994 Rachel St. E.
(Christophe Colombe/ Lafontaine Park)
It doesn’t have to be poutine week or hamburger week in Montreal to enjoy Restaurant La Banquise. Open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week; it can be enjoyed anytime, all year round. It may be popular with the local student crowd, but people from all areas come here in droves. You will always find a line up of sorts but it’s worth the wait because anything you order here is better than most of any Montreal hamburger joints.
La Banquise was started by Pierre Barsalou in 1968, a firefighter from the Lafontaine Park fire station across the street. He leased the shop after a fire damaged the property and he was looking for something to do on the days he had time off. He first started serving Ice cream and then added hot dogs, hamburgers and french-fries. In the 70’s they added poutine after one of his employee’s returned from a trip from the Warwick ,Quebec located in the Arthabaska region and famous for their cheese festival. He had tasted a dish of fries with cheese curds and gravy at a roadside casse-croute, and asked Pierre to replicate this dish. The poutine was born at La Banquise and it is still one of its best sellers.
Today La Banquise is run by Pierre’s youngest daughter Annie Barsalou and her partner Marc Latendresse. In 2006, La Banquise expanded to add another dining area, which displays its artistic creative side with its different wall art and tree branches cascading from the ceiling. Very original decor I must say. Moreover, it has become a mecca for poutine lovers from far and wide. Even tourists have heard about it and trek to this part of town to try from their list of 30 variations of poutine.
I liked the vibe at The Banquise from the moment, I stepped into the place with Brains, & Gonzo, my two dining pals for this evening. The wait in the front was long, but it went quickly. From this angle the place does not have much ambiance, with its take out counter in front and its long open kitchen on the side, it looks like any case croute, narrow and tight. Once inside we were seated in another dining room that was wide and spacious.
Gonzo and avid junk food eater did not complain at all this evening. Even the short wait did not displease him. He looked around and waited, he seemed to be in junk food heaven. Brains loved the young student vibe and it was upon her recommendation we try La Banquise tonight. The staff here is quick and keeps the place buzzing within minutes we had our order.
After quickly scanning the menu, I ordered La Matty Poutine for $8.50; it came topped with bacon, green peppers, mushroom and onions. And I ordered the Classic Banquise Burger at $ 4.25 and a cola.
The poutine was a mound of fries with toppings and cheese curds and the right amount of gravy. Its taste reminded me of pizza toppings, except the fries serving as the carbohydrates. It was one of the best poutine’s I have tasted in a while, aside from those gourmet poutine’s I have had at fancy restaurant with foie gras but that came at a hefty price tag. But at the price I was paying at La Banquise, this was worth more than every penny and beyond. The Banquise burger was tasty as well, served with fried onions and mushrooms, topped with Swiss cheese, tomatoes and lettuce and a spicy sauce it was not only juicy and moist the buns were super fresh and it contained the right amount of condiments. Not overly packed or messy.
Brains had La Taquise poutine at $ 9.75. If you are having the Mexican cravings this is the way to go. Served with generous portions of guacamole, sour cream, and typical Mexican toppings it was not only original but divine. Too much for Brains to finish we had to help her out.
Gonzo played it safe with his usual Cheeseburger trio for $7.95, but was very pleased with it. It too he said did not fall short of expectations.
We loved La Banquise, from the music blaring over the speakers, which we were told is chosen by the staff, to the latest new food creations. Even the art that hangs on the walls is a display of a consort of their creativity.
There is a feeling of a free-spirited atmosphere here which has probably contributed to its success over the years, especially among students and people in their 20’s, who make up a large part of the clientele. But the feeling also transcends from young to old as you can see the clientele includes families, which we saw plenty of this evening.
We left happy and satisfied and vowed to return again, maybe hamburger week! But those poutine’s are decadent and a MUST TRY. La Banquise did not make it on Montreal’s -30 classic iconic restaurants for no reason; there is always a good reason behind all the madness. I say it’s the poutine, addictive…
À la Folie (formerly La Maison du Macaron)
1126 Mont-Royal Avenue
(Between de la Roche & Christophe Colomb)
** Kiosk at Eaton Center-2nd Floor (Zone 210)
It was during a promotional event with my employer that I discovered À la Folie macaroons back in 2010. Before then, I had not really paid too much attention to macaroons, only occasionally picking one off a dessert tray here and there and usually at some hotel buffet. These were mediocre at best and never a particular draw for me. I must admit I am not so much of a sweet tooth and I always found macaroons too sweet. Back then macaroons were not as elaborate as they are now, made with chewy mounds of coconut or almonds, and egg whites, they tended to be sticky and flavorless.
But it was just around this period in 2010 that the cupcake and macaroon rage started, and having nothing in front of me to eat and being very hungry, I sampled a few and couldn’t stop. These were no ordinary macaroons; they were from La Maison du Macaroon. Ranging from different colors and flavors under the sun, they were absolutely decadent. Their macaroons are small perfectly round pockets of crispy exterior sandwich cookies that break between your teeth when biting into to them, filling your mouth with a smooth sweet ganache cream of your favorite choice of flavor.
I fell in love with these macaroons. The presentation was a whole other thing. Beautifully presented in gorgeous boxes, they look more like jewellery than food and make a great gift idea. Interesting I thought!
In 2012, French born pâtissier Gaëlle Crop and her life partner Johan Crop opened a second location at a kiosk in The Eaton Center Downtown. Gaëlle learned her trade in Paris, at the famed patisserie of Gérard Mulot, at the Plaza Athénée. They moved to Montreal and opened La Maison du Macaron on de la Roche St. in 2008 specializing only in macaroons and were met with a lot of success.
This year I revisited the kiosk at Eaton center when I wanted to purchase a box as a gift for someone and discovered they had rebranded and changed their name to À la Folie. They have added to their repertoire, single slices of French tarts, choux pastry, of course their famous macaroons in regular size or in larger formats. They are being more creative with different flavors and have changed the marketing of the store and the take-out boxes.
The new store is now on Mont Royal, has a new minimalist look and design, the grey decor highlighting their colorful products and making them pop at you from inside the showcases like real jewels.
The packaging is also more visually appealing: incorporating vibrant colors of a Moroccan baroque type theme. Each box is masterfully crafted so that each item is safely nestled in its own slat. You will receive with your boxed desserts matching shopping bags that feel more like you purchased your goodies at Holt Renfrew than a pastry shop.
Mission Accompli! I love making people discover new things, especially something of such high caliber as the patisserie of À la Folie!
I was more than pleasantly surprised and happy that I was able to please someone and introduce them to something new, I highly recommend a visit to the stores.
The frigid cold temperature that Montreal is experiencing this year does not want to let up; it has imbedded itself in our bones like two concrete slabs of the tallest skyscraper in the epicenter of our downtown streets. We have at least a few more weeks of winter left under our belts.
It is during these cold winter months that we all seek warm comfort food. For myself, nothing epitomizes comfort food more than a large bowl of soup or stew with a few slices of fresh country bread and butter to warm up my heart and soul on a cold winter’s day or night. It is during this time that I return to my roots and make a big stockpot of Minestrone Soup, like my mom used to make when we were growing up.
Minestrone is a thick soup of Italian Roman origin. Of course, there are many variations to this soup, but the original classic method consists of any types of vegetables (usually root vegetables) and some small pasta noodles or rice.
Considered a poor man soup, it is derived from whatever was leftover in the pantry at the time, pooled together to make a meal. Usually, it contains a base of vegetable or chicken stock, tomatoes, potatoes, root vegetables, some meat and beans for protein
This modern day recipe various considerably from what my mom used to make and what her ancestors used to make as soup.
During the World War II in Italy, fresh vegetables or produce was limited, as the villagers were not able to go out on a daily basis to tend to their fields. What they had left over in the pantry was mostly foods left over from the winter harvest. My mom’s recipe truly derived from “cucina povera” and only contained sautéed garlic, onions, celery, potatoes, canned tomatoes and rice. It was more like a thick porridge, but it was delicious and comforting.
Over the years, we have reaped many more benefits and live in different times when all is available to us. This is my version of rich man’s Minestrone made with freshest ingredients from the Farmers Market or supermarket.
Here is my recipe with everything thrown into it. Enjoy!
Makes 8 servings
Prep Time: 2hrs
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. butter
1 large onion- diced
2 carrots- peeled and diced
2 parsnips-peeled and diced
½ rutabaga-peeled and diced
2 celery stalks- diced
2 medium potatoes diced
½ lb string beans- cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups water
6 c. Chicken or vegetable stock
1 – (16 oz) can of whole tomatoes
1 tbsp. Beef Bovril ** or beef flavoured bouillon cube
½ head of cabbage-shredded
½ (10 oz bag) fresh baby spinach
2 medium zucchini diced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 can each (16 oz) white beans and red kidney beans (option) ** ½ can each
½ c grated Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Parmesan cheese (whichever preferred)
**Slices Italian country bread- slightly grilled with olive oil
In a large stockpot heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.
Sauté onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes and green beans for about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add water, tomatoes, broth, beef Bovril, spinach, zucchini, cabbage, salt & pepper.
Increases stove temperature to high and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or till vegetables are tender, but not too soft.
Stir in red and white beans and cook for 20 minutes till soup is slightly thickened.
Serve in bowls, topped with grilled Italian bread sprinkled with cheese.
Note: ** For a thicker heartier soup, you can add, 3/4 cup small pasta noodles, or pieces of diced sautéed beef cubes, or Italian sausage (removed from casing and sautéed in oil).
Just add 2 cups more water or stock to stockpot.
Bàcaro Pizzeria Urbaine
4259 Ste Catherine O/corner Olivier
Montreal (Westmount), Quebec
Cost: $ 115.03 (for two including drinks, taxes and tip)
Chef Hats: 3.5
I was excited to hear back in August 2014 that Westmount had gotten a new restaurant called Bacaro Pizzeria Urbaine. I was even more excited to hear that it was Chef Angelo Mercuri from Restaurant Vago around the corner on Greene who was the brain child and culinary hand behind the idea and the kitchen. So I added Bacaro to my wish list of restaurants to go for the New Year. A big fan of all that is the Mercuri clan, I have been to Vago numerous times while working on Greene Avenue and always enjoyed it. I have read that most restaurant critics say is advisable to give the new restaurant start ups a few months to get their grove together and to iron out the quirks. I am always looking for new pizza places for my Friday night indulgences. Westmount is an area I enjoy especially in the summer as it is away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, but you still get that downtown feeling. I like the way the streets go dead silent after six o’clock and you have the whole place to yourself, it desolately quiet for those romantic on date nights when you want to be alone walking the streets. What can I say, Westmount is a special place!
The idea and premise for Bacaro’s is suppose to be similar to that of the Venetian bacaros (taverns), in Italy which are a sort of local neighborhood meeting place for family and friends. They are usually a small humble restaurant that serves simple homemade food accompanied with local wines in a glass called ombretta. Bacaro’s mission tries to stay true to this Venetian tradition while adding a Montreal touch with our local products and style to create a unique experience. Chef Angelo Mercuri has also created every item on the menu from the wood fire pizza to the nutella fritters. They change up the menu every few weeks by adding a new pizza. So you will never get bored.
On the night we visited Bàcaro, we were there to celebrate my friend Grace’s Birthday. Hailing from Monaco, (close enough to Italy and Venice) she is it the epitome of class and a royalty. She had meticulously organized the evening herself, it was to unfold like this. We were to have cocktails and Prosecco at the bar, a fixed menu of pizza and salads and more prosecco for dessert, with coffee and cake.
Frenchie and I were the first to arrive and were shown to a reserved table for twelve people in the back of the restaurant. Not knowing of the arrangement that were made with the restaurant, we sat there and ordered our drinks, a bottle of mineral water San Pellegrino -$6.00, a glass of Valpolicella -Bolla -$ 7.00 and a local beer from Brierbier on tap for $7.00.
Yes, the wine was served in old-fashioned Italian wine glasses as in the true Bacaro’s of Venice, not the fancy tall stemmed wine glasses we are used to in fine eating establishments. T his is a casual pizzeria and they stay true to their mission in bringing you closest to the true experience. This was a good start and inexpensive as this is one of the cheapest prices I have seen for wine by the glass in a while and you get your 2-4 ounces in these glasses as they are filled to the brim.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to get there. After introductions, best wishes, gift exchanges, and all, we sat down to place our order from the menu which consisted of choosing from the à la carte menu or a fixed menu of two pizzas and two salads for $ 27.00 per person. The restaurant was very accommodating as they upped this to a choice of four pizzas and two salads with fritters for dessert for $ 27.00 per person because we were a large group. Too boot it seemed liked all you can eat, because the pizza kept coming and coming.
Frenchie and I sat across Helena “The Artiste” and her lovely husband Mr. Bobby Kennedy, a worldly man who is not only keenly quick-witted but also over the top funny. We got to the task at hand to order pizzas for us and the group. We started with the basic Margherita pizza (tomato, Basil and Mozzarella di Buffala), a Quattro Formaggio (Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Fontina and Ricotta with a balsamic vinegar). The Zaza (ground sausage, Mozzarella, red peppers and Basil) and a Pizza Primavera, which consisted of eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, arugula and mozzarella.
For Starters, we ordered the Caesar Salad (Romaine Lettuce, Croutons, Radishes and Parmesan) and a Rucola Salad (Arugula, pine nuts, lemon and parmesan). Both salads were of generous portions and very good. I preferred the latter (Rucola) as it was light and the pine nuts and lemon gave it a little”je ne sais quoi” edge to it. The salads were also replenished a few times during the course of the entrées.
We had two waiters serving us for our table these evening, the first who seated us and took our drinks was very pleasant and friendly ,a little quirky, but you could see from his demeanor that the restaurant management believes in hiring equal opportunity workers and for me this is a plus. I believe everyone deserves a chance and knowing how humble the Mercuri’s are, it’s a big plus for me. Kudos!
The second waiter was very accommodating but miffed as you can see he had a big group to handle and it was a little at a loss. We had to remind him a few time to bring us extra glasses, napkins and forks. All in all improvement in the service department is required. But the place was über overly busy this night and definitely the cause of the chaos.
As for our pizza, they started out good, the Margherita is always a little too plain for me, but it was a good light start, very light and thin crust, well done crust, cooked in wood fire oven and just the right flavors. The Quattro Formaggio pizza could have used a little more cheese, I felt they skimped on that, but it came drizzled with this balsamic vinegar reduction that made it original and very tasty compensating for the lack of oomph with the cheese. The Zaza pizza was our favorite, absolutely delicious, the right blend of Italian minced sausage and cheese, it was filling. The Primavera pizza was a pleasant surprise and very good, it hit the mark for me. The flavors of the eggplant with its tangy kick, the crispy zucchini and asparagus that were perfectly crunchy and not limp, it had copious amounts of arugula that added a little zing of bitterness to the pizza. I topped it with a teaspoon of chili peppers and oil that I found on the table in a jar. Wow! Heavenly!
I just kept eating and was a total glutton this evening with 10 slices under my belt. So I guess they did something right.
For the second round of pizzas, we had some complaints at our table, because the pizzas were a little overcooked, too dry or totally burnt. We have to remember that the wood burning ovens do tend to cook unevenly this is the only drawback with these types of ovens. One must remember that, the flavor is much more superior and better tasting with wood ovens. You have to appreciate this type of pizza, once you have established your preference, than change it up a little. But we did get replacement pizza and we got some to bring home.
Helena and I were ecstatic; we could both enjoy our pizza for morning breakfast and we had enough for the kids. Who can complain? We had lots of fun, laughs, great conversation and lots of positive energy and exchanges. I met some really nice people, made interesting new acquaintances, and all in all it was a very good experience, food wise and socially.
Love you Helena and I will not forget the Bombay bottle of gin next time. Grace, you were very sexy in your apron and glasses all night long, but always classy.
As the night winded down, for dessert, we received a plate of Nutella fritters drizzled with more Nutella chocolate toppings and more prosecco.
I was really full but managed to pop two of these into my mouth. Not a big nutella fan, but I absolutely loved them. The beignets were perfect balls of soft pockets. They were exceptional. I got to take them home too. The prosecco also flowed well with the beignets, as we kept drinking more.
I really like Bacaro, the decor, is very urban, casual and not pretentious, they have TV screens, for those who come to watch hockey, have a good local beer and eat some pizza or entrees or oven baked pastas.
The bathrooms are a thing of the eighties, very retro and a must see. It was the talk of the evening Note: Hand dryers are above the sink if you can reach.
The feel Bacaro is more Montreal than Italy, but the thought is there, the staffs is humble and familiar, the snobbiness of Westmount goes out the window, and felt more that I was in Little Italy or St. Leonard. What can I say again! If you can’t beat them join them but a definite return, over and over again and for the price it worth it.
SAT -Labo Culinaire Foodlab
1201 Boul St. Laurent (3rd floor)
Tel: 514-844-2033 ext 225
Chef Hats: 4
Cost=$ 100.03 (excluding tip) (a la carte menu-Shared)
Special Invites: Natasha Pickowicz and Paul Wetzel
Tasting Menu: $ 65.00 or a la carte
Starters: Crispy Raclette – made with Giolitto Toma cheese (piedmont), Reading from Springbrook Farm (Vermont) with olive fennel Foccacia bread and Mineola marmalade
Bitter Salad-: Cavolo Nero (black cabbage), Treviso, culatello, grapefruit Supremes and fried shallots with Societé original sunflower seed oil.
Duck Breast-: Chive Fazoletti, black trumpet mushrooms, heaven and earth turnips, pork and duck broth.
Ile Flottante- spirulina crème anglaise, poached meringue, blood orange, sponge toffee and pistachio.
Mignardises-:Hazelnut, apricot and anise biscotti, chocolate –dipped rosemary marshmallow
On the Third floor of the Societé des Arts Technologies Building (SAT) on St Laurent you will find The Food Lab or Lab Culinaire (in French). Since the opening of this moderate open concept space three years ago in late fall of 2011, it has been creating waves in Montreal’s culinary circles and among food professionals of the industry. Original in concept and design, it has become the place for people in the food and restauration industry and foodies alike, to come get away and enjoy some time in a milieu with their peers where they can share their ideas, learn new concepts or just enjoy a tète a tète, drinks and relax on their days off.
On January 26th, 2014, Food lab Co-chefs Michelle Marek and Seth Gabrielse (both formerly from Laloux) launched the first of a new series of creative culinary events being featured this year for the 2015 calendar at the Foodlab. For the first installment of the series, the invited guests were two New York chefs who are not unfamiliar to Montreal. Natasha Pickowicz, a former Montrealer who worked at the likes of Lawrence, Le Pick Up and also was a special food writer for the Gazette. Natasha is now a pastry chef at NYC Foragers City Table, along with her partner Sous-Chef Paul Wetzel who is in charge of the charcuterie and butchery section at Gramercy Tavern in the Flat Iron district of NYC.
Together this evening as invited guest to the event, they put together a tasting menu, showcasing simple and but precise local products from Vermont and Québec.The goal of these events is to go behind the scene and shedding new light on the chefs and producers that work mostly behind the scenes in and around Quebec, New York, Vermont and other area to be announced.
The menu this evening will be along the lines of what Marek and Gabrielse do weekly at the Food Lab, small simple plates, served individually or combined in a tasting menu that will blow you out of the water in originality and taste.If you are a big fan of New York food scene, this is a good way to sample some local talent without the hefty price tag of driving or flying to New York. The rest of the series of culinary events promises to be along the same lines, but also showcasing more local producers and brewers.
This evening, we went with the à la carte menu, just sampling what we really just wanted and sharing amongst us more or less. We started with two glasses of Pinot Noir-Cuvée Pierre Frick-Alsace, France at $ 10.50 a glass.
For starters we had a the entree of Crispy Raclette made with two semi soft cheeses, a Toma Cheese from Piedmont region in Italy, the other was a Reading cheese from Springbrook Farms in Vermont. Both of the same consistency the cheeses that had a slight kick and where beautifully paired with an olive Foccacia bread and Mineola (tangerine) marmelade. A great starter, with the sweetness of the citrus to motivate the appetite.
For my starter I had the Bitter salad with black cabbage (Cavolo Nero), Treviso, which is a is a red, spear-shaped variety of radicchio, grapefruit slices, fried shallots and Societé Original sunflower seed oil. If you are a fan of bitter salads, this is the way to go. A real palate cleanser and great anti oxidant properties. I have also discovered over the years the great products from Societé original. They are of high standards and used more and more with some of the cities great restaurants. They’re mission is also to promote Quebec products on a human level and strongly recommend them. http://www.societe-orignal.com.
Frenchie had the Duck Breast, a soup made with a chive infused Fazoletti’s (Square shaped pasta noodles), black trumpet mushrooms, and turnips, in a consommé of pork and duck broth. The duck Breast came served on the side, four pieces of tender flavorful breasts that he cut up and added to broth.
For the piece de non -resistance I had to try the Ile Flottante for dessert – a virtual floating island of spirulina crème anglaise ( Spirulina is a natural algae ,cyan bacteria that is incredibly high in protein and nutrients, it contains and can prevent allergies and reinforce your immune system) Now that being said ..The dessert also contained poached meringue, blood orange, sponge toffee and pistachio. The dessert was just simply outta of this world and one of the most original desserts I have had this year.
Frenchie had for dessert a plate of four mini desserts or mignardises a Hazelnut, apricot and anise biscotti, chocolate –dipped rosemary marshmallow, but he drooled over my ile flottante and agreed it was the way to go.
This was all served up , table side by the Chef Nastasha Pickowicz with her explanation on her take of the dessert. After a few compliments and chit chat, I was awed by her modesty and her humbleness.
Very talented and I am glad I got a chance to talk to her. This was the saving grace of the evening as my only disappointment in the whole evening event, was my misunderstanding that it was more of a culinary event where you get to see the chefs at work at their craft. I would have liked to have gotten a table next to open kitchen, ring side to witness their mastery first hand. Instead we were relegated to the sixty seats that occupy the open space restaurant and the tasting menu sans explications!
One thing I did witness and recognize was the one or two famous Montreal chefs and sommeliers on their day off attending the event and enjoying the event among their colleagues. This made me realize that The Foodlab is in fact the place to hob knob with the industry professionals and to boot you get to try something original and creative. Kudos!
105 St-Paul St. W. (corner St-Sulpice St.)
Type of Cuisine: Italian/ Neapolitan Pizza
Chef Hats: 4
I first heard about Restaurant Mangiafoco for the first time one evening about two years ago in Fall 2013 while watching Guide Resto Voir on Canal Évasion. What got my interest as I watched Anne Marie Whitenshaw sip some original funky sounding cocktail was the fact that the restaurant happened to be owned by Jeff Stinco, lead guitarist for Simple Plan. Now, normally I don’t like to drop names, but I will, because a have a good story to tell.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Stinco in New York in 2005 at the Meadowlands, while on their Zootopia Tour, through a mutual acquaintance Kenny Crouch, who was performing with Mariah Carey during the world tour that year. Yes, as you’re guessing the Montreal Foo Foodie used to be a groupie; but a bad one at that. That evening, I was introduced to the band because someone had the thought that since I was a Canadian from their neck of the woods, we had something in common that we could talk about. Not so, because I had never heard of them, and I kept embarrassing myself by calling them Basic Plan all night long. An awkward moment and not one I will ever forget. So, now as homage to them, I hang on to their every word, and I pay attention.
One balmy Sunday winter’s day, two years later while looking for a quick bite to eat at in Old Montreal, I stumble across Mangiafoco‘s doorstep. Unfortunately, we were too early and they were not opened yet for dinner. So I make reservations for the next weekend. I am excited and can’t wait to eat here. I hear it’s a cool hipster urbanites dream to hob knob with the rock stars, again.
I get dropped off at the door and hover in the portique for about fifteen minutes, while waiting for Frenchie to park the car. Yes, the parking dilemma again, when parking was right next door, but Frenchie is a guy and he doesn’t listen. This is not so cool for an ex-groupie, but I get to scope the place before I go into the restaurant. The entrance holds the vestiaire and a nook that I would call a coffee corner. While waiting here I smell the whiffs of strong coffee emanating from the Espresso machine reminding me that I am getting very hungry. But the smell of the coffee is so intoxicating, I am almost in the mood or one while I wait.
Finally Frenchie arrives and we enter the long narrow, multi levelled restaurant whose main focal point is a large bar at the center of the room. The room is dark, cool and buzzing, to the brim with people of all ages drinking and dining. The tables are set high up around exposed brick walls, almost suspended in mid air, with a futuristic feel. The place definitely has the “Rock Star’’ kind of vibe, like I am in Los Angeles instead of Montreal, or New York maybe ….
We are given a seat on one of the high tables next to the window, overlooking, Hotel Nelligan and Verses Restaurant, which is the best spot for people watching on this beautiful Montreal night.
Within minutes, once settled, our gracious waiter, Jean-Frederic, approaches and explains the concept of the restaurant to us, with its Mozzarella/Burrata Bar, appetizers, salads and pizza. He takes our order for a bottle of Valpolicella Campagnola at $ 42.00, a descent price and quickly returns and pours us two glasses. We have made our choice and decide to share their house speciality, a smoked Burrata, smoked in house, with a tomato and fresh basil salad for $ 28.00. For our pizza our choice is the usual, a Margherita and a Prosciutto and Arugula.
Mangiafoco’s Burrata’s Bar concept is original in that it is a little more extensive compared to other restaurants of the likes that have only one type of Burrata as usual appetizer on their menu. Here, you can pair four varieties of imported Italian mozzarella with accompaniments of your choice of sides, like prosciutto, braised pork, Gravlax, truffle peaches, marinated mushrooms and much more.
You can also choose from a handful of appetizers that include some old classic Italian favorites, like fried calamari, arancini siciliani, meatballs, prosciutto and melon, done Mangiafoco way.
When our smoked mozzarella di bufala arrived, it was a pleasant surprise. The ball of cheese was firm, mildly smoky and very different in taste and texture. A first for me and Frenchie, it was paired with a mix of halved cherry and kumato tomato salad and fresh basil. It was refreshing and not too acidic and a perfect start to the meal.
The Margherita pizza at $ 15.00 was basic, but the dough was chewy and flavorful and not too thin or dry. All their pizzas are cooked in a fire oven. A descent price comparative to other restaurants and this pizza is a notch above the typical gourmet pizza.
The Prosciutto and Arugula at $ 18.00 had the same chewy texture, a copious amount of freshly sliced good quality prosciutto, and just the right amount of fresh ruccola salad on top. The pizza was perfectly cooked, fluffy chewy dough that was just the right consistency .It tasted heavenly like pockets of chewy bread clouds. I was able to fold it over and eat it like a calzone. And had no issues eating the whole pizza by myself when I just usually have just two slices and I am already full.
What made Mangiafoco different and fun from many restaurants we have frequented lately, especially the pizzerias was not only the quality of the food but the vibrant bar scene that gave it an edge of excitement and fun. Even though we were nestled in the front of the house, in our private nook, the aura from where we were sitting was purely romantic, making it a great place to frequent for those date nights with a special someone.
The night was getting late, we were getting tipsy, and it was time to go walk with the fire eaters of the world and warm up the air of the frigid Old Montreal Streets with more festivities.
Mangiafoco is a definite return and must try for all. It was minus the monsieur basic, but not simple.
Happening Gourmand 8th Edition-Taverne Gaspar
89, rue de la Commune E. / at St Laurent
Tel : 514.392.1649
Type of Cuisine: Gastro Pub
Chef Hats: 3.5
Cost: $149.32 (3 persons with drinks)
There is something you should l know about me, I don’t like trying restaurants twice unless there is something really special about them. One reason being that in this great vast city of ours we have enough choices to dine out every day 365 days a year and still have enough fantastic restaurants to dine in for another year without ever going to same place twice. How many cities or towns can anyone do this in? Maybe New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome. This is why we should consider Montreal a great dining Mecca. It is unfortunate that we limit and confine ourselves to exploring different venues and therefore limiting our experience and culinary adventures. Of course, I have done the repeat thing ,as I too have grown accustomed to a place due to service, ambiance and comfort. There is also the fact that I don’t like to dine alone and feel the experience is shared better in a convivial setting. Thus we repeat and return to the same places. It is all not that bad, some places do merit a return and Taverne Gaspar is one of them.
This evening it was my good friend Indian Goddess’s Birthday and having done last year’s Happening Gourmand Festival at Mechant Boeuf, she wanted to try another restaurant from the Antonopoulos group of restaurants again this year.
We scanned the menus to all the restaurants listed and we decided that Taverne Gaspar had all the best choices for our liking. So we picked her up and decided to treat her out for a special evening. This year I had no qualms about the parking, we found one in the lot across the street, but for cheaper you can park in the Auberge du Vieux Port next door. We got dropped off right in front anyways and did not have to walk the chilly streets of de la Commune street this evening. We walked in and were quickly greeted by our hostess, and seated at our favourite table in the back. Same exact spot as last time. Best seat in the house I have to say.
We waited a little for Frenchie to arrive, meanwhile scanning the menus to see what we were in the mood for. I suggested we try the oysters this time around. None of us being big fans, we were feeling somewhat adventurous and trying just a few wasn’t going to kill us, and maybe they would. I was in the mood to venture forth and try them again. So we went with 1 each @ $3.00. We are very big risk takers! We were surprised that they went down easily and Goddess really liked them. They have the perfect splash of lemon with a kick of spiciness from the pimento on top. She was amazed she enjoyed it so much being her first time and a little sceptical. We discussed broadening our horizons by trying an Oyster House the next time we go out to dine, or trying things beyond our comfort zone that would surprise us. She agreed full well. We needed to start taking culinary risks.
As for the menu, the choices were limited this evening if choosing the Happening Gourmand Menu at $ 25.00, but at that price who can refuse. It still contains most of the best dishes and they are all equally as good.
Tonight Indian Goddess and I both started with a cocktail called “Peach my World “we loved the name and were both feeling in a peachy mood. The cocktail was made with Ginger Beer, Ciroc peach liquor and bar mix at $ 5.00, very inexpensive we thought. It was cool and refreshing and we downed it pretty fast and went for seconds. Frenchie stuck to his traditional route and had a pint of Pale Ale beer.
One thing about this evening that has happens too often with us, we all seem to want to eat the same thing, but heck , great minds think alike. Goddess was in the mood for the Beef Poutine, but did not want to eat it all by herself, so I helped her share it. It was very tasty and the gravy was made with cippolini sauce-(small onions). I distinctly tasted maybe a little bourbon in there. If you are a poutine lover, this is for you. Not the generic kind. Very gourmet and the onion sauce with the bold flavour of bouillon and cheese curds make it a divine mess.
I also was in mood for onion soup and ordered that as well for myself. It really hit the spot on this cold night winter Montreal night. The onion soup had just the right flavours and not too salty, like some other restaurants I have had this in. Again, I distinctly tasted something more than just bouillon in the soup, but it was delicious. It came topped with a crostini with Gruyère cheese. It went down smooth and fast. Absolutely delicious! Frenchie was also in the mood for onion soup and ordered one for him; he seemed pleased too with the flavours and really enjoyed it.
For our main meal Goddess and Frenchie ordered the Beef Bourguignon. What looked like a small amount was a sufficient portion of cubed beef with whole mini onions in a creamy beef sauce. The cubes were tender and tasty. They enjoyed their meal immensely and found it was very filling.
I instead opted out for the meat and ordered the Salmon Pave with vegetables and puy lentils and sauce vierge, the salmon was really moist and tender and not overcooked or dry. The lentils were also of the right consistency, cooked perfectly tender with the kick of the sauce vierge which consisted of a balsamic reduction sauce. The vegetables and a garnish of fresh salsa and greens further enhanced the flavours of this dish.
For dessert we had the Bumble berry cheesecake and Chantilly cream Brownie for Frenchie.
These were decadent. Well presented and a perfect complement to the meal.
All in all for $ 25.00 each per person is not much for such a meal a super great deal for such good food. I have to admit, this is a great marketing draw to get people out here in these frigid temperatures this time of year, when otherwise the streets would be empty. There are eight restaurants to choose from for all tastes and budgets. It turned out to be a great evening and a pleasurable culinary experience yet once again.
But we did overeat and when we got up to leave, we were feeling pretty stuffed. The next day I realized I had maybe eaten all of Jimmy Bean, because man was the gluten playing a toll on my stomach.
Next Year, we are trying the Verses Restaurant in Hotel Nelligan and maybe a lovely sojourn at one of the Boutique Hotels. I am taking reservations a year ahead for any takers.