Oct 29, 2010

Toqué restaurant now opens for casual lunches and dinners at the bar

That's what I call being on-trend: chef Normand Laprise and partner Christine Lamarche (pictured above) have re-done the bar at their famed Toqué! restaurant, and turned it into a "gastro-bar" where clients - even solo ones - can sit down for a casual, relatively inexpensive dinner.  

The menu available at the bar - starting December 1 - will be much shorter than Toqué's regular menu, but also less expensive. "We think that's what people want these days, convivial dining without any fuss", says Laprise.

Another big change: Toqué! is now open for lunch, following a six-YEAR hiatus! And what's best: at great prices. The main course prices include a choice of one of the appetizers, plus coffee and mignardises. What's not to love?!

I recently tasted some of the dishes on the new menu and can safely say they're SO worth the $25-28 dollar price tag. Take the smoked salmon, for example: could have been that boring old plate of salmon, capers, onions and toasted bread, but it actually had one or two plusses. Tiny segments of lime gently "harvested" to keep their gentle skins intact, were sprinkled on top, nearly invisible, making the citrus tang pop in the mouth at unexpected intervals. Fried bread crumbs gave the whole a welcome crunch, while the crème fraiche played bass in the whole tangy ensemble. 
Not all smoked salmon platters are created equal, didn't you know? (Although one would hardly guess it, from looking at this blah photo...)

Also excellent: the desserts. A well-known magazine editor, sitting beside me, swooned over her chocolate pot-de-crème which was a symphony of textures: crunchy meringue, bubbly mousse, toothsome brownie bits, nuts, froth, everything!

My own dessert wasn't far behind. An apple crumble that wasn't really an apple crumble. The fruit and the topping weren't baked together, as we do at home. Fat apple wedges which still had crispness and a pleasant acidity sat under a blanket of bits of crumble topping, which clearly had been cooked separately for ultimate crunch. The ice cream was, of course, speckled with tiny dots of vanilla. The real stuff....

My verdict? Go. Now.

Midis Toqué! 11:30 am to 2:00 pm – Tuesday to Friday
Dinner: 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm – Tuesday to Saturday
Reservations: 514-499-2084

Oct 28, 2010

Haloween night in Montreal: Ka Magazine throws posh benefit party at private jet hangar

Are you in Montreal and unsure where to party this Saturday? Do you find most Halloween costume parties too tacky to handle? Prefer something a bit more glam? Don't mind spending the big bucks? Then look no further: Ka Magazine's Best of Canada Benefit 2010 is the party for you!

Marino Tavares of Ferreira Café will be there cooking, as will Normand Laprise of Toqué. 

There will be a champagne lounge, a vodka bar and a so-called "luxury lounge and water bar".

Les 400 Coups, new resto by chefs Patrice Demers and Marc-André Jetté, opens October 31

Patrice Demers, Marie-Josée Beaudoin, Marc-André Jetté  
photo by Yannick Deserre

In a town of very few famous chefs, Patrice Demers has made a name for himself as the top pâtissier, which is no small feat. He was working, lately, at Newtown, on the very touristy Crescent Street, which always seemed odd to me. Not a natural pairing: a vanguardist pastry chef with a fine dining background, working at a mammoth bar-cum-lounge-cum-resto on Crescent. A bit weird?

So it's no surprise he's left Newtown and is now finally opening his own restaurant, in partnership with chef Marc-André Jetté, who also worked at Newtown. They are the first to admit they've been all over the map in the last few years - hence the name of the new biz, Les 400 Coups, or The Four Hundred Strikes -, which seems to me refreshingly honest.

In their own words, as they posted on Facebook:

"After having done '' les 400 coups'' (literal translation: the 400 tricks) , we finally decided to open our own restaurant. We being: Marc-André Jetté as the executive chef, Patrice Demers as the pastry chef and Marie-Josée Beaudoin as the Sommelière. All three of us form a team passionate about the restaurant, food and wine industry which has led us to dream about opening our own restaurant for several months. After having worked together for the past two years and having done a few tricks of our own, we knew exactly what we wanted for our clientele: a cozy space, a refined and inspired cuisine as well as a stimulating and enriching experience. We therefore want to offer you an appealing restaurant which proposes a seasonal cuisine with a focus on using local ingredients and promoting our local talent."

Cozy? Refined and inspired cuisine? Local ingredients? It sounds very déja vu and vague, but I'm sure the actual restaurant will be much better than this description....

Oct 25, 2010

Bota Bota, in Old Montreal: a new spa floating on the St. Lawrence river

photo: Mathieu Labelle

The talk of the town, this month, is Montreal's first-ever floating spa, the Bota Bota. Slated to open in the coming weeks, the Bota Bota is literally a boat-spa, which is docked near the Café des Éclusiers in Old Montréal. Incredibly enough, the boat, shaped sort of like a boxy barge, has four levels and 2500 square meters of floor space and can take up to 250 people on board at one time. At the top there is a sundeck which obviously won't be any use until next summer.

Owners are Natalie and Genevieve Émond, the sisters of Stephanie Émond, who is a spa expert herself, being the owner of the beautiful BALNEA in Bromont, near Montreal.

photo: Mathieu Labelle

Bota Bota: 350 rue de la Commune, tel. (514) 284-0333, info@botabota.ca

photo: Mathieu Labelle
The Bota Bota boat-spa arriving at the Old Port. Courtesy of Bota Bota.

Oct 24, 2010

Haloween and food markets in Montreal: fall at its best

Atwater Market in fall

As a relative newcomer - I've only lived in Montreal for 1.5 years -  I still marvel at the beauty of this city when dressed in the golds, oranges and reds of fall. Gorgeous! This is the last stretch of it, in fact, before cold and dreary November. Time to enjoy the markets: Atwater, which is closer but pricier, and Jean-Talon, which is far away but bigger and cheaper.

And then, next weekend, time to go trick-or-treating, something I'd never actually done until last fall! (No, where I'm from we don't knock on strangers' doors in costume, asking for free candy  :) )

Atwater Market: 138 Atwater Avenue 
METRO: Lionel-Groulx
Telephone: 514 937-7754

E-mail: info@marchespublics-mtl.com
URL: http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com
Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jean-Talon Market: 7070 Henri-Julien Street
METRO: Jean-Talon
Telephone: 514 937-7754

E-mail: info@marchespublics-mtl.com
URL: http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com  
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Here, my album of photos of fall colours and Haloween in Montreal.

Atwater Market in fall

Oct 22, 2010

Europea restaurant in Montreal's downtown: dish-by-dish report

Today is a big day for me: I am starting a new phase as a "multi-blogger"! :)

What that means is that I'll be splitting my time between Montreal for Insiders and another blog about the city, called The Montréal Buzz, which publishes a huge amount of super useful tips for anyone planning a trip to this city.

The theme of the first post is Europea, one of my favourite restaurants in town. I love it because in this very casual city it's one of the few places where I walk in with a feeling of "I'm going out for a very nice dinner": people dress up more than usual, the waiters are plentiful and quite formal, and the whole atmosphere is quite upscale.

I hope you'll follow my food ramblings there, too, as you do in this space! And here is the full report on my last dinner at Europea, as posted on The Buzz:

As we sat at our table at the posh Europea, the other night, a friend turned to me and asked: “I wonder if it will be enough if I start with the gaspacho and have the mushroom pasta as a main course….”, to which I immediately answered: “Trust me, it will be more than enough, you have no idea what surprises you’ll get along the way…”.

I’d say it’s those surprises, in fact, that keep bringing me back to Europea, one of Montreal’s top tables. Whether you order a tasting menu or only an appetizer and a main, you’ll always be treated to several little amuse bouches in between courses, which are not only delicious but also quite fun.
That night, for example, things started off with a whimsical “lollipop” of a creamy, herb-laden cheese sandwiched between two round parmesan crisps.

Before our appetizers even hit the table, another little teaser arrived, in a funky espresso cup: “cappucino” of lobster and truffle, a.k.a. lobster bisque with foamy top.

When, at last, the appetizers arrived, it was fun to take in all the oohs and ahhs: my Brazilian friends hadn’t really expected our dinner to be so…. how shall I put it…. gastronomically refined.
I ordered the bison tartare not only because I’d had it before and knew how perfectly they serve it, but also to show the others, who were in Montreal for the first time, what bison meat looked like:

In keeping with the gamey theme, the carefully diced and seasoned meat was paired with a couple of raw slices of Québec venison, carpaccio style. Delish.
The only other dish that looked even better than mine wasn’t exactly a dish: Maysa had the great idea of ordering a tasting of Quebec artisanal cheeses as a starter. Her plate drew envious stares not only from myself (a confessed cheesaholic) but everyone else at the table. Her fave: the oh-so-creamy Riopelle, a triple crème with a buttery mouthfeel. Yum.
And then…. more surprises! A warm, millky cream served in an eggshell, which reminded me of eggnog. Not my favourite, I confess – blame it on my parents forcing me to down the stuff when I was a kid!

But wait… there was more! Moments later they brought us, in shot glasses, prosciutto with melon sorbet – talk about a classic pairing! – and, for dramatic effect, some Port in a pipette, meant to be drizzled over the whole ensemble. Cute idea.

By that point, nobody was actually hungry, yet we were excited all the same when the main courses arrived. Guess who ordered the most interesting of them all? ;) Moi!

Knowing how phenomenal Eumatimi beef tastes – it’s produced near Montreal, organically – I ordered the “short ribs of Eumatimi beef, crispy galette of root vegetables, braised cipollini onions, sweet and sour BBQ”. If it sounds fancy, it sure looked it, too: the smokiness was actually visible, as the white fumes appeared trapped in a glass dome.

Once the dome was lifted, a seductive aroma of smoky, beefy goodness was released. And yes, it tasted as good as it looked: tender and perfectly seasoned.

We somehow found room and appetite to soldier on: the mignardises were simply too good to passs up on.
My fave: a lemony white chocolate cube on a stick. Fun!

Next up, some of the best macarrons I’ve tasted in Montreal. And a mini pistachio cake.

And… “haute” cotton candy!

At which point our waiter comes over and asks: “Are you ready to choose your desserts?”
We all looked at each other in disbelief. Surely, he had to be kidding!

But no, it wasn’t a joke…

We asked for just coffee and the check, and got ready to leave, and then…. out came the waiters again, with little sweet treats in cellophane bags, one for each: little meringues speckled with nuts. Needless to say, at that point the whole table was floored. The guy sitting across from me, who’s not exactly a foodie, said that was the best restaurant he’d ever been to. No kidding. I eat out too often and therefore am a bit jaded, so I couldn’t make such a bold statement, but truth is, whenever I have out-of-towners visitting whom I want to impress, I always know where to call… Enough said.

1227 Rue de la Montagne tel. (514) 398-9229, www.europea.ca/