Tag Archives: Montréal

Not Your Momma’s Bagels (Day 6)

Montreal bagelSomehow the apparent phenomena known as the Montréal-style bagel has heretofore completely passed me by. Wikipedia has kindly informed me that a large portion of Montréal’s Jewish community  — from which the bagels originated — gradually left for other North American locations, including one Houston, Texas. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never, ever seen a Montréal -style bagel shop in the city. Lucky for me, I moved from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Ontario two years ago, a city which I know with 100% certainty has actual Montréal-style bagel shops, being that we’re approximately 5.2 minutes1 from Québec.

I was in the lunchroom at work making my morning Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal today when my colleague said “hey Carmen, we brought in Montréal-style bagels”. I smiled and thanked him, but though “ew”, mostly because I’m just not a bagel girl. I never have been. I’m really not a “bread” girl at all, unless it’s mixed with chocolate and sugar and called cake. 😉 However, always one to try new things, I thought “what they hey, I’ll try it”. Upon asking what “Montréal-style bagel” actually meant, I was told that it’s sweeter and more dense than a regular bagel. Hmm, sweet and dense? This might be something I could get used to. I bebopped my way in, picked up my bagel and schmear, and proceeded to drop said bagel and schmear face down on the floor on my way to my desk as I tried to poorly manage two coffee cups, said bowl of oatmeal, and the bagel. In honour of the “five second rule”, though, I snapped it up, stared at the seeds strewn across the floor, dusted it off, and went on my merry little way. For a brief moment, I considered not eating it at all. Then I considered eating just the bottom since it plopped down on its top. I finally concluded that I would likely not die from the pig flu, nor from any other overly-hyped disease, just from it sitting face down for three seconds. In I bit.

Sweet and dense, indeed! The bread had a sweet scent on the nose, and was completely flavourful, while almost donut-like. It was flaky and not nearly as thick as the bagels I’ve had. Montréal-style bagels apparently don’t have egg or salt, unlike regular bready bagels; honey is added to the water prior to the bagels being boiled (or poached, to be more specific); and they are baked in wood-fired ovens, unlike regular bready bagels.

I only managed to eat about half of it, though, because I’d gotten to work slightly later than normal2 and didn’t want to spoil my lunch3. But the bottom line is that I *loved* it and may or may not have found a new favourite food. Had Montréal-style bagels been on Mount Sinai when Moses lost his temper, I have a feeling he could have calmed himself down with a little bagel and schmear, and those cursed broken tablets may just have been spared.

1Well, more like 5.2 hours.
2I’m not a morning person, which may be why I don’t like bagels. I’m never up early enough to finish them. As a matter of fact, my colleagues like to tease me by saying I work the “afternoon shift”. I really loathe getting up early. Really. And lately, the traffic has seriously sucked because apparently, the good citizens of Toronto can’t drive in the dark.
3Lunch that I usually eat around Noon, even though I’ve only been at work for 2.5 hours at that point. Why are you looking at me like that?

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(Semi) Authentic Poutine Hath Finally Been Consumed

Montréal 059I visited Montréal over the August Civic Holiday for some hiking and Québecois goodness. Although I’d been once before — the year I moved to Canada — my trip was very brief. And in November.  Not just any November, though. Indeed not. I went to Montréal in November 2007, one of the coldest Canadian winters on record, and my thin Texas blood hadn’t yet thickened enough to be able to stand the ungodly frigid Québec temperatures for longer than approximately five minutes.  Needless to say, I didn’t see much of the city, save for the inside of my hotel room and the Bell Centre, where I was lucky enough to see the Montréal Canadiens play the Toronto Maple Leafs.  As an aside, it was the rowdiest, and best, hockey game I’ve been to — and this Texas girl has been to a few!  The Maple Leafs won, natch.

Long time ATGAIC readers will know that I’ve been hiking quite a bit lately (you know, like two whole times), and being the adventurous girl I am, decided at the very last minute to head to Mont Tremblant and go hiking. It would give me a chance to see Tremblant, about which I’d heard amazing things, as well as spend some time in Montréal. Slight travel issues ensued, including a strike by Via Rail, which precluded me from traveling by rail. I ended up driving — the drive being much longer than I thought — and got stuck in cottage country traffic on the 401 for an extra hour both ways. Cottage country traffic + long weekend traffic = Carmen pulling her eyelashes out one by one. Not pretty. Thank God for copious amounts of This American Life loaded on the iPod. There’s absolutely no better ear candy for a road trip than Ira Glass. Except David Sedaris <swoon, swoon, swoon>, so luckily I had him, too. 🙂

On my way to Québec, I stopped in Kingston and Gananoque, Ontario, two cities along the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands region. It was a cloudy day so, although I went down to each of their waterfronts, I couldn’t really see the islands. A trip back to the area, including a stop in the wine region of Prince Edward County, has officially been added to my Canadian traveling to-do list. But I digress. 

I arrived in Montreal, checked into my brand spankin’ new, and way cool, hotel complete with second floor glass-bottom pool in VieuxMontréal 020 Montréal, and ventured out straight away for some serious city annhiliation. I was immediately smitten. Quelle surprise! French speaking Canadians apparently just do something to me. I’m already a wanna-be Francophile, so being in a country I love with a language I love to hear was like manna from heaven.  I also immediately decided that I would not be wasting any time driving an hour and a half to Mont Tremblant the following day, but would spend it in the vibrant, gloriously old, je ne sais quoi city that is Montréal.

Even though I’d planned my trip in <48 hours, I still managed to snag a dinner reservation at one of the hip, nouvelle cuisine restaurants called Au Pied de Cochon.  It was simply AMAZING and foodgasms ensued.  Owner and executive chef Martin Picard is somewhat of a cooking legend (think Anthony Bourdain) and not only was he there that night, but he was in his finest togs — jersey knit shorts, gas station attendant shirt (complete with name badge) and Crocs.  Oh, how I love the Québecois joie de vivre!  I was seated at the bar, which I usually loathe, but at Au Pied de Cochon, you literally have a front seat look into the kitchen.  I got to experience the mise en place in real time.  Freakin’ sweet!   Everything — I mean everything — was freshly made there; they were literally pulling herbs out of potted plants and handmaking sushi rolls right in front of me.  Au Pied de Cochon is apparently known for their fois gras, which I personally take issue with, but when you read article after article about the foie gras poutine, you just have to give in. When in Rome, right?  I’ll literally try anything once — and because I was in a new city, I decided I’d be bold and à gogo with my menu choices. I had the Tarragon Bison Tongue as an appetizer — thinly sliced pieces of tongue that, had I not known it was tongue, would have seemed like just cut-it-with-a-fork-it-was-so-tender slices of beef with delicious mustard and tarragon sauce; the Duck in a Can and frites for dinner, and the Sugar Pie à la mode for dessert.  

Au Pied de Cochon Duck in a CanLet me just talk for one second about the Duck in a Can. I’d read about it, was intrigued, and decided I needed to try it. Firstly, they brought out a plate with bread slices covered in a gravy.  Then, I saw them literally pick a can out of a gigantic pot of boiling water, wrap a label around it, put it on a plate, and bring it to me.  With a can opener. Oh yes!  I had to open my Duck in a Can with an actual can opener!  Talk about presentation! Except usually when you talk about presentation, you don’t talk about deliciousness. I know it sounds weird, but in this case, I could literally have put my face in that plate, it was so damn good. (As a matter of fact, give me just one moment………..okay, back. ;-))  Anyway, the process of the can is to dump the layered contents of the can — duck, 100g of foie gras, 60 mL of balsamic vinegar, 180 mL of cabbage, 1/2 a head of garlic and 2 branches of thyme — out over the bread. After my first bite, the party of flavours in my mouth was more intense than anything I’d eaten in quite some time. Exquisite and luscious and delightful, they were. I washed it all down with a delicious glass of VDP Des Cotes Catalanes Rouge Baux 2004 – mas baux (basically a blend of Syrah and Cab Sav). The food was pure perfection.

I’d seen a sort-of-cookbook by Martin Picard on my way in, and I thought it would be a cool way toMontréal 008 remember the experience, so I asked if he’d sign one for me if I bought a book. Of course they said yes, had me write my name on a piece of paper and a few minutes later, returned with my book in a large, brown paper bag.  I opened up the book and he’d signed it “To Carmen, Enjoy the read, Cochonne, Salut”. I knew cochon means “pig”, so I asked if he was calling me a pig and the servers kindly informed me, after giggling, that the translation loosely meant “horny” in French. Love it!  I guess the chef saw us laughing together, so he came over to say hello and ask how dinner was. My server, whom I’d already told we don’t eat mayonnaise with our frites where I’m from, told the chef and he asked in broken English “where are you from?” to which I replied “Texas!”.  He jokingly said “is that near Brussels?” and then said “you don’t sound like George Bush”. Except he said it all French like which sounded more like “zhorzh boosh” than “george bush”. Anyway, we all laughed, I paid my very large bill and off I went.  An amazing experience, indeed.

The rest of my weekend was spent doing all kinds of things: walking around the residential neighbourhood of  Plateau Mont Royal (whenI travel, I like to spend as much time as possible in the *actual* areas of the city rather than the big tourist traps, which prolly explains why I’ve still yet to venture up the CN Tower, even though it’s less than 200 metres away from my house), visiting the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire, le Fleuve de Saint Lawrence, Place Jacques Cartier, the Basilique de Notre Dame, and the Vieux Port, having lunch at Olive et Gourmando and dinner at Santos, running into a eccentric French soirée as I ambled through the Latin Quarter, spotting the plethora of fleur de lis literally everywhere, and seeing no fewer than three weddings — three!  Let me just add that the Québecois put the word “wed” into wedding (yeah, I know, but work with me).  After the wedding, the newlyweds are driven through the downtown streets while the driver honks and honks and honks!  It was way cool. I’m totally doing that the next time I get married in Montréal. 🙂

Montréal 025Alas, the curtain was closing on my lovely weekend and it was time to return to chez moi. Before I left, though, I still had two things to check off my Montréal to-do list: eating smoked meat and poutine, and all their accoutrements. I’d only eaten poutine once before and a pleasant experience it was not. I knew that if I was going to find good poutine, it was going to be in Québec. I jumped in a cab and asked to be taken to Schwartz’s, the legendary Montréal smoked meat house, and Maamm Bolduc for poutine. When my chauffer pulled up to Schwartz’s, the line was literally wrapped around the building. Twice. I’ve never seen anything like it, with the exception of waiting to get into a film at the Toronto International Film Festival…just about the *only* thing for which I’d wait in line that long! It was *totally* pouring down rain, so I asked him if he knew of anywhere else I could try smoked meat and poutine that would be good.  He said “what about La Fleur?” and I said “M’okay”, because what did I know?!  He started getting all excited about it and telling me about how they slice the potatoes for the  poutine right in front of you, so I was thinking “this is gonna be great!”.  He rounds the corner and says “here it is!” and when I look up, it was a fast food place.  Classic.  I thought what the hell, les chauffers know all the best places to eat, hopped out and went in. The staff didn’t speak English very well and after a couple of tries, I finally got both of my requests in one place: smoked meat sandwich and real poutine.  I loved the smoked meat and the poutine was okay, but I still don’t get the big deal. I think it was basically the McDonald’s of poutine places.  I’m a french fry fanatic — I could basically live on them — but maybe I just like mine with sea salt and ketchup, and not covered in gravy and cheese curds.  It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, for sure, but I think it’s probably more of a late night, game day, hangover-recovery food than it is an actual dinner food. But I’m from Texas, so what do I know?!

Despite what I constantly hear from Ontarians about the Québecois, I found them to beMontréal 058 affable, funny, and avant-garde raconteurs. Basically, I fell in love with Montréal — it was trés cool. I will continue to be a travel ninja this year with trips planned to Calgary/Banff/Jasper, Alberta and Whistler/Victoria, British Columbia.  While I’m sure those cities will be just as off-the-chain as the other cities I’ve visited in my adopted country, I seriously doubt they’ll be quite as soigné or magnifíque as Montréal. 

Merci beaucoup, Montréal!  Au revoir!  J’adore.

 

Check out the rest of my Montréal photo goodness here.

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Warning! Things Are Sizzling!

Photo credit: Shootedown on Flickr

Photo credit: Shootedown on Flickr

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that this is as good as it’s going to get. 

I’ve been anxiously anticipating the burn quotient kicking in, but it’s just not gonna happen.  On the plus side, city services have *finally* resumed in Toronto (post detailing that gong show forthcoming) and eastern Canada is *finally* a) sunny and b) warm.  Thank you Jesus!  While I’m sure the current inhabitants of my former metropolis (that would be Houston, Texas) are lamenting the cool, non-humid days of winters past, the fact is that Toronto is practically freezing.  Oh, I jest.  All kidding aside, though, Toronto hasn’t seen a summer this cool since the Blue Jays won the World Series, and, for those of you not up on your MLB history, that was in 1992.  Ahem. 

Toronto’s average temperature over the last two months has been 18C (around 66F).  A tropical summer that does not make!  We’ve had one day — ONE! — of +30C degrees this summer and that was more than a month ago.  Contrast that to last year where we’d already had nine days over 30C and, well, it’s a grim, grim picture. 🙂   To add insult to injury, Toronto has had 17% less sunshine than last summer.   Add to that nonsense the record setting rain we’ve been having and it feels like I’m living in Vancouver instead of Toronto. And I’m not really into 364.5 days-a-year rain, which is why I moved to Toronto in the first place!  Oh, the humanity.

I’d likely be complaining — actually, I KNOW — I’d be complaining if I was still dying of heat stroke and experiencing brain melting from the intense heat that is the hallmark of a Texas summer.  Clearly it takes a lot to please me.  😉  But when it’s February and I accidentally get plowed up along with the 6′ high mounds of snow from being an invisible “Snow White” due to the lack of sunshine, you’ll think back and appreciate my rare weather rant.   Actually, I’m in Montréal as I write this and it’s hitting a wonderfully balmy 28C here today. W00t!  Vive Québec!  

Bottom line: whatever you do — wherever you are — don’t stay inside today.  Go outside and catch some awesometasticly warm rays.  For the love of God, I know I will be.  Poutine, smoked meat, French-speaking Canadians, and Mr. Sunshine, here I come!

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