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We’re nearing the yearly gastronomical frenzy at the venerable Montréal en Lumière festival (Feb. 19-Mar. 1), purveyors of Nuit Blanche (Feb. 28).

This years’ offerings are more luxuriant than ever, and while the free outdoor site will be on hand for cheaper (corporately-sponsored) thrills, the real delights are to be found in dining rooms at the four corners of town as hundreds of global guest chefs descend upon our city.

In its first year as a UNESCO-recognized gathering, Montréal en Lumière doses up the usual geographical mashup to guide the culinary program: Switzerland, Washington DC and Lanaudière. I’m not going to pretend to find some throughline for these three places, so let’s jump into particulars.

Old Swiss food conjures up images of chocolate and cheese. Of course, things have long since changed and Montréal en Lumière is helping to smash stereotypes with a barrage of Michelin stars. From my count, we’re looking at a total 9 Michelin stars, if you tend to count that kind of thing.

Guest chef menus are vague, yet styles range from classic French to tapas, crossing kitchens from La Chronique to Maison Boulud. Prices vary wildly yet tend on the pricier side. For example, the “World’s Best Sommelier,” Paulo Basso, will pair wines at overfluffed Europea with Paul-André Ayer’s dishes for a smooth $300.

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For choco-cheese addicts, however, the rich nation’s iconic delights are on show across a flurry of fondue dinnerschocolate-inspired menus and all-you-can-eat raclette evenings. These tend to be more moderately priced.

Personally, however, I’m more interested in the focus on Lanaudière and Washington: two more “emerging” culinary scenes. Despite its general eminence in all things political, DC has never really found the same culinary footing as NYC, Chicago or even San Francisco.

Yet its culinary riches are developing: ethnically varied, innovative and well-financed chefs have recently brought some amazing ventures to the forefront. Big names such such as Equinox‘s Todd Gray and uber-competitive TV wonder Mike Isabella of Kapnos fill the program and are likely worth the tab.

However, from past experience, I’ve found the wine evenings can sometimes be the most revelatory—with dishes more odd & exciting than the headline dinners. In this spirit, check out Marjorie Meek-Bradley at the always-pleasurable Pullman wine bar.

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As for Lanaudière—that Nor’Easterly region right next to Montréal—well, what do we really know about its chefs and traditions? Top pick (and likely to sell out first) is Nancy Hinton’s guest spot at Les 400 Coups. Her rural joint Les Jardins Sauvages was the subject of great fanfare & controversy last year as duelling critics Lesley Chesterman and M-C Lortie disputed its merits. For a more low-key introduction to our neighbouring region, however, check out the Jean-Talon Market for local products and demos by Lanaudière cooks.

For amateurs of the peculiar world that is Québec culinary TV, you can brush elbows (and determine the financial fate) of four favourite Les Chefs! contestants in a $100 a head 12-course competition dinner.

In the series known as “Planète Montréal” you can have so many profound questions answered. Questions such as: “What would (Habs GM) Marc Bergevin make for dinner?” or “What kind of meal would (hipster band) Mister Valaire curate if they had a captive audience?”

Last and not least, the always-educational UQÀM agro-gastro talks come to the festival this year with a séance on olive oil. Tastings included.

The real wacky & budget friendly food thrills, however, are often found on Nuit Blanche. As we did last year, we’ll be providing a list of cheap (or free) thrills just prior to Feb. 28.

Follow us on Twitter for more updates: @Forgetthebox / @JoshDavidson

Vegan Sherperd's pie

My name is Amore. Maria Amore and I cook with love. I’ve always had a knack for cooking (it’s the Italian background – I was born in the kitchen!), but working as a corporate lawyer wasn’t exactly conducive to putting together nutritious meals that took longer to prepare than popping toasts. Most of the time, I didn’t know whether it was day or night, weekday or weekend, nor what the weather was like outdoors, because, conveniently, my desk and chair were facing away from my office window on the 22nd floor. I still loved it: the adrenaline pumping all the time, the intellectual stimulation, the sense of importance, my ego-self replete with pride; it was, I thought, my dream life.

Then I got sick. I struggled for a while, trying to hide my devastating exhaustion from everyone, but it became almost impossible for me to get out of bed. The medical doctors at a loss for how to help me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started learning about nutrition.

“Let food be thy medicine.”

Man, Hippocrates was a genius! It made perfect sense to me! I learned that a vegan diet was not only healthiest for us and kindest to the animals, but also best for the whole planet. Quickly, actually overnight, I became a vegan, which means, I cut out all animal products from my diet. Not only meat, but also fish, eggs, cheese, milk – all of it – gone. That was almost 3 years ago. Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness was the first book I read, and that’s all I needed to convince me ethically, but I continued researching and became positive I had made the right decision.

This weekly column won’t be as much about me, as about you. You living a healthier lifestyle; you learning delicious and nutritious ways to substitute animal products in your recipes; you making informed decisions that intuitively feel right.

Vegan Sherperd's pie
Vegan Shepherd's pie by Maria Amore

This week I set out to veganize a classic recipe, Shepherd’s Pie. What to use instead of meat was not a challenge at all – that was actually the easy part, once marinating the tofu was properly mastered (or kidney beans for those of you who avoid soy). The big dilemma for me was: what do I use instead of creamed corn? I tried making the dish without it, using only corn. Some liked it, but it just didn’t do it for me! So, I got to work. I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve that I could add to corn for increased deliciousness. I’ve recently discovered the creamy wonders that cashews bring to recipes and subsequently developed a successful cashew-creamy mushroom sauce just the week before. I modified my mushroom recipe by adding corn instead of mushrooms and it worked!

Here you are: a scrumptious vegan Shepherd’s Pie, complete with the secret ingredient: cashew-cream of corn! Below you will also learn a versatile recipe for marinating tofu, tempeh or beans. Enjoy, in joy and in health!

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

4 to 5 servings

Ingredients:

3 cups organic corn (preferably frozen corn, boiled)
1 cup cashew-cream of corn (recipe follows)
5 medium potatoes and 1 medium sweet potato
1 package firm organic tofu OR 3 cups cooked kidney beans (marinated as per recipe which follows)
1 package mushrooms
2 cups spinach
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons vegan butter
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons paprika OR cayenne

Method:

  1. Marinate tofu or kidney beans according to the recipe below. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours.
  2. Chop potatoes and sweet potato. Boil in water with sea salt and garlic until soft (20 – 30 minutes). Once cooked, mash potatoes. Add nutritional yeast and vegan butter. Set aside.
  3. Add grapeseed oil to pan and heat for 1 -2 minutes. Add marinated tofu and mushrooms. Stir fry at low to medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add spinach. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes.
  4. Place cooked tofu, mushrooms and spinach as bottom layer in a large rectangular glass casserole dish.
  5. Add corn and cashew-cream of corn (recipe follows) as second layer.
  6. Add mashed potatoes as top layer, spreading evenly with a fork. Sprinkle paprika or cayenne on top.
  7. Place casserole in oven and bake at 350˚ F for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Serve.

How to Marinate Tofu or Tempeh:

This is a versatile technique to marinate tofu, tempeh or beans. In a large glass container, place tofu, beans or tempeh (crumbled for Shepherd’s Pie or chopped for other recipes) and the ingredients which follow. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours prior to cooking.

2 gloves of garlic – minced
3 tablespoons olive OR grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons unsalted Montreal steak spice
1 teaspoon oregano
3 tablespoons minced parsley
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari
1 bay leaf
1 chopped onion (optional)

Cashew-Cream of Corn

Ingredients:
½ cup raw cashews, pre-soaked for 2 hours, drained
1 cup water
1 garlic – minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon white or yellow miso
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup hemp seeds
¼ cup nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cups organic corn (blended) and ¼ cup organic corn (whole)

Method:

  1. Blend all ingredients until creamy. Stir in remaining ¼ cup corn to creamy mixture.
  2. Add to Shepherd’s Pie or other recipe.

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends”. ~George Bernard Shaw

St cyr

Lili St. Cyr

Through the generations the face of the Main has certainly changed, degraded and revamped. Just in the last decade, the corner of St-Laurent and Ste-Catherine Streets has gotten a make-over, and in some respects is still getting work done. Some buildings have been torn down, while constituents petitioned and fought with all their might to make sure establishment like the Montreal Pool Room and the Café Cléopâtre stood their ground. Major holes were dug up, patched-up and re-paved to make way for new developments within the entertainment district. The Quartier des spectacles now has a glamed up exterior and decor similar to the Place des arts, but all this has brought-in some new faces to the ‘hood.

StCyrOnce known as Montreal’s red-light district, this reputable street corner is now home to La Vitrine – the one-stop ticket-window for most of your cultural and entertainment needs, where you can plan an outing or check out the last minute tickets that are available at a discount. In the same building, a new restaurant opened its doors – named after Lili St. Cyr, the most famous woman in Montreal in the 1940s and 50s. Lili was known for her beauty and burlesque shows, as well as her immoral, obscene and indecent behaviour, given the very catholic climate that ruled Quebec at the time. Times have changed, some people are not as uptight and Montreal’s joie de vivre cannot be satiated, especially with indulgence staring at us right in the face.

The St. Cyr notes the contrast from the classic style of the 40s and 50s with a clean modern twist with French cuisine that borders on Mediterranean flavours, with citrus and herbs to showcase some of the province’s best ingredients. The restaurant located in the 2-22 building, offers three different areas that aim to please and tease in any situation, from a sexy cocktail in their lounge, to linger over an tempting menu or simply just drop in for a quick bite before or after a show.

St CyrOn opening night, dimly lit with hanging glistening lights, this new venue was packed and rightfully so. Greeted with bright smiles, a glass of wine and a few amuse-gueules at the front bar, the evening was off to a good start. Plates of miniature samplings of St. Cyr’s menu paraded around the dining room before flying off into peoples mouths. I can’t blame them; the bites were delicious, well put together and tested true to a certain quality that is not easy to pull off given a hungry finicky crowd of critics of all sorts. Displayed above the glass encased wine cellar, the black and white projections of Ms. St. Cyr and vintage images of the Main from way back when, reminded us that the corner of St-Laurent and Ste-Catherine has been through many ups and downs that have transformed the face of culture many times over.

St Cyr

If the Magdalen Island scallops – with the pinkish-orange coral still attached and intact (a rarerity it seems these days) – with the delicate cider zephir are any indication of the quality, inspiration and deliciousness of the Chef’s savoir-faire in the kitchen, then I would say this to you: Grab your main squeeze or round-up some of your peeps and head out for a night on the town for dinner, drinks and a show. With satiated palates, who knows where the night may lead you…

——-

Le St. Cyr
www.lestcyr.com | Facebook
22 Ste-Catherine Street East
Montreal, Québec.
514.587.6222.

 

 

Not our Sushi experience

 

The latest Wine & Dine adventure took a bit of a sour turn when we went to Zenya for a night of sushi. There aren’t too many great quality sushi joints in Montreal, and I was thrilled when my old colleagues introduced me to this hidden gem. It’s past the bridge on the second floor of a nondescript building on St Catherine’s (cross street Union). For years, this has been my ‘nice’ sushi go-to place and the place I recommend joyously to anyone wanting to have sushi in this city. Sadly, not any more.

I arrived a little early and immediately let the waiter know that there would be a few more friends joining our reservation. I wasn’t concerned as there were only a few other patrons that night and the waiter didn’t raise any objections, though he didn’t take the initiative to add the extra table. This should have been a warning sign for what would ensue: ninety minutes of the most atrocious service I have ever encountered.

…also not our experience (but looks fun)

There were three main incidents that highlight what is now known as the ‘worst dinner service of my life’, but the real problem was our waiter’s attitude. He was condescending and rude, he even went so far as to make insulting remarks and argue with us about it.

Incident number one involved a friend asking for a spoon and explicitly being told she would be made fun of for not drinking her miso out of the cup. I appreciate the desire to provide a genuine ethnic experience (by the way, you may want to scratch the ice water then), but making someone feel bad about the way they eat their soup is not going to enrich anyone’s experience.

Incident number two happened while we were waiting for our food. Along with not adding the extra table, our waiter also failed to bring water glasses for our additional guests. After being asked three times for the missing water, the waiter told my friend, in all seriousness, that someone stole her water. Since he only brought four glasses, all of which were accounted for, he couldn’t possibly mean to insinuate someone actually stole a glass. Even if he meant to say that another friend may have taken hers (by accident or otherwise), we were still missing three glasses! I still can’t understand why he would argue instead of bringing everyone their own glass.

Then, after an intolerable long wait for our food, we were finally served our first dish, which came with a warning that the rest of the food would be a while longer. How does it take over an hour to prepare various sushi and sashimi pieces for seven people in an almost empty restaurant? My growling tummy and I had been willing to overlook their inefficiency until the waiter stated unapologetically that they had run out of quail eggs so one of the pieces in our order of the ‘sunrise’ sushi was missing the quail yolk, a key component of the deliciousness. I couldn’t keep quiet anymore and asked him why he didn’t inform us of this before serving it (in case we wanted to change the order), and what he planned to do to make it up to us (I was already unhappy that they ran out of uni after the lunch service). He seemed annoyed that I was even talking to him but eventually remembered the basics of the service industry and offered to not charge us for that piece I’m sorry, you still intended to charge us for it?!

I wish!

After eating the ‘sunrise’ in incredulous silence we waited for the rest of our food to come out. Then we all had a collective lightbulb go off. We got up in unison and headed across the street to Kanda.

I stayed back to pay for the little food they brought out and to offer an explanation in hopes that the waiter would realize the errors of his ways. Instead I got more attitude as he condescendingly told me not to worry about the bill and that he would pack up the rest of the food for us to take out. Even writing about it now is making my blood boil! I firmly insisted to pay for what we consumed, turned down the doggie bag, and walked as fast as I could across the street hoping to leave behind the bad taste in my mouth.

By the time we got to Kanda we were beyond hungry and were glad for their all-you-can-eat to satisfy our bellies. The service was night-and-day compared to Zenya; the waitstaff smiled at us, happily answered our questions, and brought us everything we ordered in record time. The food by itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but the experience redeemed our night.

Zen Ya on Urbanspoon

At Eduardo’s, you’ll feast on a ginormous plate of pasta for about the same price as a fast food meal. Keeping expectations in check it is a $10 meal after all this is a great choice when you want to have the experience of going out but don’t actually want to pay for eating out.

On my way to the restaurant, which is located just east of St Denis on Duluth, I popped in at the SAQ and picked up an Italian ‘[white] house wine’ did I mention that Eduardo’s is BYOW? On my way out I noticed a neat brochure suggesting wine pairings for various Italian dishes. After browsing their decidedly fancier options, I felt happy with my humble selection, which I felt was much closer to what you would get in any small village in Italy: a lovely unpretentious wine that costs less than bottled water. Fontana Morella Cerveteri, a liter for $8.80 offers you a light, fruity, pleasant wine, perfect to match a low key meal.

Eduardo’s is divided in to two rooms. When I arrived it seemed like the room to the right was for either mellow peeps or couples; my friends were of course sitting in the room to the left, where noise and laughter filled the space. It turned out to be a girls-night, which was perfectly complimented by copious amounts of wine and carbo-loading.

The appetizers were rather meh the escargot were under-salted and the calamari were pretty chewy. The pasta dishes on the other hand were great (again, keeping in mind what you’re paying for it). I vaguely recall that they used to offer half portions, and I wished they still did. I intended to share a lasagna dish and pasta bolognese with a friend. Unfortunately, I think we had a little too much of that house wine and were too engrossed in conversation so that she ended up feasting on the bolognese while I finished the lasagna. Unfortunately each dish would be enough to fill two people; I’m impressed we both cleaned our plates. Again, the wine and chatter kept me too distracted, and I didn’t get to try the other dishes I know two other friends shared the steak and shrimp, and there was a third pasta dish; the general consensus was that it was good cheap comfort food.

I somehow managed to make room to try their tiramisu. Once again, I’ll blame the wine I don’t know how else I could have eaten more food. The tiramisu cake was ok, but easily skippable (which sane sober people would do after that much pasta…). All in all, it was a really fun night. We once again closed down the place, which I think is pretty badass for a Wednesday night.

Photos by Andrea Merlano

Going out to dinner can be awesome, it can be unremarkable, or in the worst of cases, it can ruin your evening. Many elements determine these things and each of these factors is of course contingent on a million others. So how do you know when a restaurant is good or bad, vs. when a particular experience at said restaurant is good or bad?

The latest Wine and Dine adventure took us to Outremont, to Mai Thai on Bernard (cross street Parc). We had the largest W&D turn out to date with twelve guests. Our large crew seemed to take the restaurant by surprise, despite the fact that we gave them a week’s notice. There was one server and one cook to take care of about twenty patrons that night.

The shortage of staff resulted in slow service. Although we were partly responsible for taking our time placing orders, the real tragedy was the restaurant couldn’t handle that kind of multitasking and so the timing was very off- the cook looked absolutely exhausted when she left at the end of the night. About half of the appetizers were brought out in one round, a couple more five minutes later, and the last were brought much later. There was the same timing issues with the main dishes; the last plate of food was delayed leaving my friend staring at the ceiling for what seemed like an eternity. It begs the question: do you wait for everyone to be served even if that means people’s food gets cold? Or do you go ahead and eat while a hungry companion watches?

The main dishes would have been enjoyable had we had good service, I might even say it was great. Unfortunately we were too distracted by hunger to really savour it. Considering the alternatives, I won’t be going back when my next craving for Thai strikes. A few comments on what I do recall; the duck spring roll was rather bland I’m not even sure it had any mint. The rest of the dishes I tried though did hold their own. The fried monkfish was good, as was the beef curry. The veggie curry, the shrimp with lychee and the Pad Thai were ok I kept thinking back to a lunch I had a week earlier at Bangkok and was left unimpressed with this dinner, which does not bode well for Mai Thai.

They were out of the house wine, so we had a bottle of an Italian Pinot Grigio and a Californian fumé blanc (Fetzer 2009). Both were served too cold- the fumé blanc in particular, and neither was remarkable.

Dinner took so long that some of our companions left before we could order dessert, only a handful of us stuck it out till the end. I heart fried desserts, bananas and ice-cream are my weakness, and I was excited to try the fried mars. I’m very peculiar about chocolate, but the promise of a deep fried candy bar seemed so ostentatiously indulgent that I couldn’t pass it up. Unfortunately, they were out of mars bars and wouldn’t accept our offer to go buy one at the dep. So we stuck with fried bananas and what do you know, it ended up being my favorite dish of the night.

When we got our bill we realized that dessert was once again on the house we seem to be building a W&D tradition of free sweets. I just hope this tradition stops being as an apology for slow service and continues simply as a recognition of our awesomeness.

Mai Thai on Urbanspoon

Meat doesn’t get any fresher than at Marché 27, the understated Bar à Tartare on the corner of Prince Arthur and Clark, tucked behind the bustle and hype of St Laurent.

Seven friends joined me last Monday for a meat fest, the best way to start the week. Before I gush about the food, I have to mention that the service that night was shockingly slow. I hesitate to write this because I’ve been there a few times and have never had a similar experience. But the service that night was really unbearably slow, and must be duly noted. As a general rule, I try to be sympathetic and patient and not be harsh on service (especially when the restaurant is clearly understaffed), but we waited for an hour and a half before we saw any food. I had to ask the waitress to bring out our order of French fries before our meal when my stomach started making embarrassingly loud noises. Fortunately, being in good company helps with the wait.

Marché 27 didn’t start off as a specialty tartare bar, and while I’m a huge fan of the vast raw meat selection, I miss their old menu. I wish that they had kept the duck panini, the arancini and the asparagus. There are still a number of cooked options for those who don’t like their meat on the extra rare end, but since my faves are gone, I really must insist that you have the tartare.

Our dinner date was for 8pm. A few of us arrived a few minutes early, still in time for the 5-8pm $5 cocktail special. A friend and I promptly placed orders for pre-dinner cocktails: she got Le walk 27, a gin concoction that came with a thick layer of blueberries floating at the top, I got a Chipotle bloody caesar that had some serious kick. Both drinks were delicious and worth a happy hour visit.

I really enjoy the atmosphere at this place, the tiles, the colour scheme, the blackboards detailing the wine list and menu. It has the feel of a very chic diner. But pick your seat carefully, if you have back problems stay clear of the stools no backrest can get tiring. I’m also not the biggest fan of tv’s in restos, specially since they had the FoodNetwork on (did I mention that we waited a long time to be served? it didn’t help that there was food showing on the tv).

To start, a friend ordered the onion soup, which came with a grilled cheese sandwich. The soup was decent, though I wish they used gruyere (or jarlsberg, or even mozzarella) rather than marble cheese for the sandwich. Another friend had a salad to start, which came with a lovely dressing.

For the mains most of us got tartare, with the exception of one person who opted for the steak and another who tried the seductively named macaroni and cheese poutine. Unfortunately there was nothing poutine-esque about the macaroni, which was a let down this is the only dish we tried that I would advise against. The steak was properly done medium-rare, one end was slightly overcooked, very tender it was served with a blue cheese butter that tasted as good as it sounds; a good option if you want to rebel against the tartare. But really, when in Rome…

The rest of us selected from the extensive choices of meats and styles. Since I like trying a little bit of everything, I opted for the tasting menu: 50 grams each of beef done french style with a quail egg, duck italian style with a quail egg, spicy venison, japanese tuna and thai salmon (note: the quail eggs are extra). A friend tried requesting a few changes, but they were adamant that the tasting menu is set. They also offer a choice of 100 grams or 150 grams servings, if you know exactly what you want.

Deliciousness all around. I thought the thai salmon was slightly heavy on the cilantro, but another friend loved it, so that was a matter of preference. I couldn’t pick a favourite between the venison, beef and tuna. The duck was pretty darn good too. We had an order of the french fries and one of the match stick fries, both deliciously crispy, but we finished these before our food came out the waitress brought us an extra order to go with the tartare. To drink (after the cocktails), we had a bottle of the 2009 Les Jamelles Syrah, which stood up very nicely to the strong spices and flavours of the tartare.

We ended the evening with a complimentary assortment of desserts: crème brule, tiramisu and a lemon poppy seed cake. I think this was their way of making nice for the slow service, and I was happy to accept. While the crème brule and the lemon cake were tasty, the tiramusi was absolutely devine the perfect finishing touch to a delightful meal.

Photos by Andrea Merlano

Marche 27 on Urbanspoon

For this week’s Wine and Dine we went on a Mediterranean escape to Philinos, a Greek joint on Parc unobtrusively located on the main road just north Mount Royal, wedged in a row of duplexes. But what is it they say about judging a book by its cover?

Once inside, the decor seemed more bistro meets pub, with dimmed lighting, a deep red colour scheme, stained glass and wood paneling on the wall. It being a Wednesday, I expected our table of seven to be the largest that night, but we walked in to find a banquet of about thirty sitting next to us. The unexpected noise and boisterous cheer gave a burst of Opa! to an otherwise understated atmosphere.

Once seated, we were greeted by baskets of warm bread and silky olive oil with vinegar. Had this been the main course, I would have still left with a full belly and raving. The crust was perfectly crunchy while the centre was steamy and fluffy, and the light green olive oil was simply divine.

Then we met the man with the beautiful blue eyes. Friendly and charming, he was responsible for waiting on our lively neighbours, us, and three other tables out to dinner that evening. He was also the bus boy. I thought the service was remarkable, and then I realized it was a one-man show. He shall henceforth be known as the blue-eyed waiter god.

As for the food…

For the most part, everyone settled for a main course, no appetizers, except for a friend and me, who like to be rebels. We ditched the main and shared a selection of appetizers. To accompany the meal, we opted for the white house wine, an Italian production that was sweet and pleasant.

The main courses came with a salad to start. The obvious choice was to go for the Greek salad (though I did catch another rebel in the group who ordered the chef’s salad instead). While I didn’t get my own, I nibbled on my neighbour’s (for review purposes, obviously), and I can say with authority that it was delicious. I need to find out what cheese they used because I have never had feta do such wonderful things in my mouth, the taste and texture were extraordinarily fresh and soft.

The plating was delightful. The mains came out in large boat-shaped plates full of colour, each one more beautiful than the last. I actually heard some ooh-ing and aah-ing when we were being served (which may or may not have come from my own mouth, it’s hard to recall). The portions were generous, but not offensive. I was the only one to leave with a doggie bag, but that’s because I ate two loaves of bread when we sat down. I’ll also note that the leftover calamari and grilled veggies tasted just as delicious the next morning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our table filled up with a diverse sampling from the menu. To my left: grilled chicken and gigantic shrimp, across the table: veal, spinach and feta filled phyllo pastries, moussaka, calamari, chicken brochettes, and in front of me: a trio of dips   hot peppers and feta (my fave), a tzatziki, and an eggplant dip dolmadakia, and fried calamari. I added an order of pita bread to go with the dip, which turned out to be not so bready and more (fried? baked?) cracker-like. The main courses were served with grilled veggies and potatoes.

I helped myself to samples from every dish, in the name of this blog. I would usually not order chicken at a restaurant (other than Romado’s), but both the grilled chicken and the chicken brochettes were delicious. While the veal was my unexpected favourite of the mains, every single dish, including the sides, were exquisite. Not one single bite was sub-par. Same goes for the appetizers: the dips were fresh and flavourful and   the calamari were tender and deliciously seasoned.

I peeked in the kitchen and it looked pretty standard, but I am convinced they are hiding a camp fire back there; the grilled meat and veggies tasted like they were cooked by a fire in the middle of the woods. Though I didn’t find the open flames, I did have a charming exchange with the chefs who graciously let us snap a shot.

Even though by the end of the meal we were all stuffed full, much like the dolmadakia, we indulged in little pastry puffs covered in warm honey and cinnamon that the blue-eyed waiter god brought us, compliments of the house. Isn’t it funny how you always find room for more food?

Photos By Chris Zacchia

For more Photos from our Philinos adventure checkout our Facebook page

Beef in Birdnest

I am a self-proclaimed foodie, but I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: the experience of food is so much better when you are in good company. Perhaps this is why I’m more likely to make a nice meal if I’m cooking for someone else. Perhaps I’m just lazy. In any case, eating with good friends is at the top of my “favourite things” list.

Enter Wine and Dine Montreal.

I devised a plan to coerce my friends into joining me for dinner: I created an official group on Facebook. The purpose is to try different eateries in the culinary wonderland that is Montreal. This is better than dinner parties for two key reasons: 1. I don’t have to wash the dishes, and 2. I get to try new cuisines made by pros. I’ll also note that my timing is flawless: who doesn’t want to start the New Year with an exciting social calendar?

And so we had our first-ever outing.

Picking the destination was easy. I opted for Chinese food — greasy comfort food that we could all share. The obvious choice was to hit up Chinatown; the unsuspecting victim was Mon Shing. (90 de la Gauchetière W.)

I invited a random collection of friends who didn’t know each other so I wanted to avoid people hiding behind a menu and their own plate. Once again I prove my evil genius: by collaborating in dish selection and then tasting the same treats, the group quickly bonded.

The restaurant was pretty empty on that fateful Tuesday night. We got a round table by the window that comfortably sat our group of eight. The table featured a large lazy susan, which was fun to spin around. I caught more than one person giving someone across the table a hard time by spinning it as they tried to serve themselves. I don’t claim to have very mature friends.

Our vegan companion ordered a veggie dish with tofu and steamed rice, and though I didn’t taste it, the dish was apparently enjoyable. The rest of us went a little crazy. The menu has the customary numbering system, and instead of having a waiter take our order, they gave us a piece of paper and pencil. It may sound like lazy service, but I think this was very clever. We would have driven the waiter nuts if he’d had to keep up with our selection process. As it was, I had to keep slowing people down while they yelled out numbers for me to jot down. In the end we got two dim sums, one pork and one shrimp, a General Tao, a side of steamed rice, Japanese fried rice, a mushroom dish, a Cantonese chow mien, a beef bird nest and a Pekking Duck, all of which came in generous portions.

Pekking Duck

The food couldn’t have arrived fast enough, we dug in the second the waiter put the plates down. All the dishes we ordered were highly satisfactory; it was everything you could want when having [North American] Chinese food. The General Tao had a nice crispiness and the Japanese fried rice, which is fried rice with sea food, was very pleasant. The mushroom dish was a little tricky since the suckers were very slippery (some peeps had to resort to poking them with their chopsticks), but they made up for it in taste. However, my favourite dishes by far were the beef bird nest and the Pekking duck.

The duck was served two ways. We first received crispy duck placed on colourful deep-fried wafers. These came with wraps, onions covered in sesame seeds, and accompanying sauce, and we proceeded to make our own delicious duck wraps. There are few things that bring me as much joy as crispy duck skin, and this was perfectly golden. The rest of the duck came with bean sprouts and veggies, also delicious but not as exciting.

My other favourite dish had three delicious components. First the “bird nest,” which was not a real bird nest but rather something that resembled a deep-fried tortilla-like basket, was wonderfully crispy. The beef itself was good, but nothing to write home about. The bed of broccoli, however, was so so good that I would tell mom and pop about it.

We ended the meal by passing each other fortune cookies. Fate approved of my Wine and Dine group as my fortune read “Stop searching forever, happiness is just next to you.” So true.

Photos by: Chris Zacchia