This week we’ve been focusing on the flavors on our doorstep. It’s not that we’re getting lazy or something. Far from it. It’s just that sometimes the things that are closest at hand get overlooked.
a) Our “local” (our local dépanneur, or corner store) is Épicerie et Boucherie Sa & Fils at the corner of Villeneuve and St.-Urbain. We’re actually lucky enough to have two dépanneurs just half a block away, and, truth be told, Sa is more of a grocery store than a real modern-day dépanneur, but it's definitely our “local.” We had a bit of an in, because our Portuguese landlords are tight with the Portuguese family that runs Sa, but we’ve felt like part of the extended Sa for a few years now. We do a lot of shopping at Sa, and we’ve been carrying out an informal survey of Montreal’s rotisserie chicken specialists for some time now, but for some reason we’d never tried out one of their rotisserie chickens from Sa. Well, on Monday we finally broke that pattern, picked up a bird and the butcher’s “uncle’s famous hot sauce,” some drinks, some frites from Patati Patata (Sa was out of roasted potatoes) and we descended upon Jeanne-Mance park for a picnic. We were sorry we hadn’t done so earlier. The chicken from Sa wasn’t a grilled, butterfly-style masterpiece like the chickens served up at Rotisserie Portugalia on Rachel, but it was an excellent rotisserie chicken, full-bodied and with a crispy golden skin, and at $6.99 a chicken (their special price on Mondays) it was a steal, too. How was the hot sauce, you ask? Lethal. [Back in the day, my friend Mark got in the habit of using the adjective "brutal" to describe things both positive and negative. You can imagine the confusion this might have caused. After a while, we began asking him to clarify. "Brutal-good, or brutal-bad?" The "famous hot sauce" was lethal-good.] You should have seen how our picnic made heads turn at the park.
Sa & Fils, 4701 St. Urbain, 842-3373
b) Given the huge number of Portuguese families that live in our immediate area, this district doesn’t have a whole lot of Portuguese restaurants. There are plenty of Portuguese corner stores, grocery stores, bakeries, and fish mongers, but the bulk of the Portuguese restaurants are further south in the Plateau, along St. Laurent, and dotting the arteries and side streets that shoot off from the Main. Much of the reason for this has to do with the fact that St. Laurent above Mont-Royal and below Laurier was something of a dead zone until not too long ago. That’s all changed, of course. In any case, about two years ago Marilou opened up on the corner of Villeneuve and St. Laurent. We’ve been meaning to check it out ever since it opened, and I’ve taken a good, long look at the menu a number of times, but for some reason neither of us had actually ever sat down down there for a meal until I went there earlier this evening with some friends. Like so many of the other Portuguese restaurants in town, the grill is where all the magic happens. The one mistake we made was straying from the grill and ordering the rabbit à la Dijonaise. I’d heard stories of legendary grilled rabbit elsewhere in the quartier, so I had visions of something along those lines. Instead, the rabbit came in the form of a couple of lightly breaded cutlets, served with a thick and tasty cognac and mustard-based sauce, and it was good, but it didn’t shine like the grilled delicacies we ordered. Perhaps the standout of the night was the grilled calamari we had as an appetizer. Ever since I had grilled calamari a few years ago, I’ve found it hard to go back to the deep-fried variety that is the norm. If you need convincing, look no further. Marilou’s grilled calamari come whole, drizzled with olive oil, topped with sautéed peppers, and served on a bed of salad, and they were simply amazing, fresh and grilled to perfection. The mixed grill platter came with steak, lamb, pork, and sausage, plus a salad that tried in vain to balance this plate’s overwhelming meatiness—of these, the steak and the sausage were the highlights. The fish of the day special gave you a choice of grilled salmon, tuna, swordfish, or red snapper. We ordered the tuna rosé—the waiter told he wouldn’t serve it to us any other way, actually—and the portion that arrived was very substantial indeed, but we found it a bit too medium-rare for our liking. Then there’s the chicken, which might very well be the best deal in the house at $9.50. Like so much of the Portuguese population in this part of town, the owners of Marilou hail from the islands--Madeira and the Azores. The style is relaxed, informal, and the portions are extremely generous, rustic. If you still have room for dessert, the flan is the way to go. Have it with an espresso.
Marilou, 4675 St. Laurent, 849-4447