Eataly – Flatiron District

So my colleague during the month of June is a traditional Italian living in Montreal. Obviously we chatted during work and he had highly advised me to go to Eataly, because it’s simply amazing. And that it was, and more! I absolutely love this market and it was really only at this point that I was truly jealous of the people of New York City, wishing that I also lived in (or close enough to get to Eataly) in the City.

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To start, the market is incredible. Fresh pasta by the pound, amazing seafood, cooking utensils and endless ingredients for you to peruse through. I definitely felt that I could spend a whole day in there, reading about every type of pasta I could bring home. Sadly, I couldn’t do so, but maybe next time.

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We decided to situate ourselves in the pasta section after what felt like forever of going back and forth between deciding where to eat. It was a 25 minute wait, so I did end up buying some black truffle as souvenirs since they were in small enough packaging that I could fit in my suitcase.

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Pizza oven next door

We had a pasta each. First was the tagliatelle al Ragu di Manzo, which was a short rib ragu with parmesan cheese. Absolutely incredible pasta, the tagliatelle had the bounce and almost slight crunch to it that we love in noodles/pasta. The flavour of the ragu was just right; very slightly spicy, lots of meat flavour in a non-overpowering tomato flavour. Definitely the better of the two.2014-06-25 15.06.37

The other pasta we ordered was the Lamb Gnocchi. The gnocchi was a little stickier and more cheesy than I’d like it. The gnocchi had the heaviness it should have, and paired with the lamb, I thought it was a little too much. As a result, I had to swap with tfung. I’m a little disappointed by this dish for sure, as I do love gnocchi, but it is often not how I like it done. Perhaps I just don’t like traditional gnocchi. There isn’t too much extra flavour from the sauce of the pasta. It just added the moistness that the dish needed.2014-06-25 15.06.44

Overall, I definitely think that everyone should go to Eataly and experience the vast and sheer volume of products they offer. It really give syou perspective about how awful commercial supermarkets are in terms of giving you depth of a culture. We only tried the fresh pasta, and had mixed feelings about the gnocchi. But next time, I’d definitely try the pizza and the seafood. The only con to the market is that it’s not foodcourt style even though your group may want different things. For example, we wanted one dish of pasta and one dish of fish, but because they were in separate “restaurants”, we were unable to do so. They had a restaurant that serves all types of food, but we wanted to experience the excitement of the open kitchen.

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 8.9/10
Atmosphere: market
Price: $20-30/person

~ kehwon

Sushi Nakazawa – West Village

I was very lucky to have been able to go to Sushi Nakazawa on the eve of my 24th birthday. Tfung was incredibly sweet to take me, and we were able to book the bar. The bar seats 10 guests, and since they were all pairs, I believe there were 5 reservations made at 12am, exactly 30 days prior. This is important when booking: make sure you have fast internet connection, and you have the windows open at around 11:50pm to wait for the 12:00am mark!

We were promptly seated when we walked in (even though we were embarrassingly 7 minutes late). Luckily, there were a fair few couples that had not showed up yet, so I felt a little more at ease. To be seated, we were told to climb up onto the high chair and then the hostess had to physically push us in while on the chair, due to the design of the bar. They are very nice about it, though I did find it a little annoying if you had to go use the restroom.

Already placed were the black lacquer serving plates, chopsticks and two glasses (wine and water). As we sat down, the waitress came around with hot towels, to clean our hands with. She then asked for our choice in water, brought it, and then set down little white plates with a folded wet napkin sitting on it. This was for cleaning the fingers if one chooses to use their hands to eat the sushi.

When all the guests were properly seated, Nakazawa greeted each of us with formality, as per tradition. (I revel in this kind of stuff). Then he said we would begin. He explained generally how it works, that the sushi is served as it is to be eaten. There will be 21 pieces, and asked if we were hungry, as it will be filling. He added that if we were starting to feel too full, we can tell him and he would reduce the amount of rice, as everyone is to finish each piece of fish.

Then, he started. There were 5 chefs total. Chef Nakazawa, 2 sous chefs (one on either side of him) and 2 assistant chefs. Everyone was well situated into their roles and had no hesitation. The role of the sous chefs were to slice the fish, torch the fish, and to cook the shrimp. The other sous chef was in charge of the plating. Chef Nakazawa puts the sushi together, the fish, the rice, the wasabi and the soy sauce. I was buzzing in my seat from the excitement that is about to unfold. I felt like I didn’t have enough eyes and brain capacity to take in every detail that I wanted to.

The chefs had very particular ways of handling their tools. Everything is wiped down and cleaned before commencing the next step. Tools and equipment are always placed in the space they should be filling after each use. Everything is clean, sanitary, and of top quality. Having taken lots of food safety courses, I often scrutinize restaurants (especially if they have an open kitchen) on their sanitary practices. There was nothing that made me raise a red flag so far.

Thus, the meal commenced:

The experience was amazing. He did not disappoint. From food, to service, to decor, to experience, everything was on point. He explains every fish right before he serves it, even using his Samsung Galaxy Tablet to show us what the fish actually looks like in the ocean (for the less common ones like Trigger fish). He looks like he enjoys what he does, cracks jokes with the clients, creating a different atmosphere and tone each time you visit. Everything is timed perfectly, for example, the cooking of the shrimp. Everyone’s minds are sharp and they know exactly what to do next, without ever losing complete focus on the task at hand. You can tell their minds were not wandering to their hot date tonight or any such trivial matters. Their passion was sushi, and they try their best to create perfect pieces of art.

My verdict: if you can afford the hefty price, you should definitely go. It is probably as close you can get to Jiro’s sushi without needing to know too much Japanese. Due to Nakazawa’s fluency in English, there is no language barrier. I will say though, that if you don’t get a bar reservation, it might not be worth your time (especially if you’re from out of town). There is no experience, and the sushi will not be prepared by Nakazawa himself. It is simply just not the same. It was definitely one of my most memorable birthday memories, and I’m so glad to have shared it with someone who loves eating and sushi as much as I do!

~kehwon

Brit & Chips – Old Montreal

So tfung finally came to Montreal to visit and we decided to try Brit & Chips as I’ve heard so many good things about it. We sat outside on so we could enjoy the sunshine, while at the same time avoiding the chokingly greasy smell of the store.

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We decided to just order two fish with chips, no drinks or other appetizers as we weren’t too incredibly hungry. The first was Sole in sour cream and onion batter. This batter was quite greasy. There was a very subtle hint of sour cream and onion flavour but it was masked mostly by the taste of heavy oil. The fish itself was a bit on the bland side but it was cooked quite nicely. Their tartar sauce was quite delicious and the chips were excellent as well.

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The second was the Fish of the Month, which happened to be a Cod fried in tempura batter with a sweet ginger sauce.  The batter in this one was a “tempura” batter. It was certainly lighter and less heavy than the batter on the sole, however it was definitely not “tempura batter”. At least, not the light airy and crispy tempura batter that Japanese restaurants use.  The portions were slightly smaller on this one, but we enjoyed this one a bit more because it was less greasy and heavy as the first. The tangy and gingery sauce went well with this fish.

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Overall, the fish was done quite well, not overdone. But it was the batter that we were disappointed in. Based on the description of the items on the menu which boasts interestingly flavoured batters in various styles, we were a bit dissapointed, since the batter was tasteless and very greasy. This restaurant will definitely do the trick if you are craving some fish and chips, but don’t expect something extraordinary.

Service: 4/5
Food: 7.1/10
Atmosphere: Fast food, fish and chips
Price: $15-25

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KazaMaza – Plateau

I was set to get icecream with my friend at Kem Coba, but to lead up to that, he had suggested some Lebanese food. Many of his friends had recommended KazaMaza, and though I had never had lebanese food, my recent love for essiebuttonvlogs has peaked my interest in this cuisine.

DSC_0268 We arrived fairly early on Sunday evening and the restaurant was very quiet. Eventually more people filed in, all around 6:30, but was not too busy. It had a very relaxed vibe and our waitress was very friendly and genuine.DSC_0270I started off with the Fattoush, which we shared. It was composed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, pomegranate, fried pita, and was topped off with a pomegranate vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. It had the perfect balance of freshness with tartness of the dressing, but the pomegranate seeds sweetened the dish just enough. The fried pita added that earthiness to pull the freshness back down. I think I could eat this salad everyday.DSC_0271  My friend got a humus, and I had a small bite. It was the smoothes, purest humus I’ve had. No added flavouring or ingredient. Just pure humus garnished with some olive oil and chick peas. I would have liked the pita bread to either be warm or a little more fresh, but seeing as how it was complimentary, I couldn’t complain too much. Unfortunately, the pita bread just didn’t complement the humus well, and for that it didn’t reach its potential.DSC_0274My main was the grilled octopus “leg” on lentils and a sour salad with cilantro. The octopus was cooked very nicely, chewy enough but not tough at all. It was that perfect balance of tenderness and chewiness that I look for in octopus. The lentils and the salad was a good complement, but did not leave a large impression on me.

The service was on point, my glass was always filled and the waitress knew when we wanted her attention. She was the only waitress for the 4-5 tables that were present at the time, which was probably a good amount to handle. I didn’t feel like she treated any table differently, and was very pleasant to talk to. She was genuinely nice and made this foreign cuisine (to me) that much more comfortable.

I definitely recommend this restaurant if you haven’t had much Lebanese food, but as I’m no expert in this cuisine, I cannot comment on the authenticity of it. Though I can tell that everything was done in-house and done quite purely, without any extravagant commercial ingredients.

Kaza Maza on Urbanspoon

Service: 4.5/5
Food: 8.6/10
Atmosphere: middle-eastern, comfortable
Price: $30-40

Il Focolaio – Latin Quarter

 

My friend had suggested this restaurant to me several times and we finally decided to go. Located across from Square Phillips and across from The Bay, it was an extremely easy location to get to. I had never thought much about this busy restaurant even though I’d passed by it numerous times…DSC_0260The wood oven could be seen in the back with 3 chefs making the pizzas. Each pizza is done fresh within a very reasonable time (I’d guess around 10 minutes, our pizzas were served after we ordered).DSC_0261Their menu is quite extensive, with around 75 choices. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult to make a selection. Thus, you can ask for half a pizza. We didn’t realize this until after we’d ordered, but if you want to try several pizzas, I’d definitely get the half pizza option!DSC_0262For our first pizza, we ordered the Carré Phillips as our first pizza, packed with capicollo, pepperoni, hot italian sausage, ham, mushrooms, mozzarella, and green peppers. This is essentially what one would taste when they think about pizzas. Lots of meat and sausage flavour with a dash of green pepper and mushroom. It’s an all-round pizza that I really enjoyed.

The crust was thin, slightly crispy but not tough. The middle of the pizza never got soggy or wet and the slight burnt taste makes each bite a little more interesting.DSC_0263For our next pizza, we had the Tarfuto. Mozzarella, goat cheese, black truffles and cherry tomatoes. The truffle was very fragrant and as soon as the pizza was nearing our table, we could smell the richness. Paired with the goat cheese and the tanginess and sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, the dish worked perfectly in harmony. The goat cheese and truffle boosted each other up in richness and fragrance, while the cherry tomatoes brought a tart kick to balance out the other two ingredients. A genius combination.

Overall, I thought the food was phenomenal, the price was very reasonable and the service was so-so. I can’t say the service was bad, but we did wait over 20 minutes to get the bill. It was a busy night as it was grand-prix weekend in Montreal, but I still feel that a little more attention could have been paid. Either way, I definitely do recommend this very successful pizza joint (having been opened for 25 years), and challenge you to try all their combinations!

Il Focolaio Pizza Resto on Urbanspoon

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 8.9/10
Atmosphere: bustling, low-key, neighbourhood joint
Price: $17-30

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Santa Barbara – Outremont

 

A while ago, my friend T and I passed by this restaurant and were attracted to the menu that was posted out on the window due to the slightly romantic yet relaxed feel of the restaurant. What I remembered most from the menu were the unique names of their drinks: The Architect, The Mathematician…

T had tried this restaurant several times, and I had only finally gone yesterday.

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I started off with the Agua Bendito, which consisted of Bombay gin (for which I substituted for Hendrick’s), cucumber, lemon syrup and mint. An obviously fresh drink made even fresher with the Hendricks. It was a great way to hype myself up for summertime.

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My friend M and I shared two appetizers, the Kale and avocado salad with shiitake and sunflower seeds, and the leek fritatas that came with a zesty yoghurt pairing.

The salad was quite interesting with the shiitake mushrooms, giving it a very earthy taste. An unlikely addition was the avocado, which changed up the texture quite a bit along with the sunflower seeds. It was definitely a more wintery type of dish, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.Processed with VSCOcam

As for the leek fritatas, the inside was a blend of leek and some sort of carby mixture, as with most fritatas. The leek was quite nice and added a great flavour to it. The batter was a little on the oily side, so I would have liked to see them perhaps lay it on some parchment paper before serving. The yoghurt dip went beautifully with the very oily fritata, the tartness of it relieving the greasy mouth feel.Processed with VSCOcam

For my main, I ordered the butternut squash gnocchi served on a bed of Asian Spinach sautéed in garlic. I thought this dish lacked an oomph. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big cheese fan, so the cheese didn’t really cut it for me, but I found the gnocchi to be quite bland. It was also very overwhelming because I was only able to finish half of this. It’ll definitely fill you up if you’re looking for an (un)healthy (several) serving of carbs!

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M got the salmon burger, which looked absolutely delicious. The burger was topped off with green onion and sriracha sauce, among many others. The salmon was quite thick and was cooked so that the juices were all retained in the center. M said this was absolutely delicious, but again she couldn’t finish it. She commented that the mashed potatoes were more healthy (not a lot of butter), but tasted a little bland. The salad on the side was an excellent portion (my dietitian self speaking), and was a great fresh pairing to the salmon burger.

Processed with VSCOcamEven though our stomachs were exploding, we heard the options for dessert anyway. And I’m glad we did! They had a black sesame crème brulée, which we only needed to glance at each other to know we both wanted to share it. The creme was of a very smooth yet rich texture, with the ground sesame paste sitting at the bottom. The combination was quite nice, and it wasn’t too sweet or too bitter. I did think they could have amped up the black sesame paste a little bit, but perhaps they were being conservative for some of the patrons who weren’t too used to the strong and fragrant black sesame taste. We thought the sugar layer at the top was too burnt and too thick, so I ended up just eating what’s underneath.

Overall, I think this restaurant has some very interesting and uncommon dishes. They’re not extremely unique or innovative, but definitely has a good variety of palette and takes from different cultures. It’s hard to pinpoint what type of cuisine they do, but definitely a mix of asian, european and american. The execution of the food could be done a little better, with a better balance of flavours. But I did appreciate the fact that they only had two cooks, a very small and open kitchen, with a fairly large variety and number of dishes to offer. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed and perfect for a Friday after a full (or maybe just 4 days) week of work.

The next time I come, I will definitely be asking for an Elderflower collins, as I had spotted that they had St. Germain (and obviously Hendrick’s) as I finished my drink. I was a little bummed that I had not seen this earlier, but it just gives me another reason to come back!

Service: 4/5
Food: 8.4/10
Price: $30-50
Atmosphere: relaxed, cute, “santa barbara”, slightly romantic

Santa Barbara Restaurant on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

 

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Biiru – Japanese Bistro – Latin Quartier

Starting work at the hospital this past week, it has been tough. So some of my friends and I decided to catch each other up on our exciting new experiences by going to grab some food (and drinks of course) at an izakaya very close to where we live.

Biiru was a place that we’ve all seen recently, and since it is still relatively new, there wasn’t much information about it. From the pictures and the menu, we decided it was worth trying.

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The décor is a love-hate for me. I love the vibe it gave, from the wood tables to the bouncy stools at several of the tables. I love that they had many different types of wall décor, and I absolutely loved their washroom signs. However, I would’ve liked to see cleaner typography when it came to the katakana and hiragana on the walls and on the back of the chairs. I didn’t like how it wasn’t clean, and were literally painted on by hand. Perhaps that was the style they were going for, but it just looked amateur and sloppy to me.

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We were seated at the bar since there were no other spots available (even though the whole time we were there, there in fact was a table open…). It was obviously difficult to talk to everyone, but worked out well in terms of sharing food. My friend and I shared four dishes: their Japadog, Mushroom Okonomiyaki, Chirashi, and a seafood tempura.

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Starting off with the Japadog, it came in an Asian dinner roll, the ones that are glazed and are very buttery and sweet inside. My friend hated this type of bread (but I quite enjoy it). The “dog” was a handmade shrimp and porc sausage which turned out quite well. I loved that it wasn’t perfectly rounded, and looked house-made. The flavouring was okay, not too strong or bland. The sauce was a mix of mayo and generic teriyaki-type sauce, giving a creamy yet sweet taste to the dog. It was also garnished with a good amount of purple cabbage. Overall, it was okay for $7, with them being lazy with the bread, but picked it up with the sausage.

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The Mushroom Okonomiyaki was probably the best of the bunch. Although it was priced at $13, I did think that this was probably the most authentic (while being innovative) compared to the other dishes. There was a very generous amount of bonito flakes, which I loved. The dough was quite good, and it retained that slight uncooked texture that I absolutely love (not everyone’s type of thing). The mushrooms were not incredibly tasty or rich, but complimented well with the very small amount of truffle oil they added. It was simple, tasty and overall a good filling dish.

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The Chirashi was absolutely awful and just plain sad. The only raw fish included was 3 sad pieces of leftover sashimi, not cut properly, and of bad quality. The rice was done quite well, and I did like the lettuce they added to give a freshness. But the rest that was on the “chirashi” were cucumbers, egg and one piece of eel that was probably 1/8th of your palm. Sad and pathetic, I wish I never ordered it.

Lastly the tempura was also a huge fail. The batter was awful, the selection was also awful. We didn’t go for the celery tempura, because that’s just silly. They did not have any type of crunch to it, and were a little too damp. When you pick up the shrimp, tiny pieces didn’t crumble off, and fell limp in my chopsticks. The sauce was some strange, non-traditional sauce as well. Priced at $12, I wasted my money on this one.

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My overall impression of the place is just a mediocre, caucasion-fied izakaya. I was a little surprised at the Japadog implementation, but the execution didn’t exceed or meet my expectations. It was by no means any comparison to Vancouver or Japan’s Japadogs. The service was mediocre, given that we were given the bar when there was a table available the whole time we were there (probably a no-show reservation). The cocktails were weak and nasty. They tried to incorporate Japanese ingredients with some traditional North American bar ingredients…but it really didn’t turn out well. You should just stick to beer here. It was a good night solely because the conversations were good.

Biiru on Urbanspoon

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 7/10
Price: $40/person
Environment: Bistro, Izakaya, Asian, Loud, Bustling

~ kehwon