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This is the first of a series of eating east Asian cuisine in Toronto by flashbracket.

Kingyo Toronto
51B Winchester Street
Toronto, ON M4X 1R7
(647) 748-2121
www.kingyotoronto.ca

Where do I start with Kingyo? In a market full of excellent east Asian cuisine — Toronto that is, and definitely not Montréal — I often feel a bit overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the great restaurants serving Chinese dim sum, Korean barbecue, and Japanese ramen. I travel back to my hometown of Toronto whenever I can, and each time I’m back in town my family and friends are holding a list of places that we need to try, or restaurants they really want to go back to and know that I would be down for some good eats. Kingyo, a Vancouver inception, opened their Toronto outpost at the end of 2012 but I only made my way over to its Cabbagetown location earlier this year. So I am about a year late in the game. But I am glad that, since my first visit, I kept coming back to this restaurant serving Japanese bar food just about every time I was back in Hogtown. And every time I’m back on the train headed to Montréal I still think about my favourite meals and Kingyo is always one of them.

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Happy Lunar New Year! The new year according to the lunar calendar is also known as “Chinese New Year” for those of us in English-speaking countries. Koreans, just like the Chinese, traditionally followed the lunar calendar before adopting the Gregorian calendar of the west, so we Koreans refer to the same horoscopes as the Chinese. For 2014, we celebrate the Year of the Horse, and apparently it is the year of the “Blue Horse” for this cycle. According to the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), the Blue Horse, unlike a regular horse horoscope character, comes around every 60 years. This is just as unique as the two other “special” horoscopes that I am aware of — The Golden Pig, which happens to be my dad, and the White Horse, which happens to be my sister.

The Lunar New Year is a very big event in Korea; it is considered the most important holiday of all, besides Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving in the fall. And holidays in Korea mean family and food, not unlike the celebratory traditions of many other cultures. So what does my family do? We make a feast. But what do Korean people make at home to feed a crowd? I am the kind of person who asks my friends from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds what their families make at home, so I thought others may be interested in what the dinner table looks like for Korean-Canadian families. So here it is.

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“Kalbi” or barbecue short ribs

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Bombay Mahal
1001 rue Jean Talon Ouest
Montréal, Québec H3N 1T2
(514) 273-3331
www.restaurantbombaymahal.ca

I complain too much about the mediocrity of ethnic food here in Montréal. But I shouldn’t complain about this when most of the food offered in the city is so good, right? I mean, we have so much good bread, amazing French food, an abundance of maple syrup, and all the cheese that you can only wish for outside of Europe.

So when I start complaining about food in Montréal I know my friends back home in Toronto are just rolling their eyes. I get it, I do. You yearn for what you don’t have. The grass is greener on the other side. Yada yada. But when you grow up with good Indian food everywhere, and for mere pennies really, then you move almost 600 kilometres away and keep running into crappy Indian food…it’s disconcerting. It’s sad.

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Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins
4807 St Laurent Blvd.
Montréal, Québec H2T 1R6
(514) 844-8467
www.comptoircharcuteriesetvins.ca

Montréal does food well. There is a reason Anthony Bourdain has a love affair with this city and its chefs, and poutine is the fast food darling du jour. My American relatives wax on about flying in to eat foie gras, nevermind dropping by Toronto to see my dad. And yes, I agree that the gourmet experience is excellent here despite my common complaints that Asian food in Montréal generally sucks and how difficult it can be to find vegetarian food.

But of course, I get to eat the best baguettes my heart desires, and am spoiled with various boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pastry shops) in my francophone neighbourhood. All I have to do is walk around the corner to get to the neighbourhood fromagerie (cheese shop), and a charcuterie (preserved meat shop) is just on the other side of the street. Not to mention a poutine spot at my disposal that features the aptly named poutine, Le Vladmir (after the Russian President Vladimi Putin — get it?).

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Well hello there, welcome back! This is the second of the multi-post series on bachelor and bachelorette party planning in this lovely city of Montréal. The first post provided some tips on lodging options, and this second post will go over restaurants suitable for a group dinner in establishments that are better than a run to McDonald’s. That is, these are restaurants I recommend for a nice sit-down dinner with your party group.

This particular series on bachelor/bachelorette party restaurant recommendations is divided into two parts. Part one of this restaurant series, below, explains the Montréal restaurant scene, basic tips, and high- and moderately-priced restaurant recommendations. Part two, in the next post of this series, will cover wine bars, Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW or “apportez votre vin”) restaurants, vegetarian selections, and frugal offerings. I will also be posting other tips and recommendations for bachelor and bachelorette party planning in this city on the topics of bars, events, and other related items. The first and previous post of this party planning series covered the general party environment in Montréal and hotel recommendations.

First thing about the Montréal dining scene: It is amazing. There are more restaurants per capita (744 according to a 2006 figure) than anywhere else in Canada. Plus, the Québécois do not accept crappy food. You will find there are many excellent restaurants in this city and pretty much all of them serve the most excellent bread. (Which is obviously not the center piece of your meal but a really nice extra touch and a personal obsession of mine.)

We also have apportez votre vin (“bring your own wine”/BYOW) restaurants, which allow you and your guests to bring a reasonable number of bottles of wine (or beer) to a restaurant to have with your meal. I have yet to encounter a restaurant here in Montréal that charges a corkage fee so all you have to do is bring your bottles and they will serve it with your meal. Keep in mind that these restaurants do not have a liquor license so they cannot refrigerate your bottles for you; they will instead bring a bucket with ice for your table, so keep this in mind if you are bringing a few white or dessert wines. Most of these BYOW restaurants are situated in the Plateau neighbourhood, home of many excellent restaurants in the city, and advertise their service as “apportez votre vin” on their websites and menus. I do have some favourite BYOW restaurants that I love, which I will mention in part two of this restaurants post.

Another point that is worth mentioning is that Montréal is not a vegetarian-friendly town. Depending on where you are coming from — especially a sizeable city like Toronto, Vancouver, or New York — you may be used to going to any restaurant in your home town and finding vegetarian options for your veggie friends. Montréal is not like one of those cities. The culture here is that of joie de vivre where French Canadians love their cheese, bread, wine, smoking, foie gras, and a pretty liberal sexual culture (that is why you are here, right?). Vegetarianism is seen as a form of asceticism not welcome by the Québécois still recovering from the fall out with the Catholic church in the late 1960’s, which ruled the province through its law and culture. Only 6% of the Québécois attend church weekly, the lowest in any western society. (Interestingly, most Québécois consider themselves Catholic.) Therefore, if you have vegetarian friends in your party you should double check the restaurant menus before committing. And do expect to get the “We have vegetarian — fish and lamb!” kind of responses as I have personally experienced.

I would say though that my biggest tip regarding restaurants in Montréal is to go for the kinds of restaurants that the city excels at. This means that, in comparison to other cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and New York City, we suck at Asian cuisine. I am not trying to say that all Asian restaurants in this city stink — certainly not true as there are a few that I absolutely love. However, if you are from a big city with a sizeable Asian population, why come to Montréal to eat good quality sushi at an inflated price when you can get it at home for way cheaper and even higher quality? If you come visit this city in the lovely francophone province of Québec, steer towards the kinds of cuisines and restaurants where that you probably cannot get at home and that exemplify the best of the city. In my point of view, the best restaurants here are usually French, Québécois, central and mediterranean European, and Arab cuisines.

Additionally, you will want to try to find a restaurant that is large enough to accomodate your group and takes reservations. My restaurant suggestions below fit both these standards, but I should point out that if you are looking to book at some of the more popular restaurants you may need to call them months in advance. That is right, you are not going to get a table for six at Au Pied de Cochon in two weeks time, so forget about it. So this is my second biggest tip: book early. But keep in mind that if you do not score a reservation at your favourite restaurant of choice, there are many, many great restaurants in the city so planning a great meal for your friend will be done. And last but not least, I have included some alternative, frugal choices for the economical amongst us which you will find in part two. Below are some of my choices for high- and moderately-priced restaurants.

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One of the benefits of living in Montréal is the quality of bread. Seriously, this is a benefit. If you grew up munching on packaged sliced white bread from one of the big bread companies selling at your local supermarket, the chances are that you may be accustomed to consuming sub par bread. But if you grew up in Montréal, your supermarket is stocked with excellent bread. Not to mention that each neighbourhood is dotted with boulangeries. With the choice of amazing and freshly baked bread, there is no excuse for buying mediocre products.

I recognize that I am a minority in that I grew up eating excellent bread in Canada, outside of Québec. During my early childhood, my mother baked our bread from scratch and without a bread machine. She would make the dough, let it rise, knead it, let it rise, knead again, before popping it in the oven and letting the perfume of the baking dough encompass our tiny apartment. Later, my father sought out quality baked goods and made weekly drop-ins to the Portuguese bakery in our neighbourhood. He would bring home European baked desserts and buns still hot from the oven in a large paper bag. I loved consuming freshly baked bread while it was still warm.

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Slice, oiled, and salted baguette can be made into croutons or crunchy toasts.

Now that I live in Montréal, I am spoiled with amazing bread. I drop by my chain supermarket and they stock various baked goods from local bakeries such as Premiere Moisson which, despite being a chain, produces amazing baguettes, ciabattas, focaccias, and other baked goods. But people here mostly purchase baguettes, and you will see many pedestrians, especially before dinner time, walking around with a baguette perched in their sack. Yes, this is like how some people stereotype the French except here you will be lucky if you see someone wearing a striped shirt and beret while holding on to their baguette.

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Aux Vivres
4631 St Laurent Blvd.
Montréal, QC H2T 1R2
(514) 842-3479
www.auxvivres.com

A vegan restaurant? In Montréal? Really?

Yes, yes it is true.

Aux Vivres has been kicking around the tourtiere-, duck-confit-loving city of Montréal since 1997. The restaurant is located on a bare stretch of Saint Laurent in the Mile End neighbourhood of the city and was the first vegetarian-friendly restaurant that I heard about when I first moved to the city. It was actually with Hilary that I visited Aux Vivres for the first time when we were both students and prior to her move to the U.K.

The restaurant is not only vegetarian-friendly, but it is entirely vegan. That is, you will not find any cheese, eggs, or even honey in the items on their menu. Aux Vivres also sources organic and local ingredients to keep with its environmentally-friendly initiative. Additionally, I have yet to spot a person wearing Birkenstocks or sporting dreads or reeking like patchouli oil during my visits to the restaurant. Instead, you will find patrons of all ages, including families with children, hipsters, and the decidedly non-cool people (that might be me) all congregating at this no animals harmed sanctuary.

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Erecting a vegan restaurant in Montréal is both a smart and ballsy move. Smart because, in this city and culture that emphasizes le bon vivant (the good life), restricting your diet to plant-based food is a form of asceticism not welcome for many French Canadians. Here, you have (great) restaurants like Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef that have such menu items as “duck in a can” and “double down” — all various forms of foie gras, the very controversial and rich French dish which is the product of force feeding a duck to fatten its liver. Cruel, say animals rights activists. Delicious, say the French. So Aux Vivres is running against the current and is one of the meatless options for restaurant-goers in the city, capturing a minority market that is still relatively sizeable and devoted.

And as such, how does the comely vegetable match against the celebration/brouhaha surrounding meat-based dishes served in some of the best restaurants in Montréal? This is why Aux Vivres is ballsy. I am sure that, back in nineties when Aux Vivres first opened, they must have faced some disdain and doubts as to whether such a restaurant can survive in a climate of joie de vivre. Fast forward, sixteen years later, and Aux Vivres is thriving. The restaurant does not take reservations and should you wish to visit during peak dinner hours, you will be waiting in a line up snaking out the front door. (I do not recall ever waiting more than fifteen minutes for dinner, however.) Aux Vivres is very forward with technology with servers carrying portable tablets to punch in your orders. For a restaurant that serves a minority of Montréalers, it still manages to produce excellent food. I really mean this. I have visited many vegetarian and vegan restaurants in my native Toronto, but Aux Vivres blows them out of the water.

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