Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Foire Culinaire Complètement Sucre 2015

Spring in Quebec cannot be spent without going at least once to the sugar shack or without attending a maple themed event. On March 28th, maple was the featured star of the day in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve : twelve of the best restaurants of the Promenades Hochelaga-Maisonneuve were participating in the Foire Culinaire Complètement Sucre 2015. The twelve restaurants listed were to present their maple inspired creations in a contest which results depend on three judges' criticism.

The event took place in the park Morgan, basically just a few blocks away from the Olympic Stadium and the Marché Maisonneuve, and was scheduled to start at 12pm. Khoa and I got there around 12:30pm. Basically we had to buy tickets, one ticket entitling us to one bite and each ticket was 2$. We each bought 15 tickets, thinking to ourselves we'd just get more of the bites we liked the most. The stands were located under a big tent (that was far from being big enough) and there was quite a lot of people.

The first bite, a sweet one, was from Antidote Superalimentation, the first exclusively vegan grocery store in Quebec.

It was a small layered cake, with different textures for each layer (maple sugar, cheesecake, and pecan cookie), topped with a soft meringue and "bacon" chocolate. It was the only actual dessert bouchée so it was weird to start with it but at the same time it was really good (we started there because there wasn't too many people at the table). The bite was actually big compared to the others but a bit messy to eat because of one of the layers oozing on the side and the meringue that would drip on my chin (actually I'm just a messy eater). At the end, because I had three extra tickets, I came back for another one.

The second bouchée we had was from Les Canailles, a French BYOB bistro.

Small cupcakes with foie gras and some pecan and maple sugar crumble. It was very pretty to look at but not very practical to eat. The maple sheet has to be eaten separately (I dare you to try eating it with the cupcake) and the paper molds would stick a lot to the cupcake. We found the cupcake a bit dry and crumbly but the taste was actually very good as well as the pairing with the other flavors.

We then had more foie gras thanks to Le Trèfle, an Irish pub.

Yes, foie gras in a cone! The cone was also made with sesame seeds and had a layer of white Belgian chocolate inside, and at the bottom was resting maple butter. Yum! It was good (duh!) so we came back for more at the end, but I have to admit this sweet and salty bouchée was a bit easy ... because it contained foie gras. It was the presentation I fell in love with and unlike the previous two it wasn't messy to eat.

Following this we went on with some salmon by Monsieur Smith, a restaurant-bar.

They served salmon gravlax with a maple syrup, citrus, and Jack Daniels glaze. On the paper boat there was a spring of baby coriandor because why not (it didn't actually add anything to the bouchée). The salmon was actually good but compared to the other creations it looked like it lacked a bit of creativity. Of course if I had a plate of sashimi it's something I would order.

The next bite, also presented in a paper boat, was done by Arrêt de bus Café-Bistro, specialized in catering services.

That one was a little brochette with, from left to right, juniper marshmallow, cayenne atoya, oreille de messie (some sort of berry), and ginger grand-père. It was served with a maple and blueberry Bavarian. That one was rather disappointing. I thought the paper boat was the worst thing to go for the presentation because we couldn't even eat the Bavarian. The items on the brochette were good, but they had nothing to do with each other. They could have been scattered on a plate and I could have eaten them one at a time like olives during the apero.

We moved on to something closer to comfort food, this time presented by Les Affamés.

White chocolate banana bread French toast ... yes. I'll say it again. White chocolate banana bread French toast. Aligote maple fudge. Homemade bacon. And Rice Krispies. That, dear friends, was just good hearty comfort food. So moist and fat and delicious. The kind of things we need, that has no pretention at all, and that can be eaten at any moment of the day. But then maybe the bacon was sort of the reason why it was so good (bacon makes everything better).

Obviously a tasting event is not complete without at least some cheese and thank god Chez Bouffe was there to provide us with some.

They were serving a deep fried chive goat cheese ball with beets and maple caviar, maple salt, and young beets springs. That one was our favorite. The chèvre was soft and fresh underneath that crispy warm layer of fried bread crumps. The presentation was very interesting. And the whole thing was, obviously, delicious. I think it's something very pleasant to serve your guests just to show off your culinary techniques or served over a mix of fresh spring salad.

We went back to having a taste of comfort food with Bistro Le Ste-Cath.

They went maple all the way : maple French toast, with maple porc terrine, and a caramelized maple walnut. That one was also really good. I liked how they didn't use the traditionnal toasted baguette to serve the terrine. The combination was strangely good, giving me a feeling in between the one I have on my lazy days (messy hair, no make up, wear sweat pants only) and the one I get when I hang out at cocktails with the mayor. How to be fancy and not give a damn at the same time.

Next up was a creation of Le Valois, a bistro located right in (you guessed it) Place Valois.

They made a maple and black beer caramelized pulled pork served on creamy carrots with a little side of maple vinegar caramelized apples. Overall it wasn't too sweet, and a full size meal of it would be something good and hearty to eat at the chalet after a day of skiing, along with a pint of beer and a yellow pea soup.

Then we had something surprisingly different by the tea salon Tisanerie Mandala.

It was basically a granita made with one of their tea blends, Mélodie de l'érable, and topped with maple almonds, maple sugar, and mint. It was quite unexpected to see this there, especially at this time of the year, but it was interesting. I did find it a little bit bland for a granita, like it was missing something but I couldn't quite figure out what. I didn't finish it because it was cold and I was starting to have a brain freeze. They also had the warm version of it, basically the tea blend, so we spent one of our extra tickets on it. For some reason the smell was amazing but the taste was different. Not bad at all, it was good, but the smell tricked us into thinking it would taste the way it smelled.

Next up was another meat and purée bouchée, this time by État-Major (yes, the one and only).

Maple bison shoulder confit with squash purée and sour cream. That too was a disappointment. Truthfully, everything was very sweet so there was barely any differenciation in the flavors, and the textures were all similar, all close to being too soft. Also, look at the presentation ... everything looks like it's turning to liquids. I could have put the whole thing in a blender to make baby food with it and it would be the same. I'm exagerating a little bit (and at the same time being mean) but you get what I mean.

And last but not least, we treated ourselves with more foie gras thanks to Restaurant Cabotins.

Those guys went for something easy. They basically pan fried pieces of foie gras au torchon, put them on little paper boats, and well we put the toppings we wanted and maple syrup. I have to admit some of the topping were actually really good (like the salty candied pumpkin seeds) but the execution was easy, simple, and borderline lazy. Also, that concept was a terrible idea given the location. People had to line up and walk on each other to be able to put toppings on their piece of foie gras. Some guy almost dropped stuffs on Khoa's beautiful Rudsak coat. In my case I unfortunately put too many toppings, hiding the delicious flavor of foie gras drowned in a thick layer of maple syrup. I understand we want to do things à la bonne franquette, but this is kinda cheating.

After that we got out as fast as possible, because we couldn't stand how close to other people we were. Some people came with their families and babies in strollers, making it impossible to walk around comfortably. We were smart enough to get there early, because when we got out a bit before 2pm some of the contestants didn't have any more bouchées (they were told to make only 300). I find that the few garbage bins in the center of the tent didn't help with the circulation of people and the cleanliness of the place. Perhaps next time each table could have a small garbage bin so people can throw away their stuffs more easily.

Despite a few disappointments and the number of human bodies packed into a place too small, it was actually fun. I think it's a very good way to promote the neighborhood's restaurants. For example, even if I wasn't a fan of Tisanerie Mandala's granita, I know there is such a thing as a tea salon and boutique that sells good quality products in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. It actually makes me want to go there and buy some of their hand picked organic tea blends.

Obviously because this was a contest there were winners. In first position, Le Trèfle, with their foie gras cone. In second position, Chez Bouffe, with their goat cheese ball. And in third position, Les Canailles, with their foie gras cupcake. État-Major won the price for the most popular bouchée.

This edition of Foire Culinaire Complètement Sucre was the second one and it might not be the last one! Keep your eyes open next year for the third edition, hopefully it can only get better!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Aux Vivres

Do you sometimes get cravings for something from a particular diet that you actually don't follow? Like gluten-free pastries just because they taste good even though you don't have celiac disease? I sometimes get cravings for good hearty vegetarian meals, even though I am not a vegetarian anymore. My sister, on the other hand, decided to convert to vegetarianism and so I used it as an excuse to have brunch with her and her boyfriend at Aux Vivres, Montreal's first vegan restaurant and pretty much one of my favorite spots. Besides, the location is quite convenient : right in the Plateau-Mont-Royal, only a few blocks away from our mountain.

The first time I went to Aux Vivres was a few months ago with some coworkers and our boss. Because of our policies against animal cruelty every meal that is shared or ordered as part of a work meeting or event has to be vegan. I obviously fell in love with the place, just like many more Montrealers, because the food is so good. If you try to get in on a Sunday for brunch, make sure you show up at 10am or you'll have to wait in line!

Surprisingly, my sister's boyfriend was already familiar with the place but not my sister herself. So we ordered a bunch of different things so we could try each other's food.

So Nick and I started off by ordering each a Mango Lassi, a smoothie made with mango, coconut milk, agave, and lime.

Made with fresh ingredients, it's very refreshing and somewhat not too thick. Sometimes the thickness might vary because fresh pineapples are not all identical. For instance, my drink was slightly runnier than Nick's and that's the way I like my smoothies.

Rebecca decided to go for a Tonique, an apple, ginger, and lemon juice.

First of all look at that color. You do know that pure unfiltered apple juice is brown, not yellow, right? If you've never had real apple juice before please go have some. You'll never look at apple juice the same way. If you pass by Drummondville go to the market in the St-Joseph neighborhood and grab a few bottles of the brown liquid. It's amazing.

Now on to the actual food! Nick and I decided to go for brunch items while Rebecca chose a lunch item (have I told you guys my sister is the family's little black sheep? She never does anything like the others do).

Nick ordered a Complet : tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, cornbread, sweet potatoes, and salad.

Nick's plate was a mix of sweet and salty. The cornbread was light, slightly crispy, and sweet. The sweet potatoes were soft and well seasoned, not crispy like actual fries but still very pleasant to eat. The tofu scramble contains a mix of spices, somewhat exotic and quite flavorful. And the tempeh is a pleasant surprise for meat lovers.

But wait. What is tempeh? It's a pressed fermented soy product. It usually comes in cake form, sort of like tofu. Now the difference is tofu is made like cheese : you harvest the curd you get from the soy milk and press it. Tempeh is made from actual soybeans that have been fermented together. This thing is surprisingly delicious, is packed with proteins and is a very good alternative to tofu if, at some point, you can't stand the sight of tofu anymore.

Rebecca decided to order a Aux Vivres Burger : hearty garden patty served on a whole-what bun with caramelized onions, mustard, tomato, lettuce, pickle, and chipotle mayo. It comes with a side of roasted potatoes, a coleslaw, and chipotle ketchup. My sister decided to trade her regular potatoes for sweet potatoes.

The bun was light inside and slightly crunchy outside. The patty itself was hearty and delicious. Though it wasn't oozing with juice like a meat patty would (duh) it was soft and moist. Rebecca devoured her burger like a hungry cavewoman.

For my part I decided to go for the Polenta : fried polenta, black bean refritos, tofu scramble, salsa, guacamole, and salad.

Did I say guacamole? Yes my friend, freaking guac! The cool thing with polenta is it's pretty versatile and can be used instead of the usual bread roll or biscuit. Besides, I find it's a much more interesting and delicious alternative. Crispy outside and soft inside, I happily smothered it in the black beans and guacamole. Oh and the salsa? Delicious, simple, fresh. No need to overthink this.

All brunch items come with a cup of organic fair-trade coffee or a chai latte. Obviously the "milk" is soy milk. By the way, I know the lens I use tends to make things look small, but the portions are actually huge. If you think I'm exagerating, well, one table can only fit two plates. Good luck if you ordered drinks. At some point we sort of stopped eating because it was a lot of food. The only reason why I finished my plate was because I didn't want to take out and walk around with the remaining of my meal.

So not only is the food good, but the ambiance is very casual, perfect to bring friends and family. The staff is lovely, the service is on point, and it's quite affordable. The cool thing is they also have a store section, so you can buy their delicious sauces, tempeh, and much more.

So even if you're not a vegetarian, give it a try. It's totally worth it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cuisine Bangkok

I usually try to avoid fast food joints. Mostly the ones located in food courts. Especially the Asian joints because they just all taste wrong to me (and I end up with a terrible stomachache at work that I have to bear all afternoon).

Today I will be reviewing an Asian fast food joint in a food court. Spoiler alert : one of the best pad thais in Montreal is found at one of the worst locations ever.

Everyone has heard about the Faubourg Ste-Catherine, right? No? If you hang out in the Concordia area, in downtown, you've seen it dozens of times. It's the poorly kept shopping center located on Ste-Catherine between Guy and St-Mathieu. Still have no clue what I'm talking about? It's normal.

Well, let's go back a few months ago, when I complained to Khoa that I had to add Sriracha to Thai Express's extra spicy pad thai because it was never spicy enough for me. He told me if I was up for the challenge, and if I wanted to try something good, to give Cuisine Bangkok's pad thai a try. I read a few reviews online and, despite people critizing the questionable cleanliness of the food court, I thought I had to give it a try next time I was going to be in the area.

And so I had some deeds downtown and passed by. I ordered a chicken pad thai (don't worry they have many more items but that was the one I came for). Asked for midly spicy because the girl warned me their stuff was very spicy (there's even a little disclaimer under the menu items saying they are not responsible for any damage caused by the level of spiciness).

For starters, when I took my tray to sit at the other side of the food court I realized how humongous the portion is. Actually it's just as big as Thai Express which is, honestly, too big for one normally constituted adult.

Second, I also saw my pad thai wasn't floating on a lake of oil and it wasn't moving around like a caramel flan would, which is actually a good thing! Even if it's sautéed in oil, pad thai is supposed to be slightly dry, not drenched in a liter of sauce.

And so I dug in. It was very good, with pieces of egg, crunchy fresh soybean sprouts, tender chicken, and a little garnish of sliced green onion. Not only were the textures right, and the flavors, but I was pleased with the spices. Actually, it was quite spicy. I think I teared a little bit (though nothing will make me cry like the McKibbin's Rim Reaper challenge did). But I didn't tear because I couldn't handle it! It was the blend of spices that would come up my nose after I had chewed and swallowed my first bite and which kept on building with every bite. It wasn't disgustingly spicy either but I wouldn't bring that to work if I don't want the people sitting next to me disappear under their desk to protect themselves.

So do I recommend Cuisine Bangkok? I do. Not just for the amazing level of spiciness (look at my face you know I can handle spicy) but for the food, that's good and simple, prepared with no pretention at all and with more care than at other places. To give you an idea, at Thai Express your pad thai is ready in like what, under 2 minutes? I had to wait at least five minutes there, which, for a fast food, can be considered as slow. But the little extra wait is worth it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

La Petite Mangue

Hey guys! A little while ago Facebook suggested me a page I might like : La Petite Mangue, a Cambodian restaurant located in le Plateau-Mont-Royal. I got curious so I actually liked their page and started browsing their website. And it got me even more curious!

I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this actually authentic Cambodian restaurant right in the center of Montreal! No need to go to Laval or Saint-Laurent! I thought to myself it was a sign and it would a shame to not give it a try.

Only a few days after I had randomly discovered this place I saw they posted an offer on their Facebook page : one free appetizer with the purchase of two main meals, expiring on March 16th. I claimed the offer right away and told Phil to make himself free so we can go eat there. Besides, it was pretty much time for us to do some catch up.

When we got in a lovely Cambodian man greeted us and asked us if we wanted to sit by the window. He gave us two menus and served us water.

After looking through all the items (our minds have been made for days but we wanted to make sure) we ordered. Our host suggested the table d'hôte, which is basically our main course with a small soup and spring rolls of our choice, all for 18$. That's what we went for. Each time we pointed out at an item he would kindly answer our questions and give us excellent explanations of the meals.

Phil asked for a tom yum soup while I went for the Phnom Penh soup.

Though Phnom Penh soup is often made with rice noodles this one was made with rice, which, actually, is not a wrong way to do it, just a different way. The broths were very flavorful : we tasted the basil, the lemongrass, the coriander ... It was so good we would have asked for a second serving each.

For the appetizer we asked for fish cakes, or pahet. They're served on a bed of crispy vermicelli noodles and with a peanut, fish sauce, and lemongrass dipping sauce.

They were delicious. Even if they were fried they didn't feel greasy at all. They were crispy outside yet moist inside. And obviously the use of fresh ingredients and herbs can only do good when it comes to getting the right texture and the right flavors.

As part of the appetizers we also got spring rolls. I asked for the shrimp ones while Phil asked for the mango ones.

They are different from Vietnamese spring rolls as in they also contain minced carrots. Thai spring rolls are also very similar (though I have seen some that did not contain vermicelli at all, and they are served with fish sauce). The peanut sauce was very thick but it just the right amount. You know, like you always end up having too much spring roll and not enough sauce? Well in this case it's like they mastered the right ratio of spring roll to dipping sauce.

For our main courses, Phil asked for the caramelized pork, or kaw sach chrouk, and named Daddy's favorite on the menu. It's basically slow cooked sweet pork with bamboo shoots.

It contrasted a lot with the salty stuffs we had earlier but it was very good. The pork was juicy and tender, packed with flavor and goodness. This dish is often made with hard boiled eggs cooked with the pork, served whole or cut in halves. But honestly it was delicious just that way.

For my part I had the amok, or amok trey. It's fish bathed in a coconut and lemongrass broth.

Mine had a banana leaf at the bottom, which made a lovely presentation (in case you're not aware of this, banana leaves are often used for cooking but you can't eat them!). There was a lot of lemongrass, and even some kaffir leaves, giving the plate a strong citrus note. The fish was fried, crispy outside and soft and moist inside.

To digest a little bit we asked for some tea, and then decided to try a dessert. We went for the pumpkin and corn pudding, or borbor lapaov. We were already quite stuffed so we shared this coconut milk and tapioca pearls based dessert.

It was very sweet, much sweeter than what I'm used to when it comes to Asian desserts. We ate this slowly because it was good, sweet, and weird at the same time. I personally never had that one before, neither had Phil, so we were trying to figure out how we were feeling about this. I honestly thought it was good, but because none of us has a sweet tooth, we found this a little too sweet to our liking.

So would I recommend La Petite Mangue? Heck yeah, I do! Everything, from service, to presentation, to the flavors, and even the bill at the end make me want to go back for more. If you grew up eating traditional Cambodian food you might find this different from what you're used to because they modernized the recipes and really worked on the presentation. I think what they did is great, because they kept the essence of Cambodian food and gave it a twist without making too much of a bold move.

Honestly I think you should give this place a try, whether you have had Cambodian food before or want to try this exotic cuisine full of contrasts and bold flavors.

Until next time!
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