A recent review of food journalist and ex Chef Thierry Daraize about Hopkins (his review on Hopkins, here) contained enough positive material to  encourage me to reserve a table here.

It would take a seriously naive person to think that the  “ultimately  reliable” food journalist or food rating exists. As one should know better, opinions, ratings and  taste are subjective, O B V I O U S L Y!… Thierry is one serious food journalist who, to the contrary of his colleagues, has been a Chef, too. I find  Thierry to be generally weak when it comes to assessing tropical food (his rave review about Lavenderia contrasts with MY OPINION  about that same restaurant, although, to be honest…MOST of the local restaurateurs are always at their best ONLY when a poster-diner is at their restaurant – the MAIN REASON  why the local restaurant scene can’t compete with serious foodie scenes like New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc ), but the best (of all local food journalists)  at judging French-based food (the food he cooked as a Chef and therefore, knows the best).

The perfect observation that even “experts” like the food journalists are useless on the aspect of assessing restaurants: I have been an active observer of the local restaurant scene for the past 18 years. In 18 years, the local food journalists were useful ONLY in two situations: the discovery of Chef Michele Mercuri (indeed, what a giant when he is in his prime! In his prime, Michele can easily compete with the best Chefs of this globe. Easily!) and Chef Jean-François Bélair when he was at Le Marly (now closed). It is Thierry Daraize that made us discover  Chef Jean-François Bélair, in this article. The  lack of success of Le Marly  was just another reminder that it is accurate to submit that the foodie scene in Montreal is one of world’s most clueless foodie scenes. What Chef Belair was doing at Le Marly would have impressed world class foodie scenes like New York/Paris/Tokyo/London. But in Montreal, the local foodie scene lacked (and, continues to) the  necessary experience/knowledge (even, right now, which means … 6 years after getting to that same conclusion…) appreciate that. A third world foodie scene.

Hopkins is a beautiful small contemporary restaurant. It is chic, hip and yet not stuck-up at all.  The decor is very bright and white with a superb penetration of natural light. Truely classy / tasteful with a superb service.

I sat at the bar and picked the 5 courses tasting menu:

First, some homemade charcuterie. Charcuteries — as it is the case at the big majority of our local restaurants —- are not at the level of a fine charcuterie in France or Italy, for the sake of comparison, but you will  definitely get to munch on some pleasant charcuterie, which was the case here 6/10

Clams/black beans puree – Clams of superb quality, from masssachusetts. This featured some necessary bold kick of saltyness to lift up the maritime flavor of the clam. The accompanying black beans puree seasoned exquisitely. Top shelf food item. 9/10

Pecorino/ravioli/beacon – A runny egg encased in a homemade ravioli. So close ( rich and delicious, as one would expect from some runny egg inside a ravioli of proper al dente texture),   yet ..so far (way too much  salt and that distracted from appreciating this dish) from the stellar. This was an easy trap (beacon is salty, pecorino is salty, etc…but that is exactly when and where   skills should shine…

Artic char (omble chevalier)/beets- montee au beurre – again, the fish was way too salty even for someone, like me, who loves salt. The beets were timely cooked and tasted as if they came from a serious michelin star destination –  such was its quality. 8/10 for the dazzling beets. But how do you rate a superb piece of fish (masterful doneness, dazzling quality) that is sadly as salty as a bowl of seawater? Seasoning is the most important skill in a kitchen, obviously, but during this meal, someone forgot how important it was….

Chocolate fondant/expresso – the idea is original, by the standards of our local restaurants, but a chocolat fondant and some expresso need to dazzle in the mouth of someone, like me, who is easily impressed by anything that has expresso in it. This tasted ordinary and it was frustrating to get to that conclusion as it was easy to see that some thoughts were put in it.

Overall food rating: N/A Hard to rate this one. This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance (the clams, the beets).  But that was marred by their oversalted food items.

Bottom line: But at least, here, I trust that they will improve upon the flaws of that evening. They have the potential to beat the best in town.

 

Greece
My first time in Greece. Particularly liked Santorini famous caldera view. Mykonos is perfect for beach parties and Delphi was a highlight for me.  On the culinary front, I need to ask: What’s wrong with those tourists who go to Greece and stick to gyros and souvlaki, lol? There is much more than that in Greece. I went there, and enjoyed plenty of decent food that have nothing to do with the gyros and the souvlaki. A recap of my hellenic journey here.
My Wall of fame of the 1st quarter of 2017: Nozy, Marconi (Montreal), Sushi Azabu, Le Coucou, Ichimura and Dons Bogam (New York), Argo (Santorini), and the old tavern of Psaras (Athens). Hvor in Montreal has been a highlight, too, but Chef Sarto is taking a break, so I’ll drop by and see how things are under the new Chef.

My wall of shame: my oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city), my meals at Miss Favela (Brooklyn) and  Taverna Vizantino (Athens).

 

Sushi Oono review is the most popular among the readers of this blog –  Based on WordPress stats, my review on Sushi Oono is extremely popular, these days. Second only to the one on  Montreal’s finest steakhouses. This blog is  meant for my own “foodie documentation” and as a FYI for close foodies, relatives, friends who love dining out. But I am also responsive in the sense that if the stats on WordPress lead me to believe that a specific article is very popular, then I need to go out my way and “shed some light” on what was written. Not that I care about the impact of my opinion (I do not…we no not live in North Korea, so I do not have to justify my thoughts. And honestly, I could not care less. But, listen,  in the case of Sushi Oono, since you seem to go crazy about it, lately, I do care a bit. I do, because Tokyo is one of the few REAL foodie destinations of the world. This would be Montreal, and I would say..let it be!! Let that overrated self-marketed foodie city deal with its own reality, meaning its fake reputation! But Tokyo does not deserve that. Really NOT!  Therefore, my review on Sushi Oono has to be taken in this very specific  context: Sushi Oono would be a top tier Sushiya anywhere around the globe. But in Tokyo, with their crazy competitive Sushi market, things are a bit different. That said, be careful: Yes, I have familiarized myself with high end sushi for a certain time, now. But I am not Japanese. Therefore, there will always be “certain things” that are ” lost in the translation”. At least, I do an effort to pinpoint my weaknesses, but YOU…as a smart diner, GO AND TRY and see for yourself. Food is subjective. No one is perfect. One good example is this: in my review of Sushi Oono, I was rude about the dry crab. Yes, but some Japanese love it that way. The same way as I love some dishes I grew up to consider as stellar but that others would find hard to love. That is the reality of having an opinion: the opinion is just what it is ..OUR OWN PERSONAL OPINION! The best way for you to identify what you like, it is to go and find out!!

When a tourist trap is a fabrication of the mind — I know people who see tourist traps everywhere. When I was in Cinque Terre, I even saw ppl confusing the fabulous cooking of A Cantina da Mananan (Addr: Via Fieschi, 117, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy Phone: +39 0187 821166) with the food of a tourist trap. I have no clue if A Cantina da Mananan  is bad, right  now, but reducing the dazzling cooking that this restaurant  was pulling off in those days to tourist trap’s food just confirms that either your knowledge of food is concealed in some kind of limitation (limited to contemporary cooking?) or cooking is not your thing at all. Cinque Terre, when I was there, was actually the proof that tourist trapping has nothing to do with a place being touristy or not. Tourist trap is the demonstration of your inability , as an entrepreneur, to do things right, a lack of pride, the work of bums. In touristy locations like Cinque Terre and Santorini, the best food I had was a reminder that there are honest and talented ppl working seriously in touristy locations. Cinque Terre and Santorini were beautiful parts of the world where everything tasted far fresher and gloriously delicious than in many parts of Italy and Greece. The best food of Santorini and Cinque Terre were cooked on a beautiful planet that was ages away from the sad swathes of muddy lands of THAT  supposedly legendary seafood destination of Atlantic city that served me some gloriously frozen oysters OR  the equally life-shattering frozen fish I was fed on in Sicily while eying at the crystal blue waters of the mediterranean sea.

Restaurant Beroya (Addr: 3455 Boulevard Saint-Martin O, Laval Phone 450-681-2020)  is a Syrian restaurant in Laval, opened 7 months ago. The restaurant is sparsely, but tastefully decorated in a contemporary oriental fashion way. An elegant restaurant by the standards of our local Syrian restaurants.

There is an important immigration of Syrians in Canada, right now, for the reasons that we all know, consequently our local foodie scene is facing two realities:

(1)plenty of online restaurant reviewers do allow their sympathy for the cause (the suffering those newcomers escaped) to impact their opinion on the food they are talking about.

(2)the quality of Syrian cuisine in Montreal is improving considerably, with long time local Syrian heavyweights (Alep, Damas) having some serious competition.

Listen, I am myself an immigrant and do have a profound admiration for Syrian people, but it is a nonsense to mix up feelings of that sort with ur thoughts on food. You are certainly not encouraging excellence by doing that.

As stated elsewhere on this blog, ottoman based cuisines are not unknown to me. And I am talking about the serious sort of ottoman based food, the one found in its genuinely traditional mom and pop forms.

Yalangy (Chard leaves stuffed with a seasoned rice and nuts simmered with lemon juice) – The best Yalangy I ever had in Montreal made an appearance. For educational purpose (a great diner is after all a better educated consumer), I need to remind you of boring things  like this one: a Chef is a human being, obviously…though, to many among us, myself included, that is not always that…obvious;) Therefore depending on his mood and other personal reasons, sometimes he can do great things, sometimes not. This Chef did something great, on that evening I dined there, and that great thing was delivered  in the form  of a Yalangy with leaves of great quality,  superlative flavors and flattering textures. 10/10

Kebbeh Hamiss / 2 كبة حميص $ (la pièce / per piece) – Fried kebbeh stuffed with minced meat mixed with pine nuts and onion. – Good execution, great balance of the seasoning, nice texture, with quality minced meat, pine nuts and onions. A distant dream for its sad cousin  at Miss Favela in Brooklyn (I know that was a Brazilian restaurant, but if you put something on your  menu, do it well!), and yet I had better. Still, very very very good!  8/10

Kabab Bil karaz كباب كرز (cherry kabab). Finely minced meat seasoned with Aleppo spices grilled on charcoal served with a sour cherry sauce. This is a dish I haven’t tried for years. Cooked to order (hear me Vizantino taverna?? cooked to order… ) , this was good, with the expected sweet and sour taste properly accentuated. I picked this dish because I wanted to taste it again after all those years, and it was properly done, in a refined way, but I suggest you pick a less  of “an acquired taste” food item  unless you are already a fan of the Kabab Bil karaz  (I know, by experience, that is not an item that is easy to love for the non initiated ;p). 7/10

Overall food rating (Categ: Syrian cuisine in Montreal and surroundings): 7/10  The food is refined and yet respectful of their traditional flavors. I was selfish (hey it is my hard earned $$ so I pick whatever I want! lol), and picked an item that will hardly win any popular contest (Kabab Bil karaz كباب كرز  ), but the other items will convince those who are not a fan of the Kabab Bil karaz كباب كرز   that the Chef is competent (a Yalangy, on this visit, that was one of the best you will eat in town, some  very good flatbread, etc).

Bottom line: Laval is hardly a dream city for foodies, but I keep receiving intel about some few places in Laval cooking worth-trying ottoman- based food, intel coming from people who know that kind of food far better than most of the self proclaimed and marketed-as-such local food experts. One of those reliable people leaked the information to myleaks: “I know how you do not think highly of the local food scene, but give this one a try, the owners and Chefs came straight from the motherland, not a long time ago, therefore they did not get a chance to americanize their food, it is as close to the flavors of the motherland as it gets here“, she insisted. She was not wrong, eventhough she won’t be happy when she will learn that I did not make their Chef “look good” by refraining from  ordering items that are crowd pleasers,  and  that I prefer straigtforward bold rustic cooking (this is more refined than  your typical casual levantine food). But hey, I have got to give to Ceasar what pertains to Ceasar: Beroya is a good Syrian restaurant, indeed.

 

Argo (Thera 847 00, Greece Phone +30 2286 022594  )  seems to have impressed its share of patrons as the place was fully booked on an evening that was very quiet for most of its local competitors. Even the other local top gun, To Ouzeri, looked empty in comparison. But reserve your table weeks in advance…if you want to eat in company of the stunning view of the caldera (not all tables have a caldera view). 

I ordered some of their “recommended” dishes:

Patatina – Argo cooks superb classic Greek food, but their patatina is some sort of “cosmopolitan” invention of their own. In this instance , they reduced fried potato of superb quality into the delicate shape of vermicelli (inspired by the Chinese potato bird nest??)  and topped the whole thing with some scramble eggs. It is not the invention of the decade, but it was well executed 8/10

Fava bean purée had superlative flavour and texture. And this is coming from someone who has fava beans as one of the Main ingredients of his country. Fava beans has a unique taste, though, here in Santorini, because of its volcanic soil. 10/10

White egg plant is one of the main ingredients of Santorini. It was simply baked but revealed some serious sourcing. The cooking was as flawless: seasoning and timing that showcased superb know-how / technique. Excellent 9/10

Giaprakia – Greek stuffed cabbage rolls (ground meat, rice, mint) served with fries and yoghurt sauce. The presentation is elegant, the genuine traditional flavours vibrant. Quality ingredients are used. A benchmark yiaprakia. 10/10

An assortment of fresh seafood (mussels, shrimps) was timely cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. As I explained elsewhere, I tend to perceive Chefs who cook seafood with great care (the case, here) as capable of cooking everything else (vegetables, meats)  with brio, and this entire meal was an example of just that. 8/10

Overall food rating (categ: Mediterranean/ Greek): 9/10

Service: 10/10

Bottom line: Argo could cook some of the best Mediterranean food of any major food city in the world. Even the service, at Argo, was of prime mention (my main waitress, Angelica, would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant). Both Argo and the Old tavern of Psaras were the highlights of my foodie adventures in Greece. Next time I will be in Greece, I will happily eat again at those two restaurants and will make a detour by  Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia, as well as visiting the Peloponnese as many Greeks I know have raved about the dazzling food in both locations.

The old tavern of psaras (Erotokritou ke Erechtheos 16, Athina 105 56, Phone: +30 21 0321 8733) is located in the very touristy area of Plaka

If you meet someone complaining about plaka’s  food been touristy, he is certainly not wrong, but then he needs to eat at places like the old tavern of psaras. The  food, here,  is genuinely Greek. 

I discovered this tavern after a joke with a local. I argued with him that Plaka was the worst place for a foodie. He responded that I needed to try the old tavern of psaras, and that I should let him know how things went.

The tavern is situated at the top of a flight of stairs of Plaka, in an area called anafiotika. 

Feta cheese ravasaki – the folks at Fato o Mano should come here and have a taste of how grilled feta cheese, sesame seeds and honey does rarely fail in the hands of the Greeks. An example of a benchmark feta cheese ravasaki (dazzling flavours, superb ingredients). 10/10

Boiled octopus in vinegar and olive oil – loved the rustic presentation. they do not go rustic because tourists are looking for that. The cooking is rustic because it is genuinely traditional. big pieces of semi firm octopus (the texture I grew up to consider as the right one, in the fishermen village of the Indian Ocean where i was born), with a good chew. Superb maritime flavour and exquisite seasoning. 9/10

Baked Chicken in lemon is very Mediterranean and, of course, very Greek. Delicious traditional sauce, the quality chicken cooked expertly. This is one of my preferred classic Greek / Mediterranean dishes and although not a dish that is hard to execute, I cannot say that it has always been as great as this one that they made at the OToP. Excellent 9/10

Fava purée- after the refined versions at R41 and Argo, I was ready for a rustic rendition of the Fava purée, which is what the OToP offers. Another successful traditional dish 7/10

Overall food rating: 9/10 Flawless traditional Greek cuisine. To the local who has recommended the old tavern of psaras, you know your food really well, buddy! 

Avli Tou Thodori (Platys Gialos, Mykonos Phone: +30 2289 078100) is right on the beach of Platys Gialos in Mykonos. There is a small street with two mini food stores as well as the public bus stop. If you leave that tiny street and get on the beach, Avli is the first restaurant you will find on that beach.

raw sea urchin – the gonads fresh, their maritime fragrance in evidence. Next time, dear Avli, try to leave them in their shells (way more fun to espy), but hey…I liked it like that, too!

Some excellent freshly baked pita bread made an appearance.

Greek lamb kleftiko baked in parchment paper, mixed with cheese, carrots, pepper. A classic of greek cuisine that is very simple to make, but you need a good palate to get it right. Their Chef has that good palate, and when he cooks his classics, he does it with the heart and soul of a talented old world artisan Chef. 8/10

Traditional Greek donuts come in different varieties. Theirs was not a benchmark of its kind, but it was delicious and done well. 7/10

I went back a second time, days later, to test some few menu items that involved not just sourcing, but the cooking technique and the kitchen brigade was as inspired as on my initial visit. 

Overall food rating  8/10

Bottom line: I picked 4 of their top  10 in Mykonos. Avli did beat them all, with Yialo coming second. It is not only a restaurant offering good food, it has also a nice interior as well as superb service and it is right on the beach. 

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To Ouzeri (Thera 847 00, Greece  Phone: +30 2286 021566) is one of the most popular and finer  restaurants of Fira, the capital city of Santorini. 

Fried battered cod fish balls, beetroot and garlic cream/ this had superb taste and flavour, the balls of fried  cod fish not oily at all. The presentation is done with care. 8/10

Giouvetsi veal stew in tomato sauce served with orzo pasta, Parmesan cheese. Another excellent dish showcasing some serious technique (timing, seasoning were all examples of what they should be), the Chef having an excellent palate. I liked how Avli in Mykonos made his stew, and yet Ouzeri managed to deliver a tastier one. 9/10

Overall Food rating (Categ: Greek, Mediterranean) 9/10

Bottom line: In Santorini, I preferred Argo  a tad more (Argo  is so fun, with food to match and if you can snatch a seat with the caldera view, go for it! ), but Yes, culinary-wise, Ouzeri is on par. Genuinely Greek and tasting great. 

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