Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Eating on the road: Restaurant La Sirène de la Mer in Montreal

 My last meal on February's trip to Montreal Restaurant La Sirène de la Mer, a Lebanese seafood place outside of the downtown core. Recommended by a friend, I knew it was fancy because the menu on the web site didn't show prices.

You enter the restaurant through the fish monger which was interesting. Sadly, I didn't know it was an option to pick our your fish and have them cook it up for you in the restaurant. As that would have been a cool option to try.

It's a fancier place as I said, not overly busy on this night, with the atmosphere marred by kids loudly running through it seemingly unsupervised.

I persevered and, with a menu showing prices in hand, perused my choices.

For my starter I opted for the Kébbé Meatballs, or Lebanese meatballs of minced beef. They were fine but needed a sauce or something; something was missing and the lemon didn't do it.

My starter out of the way, for the main and as it was a seafood restaurant I went for the fried fillet of sole on a bed of sautéed vegetables served with meunière sauce. 

Again, I was underwhelmed. The vegetables were good. The fish was of a good portion and well cooked, but it felt like there was something missing. It later occured to me it was the sauce. If it was there, it was not enough to be detectable. 

Finally, for desert, chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Which was needed as the cake was dry.

So, all in all, a mixed experience with average dishes, which was quite unfortunate given the price point. Maybe they had a bad day and I'll go back if my friend who knows the owners comes with next time. But an unfortuante way to end this trip after earlier great meals at Joe Beef and Stash Cafe.

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Friday, July 12, 2024

Eating on the road: Stash Café in Montreal

Like many Canadians, my family tree is complicated so I can't claim my heritage to just one country. I was born here. My Mom was too, but her parents would trace to the US and Switzerland. My Dad moved here as a kid but was born in London and grew up in Ireland, with an Irish Mother and a Polish Father.

So while I claim the Irish heritage every March, I do have a legit claim to some Polish roots too. Which is a long way of saying I went to Stash Café in Montreal earlier this year for some good Polish food.

It's a cute spot in Old Montreal and just across the street from Olive et Gourmando, where I went for breakfast on a previous trip to Montreal. This time, it was a pre-hockey game meal -- a step up from my usual pre-match St. Hubert.

I have never actually been to Poland (I am not counting a layover to change planes in Warsaw on my way to Bucharest) so I've never had legit Polish food (I am not counting what they fed me on my Lot Airlines flights) so I cannot comment on the authenticity of the menu. But it looked pretty authentic.

I decided on three courses, beginning, of course, with pierogi. The starter comes with four of them and I opted for two potato/cheese and two beef. It came with sour cream, and I was able to sub-out the sauerkraut (not a fan) for some beet salad.

I have had many pierogi and you can really taste the difference handmade makes. Delicate and flavourful. And the beet salad was a welcome taste of freshness. If I was living in Poland I would eat too many pierogi all the time. One of the top potato delivery vehicles in existence.

I was really torn on the main during my menu pre-scouting. I considered doing the larger pierogi serving as a main and doing something else for the appy. Or getting a sausage or potato pancakes -- both also Polish staples and a big part of my late father's cooking.

In end end though I opted for the Krokiety, described on the menu as two breaded crepe rolls filled with beef or mushrooms served with green salad, potato salad and a creamy mushroom sauce.

The krokiety were rich, hearty and filling, good fill your stomach Polish food for a cold winter's day whether it's in Krakow or Montreal. The salad was fine and I did not care for the dill-heavy potato salad -- I prefer my potato in pierogi form -- but these roles and the mushroom sauce were delish.

Finally I did save space for desert, opting for peach cobbler with homemade sweet cream.

I would say it was fine. In fairness, it was February so peaches were not exactly in season.

All in all it was an excellent meal, even if I couldn't later resist having a hot dog at the Habs game. Next time, I'll get the big plate of pierogi...

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Eating on the road: Finally making it to Montreal's Joe Beef

The famed Joe Beef has always been first on my list when visiting Montreal on a culinary adventure, but securing a reservation can be a challenge. It's a Montreal institution featured by Anthony Bourdain and many other food shows. Thankfully, I lucked out during my February visit and was even able to secure a Friday night seating.

(On a previous visit I dined at their sister restaurant, Liverpool House.)

To be honest, much of Joe Beef's menu is a little too fancy and bougie for me, as while I may be a foodie I'm more a working class foodie. So no tartars or pates for me, merci bien. But I do like quality food prepared well, and I enjoyed a delicious three courses at Joe Beef accompanied by a tasty glass of vin rouge.

The restaurant had the feel of an old house converted into a restaurant. I can't say how many other rooms there were as I was seated in the first room as you entered from the street, it was cozy but you were seated fairly close to other parties.

I couldn't do my usual menu pre-scout as the menu is highly variable and changeable based on the season and the availability of local ingredients. There are a few regular standbys, like the lobster spaghetti, but the market price was trop cher than I was willing to pay.

I opted to start with an epoisses tartlet and wine poached pear which was served with a small salad. It was delicately prepared and quite tasty and did well to warm up the pallet.

For my main course I selected the dry-aged pork steak, served with salsify and sauce foyot. This was delicious. Salsify was a root vegetable I had never had before; it was prepared perfectly -- tender and delicious. The portion of pork was generous and it was as deliciously tender as you would hope, and I tried to mop up every drop of the rich sauce foyot -- variation of the traditional sauce Béarnaise made by adding  a concentrated reduction of brown stock. Everything I'd hoped for.

Finally, having saved room for desert I opted for a traditional classic French desert -- a slice of marjolaine classique. This is their specialty desert, but I have to say it's the one course that didn't meet my elevated expectations. It was OK. Jsst, OK. It didn't blow me away with flavour.

The slight downnote of desert aside, this was a fantastic meal that started out by weekend in Montreal on a high note. I was glad to finally score a reservation, and I hope I can find space again my next trip to Montreal. Definitely worth a repeat visit.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Birthday dinner at CopaCabana Brazilian Steakhouse

 I haven't gotten to experience it much -- only twice on work trips in my last career to San Francisco and Las Vegas -- but I'm a big fan of Brazilian-style steak, aka rodizio.

Basically, it's a fixed price (excluding drinks) for all of the meat and other sides (to tempt you away from the meat) and the highlight being they bring around the meat on giant swords and carve off what you want at your table.

Rodizio requires careful strategy. First of all, come hungry. Skip lunch for sure. Also, don't be tempted by the cheap, empty sides like bread -- these are just designed to fill you up with cheap carbs and keep you away from the pricy, delicious, expensive meat. The first round through I try a little bit of all the meats. After that I get selective, only opting for my favourites until I'm full.

I'd never gotten to try it in Canada before, but the stars aligned last February when I was in Toronto for my birthday and I secured a reservation at CopaCabana Brazilian Steakhouse, on Eglinton just East of Yonge Street. 

It was a Saturday night and it was busy, but as mentioned I did have a reservation. That still meant a 30 minute wait standing in a crowded restaurant after our reserved time. It was rather stressful, not what you want on your birthday, as there was no lighty thing or text when your table was ready. They would call you but it was impossible to hear. When parties of the same size who arrived after be began to be seated, I inquired again and was seated immediately in an unspoken sheepish admission they had forgotten me.

We were seated, reminded of the time limit, and sat. And sat. And sat. Swords of meat being served all around us but consciously bypassing our table. After about 20 minutes of increasing frustration, we were asked if we wanted some sides and sauces. 

They had a variety of interesting sides. from salads to roasted vegetables to sauces like chimichurri. However, what we ordered and what we actually got seemed to be hit or miss -- many orders just never materialized.

Finally, we were added as a meat sword stop and we could begin with the mains. Some of my favourites were the prime rib with cheddar, parmesan filet mignon, and garlic sirloin steal. The roasted pineapple was also a nice pallet cleanser.

Also throughout the evening there would be entertainment with singers and fire dancers. For a Saturday night dinner, the total before taxes, tip and drinks was $85/person. 

How does that compare to simply going out to a steakhouse for dinner? Well, you get more variety and a show. But it was also crowded and hectic, and a much more stressful experience than a typical classy steakhouse. It felt like people were hovering over you all night waiting for table. I still like the rodizio experience I had in the US, but next birthday in Canada I think I will go traditional steakhouse. Or at least not back to Copa.

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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Thali in Ottawa

 Meeting a friend in Ottawa for dinner back in February some Hill-adjacent Indian food seemed just the thing to warm the insides on a cool winter's day. And just a short block away at O'Connor and Laurier is Thali, the downtown restaurant of the same folks behind the famed Coconut Lagoon.

It's not a huge restaurant -- especially without the added space of the seasonal patio -- but we were seated quickly and I was able to order quickly thanks to my usual pre-scout of the menu. I had my eyes on one dish in particular -- the Lobster Masala. 

The menu describes it as "Lobster cooked in a mild Ginger Coconut sauce spiked with Cardamom" and the only thing giving me pause was the cardamom. I had bought some recently when making kebab from the Gaza Kitchen cookbook I brought back from my trip to Palestine and I was decidedly not a fan of this particular spice.

After assurance from our waiter that they could make me the Lobster Masala without the "cardamom spike" I was confident and placed my order.

The portion was generous (also fair, given the price) with a generous portion of lobster meat. But more than that, the sauce was so rich and flavourful and layered and delicious. Truly the best of Indian cuisine.

I was asked if I wanted rice or naan with my meal and gave the obvious response: could I have both? I could, and along with a not quite pictured mango lassi it was an excellent and hearty meal to help me brace for a cold Ottawa winter's night. Delish.

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