bolo
3540 St Laurent
Plateau
H2X

I dined as a guest of Bolo Bolo

Bolo Bolo on Urbanspoon

La Societe
1415 Rue de la Montagne
Golden Square Mile
H3G
4/10

La Societe Montréal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Le Bremner

Crown Salts restaurants are a big deal in Montreal.  TV chef Chuck Hughes is co-owner and he was at Le Bremner last week when Sar and I visited for dinner.  It's been on my list for ages but it's one of those restaurants that you need to be reasonably organised to visit, as in you can't book for next week but you can probably book a month in advance.  Previously I'd tried a number of times at short notice and it was full.  I was hoping this was a good sign, it's generally not difficult in Montreal to get a reservation, Joe Beef being the exception. 


I really liked the meal.   We started with the burrata with tomatoes and white anchovies ($23).  Disappointing lack of bread again, bread sticks are NOT the same.  No oil, no dip, I just don't get it.  Anyway, the cheese was good, the seeded crackers that came with it were great, so we especially didn't need the bread sticks.  You can see them in the glass in the BG above, their one redeeming feature being that they were heavily salted.  Otherwise, meh, 


Excuse the washed out pics, I've had to brighten them, the place is candlelit to the extreme and my photos are virtually unviewable.  This is the tuna and tahini starter ($19).  Wasn't sure what to expect from it, we were curious about the combo.  It's nice, the contrasting textures were great, little crispy shards of what I believe were fried shallots, and micro leaves.  So far, so good, but nothing wowed.  


We were urged by diners on either side of us to order certain dishes.  Thank you lady to my right who recommended the lobster BLT ($32).  It was one of the stand out dishes of the night.  A slice of brioche topped with seriously crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce and a generous amount of lobster.   Lovely.  Sorry chaps to the left who suggested we get the quail, we ignored you, it did look good though, next time.


Dark and out of focus this one, excellent work.  It was my favourite dish on the night so it's a shame the photo does it no justice at all.  Lamb neck cavatelli ($26), perfectly al dente pasta with chunks of tender lamb and a rich meaty sauce.  Seriously good but I was getting full and becoming increasingly unable to breathe.  There was a great Canadian sparkling Riesling on the menu which we were knocking back, but evidently I'm allergic to it.  Unfortunate.  

Our other main was the whole sea bream with red cabbage and carrots ($31).  Nice but very boney, I'd attacked it with my knife and fork ahead of the waitress coming to the rescue and filleting the thing for us.  I'd dislodged a lot of the blighters so it wasn't the easiest dish to eat.  The accompanying gremolata was amazing.


Our dessert was shared, the chocolate, coffee and salted caramel pot with honeycomb ($10).  This reminded me of the best dessert I've ever eaten served in the same way and everything.  There was no Italian meringue in sight but there was honeycomb lurking in there.  Amazing.  Still couldn't breathe though. 

They didn't have any amaretto (urgh, seriously restaurants, sort it out) so they rustled us up a cointreau based aperitif, not the same.  That and the Riesling aside, I loved everything, even loved the Riesling, it just didn't like me much.  Open Monday to Saturday, dinner only.  I'll definitely be back, soon I hope.  It's a solid Old Montreal choice, they have daily changing seafood specials and this is what they're most known for but the mains are also worth checking out.  Must do Chuck's other restaurant, Garde Manger, first.

Le Bremner
361 St Paul East
Old Montreal 
H2Y
8/10

Le Bremner on Urbanspoon 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Damas

Couple of Saturday nights ago a group of us were looking for a dinner venue ahead of some birthday drinks.  I walk by Damas a lot, it's in my neighbourhood, as were the bday drinks so I suggested we try it.  It's always packed and open 7 days a week which is quite a rare thing in this city.  I didn't know what to expect of Syrian cuisine, but checking out the menu online, a lot appealed to me and it obviously bares a lot of similarities to other foods of the region which we're more accustomed to eating, such a Lebanese and Turkish. 

It ended up being one of the best meals I've had here.  Everything was excellent.  They bring over pickles when you sit down, love a place that recognizes that you want to eat as soon as you can when you're out for dinner, snacking while perusing the menu really works up your appetite.  The pickles were brilliant, they saw we were loving them and gave us some hotter ones. 

Starters were ordered mezze style, all sharing dishes.


Incredible fattoush.  The flavours of every dish was so fresh and zingy.  With pomegranate seeds and fresh mint defining most dishes.  This is a herby and fruity salad with bits of bread and cucumber.  Seriously good.  Next came the hummus and muttabal, a smoky aubergine dip, served with flatbreads.  The aubergine dip was the winner, both were incredible, the hummus was so smooth, the kind that you wish you could get in supermarkets, but there really is nothing available like it to buy, might try to make my own....


Then came the akkawi, fried cheese served with nigella seeds, tomato and mint.  This is kind of like halloumi, it's fried, but it's much softer and not remotely squeaky.  Nice tomatoey sauce left in the bottom for mopping up with more of the flatbread.  


This messy looking thing is tatar burek.  Beef and lamb dumplings with yoghurt, coriander, roasted garlic and pinenuts.  There were 4 of these and we were 5, annoying, and we all politely offered to eat half.  They were so good we were all desperate to have a whole one.  Our waiter was so helpful, making suggestions about which dishes we might like, how much would be enough food, wine matching suggestions, really nice.  The restaurant is very casual, no fuss, no frills and although they tables pretty quickly, we didn't feel remotely rushed.  Not sure how they do it. 


My main dish was maqlouba, a recommendation of our waiter.  It's braised lamb shoulder with aubergine and saffron rice complete with side dish of yoghurt with cucumber and pomegranate seeds.  There were raisins in there and I still loved it, and I usually have a severe aversion to them in savoury dishes.  I barely managed to eat any of this, I was so full from the starters, there was a lot of that at our table, so much so that we were worried it might offend but portions are really generous.  They asked if we wanted to take with us what we'd not managed to eat. 

I couldn't manage dessert, those who could went for pistachio ice cream.  We drank a bottle of red wine, trying to warm up to drink again on a hangover and we paid $65 each.  This place is such great value for money.  I completely understand why it's so busy everyday and I'll definitely be back again.  Love that it's near my apartment too!  Yay Outremont.  Interestingly, there are 2 Syrian places in the Eater top 38 restaurants in Montreal at the moment.

Damas
5210 Parc Avenue
Ouremont
H2V
9/10

Damas Cuisine Syrienne on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Maison Publique

People really rip it out of Jamie Oliver, don't they?  I like him.  I especially like his latest cookery show Jamie's Comfort Food, I've been catching up on 4OD.  Thinking about doing the shepherd's pie for my Thanksgiving bash next week (it's in October in Canada, god knows...)  Or the steak and onion ciabatta, or the curried fish pie....Anyhow, an ex-Fifteen chef has set up shop here in Montreal, backed by Jamie.  Derek Dammann spent 4 years in London before heading home and opening Maison Publique in the Plateau.  It's been on my list since I got here and I went along last week for dinner with Sar.


There's a board on the wall with the days offerings.  The place is really relaxed, it feels more like a pub that a restaurant, people seem to like that here.  Our excellent waiter recommended some things we might like and we took him at his word and went for his suggestions.  We drank prosecco all night, they didn't have any amaretto and they didn't have any cheese (which they really need to sort out) but that's where the disappointment ends.


The first dish we ordered was a tuna sashimi served with artichoke and yoghurt dressing.  Look how cute the plate is.  This was delicate and soft, perfect sashimi, there's a lot of raw fish here, and I like it.  Nice refreshing start.


Then came the lamb tartare ($13).  Tartare is everywhere in Montreal, I might have mentioned.  But lamb tartare, LAMB!!!  We had to order it.  They warned us it's served very spicy, and it did have a kick, really great toasts spread with a minty paste.  Loved this, I've never had anything like it before.   Happy days.


Then came the wholewheat tagliatelle with tuna.  The tuna was minced and the dish was topped with lots of nuts and there were raisins.  I don't normally like fruit in savoury dishes, but they added something here.  I liked this, the pasta in particular, really well done but the sauce was a tad forgettable.  There's usually a daily special pasta dish at around the $20 mark.

Our final main was my fave dish of the night, the lapin ($29).  A rabbit, offal and all was served simply with leaves but there were so many different cuts, each morsel perfectly cooked.  The offally bits were lurking underneath the larger leg portions, we were pretty full by this point so didn't manage to eat them all, but each mouthful presented a new pop of flavour.  I forgot to take a pic of this, but it would have looked like a plate of lettuce leaves anyway and I really couldn't wait to dig in, so good.  Meant to have come with fries, but we didn't get any.


Our special side was the XO greens.  Bok choi served with a spicy fishy sauce, elevating what could have been the token green dish.  Utterly appalled at the lack of cheese, we declined dessert and went onto liqueurs.  Can't remember what it was but we had several...Seeing we were slightly worse for wear, they gave us a dessert anyway, the pot de creme butterscotch with shortbread ($10).

 
This was actually very welcome several hours into the meal (we had a lot to catch up on!), as desserts go, I approve.  Derek himself came out to mingle at this point.  There was a mixed crowd, couples, groups of women, it's pretty small but seemed full and busy all evening.  Seem to remember liking the music too.  There was plenty to love about the meal and I'd definitely go back.  They do a great brunch apparently.

Maison Publique
4720 Rue Marquette
Plateau
H2J
8/10

Maison Publique on Urbanspoon
 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

September Round Up

September really was the month where I did a sweep of places Anthony Bourdain visited during his 24hr layover.  Also it's been a breakfasty/brunchy/lunchy kind of month...


Beauty's Luncheonette
Starting with Beauty's.  Went for brunch ahead of #oysterfest and Hymie Sckolnick was there to seat us.  Absolute legend that he is.  I copied Bourdain and opted for the Beauty's special bagel with a side of eggs.  You know when you go somewhere, and they ask exactly the right questions when you order?  As in, me - "I'll have a side of eggs please", them- "scrambled or fried, sunny side up or easy over", Craig - "I'll have the Superbeauty's 2 please", them - "bread, toast, brown, wholegrain, rye or white, butter or margarine".  They've got this down.  We even had the same waitress as Bourdain.  It's touristy and unlikely to become one of my regular haunts but I loved the experience.

Also make your own bloody Mary's is a thing.  Gotta love that.  Cheap food but $$$ drinks.


Pastaga
Had a boozy night out with Grace one Sunday (reeeeally regretted that decision when my alarm went off at 7am on Monday morning) including a martini fuelled dinner at Pastaga.  Jury's still out for me on this place and I feel I certainly need to revisit and give a few of the other dishes a try.  We had a nice courgette and burrata starter (above) and a lovely fois gras and veal main but the third dish of crab was forgettable and I felt like everything lacked punch and could have done with a bit more seasoning.  People rave about Martin Juneau’s cooking though, so I will persevere and revisit, I really liked the atmos, decor and the service was nice.  No bread again though, seriously people?


Maison Christian Faure
Erika and I had brunch here, they're mostly known as a patisserie, the front counter houses a fine selection of pastries, cakes and macaroons.  The brunch special for $20 is massive.  Pastry, fruit salad, french toast and eggs bene/royale, I opted for salmon.  My choice of hot drink was earl grey, obvs.  This place is close to work and a fairly well kept secret as it's down a little side street in Old Montreal.  I'll definitely bring my Mum here when she visits later in the year, it's so cute.  When I arrived they were pumping out some classical music, which seamlessly segwayed into Morcheeba.  Blast from the past.


Sparrow
I've spent a few evenings drinking cocktails at Sparrow this summer, including the night England spectacularly crashed out of the World Cup, the drinks are generally excellent.  Which is why I was seriously annoyed with their piss poor Bloody Caesar.  It was watery and pretty flavourless, I think the tomato juice itself is the issue, but these should be a lot better.  I visited for brunch and I was also disappointed by the fact they'd sold out of the shakshuka, there aren't tonnes of options and I really wanted the shakshuka.  Instead I had the 2 fried eggs with home fries, bacon and sourdough.  It was good, but it wasn't baked eggs.


Titanic
Special mention is way overdue for Titanic.  This has been lunchtime mecca for me and the girls from work, we go all the time and I firmly believe that they miss us when we don't go for a couple of days.  Sandwiches, salads, soups, mac & cheese is their thing (this is a mac & cheese grilled cheese).  I usually try to be healthy and opt for the tuna salad, they mix up what comes with the main ingredient, salad leaves are always involved, sometimes roasted veggies, one time, a small portion of their legendary mac & cheese, imagine the joy.  The menu is ever changing, the mushroom soup was amazing a couple of weeks ago but hasn't reappeared since.  Their dessert counter tempts as it's time to pay, the carrot cake and chocolate pot look amazing.  I'll be caving come winter when I need the extra calories!  Love the place. 


Hof Kelsten
Another Montreal fave of mine is Hof Kelsten, I've been popping in most weekends to pick up an iced coffee, love their coffee.  Was yet to try the gravalax sandwich until this week, what was I thinking?  It's brilliant.  Close second to Lawrence, who still hold the sandwich top spot with their porchetta bun.  Lots of love for both places though. 

Beauty's Luncheonette
93 Mont Royal West
Plateau
H2T
7.5

Beauty's on Urbanspoon

Pastaga
6389 St Laurent
Mile End
H2S
6/10

Pastaga on Urbanspoon

Maison Christian Faure
355 Place Royale
Old Montreal
H2Y
7/10

Maison Christian Faure on Urbanspoon

Sparrow (no website, annoying)
5322 St Laurent
Plateau
H2T
6/10

The Sparrow (Le Moineau) on Urbanspoon

Titanic
445 Rue St Pierre
Old Montreal
H2Y
8/10

Titanic on Urbanspoon

Hof Kelsten
4524 St Laurent
Plateau
H2T
9/10

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Pizzeria Gema

So I've banged on about this place in several previous posts and finally made it for dinner last Friday.  Feels like this is often my opener for posts, need to change the record.  Owner Michele Forgione opened this more casual restaurant right across the street from his original slick looking restaurant, Impasto, in Montreal's Little Italy earlier this summer.  There was quite a buzz on account of a free pizza launch night and I'd been keen to try since.

It's no reservations but we showed up at 8ish on a chilly Friday night and were seated after about a 5 minute wait.  If they are full, they take your number and call you when a table is available, a custom that's not widely used here, where most restaurants take reservations.


We struggled a little to pick what to have opting to go straight in with mains saving room for dessert.  All the pizzas sound appealing, the starters too actually.  We ended up going for the special, mortadella with pistachio pesto, which turned out to be just crushed nuts with a dousing of olive oil as far as I could tell, but no complaints, it was excellent. 


We shared both, our second choice being the Ruliano, topped with confit proscuito, melted leeks and fontina.  This one was slightly more charred, the crust and base had more colour, which I prefer.  Once again apols for the extremely amateur photos, you get the gist though.  This was v.good.


Dessert options are limited to chocolate and/or vanilla frozen custard with a variety of customizable toppings.  We both opted for vanilla with butterscotch sauce and salted nuts.  It was bloody brilliant.  I like the simplicity of the menu, they're keeping things pretty basic but doing these few staples really, really well.

Pizzas are around $15-$20, starters less than $10 and the custard, $5 for a cone or a bowl, excellent value. 

The feel of the dining room is in keeping with the basic theme, lots of wood and clean lines, tables are close together and there's a neat little bar housing a solid list of wines.  There's a hatch to the side where pizzas are served direct from the kitchen to take out.  All very good.  On a par with the pizza at Magpie.  I must try Impasto.

Pizzeria Gema (why no website or facebook?)
6827 Saint Dominique
Little Italy
H2S
8.5/10

L'gros luxe on Urbanspoon