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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Le Dôme (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris, Phone: 01 43 35 25 81), opened in 1897, is an upscale historical brasserie  in Paris. 

Saumon marine a l’aneth (dill marinated salmon) was fine enough, but it would not be hard to fine better versions of that, at plenty of restaurants in Paris 6/10

I came here for the oysters. It is actually Huitrerie Garnier that I wanted to revisit. Huitrerie Garnier is one of my go to places for oysters in Paris, but it is closed till September (From Sept to Dec, oysters are as fresh as it gets and Huitrerie Garnier operates only when oysters are at their best).  As I was walking nearby Le Dôme, I remembered that they have quite a variety of interesting oysters and decided to push open their door. The raising and maturation of oysters, in France, is taken to a level rarely seen elsewhere around the globe***. Many regions of France have first-rate oysters. My favourite have been the fines de claires and spéciales de claires of Yves Papin (Marennes Oléron in  Charente Maritime), Roumegous (Charente maritime), the Isigny, Saint-Vaast (Normandie), Gruissan (Aude), and many more.  This time, I focused on Brittany. In France, oysters are offered  by weight. Numbers 0 to 5  are assigned to oysters. The higher is the number, the smaller is the oyster (that is explained here). I ordered 3 types of oysters: the cupped oysters  boudeuse de bretagne (Cote Des Menhirs) and tsarskaya no2 (Parcs Saint Kerber) as well as the flat oysters  Plate de Cancale no.­000 from that same Parcs Saint Kerber.

The oysters matched what their marketing do suggest:

the hint of sweetness, the meaty texture for the tsarskaya. There is a lot of marketing / buzz behind the tsarkaya, but although a great oyster, I am not particularly enamoured with it in a way that some other oysters of France have impressed me.

Plates de Cancale had their typical light nutty flavour in evidence

And the boudeuse  had a concentrated flavor and it was fleshy as expected from  an oyster “that refused to grow”.

And of course, the nice fresh iodine flavor that every single oyster of this globe has to come with, was there, in every single bite.

Le Dôme served  perfectly well shucked oysters of fine quality with a flawless mignonette. I still prefer Huitre Garnier for oysters in Paris, and Paris has plenty of stellar oysters to feast on, anyways.

Mousse au chocolat, marmelade d’oranges, sorbet passion – classic French kitchen brigades are what you are looking for when it comes to a fine mousse of chocolate. The chocolate was of fine quality, its thick consistency tolerable, but there were many rivers to cross between the finer mousse of chocolate of France and this one (just not as dazzling on the palate). 6/10

Millefeuille ” Napoléon” parfumé au rhum et à la vanille – Rhum and vanilla flavored Millefeuille came with a spectacular rustic flaky look that some generations of French may have flirted with, at some point in their life, but it was not as memorable on the palate nor to the smell as the finer Millefeuille that those same generations have known. Still, this was tolerable, just  not as enjoyable as it should have been. 5/10

Overall food rating (Categ: French Brasserie): 6/10 Yes, the oysters are well sourced,  BUT such classic French brasserie needs to offer better renditions of basic classic French desserts such as a chocolate mousse or a Millefeuille.

Bottom line: Le Dôme is ideal for a piece of restaurant history in Paris. It has couple of historical companions in the vincinity. Last time I was here, it was 25 years ago and I am glad that such historic restaurants is still open. Couple of metro stations away, at metro st germain des pres, restaurant history goes on with cafe de flore, brasserie Lipp. On the culinary front, well, the best of classic French cooking in Paris will not come from here. It is neither good, nor bad.

 

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Mykonos was exactly like in the postal cards. No one will argue with you if you saw better island in your life, but Mykonos was as pretty as the hype wants you to believe. It was about the exact same omnipresent whitewashed houses, colorful doors, and eye candy waterfronts that we can all see in the ads. If you like beaches and whitewashed houses, there you go. 

I stayed at Platis Gialos, to enjoy both its beach as well as its restaurants (it is a beach area with an effective night life, mini food markets, spas, etc). Its beach does not have the soft white sand of some of the islands of the carribean, but it is very clean, its golden sand and blue water certainly easy on the eyes.

At Platis Gialos, I paid a visit to 3 of their most popular restaurants: Nikos Gallop, Yialo Yialo as well as Avli Tou Thodori. Avli was the best of the trio, followed by Yialo. As for Nikos, my meal, there, will not help you to understand its popularity. The effect of the free drink they offer to their patrons, at the end of the meal, could, perhaps, better explain that exploit (of being popular).

At 15 mins drive from Platis Gialos, you will find Mykonos town. From some angles, its waterfront is very easy on the eyes, although, to be fair, some parts of it is also utterly ugly. Regardless, this town deserves a detour while you are on the island. In Mykonos town, I ate at the very popular Fato o Mano, which I reviewed here.

All in all, Mykonos being touristy, one might expect average food. In that regard, Avli and Yialo fought back and proved that a touristy location can offer serious cooking too. I learned, while I was there, that Avli and Yialo are not alone, in that fight, as at  least 10 other restaurants are cooking food that are superior to what most of the local restaurants are offering. If that is true, Good, then, for Mykonos.

From the beaches of Mykonos, I took a ferry for a stopover in Santorini, the other famous island of Greece. 

The hype, there, is on such things such as the fabled caldera views with its sunset, the emblematic blue domes, particularly the mother of all blue domes, the one of the city of oia. All of them will be as impressive as your imagination will want them to be, but please do not be too picky about the blue domes…they are just blue domes and it is certainly not their fault if our imagination have elevated them to what they can’t be.

Imagination, overhype, it does not matter: Santorini worths a detour. They just have to work on their 3rd world airport, an airport that is simply a shame by western standards (poorly trained staff that are as confused as the system they are working for). 

In Santorini, I ate at Argo  as well as Ouzeri, two of their best restaurants in the capital city of Fira. Argo  has a Chef whose cooking was almost as amazing as watching the nearby caldera view. Ouzeri was on par as far as food is concerned. I also tried Restaurant 41 on the beach of Perivolos, reviewed here.

That Santorini had its caldera views marketed  as one of  the things to see once in your life,  virtually anyone who did not live under a rock … got that. But who knew that such a touristy location could hide great kitchen brigades such as the ones of Argo, Ouzeri, and many more. 

My last stop was in Athens. 

Historically, Athens is, obviously, a giant. But it also has a beautiful coastline that is easy to access using public transportation. 

In Athens, do what the tourist trapping advertisements are suggesting: stay in central Athens in the vincinity of Plaka. As a tourist, you will be trapped, anyways, so you may as well get the most out of it.

Outside of Athens, if the gorgeous mountainous landscapes on your way to Delphi does not seduce, then you know you are in an advanced stage of personal depression. 

Delphi will stun you as much as you love mountains and are a fan of the oracle, the twins of argos, apollo, etc…obviously, and for someone like me who qualifies as a fan of all of that, I certainly did not leave the site in a bad mood.

The signs that tourism is their bread and butter are numerous: well maintained buses for tourists, plenty of areas thought for tourists (Plaka, is an example), a subway system that is as easy to navigate as it is easy on the eyes, roads in great condition as well as an effort to post signs in english/french at some touristic sites. 

In Athens, I ate at the old tavern of Psaras, as well as Manas Kouzina-Kouzina. At the former, some Greek families were eating next to tourists, and I hope the tourists did realize that they were eating true traditional Greek food, done really well, because the Greek families felt like eating at home. The old tavern cooks superb Greek food. As for Manas Kouzina-Kouzina, I suspect it is not bad at all. I mentioned “I suspect it is not bad”…for reasons explained here. I also ate at taverna vizantino, which seemed to think that, because it is in a touristy area, where people just pass by, it can serve whatever it wants to people.  That shameful meal  is reviewed here. 

For North Americans: keep in mind that patrons at restaurants  are allowed to smoke on the terrace, but not inside. So you know where to sit if you want your food not to smell of smoke..