Monday, May 30, 2016

Tacos Victor

Hey guys! A little while ago I paid a visit to the Saint-Henri neighborhood for a taco Tuesday evening! This little outing was organized by Steve from MTL Promos. Annie was also tagging along with her camera.

Just a few minutes away from the Place-Saint-Henri subway metro, it's conveniently located on Notre-Dame street and quite easy to find. Tacos Victor opened on August 8th 2015, so that's about ten months ago.

With his facade painted in light blue, its big windows, and even a bench to sit, the joint already feels inviting from the outside. Passerbys wave to the people eating inside, and the people eating inside wave to the passerbys. It's like everyone feels happy just by being in the vicinity of the restaurant. 

The blind facade features street art made by one of the owner's friends to make everything look even more lively.

I mean wouldn't you want to come in? And if you do, even just to sneak a peek, you'll realize it's one of the homiest place out there.

The wooden walls and floor, even the rustic tables, add some warmth both pleasing to the eyes and the soul.

Of course because it's a family owned business, you gotta make it feel like home! If you are the type that observes a lot, you'll see many references to the Mexican culture.

Honestly I hadn't even seen the food yet and I was super excited. Why? Because it didn't feel pompous at all. Quite cozy and chill, yet you can tell a lot of care was put into the decoration and design. The kind of place that knows they don't need to impress you with the choice of materials and the design because what actually matters is the food and the vibe. Even better : everything was made and put together by Victor Soto, the owner. Talk about being handy!

On the counter that draws the line between the dining room and the kitchen you'll see mortars full of sauce ... spicy sauce! Three different kinds, made with different peppers. But beware : they're not for the faint of heart! Even the mild one is spicy so be quite gentle if you can't handle your spice.

The menu is quite simple and straight forward : tacos. One price : 6$. Easy on the brain, easy on the wallet.

Drinks follow the same rule and are homemade (except for the Jarritos of course).

By the way, did I mention that except for the table in front of the windows there are no chairs to sit on? As Victor, the owner, explained to us it's because he wanted to recreate that concept of street food from his hometown in Mexico. In actual taquerias you don't sit down to eat. You grad and go or eat while standing up. Now that's what I call staying true to one's roots!

What a pleasant surprise when he brought out the plates, along with some horchata and Jamaica drinks (made with hibiscus flower).

That one right here is the bavette taco.

This one here is the chorizo taco.

Then, you've got the shrimp taco.

Because a menu isn't complete without vegetarian options, there's the vege taco.

Don't cringe at this one : the tongue taco!

How about some entrecote taco for the meat lovers?

And last but not least, the Campechano taco, a mix of chorizo and bavette.

I can hear you from the other side of my screen asking "Why are there French fries on the tacos? Did you ask for fries?" We actually didn't. All the tacos are served that way because some nice old lady in Victor's hometown used to serve tacos that way. He got inspired and decided to do the same here and I believe he's the only one in town who makes them that way.

For my part I got to try the tongue and the Campechano tacos. Let me tell you : it was pretty darn good. The fries weren't annoying or getting in the way because they were thin and not too crispy. I found that two tacos were a pretty good portion, but then I got full quite fast with a serving of horchata. Everything on the menu is their own creation, and even the taco shells are homemade. Every month there is a special taco on the menu and they're working on vegan versions.

While I was stuffing my mouth with goodness, Victor sat down with us for a chat. What a lovely man! I was quite impressed by the person : now 35 years old, he arrived in Quebec at the of 24. He already had a taqueria back in Mexico so it's nothing new for him. However, he was already well known in the neighborhood because not only does he own a cleaning service company, but he's done so much in terms of services and volunteering that when he started announcing the opening of his taco joint, everyone couldn't wait for him to open! But giving for his community didn't stop there : even today, he offers 300 to 400 servings of soup on Thursdays during the cold days for anyone who's homeless, hungry, or cold.

As a man centered around family and the community, it's important for him to get to work with the ones close to his heart, and to encourage the neighborhood as much as possible. All the ingredients are fresh and the meats are bought at the Boucherie Notre-Dame. He's such a down to earth person that he doesn't get tired of eating tacos!

Before I leave you guys, here's his advice to anyone who'd like to open a restaurant : "You have to actually love this. You can't do it only for the money. And of course you've got to work a lot."

But the love he receives and gives back is enough to make him want to keep going.

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brasserie Saint-Denis

Hey peeps! A bit over two weeks ago I had the chance to spend the evening with two bloggers, Annie and Maxime, so we could give La Brasserie Saint-Denis's menu a try. The whole experience was organized by MTL Promos and the owners of the joint.

Getting there is most probably the easiest thing ever : they are basically right next door to the Renaud-Bray on Saint-Denis. Unfortunately there is construction work going on Saint-Denis at the moment so it's not that convenient if you're traveling by car but (I'm crossing finger) it's going to be for the best.

But hey, I've been walking past this place for literally ten years and never had the occasion to get in to grab a beer or a snack. I would often stop right in front of the building and just stare at the architectural wonder in which the bar is located and analyze every little detail of the facade. Because yes, it's one of the things I love doing besides stuffing my face with food.

I lived on Saint-Denis street for ten years. Of course it has changed over the years. Some stores and restaurants come and go, some stay. Events that used to happen don't anymore, but new ones are added each year. Merchants don't always have it easy, people shit talk a lot about the Plateau, parking is expensive, the buildings are old and they want to keep them that way ... no matter what you may say, Saint-Denis street will always have a special place in my heart.

I think I'm getting emotional.

Brasserie Saint-Denis wasn't always named that way. I remember back in the days it was called Bières et compagnie. They serve over 100 different beers from, well, pretty much all over the world. Impressive, right? They opened in 1998 (the same original owners have another bar in Terrebonne) and served mostly exclusive imported beers. Now, some of those beers can be found at the SAQ, but no one knows them like the boys from Brasserie Saint-Denis do. I mean those guys pretty much grew up in bars and restaurants. One of the three current partners is the son of the original owners.

But hey let me tell you something. Some places like to brag about how long they've been open and serving good quality or exclusive products. But then you come into those places and they just look like they haven't changed a bit in decades. I mean, I don't mind old school stuffs ... but it's 2016, right? Well the cool thing with Brasserie Saint-Denis is that despite being open for 20 years, the few changes they have brought to the place over the years give a good balance of modern while still feeling homey. They found that sweet spot where you feel like you're in a bar if you're in the mood for drinks, and yet can feel like in a real restaurant if you're there only for the food.

Props guys.

Speaking of food, let's move on to that, shall we?

So as we were chatting and getting comfortable, we ordered some drinks. I had a long day at work and was in the mood for a beer. I went for a white one, straight off from Germany, and Erdinger Weissbier (I don't have a German keyboard, I'm sorry).

Annie doesn't drink beer so she was offered something more on the sweet side, a Padua Sour (Vodka, Apérol, simple syrup, lemon juice, egg white). Unless she got something else and I totally got it wrong. If that is the case, please let me know :)

I didn't give it a try because I'm not a cocktail type of person. Unless it's gin tonic. Deep inside I'm an old man.

Let me tell you ... we didn't exactly ask for those drinks. We just said what kind of tastes we usually like and then voilà, the exact things we wanted but didn't know we wanted were served to us thanks to the guys' expertise. I thought that was a very pleasant way to discover new products because you don't exactly have to choose from a list of things you don't know ... you just have to trust the experts. I think they knew me better than I know myself on that.

Steve from MTL Promos was served a Tripel Karmeliet, from Belgium.

And then at some point a Hacker-Pschorr from Germany landed on our table.

And I'm pretty sure there were other drinks or beers but I probably got too busy eating and didn't snap pictures then.

Okay I said I was going to talk about food. There there.

Spoiler alert : we had to roll ourselves out of the restaurant.

So we started off with bison meatballs and IPA beer bbq sauce.

The meatballs were tender and juicy, but had more consistency than regular beef or pork meatballs (if you're familiar with bison meat, you know what I mean). The sauce was just thick enough and had a lot of punch to it. I totally see myself serving this to the guys while we watch hockey at home, but I also see myself eating this on my own as comfort food. The best of both worlds!

Right here we got cod fritters served with curry sauce.

Those were crispy outside without feeling greasy and had a delicate texture and flavor inside. The curry sauce was a nice touch and complimented well the cod without overpowering it and hiding its flavor.

Obviously you to properly enjoy a beer you've got to have French fries ... or onion rings! Theirs are served with a chipotle mayonnaise.

Did the onion rings pass the test? They did! They kept their shape, they had just the right texture, they didn't feel heavy because they had just the right amount of batter ... and the spicy mayonnaise was a good move. Be careful though : it may be a bit too spicy for you if you really can't handle your spice.

Next up : mac and cheese!

This classic American felt so good on our stomachs. The cheese sauce was creamy without being too heavy and the breadcrumbs on top added a nice game of textures. I mean who wants a regular boring mac and cheese? I know I don't. So don't be afraid of trying it out because I would have eaten the whole thing ... if I could have.

Usually it's served with a sausage crumble, but because we wanted to make sure our vegetarian friend could eat something, they didn't put any meat in it. And that was really nice of them. They didn't make a fuss and are aware of the fact that a lot of vegetarians have trouble eating outside because many establishments don't offer such options.

Hey, do they only have like ... heavy comfort food? Don't worry, they actually have healthier options, like the gravlax and potato salad.

Served with nice chunks of cucumber, bell pepper, a bit of red onion, and a light mustard vinaigrette with some dill, it felt refreshing and makes a nice meal on its own. I'm actually thinking about stealing the recipe and pack some for lunch ... It's far from being a boring salad because every bite is different in terms of textures and flavors.

And these ... are just the entrées.

Hey look! A wild Dominus Vobiscum from Baint-Saint-Paul appeared!

Food kept coming at us. So. Much. Food.

Right here is, I hope you guessed it, a Sauerkraut, or choucroute. Theirs is served with a Toulouse sausage and a boar sausage.

When I dug in I thought to myself "This doesn't taste like your traditional Sauerkraut". But I didn't think it was a bad thing : it was actually sweeter than expected and didn't taste like vinegar at all. It was a nice twist on the original recipe while still being good and packed with flavor. Even if you don't like Sauerkraut please give this one a try : you might change your point of view and want to come back for more.

That cute arrangement is called L'Empotée : a barley salad with greek flavors in a Mason jar.

Feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and a Mediterranean dressing.

Not as consistent as the gravlax and potato salad, this one would still pack very well for lunch. I have to admit that compared to the other plates on the table it didn't shine as much because it felt too simple. Don't get me wrong, it was good on its own. But after having a bite from that Sauerkraut I sort of didn't get that salad right.

Another brewery classic : steamed mussels!

The ones we had were the Diabolo : wine, Neapolitan, chili, white cheddar, garlic, celery, onions, and scallions.

Once again if you can't handle your spice, don't go for these. I personally liked them because I'm a masochist (I eat Sriracha like some people eat ketchup) but I have to admit that the onions, garlic, and scallions also upped a notch the spiciness of the meal. I think they could have been good even without the cheese because it turned out a bit messy to handle. Truthfully I'm not a fan of steamed mussels to start with so it was hard for me to really appreciate them. Perhaps an expert on steamed mussels could give these a try and let me know what they think about them ;)

While we were there why not have some poutine?

Theirs is made with homemade French fries, Kwak beer sauce, and duck sausage.

Did you say duck?

I said duck.

Okay up to that point we couldn't eat anymore. We still went for it. It was simple but good. The sauce may have been a bit too salty to my liking but I was glad to see that every bite had sauce and cheese. You know when you order a poutine and when you start eating you get to a point where the fries are dry because the chef was being cheap on the sauce? Well that's not the case here. Oh and that thing is huge so get prepared.

I know I said we couldn't eat anymore. But we had to try desserts.

Do you like key lime pie? Well you'll love their lime and lemon verrine.

Served with whipped mascarpone, that version of a classic American instantly lifted off the heavy food we had stuffed ourselves with. The more we ate it the better it got. What else can I say? It was simple and good. Maybe next time I should try it out with a lemon Katel shooter or a lemon infusion.

This, right here, was also like heaven : the brownie fumant, or smoking brownie.

Listen to this : fleur de sel caramel brownie with vanilla ice cream. It was warm and so soft inside, borderline like a lava cake. The melting ice cream was a perfect match and even though that dessert is usually too sweet in other establishments, the sea salt added a nice touch that actually toned down the sweetness.

I'm actually drooling right now.

Okay guys I'm almost done. Now look at their New Castle cake.

I really like New Castle on its own. And even though I could taste a bit of the beer, I never thought it could be part of such a delicious dessert. How to they do it? Well they start off by baking a cake ... and then they pour an entire bottle of New Castle on it. And it cooks in it. And the whole thing turns sweet. What how? The chemist in me doesn't understand! Is this magic or something? I can't really describe what I had because it was soft and moist without being mushy, and the sauce was sweet but not too much ... if you usually like pouding chomeur, well, give this a try. You'll find some of the elements are similar but that beer is one hell of a nice twist.

And so that's it for today folks. Do I recommend Brasserie Saint-Denis? I actually do. And for a bunch of reasons : they know their stuffs, the ambiance is homey yet just chic enough, and they have something to please everyone's taste buds. And extra points for being affordable. Say what? You don't believe me? Take a look at their menu and yeah, you'll be able to squeeze in a three course meal with drinks even if you're on a budget.

Until next time!
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