I’m Going To Tell You Something, But I Don’t Want To Talk About It.

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I struggle with my weight.  And when I say struggle, I mean in an epic Greek tragedy kind of way, minus Oedipus or Electra complexes.  The thing is, I never wanted to write a fat girl blog — I’ve got no interest in composing it, and I’m going to assume that you’ve no interest in reading it.  That said, some days there’s just going to be no avoiding it, and this is one of those days.  Here’s why:

I’ve just made the most delicious-smelling dinner, and the recipe called for fourteen tablespoons of butter.  Which is why it’s probably going to taste fantastic.  And I want to enjoy it, I really do, but I’m scared that I’ll scarf the whole damn thing down.  I know you think I’m being glib or hyperbole-prone, but I promise you I am capable of such a thing.  Moderation and I have yet to meet.  And when we do, I’ll probably punch the broad in the face and take off running.  Because that’s the kind of gal I am when it comes to food.

Anyway, in the spirit of the holiday season, and of sharing and solidarity and all that, here’s the recipe.  I don’t want to be fat alone.

Chicken, Sausage + Mushroom Pot Pie, from Jean Soulard at the Fairmont le Château Frontenac, as published in Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

for the crust
2 cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water

for the filling
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature, divided
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 ¼ pounds Italian sausage, casings removed
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup Madeira
2 cups low-salt chicken broth (or you can use the handy-dandy turkey stock you made this past Thanksgiving, if you’re me)
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, thickly sliced *
1 large egg yolk, beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water

  1. Make the crust.  Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms. Add 4 tablespoons water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more water by ½ tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
  2. Make the filling.  Mix 2 tablespoons butter and flour in bowl to smooth paste; set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with oil in large deep skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots, and thyme. Sauté until mushrooms brown, about 8 minutes. Add sausage; sauté until no longer pink, breaking up with spoon, about 7 minutes. Add chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until chicken is no longer pink on outside, about 5 minutes. Add Madeira; boil 2 minutes. Add broth; bring to boil. Mix in butter-flour paste; simmer until sauce thickens, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Mix in parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to 10-cup round baking dish; top with egg slices.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out dough on floured surface to 13- to 14-inch round. Place atop filling. Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under; crimp edge. Brush crust with glaze; cut several slits in crust.
  4. Bake pie until crust is golden, about 45 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes and serve.
* I did not include the hard-boiled eggs.  Keith isn’t too into them, and besides, it’s not as if I need any more cholesterol.

Sweets from Pâtisserie Mahrouse.

pastries-1When we planning our trip to Montréal, there was one place I told everyone I absolutely had to visit — Pâtisserie Mahrouse, in the Villeray neighborhood of the city.  The area incredibly diverse, and the home of what could possibly be the best Middle Eastern pastries ever.

All right, I’ll admit there’s a chance I’ve got a slight bias; my parents have been getting boxes of pastries from Mahrouse for as long as I can remember.  In fact, though we were following the instructions of Joann’s TomTom, I started recognizing streets and landmarks in spite of the fact the I haven’t been to the pâtisserie since grade school.

Mahrouse doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you walk in the door the first thing you’ll see are cases loaded with pastry-laden trays; then it will be all you can do to prevent yourself from ordering a kilo of each.  If you’re in luck, you’ll visit the pâtisserie when one of the owners is behind the counter to answer all of your questions and carefully placing your purchases in a maroon-colored box.

If I were made to choose, I’d say my favorite are the slim rolls like the one pictured above; they’re nutty, and the honeyed syrup with which it is flavored almost always soaks the bottom layers with a fantastic sweetness.  If, on the other hand, you were to ask an owner which was his preferred pastry, he would answer, “All of them.”  And you know what?  He’d be right.

If you can’t get to Pâtisserie Mahrouse but are in the Boston area, Eastern Lamejun in Belmont almost always has a selection in stock.

Pâtisserie Mahrouse
1010, rue de Liège Ouest
Montréal, QC H3N 1B8

Eastern Lamejun
145 Belmont Street
Belmont, Massachusetts 02478

Dinner and Drinks at Pop!

My friend Golnar lived in Montréal for a while, so when I needed restaurant recommendations for this trip, I immediately sent off an email asking for her advice.  Amongst her picks was Pop*, a small bar owned by the same restaurateurs behind Laloux, a lauded bistro in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood.

Originally we had planned to go to Pop for a late-night snack and a series of drinks, but it was a Sunday evening and all of our dinner destinations were closed.  Our waiter seemed surprised to see us — we four were literally the first diners to arrive — but completely unsurprised to learn how hard it had been to find a place to eat that was open.

Since so many choices on the menu sounded interesting to all of us, we decided to order a few starters for the table.  Being the foie fiend that I am, I insisted upon the guinea fowl and foie rillettes ($9.00 CAD) but when I learned that the arancini ($5.00 CAD) were flavored with a shiitake and Peking duck broth…  well, we ended up with a plate of those too.  We also went with the caramelized spicy pecans ($5.00 CAD) and a Brussel sprout, green apple, chèvre and fried onion salad ($7.00 CAD). Of the four appetizers, the arancini were my favorite; the mushroom gave the risotto an warm earthiness, capped with a pleasant hint of duck.  The close second was of course the foie and its smooth, rich texture.  The pecans and the salad were both very good, but were no way in the same league as the arancini or the rillettes.

pop-2Pop’s entrées are mostly flatbread-style pizzas; as usual I couldn’t make up my mind between two choices.  I knew I wanted a pizza, so I took our  waiter’s recommendation of the mushroom marmalade and mimolette ($14.00 CAD).  Sometimes I find that mushrooms lend an overly intense flavor to a dish, almost beating down every other competing component on the plate.  That wasn’t the case here; the mushroom combination was strong, but tempered by leaves of sharp, peppery watercress and the nutty, buttery shavings of mimolette.  Speaking of the mimolette shavings, I didn’t expect to see unmelted cheese, so of course now I’m really curious about making a melted mimolette sandwich or similar.

Laloux’s creative director Patrice Demers is the culinary brains behind Pop; since his background is in pastry, I was particularly interested in dessert, so I chose the chocolate tart ($8.00 CAD).  Rather than being given one large tart, I was presented with three individual  tarts.  Texturally, the trio of mini-tarts were more like densely rich mousse.  Each rested on a  thin salty-sweet disc that I loved crunching my way through, since chocolate and salt is a pairing I thoroughly enjoy.  The plate was dotted with wine-colored dollops which were exactly that: spiced red wine.  I dragged my fork through them before breaking into the mound of pear sorbet, the dessert’s second successful flavor match.  Normally I like simple desserts — all I need is a carton of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip and a spoon, or a really great sugar cookie — but this dish’s harmony and deep flavors were lovely.  And that pear sorbet needs a special little mention of it’s own — I could easily see myself swapping out the Breyer’s for an unadulterated pint of this.

We ended up staying at Pop for something like three hours, an incredibly easy feat even if you lose all sense of reason and decide not to order a bite or two.  The ambiance are both so warm and inviting that time seems to softly slip away, though your choice of cocktail (or, as the they are called here, Pop!tail) will certainly help in that regard.  As does the décor; done up entirely in Danish modern furniture, Pop has a timeles-yet-contemporary feel that infuses the space, down to the chic and streamlined bathroom.  Though I briefly considered trying to run out the door with a credenza or side chair, my favorite aesthetic touch was the wood paneling running up and down the walls.  It made me think of Japanese shoji screens, and while that may seem like a counter-intuitive choice, I thought it was another genius mix.  Just like Pop itself.

250 Avenue Des Pins Est
Montréal, QC H2W

Pop! Bar a Vin on Urbanspoon

*Pop is technically called Pop! but I simply can’t in good grammatical conscience dot this post with exclamation points.  So I’m a punctuation snob.  Oh well.

Cupcake from Les Glaceurs.

les-glaceurs First of all, I couldn’t help myself with this photo.  Doesn’t it seem kind of like Baby’s Day Out, but the cupcake version?  A cupcake’s big adventure in the the big city — I would absolutely line up to see that movie.

Down to business…

Ever since I was young, I’ve had a soft spot for Old Montréal.  Sure, it’s overtrodden by tourists and souvenir shops, but the neighborhood’s charming architecture and ambiance far outweighs the kitsch.  Another pro in its favor is the presence of Les Glaceurs, a café/bakery peddling cupcakes, cookies and macarons.

Because I’ve got no willpower whatsoever when it comes to chocolate, I all but pounced on the chocolate-menthe cupcakes ($2.85 CAD each).  The cake portion of the cupcake was made of a dark chocolate that stood firmly on the dividing line between sweet and bitter; the pastel pouf of frosting decorating the top of the mini-dessert had a flavor I can only describe as icy, with its burst of refreshing mintiness.

My only wish is that Les Glaceurs offered a sampler pack; how great would that be, to help yourself to a taste of each little treat?  Then again, how dangerous…

Les Glaceurs
453, rue Saint-Sulpice
Montréal, QC H2Y

Les Glaceurs on Urbanspoon

Pit Stop at Fairmount Bagel.

As a New Yorker, I was completely skeptical to hear that there’s a bagel scene in Montréal, so to speak.  What could Canadians possibly know about something I’ve been practically raised on?

Turns out, quite a bit, particularly if you don’t mind waiting in line at Fairmount Bagel.  A detour is completely called for, even if just to spy on the bakers at work.  I elbowed my way to the front of the teensy interior just so I could watch the bakers coerce a massive pile of dough into a string of perfectly-formed rings.

If you’re looking for a fat, puffy, tire of a bagel, Fairmount is not for you.  These bagels are petite and compact, comprised of densely-flavored dough.  You can go for something basic, but I suggest trying a more daring type like the “power bagel” (honey, raisins, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and walnuts) or the “bozo” (three bagels’ worth of dough, covered with sesame seeds on one side and poppy on the other).  Personally, that’s too much bagel for me — I was torn between the pesto/black olive combination and the sundried-tomato, but I ultimately went with the latter.  The smell alone was enough to sell me on it, as well as Montréal’s bagel-making skills.

Fairmount Bagel
74 Fairmount Ouest
Montréal, QC H2T 2M2

Fairmont Bagel on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon.

One of the first things I did after Joann, Keith, Melissa and I decided to go to Montréal was call Au Pied de Cochon to make a dinner reservation.  I mean, how is it even possible to resist a place whose name, once translated, means “The Pig’s Foot”?

APC’s space is long and narrow; we were seated at the very front.  Melissa and I both  sat facing Avenue Duluth, while Joann and Keith took in the view of the dining room… whose mirrored and wood-paneled walls apparently created an incredible sense of vertigo.  I can’t speak to that, but I will say that, for some reason, the floor was treacherously slippery underfoot.  I wasn’t even wearing heels, like Joann, but rather a pair of reliable and well-loved flats, and still I slid a bit.  My natural clumsiness had nothing to do with it, I assure you.

I’m an absolute sucker for foie, and while APC’s menu boasts an entire section devoted to goose liver, the prices there start at $19.00 CAD and rocket up to $35.00 CAD; the one foie dish I was aching to try was the foie-stuffed pied de cochon, but $45.00 CAD was a bit more than I wanted to spend for dinner on this particular night.  (Though it may appear otherwise, I actually do in fact take prices into consideration sometimes.)  To satisfy our hankerings, Melissa and I both decided to get the foie gras cromesquis ($3.50 CAD) as our starter.  The cromesquis is made from the foie terrine ($24.00 CAD for the dish); a small piece is breaded and deep-fried so that the terrine is liquefied inside the crunchy topping.

“You take it like a shooter,” our server explained to us.  “Just pop it all at once.”

I’ve had similar items at WD-50 in New York and La Alqueria outside of Seville, but prior experience doesn’t take away any of the fun in something like the cromesquis.  After I had placed my cube in my mouth, the pressure of my tongue against my soft palette made the foie’s breadcrumb walls cave — then the liquid foie swept through.  The texture all but knocked me down; it was lavishly smooth, and utterly amazing.

I knew I’d be hard-pressed to find an entrée that could follow the cromesquis in intensity and in flavor, but I was determined to try.  Keith and I decided to split the pot au feu ($75.00 CAD), which both the menu and our server described as being a dish for two.  Regardless of any sort of dizziness that Keith might have been feeling, he saw our pot au feu coming our way from across the room.  When it was finally placed in front of us, I thought there had been some sort of mistake.  The platter was as long as my arm, and completely covered in enough food to feed the four of us: pork, venison,  duck, lard, liver, an entire corn cob, a whole head of cabbage, a bouquet of leeks, and more root vegetables than I could count, all braised in black beer.  It arrived with a pitcher of broth to pour over it all.  I did my absolute best to try everything, but it was impossible.  Keith made more of a dent than I did.  Still, we had enough left over for another complete meal.

Before we knew the sheer quantity of food we were about to receive, we had also ordered the poutine ($7.00 CAD) to share.  It’s a pretty traditional Québécois dish made of French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy; the APC version is perfect for saltaholics like me, since the gravy, along with the soft and melty curds, was almost unbearably salty.  The word “almost” is the most important word in that previous sentence, since I couldn’t stop reaching past Melissa to grab handfuls of it.

Just as I couldn’t deny myself more and more poutine, I can’t deny that APC is most certainly on what could be called the city’s foodie trail.  After all, Anthony Bourdain brought No Reservations there; the New York Times ran a recent feature on it and other Montréal eateries; Urban Spoon Montréal lists APC as its top restaurant; Montréal’s Yelp ranks APC second of its most popular spots.  As a result, we were surrounded by, of all things, visiting Bostonians, and only one Canadian couple.  Does  the combination of acclaim and crowds make APC any less enjoyable a spot?  No, you won’t be the first to discover APC, but who cares?

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montréal, QC H2L

Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon

Late Lunch at Le Petit Alep.

After we had entertained ourselves at Marché Jean-Talon, we stopped by Le Petit Alep for a late lunch and a drink.  The café is located parallel to the market and is attached to a proper restaurant; since we were just looking for a quick bite or two to satisfy us until dinner, il était parfait.

Since the day had been both warm and sunny, and because Boston was not, we decided to sit outside on the plank-board patio rather than at one of the tables abutting the stone walls inside the dimly-lit café.  There, we studied the listing of Syrian, Armenian and Middle Eastern offerings.  Of the four of us, only Keith has any French; in spite of that, I found myself easily making my way around the menu.  After all, while the menu wasn’t printed in English, the alphabet was the same, and most of the dishes were spelled phonetically (something I always find amusing).

Joann, Keith and Melissa all decided to have an Arak (an anise-flavored drink similar to pastis), but since I’ve never been fond of the flavor, I went in a non-alcoholic direction altogether with a fantastically-colored drink.  Made of blended orange and mango juices whirled with mint, it was utterly refreshing ($4.75 CAD).  At times I find mint to be paralyzingly strong; like the mushroom, a leaf or two of mint can overwhelm other flavors and all but smother them into nothingness.  My beverage was an example of mint used well, since each component brought out the best in both itself and the other ingredients.

The four of us were specifically in search of something light, since we had made late-night  dinner reservations, so that was the driving force behind us sharing the végétarienne platter ($17.00 CAD).  Two people could easily make a meal out of the mahummara (sweet pepper and walnut spread), hummos, tabouleh, muttabal (baba ghanoush), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), boereg and mejadara — four would be hard-pressed.  We also passed around tiny plates of moussaka, lebneh drizzled with olive oil, more hummos ($3.50 CAD each) and even more bread.  I’m not ashamed to say that sent back to the kitchen immaculate white dishes practically licked clean.  You would have too.

As someone raised on this fare and living away from home, this was probably the most comforting meal I’ve had in ages.  Isn’t it odd, how food nourishes us not only physically as nutrition and as sustenance, but also emotionally?  With each bite, I couldn’t help but think of my Syrian-born Armenian father and his young adulthood in Beirut, and of my Filipina mother, who learned to cook a foreign culture’s food for her family.  I remembered how my paternal grandfather used to take me to buy apricots from a street vendor in LA when I was a small child, and how I saw his grave for the first time this spring.  I thought of my maternal grandfather, a great lover of food rivaling only my brother for hummos consumption, who died this past May on a trip to the States.

The food at Le Petit Alep may seem unique or exotic to those weaned on other cuisines, but to me it was as familiar as the carousel-print navy flannel sheets I slept on through (I’ll admit it) high school and the glossy black and white piano keys I banged tunelessly for seven years.  Like them, they are things I know I’ll find in my parents’ house, and they will always bring me home.  Even when I’m in Canada.

Le Petit Alep
191 Rue Jean-Talon Est
Montréal, QC H2R

Le Petit Alep on Urbanspoon