*** As debated, elsewhere, on this blog, Montreal has its strengths, but they are just not what the PR agents of Tourism Mtl are trying to sell to us: for example, the promotion of Mtl as a world’s foodie destination is one of the biggest jokes of the foodie world. It certainly helps to lure people into such belief when you have folks like Anthony Bourdain parading in town (allusion to Bourdain’s TV shows on Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, etc), but when you have no more than 10 restaurants ..out of 6000 and more … that can be listed as decent, by world’s foodie destination standards, with only 2 or 3 that I can see as potential world class restaurants, then a foodie destination that cannot be! San Sebastian, Tokyo, Paris, just to name those cities are true world foodie destination. Why? Well, San Sebastian may essentially offer tapas (I know, there’s not just tapas there), but their better tapas are second to none, not just decent tapas that are marketed as what they can’t be. Tokyo has benchmark sushiyas and ramenyas and one can submit that Montreal has also world class smoked meat and bagels, and that is true, but then the comparison stops there: Tokyo has plenty of Michelin star restaurants, as well as restaurants featuring among Restaurant Mag’s top 100, which, whether you like Michelin/RM’s top 100 or not, is the guarantee of a certain level of quality that can certainly be described as world class. Paris, of course, share similar qualities. In comparison, Montreal has just 1 restaurant in RM’s top 100, Joe Beef, but its presence in that list of RM’s top 100 made thousands of restaurateurs around the world …realizing that their bistrots could also, easily, be promoted in RM’s top 50…. – Now, no one is beating our cheese cakes, poutine, dazzling bagels and smoked meats, and I love Montreal, but to be a world class foodie destination, you also need plenty of world class restaurants and less than 10 of those, out of 6000 ++…hardly qualifies a city as a foodie destination.
I went back to a restaurant which food I enjoyed a lot when I first discovered it last year, restaurant Hot Africa. The braised seabass that I ordered on this second visit was not as large as the one I had the first time, which left me with the impression that the fish was a bit less impressive (the usual mental /visual thing..the bigger the fish, the more impressive it looks to the eyes) but that has nothing to do with the cooking (for me, a skilled kitchen brigade is one that can consistently cook food that sounds simple, especially classic dishes…really well, and that’s how I’d define the skills of the kitchen at HA) nor the quality (which was as fresh as your seabass will get in Montreal, meaning good – though, remember that we are in Montreal, so the fishes found on most ethnic tables will rarely come from warm waters, most likely they are either farmed raised or fresh water specimen) of that fish. Their excellent home made marinade adding punchier flavour to that delicious braised whole sea bass. The fried plantain was, this time, of the savoury type with a perfect consistency (firm as it should, but not too much. Just the right firmness for proper chew) and texture, both the plantain and its accompanying tomato sauce tasting great and executed, on this evening, in a way that will force me to refer to them as benchmarks of their kind (again, by local African restaurant standards). The rice deserved praises, too: enticing aromas, ideally cooked so that it is tender enough to the bite. Overall score for the food: 8/10 by African restaurant cooking standards in Montreal – This evening meal’s was not necessarily superior to the previous one, but everything that was served reached out to what I prefer . It will be interesting to visit HA on its first opening day of the week (my two visits occurred on a Friday evening) as it’s a potential off day at plenty of ethnic eateries, but I can only talk about what I know: based on my two visits, HA continues to be my preferred African eatery in town. The cooking is reproachless (the lesser rated dishes of the first visit have nothing to do with the quality of the cooking – they were more accurately a matter of personal taste. For example, I prefer fried salty firm-textured plantain, you’ll perhaps prefer fried sweet soft-textured plantain. I prefer charcoal grilled goat, simply grilled, some may prefer the gourmet saucy style of the goat that they did serve on my last visit. My ratings, as any other ratings, are naturally ‘imperfect’ because they are intimately linked to how excited I am about my food. But at least, you have plenty of extra info (that go beyond my ratings) to bite into. More to the point, unless I want to rethink African cooking, the way they cook at HA is exactly the way it’s always been done, their food delectable. Just remember that it is no luxury and you go there ONLY to get a taste of how African food can genuinely taste good in Montreal, at low cost. Hot Africa, 4959 Chemin Queen Mary, Montréal (514) 734-0000
Meli Melo is highly regarded by many locals who are fond of Haitian casse croute food, and it is indeed one Haitian casse croute that stands out from the pack as far as I am concerned. The constant line ups of Haitian gourmands speak volume about how much of a cherished Haitian casse croute MM is. I was, at times — though rarely, to be fair — disappointed by MM: for example, one dried lambi sauce that I once had there was an epic failure given how good their lambi sauces can be. Following that disappointing lambi sauce, it took me almost a year to go back there. I finally went back few weeks ago and ordered their bouillon (stew). I am a huge fan of Haitian food in general, and the Haitian bouillon is one of my all time favourite dishes. The bouillon, at the local Haitian casse croute, are usually fine but if you have the opportunity of enjoying it in a Haitian home, it can truly dazzle. For my taste, the bouillon of MM remains one of the best bouillon you’ll get at a casse croute in Montreal, for its palatability , judicious seasoning, and mastered texture. A perfected Haitian bouillon, in light of what you’ll find in Montreal. Meli Melo 640 Rue Jarry E, Montréal (514) 277-6409
Awawa Pastillas & Saveurs is a newly opened Oriental/Mediterranean-inspired express casual food spot offering food items such as pastillas, chicken/beef/shrimp/veggy pita sandwiches, salads. I found their excellent pastillas to be their forte. Nowadays, even commercial pastillas found in supermarkets can be of good quality (a pastilla does not need to taste and smell exactly like its glorious Moroccan examples to be excellent — AP&S’s pastillas did not knock my socks off, but it was well executed and tasted of the vibrant fresh meat flavor – I took the beef version — and flavorful mix of red pepper/turmeric/chilli that composed its filling) , so it’s hard to be wowed by pastillas but you can count AP&S’s pastillas among the finest you’ll get to eat at this sort of eatery in town. I also tried their $.7.99 Shrimp Pita/Cumin/Spicy curry and lemon pepper sandwich which was technically of a good level (the shrimp came as a tartare in this instance, spiced with the previously mentioned ingredients, ingredients which fragrance were in evidence + the home made pita had good texture) for this kind of eatery. Awawa Pastillas & Saveurs is new, opened about 2 months ago, so it’s a bit too early to assess it properly but if their pastilla continues to be as tasty as the one I had, on that lunch, then this place will be one of my local regular pastilla destinations. Bottom line – there are, in town, some food spots offering Mediterranean-inspired express casual food, so it’s hard for AP&S to stand out from the pack, but there’s refinement in their work of the flavors and textures, their ingredients are not there just to be seen but also to be tasted (an allusion to the vast number of eateries where food ends up tasting ‘generic’ instead of tasting of the ingredients that they are made of …), and both the pita and pastilla are homemade. Addr: Awawa Pastillas & Saveurs 1425 Drummond, 514-419-5511
Most would argue that a hot dog is no big deal. Well, actually, perhaps it is a big deal….I had my share of hot dogs in town, this summer, but I was struck by the number of poorly executed hot dogs that I had to endure: poor quality of the bread, poor quality of the sausage, overcooked /dry sausages, sausages tasting bland, etc. Fortunately, there are some few good ones, and the one at Victoire (in the food court under the National bank tower, 600 De la Gauchetière) remains one of my preferred hot dogs in town. There is no wowness to be expected from such simple fast food item, but the one at Victoire is a reminder that when it’s simple, just be careful (they use quality ingredients and cook their hot dogs with care, meaning knowing when to stop the cooking so that the sausage still tastes fresh and meaty) and it will be good. You an also count Victoire’s hamburgers as well as their poutine (a fine sauce, french fries with potato of fine quality and great cheese curds — not bad at all ) among the finest of their kind (food court food in Montreal). Victoire 600 De la Gauchetière West, Montreal (514) 508-0917
There are many ingredients that can, to my palate, taste quite different from one corner of the world to another. Mangoes, tomatoes, to name a few. Then there are ingredients that are known to fail in that aformentioned category but which related fuss I simply will never get. Which brings me to the strawberry. Is there such thing as an exceptional strawberry? I went finding out. During my trip in Tokyo and its surroundings, I tried their finest strawberries. Here in Quebec, we have some excellent ones too (on the picture, strawberries of great quality from Fermes Francois Gosselin of Iles d’Orleans). I did, of course, also enjoyed the finest strawberries of the US and Europe only to come to the conclusion that there are just two kind of strawberries, the good and the bad. Nothing more.