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!