Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Irrrrashaimaseeee!!!!!!! Welcome to Imadake!

Izakayas - those amazing restaurant-bar-communal dining/drinking establishments that only the Japanese could have invented.  My favorite type of establishment to eat and drink with friends when I lived in Japan... hard to recreate anywhere else.

Imadake ("only for now"), 4006 St-Catherine Ouest in Montreal, does a pretty good job of recreating that vibe.  Welcomed by a deafening "Irrashaimase!!" (or "Greetings, welcome to our humble establishment and let us provide our services to you!!" (basically...)), the young and efficient staff get you seated in this cosy but lively, "nigiyaka" restaurant.

An izakaya is a bit like a tapas bar in a drunken party atmosphere.  Lots of small plates to choose from - a varied menu that gives you a taste of all sorts of different types of Japanese bar food from okonomiyaki, yakitori and gyoza, to their amazingly succulent grilled black cod (a must!), to fresh and tasty salads and belly filling bowls of ramen.  The traditional seating arrangement is at long communal tables that give you the opportunity to get to know your neighbours and share all the tasty treats that keep coming...  In Japan you would slip off your shoes to climb over people you didn't know to squeeze next to the rowdy drunks around the table...

And of course the drinks!  Beers! Cocktails! Sake! Wine!  You can't go to Imadake without having a Sake Bomb!  Trust me, your whole table has to order this drink.... 

"SAKE!!" "BOMB!!"
"SAKE!!!" "BOMB!!!"

Imadake on Urbanspoon

Head north to Wakefield for a real treat - Maison du Village - The Village House!

Lovely Wakefield, QC on a chilly fall day....  perfect opportunity to check out the highly rated "Maison du Village/The Village House" located at 759 Riverside.  Cozy interior - loved having such a great view of the kitchen and our chef at work.
Our friendly hostess/server walked us through the menu - we decided to focus on the yummy sounding small plates.  Excuse the terrible photos - but just imagine this....  honey roasted beets with candied hazelnuts, micro greens and Montebello Rebellion blue cheese, lamb poutine (with clever "fries" made of slices of rosti and an incredibly rich jus), confit pig cheeks (!) served on an aged cheddar and parsley gnocchi with braised cabbage...  all in all very generous serving sizes for reasonable prices.  Small but acceptable list of wines by the glass - a perfect light meal.  Which allowed us to have a guilt free dessert - an apple walnut tart served with candied lardon and a smooth, not too sweet caramel ice cream...
 We were very impressed with the amazing food - perhaps the best small plates I've had in the Ottawa/Gatineau region.  Highly recommended as a destination meal - perhaps before a show at the Black Sheep Inn?
 The Village House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making muu shu pork - worth the effort?

My old friend Carol came to visit me from Winnipeg and we decided to recreate one of our long standing traditions - starting in 1984, we used to go to the old Szechan Restaurant on Pembina Highway and order the chicken with cashews (with chilis and baby corn) and the muu shuu pork.  If you've never had muu shuu, it's a crunchy stirfry that you mound onto sesame oil infused pancakes, slathered in hoisin sauce and a dab of hot sauce, eat like a mini burrito - sweet! 

Rather than simply finding a restaurant that serves this dish, we decided that we should try and make it ourselves.  I found this Fine Cooking recipe which started with a hunt for unusual ingredients in our local chinese grocery store... cloud ears (dried mushrooms), golden needles (dried lily buds) and bamboo shoots all added interesting flavours and textures to this complex dish.

Unfortunately it was a crazily complicated recipe - lots of chopping and soaking and stir frying... We even went as far as handrolling the mandarin pancakes and making the mandarin sauce - exhausting!
making the pancakes...

Spread on the mandarin sauce

Pile on some of the stir fry
Don't forget the hot sauce!

Roll it up - like a burrito

  I'd suggest looking for an easier recipe....or just eat out!!  The pancakes were delicious, but super labour intensive. The crunchy texture was there, but sadly, after all of that effort, the flavour of the stir fry was a bit underwhelming... of course if you slather on enough hoisin sauce, anything tastes good!  (Thanks to Donald, the dishwasher....)

Fantastisch! Lunch at Das Lokal

Decided to stop by Das Lokal last month for a quick lunch - I used to frequent the Portuguese chicken place that was here before, and even date back to the KFC days of this site!  I had heard good things about this place - German inspired menu - I grew up on schnitzel (but also on sushi!) - so why not?!?

I literally gasped when I walked in the resto.  Gone was the dark, dated, European restaurant look of the 60's... and I was suddenly transported into a northern European/Scandinavian space - light wood surfaces, colourful banners, natural light pouring in - it was the perfect winter getaway.  Our hostess told me about some of the extras they were working on - cute little fire outside, with fur covered seats to curl up in, even a piano that gets played on the weekends.  

I started with an Edelweiss, a lovely cocktail of sparkling wine and St. Germain liqueur (elderflowers).  The perfect mix of sparkly-sweet-floral tones.  Perfect to whet the appetite... So good, in fact, that we went straight to LCBO to buy a bottle after lunch!.

I ordered the Gravlax Tartine, a yummy open face sandwich with burnt orange wild BC coho salmon on top, creme fraiche and pickled onions, served with a side salad and butternut squash soup (sooooo creamy).  Memories of open faced sandwiches in Denmark and Sweden.

Donald ordered the German Burger - a pork sausage burger served on a sweet roll with the requisite mustard, with the same side salad and delish thick cut fries.

Nice wine list, relaxed service - we'll be back soon!  Another huge selling point - Das Lokal has a huge parking lot (thanks to its KFC roots)...  love the Lowertown location.

No web site that I can find, but they are on Twitter.

Das Lokal on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Benny's Bistro - my favorite Ottawa brunch spot!

Benny's Bistro has been a hidden gem in Ottawa's Byward Market for years. It's a restaurant I recommend to visitors (and many unknowing locals) that want to have REAL food - not the mainly disappointing fare to be found in the Market these days.

Benny is the name of the original owners' daschund, who was known to show up in the bakery from time to time.  Tucked inside The French Baker (119 Murray Street), you follow a long corridor into a cozy room with a black and white checkerboard floor, filled with colourful walls and photos - a perfect spot for an overcast or chilly day. 

Besides the wonderful pastries that you can order from the bakery up front, Benny's has a consistently strong seasonal brunch/lunch menu that always leaves me reading and rereading the list of options (never mind the specials!), agonizing on having to select one lovely meal over another.  Chef Scott Adams is a master at complex combinations of flavours that burst onto your taste buds - it's difficult not to savour each mouthful as you sadly get nearer to that last bite... thank goodness for the never ending bread to soak up every last drop!
 Winter menu 2013

On my most recent visit, I had the roasted quail with parsnip puree, beet and apple salad with crispy brussel sprout leaves and arugula in a duck reduction.  A lovely slow food creation!
My friend had the roasted organic mushrooms served with spinach and ricotta tortellini, baby peas with wild garlic pesto, and lemon creme fraiche... she loved every bite. 

I also love the gravlax and pickerel dishes on this winter's menu - something for everyone!  Great wine list, no nonsense service, fantastic food - what more could you ask for?!?!

Benny's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Les 400 Coups - April 2012

Okay, this is a year late, but wanted to post this review of Les 400 Coups, a fabulous resto in Old Montreal that was one of En Route's top ten in 2011.  A hot ticket in spring 2012 - booked solid - but I scored a cancellation for lunch (it never hurts to inquire!).   
The resto is at 400 Notre-Dame Est.
Gorgeous interior, great full wall photo of St-Germain-des-Pres

Lovely 2 or 3 course menu, fine wines, discreet service.

My appetizer - the cauliflour soup with shrimp & sea asparagus was mind blowing.  So simple, yet absolutely delicious.  Would have licked the bowl if I could have!

Donald's appie - tomato and kohlrabi salad with goat cheese.  Also delicious.

Seared walleye with fennel, mushrooms, cippolini onions in a ramp sauce 
Arctic char with jerusalem artichokes, brussel sprouts, mushrooms in a red beet sauce
The dessert was magnificent - chocolate pot de creme topped with tasty chocolate bits, and a caramel/maldon salt topping... served in this cute mason jar! 
This is me, feeling happier than I had in months - in the midst of my treatment, I had forgotten how important it was to treat myself and be pampered, especially with fine food and service.  Looking forward to our next visit!

Kazu Izakaya - April 2012

Oh my, how time does fly.  These are photos from about a year ago from our first visit to Kazu, hot then, still hot now.   
Restaurant Kazu Montreal
 An izakaya is a traditional Japanese restaurant that serves small plates and alcohol, and often has communal seating so get ready to get cozy!  Kind of a Japanese tapas restaurant.  
I think this was the sashimi salad
Grilled salmon belly.... mmmmm....
48-hour pork!
Long wait to get in, but worth it.  Had the noisy, crowded atmosphere down, yummy food, cold beer...  We were twice (and for some of us 3 times!) the age of most of the clientele, but that didn't dampen our enjoyment.  Highly recommended and dying to try their ramen.