Month: January 2014

Montreal Winter-Melting (Pot) Moments

Visitors often comment on Montreal’s neighbourhoods. Each one has a different feel.  Some parts of town feel European, others like they could be anywhere. Montreal neighbourhoods are always changing. Areas popular with immigrants transition as groups establish themselves. Blocks that used to be run down slowly morph into cool and hip.

Two recent restaurant meals tell the story better than I can.

H4C, a restaurant in that very zip code is in the heart of Little Burgundy, an area long known as poor, tough, and undesirable. It is now seen as an up and coming, if not even maybe “here and now” young neighbourhood, minutes away from downtown, close to the Lachine Canal and the Atwater Market. The Joe Beef gang began the restaurant gentrification several years ago, and now the wave is continuing west, with solid names like Tuck Shop, Rustique Pie Kitchen, Satay Brothers and thankfully, H4C.

The restaurant’s website told me I would be in for something special. How many restaurants have an “Architecture” tab on their site?  The space is beautiful. An old post office was converted into a perfect dining room. It is open, but not too open. Airy without being cold or severe. Lighting is perfect, which is rare. Service is knowledgeable and reservedly friendly, which seemed to suit the space.  Diners can peek into the super-equipped kitchen, while noise and cooking smells are kept out of the dining room itself. Now, onto the food!

Every plate was beautiful. Every morsel was delicious. While menu descriptions sounded simple, execution proved the level of detail was anything but.

Carmelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Caramelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

One of the deserts we devoured won the Montreal Gazette’s dish of the year (click link for the complete article and a video). “Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oatmeal, maple” was a triumph.

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Lesley Chesterman, a critic not afraid to call it like she sees it wrote:

“This unique dessert at H4C was just beyond the beyond. The mix included an apple sorbet, an apple brunoise, apple jelly, muesli and a large quenelle of buckwheat ice cream. The way that gorgeous ice cream played off the muesli was brilliant, but the inspired addition of a slice of cheddar cheese in the middle of it all took this dish to another level. It was not only the dish of the night, but one of the best desserts I’ve ever sampled: the perfect example of technique meets innovation meets deliciousness. Bravo!”

A few weeks later we finally made it to Impasto in Little Italy. Stefano Faita, a local foodie celebrity, and Michel Forgione, a well respected local chef opened this corner restaurant last summer. Did I mention it is based on “local”? The restaurant is across the street from Stefano’s family’s “hardware” store (specializing in kitchen ware and hunting equipment!) and Stefano’s cooking school. It is a few blocks from the all-important Jean-Talon market. Décor is simple, and perfect, in a much different way. The exterior blends in seamlessly with the block. No “look at me” here! The interior says “Italia”, from the terrazzo floor to the sleek walnut paneled walls to the marble tabletops.  The vibe matches the style of cooking. It is friendly, comfortable and Italian. While I understand this restaurant is all about the pastas, I have to say they were fine, but not the standouts of our meal. The charcuterie was exceptional, and (some of you readers may shudder), the porchetta was the best I have ever even IMAGINED eating. The fact that desserts were delicious actually came as a surprise – I am usually disappointed at Italian restaurants in Montreal. The tiramisu was not too sweet or too airy, and the chocolate-hazelnut cake was so good I am still craving another piece.

Reflecting on this blog and thinking how lucky I am to live in a city this diverse and foodie-friendly, I popped into Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard Street. That was the clincher, and I found myself chuckling. There was an orthodox Jewish man buying bread and some cookies. A young religious girl was buying an assortment of pastries, including the requisite sponge cake. Next, a hipster French-Canadian girl ordered chocolate croissants. Two very large Black guys were next. In French, they ordered sandwiches. One of the guys knew no meat was served. He was about to order a tuna sandwich when he spotted something and asked what it was. When told it was lox spread, his face lit up, and he said “one of those, and one for my friend”. I knew I was in Montreal, and left the bakery with the best babka in town and a smile.

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A few words about our escape to Nevis since it is minus a million degrees here today.

10,000 people and 11,000 monkeys. Countless goats, sheep, cows and donkeys.  What can be bad about an island with those stats?

Nevis is unlike any other Caribbean paradise. It is slower. Calmer. Less of a “scene”, which is much more my “scene”!

We spent a week at The Golden Rock Inn. It has figured out how to do the “boutique hotel” thing, beautifully. It is charming, and completely unpretentious, but understands the important things, like having great mattresses. Picturesque doesn’t begin to describe the setting. The food is really excellent – as I write I am craving a slice of pumpkin “sweet bread”. The facilities are well maintained, but if you are looking for a “resort”, this isn’t it. For me, that is a compliment. I am not a good resort “camper”.  A rental car is key, unless you are happy just hanging out. The staff is friendly, very attentive, and they really give each guest personal attention.

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A highlight for all of us was the “Source” hike. The trail begins at the hotel and goes through the rainforest to the source of water that established the island. It was a hot, steep hike that we will all remember. Maps are available at Golden Rock’s office. The hike takes a few hours. We ran out of time before we got to the more challenging Peak hike. Next time!

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Beaches on Nevis are nice. Not stellar, but nice. Some are on the Atlantic side, and some are on the Caribbean. The Atlantic beaches are beautiful, but were very windy when we were there. The Caribbean is protected and the water is warmer and calmer.

Bananas restaurant is a bit if an act of faith to find, but the food is delicious. Directions are pretty vague on the island, and little signs are key.

We found the Yachtsman to be the perfect beach hangout. We set ourselves up on their beach, drank and ate, and had a great time. Wine prices are surprisingly fabulous. Really. As in, at cost.

The Four Seasons looks nice, but it isn’t very welcoming to non-guests. Their golf course is magnificent and open to all. The course is challenging, and the many monkeys on the 14th green were kind enough to reserve comment on our game.

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My best guess at Banana’s Skinny Colada (I am not a fan of umbrella-drinks, but this was very yummy!)

• 2 oz.  Coconut Rum
• 5 oz. Coconut water
• 2 oz. Pineapple juice

Ting with a Sting

What makes Jamaica’s grapefruit soda better? a healthy shot of rum!

CSR (Cane Spirit Rothchild) is the rum of choice in Nevis, but I am guessing it will taste great with any white rum.

Directions? Pour some Ting in a glass with ice. Add rum. Stir and enjoy!

Combine ingredients and pour into a glass filled with ice. Close your eyes and imagine you are on a beach.