Sunday, July 19, 2009

fava up first

favas fig. a: the three faces of fava

As Alice Waters puts it in Chez Panisse Vegetables, "The fava bean, Vicia fabia, was the bean of Europe before contact with the New World." A few hundred years later, the fava bean--especially in its young, tender, spring/summer incarnation--became the bean of California Cuisine. Waters goes on to describe the scene at Chez Panisse every spring when the favas come into season:

Shelling fava beans has become a springtime ritual at the restaurant. Big baskets of them are brought out to keep all hands busy during long meetings, menu discussions, and even job interviews.

And in the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, Waters puts it like this:

It's not uncommon in informal cafés in Europe to see waiters peeling garlic during a quiet time. At Chez Panisse, they peel fava beans--lots of them. Sometimes the customers standing at the bar help out.

Here in Montreal, fava beans are hardly an important part of the local cuisine--nouvelle or otherwise--but there is certainly enough of a Mediterranean presence in the region (thank god!) to make fava beans a part of our seasonal, early-21st century diet. You definitely have to go out and look for them, though--in your markets, in your seasonally minded restaurants. And, remember, the season is short. As indicated above, fava beans are very much a harbinger of spring in Northern California. Around here, however, they're a mid-summer crop, and, friends, the time is now.

To get the full fava bean experience, you have to do a little work--shelling and peeling them requires some determination because you have to get from that big, long, fleshy pod stage, to that pale green/off-white stage, to that bright green stage [pictured above]--but all that work pays off, because once you've managed to extract that bright green, kidney-shaped bean from its protective layers, the cooking time is practically instant, and its seductive charms are immediate.

Most standard accounts of shelling and peeling favas go something like this one in Alice Waters, Patricia Curtan, and Martine Labro's Chez Panisse: Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone:

Picked young enough, they can be shelled and eaten raw, skin and all. When they are a little older and the skin is no longer bright green, they must be skinned. A good way to do this is to blanch the shelled beans for a minute or so [elsewhere Waters recommends "30 seconds to 1 minute"] in boiling water. Drain them and allow to cool. Use your thumbnail to pull open the sprout end and squeeze the bean out of its skin. It will pop right out. Once you get the hang of it, this goes very quickly.

Some chefs, like Zuni Cafe's Judy Rodgers, prefer keeping fava beans raw, arguing that the blanching process, however short, changes the texture of the beans too much. But in our own experience, blanching the beans for 30-60 seconds has produced the results we've been the happiest with. If you want to give raw fava beans a spin--and there's no reason you shouldn't--both Rodgers and Waters recommend serving them in the Tuscan style, with salami, and possibly a sheep's milk cheese (Rodgers also recommends a Ligurian white--Vermentino "Vigna U Munte," Colle dei Bardellini, 2000--as her wine pairing).

But, like I said, our favorite fava bean preparation involves blanching the beans slightly, then gently sautéing them to create a basic ragù. The last fava bean dish I made was based on this recipe from Waters, Curtan, and Labro's book:

Fettucine, fava beans, saffron, & crème fraîche

1/2 pound [fresh] fava beans
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper
a few fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup crème fraîche
fettucine for 2
fresh chives

Shell and skin the fava beans [see directions above]. Cook them gently in olive oil with the chopped garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add some basil leaves cut in ribbons, the crème fraîche, and a small pinch of saffron. Cook another few minutes, then cook the fettucine and add to the beans. Season the noodles with salt and pepper and toss with the favas. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of chives.

I liked the idea of combining sautéed fava beans with saffron, but I also wanted to combine them with ricotta salata, an idea I'd swiped from yet another recipe. Our fava bean and pasta recipe went something like this.

Fava beans & farfalle

1 pound fresh fava beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
zest from one lemon, finely minced
4 spring onions, chopped
1 lb farfalle
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata
salt and pepper
basil leaves

Shell and skin the fava beans [see directions above]. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the saffron, stir briefly so that the olive oil begins taking on the saffron's color, then add the fava beans. Sauté the beans for 30-60 seconds, then add the garlic and the lemon zest and sauté for another few minutes, until the garlic becomes lightly golden. Turn off the heat and add the spring onions, folding them into the mixture.

Meanwhile cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water.

In a large bowl, mix together the pasta, the fava bean mixture, and the ricotta salata, adding a bit of the pasta water if the combination seems dry [note: you may not need to add any additional liquid]. Salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the ricotta salata is very salty (hence the name), so make sure to taste the pasta before adding any salt, because you might not need any.

Have fun. Act fast. Eat well.

Good sources for fava bean recipes:

Judy Rodgers, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables
Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Café Cookbook
Alice Waters, Patricia Curtan, and Martine Labro, Chez Panisse: Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone
Paula Wolfert, Paula Wolfert's World of Food

Great source for fava beans:

Birri & frères, Jean-Talon Market, 276-3202


Friday, July 17, 2009

Bytown Bivalves

taps, oysters, turntable fig. a: l-r: taps, oysters, turntable

Taps, oysters, turntable. What more do you need?

How about a seriously outstanding kitchen, first-rate, sustainably harvested seafood that's sourced in-house, and friendly, knowledgeable service? Or how about a place that runs its own sustainable oyster & fish store, wholesales their seafood to local restaurants, and hosts an annual oyster festival?

Sound too good to be true? Well, believe it.

And just where is this oyster oasis, this seafood sanctuary? Ottawa. That's right, Ottawa, at a cozy little place called The Whalesbone on Bank Street.

Yes, Montreal is a couple of hundred kilometers closer to the Atlantic, yes, Montreal sits on the St-Lawrence Seaway, and, yes, there's no shortage of good seafood in this town. But exceptional seafood? Those places you can count on one hand. And, I'm sorry, but there's nothing in Montreal that resembles The Whalesbone. For years now, we've been praying for someone to open a straight-up raw bar here in Montreal. Nothing fancy, just a simple counter, a knowledgeable staff, and plenty of supremely fresh seafood. Something along the lines of this. To this day, our prayers have gone unanswered. Why? Who knows... It's just another one of the Mysteries of Montreal.

But we've got to hand it to these Whalesbone people--not only are they talented, but they're smart, too. They've got the oyster house, they've got the oyster & seafood supply, they've got the oyster festival, and they cater a helluva lot of oyster parties (think embassies, think government office parties, think corporate office parties...). Talk about a business plan.

I'd gotten my first taste of The Whalesbone's magic on a business trip back in May, and it left such a powerful impression that I promised Michelle I'd take her there just as soon as I could. Two weeks ago, when I had to go back to Ottawa to do some research,

montreal by night fig. b: Montreal by night

I made good on my promise. What did we have? Well, we got two small platters of oysters (we balked at the Shucker's Choice, found that one just wasn't enough, and we came this close to getting a third, bringing us up to 18, and just asking our friendly neighborhood shucker to cut us the Shucker's Choice price retroactively), consisting of Colville Bays (P.E.I.), Eel Lakes (N.S.), and St. Simons (N.B.). The Whalesbone had an impressive assortment of sauces and condiments to go along with the oysters, including an incendiary Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce and some 12-year-old Scotch, but these oysters were so good, so totally evocative of the Maritime waters from which they were harvested, that we kept things simple (Michelle likes a bit of lemon, I take the occasional dash of Tabasco, and we both love freshly grated horseradish [see below]).

oysters fig. c: oyster platter*

Then we moved straight into our mains: Michelle got the hand-picked Qualicum Beach (B.C.) scallops with garlic scapes, the creamiest white navy beans, double smoked bacon, bitter greens, and maple (A+); while I got the Catch of the Day, which was an absurdly good combination of lobster, scallops, halibut, and wild mushrooms (A+). And we topped things off by dipping into their brilliant sundaes bar (one scoop for $7, two for $8, three for $9, and tons of great homemade toppings, like boozy strawberries, butterscotch, and artisanal honey). All this plus a nice selection of ice-cold Ontario microbrews on tap, and some choice tunes (Jackie Mittoo, The Band) on the turntable (no ipod here). Actually, now that I think about it, our friendly neighborhood shucker was doing some serious multitasking--not only was he furiously shucking platter after platter of oysters all night long, not only was he indulging the two of us with repartee, but he was also our friendly neighborhood bartender/friendly neighborhood DJ.

The Whalesbone Oyster House, 430 Bank Street, Ottawa, (613) 231-8569

Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply, 504A Kent Street, Ottawa, (613) 231-3474


*This was not one of our oyster platters--we were too busy diving into ours to take pictures.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Currant events

red currants fig. a: red currants

It's that time of year again, and over at Pavillon de la Pomme, our favorite local autocueillette establishment, you can find both red currants

black currants fig. b: black currants

and black currants at the moment, with blueberries, gooseberries, and others on the horizon (if the Good Lord's willing, and the sun keeps shinin', that is). Red currants are a personal favorite, and you can definitely find enough for all your home canning needs, but a late frost and a whole lot of rain hasn't made for the best crop. Black currants, on the other hand, are a considerably heartier variety, and they seem to have absolutely thrived. We found the black currant bushes heavily laden with perfectly ripe berries, so we focused our attentions on them.

While you're out there, don't miss out on Pavillon de la Pomme's apple cider, apple cider vinegar, honey, and maple syrup (look for their private reserve in the clear glass bottles),

farm-fresh eggs fig. c: fresh eggs

not to mention eggs so fresh their yolks will get up and talk to you.


Thursday, July 09, 2009


The New Laloux received its first review in the local press earlier today.

voir 1 fig. a: Chaises Musicales 2, the sequel

The review appeared in Voir and, as you may have already surmised, it was the second part in a series on a "musical chairs" trend in Montreal's current fine dining scene.

Anyway, I think it's safe to say that Gildas Meneu's review is a glowing one. Just how glowing? Well...

voir 2 fig. b: count 'em

(That's five out of five, or "grande table.")

Now, Éric Gonzalez is probably used to this kind of praise--he's been a critical darling everywhere he's touched ground in Montreal, and he even has a Michelin star under his belt. Michelle, however, is new at this game. This is the very first time she's been reviewed as head pastry chef, and Meneu's review was enthusiastic about her desserts:


Ici, Éric cède la place à Michelle Marek (en charge également du menu du Pop!, juste à côté), talentueuse pâtissière qui traite les desserts comme des plats à part entière. Si le fameux pot de crème de Patrice Demers figure toujours à la carte, tournez-vous plutôt vers ce gâteau aux amandes et aux cerises couvert de crème de camomille, d'un granité d'amandes et d'un sorbet à la cerise. Une petite merveille. Ou encore vers les doux contrastes du gâteau moelleux à l'orange et épices et son crémeux de chocolat aux noisettes grillées. Pas sûr que vous vous en remettrez.

For those of you out there in cyberland who might be francophonically challenged, we thought it might be funny if we enlisted the aid of Babel Fish in translating. The results looked like this:


Here, Eric also yields the place to Michelle Marek (in load of the menu of the Pop one!, just at side), talented pâtissière who treats the desserts like dishes with whole share. If the famous pot of cream of Patrice Demers always appears in the chart, turn you rather towards this cake to almonds and cherries covered of cream of camomile, d'a granite d'almonds and d'a sorbet with cherry. A little marvel. Or towards soft contrasts of the marrowy cake with l' orange and spices and its crémeux of hazelnut chocolate roasted. Not sure that you will go back from there.

Mmm, marrowy cake!

The translation was so awful (predictably so), that it reminded us of a favorite cartoon of ours:

lost in translation 3 fig. c: Spy, December, 1987

If you're confused, a somewhat less automated translation might read as follows:


Here, Éric yields to Michelle Marek (who's also in charge of the menu of Pop! next door [Michelle's only in charge of the cocktails and the desserts at Pop!, not the entire menu--ed], the talented pastry chef who treats her desserts like dishes in their own right. Even though Patrice Demers's famous pot de crème still figures on the menu, direct yourself towards the cherry and almond cake with chamomile cream, almond granita, and cherry sorbet instead. It's a small marvel. Or towards the delicate contrasts of the orange & spice sponge cake and its chocolate crémeux with toasted hazelnuts. I'm not sure that you'll ever look back.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Top Ten #30

only angels fig. a: Only Angels...

1. Only Angels Have Wings, dir. Hawks

2. Toronto the Good

A16 fig. b: A16

3. Nate Appleman and Shelly Lindgren, A16 + Meatball Mondays

4. A Young Summer Party, Cornwallville, NY

sonic youth 2 fig. c: Sonic Youth

5. Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)

6. The Whalesbone Oyster House, Ottawa

alice c 1 fig. d: Alice Coltrane

7. Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidananda (Impulse)

8. Happy Go Lucky, dir. Leigh

abner jay fig. e: Abner Jay

9. Abner Jay, True Story of Abner Jay (Mississippi Records)

10. the new Laloux, Montreal

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Toronto Notebook

For the most part I was there to hunker down in the archive of a library

robarts fig. a: Space: 2009

so that I could do some research on some pioneering figures from the early history of Canadian cinema,

picture perfect fig. b: les glâneuses et les glâneurs

but I was there for five days and four nights, so I also had a chance to do a little snooping around.

snail fig. c: mobile home


I'd been reading great things about Pizzeria Libretto for a while, and I'm pretty much always in the mood for a good pizza, so when I found out my host hadn't been yet and was intrigued (if highly skeptical), it seemed like a natural.

Man, has Ossington ever changed. I remember staying out there with friends in the mid-1990s and things were pretty quiet--mostly just the odd Portuguese and Vietnamese establishments and a bunch of garages. Well, those days are gone. Ossington is lined with hip bars, restaurants, and boutiques, it's a full-on mob scene on Saturday nights (of course, the fact that it was NXNE at the time probably contributed to the mayhem), and the garage that sat next door to where my friends used to live is now some kind of post-industrial nightclub. Pizzeria Libretto is equally emblematic of the new Ossington. It's young, it's happening, it's packed to the gills, and house music throbs throughout the premises. There was a healthy line-up when we got there, but we were a party of two, so 45 minutes later (after we'd slipped out to kill a couple of beers at The Communist's Daughter, a great little neighborhood watering hole) we were seated at one of their communal tables, menus in hand.

It's not 100% clear that the crowd is there for the pizza or for the ideology*--it seemed to me like the clientele was more scenester than pizza connoisseur--but that's too bad because Libretto's pizzas really are great.

toronto 2 fig. d: the people have spoken 1

They've got a lovely crust, they're perfectly baked and blistered, and their toppings are well balanced and of premium quality. We both loved the House-made fennel sausage with caramelized onions and Ontario fior di latte, but the prize-winner might very well have been the basic Marinara D.O.P. with a bright San Marzano sauce, garlic, oregano, and a few basil leaves. That was certainly the one K. liked the most.

Think local, eat Universal

universal fig. e: Universal Oriental

The next evening I found myself attending Saloon Sundays (so called because they have a BYOB policy in effect on Sundays with no corkage fees to boot) at Universal Grill, a friendly, low-key neighborhood joint that's situated in a beautiful old diner space, one that dates back to the first half of the 20th century. M. ran (nay, speed-walked) back to her place to pick up a bottle from her cellar so that we could take full advantage of the free corkage, and we sank our teeth into Universal's tasty assortment of comfort food classics and neo-classics (crab cakes, jerk chicken, blackened snapper, finger-lickin' dry baby back ribs, and Key Lime pie).


Some of you may recall that Michelle once had the following to say about Manic Coffee: "The best coffee ever! The best! Ever!" Well, I wasn't about to pass that up, so I went and had a Manic macchiato.

toronto 13 fig. f: Manic macchiato

"The best coffee ever!" is a helluva claim, but after sampling the goods, I could understand Michelle's fervor. Later that night, 12 hours after what turned into an afternoon threepeat, I could still understand understand Michelle's fervor.

Enter Sandman

One afternoon I found myself wandering around Chinatown,

toronto 14 fig. g: since 1943

admiring the contrasts,

since 1961 fig. h: since 1961

when I suddenly felt the lure of Kensington Market. Actually, more than anything, I was jonesing for another coffee and I remembered that I'd once had a pretty fine brew at Ideal Coffee. So there I was, heading down Nassau towards Ideal, when who should I run into but our good friend Sandy.

He invited me into his pad to hang out for a while, and while we got caught up, I sat there and admired the collection of wall-mounted pizza crusts he had on display in his well-appointed kitchen.

toronto 12 fig. i: better homes & kitchens

Then I picked poor Sandy's brain about local food & beverage finds. There are at least 2.7 million stories in Hogtown, and Sandy didn't want to overwhelm me, so he limited himself to two choice tips.

Dark Horse

Sandy mentioned that the crowd at Dark Horse might be interesting because of the fact that it's located in the Robertson Building, an historic Spadina Avenue building whose current mantra is "innovation, sustainability, community," and whose premises are something of a hub for Toronto's arts, design, and progressive politics communities. I didn't notice anything special about Dark Horse's patrons, but I did notice the Robertson Building's impressive Biowall,

toronto 9 fig. j: better buildings & gardens

and it was hard not to miss their gleaming white espresso machine.

toronto 11 fig. k: white heat

Even better: they knew how to use it.

toronto 10 fig. l: Dark Horse macchiato

Another day, another fine macchiato. Although, this time, fearing another night of involuntary jitterbugging, I limited myself to just one.


Mother's Dumplings is a 21st-Century Chinatown classic, Sandy told me, a small, underground establishment that's used the power of the handmade dumpling to build a fanatical following since they opened their doors in 2005.

toronto 8 fig. m: The Shadow knows

Just one taste of my first pork & chives steamed dumpling was all it took for me to join their ranks.

toronto 7 fig. n: the people have spoken 2

A real handmade dumpling can those of us who love them a little crazy, and Mother's Dumplings' walls were testament to this particularly pleasurable affliction.


With all the buzz surrounding the newly Gehry-fied Art Gallery of Ontario, I had to go and take a look, but Frankly it wasn't the new entrance, the glass & wood facade, the sculptural staircase, or south wing that impressed me,

toronto 6 fig. o: self-portrait

it was the elevators.

Balm on Gilead

Years ago now, Michelle and I had a superlative meal at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar that we wrote about in some detail in these very pages. When someone suggested that I visit Jamie Kennedy's Gilead Café, his café-cum-production kitchen in Corktown, I was only too happy to comply.

I loved the look of the place from the moment we entered.

toronto 5 fig. p: someone's been canning

I loved the atmosphere too. The counter staff was warm and knowledgeable, the setting had that no-nonsense vibe you get when you're in close proximity to a working kitchen. It was hot out that day, and just outside there was a loud, dusty construction site, but inside, things at Gilead Café were calm and welcoming, and I instantly felt at home.

toronto 4 fig. q: JK burger

Gilead Café's menu is all about the comfort food, but here the comfort comes not only from familiar favorites, but from the flavors of the very best locally grown produce, locally raised meats, and locally produced artisanal cheeses. Take their house hamburger: the beef is pasture-fed, the cheese is Ontario artisanal, the greens are local and organic, and the mayonnaise, the ketchup, and the bun are all homemade. In other words, this ain't your typical diner burger, but more importantly it tastes just as divine as a real burger ought to.

K. took the pulled pork sandwich, and while it came with the kind of thick, tomato-based sauce that is less to my liking, the pork itself had been masterfully smoked in the big rig they have out back.

toronto 3 fig. r: JK desserts

Dessert was great too: a homey coconut bar, an organic Ontario apple (the best one I'd had in about 8 months), and another excellent macchiato.

Plus, how many cafés can you think of where you can pick up a 2.5-kg bag of organic, stone-ground Red Fife flour for the road?

Libretto, 221 Ossington, (416) 532-8000,

The Communist's Daughter, 1149 Dundas St W, (647) 435-0103

Universal Grill, 1071 Shaw Street, (416) 588-5928,

Manic Coffee, 426 College Street, (416) 966-3888,

Dark Horse Espresso Bar, 215 Spadina Avenue, (416) 979-1200

Mother's Dumplings, 79 Huron Street, (416) 217-2008,

Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street W., (416) 979 6648,

Gilead Café, 4 Gilead Place, (647) 288 0680,


* In this regard, as well as others, Pizzeria Libretto appears to have been inspired by NYC's Una Pizzeria Napoletana (who can blame them?), although UPN's pizza manifesto is an outright smackdown by comparison.