gettin’ fingers messy with global flavours @ Cartel Street Food

1/2 a lobster, awwww yeh

Oh Golden Square Mile.  Not that I ever called it that when I lived there.  Downtown Montreal was golden all right, but I never figured that the sheen of the streetlights on the mirrored shops and offices had anything to do with the area’s non-colloquial name.  Home of the student, the barhopper, the vagrant, and the seeker of fantastic cheap asian food, I alas had a student’s budget to contend with when I actually *lived* there, and so had precious little exposure to the panoply of affordable bite ’ems that really do tumble from the kitchens all around.  Cartel Street Food, one of the newest on the block, features street eats (the funnest, bestest, most delish and usually most crispy-awesome type of food out there – *humble opinions*) at prices that students can actually swing some of the time.

I mean, it’s tapas, so yeah the portions are well, wee.  But herein lies the fun:  the whole menu becomes a gleeful christmas wishlist of foodie proportions – the urge to simply point, request, and consume a smorgasbord of the dishes becomes SO easy and so irresistible that it’s exactly what we ended up doing.  Within reason.  Sort of.  Heehee.

Started with a big ‘lo bowl of fried clams with tartar sauce (8$), which might have been the most memorable bite of the night for me.  “like bubblegum made of seafood,” but more accurately, like fresh, sweet and tender morsels in a perfect ethereal breading laced with a detectable amount of pepper.  It’s fried foods, but it doesn’t *taste* like fried foods (i.e.: not greasy in the slightest).  A must try.

We also tried the duck taco (3$).  Best with a green rain of lime juice (for needed acid) and eaten while still hot, I could have had even a few more of these.  Not incredibly spicy, nor particularly special, but a pretty nice combination of flavours nonetheless, and like, it’s a handmade tortilla.  I could spread a bit of sriracha on a homemade tortilla and it would taste great.  Mm.

Third up, we splurged on lobster roll for $14, which arrived as a cold claw in a hot, generously buttered bun.  It was a curious combination!  I should admit that I’ve never had a lobster roll before, but I guess I was expected at least a cohesion between the temperature of innards + bread.  That said, it was huge piece of lobster (1/2 a lobster!) and dressed lightly with citrus and what my memory is telling me might have been tarragon (but please don’t quote me on that, Internet) – very enjoyable and surprisingly light as a centrepiece to our fancysnack™-manging.

Also as a special that night, there was… POUTINE!  Can we ever resist?  I mean, especially not when it’s described as being doused in a veal & chanterelle stock gravy.  *pause for insane drooling noises******

*cough*

ahem.  So!  Right.  This was mad, mad, madness good poutine.  Crispity, fluffy and flavoursome fries with almost-squeaky cheese and covered with some goooooood gravylove.  Mmmyam, come to mouth!  I wish chanterelles were in season forever…

Finally, at last, our sammiches arrived.  I say at last because the service was incredibly slow.  Incredibly slow and incredibly friendly.  No really.  Just sayin’ is all.  But the sandwiches were well worth the wait.  At least, the pork belly boa (4$) was a little bit of a letdown after the previous delish – suffering from tough meat, overly sweet hoisin, and a steam bun that did nothing more special than emerge from the freezer section at D&G and get hot – but the Charlevoix mini-burger with foie gras (6$) was a toothsome and rich finale to the meal with an excellent bun-to-meat ratio and just greasy enough to inflame the carnality within.

Cartel has a dessert menu.  It has things like maple syrup pie, dulce de leche cheesecake, “real” key lime pie presumably made with nonfake key limes, and lavender pot-de-creme.  We didn’t really check this out even though I kind of wanted to and probably should have to see what was going on pastry-wise at this place.

Nah, we went to Swurl instead.  Chilly Octember be damned, I was going to try the special Pumpkin and Caramel Apple flavours!!!

Swurlgurt’s last day of the season was today, which I didn’t realize until right now as I made this post.  So it’s too late to capitalize on that and on the TARO freaking flavour that they’ve had on this week.  But gee, aren’t they nice that they’ll give out free birthday-gurt if you ask them, supposing that your birthday falls somewhere before November 25th and after sometime spring-ish?  And I still can’t get over that fruit-caviar shit.

yes, that IS a marshmallow broom in there! Oh, and AMERICAN CEREAL. *dies of happy*

Burger de Ville on Citeeze

Cartel on Urbanspoon

swUrl Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

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free Apple Butter, some assembly required.

Is there occasionally a question of degree when measuring devotion?  There’s everything to be said for balance, sanity, and getting to sleep in sometimes, having a life and etcetera.  But when I woke to my silent mental alarm clock at 4 in the autumn morning a few weeks ago, I knew exactly where the measure of obsession began that day.

Mottled pink scarf wound around my head, bedridden auburn flyaways and coffee-less eyecircles facing the dawn world, I stepped out with a giant backpack and a little mission involving, well, what else?  Fruit.  In much of the world, urban foraging is pretty common.  Here’s a short intro-article.  I guess it’s otherwise known as freeganism and has popularity on the west coast for obvious reasons (free spirits + luscious flora being the two biggest).  In Kelowna my mother would take me through the wide alleys at the changes in the seasons, filling her pockets with seedlings and her car with forgotten plums, flowers, apples and herbs, which we turned into jar after jar of sparkling jams and jellies.  It was a winning situation – the neighbours more than happy to give away the unwanted surplus from their fertile trees, and we with some pretty decked out toast to enjoy with our coffee.  I guess I’m still a fan of toast and adventures, which is why I went foraging that morning.

And in Montreal no less!  I  never thought it possible but I found a whole yard full of slightly bruised but delicious Yellow Delicious and knew that their end would be in a giant crackling bubbling brew of spicy apple butter on my stove.  It feels good sometimes to get the fingers a little dirty, the knees a little worked, and the mind beginning to understand more fully what the meaning of “harvest” is.  Anyway, I brought home as many as I could carry.

This is from my favourite preserving book ever – Jams, Chutneys, Preserves, Vinegars and Oils by Marguerite Patten – with some additions from the spice cupboard (naturally).  It’s a formula, which is good.  It means that you can boil down as much fruit as you’ve got and then work out the sugar afterwards.  I’m leaving the measurements as-is from the book, but you can scale everything up with ease.  Oh, and I halved the amount of sugar from the original recipe to accomodate modern tastes, which is about as low as you can take the sugar content and still have it safe to preserve in mason jars.  It’s still plenty sweet, and even more appley deepely spry!

Simplest Spicy Apple Butter

*Braeburn, Cortland, Jonagold, Jonathan, MacIntosh, Winesap and Yellow Delicous are all excellent for sauces and butters***

Yield: about 3 pints

  • 900 g/ 2 lbs cooking apples (weight when peeled and cored)
  • 450 ml/ 0.5 pint water/ 1.25 cups water
  • spices (I used 1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 vanilla bean, 4 cloves, 2 cardamom pods, and a 1″ long piece of fresh ginger for every 2 lbs of fruit)
  • lemon juice, see method
  • sugar, see method
  • pinch of salt
  • splash of Calvados apple brandy (optional)

Core the apples and cut into chunks (leave the skin on – it has great flavour!), then simmer them along with the spices and the water until soft and turned to a thick puree.  Mash the fruit, then pass it through a sieve or a food mill and discard the solids.  Measure the puree and for every 600 ml/1 pint/2 cups add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 225 g/0.5 pint/1 cup sugar.  Return the puree to the pan and stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved.  Boil steadily until the mixture is very thick and smooth.  To check if it’s finished, put a bit onto a cold plate and put that in the freezer – the apple butter should hold it’s shape when cold and have a thick, spreadable consistancy.  Finally, add a pinch of salt and a splash of Calvados (if using), and bottle it up!  If you wanted to preserve it in a hot water bath, here’s a link that has a great explanation.  If you don’t preserve it, it will last about a month in the fridge.

It’s a little spoonful of heavenly autumn.  My favourite way to eat it is on soft untoasted seed bread with a swathe of tangy organic cream cheese.  MAKES KILLER XMAS PRESENTS.

Hey, and speaking of christmas, next time I’ll post my recipe for cranberry pomegranate, chocolate, and Port wine preserves with almonds.  It’s a mouthful, but oh, so so good!

Apple Butter on Citeeze

Arepera arepas, for your black bean and plantain fascination needs

Working at Renard makes it kind of hard to ignore the disparity between the legitimately special food I get to eat at work, and the shite that goes on in my fridge.  While I would love to slow-cook vats of carefully peeled vegetation and braise beef cheeks and spin corn-griddled crepes from my pinky whilst wearing an apron and some shit-kickin’ kitchen boots to match, let’s face it,

We’re busy people.

Busy enough even, to let someone else work the miracles, albeit totally attainable ones and realistic ones too.  What the heck is she talking about?  Arepas, my friends.  At least, ones at Arepera du Plateau, which has the resounding consensus of online-Venezuelan’s everywhere as having the kiss of authenticity.  The crowd I witnessed this weekend doesn’t lie… it’s a colourful and busypants place, casting out aroma-tendrils of smoky beans and toasted corn, and populated by basically everyone from casual alterna-brunchers to the aforementioned down-home true arepa lovers who came, inhaled, and left in minutes.

Cloudy and me, well, we lingered, getting our fingers into everything and then licking them clean, giddy with housemade sauces – one red (spicy!) and one green (that tasted spookily like my poor man’s ripoff of Peruvian Huacatay sauce- ie, super yummy, slather-on-everything-type-fluid).

Keeping to it’s roots, the fried-to-order crunchy starter-thing on the menu at Arepera was NOT FRIES OR CHIPS BUT yes YUCA! (4$). heehee.  Thicker cut, totally fresh, molar-threatening and delish, especially with that green sauce to dunk dunk away with on the side.  A papelón con limón (sugar cane juice with lemon), and a Lolo (? – okay my ears cut out when our server described this one, but it tasted like guava and supposedly is traditional Venezuelan) juice kicked off the liquid side of things (3$ each).  Both excellent, and not too sweet… but still really sweet.  Fruitsplosion, and perfect foil for…………

Aw yeah.

Between us, we shared a straight-up arepa stuffed with boar chorizo, peppers and onions (7$), and a Pabellón criollo platter (11$) – pretty much the national dish of Venezuela, involving white rice, stewed black beans, (incredibly juicy) shredded beef, fried plantains and cheese.  A perfect amount of food, a playground even (tear a bit from here, mix sauce, top+proteins, stuff in mouth, trade sauces, make spicy, EAT MASA GOODNESS HOLY HELL IT IS GOOD).  I’m not going to bore you with too many adjectives, just go, and try this, and thank me later.

Oh, and the arepas (just the tortillas themselves) themselves are worth writing home about.  Gee, have I even mentioned what these things are yet?  I s’pose I haven’t, okay, here goes.

They’re made from a special kind of pre-cooked corn flour which is different from the more common nixtamal or hominy (a.k.a. regular tortilla flour).  Instead of removing the inedible outer pericarp of the corn kernel with an alkali cooking process (nixtamalization), it’s removed by pounding that pericarp right off, manually, and incidentally this means it’s only nutritious by half.  But dayyyum, if it isn’t tasty stuff.  You heard it here.  These puppies are serious, crazy tender insides and charred crispy crust-chewy outsides and madness with all these salty and fatty things they dare to stuff inside.  Arepera du Plateau also offers a wide array of Vegan and Vegetarian options, which makes them super awesome and earns them big shiny star sticker from me.

Of course, the kicker is that they’re probably easy to make, but I wouldn’t make them anywhere near this good, so I’m just gonna continue to eat them on Duluth street and leave my fridge happy to contain leftover bottles of wine and 27 jars of jam.  Life is too easy!

Arepera du Plateau on Citeeze

Arepera on Urbanspoon

La Crêpière – simple pleasures and twee Parisian decor

I’ve passed by this crepe place, nestled right next to my favourite bookstore for far too long without ducking in to see if the taste was as good as the always-inviting smells of seared vanilla that emanated onto the street.

The menu is classic and clean, offering a decent array of both sweet and savoury crepe-things – all quite simple and quite affordable, ranging from about 5-10$.  They DO also have a kind of table d’hote that involves 1 crepe + 1 tea/coffee + one verrine dessert, which def. sounds nice, but on that morning it was a low-appetite kinda vibe, so we just went with one crepe each, and a lot of coffee.

I ordered the crêpe pêcheur (with tuna, olives, anchovies, tomatoe sauce & cheese), and Cloudy a Crêpe with apples and walnuts – both on buckwheat, of course!  How Breton, sha sha.

They came quickly and adorably folded, mine with a little attempt at a salad, and his with a bit of fruit, which was nice.  The crepes themselves were tangy, and very crispy on the edges, and I found the filling in mine to be a bit overly salty (anchovies!  but you know), and the amalgam not quite anything beyond the basic ingredients involved, but tasty enough for a light breakfast.  Cloudy muchly enjoyed his, and especially after requesting some maple syrup to slather on top, to add a much-needed touch of sauciness and sweet.  (It’s worth noting that the apples were cooked perfectly and the walnuts were toasted).  They obliged very nicely and didn’t charge for it, and I’ve also heard you can replace the nutella listed on the menu with real dark chocolate, if you so desire.

One thing to note about this place.  It is KITSCH TO THE EXTREME ZOMG.  Ha, and in the best, most quaint bed & breakfast kinda way.  Every inch is decorated to the nines in adorable knick knacks, and it does feel like a breezy oasis in the middle of St-Viateur.  It also seemed pretty popular with families and friends alike, lots of turnover and well-behaved kids maybe out with uncles and cousins and such on a quiet sunday.  Nice atmosphere.

Not the best crêpes in the world, obviously, but I liked it, and certainly cheap enough.

La Crepiere on Citeeze

La Crêpière on Urbanspoon