Thursday, October 23, 2014

Montreal has great food. Impasto and Chez L'Epicier were our top restaurant picks.

Chevre Chaud Factor:  3 Yums UP
Favourite Restaurant:  Cathy – Impasto       David – Chez L’Epicier  
I love Montreal.  It’s on a waterway and has a huge park at its heart.  It has a great arts and music scene and is truly bilingual, with locals easily shifting between French and English. And then there’s the food; fabulous markets, an abundance of great local cheeses and restaurants that will knock your socks off with some of the best wine lists in the country.  What’s not to love? 

Dinner reservations are a must.  The restaurants are very busy, even on a long weekend. 
Lemeac Ravioli

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We arrived on Saturday in time for dinner at Restaurant Lemeac.  A casual French restaurant, the atmosphere and service and food were all acceptable, some of it quite good.   I started with a salad chevre chaud and David had the Vegetable Tian.  My salad was very nice, a modern version with panko crusted chevre and  lightly dressed frisee on top.  Walnuts and apples added a nice touch.  The vegetable tian was forgettable.  For main courses I had the Mushroom Ravioli with pine nuts and arugula.  A dish I would normally love but I didn’t notice that it was served with a demi-glace, which overwhelmed the flavours of the mushrooms.  I’m not sure why so many chefs choose to take a dish that would be perfect for vegetarians or pescetarians and taint it with meat.  In this case a mushroom broth would have kept the character of the dish strong and earthy.   David had the Seared Scallops ; served with mashed fingerling potatoes and mujjol caviar, it was a beautifully executed dish with the large scallops perfectly seared and sitting on top of the tasty mashed potatoes .  The mujjol caviar added just the right salty flavour depth.  Awesome spuds.  I’m going to try and replicate this, it was simply delicious. 
Milos Special
After a day of exploring we had dinner at Milos.  This was our 3rd Milos dinner, one in New York and once before in Montreal.  We weren’t so happy the last time we ate in Montreal but New York had been so great we decided to give it another go.  We love the menu and the quality of ingredients is outstanding.  The Milos Special is a must have. A stack of light and crisp fried zucchini, eggplant and saganaki stacked on top of the best tzatziki I’ve ever tasted.  The calamari and Greek salad were perfect.  The tomatoes tasty with true flavour.  Our waiter proudly told us about their tomato source and how they are grown just for Milos.  I’ve recently developed a guilty tasty for octopus and was compelled to try the appetizer as my entrée.  Sashimi quality and charcoal broiled, I could crave this.  David had Dover sole simply prepared with lemon, olive oil and capers.  Some Greek potatoes and greens and we had a perfect dinner.  Our waiter was helpful and knew his wines very well.  They had more Greek wines than I’d ever seen and he was able to describe the Sauvignon Blancs well.  We chose the Gerovassiliou   in the style of a Sancerre and were very happy with how it.  Dinner at Milos offers exceptional seafood and it’s busy with interesting people watching.  It is expensive. Be careful when ordering fresh whole fish.
Go! Chef Godbout

Thanksgiving Monday and we had dinner at Chez L’Epicier.  We had to guarantee our reservation with a credit card.  I was reluctant but many restaurants in Montreal are closed on Monday and being a holiday there seemed to be a lot of American tourists so reservations were hard to get.  The restaurant in Old Montreal was comfortable and welcoming and the staff was outstanding.  Our waiter was the best I’ve had in a long time.  He had an opinion, something I value and appreciate.  I was struggling with the extensive French wine list and when I asked his opinion of a choice between 2 wines he said he didn’t personally care for either and suggested a 2012 Morgon  Beaujolais.  He wasn’t trying to sell us a more expensive wine; there was an insignificant difference.  It was just good advice.  Chef Laurent Godbout will be competing for Canada in the 2015 Bocuse D’Or and our dinner promised big things for Canada.  From the moment we tasted the amuse bouche we knew we were in for a fantastic meal.  
Eggplant Chevre Macaron

Parsnip Soup
Eggplant macaron with a chevre filling, I could have happily made a meal of several with the wine.  

 David started with Parsnip Soup; brown butter panne cotta and liquid parsley were presented in a bowl and parsnip milk was poured over top.  Fantastic presentation and equally good taste.

Not Just Like Fish & Chips

I couldn’t resist the Just Like Fish and Chips.  I consider myself a fair judge of F&C and this wasn’t like anything I’d had before.  Completely deconstructed, the fish was thin slices of a Japanese white fish, seared rare, with batter pieces on the side and paper thin potato crisps with frisee and tartar sauce.  I wouldn’t order it again but it was interesting.  David had the Roasted Butternut Squash with crème fraiche, walnut crumble, grapes and bread crisps.  A very pretty dish but I was surprised by the cold squash and not a fan.

Cod & Zuccini Carbonara

I loved the Norwegian Cod, with crispy skin served on zucchini carbonara, sea urchin cream and white wine.  Wow!  Richness made light by the zucchini replacing the pasta.  We also had Truffle gnocchi with broccoli puree, crispy buckwheat, roasted cipollini onions and grilled garlic oil.  Both main courses were outstanding.  
Chocolate Club House
Finally we had the signature dessert; a Chocolate Club Sandwich, small triangles of white and dark chocolate cake on skewers with pineapple fries and a melon salad.  Very pretty and the pineapple fries were fantastic but I think there were better choices.    

I recommend Chez L’Epicier unreservedly and wish Chef Godbout good luck in 2015.

Squid Ink Pasta at Impasto

Our final dinner in at Impasto was hands down my favourite. Partly because we sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and the chef and team were focused and happy, turning out food that kept the room humming with appreciation. 
We tried as many dishes as we could, David declaring both the squid ink pasta and the walleye, the best he’d ever eaten.  I was quite taken with the beet salad and the scallops.    
The beet salad had tiny yellow, pink and red beets disks shaved raw, as well as cooked beet with different fresh cheeses and toasted hazelnuts with great dressing and pretty presentation.
Scallops on Chickpea Pancake
Scallops were large and perfectly seared on a chickpea pancake with an agresto (a pesto like sauce with almonds, walnuts some magic involved).  Usually served with ‘nduja sausage, the chef had to be consulted before they agreed to serve it pescatarian friendly.  I was glad he did.  I like to cook scallops but I would never bother with the chickpea pancake, which I really enjoyed and the agresto wouldn’t be easily duplicated.
 David had an artichoke flan that wasn’t a big hit for him but I tried to steal as much as I could.  Irresistible with the house made bread. 
The Squid Ink Pasta had fresh clams and mullet bottarga (sun dried mullet roe), briny and delicious. 
The absolutely best walleye ever was served aioli topped with red cabbage and crisp walleye.  Perfectly cooked and the cabbage and aioli were surprisingly complimentary.
We also had squash stuffed ravioli with sage butter and amaretti.   Similar to Feenie’s Cactus Club dish, it was very good but not as impressive as the other dishes.

We’re living on salad now.

Au Revoir Montreal

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sunday in New York - brunch in Harlem, walk the highline, Chelsea Market shopping and Del Posto for dinner

Brunch is the thing to do on Sunday morning in New York and the Red Rooster, Harlem was at the top of our list.  We were instructed to arrive early, did as told, and were rewarded with a fantastic seat facing the band.  The staff, musicians and vibe were all friendly and happy.  The food satisfying on a deep level.

Crab Salad in Butter Lettuce 
Corn Bread

We shared crab salad, served in small butter lettuce leaves and corn bread.  So good we had to hold ourselves back from ordering seconds and it was a good thing we did because our main courses were both delicious and hearty.

Blackened Catfish Grits and Deep Fried Okra

Grilled Shrimp and Cheddar Grits

We felt no pressure to finish up and in fact were told to relax and enjoy the music.  It was an intimate experience with some masterly musicians.  A great start to the day.

Efficient and Happy Kitchen at Red Rooster Harlem
Doors open at 10am for Brunch and Jazz on Sunday.  Buffet brunch and Gospel downstairs at Ginny's Supper Club, but that's for the next time.

After brunch we headed back down-town to the Chelsea Market. 
Chelsea Market Has Attitude

Rachel part of the crowd at Chelsea Market

 One of the best markets I've visited, we could have spent hours wandering around, shopping, eating, being entertained.  We left a little poorer with some nice treasures.  Next time we'll go early in our trip, have a meal and get some top notch room snacks.
Chelsea Market Crazy Cakes
Angry Bird Cakes

The Highline runs right over top of Chelsea Market so up we went.  New York is in love with it's new elevated pedestrian walkway with good reason.  It's well laid out, one of those things you know is perfection right away.

It was a hot day so when we came back down it seemed like a tall jug of iced Sangria was in order.  We walked into a large empty restaurant and ordered a jug.  In 20 minutes the restaurant was full and we still only had water but realized we had just lucked into perfect seats to watch the final World Cup Soccer game.  Several pitchers of Sangria later, Germany had won and we were running across the street to Del Posto and our terribly, horribly early dinner reservations.
Lobster with Burrata & Fermented Broccolini
I feel like I'm putting Batali and Bastianich notches on my eating belt.  The food really appeals to me, and  everything is polished, but something about it is contrived.  Just not quite as special as it thinks it is.

Few things can make an empty restaurant feel good and though I sort of like to eat early and am often forced to as a way to try all the great restaurants choosing not to take reservations, that's different.  I can't blame Del Posto for the lack of atmosphere.  But we had to get out of town, so early was our only choice, and not the right one for this large restaurant. 
Pasta with Black Truffle

The food has always been exceptional at the B & B restaurants and there were some great dishes here too. The Cool Lobster was a pretty dish with well balanced textures and flavours.  

The pasta with black truffle was unappealing but smelled and tasted better than it looked.
Salmon with Cauliflower and Calamari

The slow cooked salmon and with Calamari, cauliflower and hazelnut salad was impressive, with eye appeal and perfectly cooked salmon.

They had all the free and tasty snacks and sweets that come with crazy prices and we do love surprise food.
Sweet Treats
 It makes the meal fun and interesting.  Presumably the calories don't count if you didn't order it and you can eat it in one bite.  

That was our big day in New York.  Can't wait for the next one.  It makes a great stop on the way to the Caribbean.  I wonder if I can change my tickets to Jamaica.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I love all things Portuguese, including Aldea NYC by Chef George Mendes

Black Squid rice crisps 

In the Flatiron district we tried Aldea, a 1 Michelen star restaurant by George Mendes.  Possibly the best thing about those Michelen stars are the amuse bouche that goes with it. We were served a squid ink rice crisp with prawn mousse and fava bean puree.  There wasn't a crumb left.

Sea Urchin Toast with Cauliflow Puree
For starters we had Bacalau croquettes, blistered peppers, Japanese sea urchin toasts and mussel soup.  There was a lot of "You have to try this" and "I'm not sharing " going on, a sure sign that we were loving the food.

Blistered Peppers at Aldea

Blistered Peppers were popular in New York.  They were on several bar menus.  And I do love good bar food.

Mussel Soup 

Mussel soup was reluctantly shared.  Just looking at it you KNOW it's going to be everything it should be; rich and flavourful with a taste of the ocean lingering.  

Sea Salt Chatham Cod 
For a main course the Sea Salt Chatham Cod was recommended and it was a nice dish although not one that I'd want again.  Cod is in my blood and you have to do something special with it to impress me.  I've eaten more than my share of simply but perfectly prepared cod and I know it's about the fish and it was good. I really liked the charred corn and have been using it a lot at home this summer.  

Smoked Lamb Ribs and Braised Shoulder
I think Rachel's Lamb Ribs and Braised shoulder was a more satisfying dish.  Is sure looked pretty and there was none left.

Little Dreams at Aldea
Another popular menu item in New York is mini donuts.  I'm not talking Tim Bits but freshly made donuts with dipping sauces that are boasting of the finest chocolate and cream and stuffed with amazing custards.  I have to admit I did not try any but they sure looked and smelled good.

The final bites were also compliments of that Michele Star.  The surprise dessert was Portuguese tarts.  Popular in Chinese bakeries in Vancouver.  These were outstanding.
Portuguese Tarts at Aldea
I'm still not sure what makes one restaurant Michelin starred and another not and I'm not sure it's all that relevant but I did like Aldea.  Good food, good atmosphere, we left smiling and happy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

New York is the most interesting food city. The more I go the more I want to. Empellon Taqueria is my new favourite place to eat.

Bacalau Croquettes with garlic aioli at Aldea
New York seems like a distant memory 2 weeks later but there are some things that stand out.  Number 1 is the bacalau croquettes.  They seemed to be everywhere and they were delicious.  For a good Newfoundlander like me, they are just called fish cakes and they were often on our dinner menu.  I had them at 3 restaurants in New York.  Blistered peppers were another hot item.

Guacamole and 7 Salsas at Empellon
We stayed in the Union Square area and mostly stuck to restaurants in lower Manhattan.  There were so many good choices but my favourite was Empellon Taqueria.  I recommend the Guacamole with All 7 Salsa.  The chips were very fresh and well made, the guacamole was perfect and the 7 sauces were all tasty, some hot, some not.  All with a depth of flavour that really made the guacamole shine.

Lobster and corn taco, Empellon

We also had Smoked plantain and crema sopas.  Equally good.  We thought about ordering more for dessert but after the trio of tacos we were done.  There were 11 tacos to choose from.  We tried the lobster, the crab and the brussel sprouts.  All good, but my favourite was the lobster.

Brussel Sprout, malted hummus and hazelnuts
The brussel sprout taco was a surprising combination of flavours that worked well together. It wasn't my choice but I did like it.
Crab cake taco, Empellon

The crab cake isn't on the menu, but it should be.

Empellon was casual with a fun, busy atmosphere and thoughtful, happy staff.  I recommend it for all Mexican food lovers.