Last month, Harper’s commissioned something unusual.

Unusual in the context of our tight-pursed digital world. Less unusual, perhaps, in the heady (nearly bygone?) literary indulgence from which the magazine sprung.

Harper’s, based in New York City, flew a British writer across the Atlantic and, once in The Big Apple, covered her sprawling tab at New York’s most elite restaurants. Then they cut her a cheque—and seeming carte blanche—to fill up their pages with any ensuing adventures.

The piece seemed preordained by the magazine’s weighty masthead to be free-flowing and diaristic, spared the publication’s usual tight oversight.

New York food writers and bloggers generally hated it.

Now true, the whole endeavour was slightly un-Harper’s like. But the diaristic style wasn’t an error or oversight. Nor was the writing bad. It was good. At times, fabulous. So what’s the problem, you ask? Well this very fault line, more and more, is where the gap between between food culture, food writing and the reader is being drawn.

It would be hard to pick four more towering foodie temples to visit: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Chef’s Table and Masa. It should be noted that Harper’s is neither food publication or news magazine. It doesn’t cover a regular “beat”, much less have a restaurant review section.

Who knows its mandate in 2015? Though broadly-speaking, Harper’s is still about excess: liberal reflection, the pleasure of the text.

…[Per Se] is not a restaurant, although it looks like one. It may even think it is one. It is a cult. It was created in 2004 by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, in Yountville, California. He is always called Chef Keller, and for some reason when I think of him I imagine him traveling the world and meeting international tennis players. But I do not need to meet him; I am eating inside his head.

Now I’m a long-time follower of people like Keller, a junkie of chef culture and resto innovation through and through. I’m the kind of guy who would waste hard-earned money on these nutty places.

Animal Farm may be a metaphor for the anxieties of those who dine at Through Itself: they are hungry, but only for status; loveless, for what love could there be when a waiter must stand with his feet exactly six inches apart … Through Itself is such a preposterous restaurant, I wonder if a whole civilization has gone mad and it has been sent as an omen to tell us of the end of the world — not in word, as is usual, but in salad.

What’s more, smug, foreign food critics are nothing new to this scene.

Nor am I sure that the human body is meant to digest, at one sitting, many kinds of over-laundered fish and meat…

Yet at every turn of phrase like this from Gold, I only dove in further. The thing is, it didn’t matter what my food sensibilities told me: this was crisp, fantastical, entertaining, and ultimately — like all good satire —based on more than a small grain of truth.

If knee-jerk reactions are to be expected from locals and overwrought foodies, they are worrisome when they come from food writers. Why? Because the stark opposite emerged from another specific group: a global collection of folk that may or may not have cared about famous chefs, or even heard of these places.

I can only unify this mass as readers — the targets, after all, of a magazine article. It would seem that readers’  conception of Gold’s essay was different. They perceived it as writing.

And they’d be justified. Let’s leave aside the premise itself: that the magazine doesn’t even do reviews, that the writer was flown in to a city brimming with food critics for an expository feature.

Readers got it, knew that they — along with 99.9% of the world — knew they’d likely never set foot in these uber-elite places, or even necessarily have the desire to. — and that was the whole point all along.

Readers did not require “disclaimers” of satire or elitism.

Yet things continued to split apart. Both sides soon christened Gold’s piece as “an evisceration.”

Fair enough. Yet thanks to the highly-evolved logic of Twitter, the label just wasn’t reductionist enough. Sure enough, as the narrative changed, Gold’s piece became something slightly more vulgarized: a “takedown.”

The thing with “takedowns,” it seems, is once defined, they require “takedowns of takedowns,” each step further distancing readers from any literary agency of their own.

Only one more reductive t word could possibly be invoked, could possibly paint a starker picture of what’s been going on for years now, a sheer widening gap between “food writing” and essay. It happened:

Now food is no exception. These things happen all the time. Social media dumbs things down, to no one’s surprise, I know…

Yet to me, this particular saga is exemplary for three reasons: the sheer spectacle of it all, the big players of food criticism involved, and the fact that it highlights the tense space opening up between foodies, writers and food writers.

The trend seems to be that dry, cutting, whimsical, food writing should never even edge on brutal or fabulous — it must never go too far off the edge.

It’s ironic that food writing started from the edges, with fantastical, metaphorical essays that touched upon food coming from somewhere else.

One level head reigned. Pete Wells, New York Times critic  himself—tasked with hallmark reviews of these joints over the years—might have captured it best: between diaristic and satirical, Gold was for him not just any writer, she was the foreigner turning heads by flirting at the precipice of food criticism.

All this to say that I learned three things:

  1. We’re drawn to New York misadventures just as we’re drawn to the ire of Parisians: their hunger to take down their own is outweighed only by their ferocity at defending outsiders from doing the same.
  2. Harper’s still exists. I should probably check it out more often.
  3. “Food writers” gotta chill.

Back when I first started raising this drama, someone pointed me an old Harper’s essay. Turns out, in 1996, they paid Neil Foster Wallace to write about the cruise industry.

I read it.

Suffice it to say that if such a thing came out today, cruise line bloggers (if they exist) would dissect it with glee. Industry experts and travel writers would doubtless be next at the gate.

For in the piece, NFW is out of his element — uncomfortably so — and one teeters with him as he lurches along in search of his point. It’s as if his grip on the topic might disintegrate at any moment.

Here’s the thing: it is a glorious and riveting essay.

So if there’s a lesson for us food writers, bloggers and commentators, maybe it’s simply to take a deep breath. If those of us who care most about the topic keep strangling it, food’s life within language won’t fully thrive.

Here at Food & Drunk, we often talk about what’s going on locally. Yet to frame the city’s food beat, it’s important, once in a while, to place things in a global context. As I did last year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at what mattered in food in 2014.

Here’s an eclectic list of eight touch points.

1. 3D printed food

2013 was the year 3D printing became a household term (even if not yet a household object). In 2014, it began to gain culinary traction. From its origins in simple sugar solutions, we started to see applications ranging from pizza to nursing home meals to interactive art installations.

2. Eating insects

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Protein-rich and as-of-yet untapped by global foodways, insects were in the news this year thanks to several startups seeking to exploit their nutritional value. Though many cultures around the world would hardly find this innovative or newsworthy, the Western press started to take a new global movement seriously—one that includes entomologists, chefs and urban agrarians.

Montreal even hosted an international conference on comestible bugs as part of the Future Food Salon (after all, we are the proud home of the Insectarium…remember?). Prediction: we’ll not only see edible insects in the headlines in 2015, but also on our plates.

3. Restaurant no-shows

What was once simply a thorn in a restauranteur’s side became a person to name and shame in 2014. The “shame on no shows” movement gathered great steam, only to fizzle out quickly. However, whether by design or organic growth, a message had stuck. Diners suddenly seemed more conscious of the economic ramifications of this erstwhile frivolous act (especially to small businesses).

In the process, Quebecers were forced to confront the antiquated laws that hinder restaurants, placing them on an oddly unequal footing with similar services and outings (such as hotels or concerts).

4. Aboriginal “fusion” cuisine

In 2013, Newsweek asked the US: “When will Native American cooking finally get its time to shine?

In Canada, the answer came sooner than expected. 2014 heralded a tipping point of sorts for the fusion between aboriginal cuisines of many types and mainstream Western cuisine. We saw Rich Francis show his stylings on Top Chef Canada, Doug Hyndford’s self-described “Métis-fusion” garner national attention in the Gold Medal Plates, and restaurant openings such as the Painted Pony Cafe in Kamloops and Borealis in Toronto.

The movement is only just beginning however. Though US-based, this interview with Chef Loretta Barret Ode of the Potawatomi Nation sheds some light on the issues and opportunities involved.

5. Séralini’s GMO study republished…amidst yet more skepticism

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CRIIGEN’s hotly-debated GMO study was republished this year, albeit in a new journal, after a momentous 2013 retraction by Elsevier. If you haven’t yet heard—in some way, shape or form—about the Séralini affair and the utter furor it has provoked on all sides—start with the Wikipedia entry.

The most valuable contribution of the Séralini affair is how it got us talking, thinking and strategizing about our relationship to genetic modification. How we interpret its influence in our midst. In our lives. In our environment and our bodies.

I’m the last to pronounce on whether it truly was dodgy science or not, but it’s impossible to refute that, by virtue of the controversy alone, the study has had a greater impact on popular consciousness (and even legislation) than almost any other in recent memory. For this alone we should be grateful, as it guarantees we’ll stand up and pay attention to the multiple ways in which the effects of GMOs can be interpreted. It’s not hard to predict that GMO studies will be held to ever-higher standards and thus reveal ever more useful data—in part thanks to the Séralini affair.

6. Haute (or hipsterized) meatballs

We should have seen this coming. In the last few years, meatballs have slipped onto hipster, even fine dining, menus. This year the meatball hit pitch fever. Meatballs were extolled left and right by celebrity chefs. Meatball restaurants opened in New York, Toronto and LA. Meatballs were made on virtually every episode of Top Chef. And to cap it all off: we got our very own Meatball House on Notre-Dame.

7. School lunches

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Kids eat a significant portion of their meals at school. We all know that a bad childhood diet has links to diabetes and obesity. What could possibly be “controversial” about making school lunches healthier…especially over a gradual ten year span? Ask House Republicans in the US. The latter group pulled out every stop to block reforms to the National School Lunch Program, despite the almost laughingly benign nature of the changes. For example, one “hotly contested” rule merely asked that sodium levels not surpass the total of a six-pack of chicken nuggets with a side of fries at Burger King. Despite the ugly resistance, talk of school lunches soon went viral which, ultimately, might be a subtle win for Michelle Obama’s initiative.

8. Cooking (and provisioning) as a human right

One of the most significant (and underreported) food stories of the year came out of Jordan, where the UN’s World Food Program built a supermarket inside the Azraq refugee camp. The camp, on Jordan’s northern border with Syria, might be the fastest-growing in the world, with a population that is estimated to quadruple to 40 000 in the next few years.

In providing refugees with the semblance of a “more normal life,” the WFP publicly challenged its own long-trodden distribution strategies. In turn, it forced many observers—privileged people from afar— to challenge outdated notions of food aid.

Selecting and cooking one’s own food, even in dire situations, was finally brought to the forefront as a key strategy in maintaining human dignity, morale and even life. It was such that John McKenna penned a highly thought-provoking article in The Guardian questioning whether cooking should be considered a human right. Food for thought indeed.

Thus ends Food & Drunk’s eclectic look back at food in 2014. We’d love to hear what you would add to the list! Leave us a comment below or Tweet @ForgetTheBox or @JoshDavidson.

We look forward to covering more food issues and trends in 2015!

We all know Québecers love Florida. But do Miami and Montréal in particular have any kind of bond? A week ago, I would have said no.

But sometimes it pays to rent a car and follow your stomach. The first stop on my namesake quest took me to Schwartz of Miami, a surprising discovery which I discussed last week.

Here’s the rest of the rundown.

Copacabana

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How odd. Here I am in Spring Break Central, a town where 70% of the local population is Spanish-speaking, and a local Google search for Copacabana yields nothing. Meanwhile, I am reminded of the near-legendary status of Montréal’s booty-shaking venue de Maisonneuve Blvd.

I persist. And with some effort, I uncover Boteco Copacabana, a newish Brazilian resto with mixed reviews online. I track it down on foot, landing smack in the middle of Miami Beach’s less-glamorous, tourist-trappy pedestrian street, Espanola Way.

I approach with caution. Visions of our own flamboyant, booming Copa quickly recede as I spot a lonely man played guitar in a front window—Boteco Copacabana’s sole indoor patron.

Sad guitar playing manAnd while the streetside has customers, the food looks sad and the prices outrageous. As much as I’d love to waste $30 of my hard-earned dollars for a lousy plate of chicken, I need to save up for the journey.

Grumpys

Montréal’s Grumpys is a cozy and cavernous joint whose vibe—intentional irony?—is so good-natured that I always stay too long. There’s no Grumpys in Miami, but there is a long-lost-brother: Gramps.

IMG_3529Crusty on the exterior while remaining honest, loveable and addictively fun inside, Gramps is a last remnant of grunge in Miami’s quickly-gentrifying Design District. The city’s de facto dive bar radiates screeching guitars, is housed in a crumbling warehouse, and is even guarded by ZZ Top’s eldest grandson.

Casa del Popolo

It seems like a safe bet: generic Spanish name and all. So imagine my joy when, after a hot thirty minutes on South 22nd Street, I spot Casa Felipe. My joy turnes to disappointment when (instead of a café I could compare with our own) I realize I am approaching a cigar emporium. But then I turn the corner and suddenly, it was all worth it. Thanks, Obama.

Obama smokes a stogie in Miami

Le Cheese Truck

Just outside Gramps, I stumbled upon a southern sibling of Le Cheese Truck. I almost did a double-take! It was called Ms. Cheezious.

IMG_3521Even the down-to-earth dudes who ran it mirror the sweet, bubbly proprietors of Le Cheese. They are super nice and obviously have a loyal following. Sandwiches such as grilled blue and bacon, apple-pulled pork, all sounded tantalizing—if a bit unoriginal to me. Sadly, they are not up to par with our own boys’ endeavour. My “Shaved tavern ham” with spiced apple and sharp cheddar with tomato on sourdough was sloppily satisfying—great for après-bar. But frankly, I was struggling to see why anyone would pay $10 for that when the same price would yield something much more flavourful and original chez Le Truck (such as the chili with cheese curds or their fabulous mac n cheese).

Varadero

In rush-hour-induced moment of contemplation on our two towns, I was struck with the fact that throngs of Montréalers escape to Varadero on a whim while Miamians—whose roots extend far deeper into the country than, uh, Sunwing—have no such luck themselves.

To make up for it, they have places like Varadero II, a run-of-the-mill Cuban bakery somewhere near nowheresville, (I later learn it’s called Tamiami).

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Handing my fate over to the lady behind Varadero‘s counter, I am summarily presented with a pastellito de guyaba. What a revelation. The flaky, unsweetened exterior gives way to muted, silky cheese. All fine and good. But then: the sweetish aftertaste of that mild queso suddenly bleeds—miraculously—into a gooey, ultra-sweet guava jam. Insane! At 75 cents, my blood sugar will be thankful that I won’t be able to find this in Montréal.

But I include this anecdote only to conclude that, subtle bonds aside, Montréal needs more Cuban food. While my stop at this and this Cuban cafeteria were both exceptional, it was that tiny bakery on SW 8th Street that truly tipped the scales.

More Cuban flavours on our frigid streets can only make this a warmer, happier, healthier place.

 

In case you missed it, there was a lot of chatter about restaurant no-shows this week.

Last year I championed a great Gazette article—the first to spark serious awareness of the issue. It featured plenty of restauranteurs who were all-too-familiar with no-show diners. But a veritable firestorm kicked off this week with the birth of Twitter account @NoShowsMontreal. Its purpose? To name and shame no shows.

The account came online only days after Villeray’s Tapeo saw 28 patrons skip out on their reservations in one single night.

@NoShowsMontreal launched with gusto, telling restos to: “…send us in a (direct message) the name and complete phone number of your no-shows, we’ll post them here.”

Then it seemed to disappear—casting doubt on the seriousness of its authors, or visions of a complaint and Twitter Terms of Service violation.

But—much to the joy of hungry journalists—it turns out the glitch was temporary. The account was back up as of Wednesday afternoon, garnering more than its fair share of media attention.

In the interim, it seems a few lawyers were consulted. The authors’ modified request was that perpetrators’ numbers be shared with partial anonymity, “e.g. (514) *23-*567”, all while noting it remained “entirely legal to publish the full name of ‘no-shows’, very useful for all restauranteurs.”

Obviously not everyone agreed with the aggressive tactics, prompting various different responses.

Meanwhile, many restos lauded the effort, while others remained ambivalent. And as for the man whose story seemed to kick off all the attention? Tapeo’s Victor Alfonso tweeted appreciately about all the awareness, yet stopped short of endorsing the tactic.

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Whatever your views on naming and shaming no-shows , the discussion has brought out several important points, not the least of which are Québec’s archaic laws when it comes to a resto rights. An establishment, for example, cannot legally charge a no-show credit card, nor can they accept prepaid sums for meals as collateral.

When you think about it, this is totally wacky—a holdover of rituals and traditions around public dining that really have no relation to modern business practices.

Booking tickets for concerts, galleries or other outings are par for the course—usually online with a credit card. Ditto for hotels, which always have clear terms as to when and how one might cancel a reservation (and the ensuing penalties).

Why, in an era of on-demand entertainment and ubiquitous online ordering, should restaurants be shackled by such bygone legislation?

As of now, @NoShowsMontreal has generated a lot of buzz but has only actually posted the names of six pesky patrons.

But they’ve been very successful at highlighting the faulty logic in our business laws, which are mostly hurting small establishments. It’s sad, because these scaled-down, agile kitchens are exactly the types of places we need to keep culinary innovation alive.

10-things-food-josh

Many seminal things happened in 2013 in the culinary world. Here is a review of 10 moments that will forever affect how we eat, cook or play with our food.

But as “the culinary world” is really a thousand worlds, I’ve picked two from each of five different “regions.”

Montréal

1. We got food trucks back

However sanitized their reentry, 2013 saw the dismantling of legal obstacles to “mobile” food-selling and preparation in this city. After 60 years, this is no small feat and we shouldn’t take it lightly. Staid and stationary as the trucks might be right now, their presence will inevitably grow more fluid–and irrevocably change our sense of public space. Moreover, as mobile food enterprises grow, traditional restaurants will be challenged to evolve to remain viable, affecting cost, menus and overall experience.

2. No-shows got shamed

Thanks in part to a great article in The Gazette, those self-absorbed you-know-whats who simply vanish at reservation time were finally outed. While they weren’t exactly named, they were certainly shamed. Dialogue from the article spread far and wide and the concept of snubbing restauranteurs became akin to aiming a crossbow at the heart of a vulnerable local hub.

 

Québec

3. Rooftop greenhouses hit the big time

Once just a curiosity in an Ahuntsic warehouse, Lufa Farms has in two short years become well-known to Montréalers. The rooftop greenhouse has been supplying local homes and restos with foodScreen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.48.43 AM since 2011.

But it was in 2013 that its mission hit the mainstream–and became a household name province-wide. This year Lufa opened its second, arguably more ambitious operation in Laval, vowing to export the model to the states. Québec City has already gotten on board, with a massive industrial rooftop greenhouse in the works for next year. Hell, rooftop greenhouses were so big in 2013 that they could even be spotted in yuppie-oriented Toyota Prius ads!

4. Critics finally learned to eat “out” (of town)

A proliferation of rural eateries seemed to make the press this year, led by Lesley Chesterman’s choice forays to À la table des jardins sauvages, Vices-Versa, and Bistro Champlain and M-C Lortie’s recurring crusades. Not to mention Dany St-Pierre (of Sherbrooke’s Auguste) winning Montréal’s chi-chi “Golden Plates” competition. Will finicky urban masses be quick to follow?

Canada

5. Celeb Canadian chefs trashed celeb American chefs for posing with this creepy mascot

I won’t get into the entire complicated backstory of the Chefs for Seals campaign, which hit fever pitch this year as thousands of the most glitzy (and Food Networked) US chefs signed on as mouthpieces for the warm and fuzzy cause. What’s important is that the fallout might have dented our neighbourly culinary relations and strengthened our national culinary community forever.

The US boycott of Canadian seafood provoked so much bark-back (seals, harbours…get it?) that Canadian chefs stood united and found a common voice. Their cause? To support hard-working fishing communities, respectfully-fished Canadian seafood products and the tradition of common sense.

There’s no end to the boycott in sight…but even a cursory glance at the debate reveals that Canadian chefs emerged victorious: respectful, rational, and reinvigorated in the face of their hypocritical foie-gras touting counterparts, most of whom just seemed desperate for a photo op.

6. Poutine restaurants officially became an epidemic

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Though poutine took Williamsburg, then the world, by storm a few years ago, the explosion of the “poutine restaurant” belongs to 2013.

With few exceptions, the poutine-only resto has been a novelty even in Québec until very recently. And though many scoffed at Smoke’s Poutinerie et al.’s attempts to usurp casse-croûtes on their home turf, the reality is that most poutine restaurants have thrived.

2013 saw poutine the theme of a Top Chef Canada episode, an otherwise respectable production, whose host introduced it (without irony) as “the one and only Canadian national dish.” And lest you think poutine still hasn’t found the mainstream, consider this: McDonalds across (gulp!) Toronto now feature the oozy delight.

North America

7. Jiro got reincarnated in New York (sort of)

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.45.38 AMMany consider the greatest living sushi master to be Jiro Ono, proprietor of ten-seat Sukiyabashi Ono in a Tokyo métro station. Ono has won three Michelin stars and international fame after David Gelb’s acclaimed 2011 documentary.

Portrayed as a rare relic of en era where masters lived, slept and, yes, dreamt sushi, critics were divided on whether Ono’s lineage would fully survive in Japan. But it seems it is North Americans who can breathe the most easy.

Ono protégé Daisuke Nakazawa (whose devotion to his master is insane in the aforementioned documentary) has opened his own shop in New York, and it appears to be the real deal…dare we say the boldest embodiment of Ono’s ethos outside Japan?

Unexpected, amazing, and only a six hour drive away now! North American sushi will never be graded by the same standards again.

8. Mexico is part of North America, remember?

The hard work of Enrique Olvera is legendary–only a decade ago, the hard-working chef was hand drywalling his space in Mexico City. Now, he has climbed inside the top 20 restaurants in the world. Sure, it’s an elite and controversial list. But it’s not only a testament to Olvera’s perseverance and artistry with Pujol, it’s a sharp reminder to the US (okay, Canada too) that Mexico is part and parcel of “North AmericanScreen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.53.00 AM haute cuisine.” And, when it comes to culinary “fine art”–they’re here to stay.

World

9. The art of fermentation exploded

Not literally: no cooks were reported hurt by shards of broken glass from flying kimchi. But in 2013 chefs and cooks took the art of fermentation to the next level.

First, there was Sandor Katz’s landmark book, which proved its relevance to flavour, cooking and health. Next there was David Chang’s heady hit show that explored the intricacies of tsukemen, katsoubushi, kimchi and more, and MAD Food Camp (the culinary TED)’s focus on fermentation as the vanguard of gastronomical experimentation, and many other chefs’ insistence that given global food uncertainties anyone could–and should–culture at home. Far from a trend, the culinary world’s interest in fermentation is here to stay and will only get better with age.

10. Eggless eggs happened

Explosively-popular mayos and doughs suggest that “tech startup” Hampton Creek is well on its way to its goal of an eggless society. Its goal is to “surpass” the egg in taste, nutrition, cost and sustainability. Using only plants. So far, it has managed to draw sustained ire from the dominant industry, a good marker of any product’s culinary impact!

What were the most important moments of your culinary world this year? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @forgetthebox or @joshdavidson

 

First things first: I have nothing against cured side cuts of pork. I like them. I take pleasure in eating them. I don’t care if I’m half-Jewish, half-Muslim or half-Hindu—it’s hard for me to resist their splendour amidst this Pork-Filled Nation (Québec).

bacon-wrapped-turkey

But the problem with bacon is when it hits the restaurant and we pretend it’s art. Addictively akin to cocaine, it’s a quick fix. And its wielders shouldn’t get any more credibility than a suburban drug dealer.

Bacon caters to the lazy chef. Yet, six years later, it’s all I see on menus from Montréal to Santa Fe.

Bacon was worthy, to be sure, of a brief ironic giggle circa 2007, around the time its prominence amongst respectable restauranteurs and trendsetting gastronomes (yes, you horrible blogging foodie), tempered a late-90s trend toward artificial health edibles. We wanted to smell real food again, to name its pasture, to eat closer to the ground. The sense that this might not be so death-defying after all was soon to follow.

But our bacon trend is about a half-decade past its prime.

Consider, for a moment, just how many raw ingredients are able to punch you in the mouth with salt, fat and sweetness—no effort added.

There aren’t many. I’d love to hear a shortlist of, say, more than five. The thing is, we’ve all been fleeced. Because if more existed, more chefs would be getting rich off of them.

We can all make bacon taste good. I don’t care if it’s No Name or knifed by Pied du Cochon. It takes no skill. And yet, day after day, I see up and coming chefs trumpeting their bacon dishes (or adding bacon to stupid, stupid things) as if even a teaspoon of skill were actually involved.

Trend-chasing bacon cooks: why not make me a turnip dish I will dream about? That would be something to share, post and brag to my friends about. Making turnips tantalizing takes a true culinary hero, like this one, or this one.

But until then, bacon should remain where it belongs: next to fried eggs at a hangover brunch, or as an supporting actor in more rounded, composed dishes.

Yes, I will draw some ire for this rant. I will be seen as anti-bacon, or ultra-kosher.

This, as any of my friends could tell you, is tragic. Because I’m of neither sort. Yet bacons’ brainwashees fan far and wide. They’re the same sort of “culinary” type who add pigs to ice cream, foie gras to milkshakes, or bourbon to scallops. It’s anti-culinary. And it’s not their fault. They were fleeced long before they knew what hit them.

Indeed, bacon has ridden such a long wave of taste-trending that most seem unable to recall a time before it. (Article 1: this bloggers’ self-portrait with Gordon Ramsay).

But I can tell you: it existed. And back then, chefs couldn’t so easily cop-out.


Postscript: Mad respect to Lafleur for holding out on the bacon in your poutine. Keep it real. Please. And La Banquise: no comment.

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…

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

 

 

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