Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dining Outside of Taste Camp: Montreal's Culinary Delights

A beautiful view of Kaniatarowanenneh, the "big waterway" which is more commonly known as the St. Lawrence River. This is one of the sights I viewed during TasteCampa three day visit to Quebec, tasting wines, ciders, beers and local foods. However, this view was not on our itinerary and was discovered during a detour to eat some poutine. Outside of the official Taste Camp events, I used my free time to explore some of the other culinary offerings of Quebec and Montreal.

I found much that was worthy of mention, from excellent restaurants to a killer food market. However, I didn't take many photos of these extracurricular activities as I chose more to relax and savor the food. I still want to rave about them though, to provide some recommendations for anyone traveling to Quebec and Montreal.

I arrived in Montreal on Thursday night, a day early for Taste Camp, so I had some extra time to explore the city. For dinner, I went to Kaizen, a Japanese sushi bar and restaurant located on St. Catherine's Street. This is a sleek and rather large restaurant, divided into several different rooms. The main dining area has a high ceiling, and possess a nice elegance though without being stuffy. However, the background music was a bit disconcerting, making it seem more like a lounge than a restaurant.

The menu was extensive, including lots of intriguing selections, and includes much sushi, which you can get with brown rice instead of white if you so desire. We ordered some sushi, all which was fresh, large and delicious. The tamago, the omelet, was especially tasty, one of the best I have had. The organic salmon sashimi was also very good. For hot dishes, the fried calamari was some of the best I have tasted, small and tender rectangular pieces with a delightfully crisp batter. The sweet potato fries came with a curry-like dipping sauce topped by thin slices of foie gras. The crisp, plump fries went well with the dipping sauce and the foie was heavenly. A large bowl of mussels were prepared in a savory Sake broth, and they were addictive. Everything we ate was fantastic.

I was disappointed with the tiny number of Sakes on their wine list, and the only one that appealed to me cost over $600, which is not within reach of my wallet. The list though had a superb collection of wines, albeit pricey which is a common issue with most restaurants in Montreal. The wines came from all over the world, and included plenty of quirky and interesting wines. Wine lovers will certainly love perusing this list and will be sure to find something of interest. We ordered a Priorat white wine and an Austrian Blaufrankisch, both which I enjoyed.

Service was impressive, including the sommelier. We had to send back the first wine we ordered as it was flawed, and the sommelier took it right back without question. The food was reasonably priced and we left the restaurant very satisfied. Kaizen receives a strong recommendation.

On Friday morning, Taste Camp began with a late morning winery visit. I and my traveling companions, including Adam of Wine Zag, were a bit early so we drove around exploring the area. We stumbled upon the above roadside restaurant, drawn by the fact that they served poutine. I later learned that this restaurant has been around for many years and is a bit of a landmark. Poutine was likely invented in the 1950s in Quebec and essentially consists of french fries topped by brown gravy and cheese curds. There are plenty of variations, but the basic form is quite satisfying.

Adam had never had poutine before so this was his opportunity to taste this decadent and fattening dish. A Poutine Virgin. We all, including Adam, enjoyed the poutine, while sitting looking out over the St. Lawrence River and you can see our view at the top of this post. A perfect way to start the morning.

Our hotel was on the border of Chinatown and I spent some time exploring the streets of this small neighborhood. There were dozens of restaurants, bakeries, tea shops, souvenir stores, and more, ranging from Chinese to Vietnamese, Japanese to Thai. One of my first stops was to My Cup Of Tea, a bit of a high end tea shop, selling tea, cups, kettles and other tea-related items. It has a great collection of different teas, mostly loose leaf teas, and the quality seems high. I bought some Silver Needle White tea.

There was a tiny stall selling Dragon Beard Candy, a candy supposedly once reserved for only the Emperor. It is essentially strands of sugar surrounding a mixture of nuts, sesame seeds, coconut, chocolate, and sugar. The candy is made by hand, where a disk of corn starch and sugar is pulled continually until you get many thin strands. When completed, the candy resembles an insect cocoon and has some of the stickiness and texture of cotton candy. The inner mixture is very pleasant, a melange of sweet flavors and textures. A must stop in Chinatown for this unique treat.

One evening, we sought out a place for a late dinner and we were nearly overwhelmed by the myriad choices. We sought a place that wasn't a tourist trap, a place where locals dined. After some consideration, we selected Keung Kee Restaurant, which was hidden away on a second floor and it turned out to be a winner.

It is a medium-sized spot, with plenty of large round tables, with lazy susans, for big parties. It isn't fancy or elegant, more just a serviceable restaurant. The menu, which is in both Chinese and English, is lengthy and the dishes are reasonably priced, nearly everything under $15. The choices include Thai, Chinese and Americanized-Chinese dishes, a variety from Chow Mein to Jellyfish, from Thai Style Fried Shrimp to Pork Chop with Peking Sauce.

The Deep Fried Wontons ($4.25) were crunchy, filled with shrimp and quite tasty with a sweet sauce for dipping. A nice way to start our meal. The Fried Rice Noodles with Beef ($8.95) consisted of a large dish of flat noodles, with lots of tender beef and veggies, topped by a delicious brown gravy. The Half Crispy Chicken ($10.95) was exactly that, with moist meat covered by crisp and tasty skin. That skin was addictive! The BBQ Pork ($9.95) was a large dish of thin sliced BBQ pork, tender and tasty. The dishes seemed fresher than you get at some places, and the flavors were balanced. Definitely a place food lovers should check out.

Another evening, we went to Chinatown just for soup dumplings! While driving through Chinatown, I saw a large sign for the soup dumplings and knew I had to check it out. We went to Qing Hua Dumpling and were almost disappointed. They were preparing to close for the evening, but we convinced them to stay open for just a bit longer so we could have some soup dumplings. We didn't even really get to peruse the menu. We ordered a couple of basic pork soup dumplings, and our server recommended we also order lamb and coriander soup dumplings.

It seems their menu doesn't offer much beyond dumplings, though they have several varieties, including chicken, lamb, and uni. The dumplings were excellent, with a savory broth and plenty of nicely spiced meat. The lamb dumplings were a different style than the pork, but it seemed more a cosmetic issue than anything else. They filled my need and I would return again another time to try more of their soup dumplings. An uni soup dumpling sounds intriguing.

One of the afternoons, we decided to stop at the Jean-Talon Market, one of the largest and most popular food markets in Montreal. Within the main building, you will find a huge amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of plants. You will also find on the outskirts, and on the streets surrounding the market, a diverse amount of food & drink stalls and shops. Meat, seafood, cheese, mushrooms, wine, olive oils, spices, bread, bakeries, crepes, chocolate, ice cream and more. What a superb collection of shops that will appeal to any food lover.

I had a great time in the La Fromagerie Hamel, a cheese and gourmet food shop, and I purchased numerous local Quebec cheeses. In other shops, I bought wine to take home and a crusty baguette to eat while walking around. I probably could have spent much more money here and filled my trunk with plenty of foods to take home. A must visit for any food and wine lover.

Qing Hua Dumpling on Urbanspoon
Kaizen Sushi Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Keung Kee on Urbanspoon
Dragon Beard Candy on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Norisush Restaurant said...

Service is awesome. Sushi is always fresh. And you just can't beat the price. I work next to Nori Sushi so I like to go here every week.
Get the Udon and your favorite sushi roll, you will not be disappointed

nori sushi