Dishcrawl – Discover the Montreal Downtown Core

For those of you who don’t know what Dishcrawl is, you can read all about my first experience and what it’s all about here.

The latest Dishcrawl Montreal event was all about the discovering the Downtown Core. I am not sure if many people would agree with me on this, but I feel that when faced with having to dine in this part of town, the general consensus is that it is lacking great places at a reasonable price. Sure I can recommend the Queue de Cheval, Café Ferreira or Cavalli, but most of us (including me) don’t always want to or have the income to spend upward of $100 per head to eat out on a regular basis, and if I were, I would probably still choose a different neighborhood at that. For the most part, I would rarely choose to eat out in Montreal’s Downtown Core.

However, when I signed up for this Dishcrawl I saw it as the perfect opportunity to discover new places and perhaps even change my opinion of the restaurants in this ‘hood. 

And so our evening began at ZenYa, a Japanese restaurant on Ste-Catherine, across the street from the Saint James United Church. It was a great call to put ZenYa on the itinerary. This restaurant is tucked in on the second floor of a building with a narrow entrance and even tinier elevator. Unless you know about it, chances are you wouldn’t find it. I have been to ZenYa on many occasions so this was not a new discovery for me and they certainly lived up to expectations. Their sushi is always impeccable and for this event the chef presented us with a mix fresh and smoked salmon on a crispy roll over a miso glaze, and a generous portion of a tempura and freshwater eel maki. Both delicious with a different spin to a Japanese classic.

Our second stop was at iBurger, which opened up just six weeks ago. I knew that Montreal didn’t have enough burger joints (can you sense the sarcasm?) but I am always on the lookout for a great burger wherever it may me. This place had much more to offer than the typical fare – it offered an i-experience! Yes, you read that correctly: i-experience. Each table has a touch screen that enables each diner to select and order their menu directly. As Dishcrawlers, our food menu was preset but we did have the opportunity to order some i-drinks. Touch screen, browse around, select drink, sit back and relax until the waiter brings it to you. After receiving our drink orders, a description popped-up onto the table screen and we were presented three mini-burgers: an beef Angus classic, a vegetarian burger with a twist, and a salmon burger. My favorite was the vegetarian: it was such a creative take on a classic burger and all the flavours hit the spot nicely. Organic quinoa, shiitake and portobello mushrooms, spinach, goat cheese, all wrapped up in a phyllo pastry. Aside from the veggie-burger there isn’t much to write home about here… but I do think this place deserves another shot. I perused the menu using the nifty table touch-screen and noticed a duck hot-dog. I will be back – because as you know, I always kinda want a hot-dog!

We then proceed towards Decca77 for our third course of the evening. Decca77 has a good standing reputation on the Montreal food scene. It’s been talked about, raved about and more. It was my first time stepping through those large glass doors and I made my way up the staircase surrounding the wine cellar to our table. The dish served was a veal bbq short-rib cooked sous-vide, served with with a foie gras and ice-cider polenta and a mushroom fricassee, and it looked superb! The flavours however were seriously lacking. The veal tasted good with its tangy bbq sauce but the meat should have been tenderer. The polenta was incredibly bland and a shame that foie gras was wasted in there. For me this dish was sub-par for a restaurant with such a notorious reputation. According to the Dishcrawlers I chatted with, Decca77 was a disappointment that evening – but in this case it was an exception, not the rule.

Our final stop for the evening was dessert at Le Newtown. In case you haven’t heard, the Chef of Le Newtown – Martin Juneau – recently earned himself the title of best Canadian chef at the Gold Medal Plates this year held in British Columbia. I’ve never eaten at Le Newtown for the simple reason that I am not a fan of the crowd – too high maintenance all around. Dessert was perfect: a selection of bite-size and excentric flavours. The selection included (counter-clockwise, starting from the bottom) a passion-fruit jelly, a lemon-coconut marshmallow, an apple caramel and chocolate lollipop, a yuzu meringue tart, and a chocolate milk cake with apricot and praline. Each bite was heavenly, especially the marshmallow. It reminded me of my childhood, but with a sophistication I could never have dreamed of for such an iconic treat.

The Dishcrawl experience was just as great as my first time. At the end of the day, my general opinion of restaurants in the Downtown Core hasn’t changed much. However,  I will have to swallow my down-to-earth pride, wine-and-dine myself at Le Newtown to see what else Chef Martin Juneau has to offer.

Also on my Downtown to-do list is to digitally order a hot-dog at iBurger.

The next Dishcrawl is Les Nuits Borgia and should be an experience like none-other. For more information click here.

Sadly I have other commitments that night and will have to miss it. You will find me at the vegetarian Dishcrawl on April 26th!

If you’re planning to attend Les Nuits Borgia Dishcrawl and would like to contribute your experience to Kristel’s Kitchen, then please contact me!

My First Dischcrawl – Delectable Desserts

What is a Dishcrawl you ask me? Think of it as a pub crawl, but instead if getting increasingly drunk as you stumble from one bar to another, you wander your way from one dish to the next, from one restaurant to another, discovering new foods, flavours and styles.

My first Dishcrawl was all about desserts. Granted I do not have the biggest sweet tooth but I really wanted to try the experience and didn’t want to wait until the next one (there is on average one event per month). The element of surprise here is that the locations are kept secret until the last moment. I did not know where I would be heading that evening until the first location was revealed a day or so prior.

Our evening started off at Patisserie Rhubarbe , a small pastry shop located in Montreal’s Plateau. We were greeted by the lovely Marcella from Dishcrawl who introduced us to the process but didn’t give us any hints as to the evening’s progression. The pastry chef then presented us with the evening’s sampling of desserts. From the top we had the choux with a light chestnut cream that was sublimely delicate, a peanut and caramel tart reminiscent of a gourmet Snickers bars but even more indulgent, and finally a lemon tart unlike any I had ever seen. It’s a given that the desserts were delicious, but it was their original visual and flavour composition that really set this patisserie apart from the many others.

  

Our second stop was at Byblos Le Petit Café, a restaurant that serves traditional family cuisine from the Middle-East. I had heard of Byblos for its weekend brunch  (which I’m planning on tasting soon). This evening we were presented with a wide variety of traditional Iranian desserts. These desserts were for the most part rice based and full of orange blossom, rose water, cardamom and pistachio flavours. I enjoyed a lovely traditional Iranian tea to accompany the desserts. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed rice-pudding type desserts so this was not exactly my cup of tea. However, I did enjoy the floral and exotic flavours, and most importantly the diversity of the location for the overall Dishcrawl experience.

Our final stop of the evening was at PyrusBistronomique, which was recently written up by Lesley Chesterman in the Montreal Gazette. Chef Renaud Poirier presented us with an apple tarte Tatin with salted caramel and cheddar ice cream. Well for me this dish hit the spot! It was a perfect balance of savory and sweet. The sweetness of the apple and caramel was perfectly complimented by the fleur de sel crunch hiding in the caramel and the sharpness of the cheddar ice cream. I was suggested to pair this with a glass of Calvados, but as a whisky fan I opted for a dram of Macallan 12. This dessert really honed in on my more savory palate.

The experience with Dishcrawl was fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone. I loved discovering new places, trying different dishes and meeting new and interesting people. It always amazes me how people connect differently when they are sharing food together, even if it is for the first time.

Next Dishcrawl in Montreal? Discover Montreal’s Downtown Core. To sign-up or find out more about it click here

On another note, I would like to raise a glass to Marcella and Dishcrawl Montreal not only for opening the door to new experiences but also for providing the amazing pictures you see here. Thank you!



Addictions and Resolutions

Hello, my name is Kristel and I am a chip addict. Truthfully, I never intend to recover from it.

 love their salty, light, crunchiness too much to ever give it up. Salt & Vinegar, BBQ, Sour Cream & Onion, Hickory Sticks, even the trendy new flavors such as Thai, Piri-Piri and General Tao that are filling the shelves… I love them all, I don’t discriminate!

However, I only sporadically buy some for the house since I can devour an entire bag of them in one sitting. I am not talking about a snack bag either but the regular sized ones from the grocery store. My addiction is so great that even though I know (and physically feel) they are not good for me, I keep going back for more until there is not a single crumb left.

Didn’t Mae West say that too much of a good thing can be wonderful? So this past holidays season, not only did I get to spend time with family and enjoy lots of yummy food, but I also binged on lots and lots of chips and it was glorious! Four or maybe five bags of chips later, vacation time is over. It is time to get back to  reality, and back to me not buying chips. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deprive myself of them because that would be insanity; it’s simply that they are not part of my regular grocery list and they are a special treat to me once in a while.

After all the holiday treats, laughter and quarrels, it is time to make resolutions for 2011. Many of us make
them, a lot don’t and some of us keep them. I fall in every one of those categories at some point or other. Come on admit it, I’m sure you’ve thought about your own sort of food reform for 2011. I don’t usually make any food resolutions because I believe more in a balanced diet and eating everything you like in moderation (which includes the occasional bag of chips). For 2010, of my select few resolutions I had vowed to eat more vegetarian meals, to curb my meat consumption for better health and a better carbon footprint. I think I succeeded overall.

On a similar tangent, this year I want to learn more about different food properties and perspectives for healthier living. Crudessence, a restaurant based in Montreal and its surrounding areas, offers a variety of vegan and raw foodism services such as catering and an academy that features a wide selection of workshops (including a free introduction!). So after binging on chips, here comes the detox! As such, my resolution for 2011 is to participate in their 30 day detox workshop… I will let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, there are exciting things going on in Montreal this January. First, there is the 4th edition of the Happening Gourmand in Old Montreal. Great deals on Table d’hôte worth checking out but you have to reserve early if you want to eat! Second and also happening in Old Montreal, there is the Wildside Festival at the Centaur Theater. So why not make a dinner and a show date to ring-in the New Year for a second
time!

Lastly, what are your resolutions for 2011?

Tools and Techniques – Start Minimizing Your Waste

So the tools and techniques don’t come around all too often mainly because I don’t usually think about my kitchen that way. There are many tricks that I use regularly and because they are habit I tend not to really notice them.

Recently I was hanging out with my friend Jon visiting from Toronto and – as we often do – we talked about consuming food. With consumption often comes waste. Jon went on about how much he hates wasting food and that there are some ingredients he just won’t buy in order to avoid a potential waste. I applaud his actions as I too, hate wasting food. I rather stuff myself than to leave food on my plate. I try to maximize every ingredient in my kitchen and pantry, and have come up with a couple of tricks to do just that.

Using his words “What the hell am I supposed to do with a huge bunch of cilantro when all I need is one cup?” My answer: “Why not make a batch of chimichurri? Freeze it in a jar or in ice-cube trays.”

Well, have no fear, Kristel’s Kitchen is here!

Let me share a few tips on how to maximize the use of your ingredients and minimize your waste:

Ice-cube trays! It’s convenient to have at least one ice-cube tray unused, that way you can easily portion out leftover ingredients and freeze for later use. Here are some examples:

  • Tomato paste or sauce when you do not need to use the full amount; use individual cubes add depth of flavor to sauces, soups or
  • Pesto, any kind. Pesto essentially just means to pound, crush to make a paste. Use basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula… basically anything that comes to mind or that may be lurking in your fridge.
  • Fruit: purée and freeze, great for smoothies; or, cook down with sugar for a quick dessert topping.

Make soup! Often my soup creations spur from whatever is left in the fridge and pantry. The last creation was a Mexican influenced vegetable soup. From the fridge: the remainder of a bag of carrots and celery, an onion, a leftover ¼ cabbage from a previous dinner and shredded zucchini. From the pantry: a can of diced tomatoes, an ancho pepper (whole), a handful of coarse cornmeal and a handful of red lentils. All combined in a pot, topped off with water, seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander seeds, simmered for a about 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stale bread? Make breadcrumbs or croutons! Make sure the bread is hard and stale. Cut it up into smaller pieces then grind into crumbs using a blender or food processor. Store in the freezer. For croutons, toss with spices, garlic or parmesan (whatever you like), drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven until brown. Store in an air-tight container.

Fresh ginger, always on hand! It is always convenient to have around for many recipes and marinades or even to spice up some tea, but like any fresh produce it doesn’t have the longest shelf life. When I bring home some ginger (and I am not talking about my better half here), the first thing I do is peel it and store it in a container in the freezer. Whenever I need some I just take it as is – frozen – and using a grater I shave off the needed amount.

Start composting! Contact your city, local borough office or Eco-quartier to find out what services are available to you. If you have the space for it, set-up compost bin in your yard. For Montrealers, get in touch with the nice folk at Compost Montréal to find out how you can get a compost pick-up service set-up for your residence, condo complex or even apartment building.

There’s a lot more where that came from. The key is to try to be a little creative, to think out of the ice-box when you’re looking at the leftovers you fear may be wasting away their shelf-life. Do you have your own tricks for minimizing waste? Please spread the word, share your comment on this post and help all of us make better use of our food consumption economy.

Lazy Sunday and Duck-Zucchini Dumplings

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On my way from work Friday I decided to pick up some roast duck from a store in Chinatown to accompany the squash risotto I had planned on making for dinner. We had a whole roast duck for the two of us. Needless to say, we had too much. Seeing as Sunday was supposed to be a lazy Sunday, simply doing a few things around the house and running a couple of errands with my friend Jasmine, I planned on making dumplings with some of the leftover duck.

This was my second attempt at making dumplings – ever! The first time I used shrimps, mushrooms and scallions but I must have done something wrong because when I proceeded to cook them, the dumplings filled with water and just weren’t that tasty.

I was determined for this time to be different, I had a strategy:

One: make a test dumpling to check for taste, cooking time and overall holding power

Two: keep an egg yolk near just in case the filling doesn’t bind together 

Three: keep some extra wrappers in case I tug too hard and the dough tears

At 11am, the sound system was turned on, the dumpling wrappers were thawed, my ingredients and tools laid out; I was ready to start making dumplings! I proceeded to mix my filling, bring my pot of water to a boil and carefully wrapped up my test dumpling. I plopped it into the boiling water and waited two minutes – as mentioned on the dumpling wrappers packaging. With a slotted spoon I took the dumpling out of the boiling water but noticed the edges of the dough still looked stiff, so I put it back in for another couple of minutes or so. I finally took it out of its bath and let it cool. The dough looked like it had perfectly sealed around the filling and there did not appear to be any water bubbles. The taste test came back positive: my filling was nicely bound together (no need for that extra yolk) and the dough was perfectly soft (a four minute cook time is ideal, as long as your filling doesn’t have any raw meat or seafood ingredients). I did add a bit of salt and pepper to the filling mixture but no other changes were made. I proceeded to wrap and boil more dumplings just as my phone rang. My friend Cammie wanted to drop off something for me before my trip, the book Julie and Julia which I haven’t read yet, nor have I seen the movie. So she stopped by with her husband, we chatted for a while over coffee and they left with a small care package. Just as they were leaving, my friend Laura calls and asked if she could stop by to pick up the extra cookie sheet she had lent me. While I wait for her to arrive, I continue with my dumpling making, sending a few more bundles into their boiling bath 

Laura arrives, I put out a pot of tea and moments after, right on schedule, Jasmine knocks on the door. The three of us spend some time chatting and catching up. Mid-afternoon has rolled around and I still have a few more dumplings to finish up. Laura says goodbye and heads home with her cookie sheet and care package. I finish up the dumplings I had left to do and out the door I go, along with Jasmine to run our errands at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. 

At the end, I never managed to do all the things I had planned to do on this so-called lazy day. However, I did manage to make forty dumplings, spend a few hours catching up with friends, sending them home with their respective care packages. In any case, what’s the point of cooking if you can’t share it!

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Duck and Zucchini Dumplings

  • About one cup and a half of cooked duck, chopped
  • About one cup of zucchini, shredded (using a cheese grater is easiest)
  • About ¼ cup of scallions, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 40 wonton wrappers (most grocery stores sells frozen packages, just remember to thaw them ahead of time)
  • Egg wash (one egg whisked with one tbsp of water)

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Lay out a clean dish cloth on a cookie sheet and dampen another clean one to cover the dumpling wrappers so that they do not dry out.

Take one dumpling wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Spoon a small amount of the duck mixture into the center, squeezing the filling to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles. Dip the tip of your finger into the egg wash and moisten the dumpling wrappers around its filling. Gently wrap the dough around the filling making sure to push out any air bubbles. Seal the dough by pressing it tightly together. Proceed with the remainder of the filling and dumpling wrappers. Bring a large pot of water to boil and gently drop in the dumplings. You do not want to cook too many at a time, or else they may stick to each other. They need enough room to swim around. After about 4 minutes of cooking (only if you’re using a precooked filling as I have here), take them out with a slotted spoon and put them on the towel covered cookie sheet to absorb the extra water. Cover the dumpling with a damp cloth to ensure they do not dry out. If they’re still hot you can serve them right away with a dipping sauce of your choice. If you’re making them ahead, you can easily store them in a plastic container until ready to eat. To heat them up you can steam them or boil them again – just long enough to heat through. Or you can, as I suggested to my friends, heat up some broth of your choice, add an assortment of veggies to the broth, and right before serving drop in the dumplings to make an Asian style dumpling soup.