Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comptoir 21

When I found out a fish and chips place was opening in my hood I became overcome with joy and immediately imposed on my honey that this is were my birthday date would have to be. No arm twisting there, as months later that pledge was fulfilled, on December 14th, 2010.

Obviously, I ordered the fish and chips! A small portion was amply sufficient, with two hunks of haddock in a deep golden crust. With each bite through the crispy coating came a fat flake of perfectly cooked fish. The batter is seriously good, just solid enough and not too greasy and contrasts wonderfully with the silky, almost sweet, fish flesh.
We have a winner! There is a large selection of sauces and I found the curry one a perfect fit. G'rar chose the classic tartar sauce which was equally lovely. Sadly, I was disappointed with the fries. G'rar found them fine, as others have reported, but I found them chewy, pasty and tough. Good thing I had salad instead, which incidentally was quite decent and fresh. But a dish that should not be overlooked is the oh so excellent clam chowder: not at all gelatinous, generous with shredded clam meat, hints of the sea, and in a rich broth of diced potatoes, celery and white wine. Pure creamy, gritty and savory goodness! You can also buy it by the liter, and take out is very popular.

Topped with a pint of rousse (the house white is a good chardonay/sauvignon), this was one enjoyable birthday dinner, particularly since we snagged the only "intimate" spot in one corner of the loooooong comptoir. Thanks baby!

Until next time, Cheers!
Nat & G'rar.

Comptoir 21, 21 St-Viateur West,

Damas cuisine Syrienne

When the majority of a restaurant's clientelle consists of stylishly casual gay men over 40, you know you will be in for a treat!

Located in a what was previously a casse-croute on Parc Ave. near Fairmount, it is easy, during the day, to overlook the tinted glass and dark brown box jutting out beside a depanneur. Yet the night reveals a dimly lit jewel of a resto that will ever call to me like a song to the temple. To step into Damas is to slip into a cozy, fragrant and magical space of plush banquettes with tapestry cushions as in a delicately ornate and fancy tent.

The menu reads familiar to lovers of mediterranean/middle-eastern cuisines, in particular from places such as Alep. As a comparison, think ultra refined Lebanese, with Jewish, Armenian and Turkish influences. Rose, pistachio, olive, parsley, sesame, pomegranate, garlic, garlic and more garlic! every dish redolent with layers of flavor that spring out, tease and then grab you by the...(name your sweet spot).

As a starter, I ordered a Syrian style vegetarian moussaka. It appeared as an unconstructed melange of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, served chilled and generously napped with a delightful yogurt/tahini sauce. Although an appetizer, it is a large enough to act as a main, and in fact half came back home with me, to savor all over again the next day. To accompany me and ease the wait for the main course, G'rar ordered a portion of the house fries to nibble on. The fabulous fat slabs of potato were upstaged by the accompanying "aioli", the soon empty pot of which was replaced swiftly by our observant and deferential waiter. As good as the fries were, they became a mere vehicle for more of that sauce! Practically straight pureed garlic, not for a first date!

I must mention that our waiter was bang on when replying to my request for a glass of wine by offering me an overfilled bowl of fantastic Lebanese red, with big fat juicy soft fruit that complemented the seasonings of the starters and stood up to the main dish. When both partners desire substance on a cold December night and love to share, a mixed grill is the way to go. Our platter consisted of lamb chops, kebabs, chicken, filet mignon and quails. The dish was a lesson in not judging by looks alone: the meat appeared charred beyond enjoyment. But any outside carbonization had left no imprint of the expertly cooked flesh within. The quails were very succulent, leaving not a hint of burn on the palate. The kebabs were particularly tasty and all the meats were tender and properly done. The accompanying puree of potatoes was nicely seasoned with garlic, lemon and olive oil. What more can I say! Top marks for the meat!

As I write this, I want to return, this time to sample more mezze, the tea from the giant samovar and the tempting deserts. It's a date!

Until next time, Cheers!
Nat & G'rat

5210, avenue du Parc, Montréal 514-439-5435

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Soy cuisine asiatique, 5258 St-Laurent Boulevard

"Kindly note that our style of service is Chinese. This means as soon as servings are ready, we bring them fresh to you. Thus, the dishes seldom all arrive at the same time. May we respectfully encourage you to share and taste your dishes like the Chinese. After all, a shared journey is a more rewarding one."

A journey we were to have indeed:

Our appetites at the ready, we headed into the cold cold night with thoughts of pungently authentic Vietnamese delights. I had read about a place called Au Cyclo that avoided the trite and true Phos, rouleaux and combos, yet I had mistakenly reserved a place at Viet restaurant occupying its previous locale on Parc Avenue. More of that same trio, it was not to be.

Now in an even more serious mood for Asian cuisine, we braced ourselves and headed to St-Laurent via Laurier. I knew I had noticed a place that seemed promising, and lo! there it was: a red sun beckoning us to enter into gently lit and cozy nooks. A warm window-side table and hot sake took the edge off as we selected items to share, which the above warning in the menu (unnecessarily in our case) advised. Here was our selection:

Pan-fried BBQ duck and Thai basil dumplings, ginger Szechwan dip
Won ton raviolis in sesame-peanut sauce
Sauteed mixed vegetables with tofu and Thai basil
Grilled squids with siracha mayo and cucumber ribbons
Spicy Malaysian seafood stew with rice wine and coriander
General Tao's shrimps
Steamed northern Chinese bread

I looove dumplings; pan-fried, deep fried, steamed, bring it. Soy's duck dumplings are possibly the best I have ever eaten, crispy but not at all greasy, savory and generously filled with basil-infused diced duck. Seriously good! Another winner was the won ton appetizer. Toothsome pockets of well seasoned pork rested in a shallow pool of peanut sauce that was rather thin and silky. A refreshingly light twist on a old standby. In fact light versions of favorites are a trend on this menu as the general tao's shrimp proved. The flash fried prawns were barely battered and the sauce we know as a gelatinous and sticky coating was also a thin version of the original, albeit respecting the usual melange of sweetness, spice and citrus.

The grilled squid, however, disappointed. As tasty as it was, the mantel was undercooked and showed no evidence of grilling, and was not cut all the way through, and with the legs still attached (a pain in the ass when using chopsticks). Sadly, not a spider in sight. The spicy mayo was a nice touch, but not exactly a triumph to whip up. I must mention the fabulous cucumber ribbons. Sweet and astringent, I'd order a plateful if I could. Not so good when the garnish upstages the principal element. Grill marks and proper slicing would have made this dish another winner.

Another almost winning dish was the seafood stew. The flavorsome broth was really good and hit all the right lemongrass/coriander notes, with balanced spiciness. There were a few small pieces of salmon and some white fish, 4 shrimp and one slice of squid. However the stew consisted mainly of tomatoes and onions. I know times are tough for restaurants, but if you're selling me fine cuisine, I find that sort of tactic insulting.

Side dishes: The vegetables were pleasant and aromatic, although the sauce unpleasantly "gloppy" in spots. The mantou buns were denser than expected, yet spongy and light nonetheless.

An interesting option is that any a la carte main dish can be made into a table d'hote. I would return, definitely for the dumplings, and to try out other duck and pork dishes.

See you next week when we head out for my birthday treat: fish 'n chips at Comptoir 21!

Until then, Cheers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bistro Lustucru, 5159 Ave du Parc

"Mustang Sally" playing in the background while I'm eating steak tartare? Now I know I'm in the right place!

A recent glowing review in the Gazette prompted me to give this place a shot and it was bang on. I'll get to the minor letdowns later on. The place itself is very attractive: Deep and narrow, low lighting, cozy banquettes and comfy seats, with various types of seating to accommodate "soupers de filles", couples and large families alike. There is also a long bar facing the semi-open kitchen, and a visible raw bar where tartares, carpaccios and oyster dishes are assembled. And now the food!

I would have been fine just munching on the perfect baguette and salted butter(!), but meat was on my mind. The name Lustucru implies raw goodies, and this place delivers. I know tartare, I was raised on it, so don't try to impress me by adding all kinds of stupid crap like truffle oil. This one was on the creamy side, richer than the traditional style, but oh so tasty. Very finely minced, not ground, expertly seasoned, fresh and a tad zingy. Delightful on crunchy croutons, and the trail of superfluous spicy mayo (there's that zing!) was promptly wiped away with my side order of salty fries. How the hell did they get fresh potatoes to taste like McDo's fries? But better!?
Raw appetizers are cleverly served on slate tiles, and aside my scoop of beef were 6 slivers of trout gravlax, toped with tiny spoonfuls of delicate roe. The fish was on the smoky side though, not quite like the marinated salmon I love so, with an almost candied look and mouthfeel, and mighty flavorful. The oily/salty combo was tempered by a lovely, fresh, crunchy side of coleslaw.
Grar's smaller slate presented a lovely scallop and beet carpaccio, ever an apt pairing. The ultra fresh scallop slivers slid on the tongue. Heaven!

While the cru offerings are a fixture, appetizers and main courses are announced on three large blackboards and propose seasonal dishes. Grar opted for the Chaudree de la mer, rather a stew than a chowder, and oh so aromatic. Notes of fennel, citrus and tarragon in a slightly creamy oceanic broth (begging for some of that bread) was the foundation for one expertly seared giant scallop, several mussels and clams, and a generous hunk of red snapper. Well done! Having ordered 2 raw options, I restrained myself to an appetizer as a main: a wild mushroom and Riopelle cheese turnover with butternut squash "butter". The dough was delightfully flaky, the filling mushroomy indeed, and the squash puree added a comforting sweet touch. All very lovely.

This place is a winner, hands down. I'll definitely go back, in fact I threatened our charming waiter to come back with a gang of girlfriends, a challenge he took up valiantly. Plus I missed out on the crazy deserts this time. This a pleasant bistro all-in-all, higher on the price scale, but quite reasonable considering quality, presentation and care.

Hickups: Absence of a dish I had looked forward to (beet ravioli with goat cheese sauce), discontinued that day and not yet removed from the website. Not being offered black pepper, though the mill sat visibly at the edge of the bar. A kitchen mix-up causing us to wait longer for our mains. Something should have been offered to make up for that, even just a coffee or after-dinner drink. Had the food been sub-par, there would have been a scene, but it was all worth it anyway.

Until next week, Cheers!

Friday, November 26, 2010


My partner and I treat ourselves to a night out every week to enjoy a kid-free meal. Enjoy is the key word. Last week's overpriced and mediocre meal at L'Assommoir inspired us to write a blog chronicling our weekly forays around the Mile-End/Plateau/Outremont hub. We are not professional critics, but were raised in food-loving Euro-Canadian homes and do have educated palates. Our main criteria is a good price/quality ratio. Save yourself some disappointment and follow us before heading out, or read on for the love of good indulgences!

Nat and Grar