January 7, 2011

My year in food

Hi guys!

I'm aware that a few posts from the China trip are still missing, but I just could not let the opportunity of making a year-in-review entry go by. I promise that I'll finish blogging about all the yummy dishes that I had in China in the next couple of weeks, but for now, time to come back to the Montreal food scene. (Well, mostly Montreal.)

2010 food-wise meant...

- Trying out a bunch of new restos! Some I had always wanted to try (Europea, Ferreira, Beaver Hall, L'Express), some I were not so familiar with and turned out to be very nice (Bistro Continental, Chez l'Epicier, Stromboli Pizza, Kazu, Cafe Vasco de Gama). Trying out newly opened ones was fun too (Bar F, Brasserie T).

- Rediscovering and realizing how much I like some of my old favorites (Une crêpe?, Pizzaiolle, Bistro La Marinara).

- Becoming obsessed by salmon tartare and having it at practically every place where I ate. My favorites so far, and winning by a mile, are Ferreira's and Bistro Continenal's.

- Finally trying out Schwarzt's smoked meat. (Yes I know!)

- Stuffing oneself at Au Pied de Cochon's sugarshack (I still get hearburn from just looking at those pictures).

- Empañadas in Toronto and brunches in Brooklyn and NYC.

- Having a food-tastic trip in China this summer. Xiaolongbao, dim sum, Beijing duck...*drools*

- Spending way too much money on the best chocolate in the world, aka Côte d'Or's Praliné Blanc.

- Discovering that I have a huge spot for caramel in coffee drinks. Damn you, Starbucks.

- Loving Mighty Tea's Orange Dulce infusion. Hmmm.

- Learning how to make the perfect scrambled eggs from watching this video. And yes, that's about the extent of my cooking prowess!

- Watching traveling cooking shows online. My favorite is Jamie Oliver's "Jamie Does..." series, though Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" is pretty entertaining.

- ...not updating this blog enough. Sigh.

What I'm expecting 2011 to bring

- Frequent (or at least, more frequent) updates of this blog.

- More time spent at my favorite hanging-out spots (Cafe Vasco de Gama, Bistro La Marinara, Pizzaoille, Cafe M...and Starbucks, undoubtedly).

- Trying out even more restos. On the list so far: DNA, La Montée de lait, The Sparrow, Au Pied de Cochon's main resto in Montreal, Le Boucan, Raza, Pintxo...

- And last but certainly not least: HAVING AN EXTRAORDINARY TIME STUFFING MYSELF IN PARIS AND THE REST OF EUROPE!!! I'm studying in Paris from February until July, and you can bet that I will be traveling around taking in the sights and foods! Baguettes, cheese, wine, pastries, macarons...I loved it the first time around, so I can't wait to live and eat there! And let's not forget the food from neighboring countries that I have every intention of visiting: moules et frites in Belgium, pasta in Italy, tapas in Spain, fondue in Switzerland, sauerkraut in Germany...gaah, I can't wait!

Here's to an absolutely delicious and gluttony-filled 2011, everybody!

September 22, 2010

Gluttony on the go: China, part I

One of the few good excuses that I have for my blogging hiatus is the month-long trip to China that I undertook this summer. Ah China, motherland of yours truly...a country full of contrasting sights, sounds of flavours. Or, if you visit during the month of August while an Universal Exposition is going on, a country full of tourists, sweatiness and aggressive air conditioning.

But I digress. Despite the heat and humidity, I had a fantastic time in China. I visited some family, met a lot of cool peeps and went all out with the eating and drinking. Some basic (but still unusual, to ol' Canadian me) food safety precautions aside, China is an absolute penny-saving-yet-wanderlusting-glutton's heaven. There are almost as many eateries as there are people, each region has its own brand(s) of deliciousness, and let's not forget how darn affordable it all is. Oh thank you, 6.5:1 CAD to RMB exchange rate...

During my stay there, I traveled to the cities of Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Beijing. And while I didn't come anywhere close to sampling all of the distinctive dishes, cuisines and restaurants of each place, I did have quite a few memorable meals here and there. So without further ado, here is the first batch of food-related memories from China:

Part I: Shanghai and Suzhou

The Shanghai Bund as seen from the Oriental Pearl Tower.

Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou all share some similar traits in their cuisine. Shanghai cuisine, in particular, is a mix of Jiangsu (where Suzhou is located) and Zhejian (where Hanghzhou is located) styles. As cities from the Jiangnan region (literally, South of the (Yangtze) Riveer), they are especially known for their xiaolongbao:

Ok, these are from Hangzhou but you get the general idea.

If there's one thing that you must know about this glutton's favorite foods, it's that she absolutely head-over-heels LOVES xiaolongbao's (and bread and cheese and calamari and salmon tartare and desserts...but that's another story). Pork, beef, seafood, soupy, steamed or fried, I could probably eat xiaolongbao all day long and not get sick of them. Oh yes, they are that good. (My fondness for all things xiaolongbao-esque might also explain why I am so enamoured with dim sum and dumplings in general. Hmm, xia jiao and shaomai...)

But back to xiaolongbao. The secret in their deliciousness resides in the thinness of their skins and the mix of meats used for their fillings. Soupy xiaolongbao's have the thinnest of skins and are filled with juices from the meat filling --- the tricky part, of course, is to make the soupiest of buns without having them split open the skins. Similarly, the best part about eating soupy xiaolongbao's is to prick a tiny hole into the skin and slurp out all of the soup before eating the bun itself. Mmmmmm. And no offense to the Northerners, but they just cannot make xiaolongbao's in the same way that they do it in the Jiangnan! I tried in vain to get my xiaolongbao fix in Beijing, but the closest that I got during two weeks of futile searching was small bao zi with somewhat thinner dough skins. *sad headshake* It just isn't the same, you know?

Jianbao (or fried baozi) from Shanghai. 

I also had some great jianbao (fried baozi or fried buns) in Shanghai. I believe that they are a local specialty and boy did they hit the spot after a day of walking and sweltering around in the city. Big juicy buns with a savoury mixed meat filling that are fried on the bottom and topped with sesame seeds...eat it with red rice vinegar and it's finger-licking-inducing goodness!

Look at all that fried and sesame-d goodness! 

I unfortunately did not get to have as many food-related experiences in Suzhou. In fact, I only stayed in the city for some 36 hours, so my restaurant-hopping time was greatly limited, to say the least. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised at how fantastic the Japanese food is there. Japanese restaurants and eateries abound in almost all Chinese and North American major cities, but I was taken aback by the realization that the supper that I had with my family in a little restaurant on the so-called Japanese Street (aka. Huahai Street) was probably the single best and most authentic Japanese meal that I've ever had. In fact, it was so authentic that the take-out menu that they gave us when we left was in 100% Japanese Kanji...

Japanese Street (aka. Huahai St.) and its broken neon gate signs ..

Also in Suzhou, my family and I had an impomptu hotpot meal at one of the Little Mongolian Lamb chain restaurants:

They claim to import all of their lamb from Inner Mongolia, but
I remain somewhat skeptical of this.

There are Little Mongolian Lamb hotpot spots (hah, try saying that ten times!) in Montreal and I've been to the one in our teensy weensy Chinatown. The experience was not dissimilar to the one that I had in Suzhou, or to most hotpot dinners that I've had in my life. You get a pot of broth, you order meats and veggies, you cook them in the pot and then enjoy them smothered in Hoisin sauce (okay, maybe that last part is just me). The meal is Suzhou was in every bit the same and strangely enough, this made me quite...at home, in a way.

The usual hotpot ritual: broth, veggies, fish balls and heaps of lamb!

You know what else makes me feel at home? Grande caramel lattes with extra caramel swirled on top! Oh yes...

They really are EVERYWHERE.

Not even 19 hours of plane and 12 hours of time difference could shake my daily coffee-drink fix. (I hesitate to call it my caffeine fix because, really, I put enough milk, cream and sugar into my coffee to make it into a warm sweet coffee-flavoured milk...) But oh Starbucks, you ever-present fixture in my life. I seem even more attached to you whenever I travel. So yes, I will shell out the equivalent of an entire day's food for a latte (ie. 35 RMB). Even if the milk you use is funny and your caffeine content is so low that a light coffee addict such as myself notices.

September 18, 2010

Mea Culpa

I said that I'd be back and posting regularly for good, but judging from my, erm, almost four-month absence, it's pretty clear that I've failed miserably.


So let's try again, shall we?

I shall aim for a constant stream of new posts. I shall be diligent and actually type out all these food-related thoughts swirling around my head. I shall not limit myself to resto reviews. I will write about whatever food-related topic pleases me. And I shall find a way to get around my current lack of a photo camera.

It's good to be back.

May 24, 2010

Gluttony on the go: Toronto, part III

Another place that my friend and I happened upon during my trip to Toronto was the Grindhouse Burger Bar in Downtown Toronto. We had been walking around the area taking in the sights for the better part of the early afternoon and popped into this eatery for a late lunch.

Address: 365 King Street West
Phone: (416) 977-3010
Style: specialty burger bar

Let's start with the great things about this place.

Grindhouse prides itself on the quality and locality of their food. Indeed, everything is made in house and all their burger meat is naturally raised, and hormone, antibiotic and GMO-free. With that kind of conscious effort that goes into the food, it's no surprise that the patrons are willing to pay a bit more for the small portions that they get. Or, in my case, appease the disappointment that there was no desserts available that day. (But more about the small portions and disappointment later.)

It also helps that the place has a snazzy decor to match its personality. With its plush red seats, exposed brickwall and carefully chosen colour palate that extends all the way to the bathroom, it gives off a comfy-yet-sophisticated vibe, which is perfect for its no doubt trendy clientele of downtown urbanites.

The seats lined next to the wall are plush and booth-like. Note the pillows and wall ornaments.

Marble tabletops with little flower centerpieces, slick-looking and (more importantly) well-stocked bar, a harmonious use of red and mellow yellow paints...full points on ambiance and aesthetics.

Then came the food.

Our first reaction was to marvel at how small the portions are. My friend's fish 'n chips was rather small for a 12$ meal, whereas I was skeptical whether my burger and side order of onion rings would even fill me up.

My burger and onion rings. You can tell how small they are in comparison to the mayonnaise dish.

My friend's fish 'n chips. There was exactly four pieces of fish, and only a small handful of fries underneath.

But hey, we thought, if this food is as delicious as it looks and sounds, being all organic and healthy, then its worth its pricetag. Plus, if you think about it, 12$ isn't really that much for a really delish mid-size dish...right? After all, an appetizer from a fancy restaurant would easily set you back more than just 12 bucks, no?

Well, the thing is, this isn't a fancy-schmancy kind of place. And even if it was, I'd still expect the food to be worth its price tag. What Grindhouse aims to be, that is a healthy and specialty burger bar, is all for naught if the burger itself doesn't live up to standards. And boy did my burger not live up to standards. I'm not saying that it was the worst burger that I ever had, but the meat was just on this side of bland and just short of being juicy. Even the onion rings tasted mostly like batter and seasoning. My friend's fish 'n chips were similarly just a bit too tasteless to justify its price.

My meal looked great and I had high expectations due to the restaurant's philosophy, but in the end it just resulted in deeper disappointment. It feels like they started with all the right ingredients, but went wrong somewhere in the process and wound up just out of reach of the wanted result. Which, in a way, is almost worse than being a seedy, lowly-rated eatery. At least that way, you walk in with zero expectations and only end up being mildly surprised by whatever enjoyable food you get, whereas in Grindhouse's case, everything seems so great that you come to expect something fantastic on the food front, only to be sorely disappointed.

Bottom line: great intentions, great presentation, but food doesn't deliver.

May 23, 2010

Gluttony on the go: Toronto, part II

After an afternoon of browsing through the shops of Kensington Market and eating empanadas outside in the sun, we headed over to the ever-affordable Java House Café for some fruity, girly, alcoholic winding-down time. 

Address: 537 Queen Street West 
Phone: (416) 504-3025
Style: an eclectic mix of sandwiches, Asian and pub fare
Hours: I quite honestly have no idea, though I have heard that they open early enough for people to get their morning coffee, and they close at least after 11pm on a Saturday

First off, this is not a place to go if you're looking for a fantastic food experience. Judging by that one evening that we spent there, I'd say that drinks---not food, is this place's forte. Well that, and location (right at the corner of Queen W. and Spadina) and its ridiculously well-priced menu. A sandwich will barely set you back 4$, whereas their generously-sized cocktails start at just over 6$. All in all, my group of three paid a bit over 100$ for 5 pints of the local Steam Whistle brew, 8 cocktails, a pad thai, a BLT sandwich and a plate of nachos. So in other words, it's a great place to hang out with your friends and knock back a few on a breezy  evening. 

Things started out well enough with a delicious piña colada. Sweet, with nice whiff of rum and just enough pineapple flavour---just the way I like it. 

Then came this disappointingly bland pad thai. I could see the colouring, but couldn't taste any of that beloved sweet-tangy flavour. Even the chicken was bland. *sigh*

But a nice lychee martini (sans lychee fruit though) and a very good gin&tonic later, I was ready to try another one of their plates. A BLT was ordered and...well, it tasted like a BLT. Bacon, lettuce and tomato doused in mayo and slapped in between two slices of white bread. Had I tried to make this at home one rushed morning, it would have probably ended up tasting the same. 

They slightly redeemed themselves with the nacho plate. It was appropriately greasy and unhealthy, and they didn't skim on the toppings. (I was however to be once again disappointed when I was informed that they had no desserts that day.) 

So bottom line: go there for drinks, ambiance and the terrace, but not for food. Should you get peckish though, go with failproof dishes that won't set you back too many dollars, in any case. (Oh, and I also hear that they make pretty good coffee in the mornings. That I'd be willing to try!)