Posts Tagged ‘Escondite Cerveceria de Barrio’

 

 ​MONTREAL – On the fine dining front, Atelier Joel Robuchon in Montreal was the major restaurant opening of 2017.  I went eating at AJRM in January. It  did deliver the type of cooking I  came to expect from the big majority of the celebrated restaurants in Montreal: some predictable/safe cooking, but of course…it can always be much more inspired when the food journalists or poster-diners have snatched a seat as  can be observed in the interesting difference between what I did experience Vs what stood as a life-shattering revelation to our  food journalists (just google what the food journalists have raved about and enjoy the bromance!).  At least, I can’t say that I did not know what I was getting into: as predicted  in my review of Atelier Joel Robuchon Montreal  ” Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere” –  our local  food journalists were inevitably going to  have a blast, a totally different experience from anonymous /normal customers).

Fortunately, I also found, in Montreal, some restaurants that are cooking great food no matter who you are, and as it should be at  serious restaurants: Le Virunga delivered one of the very best meals I ever had in Montreal. Its Chef, Cheffe Maria by Coco Bee, promotes Pan-African  food with a clin d’oeil at Quebecois cooking. Both African and Quebecois cuisines count among my preferred types of food, but the sceptic and purist  in me is traditionally apprehensive when a chef does not focus on one specific type of food. I did not have to worry as this Cheffe has the skills to wipe away any doubts  about her ambitious programme. Skilled, gifted…whatever the flourishes, she deserves praises for what she is doing right now at Le Virunga.

To continue with the good news on the local restaurant scene, Nozy was another gem I discovered this year, with a true skilled Japanese Chef cooking the genuine food of his motherland. I wish long years of success to this amazing true artisan Chef, and plenty of rewards for not running his restaurant from home (directed at  the myriad of pseudo cooks in Montreal, whose head got big, and are at home, watching tv, while their poorly trained assistants are left to themselves cooking food that should not be served at a restaurant).

Two other local restaurants impressed me during this first quarter, Hvor  with a brilliant  Chef at the helm, as well as Marconi of Chef Mehdi Brunet Benkritly, the last real  Chef that Au Pied de Cochon really had. Hvor, in particular, coming to the rescue right after my just correct / safe meal at Atelier Joel Robuchon in Montreal.

In little India , Maison Indian Curry House  has consistently delivered the best lamb curry  in town, but the lamb curry is not as consistently good as it used to be (sometimes, some of the chunks of meat are hard, while others are tender and  you need to ask them for the non spicy lamb curry, as the spicy sort is not that great). Their thalis and naan bread are not the best in town, all the rest is fine enough to keep MICH among my go-to places.

I also tried Gandhi and the Taj.  Gandhi is not bad, not the best in town, neither,  but  it is a way too pricey for what I was  getting. Le Taj is pretty, but I was not as satisfied, about its food, as much as at some of the restaurants of Little India.

I finally tried the very popular Escondite, which owners are very successful restaurateurs opening plenty of restaurants inspired from various types of cooking: japanese, hawaian and, in the case of Escondite, mexican. I am usually a bit sceptic about that formula (looking for the concept  that sells)  as it is, usually,  mainly about business (japanese style bistrot sells, so let us open one / tapas sells, so let us do the same thing),  rather than the type of artisan Chef cooking (a true artisan Chef who has mastered his craft his entire life and cooks with heart, first ) I deem worthy of my hard earned money, but hey… heart is not going to make you rich, lol, and the owners of Escondite are not promising artisan Chef cooking. Furthermore, they are opening pleasant restaurants offering enjoyable  food and that was the case of Escondite.

I was also curious to look into some of the major sushiyas in town, so I turned to the  local food experts (food journalists, etc), hoping that their recommendations could be useful. They seemed to have found world class sushiyas ran by exceptional itamae, so off I went to find out. Before I elaborate about my incredible findings, I just want you to know that sushiya/sushiyasan/itamae are generally terms that I use not just to enrich any vocabulary or showing up whatever kind of knowledge, but solely by respect to the true Japanese Craftmanship that we know as Sushi making. But in Montreal, whenever you see me using those terms,  keep in mind that it’s with the deliberate intent to be… sarcastic (rightly so, btw). Montreal is not making sushi. It is just molding rice and leaving pieces of fish on it. It could be whatever kind of rice, and anything that bears resemblance to a fish, does not need to be a fish — to be honest with you — and the aftermath (yep, aftermath is the adequate term, here)  will be the same. In case you think I am exaggerating, I will leave you with my reviews of the so-called (by our local experts) best local sushiyas of Montreal:  Jun I, Park, Sushi Yumi. Baffl.., baffled….I was.

 NEW YORK, on the other hand, is the world class foodie destination that we all know.

New York continues to dazzle, and their big gunz seem more concerned about being consistently great rather than waiting after a poster-diner to find some renewed motivation. Two of their latest “hot” restaurants are Ichimura and Le Coucou, both restaurants would qualify as  destination restaurants anywhere around the globe.

I did also visit Sushi Azabu in February, which  continues to be my preferred Sushiya in NYC.

Then a Brooklyn institution known for its cheesecake, Junior’s. According to the local medias, a rich sheikh had one of Junior’s cheesecakes flying over several continents and oceans to be savoured in his palace. I was not as impressed by that cheesecake, but Junior’s (reviewed here) offers some great food.

In Koreantown, I tried two korean bbqs: one that’s very popular, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, as well as Dons Bogam. The former is a fun place, but it was disappointing on the culinary front, whereas the latter is an elite kbbq spot.

I also tried their most talked about ramenya, Ippudo, which I will review soon. I tried the one that is situated at 65 4th Avenue. Ippudo is not an elite  ramen shop, back in Japan, but in New York, it is doing enoughly well to rank among the very best at what it does. If you can detach yourself from the comparisons to Japan, then you won’t fail to appreciate my latest assertion…eventhough, like most ramen fans who happened to have tried some of the best ramenyas of Tokyo, I, too, would have couple of things to reproach to Ippudo NYC.

As with any major foodie destinations, if you let your guard down, you can stumble upon bad eateries, such as Miss Favella in Brooklyn (reviewed here),  but, overall, NY deserves its reputation as  a true world class foodie destination.

 ATLANTIC CITY – At approximately 2hrs drive from New York, you will find the coastal city of Atlantic city, famous for its picturesque ocean views as well as for its casinos. There, I ate at two of their most popular restaurants: Docks oyster house (seafood) as well as Kelsey & Kim’s (soul food). I will go back to Kelsey & Kim’s but not to Docks.

I​n May 2017, I hope I will be able to attend the burger bash in Atlantic city as some serious burgers will be available at that event. Traditionally, I do not take seriously foodie events of that sort, as the competitors are mainly present for promotional purpose, and it is always a joke to try giving your best miles away from the ingredients and tools that made you famous, but the best burgers of the burger bash event are known as some of America’s most serious burgers. You are on the land of the burger, after all. Of particular interest, during this upcoming 2017 episode of the burger bash:
-The Guinness Bacon cheeseburger from the Hard rock cafe. Atop the beef patty, Jameson bacon jam/Guinness cheese sauce/lettuce and tomato.
-The Margate dairy bar and burger’s The MDB Burger which is composed of a mix of short rib and brisket (from Pat LaFrieda)/lettuce/picles/tomato and American cheese. They will use a secret sauce for their burgers, therefore it will be interesting to see how that sauce would have elevated the burger.
-The Metropolitain’s steak au poivre burger (comes with bacon/gruyere cheese) as well as the Bocca coal fired bistro’s pepadew bacon burger (angus burger/aged white cheddar/pepadew relish/cherry wood smoked bacon/buttery brioche roll) are also on my list of burgers to try.
Event: The burger bash Url: acweekly.com/burgerbash
When: Saturday May 20th, 2017 from 1 to 4pm,
Where: The Deck at Golden nugget, Atlantic city

 

01Escondite (Addr: 1206 Union Ave,  Montreal; Phone: 514-419-9755; URL:  http://www.escondite.ca)  is a popular  tacos and tequila bar  revisiting some staples of tex mex cuisine , adding  their  own twists such as the El general Chapo dish, which is their  mexican take  on the general Tao or combining  familiar local ingredients such as the maple syrup with  ingredients typically found in Mexican food, or, to take another example, by adding Mexican twists to some local staples.

Mexican food as well as its Tex Mex Americanized rendition is not unfamiliar to most of us, North Americans. Mexico being one  neighbor we tend to visit when trying to escape our harsh  winter. So, this is food  of which most of us   know what to expect. I am talking about realisitic expectations – For eg, I do not expect Mexican food outside of Mexico to taste exactly the same as in  Mexico as, obviously …  the tacos were not made with the exact same water, flour,  their  fillings not with meats coming from the exact same purveyors.  The diners are not the same neither, therefore not opened to the same depth of flavors. I doubt that diners outside of Mexico are ready to feast on some of the bold flavors found in Mexico or on some chapolines anytime soon. That is why I refrain from comparing  Mexican food in Mexico to its incarnations abroad. It would be nonsensical.

On this evening, I ordered:

 

03Their fish tacos (All their tacos are served as  a pair of  soft tacos made of 6 inches snack flour tortillas  for $8) are made of  battered deep-fried cod, a cream of avocado (in place of the common white creamy sauce that is usually found in baja-style tacos — which these tacos took their inspiration from) and cabbage slaw. I prefer this simple combination of ingredients in my tacos to the overhelming display of ingredients that can sometimes be found with fish tacos elsewhere. The battered deep-fried cod   featuring  a delicate  crisp. Although I tend to prefer the bold and rustic flavors of some traditional tacos, I have to admit that Escondite’s  refined fish tacos were still  very enjoyable 7/10

04Al pastor soft tacos, pork belly al pastor, grilled pineapple, onions. They use quality ingredients and that was key to this  taco as, to take an example, their pork was of better quality than at your average taqueria. They have marinated the pork belly exquisitely  well. 8/10

Guacamole: prior to my meal, while reading the online reviews on Escondite, I found that their guacamole is praised by some as the best guacamole they ever had, others finding it lacking in terms of seasoning. This one I was having was  judiciously seasoned,  the avocado perfectly ripe (essential for a good guacamole), the splash of acidity coming from the lime not overwhelming at all (the mistake you do not want to make with a guacamole) and yet vivid /  exciting on the palate. 8/10

 

steak-koreano-e steak koreano & nopal – sirloin, oaxaca cheese,  grilled cactus, pickled jàlapeno, spicy orange crush crema- this had a complexity of flavors that were very exciting.   This as well as the el pastor taco are my preferred bites at Escondite.  8/10

la-tinga-la tinga (tomato and chipotle chicken, queso oaxaca, lime crema ,  lettuce) hard shell tacos were the least interesting of the tacos I have tried as the flavors did nothing for me, and the hard texture of a tortilla is something I can live without   6/10

 

quesadillas-Quesadillas ($14) were as tasty as you would expect from good quality melting cheese (oaxaca and cheddar, in this case) in flour tortillas. black truffle paste and mushrooms were added for complexity. Oaxaca and cheddar were thoughtful and stood as the right choice of cheeses for the quesadillas. 7/10

 

05-Nachos 2.0 ($12) – Gyozas au monterey Jack, jalapeno, pico de gallo aux grenades, guacamole, queso fresco, crema au poivre noir (black pepper  crema).  Gyoza nachos are nachos shaped like dumplings. Rustic, in presentation, rather than sophisticated but that is normal for taqueria food. The mild flavor of the monterey jack cheese  complimenting well the guacamole and salsa fresca laid atop the nachos. The enticing blend of flavors perpetuated with the addition of the queso fresco and black pepper crema. This was a  highlight for me.   8/10

06-Pepper/Cinammon coated churros – There are many types of churros around the globe, therefore the suggestion that one churro is superior to another one is generally a misconception as it is more likely a matter of personal preference (talking about preference, I prefer the churros that are simply coated in sugar to the ones that are filled with either chocolate or dulce de leche – Escondite’s are of the coated sort ) … unless, of course, your churro is carbonized or drowning in a pool of oil.  I have heard  great things about  Escondite’s long ridged donuts, but they  were flawed on this evening:  they were surprisingly dry and hard  in texture and consistency instead of  boasting a nice crunchy exterior. I wish I could tell you about the interior, which — regardless of  the type of churros —  is expected to be soft,  but the churros I was having in this evening were way too  thin, making the interior so tiny that it would be hard to describe to human eye. It is not hard to find far better freshly made churros than these in Montreal   5/10

The cocktails (I took a cafe/tequila as well as a mezcla  based cocktail) I had on this evening were all memorable.

 

Upon its opening, Escondite took the local  restaurant scene  by storm. Since then,  not one single  local food blogger/journalist has missed the opportunity to shower the place with superlatives such as “the best tacos in town”, the “most authentic of them all”, “the best churros”,  etc. Of course, the “best of” has never meant anything, but I was curious to see if  this taqueria could better its competitors on the culinary front. For traditional tacos,  it is El Rey Del Tacos that will pull flavors as close to the motherland’s as it is possible to find in Montreal. Maria Bonita  and Caifan are great at that, too. Maria Bonita and Caifan are not to be missed, btw. But this should  take nothing  away from Escondite which has opted to voluntarily add a their own  twists to tex mex cuisine. And it is doing it well. The best tacos in town? There is a myriad of taquerias here in Montreal with the big majority of them being fine and performing at virtually the same level. There is no benchmark tacos in Montreal. Just plenty of fine and some (very rare) bad ones. To the contrary of popular  belief, bad taquerias are rare. What is common is the unfortunate propensity  to perceive food as what we want it to be instead of accepting things the way they are supposed to. Most ppl  think that greasy mexican food equals badly executed food. It is certainly not healthy, but that does not mean that it is not delivered the way it should . Then we have preconceived notions about what temperatures are supposed to be right or wrong, what textures should prevail. Take the abalone or the squid. We have denied them the right to be what they are…they should be tender, that is what we want them to be. They are not tender by nature…but dare serving them a bit  chewy (which is their ideal texture for palatability ) and you get an avalanche of inaccurate views. Soon, we’ll have genetically modified abalone and squid, they will born tender like a kiss,  just to fulfill our fantasies, and everyone will talk about the squid and abalone of their incredible dreams.
Bottom line: Mexican food is flavor-packed by design  (who can’t make something tasty out of an avocado? strips of pork belly and pineapple? ground meat with grilled cheese? ) , therefore I do expect much more than just  tasty food at this kind of eatery. I expect good drinks, fine ingredients, good work of the textures of the food, the appropriate technique and a great sense of timing. Bad timing (who wants his ground meat served lukewarm?) and bad ingredients are the common culprits when people tell you that they had bad mexican food. I did not find those  usual culprits of bad Mexican food at Escondite, but good drinks/technique/timing/textures. And delicious food.  Escondite is doing well for a  tex mex inspired bistrot in Montreal.
Overall rating for the food: 7/10 (Category : tacos and tequila bar in North America)  by Tex Mex cooking standards in North America. I found the food generally well executed, always refined and yet full of  gusto. One fine taqueria, for sure. And it’s hip/lively.
What I think days later: One fun local taqueria that deserves its popularity. One important thing to know, though, but that virtually no one seems to have mentioned online is that the portions of the tacos are not sizeable (6 inches snack flour tortillas), which is starting to be the norm at many local taquerias, but those (like me) who are used to larger tortillas at tacos bars will need to know that.  With that in mind, the average diner will do fine with  two servings of their tacos if he is not hungry. At least three tacos may  be necessary to feel satiated.

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