Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pho Bac: My favourite pho

Yesterday for lunch, we went to our favourite pho place Pho Bac, which I've written about before, but couldn't resist photographing and gushing over again. It's so so close to my sister's place and it's open from 10AM-10PM every day. If I lived here, I'd go all the time and maybe I'd actually try something different on the menu. As it is, I can't help but order my favourites: shrimp cold spring rolls (Goi Cuon), pho with rare beef and tripe (Pho Tai Sach), and a lemon soda. Look at how rare the beef is. It was so perfect.

Just like dim sum, pho is really fast food. The minute you sit down you have tea and within 5 minutes of ordering, all your food is ready. Condiments, napkins, spoons, and chopsticks are all on the table, so you have everything you need. And for the two of us, our bill came to $17. There's nothing better. I took pictures of the menu since they don't have a web site. Click on them to enlarge.

Pho Bac
1016 boul. St Laurent
Montreal, QC
Web site: None
Menus: see below
Hours: 10AM-10PM daily

Monday, March 3, 2008

Homemade Goodness

We felt a little polluted after having dim sum two days in a row as well as poutine, so we stayed in today and made some great food. My sister loves buying high quality ingredients (expensive olive oils, vinegars, organic fruits, vegetables, and staples), but rarely has time to cook and a lot of stuff ends up going bad or getting old. So I saved some doomed groceries and made buttercup squash soup, chickpea/tomato/bocconcini salad, and ham/provolone/basil paninis. They all turned out awesome.

Buttercup Squash Soup
This soup came out creamy and delicious and it was super easy to make. This is what I did:

glug of olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 box (900mL) of chicken stock
1 buttercup squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes

1. Saute onions, garlic, ginger, and carrots in olive oil until softened.
2. Add chicken stock and buttercup squash.
3. Bring to a boil and cook until squash is tender.
4. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
5. Transfer to a blender or blitz using wand blender.

Ham, Provolone, and Basil Panini
My sister has this great Krups brand panini press. We bought one of our own a few years ago and ran it into the ground because we used it so much. It's the best appliance and makes everything delicious. It was so good to have a homemade panini again.

I bought a fresh baguette, cut it in 6-inch pieces, then halved them and turned them inside out so the soft part was on the outside. I filled them with smoked ham, provolone slices, and a few leaves of fresh basil. After buttering the outside, I put them in the press and in less than 2 minutes they were golden, brown, and delicious. There's no need to run to Lettieri for your paninis -- you can make fantastic ones at home.

Chickpea, Tomato, and Bocconcini Salad
I got this recipe from one of the Looneyspoons books, which are really cheesy cookbooks, but the recipes are unfailingly reliable. I'm not sure if I have the recipe exactly as they wrote it, but it goes something like this:

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed
500 mL of bocconcini (get the pearl bocconcini so you don't have to bother slicing it)
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp chopped red onion
handful of chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1. Combine the chickpeas, bocconcini, grape tomatoes, red onion, and basil in a bowl.
2. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small jar and shake it up.
3. Pour dressing over salad and toss.

So easy and so delicious! Somehow, it makes the chickpeas taste rich and creamy.

It was a great lunch and we feel so virtuous and healthy...for the moment.

Dim Sum at Restaurant Lotte Furama, again

We had such a good experience yesterday that we went again this morning, but we took the opportunity to try different things. If you're planning on going, note that Sunday is much busier than Saturday so you should plan to arrive before 11AM. We got there early enough to not have to wait, but they stuck us in the corner away from the cart traffic. If this happens to you, insist on a better table.

So, here are some of the things we tried today:

Rice Rolls with Beef
We usually get the shrimp rice rolls, so today we tried the beef ones for the first time. The filling is similar to that in siu mai -- minced beef mixed with ginger. It was delicious. I'll have a hard time from now on picking between these and the shrimp ones.

Siu Mai
Siu Mai (pork dumplings) are not new to us, but we didn't have room for them yesterday. They were a generous size with a small amount of minced shrimp and a tiny carrot dice on top. They were fantastic.

Tripe in Ginger-Chili Sauce
I usually get the thinly sliced, delicate tripe with julienned carrots and ginger, which I love. This tripe was thicker and cut into large pieces with a slightly spicy chili and ginger sauce. Tripe can be terrible if it's cooked badly, but this was tender and delicious. A few years ago, I tried to introduce some friends to dim sum tripe and sadly that time it was really awful. They still talk about it and they'll never try it again. But, trust me, it's good.

They serve dim sum every day at Restaurant Lotte Furama, so I bet we'll go at least once more before we leave. Yum.

Restaurant Lotte Furama
1115 rue Clark
Montreal, QC
Web site: None
Menus: None

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Save Frites Dorées!

Tonight we picked up 'hotdog toastés all dress' and poutines from Frites Dorées, which is just around the corner at St. Laurent and René Lévesque. Before we left, I was Googling and discovered that all the businesses on this strip of St. Laurent are closing to make room for a complex containing office space, fair trade/organic shops, cafes, and bars. Booooooo. This type of gentrification is going on everywhere in Toronto as well (Liberty Village, Parkdale) and while it will attract more foot traffic and money to the area, it's sad to see saucy spots like Cafe Cleopatra (where I saw my first live drag show) and Frites Dorées with it's long orange counter and sepia-coloured photos of burgers and poutine replaced by something depressing like a software company.

Hotdog Toasté All Dress
Since we were just steps away, we got takeout that was expertly packaged in a shoebox-sized box and brought it back to my sister's place. The hotdogs were awesome. I'd never had a 'toasté' before, but it tastes like a cross between a hotdog and a grilled cheese sandwich. All of the condiments were packed inside and the whole thing was put in a panini-like press until the bun was crispy and golden. After all the years I spent living in Montreal, I'd never had a hotdog with the 'chou', which is a finely shredded and lightly pickled cabbage. Delicious.

The poutine was made with fresh cut fries, chunky cheese curds, and tangy gravy. I don't know what it is about poutine gravy that makes it burn your throat, but it hurts so good. I definitely got my poutine fix and more. Word on the street is that Frites Dorées will vacate by the end of the month, so go now.

Frites Dorées
1212 boul St. Laurent @ René Lévesque
Montreal, QC
Web site: None
Menu: None

Incredible Dim Sum at Restaurant Lotte Furama

We're back in Montreal for a little vacation and of course our first stop was our very favourite dim sum at Restaurant Lotte Furama. I've been having dim sum at this place since at least 1995 when I was a student, but today it was at its best yet. Everything we chose was incredibly fresh, well-cooked, and delicious. We may go again tomorrow. It was literally the best dim sum I've ever had.

Shrimp Rice Rolls
These are shrimp encased in a soft, rice-based wrapper. Today, the wrapping was insanely smooth and melted in your mouth. The shrimp was plump and fresh.

Har Gow
Har gow are classic dim sum offerings -- minced shrimp in a transculent skin. Like the rice rolls, the dumpling skins were especially tender today encasing a generous amount of lovely shrimp.

Shrimp and Cilantro Dumplings
These are very similar to har gow, but with chopped cilantro inside and a thicker skin. Again, today's were amazing.

Fried Tofu with Shrimp
Darcy doesn't like fried tofu, so these were all mine. They are blocks of medium firmness tofu topped with minced shrimp and diced green pepper in a black bean sauce. They were delicious and even the green pepper garnish was screaming fresh.

Black Bean Ribs
We've had these many times, but today's ribs were especially large, plump, and juicy with a delicious black bean and ginger sauce.

Eggplant and Shrimp
How much do I love eggplant. This eggplant is cut down the middle and stuffed with the same chopped shrimp that is on the tofu and in the dumplings. It's so easy to over or undercook eggplant and this was perfect.

Fried Taro Puffs
Taro is the greatest thing to ever touch a deep-fryer. The large group at the table ahead of us were demanding everything from the deep-fried cart except for these and I wanted to tell them what they were missing (and to quit hogging the deep-fried lady). They are soft, pillowy balls of starchy, mashed taro root deep-fried to create a lacy, crispy exterior. Incredible. And the oil used today must have been ridiculously hot and brand new -- next to no oil was absorbed by the crust.

Fast and Furious
If you ever need to have a quick lunch/brunch, dim sum is your best bet. As soon as you sit down, there is tea and within seconds you have delicious food. With a small gesture, the waiter will swoop in to add up your bill and make change in one smooth motion. The total amount of time we spent from entry to exit was about 20 minutes. I don't think this is traditionally how Chinese families do dim sum. We saw lots of groups leisurely eating and drinking tea, but if you're in a rush, there is no faster food.

Now we're back at my sister's place hanging with the cat, watching snowboarding on TV, and planning what we're going to do for dinner (we might try out classic steamed hotdogs and poutine at Frites Dorees on the corner -- yeah, we wanted something light). We've got a week ahead of us of nothing but eating, reading, blogging, napping, and the occasional workout to keep us honest. I don't think I've ever been happier.

Restaurant Lotte Furama
1115 rue Clark
Montreal, QC
Web site: None
Menus: None