Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and Ethiopian Millennium Day

I've been dying to go for Ethiopian food ever since we went to the Blue Nile in Montreal and I finally convinced Darcy to go tonight for dinner. Coincidentally, it was Ethiopian Millennium Day today. The Ethiopian calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, so today was the equivalent of New Year's Day in the year 2000. Kind of a nice coincidence. Some restaurants on the strip were closed because they were participating in the celebrations at Christie Pits Park.

Thankfully the one recommended to me by a friend, Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, was open. We sat in a sunny booth by the window and ordered the Lalibela Special, which was a combination platter for two containing doro wat (chicken), collard greens, cabbage, lentils, lamb, kifto (minced raw beef), boiled egg, and salad (lettuce, tomato, onion).

If you haven't had Ethiopian before, it is served on a large platter lined with injera, a slightly sour, spongy flatbread. All of the dishes are spooned on top and you eat everything with your hands using more injera (kind of like eating Indian food with naan or puris).

Everything was fantastic. It was a great balance of mild and spicy, cooked and raw, and veggies and meat. The kifto, which is sort of like steak tartare was sour with a slight lemon tang. I didn't tell Darcy that it was raw because I didn't want to deter him and he really liked it. The lamb was the spiciest dish followed closely by the split peas with the cabbage and lentils rounding out the mild side. The collard greens were slightly bitter, which contrasted well with everything else and the salad and boiled egg were cool and refreshing.

The service was attentive, but unobtrusive. Our waitress was very sweet (and incredibly beautiful). Another woman came around at just the right time and asked us if we wanted more injera. We were stuffed by that time, but it was nice to be asked.

It's really is such a delicious, nutritious, and generous meal. And the bill came to $19.99, including taxes. I am in love with this restaurant and food. I can't wait to go again.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Montreal Part 9: To Sum Up

VIA: Delayed, as usual

Well, the final day finally came and we left kicking and screaming. We departed on a train that was supposed to leave before noon, but ended up shoving off an hour late, so we got 50% off a ticket to Montreal that is good for the next 6 months. Yay!

Bahn mi: Sandwiches to go

Before boarding, we made one last food stop at Epicerie Thien Phat to get some bahn mi for the trip. I wanted to sample all the other kinds so we got one of each: chicken, beef, and pork. The chicken and beef ones both had char-grilled meat in them, so they're quite different from the pork one that is made with a spam-like sausage. They were all delicious and spicy, but if I had to pick, I'd take the pork.

Goodbye, Montreal. Goodbye, Sophie

It was a wonderful 9 days and nights in Montreal and I'd love to do it again. We got very attached to the city as well as my sister's kitty, Sophie. Maybe next summer we'll plan a trip for the week that spans both the jazz and comedy festivals.

The List

In case you wanted to know what was on our list of must-eat places in Montreal, here it is:

  1. Cafe Santropol: Triple-decker sandwiches (the Plateau)
    3990 rue St-Urbain @ ave. Duluth, 514-842-3110

  2. The Blue Nile: Eithopian (the Plateau)
    3706 rue St-Denis @ ave. des Pins, 514-285-4628

  3. Restaurant Lafleur: Poutine (the Plateau)
    3620 rue St-Denis @ Square St-Louis, 514-848-1804

  4. Restaurant Lotte Furama: Dim Sum (Chinatown)
    1115 rue Clark @ boul. Rene-Levesque Ouest, 514-393-3838

  5. Pho Bac: Pho (Chinatown)
    1016 boul. St-Laurent @ rue de la Gauchetiere Ouest, 514-393-8116

  6. Epicerie Thien Phat: Vietnamese subs (Chinatown)
    1084 boul. St-Laurent @ rue de la Gauchetiere Ouest, 514-875-7929

  7. Restaurant Mazurka: Polish food (the Plateau)
    64 rue Prince-Arthur Est @ rue St-Dominique, 514-844-3539

  8. Restaurant Amir: Shish taouk (many locations across Montreal)

  9. Villa du Souvlaki: Souvlaki (NDG)
    5347 rue Sherbrooke Ouest @ ave. Prud'homme, 514-489-2039

  10. Andalos Bakery: Lebanese pizza (Ville Saint Laurent)
    266 boul. LeBeau @ rue Benjamin-Hudon, 514-856-0983

  11. Schwartz's Deli: Smoked meat (the Plateau)
    3895 boul. St-Laurent @ rue Napoleon, 514-842-4813

  12. Cafe Frappe: Nice patio for a drink (the Plateau)
    3900 boul. St-Laurent @ rue Napoleon, 514-289-9462

Montreal Part 8: Making the most of our last days

Saturday is usually the beginning of the weekend, but we were feeling the impending end of our time in Montreal. The weather had turned freakishly cold and we had lots of cleaning to do before leaving on Sunday, so we were a little blue.

Dim Sum: Catching the elusive taro puffs

First thing in the morning, we went to dim sum at Restaurant Lotte Furama yet again, but this time we met up with Darcy's former manager and his wife. I hadn't seen them in about 4 years so I talked and talked, especially about the trip to India, which I hadn't spoken about in a long time. I developed this kind of schtick about the trip, so once I start talking, it's hard to shut me up. So, for once, I wasn't very focussed on the food. But, we did well and we were lucky enough to catch the deep-fried taro puffs, which are egg-shaped balls of mashed taro filled with pork and vegetables and deep-fried. We try to stay away from the deep-fried stuff at dim sum, but these are always the exception. It's worth it.

French People Don't Run

We usually have our long run on Sundays, but this Sunday we had a train to catch at noon so we set out to the Old Port to do our 10k. We'd run down there a few times during the week when nothing was going on and it was pretty deserted. This time, it was packed with people enjoying buskers, food, and other exhibitions at the Old Port. We had noticed something earlier in the week, but it came into clear view on Saturday: French people don't run.

We ran through large crowds of people and most of them looked at us with this bemused expression like we were riding unicycles or something. Some mocked us by running alongside. One little boy on his bike said, "Allez! Au courage!" and high-fived Darcy as he went by. We felt like such dorks. Apparently, like in France, Quebecers can stay fit and slim by drinking, smoking, and eating croissants.

Le Menage

We spent the afternoon cleaning my sister's condo from top to bottom. Why is it so much easier to clean someone else's place? It was actually kind of fun. If only I could do that at home.

Mazurka: Perogies that would make a bishop kick a hole through a stained glass window

Feeling very proud of ourselves for all that hard work, we went to Mazurka again for dinner because we couldn't get those perogies out of our minds. We both ordered the potato and cheese perogies and they came with the soup of the day, which was borscht (eeeee!). In addition, we shared a chopped liver appetizer because I saw Ina Garten make it on Barefoot Contessa the other day and it looked so good.

The borscht was just as good as I remembered: sweet and slightly acidic with a dollop of sour cream and lots of fragrant dill. The chopped liver was very much like liverwurst only fluffier and was surrounded by crisp, fresh vegetables. Even Darcy liked it and he usually doesn't like pate-like things (thinks they taste like cat food).

The perogies were phenomenal just like the other night. I really don't know how they do it. If you were wondering, I stole that sub-heading from a 1920's pulp fiction (detective) novel, Farewell My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler. The original line was: "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." Even if we didn't do or eat anything else in Montreal, they would have made the trip worthwhile. I can't say enough about them and I'm eternally spoiled perogy-wise. They literally melt in your mouth. Sigh.

Just like the other night, we ate every bit of everything we were served. So much so, that the waitress said, "you guys are good eaters!" Blush.

As we were leaving, we saw two older men outside having dinner on the Mazurka patio in the freezing cold. I think the temperature was around 13C, but felt colder with the windchill. But, if you looked at only them, you'd think it was a balmy night. They were dressed in shortsleeves, eating, smoking, and sharing a bottle of wine in an ice bucket. This is what I love about Montreal.

Poutine at Lafleur: The last thing on the list

There was only one thing left on the list and it was now or never, so we headed straight from Mazurka to Lafleur to pick up a poutine. Now, even we're not so hardcore that we could have poutine for dessert right after dinner. We got one small for the two of us and took it back to my sister's to heat up later once we'd regained some appetite.

Darcy had heard some bad press about Lafleur from his friend Jeff who was there during the August long weekend. He said that they had 'cleaned up' so the poutine wasn't as dirty/tasty as before. When we got there, we saw new signs saying that the fries are now trans fat free. C'est dommage. But, that night at about 1AM after finishing off the cleaning, we tried the poutine (well, I ate most of it) and it still does the trick.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Montreal Part 7: Monkland Avenue and the end of our list! Can you believe it?

Monkland Avenue: Funky street away from the crowds

On Friday morning, we went to Monkland Avenue, which is fun street with lots of restaurants, cafes, and shops that is close to NDG (Darcy's old neighbourhood). We went there to to meet up with Gail, his former co-worker and see her new baby. We were originally supposed to go to St. Viateur Bagel and Cafe, but it was really crowded, so we chickened out and just had beverages at Second Cup. I had no idea that St. Viateur had any additional locations, nevermind one so far west. I read a little on their web site and I guess they opened this location in 2001, which was after Darcy and I moved to Toronto. Damn. It would have been so convenient.

Villa du Souvlaki: Can't get enough

After saying goobye to Gail, we walked south and ended up back in NDG, dangerously close to Villa du Souvlaki. It's hard to believe, but other than poutine at Lafleur, we had gone to every place on our list (things to eat in Mtl). So, why not go to Villa again for souvlaki? This time we got takeout and I had a chance to clandestinely photograph the menu and hours. I think that I'm going to try to start posting menus and hours of operation because restaurants with the best food usually don't have web sites. We had chicken pitas (no onions) and fries as usual and as usual, it was sublime. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Restaurant Furama Lotte: A decent dinner

That evening, since we were at the end of our list, we thought we'd try something new and go to Restaurant Lotte Furama (our favourite dim sum place) for dinner. We'd been there a million times for dim sum, but never for dinner. We weren't that imaginative with our choices (Cantonese chow mein, Chinese broccoli, and Kung Pao chicken), so we might not have seen the place in its best light, but we were a bit underwhelmed. The Kung Pao was very sweet instead of spicy and had lots of filler (celery, carrots, and cashews), but very little chicken. All the ingredients were fresh and the service was attentive and efficient. I think we were so used to having our socks blown off at every meal that we were a little disappointed, but overall it's a good place. And right across the street from my sister's. She's so lucky.

Montreal Part 6: Bahn mi, Mazurka, and another nostalgia tour

Bahn mi: Where have you been all my life?

On the Thursday, Darcy met up with his old work friends for lunch, so I took the opportunity to finally try bahn mi. It's everywhere both in Toronto and Montreal but I'd never got around to having it. It's basically a Vietnamese baguette sandwich stuffed with meat (chicken, beef, or pork), picked vegetables (carrots, radishes, onions), and fresh cilantro. It sounded so like my kind of thing and it was.

I selected the pork one to try first. The 'pork' meat is like the Vietnamese sausage that I had at Pho Pasteur in Toronto. It's basically a kind of bologna or spam, ground and pressed sausage meat. The man who served me asked if I wanted it spicy (I always say 'yes' to this question). He added a vinegary kind of dressing with sliced red chilis in it. So hot and so good. The craziest thing about these is that they only cost $2. I think you can find some in Chinatown in Toronto that are $1. How is that possible?

Mazurka: It's too good to be true, but it is!

After a rainy (it actually hailed!), lazy afternoon inside, we ventured out to go to the next place on the list, which was Mazurka, a Polish restaurant that has been around since 1952. It's located in a very fun, pedestrian-friendly area of the Plateau on Prince Arthur Avenue, which is just down the street from where I used to live. It is exactly the same as the last time we were there, which must have been at least 7 years ago. The decor, waitresses, food, and prices are all exactly the same. It's so comforting.

We both ordered the Mixed Plate, which includes (brace yourself) two perogies (one meat; one potato), a cabbage roll, a potato pancake, a grilled sausage, and some bigos (sauerkraut, sausage and mushroom stew). Darcy made the happy revelation that if we order the same thing, he doesn't have to wait for me to take a picture of his food because I can take a picture of mine.

Before our mixed plates, we had a pitcher of sangria and they served us small appetizer salads that were very simple (iceberg lettuce, green peppers, tomato, celery, pickled cabbage), but astonishingly fresh. Usually the free salad that comes with every meal is nothing to write about, but everything on the plate was so crisp it could have been just harvested. I love that.

When drinking the sangria we had one of those crazy moments where a taste transports you back in time. That particular sangria picked me up and dropped me back in 90's. It reminded me of Carlos and Pepes, Annie's, Gert's and all those other places where I was when I should have been studying.

Let me say that every single thing on the mixed plate was the best thing I've ever eaten. We were both floored by how good everything was. We knew we liked this place, but we didn't remember it being this good. The perogies were a completely different animal from any that I've had anywhere else. The dough was pillow soft and the filling was creamy and light at the same time. The bigos was savoury and sour without being too salty and the potato pancake was crackly, crunchy delicious. We ate every single bite of everything. And to top it all off, our bill came to less than $30 with tax included. This place seems to good to be true. I will break down and weep the day when Mazurka closes. I can't encourage you enough to go there.

Cafe Frappe: Fantastic patio for a quiet drink

After dinner, we went for a drink at Cafe Frappe, another nostalgia place with the most adorable patio on the top floor in the back. This was another former sangria watering hole. This patio reminds me of the Paris Casino in Las Vegas. The walls are painted to resemble a town square complete with windows and real flower boxes. What's funny is that the rest of the bar is a total studenty-arcade games-pool tables kind of place. I think it's cute though and I'm glad it has stayed the same.

McGill Ghetto: this is where we used live

After our drinks, we walked around another old neighbourhood, the McGill Ghetto, which is named as such because it's immediately adjacent to the university. Rents are usually high in this area due to student demand, but it's a pretty neighbourhood that must have been a lovely place to live back in the day before all the students and fraternities moved in. The apartments are old and beautiful (for the most part) with lots of character. One year, I lived in a fantastic, old top floor apartment that had a unheated sun room (great second freezer during the winter) and a functioning woodstove in the dining room (which was converted into my bedroom). I used to love burning my apple cores and making my room smell like potpourri.

I always have mixed feelings walking around the Ghetto because even though I had a lot of fun, it reminds me of being really stressed about school and not knowing what the future would be like. It's nice to be all grown up and not worrying about fulfilling your potential. :)