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

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Dominion Square Tavern

Yet another Bourdain venue during his 24 layover, I'd read much about Tavern Square Dominion as a drinking venue but wasn't sure what to expect of the food.  There's a long bar running the length of the dining room, it feels very 1920s that's clearly the vibe they're going for, prohibition speakeasy type thang.  It feels a bit like London's Zedel, which makes me very happy.


For some reason I have issues arranging these 3 words properly, Dominion Square Tavern seems to make much more sense in my head so this is what I call it.  Anyway, I don't think people care really, it's called both.  The building harks back to the great depression era, when it was first built and was a hotel, it's been a restaurant since 2009 having gone through various changes in between.  I loved the feel of the place.  They offer a completely British menu, including bangers and mash and a roast on Sunday, will definitely be back for that come winter.


I had to order the scotch egg ($14) to start, I miss scotch eggs a lot, I really didn't expect to, but I do.  This one didn't disappoint in the slightest, perfect runny yolk.  The 'Swedish' sauce is acidic, consisting of horseradish and goose fat apparently, I think lemon is responsible for the tang.  'Scuse the photo quality, it's very candlelit in there, perfect date venue.  Apparently it's also a popular pre hockey game destination as there's a nearby sports bar where the cocktails aren't up to much.


This is the roasted cod with carrot puree and kale ($29).  I've decided I don't like carrot mash, it's always far too sweet and overpowering, the fish was cooked nicely and the kale was good, but the mash masked any other flavours. 


We shared a cheese plate ($18) consisting of a blue, a brie and a cheddar with Guinness.  I'd seen this at Atwater Market and it creeped me out, something about the marbling looks a bit gross but the taste was ok.  The blue was nicest.  Served with pecans and fruity toasted bread. 

We drank really good gin fizz cocktails to begin with and moved on to just fizz.  Will definitely be back, I also miss roast dinners,  luckily British food is a big thing here so I don't have to rely solely on cooking myself to get a regular taste of home.

Dominion Square Tavern
1243 Metcalfe
Golden Square Mile
H3B
8/10

Taverne Square Dominion on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 September 2014

Le Serpent

Le Serpent is sister restaurant to Le Club Chasse et Peche where I dined earlier in the year.  While I found Le Club a tad stuffy and OTT, by comparison Le Serpent is relaxed and welcoming.  We arrived early and started with a couple of martinis at the bar.  The service was extremely friendly, it felt like being welcomed by relatives we'd not seen in some time.  I was totally charmed.

I'd read that the room is not the most comfortable environment, and I sort of agree.  Especially the seating, the chairs are really uncomfortable after a couple of hours and the tables for 2 are very close together.  I don't tend to let that bother me at all, but people probably get to know a little more about me than I'd generally care to divulge to strangers, due to their close proximity. 

We ordered bread.  This must be one of only a handful of restaurants in Montreal that don't serve bread automatically.  You need to order it and pay for it here.  A nice foccacia is served and there's some kind of charity donation involved if you do order it, so I suppose one mustn't grumble.  But come on, just serve bread, people love it. 


The menu is split into raw starters, cooked starters, pasta, risotto, surf, turf and rotisserie sections.  There's a lot going on and it took us some time to reach a decision.

I started off with the kit of three ($18).  3 types of sashimi, this is a huge starter and I didn't eat all of it.  Mainly because I thought the scallops were slightly ruined by the addition of an overpowering sweet chilli sauce.  The fish itself, though, was excellent.  I much preferred the mackerel with yuzu, almonds and dried olives.  The third of the trio (below, centre) was flounder with red onions and orange powder, again the fish was a tad overlooked because the accompaniments were so strong. 



My main was seabass with mussels, fregola, tomato and fennel ($29).  I'd hoped this would be on a par with my fishy fregola main at Rotorino but it sadly wasn't.  I'm wondering whether we took a ridiculously long time to finish our starters because it looked to me like my main had been sitting around for a while, it was all a bit dry.  Flavours were good though.


Instead of dessert we shared a cheeseplate which included Mimolette, I'm always happy to see this cheese, and I miss Waitrose where I used to stock up on it.  


Despite it sounding like I didn't enjoy much, in all, I'd like to try more of the cooking at Le Serpent and I'll definitely revisit, it's just down the road from work so I'll be back soon.  Some hits, some misses on my first visit but I'm sufficiently pleased to go back again.  I'll be trying the 'spit of the day' from the rotisserie next time.  What I remember most is drinking Disaronno until they practically had to throw us out because everyone else had gone.  We paid a little over $100 each which included pre drinks, a bottle of prosecco and several digestifs.  Great night, 

Le Serpent
257 Rue Prince
Old Montreal
H3C
7/10

Le Serpent on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Joe Beef

This video introduced me to Joe Beef, thank you Anthony Bourdain.  Based on the places he visited during his 24 hours in Montreal I planned my first meal at Joe Beef when I initially visited in Feb. That didn't happen in the end, for numberous reasons and I didn't actually make it until Em came to visit in August.   I ended up going twice in one week (long story, won't bore you with it) and I'm planning my next visit in November.  I loved it.  It's my favourite restaurant here.  No contest.

On both evenings I sat in the beautiful garden, it's the perfect setting for a summer evening.   The menus are on large chalkboards by the entrance (so you can peruse while you wait to be seated), inside the restaurant and on boards in the garden, something they're missing at Liverpool House.  Em and I allowed the waitress to recommend what we should have, with a couple of must try dishes in mind, she was bang on with her suggestions.

First thing I should mention is the lobster spaghetti ($30).   It's one of their signature dishes, and Em and I were talking about it for days afterwards.  Available in 2 sizes, we had the small to share and ate every last bit.  There's a massively generous amount of lobster, I don't know how anyone manages the bigger portion, perfectly al dente spaghetti and the most amazing creamy sauce.  It's one of the finest plates of food I've ever eaten.

 

We also tried a small double down ($17).  This thing is insane.   2 chunks of deep fried foie gras with bacon, smoked feta and gravy mayo sandwiched in between.  We were so glad we had the small because it's small but intense, a large would leave you feeling like a right greasy scumbag.
 
 

On my other visit, Craig, Sar and I tried the smoked meat croquetas ($12) which were brilliant (still not a patch on Barrafina though, holy grail croquetas, will never be bettered).

 

Also tried the smoked salmon plate, which was different....I wouldn't have ordered this to be honest, but again it was recommended and didn't disappoint.   There was egg, I was immediately sold.  Probably the most interesting and least guilt inducing plate of food I've tried here, accompaniments included mustard, dill and toast.

  

Ok now, both visits have included the tournados de cheval with emmentaler ($38).  A massive horse steak and a cheesy sausage with horseradish.  This dish is something else. I had reservations about eating horse, as it's so rarely eaten in the UK, and the whole 2013 horse meat debacle recently highlighted the nations outrage at the prospect at being duped into eating horsemeat.  I liked it, I would probably rather eat a cow steak but I've had this twice and I'm not ashamed.  You have to try these things, right?

  

We offset the horse meat with a lighter main of panfried fillet of trout with new potatoes and mussels. Probably the least memorable of everything I've tried but only because everything else is so outstanding. 

 

The sides were also memorable, the simple green side salad with ham ($10) and the fries with aioli ($8) were both outstanding.  We didn't finish either of course, nor did we have bread as we didn't want to fill up and not have room for afters.

  

Onto puds and this marjolaine classique ($10).   A layered sponge with hazelnut cream and meringue. So so good.  We knew we'd be beaten by dessert but had to have it anyway.  Excuse the hideous photo, we'd retired to the outer garden by this point and were well into the wine.

  

Another dessert ordered was the pannacotta with prunes ($7).  This one well and truly got the better of us and we had to admit defeat.   Brilliantly creamy with a tartness from the fruit, everything you need in a sweet. 

 

Final dessert I've tried was this amazing thing, a sort of eton mess, meringue, berries and cream.   We'd asked to have the sorbet and eau de vie, daily changing flavours doused in a shot of your choice of booze.  They were just making up a fresh batch of sorbet so they made this specially for us and we got a berry flavoured liquer to accompany.   It was incredible, much better than a sorbet, so we really lucked out.

  


They have an incredible lengthy and pricey wine list, all the waiters are well versed in helping you select something good to pair with your food choices, the red we had wasn't great but the white was excellent.  I'm no wine buff clearly but there's definitely enough choice there to please everyone. Mostly French, obvs.

The key to eating at Joe Beef is to remember everything is going to be brilliant, but massive, so order small portions where there's an option, share everything and accept that you'll leave reeeeeally full, and that's ok, don't deny yourself guys.   I love Joe Beef very very much and will be returning regularly.  The ambience, the service and, above all, the food are of such a high standard that it's easy to see why people regard this as one of the best restaurants in the world.  I do too now.  LOVE.

Joe Beef
4291 Notre-Dame West
Little Burgundy
H2J
10/10

Joe Beef on Urbanspoon