Jean Talon Market- Henri Julien/Mozart
Charcuterie Balkani-Jean Talon Market-7070 Henri Julien Local # 2
Porchetta-6887 St Laurent
Milano-6862 St Laurent
Cafe San Gennaro -69 St Zotique
Alati Caserta Bakery-277 rue Dante
The best way to truly discover a neighbourhood and experience all it has to offer is by taking a walking tour. You can stop to visit all the little shops, restaurants and gems the neighbourhood has to offer. Along the way you may discover places that you were not aware existed. It will open up your mind, bring forth new adventures and open a new world of discoveries.
We did just that this summer with The Food & Drink Meet Up 2017 edition of a walking Tour of Little Italy. I try to make an annual trek to Little Italy, either by sometimes attending some festivity or making a pit stop at Milano’s Supermarket to purchase some imported product. As a creature of habit, I always go back to my old haunts which are the usual landmark places that I have been going to for years. I sometimes do not know about new places that have recently opened and miss out, until someone mentions it. Today was a good opportunity to learn about these different places and our walk not only served as a sounding board for other ideas but allowed me to experience places I would not otherwise have tried or known about.
We started our walking tour at 10:30 am at the Jean Talon Market. The overall tour lasted three hours, with a few pit stops for food and relaxing. The market is a proverbial favourite and the perfect place to start; go early in the morning as it is less busy and you get prime choice of the best produce. By the end of the day, some speciality items may be gone and it is so jam packed with people, walking through at a decent pace proves difficult.
The market is also a great way to sample free things, one of the kiosks at the center of the market selling fruits and vegetables actually cuts up their produce so you can have a taste before buying. They have a phletora of items on elevated tablets and you can take as much as you want.
We toured the market and stopped at Charcuterie Balkani Montreal, specializing in Artisan Romanian and European Sausages and Meats. This outlet of Balkani is the original location which opened in 2004, with another deli store and production facility that opened a few years later in Brossard. Balkani serves 70 kinds of meat products and homemade dishes. All products are naturally smoked with maple wood and do not contain gluten or phosphates.
Our guide Lina, recommended their Romanian Meat on a stick (Mititei) for a small fee of $4.00 to sample. Made with ground lamb and flavourful spices, this was specially grilled just for our group. It was juicy, tender and savoury. You can add your choice of mustard, but no condiments are just as good if not better.
We walked to the fruit and vegetable kiosk at the center of the market to sample cuts of the freshest produce of the day like tomatoes, cucumber, mangoes, apples and berries. We purchased some produce to take home with us. We saw other speciality kiosks and stopped to sample everything from artisan bread, cheeses, chocolates, maple syrup and many other items.
Once done at the market, we walked to St Laurent Boulevard and stopped at Porchetta, a little sandwich shop for a quick bite. Porchetta (meaning Piglet in Italian) serves Italian style pulled pork sandwiches and other Italian specialities like Salsiccia and Chicken sandwiches that are authentic to Roman style sandwich shops found in Italy. Different from Southern style pulled pork sandwiches which usually contains BBQ sauce. Porchetta‘s classic pork sandwiches are made from pork loin that is slow cooked in its own juices for many hours.
It is so tender and melts in your mouth. The pulled pork is served on the freshest homemade buns along with Chuck Hughes Jardiniera, packed with small pieces of vegetable and a hint of mint, this condiment compliments this sandwich perfectly and brings it a notch above the rest. Try their classic Porchetta sandwich with a Moretti Beer for About $ 19.00. It is true soul food. Porchetta also keeps expanding, with a locations downtown, St Leonard and Terrebonne.
After our quick lunch we crossed the street to Milano Fruiterie; an Italian speciality grocer who has been around since 1954. It has been serving the Italian community and Montrealer’ with fine Italian imported products as well as local produce for years. Newly renovated and expanded after a fire that almost destroyed it last year, it now offers a larger selection with a phletora of new imported products not found anywhere else. I have been coming here annually each summer to stock up on a Green Apple juice from Parmalat that I use to make my famous apple martinis for my Martini Night Parties by the pool. Milano remains, one of the only places I can still find it easily available without scouring the city.
Today, Milano had many booths set up for food sampling. We got to sample various styles of Arancini Siciliani imported from Italy which came from the frozen food section, but tasted as though they had been freshly made. We tried pieces of local cheeses that were on sale, cuts of foccaccia pizza, Italian salami and desserts that were also pre-packaged imports from Europe.
All we were missing was the coffee, so we walked to wards St Zotique to Cafe San Gennaro.Cafe San Gennaro is an offshoot of La Bottega restaurant located next door; it was opened in 2015 by Massimo, Fabrizio and Giovanna Covone, to offer their famous slab pizza daily on a take-out basis.
I have wanted to go to San Gennaro since its inception. I am a big fan of La Bottega having dined there many times over the years. Today thanks to Lina, I got to sample Cafe San Gennaro. I found the cafe truly exceptional and I am content to have discovered this new and wonderful place. The cafe is an ideal place to satisfy your little “sfizi” from delicious slab pizza, to desserts and great coffees. I love the decor and look and feel of the place. It has plenty of seating window side and otherwise to enjoy a good coffee and read a copy Of Panorama Magazine or sitting inside or outside on the terrasse with the company of good friends.
On Lina agenda today was sampling of their Arancini Siciliani stuffed with meat sauce, peas and mozzarella. I needed a coffee desperately, but I did not want to lose out, so I took the arancini and a slab of pizza to take home for a before dinner snack.
San Gennaro is a hidden gem and a great place to stop for coffee or a quick meal. It is always busy and their hours are short, it is only open in the daytime, no evening hours. Arrive at lunch time on weekends or midday, they also have a terrasse in summer and it’s a great place to hang out for a few hrs.
Our last stop was a sweet-tooth dream come true, the famous Alati-Caserta Bakery on Dante and Henri Julien across from the Dante Church. Alati-Caserta is another landmark that has been around since 1968. Renowned for its Tiramisu cake which always tops the best lists for years, other desserts like Sicilian cannoli and Sfoglitella’s do not fall short from this list either.
I took home one of their Lobster tails that was more the size of a small lobster than a tail to have for dessert that evening. It came filled with the best Chantilly cream it was just heavenly with my espresso. It was one of the best I have had in a long time. A perfect end to a great day of discoveries.
3310 Boul de la Cote Vertu
Ville Saint-Laurent, Quebec
Telephone: (514) 379-3798
Chef Hats: 3
Cost: $31.50- tax & tip included
In a building that housed a phletora of defunct chain restaurants near the Spheretech, Souvlaki Bar quietly opened amid little fanfare at the end of January 2017. I am not a big fan of franchises, the reason being that I strongly believe that the best operations are manned by one or multiple proprietors. There is a difference between a well known chef who has under his umbrella a few choice restaurants by different names and an owner who runs franchises. In the beginning they are all good and with time quality is forsaken, the theme gets old along with the décor and they become redundant. The Souvlaki Bar is a franchise with multiple locations already, at least four for now. The first opened at the Centropolis in Laval a few years back and the Saint Laurent location the second branch in Saint-Laurent also offers full dining and bar service. The Central Station and Vaudreuil locations are express counters.
The concept is a mix of good Greek food, a fun festive atmosphere with bouzouki music and of course a cool bar for drinks. What sets the Souvlaki bar apart from any other Greek restaurants is its fancy bar and thematic meals, it has combinations of Greek classic cuisine with a modern concepts. Their dishes have names like the Meat Shovels, Santorini salad, and Hercules, Zeus and Greek Massacres. Nothing says Greek like hoards of food.
Having heard of Souvlaki Bar from a friend who dined there after work and enjoyed it immensely, we decided to try it out one evening for after shopping at the mall nearby.
At first I thought Souvlaki Bar was a buffet or cafeteria style restaurant serving your choice of meat on a stick, fix it yourself salads and sides as in a buffet or Salad Bar. But it is more than that. It has the full gamut of classic Greek dishes that can be combined and tweaked to your liking. You can choose your choice of preferred grilled meats, create your own sides and salads. The menu is meat heavy, and you can go the fast food route by ordering souvlaki /chicken pitas or mini pitas.
Or you can order large portions of meat and fish psarotaverna style. I suggest you go with a big group and start your order with a few of their delicious entrees and complete your meal with a sampler of the Meat Shovels with your choice of salad and potatoes.
This evening we walked in without reservations and were seated promptly, the restaurant was not busy. Our waitress was not the friendliest I have ever met, she was a little abrupt and rough around the edges. It took a while for her to warm up to us and to take our order and return. She did come around and was very helpful by the end of our meal.
We started by ordering and entrée of tzatiki for $ 5.95 for starters. It came with a basket of pita bread that reminded me of Carveli’s pitas. Carveli’s is a Italian restaurant owned by Greeks on Cote St Luc Rd. that has existed since the 70’s and is famous for its bread like thick and flavorful pitas. It is infamous for its rude service, unclean conditions and mish mash of a menu. However it has survived all these years, I believe on just on their pita and soup alone and also for the fact that their take out service keeps them busy.
That being said, the pitas at Souvlaki Bar were comparatively delicious and the tzatiki was a perfect mound of thick Greek yogurt packed with garlic; but not too overpowering. We were starving and dove into the entrée, I didn’t even have enough time to take a picture but it was a good start to the meal.
We also ordered a chicken pita platter for $16.95, which consisted of two pitas atop rice and a Greek salad on the side. The chicken pita was really good, packed with more of their thick tzatiki, lettuce and onions, the chicken was flavorfully marinated with lemon and oregano, the pita bread thick and soft which one can describe as having the consistency of a thin foccaccia.
The Greek salad consisted of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and a nice slab of feta cheese and kalamata olives and a marinated hot pepper. The in house salad dressing is decent and although heavily doused, it had mild flavors of garlic and dill and was refreshing.
It was a cheap and quick bite after spending lots of money shopping, but worth another visit to try their meat shovel platters, grilled chicken, massacre potatoes, Santorini salad and mini pitas with special spicy red hot sauce. Souvlaki bar also has fish and seafood like grilled octopus and calamari.
1832 Rue William/Rue des Seigneurs
Telephone : (514) 846-1832
Tasting Menu: $ 65.00- without wine tasting.
Cost $ 254.53 (for two including tax and tip)
Chef Hats: 4.5
There is no doubt that the team behind Le Fantome is multi talented, they were voted #8 in En Route Magazine in 2016, a couple of months after they initially opened. Eater blog swears by them and Lesley Chesterman gave the restaurant a great review and dinners have kept coming for the last two years and it is not only the local residents of Griffin town that frequent Le Fantome but they come from all over town, to sample the ingenuity that emanates from this kitchen.
Jason Morris is the chef behind Le Fantome, a force to be reckoned with on many levels. His partner Kabir Kapoor comes from long lineage of restaurateurs, his Dad owns Le Taj downtown, a landmark restaurant that has been on the Montreal scene for over twenty years. This means he literally grew up in the restaurant business. This is evident in the manner in which he deals with his all his clientele. I can guarantee this, as I experience it first-hand this evening. He makes sure that when complete your meal that you are 100 % and completely satisfied. The hospitality at Le Fantome is amazing, the service outstanding, the food fresh, original, creative and out of this world. Yet this evening we experienced a few glitches, minor but enough to make you think twice about going back.
Relatively young, Le Fantome, opened in 2015, at first it was an a la carte menu with small plates under $20.00, then they switched to an only tasting menu for $ 65.00, the reasons only known to them. My guess is it makes it easier for the kitchen staff and produces less wastage. Forewarning, their website literally has no menu posted and no indication of what you are up against. The menu changes constantly on a weekly basis depending on local market produce. The meal is a total surprise and left to the discretion of the chef.
The menu is revealed to once you are seated and ready to have your meal. Food allergies and food limitations can be accommodated but better to mention it when reserving. It is only when I called to confirm our reservations that it was explained to me that the tasting menu was the only choice we had. It was a take it or leave it situation and to some it may not be acceptable for them, but to any adventurous foodie it is exciting and a challenge. Foodies thrive on these situations and love to be awed and inspired. All that said, they are very accommodating and one of our diners just had dessert.
Once there, be prepared for lots of up selling by the wait staff, with additional costs if you want wine tasting with the nine course sampling menu and extras for some of the signature dishes. This is fine and almost expected as many restaurants do this as a way to increase profits. After all restaurants are a business and they do need to survive. Just go in expecting to pay more than $ 65.00 for your meal and bring extra cash if you feel like indulging.
I am prepared to spend my hard earned cash when it comes to having a great meal and a wonderful experience. I like transparency from the onset and dislike confusion especially with the tab at the end of the meal.
Do not share the desserts it will save you a headache at the end of the evening. The manner in which he tab is calculated here gets confusing and was such a source of irritation this evening to the point it spoiled our whole experience.
We had a piece of bread charged twice, a sandwich the size of a thumbnail charged 4 times and a piece of cheese charged three times on a tab for two. It was very confusing and to add insult to injury when we asked for an explanation, our waitress got nervous, fumbled with fractions and insisted repetitively this is how they do things. It then escalated into an argument when people were confused and asked for a better explanation. After five glasses of wine, a CPA wouldn’t understand their methods and reasons. Argh.
No matter what the cost, the portions sizes for the dishes we received were way too small. Le Fantome takes the word tasting menu to a whole other level. Two to three bites per dish, enough to savor and tease. With nine courses, this should have been enough, but it was not. I was still hungry and I have a small appetite.
Nonetheless, the food was delicious and left you craving for more.
We all started with wine or cocktails, I had the Sazerac Cocktail, and yes it originated from Louisiana, but was told it was a mix of rye and whisky created in Quebec during the prohibition era. Ugh!
Brains had the Fantypop, a mix of Fanta & Bubbly. It was weak attempt and version of a Mimosa.
Mizz Oz and Miss Ross had the wine pairing, five selected wines by the sommelier which was the best route to go, at an additional cost of $ 50.00 above the $ 65.00 cost for the tasting menu plus the extras. Barbie had the glass of Kepos-Toscana at $ 12.00 which went well with the meat dishes in the menu like the Veal and duck.
We were served a convivial Amuse Bouche called Popcorn. A large corn puff styled in the shape of a large chip that was set in the middle of the table atop a bowl that was too small to hold it. The dish was meant to be shared between four people. Crunchy and Sweet with drizzle of maple syrup and sugar. It reminded me of a larger version of a Munchos chip but sweet. Not a much of a teaser but definitely original.
Next was a dish called Bagel, a pave of cured smoked Salmon, atop a smear of cream cheese and a mix of black poppy and sesame seeds and crispy onions. I loved this, the name sake comes from the fact it tasted like a bagel minus the bagel. Simply delicious and perfect for those on a gluten free diet.
Next we had the Veal Tonnato, thinly sliced slivers of veal, on top of a potatoe puree and a beet in a wine reduction sauce as a base. The dish was very tasty, the flavours exploded in your mouth. The dish was flavourful but insufficient to get the full benefits, two bites and it was gone. Beautifully paired, I did not understand why it is called Tonnato, as the description stipulated; it did not contain any trace of tuna unless it came masterfully masked. I had no semblance or taste in my dish.
Set on the table to be shared again was a slab of homemade Corn Bread and herbed butter. Not the usual corn bread that I am accustomed to, this one had a healthy crust and was moist on the inside. It was also considered as one of our courses. I do not feel it can be categorized as such. Nonetheless, it was good and decadent with the herbed butter. I loaded up on the bread to fill me up.
Next we had the Orrechiette with peas & bacon. Le Fantome`s version of Mac and Cheese but a zillion times better. The portion we received was creamy and flavourful with pops of fresh peas against the saltiness of the bacon. The Orrechiette looked more like long Cavatelli. Portion were again too small, two bouchées and it was gone.
Next sampler was Flounder with slivers of radishes and fruit with raspberry foam. The flounder shaped like a terrine and sliced thinly. Topped with two types of radishes, that may have been marinated. A simple dish with not much accoutrements, and it married well with the sweetest of the foam and added a kick to otherwise bland fish.
The piece de resistance was the Duck Breast Magret with a puree of celery root and rondelle of aubergines in a jus decorated with edible flowers. Everyone loved this dish and said it was the best. I agree. The duck was perfect, very tender and not at all fatty.
Next we ordered a dish called Bisaillon cheese for an additional $ 5.00 split four ways. Made with a goat cheese base served warm à la crème brulee style. The top crust melting into a warm cheese that once spread on the crisps combined a phletora of flavours and textures of sweet, crunchy and creamy. This dish was original and wonderful. Considered more of a teaser than a meal, we got one spoonful each. The nutty bread crisps were packed with grains, cranberries and sunflower seeds. .
We couldn’t resist ordering their signature PFGJ Sandwich. Peanut butter, foie gras and jelly sandwich for $ 15.00.
Like Joe Beef, who has its double down sandwich, Le Fantome has their foie gras sandwich. I have to admit I loved this. It came served in a whimsical paper take out bag with a ghost drawn on the front. Again shared by four it was too small to enjoy. Have a stab at it alone, totally worth it.
Finally, to end our meal a dessert called Volcanic Ice. The dessert was a cross between a red velvet cake and AERO chocolate bar. Atop a sour cream quenelles that made it à la mode. The name Volcanic perfectly coined as it was hard on the top with a red volcanic icing yet airy and bubbly on the inside like an Aero bar. Simple yet delicious. Coffees, cappuccinos, espressos and teas capped off the meal with port for those who took the wine pairing.
I have to give Le Fantome 5 stars for their food creativity and masterful skilled presentations. Jason Morris is very talented and his talent is obviously on display here. I knew this when I decided to visit Le Fantome after seeing his skill at the Omnivore Master demos in 2016. But after the kerfuffle with the tab, and the complaints I got from my fellow dinners that dishes were too small for the $ 65.00 plus price we paid. I have to take off points for the minor glitches experienced at the end of the meal and the price quality rapport. We sort of felt bamboozled into paying for something that was not clear and above all felt short changed. But these things happen especially when we have no control over our choices. Warning: just go without prejudice you will be awed by the food alone.
Imadake (Japanese Isakaya)
4006 Rue Sainte-Catherine/ Atwater
Tel: (514) 931-8833
Chef Hats: 4
Here we go again, another review about another Japanese pub. It seems these days that I am perpetually feasting on Japanese food, eating and drinking my life away in all these Izakaya’s.You may be partially right! Looks like I am running through a list of sorts that I have compiled either on paper or hidden in my subconscious. It may seem like so, but there is a good explanation and it is not the Foo-Foodie’s fault. This phenomenon can be blamed on Brains, my sidekick who always suggests the next best thing when it comes to Asian food. It has been a few years that she first mentioned she wanted to take me to Imadake. Having dined there a few times, she swore by it. I now I know why, Imadake is really good.
Sitting on the edge of Westmount and Downtown on Ste Catherine and Atwater, it rests in a kind of no man’s land, amongst dilapidated buildings and rows of bankrupted businesses. If you do not have the exact address it is very hard to find as the only visible sign appears on the door. Once inside it looks like the classic watering hole, with its dark wood furniture, banquettes and boxed crate seating. It is dark with sparse lighting and black walls that exhibit some splashes of color and whimsical chalkboard drawings. At the end you will find an open kitchen where you can hear the chef and his staff yelling out orders.
Imadake has the typical Izakaya’s feel and set up, when it comes to menu and logistics. The menu consists of course of Japanese style tapas, small portions but at affordable prices. Served with lots of sake or your choice of alcohol. Considered traditional Japanese street food, it is fun and exciting with all its different influences.
In terms of décor, the only thing that I found visually unappealing was the exposed air ducts, which did not benefit the esthetics of the place. I believe this is done more to create height in this small space. A small detail easily overlooked because Imadake definitely makes up for it in service and food quality.
It was such a beautiful day and today we chose to sit in the sun near the window. Our amazing waitress, who not only was the cutest thing I ever saw , but was super accommodating and made some really great suggestions. At the end of our meal she also gave us a complimentary sake bomb so we could have gotten the full benefit of our experience here.
The quiet atmosphere today was also not the usual, as we had arrived at off hours in the late afternoon, just before the dinner rush .We just happened to be driving by when Brains suggested we stop to eat. We walked in without reservations.
We were immediately seated and given the menu. After the opening conversation and asked if it was our first time, we started with a Sake Sangria for $ 9.00 each. A refreshing drink made with sake wine and a mix of citrus juices as a base. Garnished with fresh blackberries and orange slices; it hit the spot.
Brains knew exactly what she wanted and after a brief discussion we had decided on the various choices on the menu.
I spotted Beef Tataki on the menu for $ 4.50 and had to have it. One of my proverbial favorites, it satisfied all my carnovoristic tendencies. We got a very generous portion of thinly sliced raw beef, marinated in Ponzu sauce with hints of sesame oil, green onions and garnished with crispy tempura.
This was a perfect mixture of textures and flavor and more than enough for me. I was satisfied with just this dish, but then we had also ordered a phletora of dishes.
We started with salad called Gomaee -$ 2.00, a light spinach salad with sesame dressing which is a staple at many Japanese pubs. I particularly like the salad dressing. So aromatic and flavorful, the salad contained a substantial amount of dressing that sat at the bottom of the bowl for extra dipping. I could not get enough of this. I loved the dressing.
Next we were served the Goat cheese balls for $ 3.50, coated deep fried triangles of goat cheese drizzled with raspberry sauce. These were a mix of sweet and sour, absolutely delicious and not at all heavy. An acquired taste, one or two among a few people is sufficient as they are heavy. This dish is a dream for all those goat cheese lovers.
Also sampled was Takoyaki-Fried Octopus for $ 3.00, garnished with bonito flakes. Takoyaki is a popular street vendor food, which reminded me of Polynesian Po Po Balls back in the heydays when Polynesian food was all the rage. I am used to having octopus marinated and grilled Portugeuse style and this dish was a welcome surprise. It consisted of six tender doughy pockets of coated fried dumplings with octopus centers. Drizzled with a mix of takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayo and bonito flakes. This was a total hit. I loved the bonito flakes which enhanced the fishiness of this dish.
Along the same lines, we had the Yaki Ika for $ 5.50, a large squid that was grilled and served with Japanese mayonnaise, lemon and lime wedges on the side. A simple dish in its simplest form, it is perfect for those die hard calamari lovers. The squid served lightly grilled, was tender and not rubbery. It was exceptionally good with the side dish of Japanese mayonnaise for dipping which enhanced and added flavor to an otherwise bland dish.
More dishes kept arriving and we were almost at the end of our meal. Next we were served Oba to Baniku -$ 3.50, two chicken skewers that were also grilled and served plain with just with a stream of sweet sauce. Simple, yet tasty and last but not least a Vegetarian Okonomiyaki -$5.00, which looks like an omelet served with tons of bonito flakes that shriveled with the heat of the omelet and seemed to be moving on the plate; something to watch in itself. I liked this dish as it was packed with flavors, except for the overwhelming bonito flakes which made this dish rather salty and fishy. I recommend you go easy on the bonito flakes, but they are a must to make this dish visually compelling and successful.
Our lovely waitress came back to ask if we wanted dessert. We were completely stuffed by now, and could not have another bite. She asked how we found our meal and brought us a complimentary sake bomb, with all the traditional chanting. I loved Imadake, if your flavor of the evening is an Izakaya; this has got to be one of the best this city’s has to offer. I definite return for me. Kampai!
2077 Rue Stanley/Sherbrooke St.
Cost: Sunday Brunch Buffet: $ 17.95 (tax & Tip $ 24.95)
Chef Hats: 3.5
It has been over 30 years since Mr. Vinod Kapoor first opened Le Taj Restaurant. It is now considered a landmark restaurant not only for its many years of service but for its good food, great ambiance and withstanding the test of time in a volatile and competitive market of restaurateurs.
Back in the heyday Le Taj was considered Fine Haute Indian Cuisine, if one can phantom that. For the Montreal Foo Foodie, Indian food has always been a source of comfort food. Over the years I heard many positive things about Le Taj, it has always come highly recommended, but somehow it has eluded me. I wrote it off as not being in the stars for me to dine there up until now when a friend suggested we dine there for Sunday brunch and she literally drove me there.
Our day started off effortlessly, no traffic, parking in front and no reservations. We walked in and were greeted by Mr. Kapoor himself, who is still manning the podium (at times). He was not too happy to see us arrive without reservations this morning and the look on his face said it all. He did not look like a happy camper this morning ,but his could more because I hear that he is having some financial issues with some property he purchased in Little Burgundy of late, than with us. There was plenty of room for us, even though they were very busy and almost full. We did manage to get a lovely seat near the window on this bright Sunday morning, overlooking the construction zone and orange cones permeating Stanley Street.
I sat down and admired the wonderful decor for a moment before we were served water and given the menus. On display were a phletora of tasteful Indian and Tibetan artefacts and panels. Some I heard coming from the Indian Pavilion at Expo 67, after its dismantling. What a perfect way to celebrate Montreal 375th birthday and pay homage. The decor at Le Taj is modern and chic and very different for an Indian restaurant. The decor is still very classy with its crisp white walls, glass floor to ceiling wine cave and dark wood tables and flooring. Yet it still commands a fine dining status due to its white table cloth service. Le Taj is still holding its ground after all this time and is a beautiful space to dine in.
Our waiter returned again to ask what we wanted to order and we opted for the buffet immediately and began feasting. We started with a Dahl soup, thick with a puree of lentils and chickpeas. The soup was deliciously good and a great way to start the meal, comforting with its spiciness and subtle flavours of curry.
In same sitting we also took some Vegetable pakora and mini Samosas with chutney and mint yogurt dip as an entree with a suggested side of spicy pickled julienned carrots; a staple at a lot of Indian restaurants. The Samosas were okay but lacking in flavour, no hint of coriander or spice. The pakora had been sitting out under the lamps for a while and were a little dry.
For my main meal I chose Tandoori Chicken and Lamb Jalfarezi, no Butter Chicken was not to be found in this buffet. The Lamb Jalfarezi made up for it and was delightful and packed with flavours, this was my favourite. The Tandoori chicken was overly dry as always in a buffet. A side order of Basmati rice and Naan bread complimented the lamb dish and helped scoop up the flavours.
The next items taken from the buffet was the Dahl Mahkni a stew of black lentils, sautéed onions and tomatoes with hints of curry which was delicious. Also sampled was a sweet mix of gourds with okra which was good and worthwhile and another vegetable dish which consisted of a mix of carrots and mushrooms that I found flavourless and generic.I found Le Taj to be more vegetarian than anything else. The buffet also was limited on choices, but then for $ 17.95 I did not expect too much, so I got what you pay for!
For Dessert, I had the Honey balls- with some fruit and corn bread cake, which is also a classic staple in Indian Cuisine. They had a yogurt based pudding which did not look interesting and I did not sample, more because of my lactose issues than anything else. My stomach was already churning as I find Indian food and the heat to be hard on the stomach first thing in the morning. But nothing was too overly hot at Le Taj, which pleases the masses.
Service was friendly and very accommodating and we had plenty of water when required.
I loved the Le Taj more for the decor and price then for the food. While lining up at the buffet to pick our food, the wall doubles as a window where you can witness the chef prepare fresh Naan bread in a Tandoori (clay oven). I thought this to be a nice element that many Indian restaurants do not offer. The Naan bread was really fresh and deliciously warm. It was soothing for the soul and much required on this Super Soul Sunday.
Would I venture downtown again for Indian brunch, not unless you can wow me with super delicious food, aside from decor at Le Taj, everything served today can be had elsewhere for environs the same price. If you live downtown it’s a different story.
56 Avenue Laurier O. / Ave de l’Esplanade
Telephone : (514) 276-5864
Cost:$ 134.48 ( 2 persons including tax & tip)
Chef Hats: 4.5
Restaurant Jun-I located on Laurier Avenue in Outremont is home to one of this city’s best and top Japanese sushi chefs, Chef Junichi Ikematsu. Born in Kyoto Japan, his love of cooking brought him to Montreal at the age of 17, where he continues to lead as one of the top three sushi chefs in the city. Some of us may remember him as the Executive Chef at Soto on St.Laurent Boulevard, where he manned the kitchen for many years, bringing us his wonderful creations and master skill of sushi making and fine Japanese cuisine. After the closure of Soto in 2005, he decided to open his own place with his namesake and has garnished wonderful reviews for over 12 years.
Restaurant Jun-I is not only very popular with the French Outremont crowd but with all nationalities and sushi lovers from all over the city who come to sample his classic Japanese sushi at its best; it was becoming that his dishes also incorporate and showcase some local Quebec products.
I have to admit what brought me to Jun-I this evening was pure curiosity. I have eaten in many Japanese and Sushi places in Montreal over the last 10 years, thanks to my daughter who is impassioned with Japanese culture and when I ask “what you would like to eat” her first choice is always Asian.
Over the years I have always heard a whisper of sorts when it comes to chefs who are doing great things in the city. Montreal, one can say compared to other metropolitan cities has a shortage of great and famous sushi chefs. There are many that are good, but I can only think of three that everyone talks about and that come to mind who have garnished a big reputations ; Antonio Park, Chef Tri from Kaizen and Tri Express and Nozomu Takeuchi’s of Nozy and of course Juni as everyone knows him by.
It was only befitting that I finally try Jun-I to see what it was all about. What makes or breaks a restaurant for me is not only the food which it first and foremost, but the overall experience. Décor, service, originality, creativeness and professionalism are very important and I base my reviews on if all of these criteria’s are met. Chef Junichi and the staff hit all the marks this evening on all levels. Therefore I highly recommend the place.
From reservations to end of the meal, hospitality and professionalism were at the forefront. Reservation went without a glitch even though we teetered with the amount of people attending. Final count we had to remove a few places because of last minute no shows and there were no qualms about it. The chef graciously greeted me personally, service went without a glitch and we were not asked to leave because we had exceeded the allotted time for the first service. Our dessert course was not cut short because there was a line up at the door, nor we were rushed to leave and could not complete our meal.
We arrived early and found parking right in front on the street, we walked in and found the décor to be simple, clean and not busy on the eyes. Simplicity at its best, set up like most traditional Japanese style eateries, with light colored wooden tables and chairs and an angular sushi bar (which is the best seat in the house). The décor is minimalistic, yet warm. A nod from the chef and some chit chat with our server and we were on our way to a great meal.
I started my evening with a glass of Bourgogne Vezelay wine for $ 13.00, I wanted something light and crisp this evening and was not much in the drinking mood. A few people in our dining group ordered sake to share. Restaurant Jun-I is known to have some of the best affordable and original sakés that pair well with their meals and it is worthwhile to go this route. I highly recommend this too.
For entrees we started with a phletora of items, being a big group. Some took the tasting menu at $85.00 which gave them a great sampling of chef Juni favorites.
I started with the Shika Ika for $21.00, one of the dishes on the menu that blended local Quebec products done in a Japanese style. The entrée consisted of a thinly sliced raw Venison Tataki, with pan-seared squid, onions, crispy nori and garnished with mesclun salad diabolique. The dish was a perfect starter and absolutely delicious, the venison was not at all gamey and well cured. The salty nori, onions and squid complimented the venison by adding flavor and texture to the dish. The bitter salad further enhanced adding an additional kick to the dish.
Along with the Shika Ika we shared a Kaiso Trio salad to refresh the palate for $9.00. The Kaiso was a mix of Wakame, Tosaka and Ogonori seaweed with a shiso dressing. I loved the presentation and an explanation ensued to inform about the different salads and their names. Set out nicely on a long plate, the seaweed was shaped in shredded mounds that we were able to pick up with our chopsticks and sample one of each. Although the portions were small it was suffice as a palate cleanser and it did not taste fishy or overpowering.
For my main meal I had the Spicy Kani Age sushi platter for $15.00. Five pieces of warm maki made with soft shelled crab, deep fried in Cajun spices, with avocado, cucumber centers and served with a caramel soya. Served warm, it was a pleasant surprise and at first I thought it was chicken. Very original in taste the maki’s were a perfect blend of spice and sweetness. I loved this dish and could have had more.
Also shared was the Gindara, cooked marinated black cod, in miso-yuzu, dashi and tomato fish stock, candied cherry tomatoes, edamame, salmon roe, and seaweed for $ 22.00, a tender morsel of flaky cod that just melted in your mouth.
We also shared between the table a Geinmaicha which consisted of a sampling of five plain sushi`s (without rice) of super fresh organic salmon, red tallow tail tuna, sea bass, arctic char and a scallop served with four different sauces. All the fish sampled were really fresh and even tastier especially when dipped in the various sauces which added either a light salty flavor or sweetness and enhanced the flavor of the raw fish.
For the rest of table they sampled the Dancing Unagi-$ 12.00 with-Red tuna, eel, tobiko, cucumber, avocado, the
B-52 – for $10,00, Red tuna, with spicy mayonnaise and avocado and the Arc-en-Ciel for $12,00$ which consisted of Crab avocado, cucumber, variety of other fish. All was to everyone liking and no complaints.
Two of our dinners sampled the tasting menu and found it to be a little expensive.
For dessert, I ended my meal with the Sawayaka -$12.00, a light dessert that tasted like a pancotta center thinly sliced blend of oranges, grapefruit and frozen cherry tomatoes, strawberry sherbet, topped with green tea sherbet dabs of whipped cream and flowers. Purely refreshingly cool on the palate and a good way to end the meal on a hot summer evening.
Two other desserts were sampled the choco brulee ,which was a slab of thick chocolate mousse cake with sour cream frosting and ice cream quenelles for $ 12.00 and another dessert which consisted of flan with sour cream quenelles, white chocolate shavings and a crunchy mix of nougat and nuts for $ 13.00.
We were enjoying the meal so much we forgot we passed our 2 hour mark. I was waiting for the waiter to pull my dessert from under my eyes and say we had to leave, but it did not happen. Instead he came around and asked if we wanted anything else and asked if we enjoyed our meal. We stayed passed 9 pm having more tea and lingered talking about the great meal we just had and the great service. When it was time to leave we paid and sat outside talking some more, about the evening and where we wanted to go next, till it got too late we had to go home.
A perfect evening, Thank You Chef Junichi for making our dinner a successful event, for all your hospitality and great service a very memorable evening indeed.
3339 Boulevard des Sources /Brunswick Boul.
Telephone : (514) 684-3131
Cost: $ 75.37 for two tax & tip included.
Chef Hats: 3.5
I first heard of Maiko Sushi on Bernard Street in the late 80’s, at the time it was one of the first sushi restaurants to pop onto the Montreal restaurant scene. It was a popular place not only for its location but for its fresh sushi, or so I was told by a girlfriend of mine who lived around the corner. She would dine there all the time and raved about how good it was. I never tried the Bernard Street location, but over the years it garnished quite a good reputation and was a proverbial favourite for those near and far until Nov 2016 when it closed for good.
Circa 1997 the second branch of Maiko Sushi opened in the West Island by Chef Maiko herself. This time I was living right around the corner and glad that I could finally get to sample some of their fine Sushi and Japanese speciality after all these years and not have to travel too far.
The West Island branch was a lot posher than the original location and a lot more expensive. Considered fine dining from the onset, it was not a place where you can just pick up and go. The décor was stunning, it had a lounge area for drinks and partying and a cascading waterfall on the side wall. It was the type of place you would go for a special occasion or celebration of sorts. I can count how many times I have been there with one hand in 20 years. Since then it has changed, the waterfall is gone and so is the party section; it has become a more family oriented restaurant. As a family we dine out for sushi a lot, but Maiko Sushi was not always on our list because of the steep prices.
This evening it was time to remedy that and I wanted to bring the next generation to Maiko Sushi. We have literally tried, many times over, most of the Sushi restaurant in the area. Maiko Sushi was a place we had not been to in a while. It remained on my bucket list of places to revisit for last seven years. A visit was overdue.
To my surprise, I found that Maiko Sushi in the West Island is still going as strong as ever. It is always full and very busy. Reservations are required if you go during peak hours and do not want to wait. Service is speedy and food still of good quality. Unwavering, Maiko Sushi has stood the test of time. The décor has changed a little, but it does not look outdated. They have added more tables and chairs to accommodate the demand for more patrons. The menu is relatively the same with all the Japanese favourites, chef specialities and plenty of sushi. The prices are still higher compared to “all you can eat” places, but the experience is more relaxed and finer. The restaurant does tend to get noisy, so it is not totally Zen. Considered a popular place with all age groups, the atmosphere is lively.
Tonight we started our meal by the traditional Oshibori hand towels for cleansing, something only finer Japanese restaurants in Montreal still do. We started by sharing a green tea and an entrée of Gyozas for $ 8.00. Gyozas are Japanese dumplings usually stuffed with some sort of meat and served steamed. At Maiko Sushi they were stuffed with a mix of pork, chicken and shrimp and served crispy with a citrus infused soya sauce. They were delicious; we only got two each which was just not enough. One entrée per person would have sufficed.
For my main meal, I ordered Shrimp Tempura for $ 24.00. A generous portion of six long shrimp coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried. The dish also contained a mix of vegetable tempura. These were crispy and good, not overly oily and fresh. I was content with my choice.
My dining partner had the Sushi Matsu for $ 25.00, with a complimentary Miso soup. Her dish contained 14 pieces of sushi, comprised of a mix of sashimi, maki and a chef special.
She liked her dish, she thought the sushi to be fresh enough and she got four extra sushi’s. The Miso soup was generic but good.
The tea was also complimentary and we were not charged. Our waiter was quick and efficient but not overly friendly or much of a conversationalist. We were in and out quickly and did not linger as our table was needed. Just another casual dinner out, that seemed pretty low key to this foodie.