Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day Special: The Gloves Are Off!

the gloves are off!

No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more Ms. Nice Gal.

We've had a bit of a reputation for focusing on the positive as we've scoured Montreal's culinary landscape. A well-deserved one. It's not that we're the biggest, most shameless boosters or anything. Anyone who knows us, knows that we're prone to launch into the occasional rant (okay, more than occasional, just today the sight of what had become of the former Simcha's set us both on a 20-minute tirade), but our feeling has always been that if you love something (metro areas included) you've got to be willing to be critical, to point out deficiencies, to show that you care about how and where things are going. When it comes to "...an endless banquet," though, our reportage on Montreal has tended to be upbeat because we don't really enjoy having mediocre meals or getting taken for a ride. And it's not like we get paid to do what we do, so we've felt no real duty to prowl around town unmasking charlatans. That said, in spite of the impression the pages of "...an endless banquet" might give off, it's not like the life of an endless banqueteer is 100% charmed and we're really not all that nicey-nice. With this in mind, we've decided to drop the gloves, for once, and give a few Montreal establishments the sound drubbing they deserve. So without any further ado, here, in no particular order, are a few joints that you will never find on our Top Ten. In fact, together they comprise some kind of anti-Top Ten, a motley crew so bad there's actually eleven entries.

1. F & F, 163 Bernard W.--God knows this city could use some help in the pizza department. Okay, fine, now we've got Bottega as a new benchmark, but don't we deserve a full-scale pizza revival? Haven't we suffered long enough? When F & F set up shop on Bernard earlier this year, we thought, "Hmm, not exactly our style, but it could be promising. I mean, they're obviously going for something young, fresh, and boutique-y." So we gave them a ring and experienced a pizza that had all the charm and character of a 99-cent slice at $16-a-pie. Actually, it tasted worse than a 99-cent slice, because at least a 99-cent slice isn't pretentious enough to advertise "wild mushrooms."

2. Bouchon de Liège, 8497 St-Dominique--We'd heard promising things about Bouchon de Liège. Some kind of connection to the legendary La Chronique. Bistro fare. Reasonable prices. Our meal had its moments, but on the whole was pretty erratic and wildly overpriced (not that there's a right price for bad food). Then we got our dessert, which was the single worst dessert we've ever tasted in a Montreal restaurant (right up there with the bocconcini-chocolate fiasco we once had at a potluck). The rice in the rice pudding was so undercooked, the overall effect so sadistic, I began to wonder if the chef had apprenticed in a V.C. prisoner of war camp.

3. Binerie Mont Royal, 367 Mont-Royal E.--Yes, it's an institution and its interior is a true Montreal classic, virtually unchanged since its mid-20th century heyday. Problem is, they've also gotten some new management over the last couple of years. And my first experience of the "new, improved" Binerie was dismal. We're talking the very worst beans I've ever had in my life, hard (?), oily (?), and absolutely tasteless (??). Where I come from, there's no excuse for canned beans, but, good god, I'd take canned beans over the garbage I was served at Binerie any day.

4. Maison du Cari, 6892 Victoria Ave.--Another Montreal institution, another major disappointment. We wanted to love this Trini roti joint--we'd heard nothing but good things, and we love Trinidadian cuisine. Unfortunately, our first roti was so underwhelming (frozen vegetable mix?), we ordered a second one (processed chicken?). It wasn't all bad, but we'd never consider going back.

5. Pagel, 231 Rue St-Viateur and 7115 Rue St. Urbain in Montreal, and 3535 Autoroute Laval W. in Laval--This one's not even worth mentioning it's so bad, except that people continue to keep these bandits in business in spite of repeated crimes against pâtisserie, including people we know (which means that we tend to encounter boxes of Pagel's 100%-butter-free, trans-fat heavy "delicacies" at potlucks every now and then). Stop the madness.

6. Lester's, 1057 Bernard W.--Lester's is another puzzler. Who are these people that continue to claim that Lester's has the best smoked meat in town? I'll never understand it. (I'm shaking my head in disgust as I write this.) Come to think of it, they tend to be the same people who prefer St.-Viateur Bagels over Fairmount Bagels.

7. La Shangrila, 200 25th Ave., Lachine--Also, not worth mentioning, really, in this case because it's so off the beaten path. Except that some critics have lavished such praise on this Nepali/Italian (we kid you not) resto that it's prompted people like us on occasion (one was all it took) to convince one of our motor vehicle-owning friends to embark on an odyssey to darkest Lachine only to be punished with one of the worst meals we've ever had the displeasure to encounter.

8. Chocolantara, 263 Mont-Royal E.--As Michelle put it: "The only time my gag reflex kicked in after biting into a chocolate."

9. Senzala, 177 Bernard W. and 4218 De la Roche--I guess that Brazilian thing still has just enough cachet to carry this place because they continue to pack people in for brunches that can only be described as bunk. Not terrible, really, but this place is hugely overrated, their service so stoned out of its mind, it makes you want to run screaming.

10. Cremerie Mile End, 5443 Parc Ave., and D'une Glace a L'autre, Bernard W.--"Artisanal ice cream comes to Mile End." Yeah, right. I've got no problem with the occasional trash ice cream cone, but selling trash as artisanal ice cream at artisanal prices? The one and only time we went to Cremerie Mile End was the first time I'd ever thrown out an ice cream cone two bites in. Then we went to D'une Glace à L'Autre. Godawful.

And last, but certainly not least,

11. Garde Manger, 408 Saint François Xavier--What can you say about a place that's willing to try and pawn off a $4.99 Loblaw's pecan pie as one of their homemade, made-by-the-chef's-beloved-mother $7/slice pies to a birthday party that had special-ordered the homemade pie days in advance? As John Lydon once put it in an entirely different context: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of our system, onto bigger and better things...



Mark Slutsky said...

I've always been so appalled by the way the overflowing trash bins at Senzala are located right next to the terrasse. So disgusting.

Y. said...

I would like to add Restaurant Thailand (Mile End) to this list. I took a friend there based on the review in your Montreal Food Guide and we were sorely disappointed. The Pad Thai consisted of noodles swimming in a sauce that tasted like Campbell tomato soup, mixed with pineapple chunks.

benoît said...

Hey Michelle et Anthony,
Je suis pas mal d'accord avec votre liste sauf pour une chose : je suis retourné à la binerie il y a à peu près un mois, c'était la première fois depuis 10 ans au moins, et je dois dire que ça a été une belle surprise! En effet, j'avais gardé un très mauvais souvenir de la bouffe et de l'ambiance de la place mais là, vraiment, on se serait vraiment cru au camp de bucherons! Tout le monde était chaleureux et souriant. La tourtière était parfaite et les fèves au lard étaient pas trop sucrées, juste comme je les aime! Alors? Je ne sais pas, j'ai peut-être été chanceux, ou alors c'est vous qui avez pas eu de chance! Il va falloir y retourner! Et, par aileurs, viva cuba!

Mark Slutsky said...

I've had some pretty bad food from Thailand myself; remember a lot of burnt-tasting oil.

Stockton said...

Hi guys. I think it's good that you are higlighting sharp practise; this is something i think more food blogs would be best doing. It's alright promoting the good stuff, but the bad stuff is always aroundthe next corner, isnt it!
Kepp up the good work, love reading the site.

Wayne said...

I'm going to echo the negative response to Restaurant Thailand, probably the only place, in my experience, in your A-Z listings which which I would take exception. I've now been there twice and found it acceptable the first time, somewhat less so the second.

Hugo said...

F&F, I hope they close down. The service is not too nice either. I once got a pizza with the toppings spilt over to one side. I returned it and they insinuated I had held it incorrectly. Really. I was appaled. Last time.

Senzala is overpriced. I go there for the ceviche only which I get to go. Spice it up!

I'm not a food buff but I enjoy reading your site. Keep it up!

michel said...

Wait! What happened to Simchas!

aj kinik said...

hi michel,
Simcha's got gutted a little while ago, the signs were evidently discarded (what I wouldn't do...), and a jewelry store that had been just below Pine, Rosas, moved up the street a couple of blocks (?).

I'll definitely give Binerie one more chance, that's why we've left them on our Montreal Food Guide. Let me know if you want to accompany us sometime.

Stockton and Hugo,
Thanks for the positive feedback.

Y., Mark, and Wayne,
we've never had anything but good to very good meals at Restaurant Thailande, that's why they're on the list. The inclusion of a restaurant on our list means that we've been there at least once and we've never had anything but good to phenomenal meals at this establishment. In some cases we may have been to the restaurant only once, because our restaurant budget is limited, but that's certainly not the case with RT. We certainly appreciate any heads-ups because sometimes we return to places to find that they've slipped, but the bottom line is that we can only base our reviews on our own personal experiences not hearsay. That said, I find that pad thai description a little hard to believe (sounds like it was made by an ex-housemate of mine who used to make a tofu/noodle/Heinz ketchup combo that he had the gall to call pad thai), but maybe I should go and investigate just in case. I've always found their pad thai rock-solid if not breathtaking. Thai isn't exactly Montreal's strong point, but we've found RT to be way above average. Meanwhile, the Thai scene has just taken a big hit: Bangkok, the one in the Faubourg and our favorite Montreal Thai joint (and the one that had been serving the best pad thai, in our opinion), is no more. Sad but true. They've also closed their resto across the street and relocated the entire operation to a third location also on Ste-Catherine. Unfortunately, Michelle's first experience of this new spot was negative: overpriced and not nearly as well-prepared as it used to be at their food court location.

Blork said...

I'll come to the defense of Restaurant Thailand too. I don't go often, but when I go it's always good. I always get the Yam Woon Sen (glass noodle salad), which seems to be hard to find in Mtl, and it's excellent at RT. The curries are always good, and the pad thai, while not the best I've had, always satisfies me.

aj kinik said...

Thanks for your input, Blork. We both like that glass noodle salad, too, although once I found it heavy on the fish sauce. Generally it's very refreshing, though.

Michelle thinks I should clarify because she thinks my last comment reads as though I'm describing RT's pad thai as "breathtaking." To clarify, I've always found it good, not breathtaking. The last time I had a "breathtaking" pad thai was either in Chicago or San Francisco. The last time I had a very good pad thai was at the former Bangkok in the Faubourg.

The search is on: if anyone has any hot Thai recommendations, please let us know.

aj kinik said...

Major correction: Bangkok (in the Faubourg) is still alive and well, we're happy to say. Michelle swears that she went by one day and it was boarded up and that someone had posted a sign directing people to the new Bangkok down the street (the one she found disappointing). Then we heard that they were open and things were business as usual there at their second floor food court location. So we went to verify, and, sure enough, they were open (praise Buddha!) and, strangely, there were no signs of any renovations or anything. I was hoping that I would get a chance to write "humble pie (humble Thai?) never tasted so good," or something to that effect, but Michelle insists that she saw what she saw, so I guess we're just going to have to file this one under "Unexplained Mysteries."

zadcat said...

Thanks for the warning on the Bouchon de Liege. It's the one resto in my neighbourhood with foodie pretensions, and I've occasionally gone past and looked at the menu with interest - but now I figure I can get two good dinners at the Coin G up the street for what I would've wasted at the Bouchon.

Ann Fisher said...

I couldn't disagree more about "La Shangrila". We knew it in its previous incarnation as a run-of-the-mill greasy spoon (suitable mainly for hangover breakfasts), so were a bit wary when the signs went up for a resto featuring "Italian-Nepalese" cuisine. Without having read a single review, we chanced in there one afternoon for lunch and were very pleasantly surprised. The prices were a bit steep for the location and (lack of) ambiance, but our meals were delicious. We both had Indian dishes, and the combination of curry with tomatoes, bell peppers and other Western vegetables was perfect. My husband grew up in London, England and really enjoys his curry -- he was not disappointed here. And the homemade foccacia that arrived on the table as soon as we sat down was worth any extra markup to the rest of the menu.

La Shangrila has become a fast favourite with us. If you had a single bad experience there, I would highly recommend going back and trying it again. You didn't mention what meal you had, which given their varied menu would have been good to know. So far, we have stayed on the Nepalese & Indian side of their menu, but from what we've seen of the Italian dishes, they look (and smell) just as good. And the fact that it is family run and has such a great back story, makes supporting it all that more worthwhile.