Montréal Plaza: A Diamond in the Rough

If there’s one restaurant that has mastered the small plate, it’s Montréal Plaza. I’m not sure if the owners are trying to be ironic by opening a restaurant in Plaza St Hubert amongst the wedding dresses and anime stores, but I’m happy to say that it works. The restaurant is a lot bigger than I was expecting, with a green house nestled in the middle. The kitsch items hanging from the ceiling work well with the architecture of the space.

We began the meal with drinks. I had a refreshing Quebec white wine, prepared in house.  Beer Guy had a ‘4 surfeurs de l’Apocalypso’ by Trou du Diable, a fruity IPA. We ordered the night special, raw scallop with strawberries. It wasn’t a strong start. I liked the taste of the chives and crispy bulgur, and the texture of the scallops’ was nice, however the vinaigrette overpowered the sweetness of the scallops.

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We were really excited about the stuffed zucchini flowers. A second waiter appeared with the dish and his description as he placed it on the table indicated the presence of rabbit despite being very clear to the first waiter that we did not eat meat. Luckily, he got the hint as to our displeasure, apologized profusely and turned things around quickly with his charm. We just couldn’t stay mad.

We were brought the Food Chain salad, a beautiful composition of radishes, asparagus, bok choy, red onion, and flax seeds. I felt healthier just looking at it. It was a pleasant interlude before our next dish, the artic char tartar. The crunch of puffed grains lifted the monotony of the bitter greens. Underneath the salad were little jewels of soft, succulent fish. It was a nice change from the usual salmon or tuna.

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The next dish was unforgettable. Do you remember those snails drowning in garlic butter, circa 1990? Now picture an elevated version of that: miso butter whelks with milk brioche. It was a spectacular combination of warm, savoury, spicy, tart and rich. The whelks were mixed with carrots, garlic, chives, and maybe parsnips. A word of advice, keep a piece of brioche for the end, to sop up all the left over juices.

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If that wasn’t enough, next up was the “Tomato+Shrimp”. This was the replacement they recommended to make up for the rabbit meat in our zucchini flowers. This dish was a piece of art: it was shaped playfully into a colourful, bright burger. My knife sliced through this masterpiece like butter. The blanched tomato was succulent, the shrimp, salty and creamy. The combination of textures, saltiness, and temperature made this dish one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. It will be hard to top this one.

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To end the night, they very graciously made us our own dessert, a combination of house-made blueberry, strawberry and rhubarb sorbet. It was obvious the sorbets were made with fresh and and not frozen fruit. I especially liked it because it wasn’t over sweetened with powdered sugar, and balanced well with the tartness. I couldn’t get over the pairing with tarragon-it worked so well!

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I’m not surprised that Montréal Plaza made it to #31 on Canada’s Top 100 list. They managed to wow me despite a shaky start. I would very highly recommend it, even if it means spending a little extra, if only to try the whelks and the tomato+shrimp.

Beer Guy Pro Tip: Go with the 4 surfeurs de l’apocalypso. It had a sweet aroma of malt, citrus/mango fruit, hops and caramel. It poured a slightly hazy golden colour with medium off-white head. Its flavour delivered on the smell with a medium sweet malt. The complex flavours included fruit, spice, caramel, grass, with the citrus hops offering grapefruit with peel. It was a little dry to the tongue and finished on a slight bitter note. It paired very well with this pescatarian meal.

Verdun Monkeys Elevate Street Food

Another double date with Chris and Andy led us to Street Monkeys, which specializes in Cambodian street food. This restaurant just opened this summer in Verdun and quickly gained popularity among Montrealers. We were excited to finally get a reservation! A visit to this restaurant is hardly reminiscent of street vendors, with its sophisticated window display of bottles over bottles of wine.

Our upbeat waiter greeted us with lots of positive energy. He explained the majority of dishes in detail. We ordered medium spicy papaya salads and the Mee Siam to begin.

Medium-hot was an understatement. This dish was so hot I could feel steam whistling out of my ears. While it was difficult to pin down the flavors because of the hotness level, I can say that the dressing was delicious. I think I’ll go for mild next time. Beer Guy said he enjoyed the medium, I guess he’s surpassed me in chili tolerance.

The Mee Siam is a must. Deep-fried vermicelli noodles are coated in a soy paste/chili oil sauce. It reminded me of bhel puri, one of my favourite indian snacks. Two thumbs up on this dish. The flavours are complex and unique and left us wanting more. I was so excited I forgot to take a picture.

Next, grilled calamari with a garlic, ginger, lime and fish juice dipping sauce.  I would recommend skipping this one. The char on the squid was good and the pieces smelled like the charcoal fire but there was nothing extraordinary about the dish.

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Finally, our fish dishes arrived. The Amok fish was well executed. The plating was beautiful. Morsels of breaded white fish were intertwined with a coconut curry sauce and strips of taro and red pepper. The only problem was that the portion was too small, even for two people.

fish

We also sampled the other fish dish, pan fried trout on a tomato salsa. While cooked to perfection, it lacked the flavours and uniqueness of the other dishes.

Street Monkeys boasts a lengthy cocktail menu, however we decided that our street food experience wouldn’t be the same without beer. I had a Belgian Moon on tap. It cut well through the spiciness of the papaya salad. Beer Guy had an Infamous IPA on tap. It’s a light IPA with an understated aroma of caramel malt with earthy hops. There was a light citrus taste and mild bitter finish that did not overpower the dishes. He recommends pairing this beer with flavourful foods.

While I would recommend this restaurant because it offers some excellent dishes, I would suggest to stop in if you are in need of a snack, not a meal. Each dish is perfect for one person. Nevertheless, the service is friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere is welcoming.

Les Street Monkeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

Junior: The Real Filipino Deal

I have always been keenly interested in trying Filipino food because I love new cultural experiences. It’s one of the many reasons that I love living in Montreal!

When Junior arrived in Little Burgundy, the reviews were positive so I kept it on my radar. Two years in and it’s still going strong. One day, the Facebook page won me over with a photo of some gorgeous fried shrimps so we hopped in the car, ready to order each and every one of their seafood dishes. Sadly, we learned they had run out. We left disappointed. We returned again a week later, this time with our friends Christina and Andy, only to be turned away again due to a private party at 8pm. I explained our situation to the waiter. He apologized but said there was nothing he could do.

We stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes feeling defeated. To our surprise the owner popped his head out. He ushered us in, explaining that he wanted to accommodate us regardless. How amazing is that? Our tummies rejoiced.

We were seated near the window with a view of Notre Dame street. The vibe is really down to earth-nothing fancy, with paper place mats and colourful chairs. Various sauces adorn every table.

We began with a salad. I really enjoyed this dish- big slices of mango mixed with tomato and onions, tossed in fish sauce, among other things. I loved the tanginess of the raw mango slices. The jicama was a nice, unfamiliar taste that offered a welcoming crunch.

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We also tried the ceviche. I can’t say it was our favorite. There were not a lot of pieces of seafood and it was bit rubbery. It also lacked flavor. However the taro chips were a tasty, unique accompaniment.

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Next, Christina’s idea, the fish, was stellar. Butterflied, then fried to perfection, it was a beautiful combination of savoury and tangy. This fish was the clear winner, we could have ordered another.

The shrimps were fun! Chris and I grew up as witnesses to the eating habits of our parents (shrimps: skin, head, eyes and all!). Were we up for the challenge? Really, it was the only way to eat these little delights because otherwise, it just wouldn’t have been authentic. I tried one peeled, without the head for comparison and they really did taste better whole, especially with the spicy condiment.

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Beer Guy had an amber Ghost Farm Oatmeal Pale Ale (OPA), a unique and delicious beer. It was velvety smooth like an oatmeal stout with lively hoppy accents that complemented the savoury dishes.

Thank you to the owners for allowing us to sit in during the private party. We got to witness a kamayan dinner party, where traditional foods are served over banana leaves instead of plates, and guests eat with their hands. Looks like fun!

We really loved the food and the ambience at Junior. The waiter and waitress were extremely attentive and friendly. Also, Junior is one of the more affordable restaurants in the neighbourhood. I highly recommend giving it if you want to try something a little different in a relaxed atmosphere.

https://www.facebook.com/juniorfilipinorestaurant/

Agrikol

Since its opening over a year ago, Beer Guy and I have been curious to check out this Haitian restaurant, co-owned by Regine and Win of Arcade Fire (the concert last week at the Bell Centre was terrific by the way, great energy!)

We walked right by the restaurant. We backtracked and stepped inside what looked like a haunted house from the outside. We were greeted by a gorgeous interior, complete with enormous chandelier!

We were led upstairs to extra seating space as the main downstairs area was packed, even thought it was Monday night. Our waitress was bubbly and welcoming and reminded me of Genevieve Borne, the 1980s VJ of Musiqueplus fame (Xennials will know who I am talking about).

We started with drinks. I asked for something light and refreshing and was recommended the ‘mant’, I’m guessing a play on the word “menthe”. Delicious. I could have had 2…or 3…or 4 but alas I am a light weight.

The menu is pescatarian friendly, with some vegetarian options. I was impressed by their choice of menu items and found it hard to narrow it down but we figured it out with the help of our waitress.

I’m familiar with accras as deep fried fish fritters but the option on the menu was vegetarian. They are described as haitian donuts, but they remind me of falafel. They were well seasoned and we loved the outer crunch. The highlight of this dish was the home-made mayonnaise that accompanied the accras. I couldn’t convince them to give me the recipe.

We also ordered the ceviche. I almost fell off my chair with this dish. Creamy from the coconut milk and bright from the tartness, it was topped with perfectly fried, crunchy onions. They were very generous with the amount of seafood in the dish. Also, the seafood was marinated to perfection, not rubbery at all. Fried plantains accompanied the ceviche. They were overly dense, I was hoping they’d be lighter.

Next, we needed a salad to cut through the richness. The avocado salad was impressive, to say the least. Normally when I order avocado with my food, I’m lucky if I get a quarter piece. We were blessed with mounds and mounds of it, topped with a perfectly balanced vinaigrette. The highlight of this salad was the little bits of crunch provided by the fried beets and puffed rice sprinkled on top. I’m sad I couldn’t capture a good photo but a photo wouldn’t have done it justice anyhow.

To end the meal, we ordered lambi with rice. Don’t be fooled, this is not a cutesy word for lamb. Lambi is conch.  Remember those huge spiral shaped shells we used to hold up to our ears to hear the ocean when we were kids? The mollusk was cooked in a beautiful curry. Ask Beer Guy, I am rarely impressed by Montreal curries but this one was out of this world. I couldn’t tell what spices they used but I can say that the island vibe was alive in this dish! Bravo!

Overall, I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you are looking for something a little different. They offer great, authentic Haitian food. If you enjoy a fun island vibe (who doesn’t?), then this is the place for you. The restaurant is also very affordable, and the portions are large. I give Agrikol two thumbs and two big toes up!

Agrikol.com

Lov

I’m not normally a fan of vegan fare but what really drew me to Lov was it’s beautiful, Instagram-worthy pics. The decor is gorgeous; the colours are serene and comforting. Everything, down to the copper and green lamps, was chosen with great consideration. Walking in, I thought, “I need a mellow drink to reflect this mood”. Hands down the best mocktail I have ever had: the Pina Koala. Smooth, perfect sweetness, fresh and fun.

As appetizers, we ordered the onion rings and the kimchi fries. The onion rings arrived with a creamy dipping sauce. My best guess: cashew cream. While delicious, unfortunately it was not the best pairing to go with the rings as it was too light to match the deep fried snack. The rings themselves could have benefitted from spices to lend them a kick.

I’m sure you’re familiar with Beer Guy’s love of Kimchi by now. The kimchi fries were a winner. The fries were crisp and the kimchi sauce was tart and spicy.

Next we ordered the mushroom carpaccio. Lovely plating, the mushrooms were placed delicately on top of sliced avocados, with triangular crunchies for contrast. Unfortunately this dish was a miss. The avocado had a watery quality to them.  Thee mushrooms’ earthiness drowned out by the vinegary marinade.

We were interested in trying a veg dish that was fresh and crisp to clean our palates. We were recommended the root veg with harissa. Not exactly fresh and crisp. The spice mix on top was delicious but the veg was a little monotonous and fibery.

Finally we had the buckwheat gnocchi. This dish was gorgeous with their signature green hue. The Buckwheat flour lends a texture to the gnocchi that takes some getting used to but once we did, it was smooth sailing. The hemp-basil pesto was bright and refreshing. The flavour was stunning and the portion was very filling.

 

While I would say Lov achieved a 50-50 hit and miss ratio with their dishes, luckily they change the menu from time to time, perhaps seasonally.

There’s no doubt that Lov is a big hit with the vegan crown, with a new location now open on de la Montagne. Despite the lack lustre food experience, I would still give it another shot to try other dishes.

lov.com

 

Summer was fun

Hi everyone,

Apologies for the long hiatus. This summer was particularly fun (festivals, a wedding, a baby shower, Florida, lots of Pokemon, great prime time TV, birthdays, hanging with friends, etc etc). While the good times kept us  away from the computer, the good weather is now winding down and so are we. We promise to share posts of the restaurants and beers we tried this summer shortly! Stay tuned.

Lets all go to Beer fest aka Festival Mondial de la Biere!

Hi all,

It’s time to celebrate the most important festival of the year, Le Festival Mondial de la Bière. Like a child in a toy store that can afford all the toys, I will most definitely enjoy this year’s festival and this article aims to share with you some tips on how to get the most out of it!

When: June 14-18

Where: Palais des congrès de Montréal

Metro Station: Place d’Armes. Avoid driving, it’s more fun this way!

Have you ever been overwhelmed at the Montreal beer festival? Can’t choose which microbrews to taste? Can’t find your way around? Let me help.

Get there early. If you get there later in the day, moving around will be difficult, and trying to have a good conversation with the brewers will be impossible. So, for all the beer connoisseurs out there, get there before 5pm weekdays and before 12pm on weekends. If not you will be forced to face the hordes.

Where to start?

First you get the tickets.

Then you get the beer.

Then you get the food.

…Then you go back for more beer.

TIckets: There are ticket booths everywhere. Every beer will cost you between 2-8 tickets for 2-8 ounces of beer. I recommend buying a reusable glass, it makes for a great keepsake and it’s good for the environment.

My favourite microbrews to start with include Dieu du Ciel and Beau’s. At Dieu du Ciel, I always get a 4 oz of the seasonal beer Herbe à Détourne which is hard to find in stores. This year, I’m eager to try Beau’s new brew, Full Time IPA. Because these are both strong beers it will be important to cleanse my palate afterwards, which means food break time.

Food Gal Tip: After two to three tastings go straight for the cheese booth. Cheese and beer mmmmm.

Then we move outdoors. Yes, it extends outside to a beautiful terrace, where Helm and McAuslan await. I’ll try 2 oz of a new brew at each of these fine establishments while enjoying a treat from one of the food trucks. The fries from Frites Alors are great because they come in a cone with a tiny, fun fork. The outdoor counter for imported beers is worth a taste as well. We then like to head back indoors and stop at the Mons kiosque. Mons on tap is a delight.

There are so many kiosques to choose from but microbrews I suggest include:

On Tap

Dieu du ciel – Peché Mortel imperial stout

Beau’s – Patersbier sessionable belgian

Harricana – Saison des allergies

Brouhaha – Sang de Lutin

Trou du Diable – La Pitoune – Pilsner

Avant-Garde artisan brasseur – Funk et la Furie sour

Helm – Hutchie Blonde IPA

McAuslan – St Ambroise Stout

Dunham – Saison du Pinacle

Mons (food gal’s personal favourite) – Blanche

Bottled

Here is a list of beers you don’t normally find in Quebec, but you can find at the international beer counters indoors, that I am looking forward to trying for the first time:

Belgian:

Brussels Beer Project: Babylone

Vliegende Paard Brouwers: Préaris Smokey-Li

Canadian:

Central City Brewers: Sour No.2

American:

The Lost Abbey: Serpent Stout

Norway:

Nøgne Ø: India Pale Ale

If none of these beers sounds appealing, then by all means, aim for your favourite styles. Every brewer usually has a blonde, a stout, an IPA, a blanche etc. My favourites include Tripels, saisons, IPAs and funky brews that I have never tried before (usually sours and gruits). If you have not yet determined your style, then ask the brewers for their recommendations.

For the complete list click here

Sit back and relax

Now that we have all enjoyed a few good brews and nibbled on some tasty foods, relaxation is a must. Maybe play free board games, courtesy of Randolph’s, or have a deep conversation with some newfound friends. Either way, its time to enjoy some last sips of your favourite brew of the day- I know I will. At this point if I have a few tickets left I venture back into the crowd and try to end on a more bitter note with higher alcohol content, usually a tripel, IPA, or imperial stout, as these are the only beers strong enough to impact the palate.

Taking the time to enjoy this festival is something I look forward to every year. Now that you know my secrets on how to enjoy it, I hope you have fun. Stay safe!

Cheers!

Beer Guy

Plane ticket to Vancouver or Dinner at Park

For our week off from work, we decided on a staycation. We figured there’s so many things to enjoy in Montreal, why not just stay here. We chose dinner at Park as our extravagant indulgence. This was our se
cond time here. Why? Because I couldn’t go another day looking at those beautiful sashimi platters on my Facebook feed. I had to tick this one off my bucket list.

We were seated at the bar and greeted by a moustachioed gentleman. What a moustache it was, twisted and tweaked with care. We explained exactly why we were there, he listened and light hearted jokes ensued, always a sign of good things to come.

Sitting at the bar is a must. We watched the sushi chefs techniques: how to cut fish, assemble and roll. It was like attending a sushi class as a bonus to our dinner.

Obviously, we ordered the ultimate sashimi platter, omakase style (chef’s choice). It took us 3 hours to eat this beauty, which consisted of fresh, sustainable fishes including salmon, king crab, sea urchin, toro (fatty tuna belly), seared tuna, and snapper, acupunctured for tenderness. $125 per person with the toro. All the fish is line-caught.

The salmon was buttery. One of my favourites. The king crab was probably an acquired taste. Tough little pieces of white flesh. One of the chefs eagerly asked if we liked it, explaining to us that this was the most expensive piece on the platter. I was too shy to say I didn’t like it. It tasted a bit fishy and the rubberiness was odd. Matt loved the sea urchin. We stepped on a family of them once in Mexico. The pain that ensued is akin to lighting your feet on fire, which makes me not feel bad for eating them. I got over my squeamish side regarding the urchin as soon as I tasted the flavour combinations. Really inspiring. The caviar with its saltiness was a nice touch. Apparently some specimens are flown in directly from Japan. I’m guessing the tuna. I don’t normally like tuna but I am now a convert. The tuna with spices seared around the edges was juicy and delicious, not dry at all. I gulped those down pretty quickly. The toro was succulent and beautiful. Also one of my favorites.

The pickled veggies were a nice accompaniment. I wished there were more. We barely touched the sauces they provided, except for the chimichurri to dip the seared tuna. While they were delicious accompaniments, we found the best partner to be the soy sauce and fresh wasabi. It took us 3 hours to eat this beautiful masterpiece.

Considering Park is an established restaurant in Montréal, run by renowned chef Antonio Park, it’s no surprise that our evening was exquisite. Eating the fresh sashimi was like devouring a piece of art. Great service and entertaining sushi chefs made this night complete. Next time, I think we should order a smaller platter!

Beer Guy Recommendation: Go with a Japanese beer. The Japanese have a fine tradition of brewing light lagers such as Asahi or Sapporo. They do a fine job of complementing sashimi’s tastes and textures.