My unhealthy love for cafés

I’ve never done a post about an espresso bar or café before, but I really think it’s time. I mostly frequent cafés in montreal, but on my recent trip to NYC, I’ve discovered just how much I’m in love with the whoel culture behind cafés and how terribly awful the coffee is at all the chain stores.

Back when I was completing my first degree in Physiology, I fell in love with Starbucks. I went there whenever I needed to study because I’m someone who can’t just stay home to study all day, everyday. My friends started to know me as an avid Starbucks fan, and I embraced that. I knew exactly what I wanted everytime I went, I knew their drinks well and opted for healthier options on a regular basis.

When I started my second degree, moving to Montreal was extremely difficult for me. I had no friends in this very foreign city where everyone hated me because I didn’t speak French. In the recent months, I’ve really grown to love Montreal with regards to the life in the city, the diversity of various cultures (ethnically related or not), and first and foremost, their cafés.

I’ve been café hopping for a year and a half and still haven’t tried the majority of them yet. I’d like to say I’ve tried half of the more popular and well-known ones, but what do I know!

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Currently, my favourite in Montreal is definitely Kitsuné. This is for several reasons. Firstly, they are quite close to where I live. Many of the cafés I’ve yet to try are situated in the Mile End, which is a big further for me and requires me to not be extremely stressed about exams (aka, Clinical Nutrition). The second is how easy their payment is. $4, $3.50, $2.50…no fussing with those cents, and the baristas are subsequently a little more at ease and “chilled out” with ordering and paying. They have a sleek iPad to card terminal system which I love and is definitely trending in NYC (from what I see). My favourite to order are their lattes. Be it hot or cold, it always hits the spot for me. Definitely not as rich and creamy as the next café I will mention, but I definitely think in my taste range. Last but not least, the croissants they serve!! The croissants are from a boulangerie called Regal Matinal. They deliver freshly made croissants everyday, and I’ve seriously contemplated having them deliver it to my house – obviously that’d be terrible news for my cardiovascular health and weight, so I restrained myself. Not to say they’re the best croissants I’ve ever had, but they’re the type I like: doughy, soft and only a slight crunch to it. It is the combination of all this that makes me love Kitsuné so much and regard it somewhere I will always come back to. I love the owner and the baristas he’s hired, I love that they’ve built a small outside patio in the back, and I love the industrial décor they’ve put in place.

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The other café I fell in love with is a little out of my reach. It’s La Coloumbe near Soho in NYC. tfung was looking for his tonic at a liquor store on Lafayette when I knew I needed some caffeine in me. I spotted a café across the street and decided I might as well try it. I ordered a latte for myself and damn. The latte was very smooth and creamy (evidently using a milk with higher fat percentage), but the richness of the espresso still pulled through without tipping the balance. The harmony between the espresso and the milk was near perfection. I hate to say something is perfect until I’ve lived my last breath, but I wouldn’t mind living off this latte for the rest of my life…

Other notable mentions in Montreal are: le couteau, st. henri.

~ kehwon

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Bouillon Bilk (Newly renovated) – Latin Quarter

Since tfung’s parents came into town, we decided to bring them to some of our favourite spots. On the second night, we brought them to the newly renovated Bouillon Bilk. I was quite excited to see their new decor, since I had caught a glimpse of it whilst walking back to the Grand Prix on Saint Laurent, and it had looked incredibly sleek and modern.

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The menu had changed quite a bit since I was last here, but definitely still had  the flair of the old Bouillon Bilk. They had refreshed the menu for the summer, which was great to see, and the desserts were completely new.

I started off with the linguine which was one of the specials. The pasta was done a little over al dente, a consistency I like, and was mixed in a buttery sauce that had hints of seafood flavours. Along with the linguine were chanterelle mushrooms, and garnish. Definitely a great dish on its own, I thought they were able to bring out the flavour of the chanterelle mushrooms well, without overpowering the sauce and the linguine. The slight crunch in the mushroom and its lighter consistency was a good contrast to the firmer, denser texture of the linguine.2014-06-21 19.43.39

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Lobster Soup

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Foie Gras served with Polenta

As for tfung, he started off with the asparagus appetizer, which came with asparagus purée. It was also served with veal tongue and a sunny-side up egg on top. To start, the presentation of this dish was fantastic. The purées were arranged nicely and was sprinkled with micro greens. The veal tongue was cooked very nicely. It was soft, but still had firmness in its texture. It was not overseasoned, but rather seasoned conservatively with salt just to bring out the natural flavours of the meat. Pairing it with the asparagus puree gave it that summer freshness that it needed. The egg on top was a nice addition to the dish, providing a bit more sustenance and flavour to the veal tongue. Adding the rich and earthy morel mushrooms was also a nice touch. Overall a very good dish in terms of presentation, creativity and combinations of flavours.

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Asparagus and Veal Tongue

I was able to taste a bit of the carrot risotto, and let me say this: definition of summer. I love how they’ve (in my opinion) a seemingly boring and over-done dish and freshened its colour and its flavour to fit the heat. The carrot base in the sauce of the risotto was light and slightly sweet. It was definitely a good start to the meal.

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Carrot Risotto

For me, I ordered the octopus with sweetbread. This was definitely the priciest of the dishes, but well worth it. The octopus was done to perfection: enough texture and chewiness on the inside without being difficult to chew, while retaining its true octopus taste; crispy on the outside, with an ever so slight smokey taste. The contrast in the texture and the flavour was great. The sweetbread was fried on the outside with a light batter, and retained a soft texture on the inside without overcooking it to a mushy consistency. To go with the fried sweetbread was a sour and slightly spicy, sriracha-based sauce. Finally, fiddleheads, mushroom and sliced pear as sides along with some greens for garnish.

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Octopus and Sweetbread

The rabbit was roasted perfectly. It was soft, tender and juicy. Wrapping the rabbit with bacon wasn’t really necessary as the rabbit was tasty enough, but the bacon certainly enhanced the flavour. It was served with a rabbit au jus that was sweet and savory, which complimented the rabbit well.

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Rabbit wrapped in bacon

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Scallops and Chanterelle mushrooms

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Side: Fiddle Heads with almonds

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Halibut

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Baba with strawberries, rhubarb and mascarpone

Overall, Bouillon Bilk had given me a refresh in terms of modern dining. I thought they did an excellent job in balancing delicacy with creativity and thinking outside the box. They were innovative, yet still incorporated elements according to the season, which I believe is crucial for a more modern dining experience. As delicious as a heavy truffle cream gnocchi is, it just isn’t as enjoyable in the heat of the summer. The service was quite good, not outstanding for the calibre of restaurant it is.

The decor was absolutely stunning. I love the bar in the middle, creating a more relaxed feel, especially for the younger clientele. There were three longer tables that were of higher elevation (a very popular setting now), which I personally love, but is not for everyone. Their washroom is extremely modern, with the style of communal hand washing station in front of 3-4 individual rooms solely for the toilet. This may not sit well with more traditional folks, but for me, I absolutely love it.

I highly recommend you to come try their summer menu. Make sure to make a reservation, and let them know of any delay or cancellations!

Service: 4/5
Food: 9.3/10
Atmosphere: modern, fresh, clean, white-table cloth meets industrial
Price: $40-60

~ kehwon and tfung

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