stop #6: Prague Deli and Fine Food Emporium
For us, no visit to Toronto is complete without a trip to the Prague Deli on Queen St. It is one of the only surviving signs of the huge Czech popluation that immigrated to Toronto in the late '60s (I should know, my parents came over as part of that wave and I'm a product of that very scene)--and at this point Montreal has virtually no Czech presence,* so we're generally starved for Czech treats. We always pop in for a chlebíček (an open-faced sandwich which is ubiquitous within Prague's working-class delis) and a kolač (a type of danish, of which the blackberry version is particularly recommended). This time around we were shocked to see they'd renovated since our last visit. They've modernized the place and made it more contemporary and "inviting," which took me aback at first. Then I realized that the place was full of people, and this was just the change that would keep the place open and running for years to come. And that's definitely a good thing. The service is very Czech: maybe a little brusque at first, but proper pronunciation of the menu items gets you treated like a dignitary.
stop #7: Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
Through Les Chèvres, Michelle developed a pretty strong connection with the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (JKWB). First, there was Melissa who left a position as a line chef at Les Chèvres to seek fame and fortune (or at least some new experiences) in Toronto about a year ago, and eventually found herself with a dream job at JKWB. Then there was Renée, the pastry chef at JKWB, who spent a couple of weeks at Les Chèvres doing a stage earlier this year because (other chefs, take note) Mr. Kennedy is a big proponent of sending his chefs into the field to pick up expertise at other leading restaurants. Renée really enjoyed spending time in the "Patricerie" at Les Chèvres and she and Michelle hit it off in the time she was around. When it came time for her to head back to Toronto, she made Michelle promise that the next time we were in Hogtown we'd stop by for a meal. And, Michelle being a woman of her word, we did.
From the moment we stepped in, announced ourselves to the hostess, and were greeted with an, "Oh, my God! It's so nice to meet you! Your seats are almost ready. Make yourselves comfortable in the lounge, your Bellinis are on their way!," we knew the night was going to be one to remember. We're not all that accustomed to getting that kind of a reception--it's safe to say that we usually fly beneath the radar--but we took it in stride. Minutes later, having stretched out on a couch, sipped our Bellinis, and taken in the scene--the intriguing layout with the twin bars (one "wet" and one "dry"), the monumental floor-to-ceiling wall display of canned goods, the lively atmosphere--we were escorted to our seats at the "dry" bar, the one that faces the wine bar's external kitchen. Our hostess had recommended seats there so we could check out the cooks doing what they do best, and we jumped at the opportunity--we love sitting at the counter of a good sushi bar, and we were sure this was going to be similarly entertaining.
From the moment we sat down at the bar, we quickly established a rapport with the chef operating closest to us. He'd picked up on the fact that we were receiving preferential treatment for some reason, and he jumped right in and started sassing us about it, addressing us as "Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller" and the like. He started to warm up to us as soon as he found out we were from Montreal, though, and when he found out Michelle was a fellow restaurant person, and a cook at Les Chèvres no less, well, he started doting on us too. Then Renée came out with her friend Tobey to greet us, and things really got underway--from that point on, the dishes kept coming at us in rapid succession and the wine flowed. It was only later that we figured out that Tobey was the chef at JKWB. Suffice to say, we were in good hands.
We started off with the brilliant charcuterie plate, featuring an absolutely luscious house duck liver pâté and a breathtaking selection of house-cured meats. Not only did the plate come with a brilliant wine pairing--a lovely 2001 Gewürtztraminer, J.M. Sohler's "Heissenberger"--but it came with exceptional bread, baked on premises and made with Canada's heritage Red Fife flour, one of the Slow Food Foundations "Presidia" products. Already, just these three elements--the house-made charcuterie, the wine, and the bread--summed up so much of what's special at JKWB: the honesty, the attention to detail, the respect for local, heirloom, and heritage ingredients, the imagination--and that was just the first course. Other standouts included their simple but lovely green salad with lovage dressing and artisanally grown organic greens, a juicy, perfectly seasoned hanger steak with fried green tomatoes, and grilled Portuguese sardines with a tangy chermoula. Course after course hit the spot, with nary a dud among them--the fact that we enjoyed the witty repartee of our cook friend the whole time, made the cavalcade of mouth-watering dishes all the more impressive. We talked Montreal, we talked organics, we talked Vancouver Island, Saveur magazine, and Sooke Harbour House, and all the while he plated dish after dish after delicious dish. Our one whimsical selection was the coq au vin poutine. We thought it would be hilarious to pull into Toronto from Montreal and order poutine, at the JKWB of all places. Boy, were we wrong. That poutine was dead serious: the chicken tender yet robust, the Yukon Gold fries beautifully golden-brown, the cheese squeaky-fresh. An unlikely combo, but no less of a knockout for it. When it came to wind down, we did so in style, with a full cheese course, featuring Ontario's finest, and an accompanying Ontario Pinot Noir, Niagara Teaching College's 2004 "Wismer Vineyard." We were in need of an education in Ontario wines and cheeses--both of which are much maligned in Quebec for no good reason--and we figured there was no better place to get it. Both were excellent, and we rounded the corner towards Renée's much-anticipated desserts invigorated.
Good thing, because the desserts quite nearly stole the show. We were a little worried we might get buried--restaurant staff have a tradition of "killing" the staff of other restaurants when they come by for a visit--but instead Renée took the Roberta Flack approach, killing us softly with a perfectly composed sampler of desserts including two sparkling sorbets, golden plum and raspberry, a blancmange with petits fruits, and a mini bundt cake with lavender honey crème fraîche. These were among the very best desserts I'd had all year, and together the assortment brought the meal to a perfect conclusion: they were light on the palate, seasonal, and memorable.
When we'd polished off the very last morsel, the only thing left to do was take a tour of the kitchen to check out the behind-the-scenes activity, meet all the superstars who'd contributed to our V.I.P. Night 2006, and sneak a peek at Tobey's smokehouse.
Okay, okay, we got seriously spoiled, but there's no question in our minds that the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar is a place well worth checking out.
stop #8: Aunties and Uncles
I'd been to this retro-chic diner before on a conference visit, Michelle hadn't. We were a bit worried we might have to mix it up with the punters to get a seat, seeing as Auntie's and Uncle's is a popular neighborhood hang-out and it was Sunday brunch primetime, but we got seated within minutes. Michelle was instantly smitten--I could tell she loved the mismatched arborite tables and the rummage-sale cutlery, and the comfort food breakfasts were right up her alley. She opted for a breakfast burrito with chorizo, but only on the condition that I made sure to keep her plied with some of the copious amounts of peameal bacon that came with my plate. All the egg dishes were good--so were the breakfast sandwiches and the house specialty potato salad. We took in the hipster scene and whiled away the late-morning.
Remember that monumental wall of canned goods at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar? Well, when we saw it, we immediately knew we were on the same wavelenght with Jamie Kennedy & co. You see, we'd gone to Toronto for the weekend with the intention to get some canning done along the way. We'd been having a hard time finding peaches that were passing muster back in Montreal; we figured there had to be better Ontario peaches in Ontario, so Michelle got Renée to order in a crate for her. We picked it up and paid for it when we made our kitchen inspection, and we were right, they were a lot better than the ones we'd found to date. So the next day, Sunday, while I went out on a mid-afternoon ouzo bender, Michelle made use of our hostess's beautiful kitchen to can her latest acquisitions. As you can see, they turned out well. We left a jar with our hostess and took the rest back home to Montreal with us the next day.
stop #9: Yung Sing Bakery
We got turned on to Yung Sing by our friend Sandy, years and years ago. Since then, no visit to Toronto has been complete without at least a BBQ pork bun or a tofu roll. This time around, we snuck in on our way out of town. We couldn't bear the thought of leaving without popping in. Plus, we needed a good lunch to face that culinary wasteland that is the 401. After ordering my BBQ pork bun I noticed a mounted photograph of the proud owners in front of their bakery all the way back in 1968. I asked the woman who was serving me, the matriarch, about the photo and she began to giggle excitedly as she went back and pulled it down so that I could have a closer look. With the attire and the vintage quality of the image it almost looked like an outtake from Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love. I'm happy to say that Yung Sing Bakery is almost 40 years old and it's still going strong.
stop #10: Randy's Take-Out
So good we went there twice. This time on our way out of town, after our pitstop at Yung Sing. After all, the 401 is incredibly bleak food-wise, and it's always wise to be prepared for every eventuality. You never know when you might need the soothing flavors of a tasty Jamaican patty.
Prague Deli and Fine Food Emporium, 638 Queen St. W., (416) 504-5787
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, 9 Church Street, (416) 362-1957
Aunties and Uncles, 74 Lippincott Street, (416) 324-1375
Yung Sing Bakery, 22 Baldwin, at McCaul, (416) 979-2832
Randy's Bakery, 1569 Eglinton Avenue West, (416) 781-5313
*R.I.P. Café Toman.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
stop #6: Prague Deli and Fine Food Emporium
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
This week I have been caught off guard thinking it was still summer. Which, of course, it is and will be for another three weeks or so, but around here you can't take these things for granted. Doing so can be a dangerous mistake, since in the blink of an eye, depending on the year, the cucumbers can disappear. Same with the tomatoes. "But I'm not ready yet," does nothing to change the inevitable, Sweetie.
In my mind, summer's not summer without making some dill pickles. They're so satisfying, and so much tastier than your supermarket-issue brands, and they're really very easy to prepare. So go ahead and whip up a batch of dill pickles before it's too late. You can deal with the sweet pickles tomorrow, tomatoes on the weekend.
I bought my cucumbers in a moment of panic last weekend at the market ("It's already the end of August?") and was ready to pickle them when I realised I was missing a key ingredient: pickling spice. I thought about running to the store and buying some but then it occurred to me I could whip up my own batch using Phillipe de Vienne's amazing spices. What I concocted was leagues better than the usual bland pickling spice which has been sitting on the shelf for God knows how long, but boy, was it strong. I will let you know how it turns out in a few weeks.
The following is the basic dill pickles recipe I've been using for the last few years. I give it my personal touch by making some extra spicy, with the addition of some hot chiles, some extra garlicky.
pickling cucumbers *
head of dill, divided into small bunches
garlic cloves, peeled
5 % vinegar mixed with an equal part water
1 liter canning jars with lids
* I washed my cucumbers and placed them on ice for a few hours, having heard that this produces crunchier pickles.
Sterilise the canning jars and place the snap lids in a small pot of hot water. Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and keep it simmering while you load up the jars. Take the jars, one at a time, and add the following to each: 1 bunch dill, 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp. pickling spice, 1 Tbsp. pickling salt, enough cucumbers to fill the jar, and vinegar mixture to cover cucumbers. Close the jars and either hot water process them 15 min. or let them sit on the counter overnight. Check the seals and store any unsealed jars in the fridge. Keep at least 3 weeks before opening or the pickles will be too vinegary.
It goes without saying that there are countless variations: more garlic and/or hot peppers, as mentioned above, different spices, ginger, half-sour... If anyone out there has a prize-winning dill pickle recipe that they wouldn't mind sharing, please let me know.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
fig. a: Baby Crawfords ripe for the picking
Well, we've been mulling over Melissa's provocative "Things to Eat Before You Die" project over at The Traveler's Lunchbox for the last few days. On the one hand, it's been a breeze coming up with "absolute musts" of all kinds, but on the other, whittling our respective lists down to five has been difficult, to say the least. In the end, Michelle decided to do a fruits-only list, while I opted for a bit of a grab-bag, although it would have been easy to come up with similarly essential lists (to us, at least) that were, say, Montreal-specific or seafood-specific or pastry-specific (you get my drift). Anyway, without further ado (and without any further agonizing), here goes:
1. Baby Crawford peaches fresh off the tree at Andy's Orchard, Morgan Hill, CA
2. strawberries from Swanton Berry Farm, Davenport, CA
3. pears & black walnuts foraged in the Czech Republic (take a walk most anywhere in rural Bohemia at the right time of year and you'll find them in abundance)
4. fields of wild blueberries around Sackville, New Brunswick
5. fresh mulberries anywhere you can get them
1. a real S.F. burrito from a real S.F. taqueria (La Taqueria comes to mind)
2. pizza from a truck in Marseilles eaten on a bench in the Old Port with a good bottle of red wine
3. fresh (and I do mean fresh) oysters on the half-shell from a reputable source of your choice, served in generous quantities
4. real dim sum served from carts (any one of a number of places come to mind, but the best I've had in the last 12 months was at Ton Kiang in San Francisco)
5. a runny, perfectly ripe raw milk cheese (like a St. Marcellin or a St. Felicien) with some good apples, some good pears, some nice grapes, and a crisp white wine of your choice
Have your own list? Do tell.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Well, as some of you out there may have noticed, we've been having some serious technical problems with "...an endless banquet" over the last 24 hours.
fig. a: information age frustration sets in
But if Blogger's willing and the creek don't rise, we should have everything sorted in no time.
Posted by aj kinik at 1:00 PM
Thursday, August 24, 2006
It's taken me a while to figure out what exactly to do with the stash of heart nuts we got at Windmill Point Farm. I considered breads, cakes, preserves, and tarts before settling on cookies. I wanted something simple to get the full effect of the nut's lovely heart shape. My only regret was that I didn't make the cookies smaller. I should have gotten two dozen, where I only got one. Next time. I can always head back to Windmill Point Farm to pick up some more, and, if things go according to plan, certain homesteaders* will soon be planting a small forest of heart nut trees, keeping us in heart nuts forever and ever.
These cookies are similar to Mexican wedding cakes: delicate, crumbly, and melt-in-your-mouth. Since heart nuts are a variety of Japanese walnut, you can substitute any other kind of walnut if you happen to be short on heart nuts at the moment.
To be enjoyed with a pot of tea and a good book.
Heart Nut Cookies
1 stick butter, soft
1/3 cup icing sugar, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ground heart nuts
1 cup flour
heart nuts to decorate
Preheat oven to 325°F. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, salt and ground nuts. Cream until combined. Add flour and mix gently until dough begins to form. Roll dough into small balls about 1" in diameter. Place on cookie sheet, decorating each with a nut. Bake for 20 min., or until cookies are golden brown on the bottom. Cool on rack and sprinkle with icing sugar. Store in an airtight container. Eat. Enjoy.
Makes two dozen.
* my parents
Posted by michelle at 1:55 PM
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
1. Richard Olney, A Provençal Table: The Exuberant Food and Wine from the Domaine Tempier Vineyard
2. jerk pork bbq
3. The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies
4. Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
5. Washington Phillips, What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?
6. 2006, The Year of the Melon
7. Ninotchka, dir. Ernst Lubitsch: "Garbo laughs!"
8. V/A, Jamaica to Toronto: Soul, Funk, & Reggae, 1967-1974, including Jo-Jo and the Fugitives' "Chips, Chicken, Banana Split"
9. Edward A. Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, with a Few Notes on Wine
10. Mission figs
Monday, August 21, 2006
Mile End/St. Louis BBQ #1’s* North Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ was small by comparison. We got the word out kind of late and essentially we wound up catering to a small coterie of friends, with just a few new faces thrown in for good measure. That was our first experiment with taking it to the streets, though, so we were happy to keep things tidy. This time around, we got a little more adventurous. We made a lot more food, teamed up with our friends at Backroom Records and Pastries, and spread the word a little more widely. People started arriving before we’d even finished setting up. And within ten minutes of opening up for business roving bands of jerk BBQ/vinyl/pastry enthusiasts started to make their way up the alley to pay us a visit. 90 minutes later, we’d been cleaned right out. What a rush! Michelle and I barely got a chance to sample our own wares—we had two jerk pork sandwiches, two ginger beers, and two, count ‘em, two shrimp between us. Hell, we were so busy I never even got a chance to pull out my camera to document the event. We couldn’t have been happier though. When the dust had settled, we’d fed somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 people, and in spite of some shortages late in the game, most appeared to have left satisfied. Meanwhile Backroom Records was doing booming business and Backroom Pastries had moved every last slice of Rum Cake and Coconut Cake.
Want to throw your own jerk pork BBQ event? Want to experience the high that comes from making heavily Scotch bonnet-laced Jamaican jerk in your very own kitchen? Want to open your own jerk joint? Well, here’s everything you need to know…
One thing you’ll notice as you peruse the recipes below is that that Jamaican holy foursome of Scotch bonnet peppers, fresh thyme, scallions, and allspice shows up repeatedly. Don’t let this dissuade you. You’ll find that each dish has its own distinct personality.
Jerk Pork BBQ
Michelle and I were both big fans of Jamaican jerk BBQ to begin with, but there’s no question that we were hugely inspired by Melissa’s truly breathtaking account of her culinary adventures in Jamaica, and specifically by the wonderful post she devoted to the subject of Jamaican jerk. Those of you who know us here at “…an endless banquet” know we’ve been big fans of The Traveler’s Lunchbox for quite some time, but her series of posts that resulted from her recent trip to Jamaica might very well be our all-time favorites. She built up slowly to a crescendo, making her way through tantalizing accounts of Jamaican breakfasts, rum tastings, and garlic lobsters--when she finally got around to discussing the search for perfect jerk, a topic clearly dear to her heart, we were nearly beside ourselves.
We used a slightly modified version of Melissa’s Jamaican Jerk Pork recipe, a recipe which she had adapted herself from Lucinda Quinn’s Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Kitchen, and which she claimed came closest to capturing the majesty of a jerk joint like Scotchies. The major difference was that we cooked the pork in the oven longer and at a lower temperature, just as we’d done when we made our North Carolina-style BBQ (to refresh your memory with regards to this Basic Pulled Pork Barbecue method, looky here). We did this partly because we needed to roast then grill our meat and then have it ready to go by 11:30-11:45, and partly because we were so darn pleased with the results of our first pork BBQ event. So, once again, we wrapped our pork shoulders (this time boneless) in foil, making sure we’d given them tight seals, placed them in a water bath in our roasting pan, and cooked them slow and low overnight. And once again, I’m sure the aroma of that jerk paste-marinated pork drove our neighbors crazy all night long. We also made two batches, one with one Scotch bonnet pepper, for the faint of heart, and one with four to appeal to our hard-core contingent. Melissa recommends that the amateur stick to the 1-6 Scotch bonnet range, but points out that in Jamaica, “the sky’s the limit.” It might just have been the particular Scotch bonnets that we got, but, in retrospect, I wish I’d made batch #1 with 3 and batch #2 with 6. When the two batches had slow cooked for 8+ hours, we unwrapped the pork shoulders and finished them on our hickory-smoked grill (unfortunately, pimento wood is a little hard to come by here in the Great White North) for about 15-20 minutes, making sure they got blackened just so on the outside, while remaining juicy and tender on the inside.
Jamaican Hot Pepper Shrimp
We found this recipe in Gourmet’s May 2005 Street Food Issue. The idea of buying hot and spicy shrimp by the bag beachside instantly won us over. Imagine.
We followed this recipe closely, multiplying everything by a factor of three because we had 3 lbs of shrimp, but we balked when it came to adding 9 fresh Scotch bonnet peppers. I wish we hadn't. Our shrimp were nice and spicy, but not wild, the way we would have liked.
4 cups water
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh Scotch bonnet peppers, halved and seeded
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
10 whole allspice
1 lb large shrimp
Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp in a heavy pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, making sure they’re just covered by the liquid, and remove the pot from the heat. Cool shrimp in the liquid to room temperature, uncovered, about 1 hour. Transfer the shrimp with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl and drizzle some of the cooking liquid on top, or serve them 6 or 12 to a bag the way we did.
Jamaican-style “Rice and Peas” with Red Beans
This recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook, a book that still gets a lot of use in our household even if we have drifted from vegetarianism over the years (we’re hosting pork BBQ events now, for Christ’s sake). You’ll notice that here the Scotch bonnet pepper is used whole. This way it only imparts a subtle citric flavor to the dish. Be careful not to puncture the pepper or the dish will become exponentially hotter.
1 1/2 cups dried red beans
2 cups canned coconut milk, well-stirred
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
6 tbsp finely sliced scallions or 4 tbsp finely chopped chives
3 to 4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves
1 small onion
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Soak the beans overnight or use the quick-soak method. Drain, discarding your soaking liquid.
In a large pot, bring the beans and 4 cups of water to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, or until the beans have turned just tender. Add the coconut milk, the Scotch bonnet pepper, the scallions or chives, thyme, garlic, onion, and allspice. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, stir, and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Taste and make sure the seasonings are well-balanced. Remove the Scotch bonnet pepper and the thyme sprigs before serving. Serve over freshly cooked white rice, or stir into a pot of 3 cups of freshly cooked basmati rice like we did, using the cooking liquid as needed to give the “Rice and Peas” just the moistness you desire.
Super Ape-Approved Ginger Beer
This recipe came from one of Saveur's summer special issues. We loved the way the vanilla bean helped to smooth out an otherwise potent brew (deliciously so, I might add). The mint leaves are a great finishing touch, too.
3/4 lb fresh ginger, peeled and grated using the large-hole side of a box grater
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp ground mace
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Half a bunch of fresh mint
Put the ginger, lime juice, mace, and 1/2 cup of the sugar into a widemouthed gallon glass or a ceramic jar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the jar and add the pod as well. Add 12 cups boiling water to the jar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set ginger mixture aside to let steep and cool to room temperature. Cover jar tightly and refrigerate for 1 week.
When the ginger mixture has brewed for one week, line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. Strain the ginger mixture through the sieve into another widemouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar, firmly pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract every last bit of flavor. Discard the solids. Add the remaining sugar to the ginger beer and stir until it dissolves. Serve in glasses over crushed ice, garnished with mint sprigs. If you want to stretch out the ginger beer or dilute it a bit and add some effervescence, mix with club soda first.
The moral of these stories: don't hold back. Have faith in the almighty Scotch bonnet pepper (or in the power of ginger, for that matter) and go for broke.
* Since we keep getting asked, the name is a nod to the legendary Lexington BBQ #1 in Lexington, NC. The Mile End/St. Louis prefix has nothing to do with St. Louis, MO, it’s the name of the district we live in.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
fig. a: Soma
72 hours. 1 wedding. 10 stops.
stop #1: Randy's Take-Out
I spotted Randy's on my last two visits to Toronto. I'm generally so starved for good West Indian food that I can't help noticing each and every patty shop, roti joint, and West Indian grocery every time I go to T.O.--it's not that you can't get good West Indian in Montreal, but there's just so much more of it in Toronto it boggles the mind. So many of Toronto's West Indian eateries are really, truly excellent too, and, anyway, I'm a complete sucker for Jamaican patties and jerk dishes, Trinidadian rotis and rum cakes, and ginger beers of all persuasions. Randy's stood out because it had a queue out the front door. Always a good sign. So this time around when we pulled into town we took the Allen down to Eglinton and made a beeline to Randy's. How can you argue with a place that sells patties by the dozen to its devoted regulars? How can you argue with a place that advertises, "Patties for the people since 1979." Answer: you can't. Randy's makes a top-notch patty: fresh, hot, flaky, delicate, and stuffed with spicy, tasty goodness. And they sell 'em for a song.
stop #2: Chinese Traditional Buns
This was a place grabbed our attention when we read last year's Now Magazine feature on Toronto's best Chinese. It seemed right up our alley and completely unlike anything we know of in Montreal. We'd just eaten at Randy's and we were just hours away from eating at the wedding we were going to in the Distillery District, but we were still a little peckish and we're just about always ready for good Chinese, so... Step downstairs into this underground haunt and you'll find a brightly lit (fluorescently so) yet welcoming little restaurant with a tantalizing northeastern Chinese menu composed of buns, dumplings, noodle dishes, and a whole host of house specialties we'd never seen on a menu anywhere else. We were awestruck. "Luckily," we'd just eaten and we had a wedding dinner looming, so we kept things simple, made a couple of quick decisions, and settled on some Tianjin-style buns and some shrimp and pork dumplings. The verdict: we're definitely coming back, and next time we're bringing a full appetite. Look out.
stop #3: Soma
We'd read about Soma in the pages of Sam's fantastic sweet pleasure : plaisir sucré a while ago but didn't realize it was located in the Distillery District just doors from Café Balzac and the wedding we were attending. Halfway during the wedding festivities we slipped out to take a look around the area before the sun set and just chanced upon Soma. We stepped into chef David Castellan's sparklingly modern premises and were instantly impressed. It was hard not to be impressed by the massive cacao bean roaster Soma had just acquired and which they had on display in their chocolatemaking room (you can see it there in the picture above, off to the left), not to mention their plans to start roasting cacao beans according to their own specifications. Unfortunately, we weren't really in a position to purchase a lot of chocolate at the time--it was very humid out that night, and we were going to be at a wedding for another 4 hours or so--but we did take a close look at their offerings, including their beautiful selection of chocolate bars, filled chocolates, and gelati, and when we couldn't it take any longer, we ordered their signature Mayan hot chocolate,
fig. b: Mayan hot chocolate
sat at the counter, and savored it. Not to be missed.
stop #4: Carousel Bakery
The next day we headed to the grand, old St. Lawrence Market on bikes for lunch. Our friend Pierre had been talking up the market's legendary peameal bacon sandwiches, and, frankly, we were curious. For those of you who don't know, peameal bacon is the true "Canadian bacon," and it bears no resemblance to those round slices of bacon that show up in Eggs Benedict and on "Hawaiian" pizza south of the border. Peameal bacon is lean, not fatty, it's cured but not smoked, and though it used to be dusted with peameal, it's cornmeal that has long since given this boneless pork loin its trademark yellow hue. Probably the most famous of the peameal bacon sandwich-selling outfits in St. Lawrence Market's south annex is Carousel Bakery, and it's also Pierre's preferred peameal vendor, so that's where we went. What exactly is a peameal bacon sandwich?, you ask. A couple of thin slices of fried peameal bacon served on a plain bun. End of story. Michelle and I split a peameal bacon special after I took it over to their fixins bar and dressed it. Most people just give their peameal bacon sandwiches a squirt of French's and leave it at that. I gave it a healthy dose of Dijon mustard and Kozlik's Hot Horseradish and turned it into a mindbomb. Highly recommended.
stop #5: Anton Kozlik's Canadian Mustard
We were so impressed by their three-alarm horseradish we marched right over to Kozlik's booth, ate about a 1/2 lb of Kozlik's free peameal bacon samples as we tested out their exotic mustards, and bought ourselves a jar of Hot Horseradish to bring back to Montreal with us.
Randy's Take-Out, 1569 Eglinton Avenue West, (416) 781-5313
Chinese Traditional Buns, 536 Dundas West, (416) 299-9011
Soma, Distillery District, 55 Mill St., (416) 815-7662
Carousel Bakery, St. Lawrence Market, 93 Front St. E., upper level 42, (416) 363-4247 or (416) 863-6764
Anton Kozlik's Canadian Mustard, St. Lawrence Market, 93 Front St. E., (416) 361-9788
Friday, August 11, 2006
"...an endless banquet"
Backroom Records & Pastries
The Guerrilla Street Food Coalition
Mile End/St-Louis BBQ #1
BBQ #1.2: Jamaica to Montreal
Mile End/St-Louis BBQ #1 Jerk Pork BBQ Sandwiches
Hot Jamaican Shrimp by the bag
Jamaican-style "Rice & Peas"
Homemade Super Ape-approved Super Spicy Ginger Beer
+ Jamaican sweet treats
& Jamaican music of all sorts
Sunday, August 13, 2006
12:00 noon - 2 p.m.
Backroom Records & Pastries
5912 Rue St. Urbain
"Back Alley Entrance Only!"
Directions: If you go to the intersection of Bernard and St. Urbain, there's an alley right behind École Lambert-Closse on the north side of Bernard that's accessible from either St. Urbain or Waverly. Just follow that alley north towards Van Horne. We'll be the ones selling jerk pork above a garage. I'm sure there's a way of coming down the alley from Van Horne, too, but I've never come that way.
Come one, come all!
note: Backroom Records & Pastries will be open to satisfy your penchant for music & sweets from 12:00 noon till 6:00 p.m., i.e. normal hours.
Posted by aj kinik at 11:50 AM
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
A year and a half ago I found myself worried about the direction Jean-Talon Market was taking with its renovations. Quebec is riddled with places where modern improvements (even when they're intended to maintain a link with the past) spell the end of character, the end of charm, and I could easily see the market going that direction. When the new pavilion actually introduced some true vision into the fold (Olives et Épices, for instance) I was pleasantly surprised and all of a sudden things began to look sunnier. The new face of Jean-Talon has not been without controversy (the Société des Alcools du Québec's purge of Le Marché des Saveurs du Québec's selection of local ciders and other alcoholic beverages stands out among them), but by and large I think it's safe to say that the market has become stronger, both in terms of quality and selection. One of the best developments has been the growth in the selection of organics on offer, and especially local organics. I've absolutely loved the Jean-Talon Market for years now, ever since I returned to Montreal seven years ago, but I never really understood why organics and what one might call artisanal agricultural production weren't better represented. This year, tout à coup, this situation has changed. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but the market is starting to reflect just how vibrant the small-scale and artisanal organic agricultural scene in Quebec actually is. Among these new additions is M. Plante, an organic grower who started out cultivating a whole range of organic vegetables and fruits before deciding to concentrate on tomatoes exclusively. M. Plante has quite the reputation, supplying many of Montreal's top restaurants with tomatoes as he does, but his prices are surprisingly affordable. In fact, the last time we visited (this past weekend), he cut us a deal that was significantly better than any of the other organic producers and probably most of the ubiquitous Savoura™ tomato dealers. Bottom line: this new organics scene, tiny as it may be, is just one of the things that's had us saying to one another, "This is the market's best year ever!" Just wait till harvest season really switches into high gear.
Anyway, by the time we got home from the market, and taking into account our trip to Windmill Point the day before, we were inundated in good, fresh tomatoes. We've had them straight-up, we've had them in salads, we've had them on bagels with cream cheese, and we've made pasta dishes with them... Here's one we made the other night. The anchovies are the dish's secret ingredient, adding unexpected depth.
Simple Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes
1 lb. spaghetti or spaghettoni pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small sweet onion, minced
1-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 zucchini, minced
1 healthy pinch herbes de Provence
1 pint tasty cherry tomatoes, like organic heirlooms or Sweet 100, halved or quartered
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-2 anchovies, minced finely
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring enough salted water to cook 1 lb of pasta to a rolling boil. Cook your pasta according to the instructions listed on the package until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When the oil has reached temperature add the onion. Sauté the onion, stirring frequently, for a few minutes (5-10) until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Add the zucchini and the herbes de Provence and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté them gently for another 5 minutes or so, until they give up their juices. Add the anchovy, and salt and ground pepper to taste, and sauté for another minute or two.
Toss the pasta with the cherry tomato mixture, add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste and toss again. Serve with extra grated Parmesan cheese on the table.
For more on the constantly evolving face of Jean-Talon, check out Mr. Carswell's on again/off again market thread on egullet, which, when it's not getting bogged down in a morass of posturing and petty in-fighting (it's been dead again since July 28th now, sadly), is a lot of fun to read, if a bit bewildering (it's already hard enough to keep up with the abundance). Here's hoping those egulleters get things revved up again as we head into peak harvest.
Posted by aj kinik at 10:10 PM
Saturday, August 05, 2006
I love that image, and, really, it kinda sums it all up: that majestic bird, those lucky kids (are they named "Bio" and "Organic," respectively, or are they just firm believers?), that rustic barn festooned with those organic coffee sacks. It was snapped inside the barn of our favorite new local organic farm (new to us, that is), Windmill Point Farm on Île Perrot. We'd gone with the Fruit Guru in search of the elusive Montreal Melon and in the hopes of meeting the legendary Dr. Ken Taylor (Windmill Point Farm's founder), but, as it turns out, the Montreal Melons were still a couple of weeks from reaching maturity and Dr. Taylor was away on business. And even though the farm was still a few weeks off from being at its harvest-time peak, we were still mightily impressed by what we saw. Windmill Point Farm occupies a sizeable 70-acre spread just a half an hour from Montreal and it's 100% certified organic. In many ways it's just the kind of farm we've been looking high and low for because, as Michelle put it after leafing through their catalogue, "they grow everything!": vegetables, herbs, fruits, nuts--you name it--and they specialize in heirloom varieties.
We found sweet brown peppers, red okra, Ceylon spinach, garlic shoots, zucchini, purslane, rapini, kale, and lettuce, along with pears
and tomatoes of all sorts.
But what we got most excited about was their nuts, and especially their lovely, somewhat mysterious heart nuts,
which come in a shell so tough they can only be opened with a sharp rap from a hammer (how's that for poetry?). Come fall, we're definitely going to be rushing back for walnuts, hazlenuts, heart nuts, and whatever else we can find.
All this and they also offer classes on grafting (!). Michelle could hardly believe it.
For more information and a handy-dandy map, please consult their website: http://www.windmillpointfarm.ca/
Posted by aj kinik at 3:28 PM