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

 

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Jardin du Cari – goat on the corner

Photo by MICHEAL BEAULIEU

So’s, I love me some goat, y’know?  It’s kinda like lamb but with more guts, heft, and twang (woo!).  Annnnnd, it’s not the sort of the thing you’re going to find at the local sandwich shop or one of the myriad sushi express places that pepper most neighbourhoods.  Thankfully, for the goat lovers there are options in the Mile End.  Well, I know of one place now.  Jardin du Cari.

The air when you enter is thick with spices.  The walls are deep brick red and even in the depths of winter it almost feels like a short whirring fan in the corner to combat the “heat” would make the atmosphere complete.  Jardin does Caribbean food in a simple and straightforward way and if you were curious about the exotic details of the cuisine this might not be the place to learn much, but it’s pretty tasty stuff for a fast lunch and it’s real food.

Cloudy got one of the famous rotis – curried chicken wrapped in a soft flatbread (7.30$), and I had to (obviously) get the goat curry (8.75$) with the optional addition of baked pumpkin on the side (+.75$).  The pumpkin was bright and crammed with ginger and the curry was warmly spiced, smooth and studded with potatoes and fat chunks of long-stewed goat.  The rice was just rice but it soaked up the ample sauce nicely and once slathered with the housemade hot sauce (DELICIOUS housemade hotsauce with real heat and real flavour), it was a treat of a plate.  Also featured: fried plantains (a touch too sweet, but oh well), and a decent salad with actual vegetables and a zesty simple dressing.

I didn’t try so much of the roti, but the place slowly filled over the course of our lunch with relaxed locals… eating roti.  So, it’s probably really awesome.  Anything involving fresh bread, flat or otherwise, is generally a win.  And, there is that amazing hot sauce.  So… recommended.   (The owners are also super nice.)

For the record here is a quick guide to Jardin du Cari’s menu:

Choose a protein – shrimp, goat, chicken or chickpea.

+

Choose a foods type – roti, curry, guyanese chow mein, or fried rice

= your thing.  tada!

One more thing – YOU MUST ORDER THE PEANUT PUNCH!!  Holy, it’s delicious and only 2.50$.  It’s like if peanut butter collided with a milkshake and made an ice cold frothy nut baby.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

Jardin Du Cari (Le) on Urbanspoon

Dishcrawl: Montreal’s Chinatown Secret Menu Edition hosted by Jason Lee

Michel Cluizel's Sardines au Chocolat Lait ~ ♥♥

I’m distracted right now.  All I can think about is chocolate.  Chocolate, feuilletine, caramel, crèmes, glaçages, chocolate (more chocolate), génoise, syrups, brittles, mousses, sabayon, pralines and biscuit and millefeuilles and butter and cream.  It’s all dancing around my head, maybe a sign of the upcoming christmas season (which becomes increasingly about what I’m eating rather than what I’m gifting more and more every year – and I would argue that celestial dining with your most beloved of loved ones is the greatest gift.  Evah).

tiny puffs to amuse the bouche

Buuuuuut.  Even with that kind of introduction, I’m going to be talking about a mostly sugar-free adventure.  A Dishcrawl even.  This is the plum-backwards way we do things over here at Bubble Tea.  When other people have covered an event already so thoroughly, all I can do is be honest.  And boy, I would really love a resplendent single origin 70% dark right now.. ^^;;;;

Buuuuuuut.  I can tie this in.  Watch this!  See, it was a dark and temperate November 1rst Dishcrawl night, hosted by the ebullient gastronome Jason Lee of Shut Up and Eat, and things were surprisingly void of dessert.  Well, we did start with an ethereal and nutty-crisp bang by placing that little puff of confection – DRAGON’S BEARD! – on our tongues and letting it dissolve into softly sweet toasted acorn of gritty tongue-wakening chewiness.  You might even imagine that this was my favourite part of the night, and perhaps if I had never experienced it before, this candy might have been.

Buuuuuuuuuuut.  No.  That was reserved for the peking duck pancakes we enjoyed over at Mon Nan.  (It is at this point that I’m realizing that this post will in no way be thorough, informative, objective or complete.  Boring!  This is kinda just to complete my Dishcrawl coverage collection and give a brief recap of the yumz ingested).  It was at these round tables that I learned the correct way to spread hoisin on the thin house-made pancake of flour (apply first, before the insane crisp duck pieces).  Mon Nan is evidently the only place in Montreal that still makes Peking duck the proper way, and they’ve only whetted my appetite for more.  Other things to mention:  The meal starts (Number One!) with a thin duck broth floating with soft tofu, shared around the table washed down with amber tea – savoury, sweet and delicate.  Then, the pancakes, wrapping ’round slivers of green onion, threads of daikon and carrot, BIG CHUNKS OF DUCK (oho!) and hot sauce if desired.  Inhale, Construct, Repeat.  Finally (Number Three!) out comes a quick stir fry of fat sprouts and duck meat, refreshingly crunchy and a textural contrast the rest of the meal.  Lovely!

adorable gesticulating owner of Kam Fung

And so, on we go.  Next stop was a one-dish wonder at Maison Kam Fung, which is otherwise known for it’s killer Dim Sum brunch on Sundays, and had a pretty lively dining room on that Tuesday night when our party of 50 (ish?) descended on them en masse.  We started simply with one of the best spring rolls I’ve had in memory – darkly crisp skin, generously porky but not obscene inside.  However, I don’t tend to eat spring rolls, so there’s some grain of salt you should take with my opinion.  What I DO tend to eat a lot of is mysterious Chinese food, so the next dish I can confidently say falls under my jurisdiction of “silly Canadian non-Chinese xiaochi addict”.

Again, other people will introduce this with more depth than I.  Wor Siu Gai is a dish with depth, or at least Montreal specific history.  What was originally an ancient dish made with bird’s nest – an ingredient best enjoyed by the royal, the independently wealthy, and those with a taste for the dried saliva of cave birds – has been reinvented by Maison Kam Fung to become a glorious pink landmasse of ham, shrimp, crab, chinese sausage, wrapped in wonton skin, fried, served on a giant platter and covered with, and I quote, “Chinese gravy,”  yum yum.

cozy in the rice bowl

I’ve had more gastronomically sensational food – this went down like a bowl of perfect white rice and a block of seafood-tasting low-salt Spam – but gosh I don’t know if I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating so many different mystery meats in one mouthful before.  And the history!  I googled Wor Siu Gai and almost every rendition I could find called for chicken and not too much else, so this version really is a specialty of Montreal – try it at your next Maison Kam Fung gorging session!

the mystery, it oozes

Finally, I had my belly ready for the best part of the night.  The promise of dessert was ringing louder and louder with every step we took towards the Hong Kong-style bakery, Patisserie Callia.  I love me a squishy milky cool-to-the-touch sweetened bun.  LOVE IT.  The only hard part is deciding was the filling should be.  Mango custard?  Blueberry cream?  Red bean, sweet egg, lemon curd, sesame paste, or taro?  Eeeeek, I want to know!

Wait.  No wait.  *bites into mystery bun*.   Noooooo, I didn’t want to knooooooooooow!!!  :D

Seriously, poutine bun?  Wow, I’m suddenly welling up with all these mixed feelings ranging from inner giggling to mild sugar-deprived rage to disaffected cultural malaise.  Mostly just the yen for a real donut though.  At least, the accompaniment to “dessert” was panacea for the jilted sweet tooth – hot milky tea made with a blend of many different strong teas – highly aromatic, bittersweet, complex and roasted-tasting.  I think they were all black teas, I don’t quite remember  (as in, black and not green).  Each sip was slightly different, playing chimes at different places in the mouth, and in different harmonies with subsequent sips – definitely the most interesting cup of it’s kind that I’ve had, and I’ve had lot of Chinese milk tea.  Bubble Tea for Dinner is no mistake as a blog name.  I’d return to Callia in a second for another cup, bypassing even my beloved Patisserie Harmonie for a chance to dip my head in it’s swirling and very mature-smelling steam.

And that’s about it!  Whew, another Dishcrawl penned and ready to share with the world.  Thanks again to Jason Lee for being SO energetic and helpful and informative and friendly whenever I had annoying questions about the herb-using habits of the Vietnamese or how to properly wrap a peking-pan-duck-cake.

~~~~~ here’s where to witness the brilliance of topic-tying-in action ~~~ ……. \/

Alas, I don’t know if I can make it to the Chocolate Dishcrawl this Sunday, but I would love to, obviously.  If I can move my schedule around, I will see.  I also might just spend my ticket money on chocolate bars.  We’ll see.  (  It’s even – in some stroke of life-appropriate brilliance – hosted by chocolatier Olivier Piffaudat, who specializes in low and no-sugar confections, which would delight BF Cloudy to no end.  He’s on a sugar-cleanse!  Brave soul.  )

EDIT:  I am going!!!!  Yeehee.  Also, there are 2 tickets left.  Go go go!

Dishcrawl Coverage on Citeeze

Dragon Beard Candy on Urbanspoon

Mon Nan Village on Urbanspoon

Kam Fung on Urbanspoon

Patisserie Callia on Urbanspoon

Basi Italian Bistro – stylish ungroundbreaking italian, but take a date there, seriously.

I wonder if there is shame in admitting that my exposure to Italian food is nearly nil?  I’m no pasta hound, “red sauce” to me just means sriracha, garlic is great but I have unfond memories of not being allowed to leave the table until my mountainous tangle of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio was finished – the horror!  Am I even kind of the person to start reviewing Italian food in a public setting (the interwebz!!).  Well, ,,,,,

Yes.

See, I at least know what food is when I taste it, and I still carry a torch for Michele Foglione’s ricotta gnocci.  I do understand the ravenous zeal that an exceptional olive oil can cause.  I may not crave cheese ever, but I adore it all the same.

Basi Bistro, I suppose, is not a bad place to condition myself to these things.  It’s actually quite lovely inside, like a diner made out to be an aquarium – a lilting airy quality and a youthful, laid back clientele (with a youthful laid back service staff to match).  And even if the food won’t be transporting anyone to sun-drenched villas anytime soon, well at least it’s reasonably priced and consistently tasty.

INSALATAAAAA!!! isn't that the best word ever?

A table d’hôte with pizza or pasta as a main runs 19.95$, with fish or meat it’s 29.95$, including an entrée and a dessert.  From the entrées we chose the Insalata Italiana (yes, sometimes I am boring and I want to eat salad.  It’s true!)  and the Vitello Tonnato – cold roast beef in a tuna sauce (not Vitello, but whatever the Italian word for roast beef is).  The salad was slick but refreshing, with a good tang, mostly romaine, enjoyable.  The vitello was lovely, a kind of a ladylike way to start a meal, wait, does that make sense?  There’s something about cutting dainty leaves of beef from a pale sauced plate that makes me think of white gloves.  Okay, but now on topic.

The bread was great!  Foccacia, warmsoft bricks topped with excellent tomatoes (san marzanos?) and served with a flavourful oil + pepper combo.  Oh, and then mains came.

I was mad happy with mine.  The smell was awwwesome.  And if it wasn’t like the most tender piece of lobster in the world, I was still picking the sweet pieces from the buttery rosé sauced shells to the last drop.  Just enough quality mozzarella to goo it up nicely, and the vegetables alongside were simple but cooked well – snappy juicy asparagus and a surprisingly smooth and herbal potato purée, however much it looked like a kindergarden playdoh project splooged along the side of the plate like that.  Hehe.

The Spaghettini Calabrese didn’t fare so well.  Pasta dishes can sometimes suffer from the “jumble of noodles + ingredients = not necessarily cohesion” syndrome, and this would be a poster child for that.  The sausages could have been browned more, the rapini was a bit bitter, the roasted peppers were good, probably done in house, and the sauce was nonexistent beyond olive oil, salt and pepper.  Oh, and the pre-ground parmesan that the parmesan boy dumped sheepishly onto the stuff. (*facepalm*).  But yeah, not bad just not great.  At least the spaghettini was still structurally al dente.  Phew.

Never’s anything lost when there’s dessert to wait for, however.  The lemon cake was a standout – surprisingly lemony, extremely moist genoise layered with whipped mascarpone and a generous size, served with little micro-watermelons and a freaking lemon-shaped gummy candy!  See, we love candy.  That could not be better. !

The hazelnut panna cotta was also well done.  Simple, but smooth and very cold, slicked with a layer of dark chocolate sauce and tasting of quality ice cream with a whiff of frangelico.  It paired nicely with the (pretty average) espressos, served with a shot glass of hand-whipped cream that was topped with a coffee bean – nice touch.

My heart wasn’t stolen away, nor my face melted off, and maybe red sauce never coursed through my veins, but I had a good time, a really good time at Basi.  Maybe there’s hope for me yet. ;)

Dinner for two, plus two glasses of wine and two espressos – 81$ before tip.

Basi Italian Bistro on Citeeze

Basi Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wheat transformed to (Yuki) Ramen before your eyes

I stumbled onto Yuki Ramen on a blustery, noodle-needing day, many months ago, wandering through the culinary wonderland that is the Concordia ghetto.  What’s astonishing about the Fabourg building is how spare yet nourishing it is – probably the best “food court” in the city, if it is indeed possible to call it such, when really it might be called a “noshing plaza”.  And what to nosh?  Ramen of course!

At the time I hadn’t even tried ramen yet, not the real stuff.  Not the unboxed unbagged qualifiable japanese true Thing, but that was about to change.  I mean, when you see someone hand-pulling noodles from a sproingy stretch of dough as long as an armspan, mesmerizingly growing and shrinking and doubling over in the hands of the puller expert… there isn’t much else that looks so delicious!  I ordered forthwith.

Well, with a short spell to take out money from a nearby ATM, that is.  (they only take cash).  I ordered the BBQ Pork Ramen, a neat 7$ (about, I don’t imagine it was more than 8$), and awaited my order’s completion.  It took about 5 minutes of absorbing the atmosphere of happy soup-slurpers and then my lunch was ready.

Oho!  It was in pieces!  The way they deliver it is with the chunkies in the main bowl and piping hot broth on the side, that cooks everything fully once you throw it on and everything melts together.  A bit of a stir and an add-in of the nice dark sauce (vinegar of some kind?  it’s been a while) and the umami treat was ready to eat.  And oh those noodles!  Exactly as awesome as fresh noodles should be – strong but yielding, tasting intensely of soft clean wheat, plentiful and warming and fun to slurp.  The pickled WhateverVeg they added on the side deserves mention, too.  Delicious!  Refreshing and sharp and not too salty at all, I wish I knew how they made that.  The pork, alas, was mere pork with a kiss of BBQ red rimmed taste, and the broth of the ramen itself was not going to set any records for perfection, but it was slightly sweet in a good way and did the trick as a steaming home for those wonderful noooooooooodles.

I left warmed from the inside and the outside grey was not so grey at all anymore, belly sloshing with hot sauce and herbs.  Perfect.

Yuki Ramen on Urbanspoon