Friday, September 28, 2012

PDC "La Cabane aux Pommes" :An evening of epic gluttony

I was lucky enough to get a chance to have an epic food experience that is etched in my tastebuds, memory, and gut. I don't want to seem overdramatic but I feel like this meal was DESTINED! This was a case of The Leggy Redhead and I planning a trip to Montreal to visit our friends Linda and Greg on the same weekend that they happened to have a reservation for a Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack's first fall apple-themed dinner "La Cabane aux Pommes."

For those unfamiliar with Pied de Cochon, Martin Picard, and Sugar Shack dinners....basically a Sugar Shack dinners happen in the country side about an hour out of Montreal during "sugaring" season somewhere from late Feb to early May. There are about 200 or so sugar shacks spread over the province of Quebec, show casing how maple syrup is made, making maple taffy on snow, offering up sleigh rides, and feeding visitors with massive maple-drench dinners. Typical fare at a traditional sugar shack dinner would be pea soup, baked beans in maple syrup, tourtiere, maple smoked ham, sausages in maple syrup, omelettes, pancakes, sugar pies....Martin Picard is a iconic Canadian Chef, famous for his over the top, curious, experimental, lusty, gluttonous culinary spectacle.

 His restaurant "Au Pied de Cochon", is one of Montreal's most famous restaurants. In 2009, he created his own Sugar Shack in St. Benoit de Mirabel, a rustic, warm wooden farm house that seats around 100 at communal tables and is only open 10 weeks a year. Reservations are coveted, with foodies and fans clamouring to guarantee a spot at the sugar shack table many months in advance. This year is the first time he's opened for fall season and created an apple-centric menu. 10 courses- $50.

Because I'm a food nerd, I had researched the menu, been reading blog posts, checking out food photos, and pretty much drooling in anticipation since we started planning the trip in August. I also knew that I had to mentally and physically prepare. From all accounts, Picard's meals are not something one enters into lightly. One must keep their wits about them, these are incredible feasts of fat and sugar and are pretty much guaranteed to induce a food coma. Many others had issued cautionary tales- "take a few small bites of everything," "Heading into the main course, my appetite was already satiated and I struggled to make it through and taste all 4 desserts." We had a 5:30pm seating, arrived just in time, and took in a few minutes to take in the gorgeous country property bathed in late afternoon sunlight before rushing inside.

The appetizer course kicked things off with bang.

Cured Ham from the Cabane PDC and Headcheese draped over skulls. Obviously this was a WOW factor for presentation and pretty in your face. The meat itself was okay, but no one at the table was too amazed with this (other than the look). It wasn't overly flavourful (wished it was saltier) and a bit too fatty.
The star of the appetizer round for me was the gigantic bowl of Cream of Squash Au Gratin garnished with thinly sliced apples, and topped with crushed Amaretti cookies. This soup was so smooth, so velvety, so creamy, so buttery, and so cheesy- there were strings of melted cheese on my lip with every spoonful. We all agreed that this was a soup you wanted to actually dive into. The crushed cookies added a nice texture and crumbly, almond-y sweetness. For a few at our table- this soup was the highlight...and the downfall for the rest of the meal. Linda had two small bowls of this delicious soup and it definitely filled her up so the rest of the meal was more of a struggle to eat through.

Goat Yogurt with honey on the comb topped with grated foie gras. This was firm and velvety with a mild flavour but given an overt sweetness from the generous cubes of honeycomb and a whole different level of richness and depth from the grated foie gras.
Along with these dishes, there were small jars of house made corn relish, sweet cucumber pickle, eggplant pickle, apple butter, and a dish of apple mustard. These condiments were delicious, and I found them crucial to lighten and brighten up some of the heavy dishes and keep my palette and digestive tract from being lulled into a coma with all of the buttery, rich, heavy flavours.

The first of the main dishes was a full-on show. Ravioli stuffed with chicken livers, Cavatelli apple sauce accompanied by a Foie Gras Confit. Half a wheel of parmesan cheese was pushed out on a metal tray with wheels. Our waiter began scraping the cheese with a metal spoon to grate some large chunks of cheese before dumping in homemade cavatelli pasta and chicken liver ravioli, adding a steaming hot apple and Calvados (apple brandy). He continued to scrape the cheese from the wheel to grate the cheese into the dish. He then emptied a sous-vide bag of foie gras on top and folded everything together. Jaws dropped. Drool formed at the corner of my mouth. It smelled AMAZING!

Self control really came to play when consuming this over-the-top dish. It was so opulent, buttery, rich, and delicious with amazing depth of flavour and shock of delight with every nugget of foie gras and morsel of luscious chicken liver.

The next entree came in as an interpretation of "Surf and Turf" (I loved the way that phrase sounded with a Quebecois accent!) Apple Glazed Beef Roast with roasted carrots and oysters in the shell. We started looking around for a knife to cut and serve the beef but it was totally not needed. This beef was ridiculously tender, practically melting off the bone. The sweetness from the apple glaze was subtle and appropriate. The fresh salty oysters provided a nice hit of salty tang to balance out the heaviness of the beef. The roast carrots are worth noting as well. They completely sucked up all of the flavours and tasted amazing.

With the "Surf and Turf, "came an eggplant crepe, warm oysters, hazelnut brocoli and lettuce. We were instructed that the best experience would come from putting a little bit of all of the entrees on a piece of crepe and eating it all together. That was a little tricky logistically, but there was really no way for this dish to fail. An interesting note: For me, I actually found the eggplant crepe with hazelnut brocolli to be the richest, most filling item on the menu....apparently, it's fried in duck fat.

Another entree, that arrived with the beef was Salmon “En Papillotte” with snails and apple cider sauce. This was another great presentation. The fish was wrapped in newspaper and twine and stuffed with onions, apples, baby bok choy and basil. The fish was steamed to beautiful pink perfection a beautiful sight when our server unwrapped the package and the smell of the sauce made my mouth water. This fish just absorbed all of the delicious flavours that it was stuffed with (particulary the basil) and absorbed the rich creamy sauce.

Some of us actually left the table to do a lap of the property, stretch our legs, get the blood flowing, and mentally prepare for the dessert course. It was a quick jaunt, because even though I was completely stuffed, there was no way I wanted to miss a second of the dessert course presentation.

First on the table for the dessert course was Apple Pie. But, this my friends was the best apple pie, anyone at our table had ever eaten. The crust was somehow dense and sturdy, while impossibly flaky and light. The filling was buttery, tart apples drowning in a caramel sauce.

What is pie without the a la mode? Soft marbled ice cream and apple sorbet.
In an adorable innovative presentation, out came a whipping cream carton, transformed into a serving dish filling with a mound of vanilla ice cream, apple sorbet, and a apple/vanilla/cinnamon blend with whipped cream, homemade maple cotton candy garnish. I LOVED the apple sorbet and found myself polishing off most of the portion while my dining partners were working on the other dishes. It was amazingly tart, smooth, and light.

A server came out with a can and large decanter full of caramel sauce. She used a can opener and dumped the solid contents of the can onto a plate before dousing it with caramel. Apple and Plum Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce. This was really good but not as amazing as we had expected. Keep in mind at this point of the meal, we were all struggling with each bite, we were sooo full. There was also a Chocolate and Apple Souffle- and damn, that was nice. The light and fluffy souffle rose perfectly and underneath its silky topping with deep rich chocolate and warm smoky apples.

This experience was legendary... it's a feast for all the senses. I hope I'm lucky enough to come back and experience one of their Maple dinners. One of the greatest meals of my life! EPIC!
If you're interested in additional pictures from this dinner and Montreal please check out Life Bites on Facebook.

Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Montreal: A Fun, Fantastic Food Filled Weekend

I'm still in recovery from a fantastic extended weekend trip to Montreal. The Leggy Redhead and I had been talking for a while about doing a 4 day weekend to a foodie destination. I don't remember the exact details of how the trip came together, but our amazing friend Linda ended up writing us an essay on why we should come to visit her in was hilarious and awesome and we were easily convinced that this was a trip we needed to make. We had some mis-haps with getting there, and ended up losing our Friday day, arriving late Friday night around 11:30pm. Linda and her boyfriend, Greg, had made reservations for Chuck Hughes' restaurant Le Bremner that night (Montreal is a reso town- especially for the really amazing places) that we missed and cancelled.

Our hosts were absolutely perfect and we had an amazing welcome party. Our travel delays were a faint memory as we arrived to giant hugs, smiles, and BIG ENTHUSIASM. They welcomed us with open arms and plenty of local beer, red wine, and an amazing charcuterie platter featuring local Quebec cheeses. This delicious plate featured an Oka, a Triple Creme Brie, and a blue cheese that I think was a local variety called Blue D'Elisabeth. A great start to the weekend and memories of the many hours waiting at the airport quickly faded away in a drunken, cheesy, blissed out blur.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than the others and made myself a delicious breakfast from supplies that Linda had put together. Sesame seed bagels from St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe with Boursin cheese spread, smoked salmon and capers with fruit salad.

I'm not a typically a big bagel consumer...but I would be if I lived in Montreal. The toasted sesame seeds gave it a big nutty flavour and aroma. The exterior had a slight crisp and crunch, and inside had the most amazing, supple, chewiness. We ended up strolling the neighbourhood and I checked out where these awesome bagels are made and learned a bit about Montreal style bagels....they are thinner, smaller, sweeter, and have larger holes than New York style bagels. St-Viateur is a tiny, family owned and operated hole in the wall and it's been open since 1957. They are open 24/7 and sell over 1,000 hand rolled, baked in a wood burning oven bagels. A single bagel will set you back 65 cents.

We rented Bixis and cycled around and over to Jean Talon Market. I love farmer's markets- both in Vancouver and in towns that I visit. This was a great place to get a pulse of the city. This market was bustling and full of energy and it felt like an exciting place to be. Located in the heart of Little Italy- this is the city's biggest culinary destination and is clearly a go-to for anyone who loves and appreciates food and ingredients and atmosphere.

 There are bright colours (tomatoes and peppers everywhere), fresh and flavourful samples, tasty samples, and amazing smells (bouquets of fresh basil!) every where you turn.

We continued our trek around the city in an attempt to cover as much site seeing and snacking ground as possible.

Our next stop was Rotisserie Romados. Because I'm a food nerd and do my research...this was high on my "eat here" list and also came highly recommended from other culinary tourists. Montreal has a big Portugese population and even has a little Portugese town, where Romados is found. It also operates as a take-out bakery and sells Potugese meats and cheese. Seating and tables are limited. You definitely get the feeling that this place always is busy with a big line up.

We arrived around 3pm and waited about 20 minutes in a long line to order. When you reach the counter, you can see row after row of whole chickens roasting over the charcoal grill, turning and marinating one another with their juices. We ordered a 1/2 chicken meal from their posted menu with fries, rice, salad, and a portugese bun ($7.99). When we ordered, the butcher asked if we wanted spicy and he drenched the chicken in sauce and then covered the chicken and small side salad with a massive mountain scoop of french fries. There was no rice but we were too busy wiping the drool from our mouths to care. The place was packed with no empty seats, so we headed across the street to a nearby park with picnic tables to chow down.

We opened the takeout container and at first look, it's just fries....Where's the chicken at? Don't worry, it's just buried under a mountain of fries.

The chicken is cooked perfectly- plump, juicy, flavourful and tender with a smokiness and slight lemon tang (probably from a brine or marinade). The skin is slightly crispy and bursting with seasoned flavour. The spicy sauce is likely a Piri Piri- and it's not spicy, but I did find it tasty and nice to dip the fries and chunks of the bun in. The salad was pretty underwhelming, but didn't really stand a chance after being suffocated with meat, sauce, and fries. It was essentially a few lettuce leaves and chunks of tomato.These fries were some of the best fries I think I've had in a while. Crispy perfection, full of flavour and well seasoned with salt, pepper and spices.

We walked by, but didn't go into, Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. This is an institution in Montreal and considered a foodie must. It's considered "world famous" and "the best in the city" for Smoked Meat, a part of Montreal history, and a recipe that hasn't changed since 1928.

We continued our trek, walking through the downtown strip (Granville-esque), their 2 block Chinatown, and into Old Port, where we strolled along the cobblestone streets and checked out the cathedral and sites.

We made a Caesar stop at the roof-top "terasse"at the Hotel Nelligan. Great drink. Great vibe. Great view.

We were hungry and stopped into a new restaraunt in Old Port, Bevo, for snacks. We ordered drinks, an anti pasto platter, calamari, and a pizza.

After heading back to our host's place, we had more drinks, met up with an old friend, and some of their friends before heading to an 14th anniversary party at their favourite local neighbourhood microbrewery pub, Brasserie Dieu de Ciel. Such a good time. Then heading for late night 3am snacks at an extremely cool retro hipster diner Nouveau Palais. Their late late night menu was limited to drinks, fries, burgers, and perogies (all really tasty) but apparantly they serve excellent and surprisingly gourmet food during their more regular hours.

Sunday we did more city strolling and explored Mont Royal park- hiking up to the view point and dancing along to the Tam Tam drum circle. We worked up enough appetite to share a poutine. We just grabbed it from a non-descript Portugese chicken joint, and I'm sure it wasn't even close to the best this city has to offer- but it was fries, cheese curds, and gravy and satisfying. We were all still hungry but were devoted to saving up our appetite for an epic evening meal experience.....a fall apple themed Cabane au Sucre dinner from Martin Picard of Pied de Cochon. This meal gets its own blog post. EPIC!

Monday morning involved a bit of a food hangover from the previous evening's multi-course feast. We did some more city strolling and exploring before grabbing brunch at a gorgeous nearby bistro with a backyard terasse. My breakfast sandwich was absolutely perfect and the atmosphere was a perfect way to cap off a killer weekend before rushing to the airport.

Vive la Montreal! I saw a lot, ate a lot, drank a lot, but I feel like I just scratched the surface on all of the amazing things to see, do, and places to eat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Reef on Main- A Crowd Pleaser

The Reef has two locations, one on Commercial Drive and one on Main Street. I was meeting up with the Butter ladies (we all play on a co-ed soccer team called "Butter F.C.") There was a bit of confusion and I actually ended up visiting both locations in one night. I biked from work (Burrard and 7th) to their Commercial Drive location, grabbed a table, waited about 15 min, then finally texted the ladies and figured out they were all at the Main Street location (Main and 25th). Needless to say, I arrived sweaty and hungry and happy to see my friends. The Reef is probably the most popular for Caribbean food in Metro Vancouver, just because the most people know about it and it’s been around for a long time. This wasn't my first visit to The Reef. I've been a handful of times and I like their laid back atmosphere, friendly service, and my food experiences have always been pretty darn tasty.

Typical for a Carribean restaurant, the walls are painted with bright colours and adorned with pictures of palm trees and colourful printed artwork. The vibe is casual, reggae music plays on the speakers, and they've got a decent size patio with two large tables and two small tables- and that's where we sat.

After we ordered, our server brought out complimentary Johnny Cakes to start. Essentially these are warm, slightly sweet, fluffy, fried little bread balls. They are crispy on the outside and warm and soft instead. It's similar to a donut texture- but they are savoury. They come with soft mango butter and regular butter. I love these indulgent little balls of goodness either solo, with the rich butter, or with their Mantouks hot sauce. This is hot sauce with some real spice. I LOVE hot sauce and this one is fantastic. It was made with pickled scotch bonnet peppers.Warning: Don't go overboard on Johnny Cakes if you are having a meal- these are filling!

We also shared an order of Plaintain Chips- crisp fried with jerk mayo ($6). Plaintains are starchier bananas that are more like potatoes and they aren't sweet. They were well salted but we didn't get the best, most consistent batch. Some were perfectly crisp and some were a bit soggy and chewy.

I was boring and stuck with water but a few ladies got Reef Cocktails and loved them- Gabby got a Pina Colada- Malibu rum, fresh pineapple, coconut milk $6.25 (delish- big chunks of fresh pineapple)

Tash and Wendy got Mo-jitas- rum, fresh mint, raspberries, lime, soda $7 (refreshing and not too sweet).

I ordered the Ital (vegan) West Indian Curry- with rice, coleslaw, mango chutney and dahl ($10). It was a huge portion and full of chunks of yam, potato, pepper, cooked spinach, and chickpeas. It had a nice, mild and rich flavour, but I love their hot sauce, so adding a liberal amount made the flavour perfect for me. I like their coleslaw- it's not creamy, mayo-y, goopy, sloopy but instead it is light and more vinegar based.

Gabby ordered their Mission Tacos: Two crisp corn tortillas heaped with jerk chicken, melted cheddar, lettuce, and fresh tomato salsa $10 and a half order of Yardie Yam Fries: hand cut and thick with jerk mayo. She loved her food but definitely couldn't finish it all. I didn't try her tacos but did have a few yam fries. These aren't your standard yam fries- they are more like jumbo fried yam wedges. They aren't super crispy- softer. They tasted like roasted yams. I like them. They come with jerk mayo which isn't spicy, but savoury with a tang of citrus.

Wendy and Jess split a Chicken West Indian Curry $10 and a Tobago Wrap - Curry and lime marinated chicken breast with tomato salsa, organic greens, and avocado yoghurt wrapped in a flour tortilla $14. They loved both. Tash also got a Tobago wrap and really enjoyed enjoyed it.
Janine ordered Island Thyme Chicken: Coconut milk marinated chicken, slow cooked in Jamaican thume, served with mashed potatoes and veggies $15. She subbed her mashed potatoes for coconut rice. I tried a bite and the sauce was delicious- like a peanut, coconut gravy, it was slightly sweet balanced with nuttiness. Janine thought this meal was deee-lish.

All in all, The Reef has a good track record with me and seems to be a definite crowd pleaser for group dining.

On a related note, The Reef catered my amazing friends, Chas and John's wedding and they did an awesome job and blew everyone away with the food. They served-
Appies: yam fries, plantain chips, jerk chicken skewers, savage pinwheel bites
Dinner: Johnny Cakes, Reef Caesar and Spinach salad, West Indian Curry, Jerked Prawns, Jerk Chicken, Rice, Ital Veg Curry.
The food was amazing, the service was fantastic, and the bride and groom loved how nice their staff was and how easy they made it to put together a food package . It was delicious, no worries wedding food! If you are looking for a non-traditional catering option for a wedding, party or event- I Highly recommend!
The Reef on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wedding Dinner at Edible Bistro at the Market

Two of my amazing friends got hitched this weekend! It was such a fantastic evening and so full of love, dancing, plenty of wine, and amazing food!!!!
The venue for the ceremony and reception was Edible Canada Bistro at the Market on Granville Island (located across from the market). 

We all started with a Market Garden Salad; local greens, Okanagan goat cheese, sunflower seeds and vinaigrette. This was a killer salad and a nice large serving with an abundance of greens. They certainly 
weren't stingy with the creamy goat cheese or sunflower seeds either.

We were given the option of Fish, Beef, or Vegetarian for our Mains. I selected fish and was presented with Kasu and Birch Sablefish with green beans, asparagus, northern beans and Swiss Chard. This was a nice, large entree. This fish was buttery, supple, and melt-in-your mouth delious. The sauce/marinade was subtle, with a nice flavour and the veggie accompaniment was well-cooked, well-seasoned, and tasty.

They were able to create a delicious Vegan Entree for the Sous Chef Shredded Roasted Zuchinni with roasted eggplant, tomato and basil pesto. 

The Beef Main was Steak Frites. Awesome presentation and everyone who opted for beef seemed happy to see these plates come out. Our server was so nice that when myself and a dining neighbour asked for a side of fries, he was happy to oblige. These fries were awesome- fresh, well-seasoned and uber crispy. I loved their house made ketchup, which was more like a tomato paste, fresh tasting, not too sweet with a slightly smoky flavour.

The Vegetarian option looked pretty delicious too. Crispy Ricotta and Pea Gnocchi with seasonal market vegetables.

Rather than the traditional wedding cake or cupcakes, the couple had the bistro served a Okanagan Peach Cobbler with hazelnut crumble and cinnamon honey whipped cream. I think this was a shout out to the groom's roots in Summerland- also represented in the wedding favours, which were amazingly delicious homemade jam (the groom's mother's famous recipe). This Cobbler was really nice, with a crispy breaded topping and light whipped topping. It wasn't too sweet and wasn't too heavy.

They even created a gorgeous vegan version of an apple/blueberry crumble.
All around, I found the portions to be perfect...we were full but not too full to keep drinking and bust some sweet moves on the dance floor!

Fantastic wedding venue and fantastic food!

Edible Canada at the Market on Urbanspoon