Monday, July 25, 2011

Baking for Good

I loved the concept of Baking for Good when I first heard about them. For each online purchase, they donate 15% to a charity of your choice (there are over 200 to choose from). I first sent them to a friend when her grandmother passed away, and when she raved about how good the cookies were, they became my go-to food gift of choice.

Everyone we sent brownies or cookies too loved them, and yet, I had never actually tasted any of these baked treats, only sent them out to others. Until recently...

We took the opportunity when we had a bunch of gifts to buy to throw in a few bags for ourselves. The chocolate chip cookie brownie (basically cookie dough dropped over a brownie and all baked together), I think, were my favorite. Warmed up briefly in a microwave, then topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, they made great brownie sundaes. The s'mores brownies were super sweet but were fun ooey, gooey, treats. The traditional chocolate brownies were good, but I still think Redneckhunter makes the best on earth.

Can't wait until I have another excuse to try their oatmeal cookies, chocolate crackles, the list goes on. They also make fun decorated sugar cookie for every occasion you can think of - graduations, baby showers, weddings - they'll even do custom designs. As their motto goes, "a little sugar goes a long way."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fairmount Bagel, Montreal

Wandering around the Mile End neighborhood in Montreal, Fougoo & I happened upon Fairmount Bagel, one the oldest bagel bakeries in town. The shop is open 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, churning out their hand rolled, wood oven baked bagels.
We opted to try their "all dressed" bagel, covered with onion, garlic, caraway, sesame seeds , poppy seeds and coarse salt. First off the Montreal style bagel is a bit larger than the New York City bagel. It has a less chewy texture than the NYC counterpart, and the Montreal bagel is a little sweeter as well.
Personally, I still prefer the New York bagel, but I do respect the tradition of the bagels they make up North.

74 Avenue Fairmount Ouest
Montreal, QC

Thursday, July 14, 2011

BrookLen Goes to Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal

It only took me getting into five years of career starts and stops, a marriage, and a little guy we'll refer to as BrookLEn Jr, and finally, I was able to stroll through the doors of Au Pied du Cochon, for the great Northern TIGBG eat-athon. There is nothing adorning the alley-sized apartment of gluttony, and in a city (nay, country!) that seems to have no shortage of space, you find yourself lucky to be eating and chatting elbow-to-elbow with patrons and staff alike. Even though I already had in mind a couple classic dishes I had read about in this very blog, I was prepared for whatever specials might come down the gangplank to our onerous party.
Redneckhunter scaled the winelist, and came up with the smart suggestion of a Boujoulais Nouveau, which would be a tidy excuse to sip red with shellfish. Although they were actually out of the listed wine, their substitute, La Tentation Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu was beyond the par of what I hoped for, and we gladly shared a couple bottles. 1000yregg ordered like his hair was on fire, and I had just enough time to yelp for the ever-famous duck in a can.
And then we waited. For this, I was finally getting into the Quebecois mindset. I am sick of impatience- in myself, in Americans. I was ready for Royal Mountie Time. If you can wait for an hour, then the chef will give you what you deserve. If you can't, go down the road, there's a border crossing nearby.

An hour later, we saw our first dishes. To start, the mystery cubes. I was told to let the foie gras cromesquis cool, and I waited with apprehension. What I afraid of disappointment? I lifted one up, and let it break on my tongue. The liquified liver poured down my throat, a surge of fat for what was to come. Two orders of the foie gras poutine landed between the seven of us, and not a fry survived. In describing that dish, it is hard to imagine that it would actually be lush and velvety. Along with this came some spicy fried cod balls, and a tarragon bison tongue, tough but made bright with my secret new favorite herb.

Then, it arrived: the inimitable Duck in A Can. The presentation of that plate was done for BrookLEn Jr., to awe and some exhaustion (it was after his bed time, after all). The duck was a revelry; watching in come out was like a downward parade onto the plate. I'm sure I saw a sprig of thyme amongst the dark gravy and red meat. Juiced with fat, but a touch of tender lean in the duck made their set-piece dish still feel like a standout.

To my surprise, most dishes had a nod to more than just meat and gravy. There were vegetables, amazing potatoes and morels; our table made neat work of a single salad that had octopus and bacon amongst some sweet and fresh greens. It truly was a food parade, but the secret parade that happens at midnight. It's the parade that still beguiles the internet, and manages to find that sweet alley to march. Between courses, thunder rolled in, and a heavy rain poured on the skylight.

Next, the second wave of plates arrived. Boudin noir propped up in mashed potatoes.

A lobster roll with foie gras slices adorning.

And the plateau des plateaux, a tower of Canadian seafood orgy: fried AND boiled crabs legs, oysters, crawfish, mussels, clams, and a pan of Szechuan-spiced snails worthy of 1000yregg's drool. One of the oysters that had a slice of gelée might have been the best thing I ate all night. Just when I started thinking about where I left my will, the collar was affixed to our table.

The tuna collar, one of the two available for the whole night, was a beautiful nightmare of aquatic eatery. The C-shaped bone held tender meat that would melt in your mouth, doused in a rich, buttery sauce, and garnished with a stack of onion rings. Yes, onion rings. The table tore into this food, and before I knew it, the TIGBG crew were taking turns working at the tuna collar, exploring its secret meats. The meat sweats started in.

1000yregg: Just adding my two cents, as this was the first time I had tried the tuna collar as well. I was still feeling the seafood "high" from the plateau when I took my first bites of the collar. Oh my god, this was the most tender tuna I have ever eaten. Fougoo and I also noticed that the collar had several different areas where the meat went from a white color to dark red. These areas all had different levels of flavor and texture. I probably continue eating 45 minutes after the rest of the table cried "uncle". I blame the shellfish high munchies which gave me the second wind.

fougoo: No matter how many times we come here, they still surprise us! The tuna collar was truly an experience. I only wish that it hadn't come last, so that I could have eaten more - it was like no fish I'd ever tasted. I had fun picking scraps of meat off with my fingers after everyone else was done... I also thought it was funny that different people in our party would walk out of the restaurant for periodic breaks for fresh air throughout the long meal - whew!

Over four hours later, with a ravaged table, we entertained dessert, marveling at what we'd done. The fantastic pouding chomeur, swimming in a mild maple sauce, complimented the classic creme brulee, and dark chocolat pot de creme. It's been a long wait, and I'm already thinking about when I can make it again.

536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montréal, QC

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Restaurant Le Plaza, Montreal

The TIGBG group spent Saturday after Canada Day watching all the activity at our hotel, ITHQ, because it was the site of a visit by Prince William & Kate. We left for dinner past the throngs of royal watchers to the quiet neighborhood along St. Hubert to Restaurant Le Plaza.
Le Plaza makes a menu that is considered more old school Quebecois cuisine, and we opted to eat a less heavy menu as we had Joe Beef the previous evening, and Au Pied De Cochon ths next night.
We started with a pair of salads: spinach salad with crab, croutons, avocado & lardons and a tomato salad on top of a grilled ricotta cake.
The foie gras preparation of the day was a delicious tart of foie gras with poached pear. We also shared the house charcuterie plate which was all seafood including house smoked salmon & eel, and a really good shrimp confit.

We then ordered two large tartare preparations. First was the traditional beef tartare with frites. It was really good with a great balance of beef, pickles, hot sauce and raw egg.
The second tartare was made with Arctic char and mixed with a little mayo, cucumber and dill.

For dessert we ordered a set of "whoopie pies". There was the traditional chocolate cookie with cream. One was a lemon cookie, and the third was inspired by Elvis- banana cookie with peanut butter and bacon filling.
We also got the Yankee toast, not the French toast, which was covered with molasses and vanilla ice cream. This was delicious, but I wanted more ice cream to go with the toast.

6230, rue Saint-Hubert
Montreal, QC

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Poutine at La Cantine Bistro Boutique, Montreal

Before this trip to Montreal, I found a blog Poutine Pundit, that rates their fav poutine places in Quebec, NYC and around the world. Their favorite poutine was at Montreal's Le Cantine Bistro Boutique, so one late night, Fougoo and I went.
Their iteration of this Quebecois classic is particular in that the gravy has Szechuan peppercorn. It arrives with a beautiful presentation, in a mason jar. However, per Poutine Pundit's recommendation, we removed all the contents from that jar quickly so the fries do not get soggy.
The result was spectacular: crispy fries, squeaky fresh cheese curds, and wonderfully flavored only mildly spicy gravy. It was one of the best versions of poutine I've ever had.

212 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est
Montreal, QC

Monday, July 11, 2011

Le Comptoir Charcuterie et Vins, Montreal

On researching for the Montreal trip, I had heard some good things about Le Comptoir Charcuterie et Vins, another recently opened restaurant that specialized in small plates of housemade charcuterie. Le Comptoir translates to "counter", and we sat at the main counter that evening, watching the food prep area that was on the other side.
We started with a large charcuterie plate. All the items are made at La Comptoir. We had their pâté de foie gras, saucisson sec, sopresseta, country pâté, and chorizo. We had something else that was lot like scrapple- very liver-y- seared so it was crunchy on the outside, mushy inside. Fougoo really liked the house made cumin mustard, and bought a jar to take home.
Their menu is listed on a chalkboard, and highlight what is seasonal and available. We ordered two items to share. First was a beef heart confit served chilled topped with a salad of octopus & potatoes with a red wine emulsion.
Second, we had a boudin tart with a shallot confit, bacon and "soft boiled egg". The boudin was nice and creamy, and tasted great with the shallots.
For dessert, we got a marquise au chocolat with strawberries, rhubarb and a hazelnut tuile.
Le Comptoir makes me wish there were more restaurants following the same low key style with amazing no nonsense food and casual atmosphere. I know I'll be back next time I'm in Montreal.

4807 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, QC

Friday, July 08, 2011

Joe Beef, Montreal

On Canada Day, the whole TIGBG crew got together in Montreal for an unforgettable dinner at up and coming restaurant, Joe Beef. We figure we’d try a different approach to our posts and turn this into a discussion about our meal.

fougoo: First off, before getting into the food, the atmosphere at Joe Beef is absolutely charming. Even though we had a little mix-up with the reservation, the staff were accommodating, and we were lucky enough to get a spot in the corner of the garden. Dining out there in the early evening sunshine, with plants, flowers, herbs, and vegetables all around us was just a perfect setting - as if you were invited over to your fabulously bohemian friend’s house for dinner on their patio. Our waiter was helpful translating the menu posted on the chalkboard, offering suggestions, and letting us know what was fresh and where it had come from.

brooklen: By our dumb luck, we got the best seat in the house; on one side of my seat I was smelling the smoker, on the other I was getting whiffs of basil. There was thyme growing out of the tree stump at the end of our table!

1000yregg: We were so fortunate to be sitting in the backyard of Joe Beef for dinner on such a perfect summer evening. Redneckhunter selected a 2007 Castiglion del Bosco Rosso di Montalcino, a versatile wine for the evening's dinner.

fougoo: We ordered french fries for the 2-year-old BrookLEN Junior, but everyone ended up stealing from the poor kid - they were crisp, garlicky and delicious!

brooklen: Poor Junior spent all of Montreal subsisting on french fries... he didn’t inherit his daddy’s palette (yet)...

fougoo: our cousin, stephen, managed to eat a foie gras Double Down all by himself! I was totally satisfied with my one delicious salty, fried, rich, creamy bite.

: I was actually a little hesitant to get the foie gras Double Down, feeling it would be too much, but since we had a good sized group, I knew we had to. It was wonderful. The batter was deliciously spiced and crispy like fried chicken skin, and the lobes of foie gras were beautifully fatty and rich. Even the honey under the “sandwich” was awesome. I understand how my cousin could want more, and yet I also felt very scared for him.

brooklen: Ohh, the Double Down. Stuff of legend, though I have to admit, it won’t be the dish I remember forever. I think the sauce had a touch of honey, to give it that Southern-fried flair.
fougoo: As 1000yregg and redneckhunter devoured the Double Down, I focused my attentions on our other foie dish, a foie gras confit with rhubarb, which I preferred - a perfect summer dish - the tartness of the rhubarb melding nicely with the smoothness of the foie.

brooklen: Yes! I believe foie gets a lift with a little sweet; a Northern chutney of Pie Plant. Even the jellied fat was summery. Might be my favorite of the dinner.
fougoo: we ordered the Smorgasburg toast when we heard that they smoked all the seafood on it just feet away from us in the back garden. It was a nice dish -- a bit hard to share among so many people, but really a perfect appetizer if I had to order something for just myself -- a nice variety of fish and shellfish, an oyster, whitefish salad.

: My first oyster of the trip; not icy cold as we Americans tend to take ‘em, but it was graced with a touch of herbs that seems to be the Quebec style.

brooklen: The cavatelli with morels was simple in appearance, but the cream sauce was perfectly rendered. I might have fallen in love with morels on Canada Day.

1000yregg: The lobster spaghetti was my choice on the menu, and boy was it good. The lobster was huge, and the lobster sauce was rich and strongly flavored. As clean up guy for the table, this was the plate that I finished first.

: I marveled at 1000yregg’s prowess as he finished up claws bigger than my own hand, large chunks of lobster tail, and bite after bite of sauce-heavy pasta. If they bottled that lobster sauce, I would have bought a jar to take home and savor.

fougoo: The porchetta with summer vegetables was my menu choice and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint. We probably didn’t need another meat dish, but I did love it. The pork was fragrant with herbs, not overly salty (as it sometimes has been at Porchetta in NYC), the perfect marbling of fat, just melted in your mouth. The waiter chided us for not finishing all of the skin, but by this point 1000yregg (who had cleaned up the lobster spaghetti) was saving room for dessert.

brooklen: The secret side-players on this dish were the veggies; gorgeous chard, and perfectly cubed beets. This was also the brightest sauce of the night- what was in that green stuff?

fougoo: Agreed - the green sauce was awesome! Parsley perhaps?

fougoo: I couldn’t believe how much schnitzel we got - two huge flat platter-sized pieces, along with a mountain of potatoes and veggies.

brooklen: The girotte mushrooms made this dish, not to be outdone.

: Our waiter had recommended the cheval (horse) with red wine sauce when we told him we were die-hard carnivores, but it was actually our least favorite meat dish. The marrow, however, was one of the largest portions I’ve ever seen. Redneckhunter always says that marrow is the Frenchie litmus test of whether someone is worthy of French cuisine or not. I have to say, after seeing 1000yregg pull out a massive glob of marrow onto his plate - jiggly and goopy like a mound of snot - the fact that we all thought “ooh, yummy!” at this stuff that would probably turn other people’s stomachs says a lot.
1000yregg: It was a little disappointing. Horse seems to be a leaner meat, and ours was a little dry. We guessed it could have sat while our other items were being made. I’d still try it another time. The veal bone marrow was spectacular and a huge portion. As with the porchetta, the side veggies, spring onions, were wonderful.

1000yregg: As a counterbalance to all this protein, we also ordered a Parc Vinet salad. The Parc Vinet refers to Joe Beef’s own garden located in the back of the restaurant. One of the waitstaff told us that he had hand picked the vegetables in our salad that evening, a wonderful medley of lettuce, fennel, and radishes.

1000yregg: For dessert, I was glad we got the Bavarian cream with rhubarb. It was very seasonal, and not overwhelming, especially following our amazing meal.

fougoo: by this point, 1000yregg and I had to keep up our 3-day streak of rhubarb desserts, though I have to admit I was too stuffed to eat more than one bite. Bavarian cream was nothing like the American “Bavarian Creme Pie” filling - a lot more subtle, but than most things un-American are...

fougoo: While we were dining, we were a little jealous seeing chef/owner David McMillan talking to some of the other diners and showing them the smoker. But as we were leaving the big man himself stopped 1000yregg because he had noticed all the picture-taking, and asked if we’d let him know when they were posted online. He showed us a soon-to-be “secret” table in the adjacent alleyway.

: Chef David McMillan chatted with us for a while after dinner. He said despite all the press about the foie gras Double Down, he had not eaten a whole one by himself until recently with David Chang, who was in town the previous week working on content for Lucky Peach.
He said he wanted to be known for other items on the menu such as his vegetables. It was generous of him to talk with us, and I know that we're going to go back on our next trip to Montreal.

2491 Notre Dame West
Montreal, QC

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Ta, Montreal

We had read about Ta, an Australian pie place that had opened up last summer. Situated on the edge of Parc Jeanne-Mance (near the big Parc Mont Royal), it was a perfect spot to pop in for lunch as we walked up toward Outremont and Mile End from our home base in the Plateau neighborhood.

Not sure if the name Ta is an acronym for Toutiere Australienne, or because it's an Aussie slang way of saying thank you. At any rate, the place was simple, satisfying, and good. They have a variety of pies with traditional (i.e. steak and kidney) and not so traditional (i.e. lamb roganjosh, Thai green curry) fillings.

I opted for the vegetable curry, topped with sweet potato. 1000yregg went Down Under all the way with the "Ned Kelly" (named after the infamous Irish-Australian hero) -- which I think was beef, bacon, egg, and cheese -- done as a "stack" with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and gravy. I had mine with some HP brown sauce and chutney, though there were an assortment of other condiments to choose from -- everything from traditional ketchup to sriracha.

I knew I wanted to try the Afghan cookie for dessert when I read about it on their website -- a dark Belgian cocoa and cornflake cookie, covered with bittersweet chocolate. It was amazing - really great dark chocolate, and the cornflakes gave it such a great chewy-crunchy texture -- David Chang would have approved.

1000yregg opted for the Lamington, an Australian specialty which is like a petit four, dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. Interestingly, while we had thought it was chocolate frosting, the cake is actually soaked in chocolate on the outer layer.

They had the story of the Lamington posted on the wall of the restaurant -- how the cake was name for Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland, even though he actually hated the dessert and called it "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits." (though Wikipedia has varying accounts of its origins).

We could only finish 1/2 our desserts, but they were too good to leave behind, so we got a to-go baggie, making for a perfect accompaniment for a mid-afternoon ice coffee break later in the day. If I lived close to this place, I could see myself becoming a regular -- trying all the different flavors, buying frozen pies to take home, and of course, stopping in for those great cookies!

Ta (Tourtiere Australienne)
4520 Parc Avenue
H2V4E3, Montreal, QC
(514) 277 7437