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Cracovie Polish Restaurant
Red-headed, beautiful, smart… and great food too!
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 29 novembre 2012

How can you possibly go wrong when your cuisine is built around substantial (one might say copious) amounts of potatoes, bread, sausage, cabbage, sour cream and onions? You can’t. And you most definitely cannot go wrong when you’re looked after by a red-headed waitress who fusses over you like a Polish mother, who can arrange anything you’d like, and who reminds you that she’s not only beautiful but smart.

This was our introduction to Cracovie Polish Restaurant and it just kept getting better. “Anna, we can’t decide which pierogi we’d like.” “Don’t worry, I’ll bring you a selection of all three.” So we had some with veal and beef (mild), some with mushroom and cabbage (the tastiest) and others with cheese and potatoes (the simplest). But all good. You just have to decide which is your favourite. They arrive with sautéed onion, sour cream and sauerkraut.

My Heroes!
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 1er novembre 2012

I have a new hero. Two, in fact. They’re the chefs at Jonah James (JJ) and they’re my new heroes because of the terrific things they turn out in a ridiculously small and ill-equipped kitchen. This is the kind of kitchen that encourages the chefs to keep slim and trim because, if they were the least bit chubby, they wouldn’t fit. And so with me in there visiting it felt like a packed elevator. The kitchen does have a good air conditioner though!

Now, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the US south and one of my favourite southern dishes is grits, biscuits and gravy, and I’ve had them in a lot of places. These guys at JJ turn out the best baking powder biscuits (always only referred to as biscuits) I’ve ever eaten. They should ship ‘em to Atlanta (and Texas) and show the folks there how to do it. Turns out they have southern connections but with Montréal cooking savvy. I asked about them coming up with a gravy to accompany, and not the white library paste we find so much of in Dixie. Fear not - gravy is on the way. Yay!

And on to the menu. JJ has a neat way of describing its portion sizes, although they do require some clarification. There are starter shares (soups or a basket of biscuits), small shares (appetizers), large shares (mains), junior shares (this one’s obvious) and sweet shares (also obvious). The small shares are just generous enough for two people (unless they’re starving), but it’s more interesting to order more than one, as we did, to try out JJ’s variety. So we shared two. The tempura-fried green tomatoes with Preservation Society spicy tomato jam was three thick slices of tomato with a light, well-made tempura. The jam was tasty and not really SPICY! This was the highlight of the meal for me. The other appetizer was arancini (deep-fried beet risotto fritters with a goat-cheese center). There were two good-sized, ball-shaped, solidly packed fritters. They certainly were tasty, but I’m still not sure about my overall reaction to them. «Interesting» is all I’ll say now.

Il Galateo
In baseball terms, a .275 hitter

Article mis en ligne le jeudi 4 octobre 2012

This was not the place we had intended to visit, but the other one was closed and Il Galateo was nearby and looked inviting. And, anyway, I was with my talented Italian chef friend and food expert so… a no-brainer: we went Italian. In a previous story I said that I liked all types of cooking. But, truth be told and with no insult intended to any other style of food (I love ‘em all!), my preferred cuisine is Italian. And it doesn’t help all the other Italian restaurants I’ve ever visited (including those in Italy) that I was spoiled rotten from the time I spent in Montreal’s Osteria dei Panzoni in the mid-sixties. I can still taste (in my mind anyway) some of the great Gino Tirinnanzi’s (I hope I spelled it correctly, it’s been many years) fabulous dishes. I still have one of their menus and don’t even ask about the prices back then!

So just for the fun of it I decided to order some of my all-time favourite Italian dishes – dishes I keep ordering over and over again – just to see how everyone else does them and to taste whether they compare to what I remember from Osteria. Now, the first thing that must be said about Il Galateo is that all their dishes were tasty, were made to order, the ingredients were fresh and the heavy white linen tablecloths and elegant wine glasses pamper the customers. I started with pasta e fagioli and was told that it would take some time because it was made fresh to order. This is one of the classic Italian soups. It’s a thick broth loaded with pasta and beans. And yet, while Il Galateo’s pasta e fagioli had a nice flavour it was lacking in robustness. It was more like a thin broth with pasta and beans added. My dining companion helped it by adding a dash of olive oil. Kind of gave it more body, but still…

Article mis en ligne le jeudi 6 septembre 2012

Oasis: a fertile place in a desert due to the presence of water,” says one dictionary. Another definition is “a fertile or green area in an arid region.” And, finally, this one: “something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast.” And now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. There’s a little café-restaurant on Sherbrooke West at the corner of Montclair. It’s called Café 92. And it’s an NDG oasis. It’s a refuge because you can hide from the world with a coffee, your laptop or a book. It’s a place of relief where you can enjoy a relaxing light lunch. And its calm, laid-back, almost serene, atmosphere certainly is a pleasant contrast to the usual racket of big-city living. Café 92 is like Chez Cook’s on Côte-des-Neiges—two oases in an urban desert.

Restaurant Le Georgia
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 9 août 2012

From Russia with… great food

My Russian grandparents drank their tea from a glass, but with their heavy English accent “a glass of tea” came out sounding like “a gloz tay.” And, they never added sugar to the glass but held a sugar lump between their teeth and, sort of, strained the tea through the lump.

I never knew if that was a Russian custom or they were simply giving themselves an extra sugar kick. Anyway, many, many years after my grandfather’s last “gloz tay” my wife and I were at Le Georgia for lunch (last month) and when tea was served I asked her to pass the sugar bowl. She gave me a knowing look and shook her head: “Nope, I know what you’re going to do!”.

Restaurant Tehran:
Better reserve now
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 21 juin 2012

If you attended school during the same era as I you probably “studied” history as I did: the boring way. We didn’t really study history. We memorized names, dates and places but we never learned anything interesting about history. We learned about rulers and wars but we never learned about people, their culture or cuisine, or how they lived and what they did.

So, other than Cyrus the Great, Darius and Xerxes, I never learned anything interesting about one of the most complex, fascinating and accomplished civilizations in history, stretching back more than 2,500 years, until I visited the Iranian pavilion at Expo 67. You may remember the magnificent hand-painted tiles that decorated the columns of its façade. Wonderful examples of Iranian decorative art! Most of the Expo 67 buildings were built to last only for the duration of the fair. A couple of years later, when I was working at Expos 67’s successor fair (Man and His World), I was driving through the site when the Iranian pavilion was being demolished. I stopped and rescued two of those tiles, each showing an almost complete flower, and I have them still, their colours vibrant 45 years later.

Restaurant Prague
Grandma would have approved
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 31 mai 2012

My mother was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but her mother (my grandmother) was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph. But when you asked grandma in which country she was born she said it depended on where the borders were at the time.

Central Europe of the 19th century was a pretty tumultuous place with alliances being made and broken and borders shifting one way and another according to which king or emperor was beating up on which one or other of his neighbours. Occasionally, the neighbour was a relative because most of the royals in that region seemed to be related to each other. My grandmother wasn’t related to any of them. Where the central Europeans didn’t mess around though was in their cooking. Maybe it was because the ordinary folks yearned for stability and solidity during all this tumult that they developed a stable, solid cuisine emphasizing basic ingredients and simple preparation. I’m speculating of course because I have no idea how central European cuisine evolved, but if you are looking for real, old-world grandma comfort food, look no farther than the dishes of Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, with a dash of Germany and a pinch of Romania.

A taste of NDG
Mexico Next Door
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 3 mai 2012

My friend Nicolina has exquisite taste so when she says I should try a restaurant, I do. Except that Amaranto is one of those places which, if you’re walking along Monkland and talking to your partner or planning what you have to do later that day or simply contemplating the universe… you’ll miss it. So, when you’re on the south side of Monkland between Royal and Hampton pay attention. Amaranto is through an almost hidden small door and down some steps. In nice weather a large Mexican flag stands outside on the sidewalk… sometimes.

But once inside you’re charmed by the warm feeling, the gracious staff, the discrete shelves of Mexican products and the non-professionally equipped domestic kitchen which turns out terrific Mexican cuisine. And it helps to have a terrific cook, too!

While the menu is not excessively extensive there is a generous enough choice to keep you intrigued. It took three of us 20 minutes to decide because everything is tempting.

Here are a few things you must try: Guacamole, because I love guacamole and Amaranto’s evenly balances all the flavours, not any one overpowering the others. The avocado soup has a delicate flavour and texture and is brightened up with pomegranate seeds. Nice touch. Order cactus quesadillas, because we’re so used to the standard North American quesadillas and these are unlike any you have tried. They’re made with melted Oaxaca cheese which is a white, semi-hard cheese similar to Monterey Jack but with a mozzarella-like texture. And… they’re made with homemade corn tortillas! And don’t worry, the cactus spines have been removed!

“You never know. ”
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 8 mars 2012

I’ve eaten and drunk in some very unlikely places. There was the tough sailors’ bar in George Town, Grand Cayman, where a guy off a freighter and I ended up buying each other drinks. I’ll never forget the tiny restaurant at the end of a long dark bar in Ocho Rios with its fabulous salt fish and ackee and ice-cold Red Stripe. Then, a concierge at a hotel in Arlington, Texas sent me to a neighbourhood that can only be described as sketchy and a restaurant with outstanding grits and biscuits and gravy. Thank goodness we didn’t pass up the ‘Old Market’ in Curaçao’s capital of Willemstad with its fresh-out-of-the-water micro fish restaurants and us as the only tourists. And don’t ask me how we found our way to (and away from) a dumpy joint somewhere in South Carolina for a wonderful, tender pulled pork sandwich.

But, in all those unlikely places we were made to feel welcome by the regulars and staff, the food was always delicious and the drinks were well mixed and cold when they had to be. See, you never know.

A taste of NDG
The Year of the Dragon
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 12 janvier 2012

One of my favourite songs as a kid was The Green-Eyed Dragon, made famous by John Charles Thomas. That dragon had 13 tails and sat on the front door mat (of the castle) wherein lived a fair princess most beautiful and charming. Many years later we learned how Saint George slew a dragon and saved a princess. Heady stuff for a teenage boy!

Later on, while studying early English literature, we met Tristan who won the hand of Iseult for his uncle by killing a dragon. As literature became less romantic Robert Munsch told children about the Paper Bag Princess who rescued her fiancé from a dragon, but they didn’t live happily ever after. She dumped him! Then, in Dr. No, James Bond and Honeychile Rider were attacked by a mechanical dragon. Honeychile probably wasn’t a princess but in the movie version Ursula Andress sure looked like one! More recently, the innocence of green-eyed dragons, heroes on white stallions and princesses in distress has given way to young women with dragon tattoos seemingly getting into and out of one scrape after another. Is Lisbeth Salander a princess? I don’t know, but none of my princesses ever had tattoos. Maybe the princess and dragon business has changed.

 Chez Cook’s... to relax…
 Breakfast and brunch
 Pushap Restaurant
 Café Grand
 A taste of CDN du 6 juillet 2011
 East Africa
 Pho Lien
 Bistro Burger Plus
 Anancy Restaurant
 Masala Palace

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