Iranian Breakfast at Byblos Le Petit Café

A long time ago, I had the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had while eating out in Montreal.  I guess these things are a matter of taste, and for such meal with such clear delineations (depending on your location), it can run the gamut of very different styles.  Some people go for classic fry-ups – eggs, pancakes, porkmeats, cheese, potatoes, and whincy awful fruit cups.  Some prefer those old ideas reinvented in complex and delighting ways with accompanyingly more involved tabs at the end of the meal.  Some like to stuff themselves.  Some are happy with a bit of toast and jam and tea.  For myself, I like to linger and use my fingers in the morning.  Eggs are always welcome, as is a vegetarian meal – something simple, but substantial and naturally rich.  I suppose this is somewhat French or Mediterranean in personality, and if this is your kind of brunch, I highly highly recommend Byblos Le Petit Café at 1499 Laurier Est.

For one, it’s affordable.  And who wants sticker shock before any kind of caffeine has set in?  No, it’s relaxing to peruse the menu and get excited about all the sure-to-be-just-exotic-enough options that are perfect for sharing around the table.  It was a long time ago so I don’t remember the exact prices, but everything you see here in this post might have come to less than 23$, and we were splurging on extras like fresh juice and pastries.

For second, it’s delicious.  It’s obvious that they put care into their food, offering a dizzying 25 different homemade preserves to enjoy with the fresh bread basket bursting with lovely carbs like pitas, wholemeal bread and sesame wedges.  We chose a roseflower and orange marmalade and it was tops.  I wish even there was a way to order a sample platter of all the preserves, because they all sounded really special.

The plate of olives, feta, herbs (mint, coriander and dill!), walnuts and pistachios was perfect.  Nothing touched, just quality ingredients full of flavour and perfect for dipping sleepy fingers into and combining with everything else on the table.  That particular breakfast item comes with a bowl of house-made halvah, softer and sweeter than what I’m used to (rich!), but very fresh and loaded with toasted sesame taste.

The omelette was very different from most you might find – incredibly moist, NOT overcooked, and tasting, of, well, egg.  You might wonder why that’s special.  Well, have you noticed how most omelettes taste like browned bits and cheeses and butter and arrive rubbery and cold?  I like them this way.  Warm, oozing, ethereal shmears flecked with blushing tomato, mmmm.

Finally, not to gush (ok, I’m gushing, and it’s worth it, I swears), Byblos, for some reason, has the BEST DAMNED CROISSANT I’VE EVER EATEN, in a bakery, restaurant or otherwise.  Blistered shattering gossamer whorls of butterfat pastry – it arrived hot to the touch and disappeared before cooling off, eaten unadorned and melting on the tongue.  I don’t even like croissants, normally (blasphemy, I know), but maybe I just haven’t had enough good ones, like this. So that’s my favourite breakfast in this city.

The tea is also sharply minty and comes with a mosaic of varied sugar-nuggets, nibbly rock candies in their own right.  It’s a large enough space to accommodate any kind of party, and sunny throughout.  I love Byblos!  I’ll miss it.

BONUS!  A little note about Iranian breakfast (information garnered from Wikipedia, natch): the traditional meal is called either sobhāneh (Persian: صُبحانِه‎) or nāshtāyi (Persian: ناشتايى‎).  It usually comes with a variety of flatbreads, butter, Tabrizi white cheese/paneer, feta cheese, whipped cream sweetened with honey (sarshir), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads.  This is what we had!  Another popular traditional breakfast dish is a complex wheatmeal & lentil porridge served with shredded lamb or turkey, called haleem.  Byblos indeed does offer a simplified version of haleem in the mornings, which I only wish I’d had the stomach-room at the time to try, because it sounds SO much like my thing, being a congee-girl and all, but alas that will have to wait for the next trip.  I hear it’s good there, though.

Byblos Le Petit Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tachido, home of the gorilla and the glutenless sandwich

tchotchke – (Yiddish) an inexpensive showy trinket

 Origin: 

1965–70, Americanism ;  < Yiddish tshatshke  < Polish czaczko bibelot, knickknack

(now obsolete; compare modern cacko  withsame sense, orig. dial.); of expressive orig.

chachkatsatsketshatshke

collectablecollectible – things considered to be worth collecting (not necessarily valuable or antique)
Going for a sandwich on a rather flingy whim didn’t necessarily prepare me for the requisite mile end arty-collage space that I should have seen coming.  I’ve only lived here in this neighbourhood for how long?  (Galleries are actually a place to get pizza, I’m pretty sure).  True to form, Tachido is home to a mass mural from the same people who decorated l’Espace Go, to our latent osmotically gained hipster-vibe delight, and even more knick-knacked curios lit up with fairy lights all over the tiny sandwich shop – the new resto on Parc street, but already proving to be a laid back hangout for randoms of all types.  Laid back randoms, anyway.
But dear, sweetie, how was the food?  Tachido serves food, right?  Mexican kinda sandwiches, involving the usual suspects of black beans, pork, chicken, cheeses, guac and hot sauces, AND gluten free options, if that’s something you care about.  They have fresh juices (agua fresca), of which a melon kind we partook.  I liked it, but I’m a sucker for melon anything, and it kinda pink-efied the meal a bit and I don’t care if it’s winter, I’ll refreshen up anytime!
We got some cheap sandwiches, a pulled pork torta sandwich on fresh housemade bread, and a huitlacoche (mushroom, corn and cheese) quesadilla, also housemade.  A little deal for the side is a hot pot of spicy black bean sauce/soup and a couple of hot sauces in red and green for about 3$, and I pretty much insist that you add this onto the order.  Reasoning for this is that while the food is fresh, hot, healthy and inexpensive, it isn’t outlandishly… shall we say, flavourful.  A shot of the saucy sides fixes that up okay.
They serve beer and cocktails (margaritas!), and get coffee from Toi, Moi & Cafe up the street, which probably means that there is at least a decent selection of brew (I haven’t been there in years but I remember a dizzying array).  They also have homemade pastries, and if I’d known that at the time I’d be just that much closer to being entirely made of sugar than I am now.  They’re probably good, judging by the bread (which is good, really).
+ points for the decor
+ points for the vegetarian/gluten-free/kid friendliness of it all
– points for normal tasting food (replace the mozza-type cheese with some real face-punching salty queso, and THEN we’d be talking!)
+ it’s such a family-run place – we talked to the guy running the show that day and he explained to some depth his brother’s toy-and-oddity fascination
+ Tacorama Fridays after 9pm!  I can only imagine the joy of that.  Woah, hey, dudes, now we have TWO late night taco places in the mile end!  Sweet.

Tachido on Urbanspoon

****** SPECIAL BREAKING EDIT/UPDATE !!!!!!!!!!
OMG.
So, you know how I ordered a huitlacoche quesadilla?  I knew it was a mushroom.  I didn’t know it was also called CORN SMUT!
*dies laughing*
oh, that’s awesome.

The mascot of midwinter Café Falco?

Resolutions mean nothing to me.  But quiet is a resolute panacea.  I’ve given up a few things this month to make room for meditation, drawing, reading and the occasional blustery foray into the few hours of sunshine that we get in January times.

No sex.  No music, television, alcohol, meat, sugar, diet soda, dancing, makeup/jewellery, staying up late, harsh words, daydreaming, the like.  No chaos.

Where I could explain to you in detail the how-it-works of the siphon drip system that Café Falco offers and the origins of it’s countless artisanal accoutrements, I will instead impress upon you that what’s truly important is the expression of inventive serenity that it all adds up to.  It’s hidden in an industrial part of Mile End, the ground floor of an imposing, grey-striked building with an uneventful front and a dubious entrance door.  The inside reveals, though.  Probably one of the nicest places to experience the dead of winter – the warmth and precision of the homespun / futurespun cube-space sets off the snow and slate-sided buildings from across the street well – and really, how better to appreciate the human creation of windows and walls than with hot hands cupped around one of the best kitten-smooth coffees in the neighbourhood?  Stronger than the usual but still long (ie: not espresso), like coffee should be (to this non-European, anyway).

Falco also offers repast for those wanting a bit of gentleness and brown rice to hopefully negate greasy memories.  A chalk menu lists the Japanese/French fare – rice bowls with tofu or meat, sticky onigiri, miso soup, salads, sandwiches on fresh bread from nearby Boulangerie Guillaume and sweet things (muffins etc) from the same place.

sweet potato salad flecked with tiny onion + syphon コーヒー

The miso soup was perfect.  A cup of energetic stillness, made with a proper dashi and sipped from from a dark umbre bowl.  The rice and tofu dish is the kind of thing that I used to eat while vegan, each element (carrots, tofu and lentils) carefully dressed and seasoned individually.  While it’s hard to handle with chopsticks for the exact reasons mentioned here – maybe that’s just a clue to either work more patiently on one’s eating technique, or perhaps use the broth from the soup to clean the last few grains from the bowl as monks do.

The most surprisingly delicious thing was the onigiri – made with sticky soft rice and filled with chunks of sweet salmon – it was a delicate but un-shy example of the form.  It’s not something very difficult to make, but making them this well is rare, and I really should go back to try the others.  I think there were 3 or 4 varieties that day.

There’s a hammock in the corner and shelves of thin brown pottery, sculptures, a falcon, globe lanterns and a happy-looking staff.  Few private tables, but then, we’re all eating next to each other anyway when we go out to that third place, might as well be neighbourly about it.  And peaceful.

(lunch for one, with siphon coffee, rice bowl, soup and onigiri = 16$.  Pricey, but organic and very good)

Café Falco on Urbanspoon

South Indian vegetarian lusciousness at Maison Indian Curry

A long time ago, in a curryshop far, far away, I was tucked warm and cozy with the boyfriend and extended family eating spicy goo and dipping all kinds of flatbreads into it.  I think the only reason I hadn’t thought to mention such a good dinner until now was perhaps knowing how vivid it remained in my mind, and thus preserved until such time as Bubble Tea warranted a warming burst of cumin-laden air.    WhOOOOSH!

Having heard good things about Maison Indian Curry, we braved the considerable sunday night (!) lineup and worked up a good hunger for the north AND south indian food that awaited.  For yes, they do offer alternatives to the relentless parade of butter chicken and tikka masala!  There are dosas and sambars, idli and fenugreek and lentils, coconut and tamarind and rice, oh my!

It was a rather vegetarian meal this time, it being impossible to ignore the multi-page spread of vegetable dishes that all sounded pretty unique.  It was hard to choose just a few, but samosas are a must in our city-wide quest to find the perfect one, so we started with these gems served with creamy minty sauce and tangy tamarind.  Passably delicious, if that makes any sense in samosa-talk.  A reasonable size, too.

Actually, I need to talk about something IMPORTANT (haha ok).  I am looking for a specific kind of samosa here in Montreal.  Imagine if you will, a filling that is mostly whole toasted spices, cooked down greens, a few peas and even fewer potatoes, with a noticeable sour taste, and in a perfect world, available in baked format as well as fried.  I know I can get them in Ottawa, but has anyone tasted a samosa like that here?  It would be amazing to find.  ~ Signed, carb-lovin’ mango hot sauce usin’ nommer ^^;;

We also started with a Chana Puri plate, with comes with fried breadstuffs that can be tenderly ripped into chunks and used to scoop up what I’ve heard is an incredibly authentic chickpea curry.  Absolutely addictive, light and rich at the same time, and the garlicky yogurt on the side makes for a transporting combo.  Please order this!!

Another specialty of the Maison is the dosa, which comes – huge as a battleship – a crispy footlong carapace stuffed with a choice of tandoori chicken, hot masala potatoes, or regular potatoes.  Alas, I wanted this to be amazing so badly, having heard such good things about it, but ultimately it suffered from non-integrated oddly yellow chicken inside, and a dosa itself that tasted like the crispy bits on the side of grilled cheese sandwich.  Not necessarily bad, but not half as good as some that I’ve made at home, even.  It was all much improved by dipping things in the accompanying soup and coconut-ty sauce, but even that was kind of awkward to coordinate.  The veggie version is probably better, I do suspect.

Vegetables also stole the show as the mains rolled in, with the okra (the OKRA, people!) winning the little crown as “tastiest thing nestled in an ornate metal vessel on the table,” it was scraped clean before long.  The lamb vindaloo was only succulent and complex in comparison, and the eggplant goo (as well as rhyming with “vindaloo,”  aw cute) was a rich slather best saved for non-dieting months, albeit really delish on naan bread.

Oh yeah, the naan was average.  Good though.  Just thought I’d mention.

While not as spicy as some, and having only decent samosa and naan, what Maison Indian Curry DOES have is a delightful sour taste to it’s food, and a fresh, multi-layered and varied palette.  A haven for vegetarians!  And with more south Indian dishes on the menu, a place to return to for more interesting options than the usual Punjab fare.  (The prices are also comparatively good for the neighbourhood… that is to say, cheap).

Maison Indian Curry on Citeeze

Maison Indian Curry on Urbanspoon

Love, Martinis & Marshmallows: “Cookies Unite” at Le Nouveau Palais

Blurry pictures swathed in darkness notwithstanding, Cloudy and I were all akimbo with the mystery menu offered last November at the monthly Cookies Unite event.  On the first monday of every month, the refurbished and newly hipsta-fied Nouveau Palais hosts one or two talented line cooks from the best restaurants in the city and offers them a professional kitchen, creative carte blanche, and a house that’s full of the rafters for one night and one night only.  “Serious” foodies (hehe) sit elbow to elbow your neighbour, her grand-mom, the kid, and a healthy dose of thickly spectactled mile-end twenty-sumthinsumthin, that night waiting for the imagination of Brian Verstraten of Bar & Boeuf and Cynthia Sitaras of Le Club Chasse et Pêche… and did we mention that the two of them are dating?  Hence the name of this event – “One Love.”  [insert “awwwwwwwww”]

A rare martini for yours truly was ordered before the eating started, perhaps in celebration of the event’s recent dropping of it’s BYOB status. Not a bad one either, and the pin-drop clarity of it set a good stage for the first bit of solid food – a trio of amuse bouches in flavours I may not be able to recount to you exactly owing to the vegetarian nature of the set menu that we received at the table (they gave us the veggie version on paper, and the carnal version in life).

So I had to go by what our server was telling us, and it was loud, and I wasn’t taking good notes, but here’s what I remember:  No. 1 was an arancini (battered fried risotto ball) made with mushrooms of some kind and cheese of some kind.  Oh, aren’t I just the most specific?  (NOTE TO SELF: NEVER WAIT 2 MONTHS TO WRITE THESE THINGSd’oh).   It was one of the better that I’ve had, actually – still hot from the kitchen, thin crisp shell and warm earthy flavour, herbs evident.  No. 2 was a pâté that suffered from a bit of dryness and that cat-food thing that pâté can sometimes do, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of spreadable meat so… you know, to each their own.  No. 3 involved salmon and caviar of some kind and tasted … rather like salmon.  It was also good, and what I DO remember is the texture playing all dramatic with alternating creamy, flaky, buttery-crisp and the welcome oceanic pop of fish roe.  ANYway….

The most luscious savoury was yet to come.  Who cares that we had pizza in our belly already at this point? (pre-dinner snacking is what cool kids do, right?)  When someone sets an aroma-bomb of smoky-sweet pork belly in front of you, all covered with buttery brussels sprouts, sitting in liquid polenta and a madness good jus, well…. I make room in my stomach for these things.  This was late fall in a nutshell – nomzers, and walking in leaves, and swiping flaky bites from your neighbour’s plate, all at once – and my hat’s off to Brian for the gift of it.  (One of those rare times I was specifically grateful not to be vegan anymore.  ^_^;;;;;;;;;  ).

Dinner is good, but I’m a sugar girl, and the desserts landed with a vengeance.  I was floored, really, at Cynthia’s tangy adventurous playground that centered on a lightly salted and eminently spoonable milk chocolate tart slice.  Surrounding it were elements that lifted milk chocolate’s usual cloy to more bright places – very peachy gelato, fruit gelee (apricot, I think), salty crispy peanut crumb, and slices of ripe pear.  A dollop of soft lemon vanilla marshmallow fluff reminded one just enough of grade-school Fluffernutter sandwiches and made the overall reference to PB & J sandwiches just a bit less subtle.  In a good way.

We were fortunate that night to get the full (mini) monty and a spread of mignardises came shortly after to appease the rampaging sweet tooth that the previous dish had ignited.  Full as I was, I could have had more, and at least this trio I remember vividly:

1. a lemon vanilla marshmallow, solid this time.  Almost heady with both scents and melted away into a lightly acidic-sweet soft cream, just a bit of bubble.

2. Apricot and almond financier: still warm, rich and crisp at the edges and chewy all the way through.  Fruity and not too sweet, and felt almost like eating a big soft almond.

3. Chocolate covered caramel, topped with a shattered brittle-type candy, and bitterly awesome through and through.

Pastry like that fires my engine to be better, knowing that I’m not able to make things that perfectly, yet.  I’ve already scheduled a stage at Le Club Chasse et Pêche, with all likelihood resulting in at least some improved skills and dexterity at fun menial tasks like piping cookies and straining cream.  Hey, I go for what I like, and here’s to a new year of obsessive desserting.  Also – sorry about the long absence over Christmas, everyone!  I will be posting lots more now (lots of pictures backed up!) … and I really hope this new year is full of relentless optimism, high quality chocolate, playful kisses, and many more steps closer to whatever it is that you want most.  ^_^

And I guess that’s what Cookie’s Unite is really all about, you know?  Dreams, I mean.  It gives those who aren’t at the echelon of their career yet a chance to shine and be an artist for just one night, and I’m a huge fan of the concept.  It’s also affordable – 30$ a head – and the next one is scheduled for February 6th, featuring Vanessa Laberge from Olive & Gourmando and appears to be another tasteparty!  Soup au boudin noir?  Yes, please!

Cookies Unite: Website / Facebook event page