Montreal, Part III: Kitchen Galerie

(Note: photos from this post taken by Don)

9pm. Kitchen Galerie. Dinner with Don.

The concept: three chefs run the entire show, front and back of the house, cook, clean, serve and everything else in between. Ingredients: all straight from Marché Jean-Talon just down the street. The food: simultaneously wildly indulgent, yet honest and satisfying. As Don noted, “this is they kind of food I could eat every night, though in smaller portions.”

Jean-Philippe, one of the three chefs, welcomed and made us instantly feel at home as he sat us at the last open two-top. He introduced himself and presented a menu with far too many temptations – dishwasher foie gras, anyone?…and let us off to debate the options. It wasn’t too hard to decide as our hearts were fixated on the côte de boeuf, which we “super-sized” (“like you say in the States,” Jean-Philippe explained) with black truffles and sear foie gras. He started us with an tempting amuse – a bite of lamb terrine, surely a sign of the night to come.

The terrine was followed by a dozen oysters, red wine mignonette. A basket of crusty baguette and dishes of soft salted butter. We slipped the oysters one after another, while observing the kitchen and diners, both exuding quiet energy, tamed excitement – concentration in the kitchen, appreciation at the table.

In the lull between oysters and the main, the chef arrived at our table with two petite red casserole dishes. He set them on the table and lifted the lids to reveal a little treat of “risotto aux trompettes des morts, épinards, huile de truffle”. We tucked away the risotto in marveled silence, creamy and toothsome with an abundance of trumpet mushrooms, gentle shavings of parmesan reggiano sharply melting into each bite.

It was at this point in the dinner when our afternoon eats at bakeries and markets settled in and I realized that I was indeed, quite full. However the given circumstances demanded an order of mind over matter, or rather, mind over tummy, so I held my breath and anticipated the côte de boeuf with a hearty appetite.

The dish was meant two, and we knew it would be large. But we were in for a true shock when the chef proudly walked over, both hands occupied by an enormous white dish. Three feet long and one foot across, the dish took up the entire table. He announced, “côte de boeuf rôtie, jus à l’estragon et légumes racines avec foie gras poêle, truffle noire,” and we dived in. Where to begin? Seared foie gras teasingly layered over the côte de boeuf, an intoxicating rich seal of fatty bliss? Or, perhaps the generous shavings of crispy black truffles – the very first I’ve ever tasted. Why we might just to decide to break into the beef itself, ridiculously tender with crackly charred edges, mounded upon a buttery puree of potatoes innocently soaking up the savoury drippings. Baby carrots, string beans and yellow beets, fresh from Marché Jean-Talon, were simply delicious on their own, but made all the more with a pour of the beef jus.

We ate and ate, until we could eat no more. Then we just one last bit: truffle, foie gras, and beef all locked in one heady bite. Polished off with a round of potatoes, and a crisp baby carrot, stem and all. Last, a pour of the deep red wine he had selected for the evening – the entire bottle sipped away far too quickly.

And dessert? Oh goodness yes, you bet there was dessert. If you’re going to all the way, may as well indulge to the very end, closing on a sweet note. The menu options were simple and unfussy, exactly what this type of meal commands. For Don, crème brulee, and for myself, a chocolate brownie.

Towering, with a thin crackly surface, the warm brownie arrived crowned with vanilla whipped cream and a single sweet strawberry – the first of many I hope to indulge in this summer. The real highlight was a generous smear of gooey hot fudge, dark and impossibly rich, the texture edging into pudding territory. And with that, we called it a night with glasses of sauterne, and wound back out into the dark, four hours later.

Kitchen Galerie
60 rue Jean-Talon Est
Montréal, QC H2R 1S5, Canada
(514) 315-8994

Montreal, Part II-B: Bagels, Bakeries, Market & Pastrami. All Before Dinner.

Note: Photos were taken by and/or with Don’s camera. The waiter at Au Pied de Cochon accidently knocked mine off the bar during dinner two nights prior. The camera did not survive.

Between bison ribs and pastrami, Don and I popped into Kouign Amann and Le Fromentier for half a dozen pastries, afternoon snacks you know? ;)

There was only one item on our agenda at Kouign Amann, and if the bakery name wasn’t a dead giveaway, you should already know by now. The giant glistening wheel beckoned us step by step, closer, and closer. Whispers of “kouign amann” echoed in the back, a buttery chant. So long as the lady ahead of us didn’t order a wedge, we would be the lucky ones to get the very first cut from the wheel. Perfect timing. All smiles, we pointed and ordered.

The bakery girl looked at us and nodded. Nodded left and right.
The kouign amann was reserved.
Someone reserved the ENTIRE wheel.

You see, I’ve never tasted kouign amann my entire life.
I’ve read about it on David Lebovitz’s blog.
And I’ve turned Robyn’s photo into my desktop background.
I’ve dreamed and drooled. But kouign amann and my tongue have never met.

And so I thought it would remain that way, seeing as we planned to leave early the next morning. Oh well.

But wait! Don suggested. We can come back before crossing the border tomorrow. Even though it was totally out of the way, wrong direction and everything. And he would be driving the whole way back, seven hours or more. But we came back anyways, because butter is delicious and Don is awesome.

We returned Sunday morning, 17 hours later, and entered the bakery, fingers crossed. There was no kouign amann in sight, but we asked anyways. The man turned to look in the kitchen the very second the baker slashed down the center of a steaming wheel. First Slice. This time, timing was indeed perfect.

We brought the slice, along with a cafe au lait and almond croissant to one of the three tiny tables, soft morning sun shining though glass windows. This kouign amann is one fierce baby. It’s quite easy on the eyes, with sharp cuts and a wonderfully crisp, caramelized exterior. But it’s heavy. HEAVY. It’s heavy in your hands and even heavier in your belly. It’s not so much pastry with a lot of butter as it is butter with a bit of pastry. “Kouign amann” translates directly from Breton as “butter cake”. Nothing lost in translation there. Multiple layers of rich dough, butter generously slipped between in sheets and a tease of salt. Steamy, sweet and filling, perhaps more appropriate shared as an afternoon munch should you disapprove against starting the morning with a butter brick lodged deep in the belly. The best part though, is definitely the brittle crunch of the golden caramelized top – I could easily do without the rest.

Sips of the cafe au lait was absolutely necessary with the kouign amann, the hot milky liquid absolutely luscious in the cool morning, simultaneously warming the body and cutting bites of rich butter bathed bites. Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed the almond croissant even more than the kouign amann. Equally heavy, though on a different dimensions, for it managed to be delicate at the same time, with more textural interplay. This croissant leans on the doughy end of the spectrum, though there’s nothing wrong with that, for it makes that wonderful mix of ground almonds, egg and sugar all the more easier to meld and tuck into the innermost layer of dough. A carefree sprinkle of sliced almonds, light syrup to caramelize the top, and we find ourselves wrapped in this blissful mix of almondy crunch, crumbs flying, and soft innards hugging secrets of sweet cream.

But it doesn’t end there.
The pastries get even better!
Rejected by the kouign amann on Saturday afternoon, we did not walk away empty handed. Oh no. We celebrated the warm day with a lemon cake, a fantastic summer treat, sunny yellow with a tender lemon zest speckled crumb. Fragrant would be a dangerous understatement, the citrus scent exploding in the air with tailing wisps of vanilla as we opened the bag. Dainty and sweet, with a caramelized golden dome. Such intense caramelization going on in this bakery – maybe that’s the true secret to happiness ;)

Between sweet scents dancing from the open kitchen and a large sliding glass cabinet teaming with edible options, you’d think it’d be difficult to pick a favourite. But no. It was easy. A bite into the humble maple tart and I was hooked. Settled. The others could not come close. We only ordered the maple tart out of pity – a consolation prize to the lost kouign amann, and besides, it looked rather lonely sitting by itself. Flavour outweighs beauty, and this was a fine example. The shell: simple and buttery, to serve a supporting roll. The real secret hides behind that pale, thin crunchy top. A BATH OF WALNUT SPECKLED MAPLE SYRUP. Oh my goodness, I tremble as I write this. I can recall the first bite, breaking though the crumbly, butter dabbled wall, I crunched though the surface shell not knowing what to expect. But I must have done something, or many things, right in past lives for I was rewarded with a slow flowing pool of pure maple syrup, interrupted only by tiny chunks of toasted walnuts. It was insane. Pure maple syrup on its own, is far from overly sweet, and million miles away from the Aunt Jemima I grew up with. A welcoming golden shade, deep and clear – it tastes honest, if that makes sense. So imagine that syrup, coupled with toasty walnuts, a butter crust and a shattering shell much like the first tap of crème brulee, only skip the custard and replace it with maple syrup.

Oh man.
That maple tart made me insanely happy.
We could have gone straight back to Manhattan and I would have been perfectly content.
But we did not.

With Kouign Amann crumbs in our laps, we didn’t waste a minute and drove down to Le Fromentier for a few more nibbles. A bit excessive? Perhaps. Much fun? Oh yes!

Unlike most other restaurants along Laurier Ave, the bakery is set off the street, down a flight of stairs into a deep open space with Le Fromentier on the left, and a charcuterie on the right.

The croissant was simply too pretty to pass up, finely browned and near symmetrical. Perhaps the most “perfect” looking croissant I’ve seen to date. A initial crunch yielded intense shattering, but only to meet lifeless innards that hovered between doughy and lifeless – more butter please.

Similar could be said for the palmier, pure visual attraction. A touch too soft, and under-sugared. A proper palmier ought to boast speckled of caramelized surface bits. It was far from disappointing, but nothing I’d care to return for, never something craveable, nothing like the Saint Germain plamiers.

Twittering between pastry coma and sugar high we returned to the hotel for a early evening nap before 9pm reservations at Kitchen Galerie. Perhaps I would have enjoyed Le Fromentier more if we made it our first stop, before I was seduced by the rich joys of Kouign Amann. Who knows. All I’m certain of is that I should have tucked back a few dozen maple tarts on our car ride back to Manhattan! Dinner post to follow shortly.

Kouign Amann
322, Mont-Royal Est
Montreal, Quebec
(514) 845-8813

Le Fromentier
1375 Laurier Ave. E.
Montreal, Quebec H2J 1H6
(514) 527-3327

Montreal, Part II-A: Bagels, Bakeries, Market & Pastrami. All Before Dinner.

Note: Photos in this post were taken by and/or with Don’s camera. The waiter at Au Pied de Cochon accidently knocked mine off the bar during dinner the prior night. The camera did not survive.

Friday night, post Au Pied de Cochon, we slept a dead sleep. The deep sort of sleep only experienced as a coupled result of midnight fat & foie overkill and a ten hour car ride (not complaining though, Don drove both ways ^-^). Beyond stuffed, I’ve never slept so soundly throughout the night. I was also a bit worried because surely there could be absolutely no more tummy space to hold all the food we had on our agenda.

Thank goodness I was wrong.

So very wrong…

We woke up surprisingly refreshed on Saturday morning, still a little stuffed but nonetheless eager, bagels sparkling on the mind. Fairmount and St. Viateur Bagel shops were on the list and we went only with the former, opting to save room for a half-dozen pastries, sausages, ribs, and pastrami to come.

The shop was busy with both bakers and customers moving at rapid speed, the open workspace allowing a glimpse into the kitchen, countless bagels sliding down wooden boards, out of the wood-fired oven and into great big containers already filled with a hundred more. High turnover. We ordered three savouries: onion, garlic and sundried tomato, and a tub Liberté cream cheese, and quickly dashed back to the car, tore open the paper bag for a makeshift table and dug in. The crust on these bagels are marvelous, crisp with a confident shatter, and creamy milky innards, a tad sweet. Just as intense though not as nearly heavy as New York bagels.

Next stop, a drive to Marché Jean-Talon for edible ooglings and a few post-bagel snacks. We would return back to this neighborhood for dinner at Kitchen Galerie later that evening. I didn’t find the produce selection to be as impressive as the Union Square Greenmarket back home, but the wide range of meats, fats, livers and terrines were quite memorable.

Outside we watched those behind the maple syrup stands pour the syrup straight out of large metal containers onto ice lined tables. It was mother-son team work at this one vendor. The mom would pour and let it rest to freeze for a minute before the son came by to press in wooden tongue depressors, turning the syrup into glassy maple lollipops.

Here we devoured spicy sausages with plenty of sauerkraut and dijon mustard tucked into thick buns…

…and a bison rib – tender, though with a glaze too sweet for my liking. We sat on the bench outside, under the sun in the warm weather (how I take this for granted in Hawai’i!), quietly munching away as morning shoppers passed.

We followed into the afternoon with visits to Kouign Amann and Le Fromentier for cakes, croissants, cookies and pies. But I’ll save the bakery visits for the next post and let this post be the savoury memories of the day.

The line in front of Schwatz’s was long when we first passed it in the morning, and even longer at 4pm in the afternoon. I’ve never been a big pastrami eater, or a real meat eater for that matter. That is, until I met Don, and now it seems all I do is crave hot savoury, dripping hunks of meat at every hour of the day.

Despite the crowds, the line moved quickly and it was our turn in but a few minutes. “I don’t want my own sandwich,” I said, still full from our morning adventures. Don asked if I was sure, and yes, I was. I was sure I was sure. Hah.

The sandwich came with us into the car and a short drive back to the hotel. He ripped oven the grease lined bag and I, oops, ended up eating not one bite, but half the sandwich. Heeeee. I couldn’t help myself, and who really would want to? It’s terribly difficult to abandon the succulent fatty slices melting in the warmth of your mouth, so appropriately tucked between thin slices of white bread. Next time we must order two ^-^. Maybe three. Never hurts to save one as a snack…

He placed the order for the sandwich and I thought that was it, so I turned my focus away to the interior of the delicatessen packed to the brims with midday diners and countless pastrami sandwiches, enormous slabs of grilled beef livers and plates of fries, dainty in comparison. But then I heard his voice again – ordering more? “…and a whole pastrami, extra fatty.” He looked over at me, “we can share.” The whole pepper-crusted pastrami made it safely back to the city with us, the savoury fat seeping though a double wrap of butcher paper. Marvelous.

Fairmount Bagels
74 Fairmount West
Montreal, Quebec
(514) 272-0667 H2T 2M2

Marché Jean-Talon
7070, Henri-Julien Street
Montreal, Quebec

3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd
Montreal, Quebec H2W 1X9
(514) 842-4813

Montreal, Part I: Au Pied de Cochon

Don and I left the city at two in the afternoon and arrived in Montreal near midnight. Through the Holland Tunnel, we sped in and out New Jersey, and back into New York, heading upstate, a nighttime crawl though dark roads of the Adirondacks and past Lake George. We missed our reservation but luckily enough dashed in the doors a good ten minutes before the kitchen closed.

He parked around the corner and we slipped into the doors from the chilly air. Inside, minutes till midnight, the dimly lit Au Pied de Cochon bustled with late night diners. I caught murmurs of French and stole glances at foie gras loaded plates with every turn. Seated at the bar we were handed menus taunting an abundance of foie in a dizzying array of preparations, duck in a can, tripes with house-made chorizo, and stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras.

Orders were placed in minutes, our tummies growling in anticipation. Five dishes: three involved foie gras, and three were deep fried. None were vegetarian. Midnight decadence is the only way to go. The bread arrived shortly after, crackling crusty edges, wide cut for lavish smears of mayo. OH MY GOD THE MAYO WAS SO GOOD. I tried to be polite, using my knife to swoosh out the creamy goodness. But a few swooshs in, I was completely taken over and starting dunking the bread into the jar. MUST SOP UP ALL THE MAYO. I swear, if no one were looking I would have not hesitated to simply lick the jar. Later, when the waiter brought by a dish of butter would we find out that the mayo was intended for the salt cod fritters, not the bread. Oh well. It was delicious.

The salt cod fritters arrived in due time, five to an order. Piping hot, indeed a wonderful sin to the lips. The deep brown cracking surface broke to reveal a savoury mass with just a bare hint of peppery heat, a gust of steam before deep dunks into the pot of mayo. OH. The mayo. Oh man.

Next, sweet thin slices of roasted piglet, and whitefish salad. This was the lightest dish of the night, the “salad” course if you will.

Foie Gras Cromesquis came in pairs, deceivingly neat fried cubes of fatty goodness. The waiter warned us to first let it cool, then to pop in your mouth at once. He tapped his lips, “keep them closed.” And so we did, letting a bomb of liquidfied foie gras explode in our mouths as we broke through the crisp shells.

And then, came the dish I drooled over for the week leading up to the trip and then for the entire car ride. Foie + Poutine. Foie Poutine. OH MAN. YES. So get this, it’s absolutely nuts. Crisp horse fat fries. Fresh cheese curds. Gravy consisting of a half dozen egg yolks, cream, and foie gras. Foie gras IN the gravy. As PART OF the gravy. And then a hunk of seared foie ON TOP. And there. That must be the poutine of my dreams. ^_^

But that wasn’t even a remotely rich dish compared to what came next. Oh no

The most decadent dish came at the very end. The word “decadent” doesn’t do this justice. It was like crazyrichbutterygoingtokillyou kind of extravagant. I don’t think they expect anyone to finish this dish. Or I hope not… Okay. So imagine puff pastry. And then add ten million additional sticks of butter folded into each layer. And then more butter on top. And butter drizzled all over! Maybe another pat here and there for good measure. Then. Potatoes. Potatoes in bite-sizes pieces, cut a quarter-inch thick. Sautéed. Sautéed in what? Butter of course. LOTS of butter! Then. A sweet element: onions! Onion marmalade. Prepared how? Why with more butter, dare you ask!! While we’re at it, pile on house-made blood sausage then top off with foie. Foie gras all over! Let the heat melt the supple liver over the sausages like little top hats of fat. Oh fat.

I eagerly cut a wedge, foie dripping in near sick excess. Was this decadent or disgusting or simply absurd? I could no longer tell. But I was quite nauseated by this point. I took a taste of all in the first bite, the pastry hit me first. So buttery it hurt. It was painful to taste all that butter in a bite after the four fat and foie laden dishes preceding the tart. The potatoes bubbled butter. Buttered laced the marmalade. And by then, I could no longer appreciate the boudin, which Don assured me was delicious, for my mouth was coated in fat and my stomach in pain.

And about one-sixth of the pie in, my heart started to hurt a bit. Like ouch. And it became a bit hard to breath. I slowed down. Took a sip of the room temperature water. But oh. Oh yuck. Water would not do. I eyed Don’s beer. He gets the message and passes it over. Oh yes, the beer was exactly what I need, crisp, cutting through the fat, chilly down my throat..Perfect. That was dessert.

Defeated by a circus of food, we surrendered, half the boudin tart untouched, and dangled into the night, at once sleepy and toasty from inside out, thanks to a newly formed layer of body fat. Blame it on murder by foie, blood sausages, mayo by the jar, buttered potatoes on an even more buttery base, and a triple kill of fried dishes.

Would I want to back? No, no, noooo. Am I glad we went? Oh yes. This one, very decadent visit, is enough.

Takes on Au Pied de Cochon:
Vagabondish: “Best. Meal. Ever. Period.”
Chuck Eats: “No Reservations”
Midnight Poutine: “From the Takeout Counter”
The Ethicurean
This is Gonna Be Good

Au Pied de Cochon
536 East Duluth
Montreal (Quebec)
H2L 1A9
(514) 281-1114