Thursday, December 10, 2015

Le Pégase

I love it when a friend of mine randomly suggests to go to a restaurant I haven't had the chance to try yet. At some point towards the end of August Khoa asked a bunch of us if we wanted to go to Le Pégase, located right on the Plateau Mont-Royal. It happened to be a coincidence, but none of the people invited (except for him) had been there before so it was something we all discovered together.

And how convenient and pleasant it seemed to me when I saw it was a bring your own wine. I'll be honest with you, I usually don't trust BYOW or BYOB. Why? Because most of those places serve food that does not meet my standards at all and compensate for the lack of quality by letting people bring their own alcohol so they can lower their standards by eating while intoxicated. Oh, that was harsh.

But Le Pégase isn't like one of those places. Besides, I know Khoa wouldn't recommend such a place if the quality of the food was off.

We had a reservation for six people at 6pm. Khoa, Virginie, Rio, Minh-Duc, Mingxin, and I all met up at Laurier metro station and walked there, which took us around 10 minutes. If you have never been there before you may have trouble finding the place. You have to know the door number because the restaurant is located inside what used to be a house ... and the front still looks like a regular house.

Our lovely waiter showed us the way to our table and opened our wine bottles to let them breathe. The place is rather small inside, around 30 seats, but they have a terrace in the back so you can enjoy some sun and air in the Summer without being bothered by people passing by and the cars on the street.

We placed our orders while our waiter carefully explained us that evening's menu. Depending on the chef's mood and the ingredients available, there may be some variations from the printed (and the online) menu, which is quite interesting and happens to be a pleasant surprise. A bus boy brought us two servings of chicken liver pâté and two baskets of freshly cut baguette and crispy thin baguette slices.

The liver pâté was quite delicious on its own and if it weren't because I am sometimes self conscious about the way I look when I eat in public I would have probably eaten both servings on my own.

We all had the soupe du jour, which was a simple cream of broccoli. By the way it is not served that way, it was simply Minh-Duc having fun with the presentation of his bowl. He added the baguette crisp and the generous amount of black pepper.

When I dipped my spoon into the soup I was already mentally prepared for the possible saltiness that would overcome my taste buds. Since I barely use salt when I cook I am very sensitive to that specific ingredient and I find that Italian and French restaurants tend to overdo it. But it didn't taste salty at all. They managed to use just the right amount of salt and herbs to bring out the taste of fresh broccoli and cream. The soup was also very smooth and had a light consistency.

Five of us ordered entrées. Rio chose to go with a calamari and chick pea salad, seasoned with a light zesty dressing and garnished with radish sprouts.

The calamari was just the right texture, not too soft, not too rubbery. We found the combination slightly odd but for some reason it just seemed to fit, especially with the zesty dressing binding the flavors together.

For my part, I was in the mood for goat cheese profiteroles, served with a beet gel and emulsion.

The profiteroles were airy and crispy. With the soft filling of salty goat cheese it made every bite an interesting experience of textures. The beet gel added a nice touch but personally I would have probably used something more on the sweet side to compliment the goat cheese better.

Mingxin went for something quite manly, a wild tataki. I'll just go with the generic term of wild meat for the slightly dumb reason that I do not remember what it was and since the menu has changed since, well, I sort of played myself there. Truthfully I think it was bison. But maybe it wasn't. Hehe *taps myself on the hand*.

Wild meats are always tricky when it comes to serving them as is. Because they're tougher, some people might not like them when served as tataki, tartar, or even steak. The meat tasted delicious on its own and the garnish wasn't stealing the show, but for my part I found it a little too tough to be served that way.

At the opposite of Mingxin's tougher entrée, Khoa dared going for the salted mackerel, served with bacon and garnished with fresh greens.

If you don't like salty stuffs, don't go for the mackerel! I honestly really enjoyed it that way. It was soft and not chewy at all (fish tends to get chewy when salted and cured). You like it or you don't. The bacon and the peach sort of toned down the overall saltiness of the dish and also added some nice colors.

Minh-Duc went for a more traditional option, a small ratatouille served on crispy sheets of phyllo pastry and with a generous amount of frothy crème.

Now you have to be out of your mind to not like ratatouille. It's such a nice warming hearty meal. They obviously upped the game with the presentation and the use of phyllo pastry chips was a good idea. Instead of ending with an overlay of soft components there was some texture to play with.

After we were done with our entrées, and in the meantime the wine was already starting to warm us up, we received our beautiful main courses. Unfortunately I was too eager to take pictures and did not set my camera right, thus not being able to properly show you what our eyes saw that evening. But you can imagine we couldn't handle the wait and dug right into our food quite fast! And because we're such great friends, we obviously shared with each other.

The Chef's suggestion that evening was slow braised bison ribs with a smokey barbecue glaze served on a red coleslaw. Khoa and Mingxin were both too tempted and went for this magnificent piece of meat.

Tender, falling off the bone, juicy, savory ... do I have to say more? The barbecue sauce was surprisingly well balanced in terms of seasoning and seemed to complement that wild meat perfectly instead of concealing it like most ribs recipes do.

Rio also went for a good piece of meat, the classic bavette, on a bed of wax beans, and served with a mushroom gravy and a poached egg. Are you drooling yet?

Because he wanted to tease us (oh the tingling sensation I am feeling right now) Rio started off his course by pricking the egg with the side of his fork, letting the beautiful orange yolk run all over the meat. The bavette was juicy and tender. And that mushroom gravy? It was just what it needed.

For my part I went for what I always go for (if it's on the menu) : duck. They served their duck breast with Brussels sprout, gnocchi, and orange sauce.

To be honest with you ... I was slightly disappointed. I'm a big time duck eater and I didn't think about asking the waiter how the duck was done. I like mine on the pink side with the skin crispy. That one was more medium, with, well, no skin at all (oh god I love fat so much). It was still good as is, especially with the fluffy gnocchi and the orange sauce that complimented well the meat. But I have to admit I'm difficult when it comes to duck in general.

Minh-Duc dared going for the stuffed rabbit, served on a bed of roasted colorful carrots and potato purée.

Khoa insisted so much that I try the rabbit. Why? Because I actually have a pet rabbit ... But yes, I did give it a try. Boy was it good. This was probably one of the most delicate meats I have had in my life. I'm not kidding. Even the sides were delicate in terms of flavor to ensure we don't lose the texture and the flavor of the meat. I'll tell you something : I felt quite bad when I came home to my little guy.

Virginie took the beautiful fish of the day : juicy swordfish steaks with steamed bok choy and puréed vegetables.

This right there, just like the rabbit, was also quite an experience. You would cut into the fish and it didn't feel like fish. It felt like ... cutting through marshmallow. The fish was seasoned with a very light drizzle of citrus dressing. The flesh would melt right into your mouth. There was no need to overdo it : the fish itself would have been good even on its own.

But wait ... there's more!

We had to have dessert to complete this already near perfect dinner. Once again, making choices was hard, but for some reason we all seemed to have the same taste when it came to the sweet part of the meal.

Some of us ordered the apple tarte tatin, served with a ball of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

The tarte tatin was quite dense but so soft and not too sweet. It was simple, buttery, and the vanilla ice cream added a nice touch to the range of flavors.

Some of us decided to go for the death by chocolate : a chocolate mousse wrapped in a chocolate shell with a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

The death by chocolate was so well presented it was almost intimidating to plunge a spoon into it. All the different textures you feel as you break the shell and dig into the mousse makes it even more appealing to the senses. Oh and obviously it was delicious.

Some of us preferred to opt for the Tia Maria cheesecake, deconstructed and presented in a verrine with a layer of chocolate ganache at the bottom.

Sometimes things don't have to be overdone to be good. Focus on good key ingredients rather than just the wow factor. That's what the Tia Maria cheesecake is about. All you have to do is dig your spoon right into it without worrying about whether you look like a fool or not trying to figure out how to eat a simple dessert. And just enjoy it. *Says in Ramsay's voice* Beautiful.

I think after reading this lengthy post you pretty much figured out by now that I do recommend going to Le Pégase. The good thing is you can go there for pretty much any occasion. Seriously. The ambiance, the decor, and even the people make this place suitable for a date, to spend some time between friends, or even for a business meeting.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a nice bottle of wine (or two), give them a call, and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Halifax; Shore Club

On our third day in Halifax, after visiting the Citadel and the Public Gardens, Phil and I hoped on the car and drove to Hubbards, located about 45 minutes away from Halifax.

Why go there? Because we wanted to have a lobster dinner elsewhere than in one of those tourists traps downtown and also because according to reviews online it seemed like the place to try if you are in the area. If you are on an actual road trip it seems the south-west of Nova Scotia is where the best lobster at, but we lacked time and means.

The Shore Club is known for a few things : their lobster supper menu, which includes all you can eat steamed mussels and salad bar, and the fact that the place becomes a dance hall on Saturday nights with a live band playing.

So we got there on a Thursday evening. The lovely staff took our order. We each went for a medium lobster supper, which is 1.25 lbs for 37.95$. Of course we were given wet napkins, plastic bibs with the drawing of a lobster on them, and there was a full roll of paper towel on the table.

The steamed mussels were simply done, fresh, and delicious. Our waitress placed a bowl between us so we could discard the shells in it. There was still some sand most of them but it didn't bother us much.

Our lobsters came on long transparent plates with a side of melted butter.

Simply steamed, they looked gorgeous. The claws and the body had been cracked beforehand by the staff but we still used the usual lobster tools provided. Good, fresh lobster is delicious as is and doesn't need additional seasoning. We dipped the delicious meat into the melted butter and managed not to make too much of a mess of ourselves.

The salad bar was, honestly, somewhat disappointing. Though the selection was wide I found some of fresh ingredients weren't that fresh and some of the recipes reminded me too much of the salads aunts and grandmothers bring to a pic nick : too simple and too much dressing. Still, if you are a fan of family style salads, that may actually suit your taste buds. Of course the idea of the Shore Club is to have a family style supper with no pretension at all, but compared to salad bars I have seen elsewhere it just couldn't meet my expectations.

Once we were finished with our lobsters, our lovely waitress asked us what we wanted for dessert. The choices that night were brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, lemon layered cake, and a blueberry cake drowned in a berry reduction.

Phil went for the brownie while I went for the lemon cake.

Of course these tasted like diabetes. They were honestly way too sweet to our liking but they also tasted the way any grandmother who loves her grandchildren a little too much would make them. They tasted fresh from the day, moist, but because of the amount of sugar in them we had to wash everything down with two cups of black coffee each.

So how was the whole experience? It could be better. Considering the fact that the mussels and salad bar were all-you-can-eat, the price was fair. However, the salads could be of better quality. The desserts could be less sweet. I don't think the selection needs to be fancier because it wouldn't fit with the familial style of the place. But overall we had a very pleasant time, the staff was lovely, and even the location was fine, considering that you kind of want some peace, quiet, and space for your family. Honestly, it was sort of like the equivalent of a sugar shack in Quebec ... but with lobster instead of maple syrup.

And so that's it! We went back to the motel and crashed because we knew we had a long way back home waiting for us the day after.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Halifax; Citadel Hill and Public Gardens

On our third day in Halifax we were granted with a lot of sun and a fairly warm temperature. We decided to pay a visit to the Citadel, a fortification built in order to defend the harbour and its surroundings. Completed in 1856, it was then called Fort George.

The Hill itself is located in downtown Halifax, just a few blocks away from the Waterfront Boardwalk. The area features a lot of green spaces with enough space to host a show or a festival, as well as a skate park.

We parked the car in one of the parking lots and started going up the hill.

The way up seemed pretty steep for the tour buses and we feared for the car drivers that were brave enough to share the road with those.

At the entrance booth they give you a sticker (to stick on yourself) and a small booklet to help you find your way around.

The main barrack was converted to host the Army Museum, the shop, and to let people visit the rooms in which the men would sleep.

The Army museum is basically a few rooms showcasing the part played by Canada is bigger and smaller wars, as well as uniforms, paintings, gears, weaponry, and models.

What I enjoyed the most while visiting the Citadel was the variety of uniforms worn by the employees. You can clearly see the influence of Scottish heritage in the designs.

To our modern eyes they might look pretty useless and ineffective, but all those colors and ornaments served the purpose of making the enemy believe they were going to fight an army that was too rich and too powerful for them and thus, perhaps, make them think twice and back off. Now how effective was that? I don't know.

Besides the part that was dug into the hill, you can also go up the walls where the canons are resting and treat yourself out with a 360 view of the city.

Looking down the walls not only the perspective on people is mesmerizing, it also gives you a better idea of how big the Citadel actually is.

Mandatory picture of pigeons.

I didn't snap a picture of everything there is to see because there is quite a lot. Inside the actual walls are more rooms that served as storage, administration offices, even a school and a prison.

The depression all around the Citadel can be visited as well. The way it was built they made sure that no one coming up the hill could get easily in. In fact, not only will you suffer from a mean drop (about ten feet high) but both the outer and inner walls will be full of soldiers ready to pull the trigger.

We spent a few hours there, visiting every room we could, talking to employees, even watched a movie on the story of the Citadel. The sounds of men marching, guns firing, and bagpipes playing made me forget there was a city down that hill.

After seeing what we wanted to see, we decided to walk to the Public Gardens, located just on the other side of the street.

Since the beginning of our stay all the locals asked us if we had visited the Public Gardens. The people of Halifax seem quite proud of those.

It's basically an oasis of peace and beauty. The influence of the Victorian era is unmistakable in the design of the park. Benches, ponds, statues, fountains, you name it, you have it.

If ever you need to take an actual break, there is a coffee shop in the gardens. A scene with enough seats for two hundred people is located in the center. While walking around I realized that some of the floral arrangements would use edible plants and vegetables.

Walking through the park I realized how lucky the people of Halifax are despite living in a relatively poor province. It's like their own little Central Park. And they get bonus points for an awesome access to the water.

And so I am going to finish this post with a picture of the most beautiful pigeon I have seen in my life. I mean what's wrong with Montreal's pigeons? They all look sick and half dead.

And so that's it for today. Until next time!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Halifax; Fredie's Fantastic Fish

During our stay in Halifax we took a whole afternoon to visit Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg, located at a rather short distance from the city. Before heading there I suggested we make a stop at Fredie's for lunch.

The place is basically a small fast food joint specialized in fish and chips, lobster rolls, and fried clams. Located in a suburban type of outdoor shopping center it's quite popular despite its location and size.

We were quite curious and eager to try out the food there after reading mostly favorable reviews online and after seeing the relatively good prices they had to offer. When we got there we could clearly see the cooking station and there were quite a bunch of locals seated having lunch or waiting for their order to take out. They don't have many seats so we considered lucky to have spots. You may choose to sit directly at the counter right across the fryer and stove tops or by the windows.

We decided to go for a lobster roll, Newfie fries, and a half seafood sample platter.

The lobster roll was quite simple, with a light dressing and some green lettuce at the bottom. The roll was soft and fresh. There was much more lobster than what we had from Dave's as you can tell from all the meat overflowing from the roll and onto the plate.

Instead of getting regular fries we traded them for Newfie fries, which are basically fries covered with gravy and seasoned fresh bread crumbs. The fries were fresh off the deep fryer, crispy outside and fluffy inside. The portion was actually quite big and we didn't finish it, and we liked it though we did think to ourselves someone probably came up with that recipe while drunk or high.

The half seafood sampler platter was also a lot of food : deep fried clams, a few scallops, a piece of haddock, and a side of fries.

The haddock was fresh and covered in a generous amount of golden batter. The scallops were soft and buttery. The clams were crunchy outside and had their distinctive flavor and texture that may weird out some people but that I actually enjoy. We barely touched the fries because it was too much even if they were good on their own.

The staff at Fredie's was very friendly with us. Once our order was ready a lovely lady brought it directly to us where we were seated. Everyone in the place also spotted us quite fast because we came in while talking to each other in French, and so the cashier asked us where we were from and that she did learn French at some point in school but never got to use it in real life. When we left they all said thank you and wished us a nice stay in Halifax.

Overall our experience at Fredie's was pleasurable, the food was good, and the prices were interesting. Far from being a fancy place (it looks like a small diner from the 60s) they seem to put much more care and love into the food than the decor. Honestly if you have the chance to pass by or if it happens to be somewhat on your way then you should do the small detour. You won't regret it.
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