Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pionnier des boulangeries bagel a Montreal

Montreal is apparently famous for their bagels.  There is said to be a rivalry between New York City and Montreal over whose bagels are better.  Since bagels are pretty delicious, I decided to check out one of the top bagel bakeries in Montreal: Fairmount Bagel.

Fairmount Bagel is located in the Mile End neighborhood, an area that unfortunately for me does not feature a Metro stop.  I took the Metro as close as possible and walked the rest of the way.  Normally, I do not mind walking, but the weather was windy and cold (28F).  I got a bit turned around leaving the Metro station, and my walk to Fairmount Bagel, which would not have been exactly short to begin with, ended up taking about a half hour.  When I rounded the corner and saw Fairmount Bagel and the associated line (see picture above), my first thought was 'forget bagels'.  I was way too cold to stand still in line, and I had no idea how fast the line would move.  

But I didn't give up so quickly.  I had come all that way out to Mile End, and I figured I may as well check out the neighborhood.  After walking around a bit and spending some time in shops warming up, I was ready to go back and brave the line.  I lucked out, and when I returned there was almost no line.  In no time, I had seen the tiny inside of the shop, briefly watched this guy roll bagels, and purchased a dozen and some cream cheese.

I pulled a sesame seed bagel out of the bag the instant I hit the street.  It was still warm from the oven.  How did it stack up against NY bagels, you ask?  The exterior of the bagel is very good.  I like the sweetness that comes from boiling them in honey water, and the wood fire baking results in a delicious crust.  The inside is light and chewy.  This may have merit for some people, but I like my bagels dense.  

When I got back to my hotel I sat down for a proper bagel with cream cheese.

It was pretty damn delicious.  Perhaps I could get used to a lighter, chewier interior?

Bon appetit.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

tartare de cerfs communs et frites

I love raw meat.  There you have it.  When I cook ground beef, you can be assured I will have at least a little pinch of the raw stuff before cooking it up for spaghetti sauce or forming it into patties for burgers.  So, steak tartare is one of the pleasures of my life.  I don't eat it much because it can be done so poorly.  The meat can be too sinewy, the restaurant can be too sketchy, or the waiter can use Ceasar salad fixings instead of steak tartare fixings (this happened at El Gaucho in Portland - a story for another time).  And it's not a common item on menus in Portland.

During my wanderings in Old Montreal on Saturday, I passed a few restaurants that served steak tartare.   It had been my plan to stay in the area for dinner that night, but the dark and cold set in around 5, and I couldn't find a way to while away enough time to stay for dinner.  I decided tonight would be a perfect night to venture away from the area around my hotel for dinner; I can't watch the Blazer game anywhere and there isn't any good TV on, so why not spend time walking and riding the Metro instead of wasting time in my hotel room?

I picked a restaurant in my Lonely Planet and headed there after work.  The Montreal Lonely Planet that I have was printed in 2004, so it's a little old.  I could not find the restaurant I was looking for on Rue Notre Dame Ouest, but I happened upon L'Assommoir, a place featuring numerous varieties of tartare on their menu outside the door.  I couldn't resist.

Upon entering, it was obvious this was a popular after work happy hour type place.  It was packed.  The hostess offered up any open seat, and as I walked down the long bar, I realized the only open seats were covered in coats and purses.  I found a solitary empty chair at the very end next to the place the waiters come pick up their drinks.   I didn't think my entree choice was up for much thought, but after seeing deer tartare on the menu, I was intrigued.  I called the bartender over, ordered a dirty gin martini and asked for his recommendation between the steak and deer tartare.  He gave a no-thought answer: deer tartare.  And so it was raw deer for me.

Apparently there was some issue in the kitchen, so my dinner was a bit delayed.  I was perfectly happy reading my book and drinking my martini, but apparently the bartender felt bad.  He brought me plantain chips and salsa on which to nibble while I waited.

I only got through two of these massive chips before my dinner arrived.

The pictures do not do this meal justice (though, I should be proud that I braved taking pictures at all - it is a bit humiliating using one's Blackberry with flash to take pictures of one's meal at a nice, crowded place).  The tartare was spectacular.  There is really no other way to describe it.  The meat was perfectly tender and not gamey like I expected out of deer.  It was mixed with toasted hazelnuts and nestled on a bed of parmesan shavings and, of course, topped with a quail egg.  It reminded me of Oregon.  Something about the combination of a game animal and hazelnuts.  

I broke the egg out of the shell before remembering to take the pic, unfortunately.

After the meal was finished and my place cleared, the bartender came over with three shots, called the other bartender over, and told me that I was going to do a shot with them so they could apologize for making me wait so long for my food.  Oh those Canadians and their hospitality.  What started as a bit of an awkward seat at the end of the bar ended in shots with the staff.

Bon appetit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

deux déjeuners à Montréal, parte deux

Gerard, my Iranian-quebecois cabbie, gave three restaurant suggestions while driving me from Elliott Trudeau to my hotel last Wednesday:  L'Entrecote St. Jean, Restaurant L'Express, and Schwartz's.  The first two are bistros, basically, and the last an 80 year old jewish deli specializing in smoked meat.  Not surprisingly, my mouth watered for Schwartz's.  I woke up late-ish on Sunday morning and decided that a walk around Parc Mount Royal before heading to Schwartz's for a late lunch was a good way to spend Sunday's daylight hours.

After getting lost on Mount Royal, which, by the way, is more of a hill than a mountain, and walking approximately 12 km, I was very hungry when I finally found Schwartz's.  To my dismay, despite it being 3 in the afternoon, there was quite a line.  Gerard had warned me of the ever present line, but I thought he meant there are always lines at regular mealtimes.  I waited for about 35 minutes before I lucked out with a single spot at the counter.  Sometimes, it's great to be alone.

The wait was totally worth it.  The smoked meat is tender and oh so flavorful, and the pickle ranks among the best pickles I have ever tasted.  I love pickles, and eat them a lot, so that is quite a statement coming from me.  (Quick side note:  Until I was about 13, pickles were just about the only "vegetable" I would eat.  Just solidifying my love of pickles for you readers. Quick side note #2:  Yes, the preceding makes me feel a bit like Snookie.)  I don't really know how to give more of an endorsement for Schwartz's.  It was very very very good.

Bon appetit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

deux déjeuners à Montréal, parte une

I know.  After all my talk of turning over a new leaf and posting every day, I completely stopped posting for a long time.  Now I am in Montreal for 2 weeks, followed by Thanksgiving in California, so I won't be back to posting meals I cooked myself until December.  

But, Montreal has excellent food, and though I have not taken pictures of all the meals I have eaten here so far, I did manage to capture my lunches of this weekend. 

Saturday I spent the day wandering around Old Montreal.  According to a guy I work with, Old Montreal is the oldest settlement of non-Native Americans in North America.  I somehow do not think that is true, but the original mission dates to 1642, so that is pretty old. (A quick wikipedia search verifies that Montreal does not even come close to the oldest European settlement in North America.  Veracruz, Mexico was inhabited by Europeans in 1519.  For those of you who don't consider Mexico to be a part of North America - I have heard many Canadians include Mexico as part of South America which just makes no sense - San Juan, Puerto Rico was settled in 1521.  Further, Tadoussac, Quebec was settled in 1599.  So Montreal isn't even the oldest settlement in Quebec.)

I would call my wandering of Old Montreal "controlled wandering"; I did one of my Montreal Lonely Planet's walking tours.  I must say, I love Lonely Planet's walking tours.  I started at the Basilique Notre Dame on the Place d'Armes then walked along Rue St Jacque, what used to be the Wall Street of Canada.  Lots of old buildings.  Then more old buildings, and I started to get hungry.  I stopped in Cafe St. Paul which, embarrassingly, was part of the walking tour.  It is a cute old cafe, and when I saw poutine on the menu, I knew I had to have it.  

Poutine is the quintessential québécois fare.  It is french fries smothered in cheddar curds and gravy.  I already know I love the stuff, as I have often times eaten it at the Potato Champion cart on 11th and Hawthorne in Portland.  But I was really excited to have authentic Quebec poutine.  I was disappointed.  I think the gravy was the problem.  Potato Champion makes real gravy.  This stuff tasted like something out of a can.  My Lonely Planet lists the 5 best places to get poutine, and I will have to go to one of those places and see if they can top Potato Champion.

I am not a snobby eater, though, so I managed to put back the whole plate of poutine pictured below before continuing on my walking tour.

Here's a ridiculously simple poutine recipe that gives basically no more instruction than my description of what poutine is above.  

Prepare french-fries, approximately 2 cups into a serving bowl. Drop 1/2 C of cheddar cheese curds on top of the fries. Ladel 1 cup of sauce (while hot) on top of the fries and cheese. Allow to rest for 3-5 minutes, permitting the sauce and cheese to work together. Grab a fork, and enjoy!

For the sauce, apparently the most common one to use is out of a pouch from the St. Hubert brand.  No wonder the gravy on my poutine at Cafe St. Paul tasted like it was out of a can; it was probably out of a pouch.

I'm already thinking of how good some poutine with fresh Tillamook cheese curds and homemade gravy would be (leftover Thanksgiving gravy?).  Perhaps I'll make some when I'm back in Portland.

Bon appetit.