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Posts from the ‘Montreal’ Category

Tour de Ville

1/2

I don't know why revolving restaurants havent become trendy, retro, whatever
(though I swear I recently read a tidbit about one being created in NYC).
Theyre more about the atmosphere than the food, a timeless draw.

I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to sample Tour de Villes
fare, but we didnt have to—it was atop hotel we stayed at over
last-minute-planned Labor Day weekend (it was the cheapest hotel we could
find that seemed palatable). And I'm not one to say no to a Sunday buffet
brunch.

And it was pretty impressive, though I'm not sure about the
“California Cuisine” they were touting (I guess every month the
restaurant has a theme, wed just missed a Taste of Quebec). I became
enamored with hotel buffets in Thailand because they had to cater to
Europeans and other Asians too, so congee, museli, dried fish, and Chinese
sausage shared the stage with eggs benedict, bacon and hash browns. This
wasn't so multi-cultural though they spanned meals. There was pasta,
seafood, and roasted meats in addition to more standard morning offerings.

Ill admit being surprised at the lack of fat Canadians, especially since
we share a border—does gluttony obey international lines? And I made a
true American pig of myself at the multitudinous dessert display. No one had
even touched a single pie, cake or pastry yet. Pristine, uncut and awaiting
my arrival. A few families had also begun to wander over and were telling
their children how they could choose one thing. Meanwhile, I was taking
slices out of everything. Well, four things (not to mention the chocolate
croissant I'd eaten earlier). All that slow spinning can really work up an
appetite.


Tour de Ville * 77 Rue University, Montreal, Canada

Au Pied de Cochon

It's extremely rare that I have a dining experience so enervating that the quality of the food becomes almost irrelevant. In fact, I can only think of two other examples of restaurants not worth re-visiting because my first impression was too tarnished: Lupa and Chickenbone Café (which is gone anyway). 

I love the idea of meat in monstrous portions, using unusual parts, and high-low ingredient combinations (foie gras poutine?). Au Pied de Cochon struck me as potentially being Montreals St. John restaurant (which it isn't exactly—St. John is austere where APDC is convivial). And I wasn't disappointed by the food. James had the French onion soup, which he declared the best hed had, and the massive “Happy Pig Chop.” I went pork crazy and started with a plate of pates and sausages that wouldve been better suited for sharing with a table of diners. For a main, I had to try the namesake pied de cochon. I didn't realize a pigs foot was so large. It filled the plate, and contained all the best aspects of pork: crispy skin, gooey gelatinous fat and tender inner flesh. The foot sprawled on a puddle of mashed potatoes and creamy mustard sauce. A tart onion, tomato and parsley relish was scattered liberally over the top and helped balance the porcine richness. 

But–yes, theres a big but—the dining experience as a whole felt abusive. Initially, it was just off, the vibe was wrong, nothing specific. You'd think as New Yorkers wed be used to cramped spaces and long waits, so that wasn't quite it. But it did seem that no matter where we stood we were in the way. Before even being seated we felt a touch beat-up and jostled, like how a bad subway ride can ruin a day before you even get to work. After eventually getting our table, we were promptly ignored. After nearly 15 minutes it started feeling intentional. Customers seated after us already had food and drinks, and we couldn't even get eye contact with a server. It seemed like everyone knew each other. Maybe that was it, we weren't regulars? Was it because we were speaking English? I don't think so, there were plenty of non-French conversations in the air. We finally ordered drinks, then lost our waiter for about another 10-15 minutes. Things started getting odd when we noted our waiter and a cohort motioning to our table, speaking in hushed tones, then laughing. I was like what the fuck? Paranoia set in, we didn't say anything weird, I don't think we ordered poorly, I like to believe were at least moderately attractive—what was the deal?

By the time our food arrived, I was totally turned off to eating. No matter how much I scooted my chair and our entire table forward, the guy behind me would inch closer. After the millionth time he leaned back enough that the backs of our heads were touching, I started to lose my shit. Did I mention this was our fifth (dating) anniversary? If this meal was any indication of the future of our relationship, we were in serious trouble. It was just plain non-good and creepily ominous. I'd had high expectations for our dinner, and all I could think about was dining and dashing (I never even did that as a teen, but its never too late to start). 

The clincher came when James chomped down on something hard in his onions, and pulled out a big fat metal screw. Yeah, a screw. Was this some sort of messed up message? A not so subtle screw you. Honestly, I didn't think so, but we weren't even able to point out the little screw up (ha) because not once did anyone stop to ask us how we were doing. At this point we were invisible, we couldn't have flagged down a waiter if wed tried. So, we just sat and waited, both our entrees barely touched. To be fair, the staff seemed genuinely concerned after politely being shown the screw. We didn't make a fuss at all, I'm never one to cause problems at restaurants, in fact, I'm probably overly passive when it comes to bizarre customer service. Thankfully, the Happy Pig Chop wasn't included on our bill (they offered to make another one, like we wanted to sit in this hell hole any longer). 

The whole evening was so horrendously bad that all I could do was laugh. I mean, it was kind of comical. We imagined an Au Pied de Cochon review being written in a New York Post-ian style. The headline would invariably say something about the staff having a screw loose. It would be a hoot to read. But then, maybe I'm the only one gets a kick out of the Post.

Au Pied de Cochon * 536 Rue Duluth E., Montreal , Canada

Chez Claudette

Poutine. I always imagined it pronounced like Poo Teen, but after hearing it
uttered aloud by a proper French-Canadian, it sounds more like Putin, as in
the surname of Russias President.

Poutine, which is really no more than French fries covered in gravy and
cheese curds, strikes me as way more British than French. Peas are also an
optional accompaniment, and I could see the mushy concoction right at home
on some demented chip shop menu in England.

Origins aside, this was a dish that needed to be tried. And no, I didnt
want fancy foie gras poutine or mass produced chain restaurant poutine. I
wanted Montreal greasy spoon, 24-hour diner style spuds, and Chez Claudette
came through for me.

East of the boutique-y part of Laurier St., sits this no nonsense corner
caf with little tables and counter stools. The menu is filled with basics
like eggs, bacon, burgers and oddballs like fish and chips and spaghetti.
Most baffling was the use of Michigan as descriptor; there was a Michigan
burger listed as well as a Michigan hot dog. I've never associated Michigan
with any particular food style.

I ordered the poutine as a side with eggs and bacon (most meals have
poutine as an add-on for a few dollars more). It wasn't bad at all, sort of
gloopy, and more peppery than I'd imagined. The cheese curds are in large
chunks, not like baby-sized cottage cheese ones. And the base wasn't really
French fries, but cubed potatoes. I'm not sure if thats standard or not. I
think the crispiness of fried potatoes might work better, even though the
gravy would inevitably make them soggy anyway. I need to do more poutine
research before coming to any conclusions.


Chez Claudette * 351 Laurier E., Montreal, Canada

Lemeac

Wed narrowed down our Friday night choices to two contenders: Lemeac and L'Express. Primarily because we wanted bistro food at a late hour. L'Express had been compared to Balthazaar; crowds and less than desirable staff had been described (we decided to save that kind of traumatic atmosphere for Saturday night at Au Pied de Cochon). Leanings went towards Lemeac, plus it appeared they had an appetizer and entre set for $20 (Canadian) after 10pm, which was an added plus though I hadnt intended a penny-pinching vacation.

As it turned out, after settling into the hotel, getting ready, checking the internet and all that, by the time we finally traipsed into the city, we arrived at Lemeac at 10pm on the nose. And that just seemed tacky, like you were there only out of miserliness. I'm overly weird about perceptions of others and appearances so we killed a little time walking around the neighborhood in surprisingly chilly weather. Despite the brisk autumn breezes and threat of rain, we still opted to sit on the outdoor terrace.

My time paranoia didnt even end up mattering because the $20 special didnt appear in the menu anyway. Humiliation averted. It wasn't until tried to order that we were told they had a prix fixe deal thats only in the French language menu, which the waitress kindly brought over. At least she was courteous enough to notice our English menus missing piece (though it does make one wonder why they don't just put the same things in both menus–I had a mild phobia of anti-American bias. It does exist and is considerably more retarded than if you were in Europe since practically every Montrealer speaks perfect English. French-Canadians have issues).

So, my bargain meal consisted of a raw milk cheddar and vegetable tart to start and duck leg confit with fingerling potatoes and salad for a main. I love a nice frisee salad doused by duck fat and escaped juices. The potatoes were perfectly crisp and salty. It's the kind of food that comes across as simple and straightforward, but that I would never make at home. Doing basics just right is harder than it seems.

Lemeac* 1045 Laurier W, Montreal, Canada

Chez Alexandre

We thought we were being smart, taking our extended Columbus Day weekend in Canada. But Monday morning I suspected something was up when there were too many people out and about and it looked like lots of businesses were closed. We had wanted to try the steak frites at L'entrecoute St. Jacques, but the place was shuttered-up at prime lunch time. It wasn't until I read the Thanksgiving closure notice on a bank door that any of it made sense.

Still in search of steak frites, we settled for Chez Alexandre, down the street. I fear that neighborhood is the Times Square of Montreal (minus the Disney Store and black muslims). The menu didn't seem so remarkable, but the prices indicated as much. Who were we to argue? Choices were scarce and we were in a hurry to get on the road.

The most interesting part of the meal was spying on the middle-aged gentleman in the corner who ordered what appeared to be a gin and tonic, then would periodically hide his glass with his newspaper and pour in smuggled gin from one of those mini airplane bottles. He even had the audacity to ask for more ice at one point, just to top it off with his own spirits. I couldn't begrudge him, he was alone on a holiday (maybe he couldn't wait to get away from the family) and the drinks were probably expensive. I wonder if one gets into some sort of trouble if found out by the waitstaff?

Chez Alexandre * 1454 Peel St., Montreal, Canada

Fonduementale

I'm keen on the standard cheese fondue, James prefers the chocolate version,
neither of us had tried the shabu shabu ("Chinese," as they call it) style,
so we opted for "The Romantic" sampler. Fondue three ways may be more over
the top than romantic, but to each their own. The whole shebang included an
appetizer of pink peppercorn cheese fondue (or traditional fondue or soup of
the day), beef and chicken Chinese fondue with shrimp, salmon and calamari,
and chocolate (or maple syrup) fondue. The mish mash of influences seemed
rightly French-Canadian, though if we had wanted to really go completely
Canuck, we could've opted for wild game like wild boar in apple oil, caribou
in cedar extract or deer with juniper berries.


Fonduementale* 4325 Rue
St. Denis, Montreal, Canada

L’avenue

We couldn't find Beauty's for the life of us, then were talked out of the
place by a young coffee shop guy (who spoke perfectly accentless English to
us, then French to his friend on the phone. It just doesn't seem right, this
French-Canadian act. Everyone's all particular about speaking French,
signage being in French, but they all understand and speak English as well
as the rest of Canada and all of the United States can) who in so many words
said it was overhyped. That, I understand. I don't want to get stuck at like
the Carnegie Deli of Montreal.

L'Avenue was very popular with the locals, and just about everyone else
in town. People seem to love lining up at restaurants and bars in Montreal.
Are there too many people or not enough places to go? The menu was entirely
in French, but I was able to deduce the eggs benedict. Good: you could smoke
all over the place. Bad: the enormous "fruit" salads that came with
everything. Why fruit means 90% melon, I'll never understand.


L'Avenue* 922 Mont-Royal Ave. E., Montreal, Canada

Ferreira Cafe

It freaks me out when a server tries to turn you off a menu item. I feel
like they're trying to keep me away from something really good that they're
afraid Americans won't like. (I will truly eat anything. The only time I was
given pause was over this laksa I'd been warned about at Singapore Cafe. I
know laksa, I love laksa, but this was laksa like no other. I swear there
was liver and twigs in it.) So, I asked about acorda, having no idea
what it was, and the waiter forcefully suggested I order something else,
saying "people who order it know what they're getting," and described it
vaguely as a bread soup with seafood, which didn't sound so beastly to me. I
couldn't tell if this was meant to be snotty like if you have to ask, you
don't need to know or if he just saying that it's something serious
Portuguese cuisine aficionados (I know zilch about Portuguese food) are fond
of, in which case I might like to try it.

Instead, I ordered a most un-Portugeuse starter of tuna tartare with
"armes asiatiques," (I can't understand why they're so into being
French-Canadian) then went for the bacalao entree, which prompted the waiter
to tell me it was salt cod, which was a big "duh," but I guess once you have
to ask about the acorda, you're dubbed an oaf for the rest of the evening.

The most interesting course was the dessert. Amid the requisite molten
chocolate cake, I found a stilton cheese cake with bananas, chocolate
ganache and a port sauce. It sounded totally insane, was incredibly rich,
but totally worked. I furthered the gauche quotient by ordering the house
port, an $800 vintage bottle would seriously be wasted on me.

Regardless, the meal was nice, and even nicer with the exchange rate.
The vibe was sort of business swank, not exactly my scene, but I just wanted
to go somewhere upscale that wasn't French (I'm not anti-French, I swear).
(10/12/02)


FerreiraCafe Trattoria *
1446 Peel St., Montreal,Canada