Lunchtime at Albert Cuyp Markt.

Oh, there’s still so much I want to tell you all about our trip last month, and there’s still so much I want to tell you about other things (I know you don’t think I’ve forgotten to keep you posted about my CSAdventures) but somehow time has gotten away from me.  Bear with me while I figure it all out, and in the meantime, enjoy this little slideshow of photos I took at the Albert Cuyp Markt in Amsterdam.  (Click on the legs.)

Albert Cuyp Markt, 8

Unlike London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon, the Albert Cuyp Markt is an actual street market; the vendors set up and break down their carts, trucks and booths each morning and night.  Don’t worry though — the street is closed to automotive traffic during market hours (Monday through Saturday from eight in the morning until six at night).

Also unlike Borough Market and Jean-Talon, the markt offers products ranging beyond produce, including clothing, furniture and even electronics — which reminded me more of some of the markets I’ve visited in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.  There’s still a lot of food to sample, buy and smell, however.  My favorite was Amsterdam’s infamous raw herring sandwich; fatty, sweet and rich, I wish I had one in my hand right now.  It was that good.

What’s amazing about this market is that it’s in the center of a picturesque part of Amsterdam known as the Pijp, whose little pockets of ethnic communities definitely flavor the markets’ stalls.  Crave a Surinamese sweet?  Need a tagine?  The markt has everything you need, and frites to boot, so if you plan to visit, I highly recommend doing what Keith and I did: skip breakfast.

Albert Cuyp Markt
Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Homesick, Sort Of.

I’m feeling homesick again, except I’m nostalgic not for where I’m from but rather for where I could be.

When we moved to this apartment about two years ago, one of the selling points aside from the ability to remodel the kitchen was the proximity to a massive supermarket.  For someone accustomed to hauling groceries home during a fifteen-minute walk, this was a big deal.  The thing is, the novelty has worn well off now, especially as I make a point, when I travel, to visit markets like London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon.  Each time I do drop in to such a market, my excitement is smothered a bit by a combination of my longing and my jealousy.

How wonderful would it be to instead of having a local grocery store to have a local market?  To be able to form a relationship with my chard-grower, to become friends with my sorrel-supplier, to pal around with my berry-picker…  It sounds awesome, doesn’t it, to have a connection not only with our food, but also the people who coax them out of the earth?  The closest I can come at this point is taking part yet again in the Food Project‘s CSA program this year.  We’ll start getting produce boxes in a few weeks’ time — I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s a link to 2008’s food.

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

Montréal to Massachusetts Soundtrack.

I spent a good portion of the ride back to Massachusetts either asleep or playing Meteos on my Nintendo DS, but Keith assured me that I didn’t miss a note off of these CDs.

*This is a fantastic box set, one that is a must for any music lover.  My favorite disc is four, which features such songs and artists as “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxsie & The Banshees, “California Über Alles” by Dead Kennedys, “Another Girl, Another Planet” by The Only Ones (a personal favorite), “Babylon’s Burning” by The Ruts, The Cure‘s “Boys Don’t Cry” and the absolutely seminal “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.

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