Posts Tagged With: microbrew beers

Bon Appetit, a la Quebec

Yes, I was one of those kids in elementary school that you rolled your eyes at in annoyance. I boiled with excitement at the announcement of any type of project that required research.  I could already visualize myself with a tall glass of cherry Kool-aid with golf ball-sized ice cubes, flat on my belly in my grandmother’s library. She had every issue of National Geographic from (seemingly) 1908 to present day. There were 32 sets of encyclopedias, yellowed newspaper clippings, atlases bigger than the console TV and Sally. Sally was my grandparents’ Great Pyreneese who doubled as a very comfortable, but heavy-panting bean bag chair.

In our familial library, I researched the Galapagos Islands to the extent that I could probably still beat Charles Darwin in Jeopardy on that category. I spent countless prone hours making footnotes and line drawings of blue footed boobies, tortoises, frigate birds and the mighty albatross. I studied the aurora borealis, Orion, the Amazon, the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot with PhD concentration.

I am still a mad researcher, especially when planning a trip—whether it’s the province beside us, the Congo or Angel Falls, Venezuela.

Two weeks ago, Kim and I went to the Ice Hotel in Quebec, and added a few extra days to absorb the romance and charms of Quebec City. She had never been, and my memories were rooted in a grade 8 trip that involved a maple sugar shack, a creepy church that had crutches and canes nailed to its walls from those who had been cured of their ills, and a snore trip to the Plains of Abraham. 

As the date approached, I flipped through a Lonely Planet guide and made note of the Artillery Park that housed the army barracks and ammunition factory that operated until 1964. The Cathedral of Holy Trinity seemed to be worthy of a drop in, just to see the oak pews imported from the Windsor Castle’s Royal Forest by two Brit military officers.

I refreshed my Canadian history lessons that had expired long ago. As a bigger fan of geography and art class (well, every class over history), reading about the Citadel was largely brand new to me. I shared all my findings with Kim. La Citadelle, built by the British, had cannons pointing at the river and Quebec City itself. There was fear of an American invasion coupled with a revolt by the French.

I made point form notes on the Eglise Notre Dame Des Victories, built in 1688 (the oldest church in Canada and the US). A wooden ship hangs on the ceiling as a good luck charm to those making ocean crossings.

And that was enough of the history. Who was I kidding? I had to research where and what we were going to eat! I sat myself down with a glass of Malbec and pulled up Frommer’s on Google.  Moving on to more serious matters, I tapped in: “Best place for poutine.”

Then I was on a tangent.

The L’inox had a Viking cranberry beer made with barley, wheat, local honey and cranberries.  A friend of a friend on Facebook insisted on the L’inox hot dogs. Hot dogs? I do a hot dog maybe once a year at a staff barbeque, and even then it’s mostly an emergency situation– so I don’t tip over from half a dozen beers . However, we did as we were told, except I thought we were supposed to have the hot dog at L’oncle Antoine’s, which we did. It was as long as my forearm, served on a buttered bun that somehow tasted exactly like a pogo stick, without the deep fry treatment.  After braving sub zero temperatures and a bitchy wind from the east (might have been the west, it seemed like it was coming from all directions, really), that hot dog was the best thing I’d eaten in a month.

Each day I pulled out “The List,” folded neater than a map in one of my pockets (often lost in one of those many pockets). I had listings for brioche with caramelized pears, elk with sautéed apples and leeks, duckling in maple syrup, the best pheasant and buffalo casserole, caribou in blueberry wine sauce, where to get yard long beers and spaghetti bolognaise, hot fresh crepes that tasted like clouds and dreams, the local secret “Epicerie de la Rue Coillard,” where to get strawberry basil truffles and a place that was gaga over all things maple syrup (Le Petite Cabane a Sucre du Quebec).

Kim was my perfect food adventurer sidekick. Even when it was snowing and blowing of Arctic proportions, and we needed snowshoes to traverse the city sidewalks, she was at my side, willing to walk three miles for a wild boar burger. Because Chez Victor had the best ones. They were so good we could hardly speak after our epic walk and thaw. We drank pints of Boreale stout and Griffon Rousse, embracing the local beer-making community and swooned over our burgs. I had a Cerf (venison) burger with pears braised in red wine. Kim found love in the Le Sanglier (wild boar) burger with brandied Portobellos and rosemary-maple mayo. Our plates arrived heaving with at least a pound of fries each. Hot, oily, salty and so sublime when dunked in more of the rosemary-maple mayo that came in a side dish.

I think we were still half-starved from our dinner the day before at Le Dijon. Prior to our stay at the Ice Hotel we thought French Onion soup would be a wise and O Canada-esque choice. And it was. But, the salad we decided to split came in a shot glass with a blade of grass shooting out of the top of it. Kim and I split the grass evenly and the smoked trout and scallops that were given a beauty treatment on the menu were more suitable for a sandpiper versus humans.

I think I ate that entire pound of fries, save for three or four.

Pre-trip notions that we would eat poutine and croissants on a daily basis actually fell through because we ran out of days to eat. But we did have a high roller pit stop at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac to take in two beers for $20. As a former Fairmont Royal York employee, it’s a bit of a pilgrimage for me. I feel obliged to visit any Fairmont in my radius and breathe in that old gentleman’s club feel of wood and polished brass.

We did attempt to see the Citadel, choosing a road that seemed to run parallel to it on the map. Indeed it did, but the map didn’t show the 50 foot cliff of Canadian Shield that split the road and the entrance. Again, it was Arctic conditions and we opted for the semi-roaring fire and warm hug of a pub called Le Pape Georges. The exposed stone walls and rustic feel transported us back to fur trader days when a day’s work required whiskey in the debrief.

A pint later, after a sunset ferry to Levi across the St. Lawrence and the bobbing ice floes, we found refuge at 1670, a swanky joint that prefers hushed voices and overly attentive staff ready to dab the corners of our mouths with napkins if need be. We found another fire to sit beside, this one a modern gas and ambient. We had been working on the caloric intake of our Pain Beni breakfast (located inside Auberge D’Armes, our fairy tale attic loft in the shadows of the Frontenac). Kim had an open-face Croque Monsieur with Bernaise sauce, as I embraced the pillowy French toast with strawberry preserves to be extra authentic while in Quebec City. It came with a side baton of bread pudding that tasted exactly like French toast, but without the mess of the syrup.

At 1670 we ordered half a carafe of a French white and the venison and rabbit stew. And I thanked Kim for not being a vegetarian. The stew was a perfect salve to a winter’s day in Quebec. Thick and sinfully rich, but unfortunately, doled out in prisoner rations. We went back to our hotel room and ate 600 pistachio nuts shortly after.

In our travels that day (a failed attempt to see the Church of Notre Dame), we re-routed in Place D’Youville and happened upon a lumberjack-shirted man who was all smiles and joie de vivre. And I now know why. He was serving up hundreds of miniature ice cream cones filled with maple butter and syrup. In heaven, this will be my breakfast food of choice. With bacon.

The cones swept me back to childhood days when we would buy less palatable versions for 25 cents. The maple syrup was usually a rock hard plug that made the cone disintegrate with a single bite. These? Perfectly executed.

We moved on to the Erico Choco Musee (chocolate museum, for those who are French as a forgotten high school language). Most of the tiny museum was in French (duh), but, the chocolate was in a universal language of decadent.  Kim had the Coccinelle with pacanes sautees au beurre dans un caramel a la fleur de sel. I praised my French teachers of yore, because I could translate that truffle! I opted for the Miquette with a puree de poires Bartlett et fromage de chevre (pear puree with goat cheese). We found another chocolate shop in a few hours and tried a lavender and Szechuan pepper dark chocolate. Which, as you might imagine, tasted like Nana’s bathwater with a hit of Vick’s Vapo Rub.

Of all our wanders, L’oncle Antoine’s was our favourite hideaway. The ambience was quintessential Quebec. A fire burning bright, story-telling stone walls and the world outside carrying on, but far from our thoughts. I had a Dieu au Ceil rye peppercorn beer that mimicked the sensation of swallowing tiny embers. Kim went for a blonde (beer), and we made quick work of that gourmet European hot dog.

I always believe that you should leave something to return to in a place. A reason to go back. And our reasons will be:

The Citadel (just because we should try again), the bison and duck burgers at Chez Victor, poutine at Chez Ashton and a flaky croissant, somewhere.

I’ll be sure to research that.

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Passport Please | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Tasting…1,2,3

I am like a dog, I need frequent rewards and treats to optimize my performance. The behaviour that warrants such treats has become a loose category that can only be defined under the broad terms of Generally Surviving a Day. August was a dizzy blur, and September has been a bit of a carnival ride too. When all that is familiar goes POOF, I find solace in the tastes and textures that I know well.

I moved from a culinary wasteland of chicken wing joints and worn-out restos that advertised Molson Canadian as a “speciality beer.” Upon arriving in Toronto, my must-eat list was already formed. I had already devoured the Toronto Life Restaurant Guide while exiled in the chicken wing territory of BC and had made educated dining decisions. The winning diners and bistros had been circled in red pen, and clearly, I had a lot of burgers to eat.

The Restaurant Guide has always been a bit of a biblical read for me and lends to reciting favourite passages out loud, like “the huevos divorciados are a sweet and spicy mess of fried eggs atop a chewy corn tortilla that’s smothered in salsa, guacamole and house-made ancho jam.” Or, this about the Globe burger–“the thick half-pound patty is pan-fried in clarified butter and supported by an all-Canadian cast:  Quebec curds, Niagara pancetta and mushrooms from Grey County.” This is the centrefold of food porn!

But first, let me reminisce about today. I needed a treat after running the Terry Fox 10K, and for sleeping on an unforgiving floor for the last month. I heard the Black Camel call my name, and in my sleep I said aloud, “I see pulled pork sandwiches.” Located skipping distance from the Rosedale subway station (4 Crescent Road at Yonge), the Black Camel would be the death of any feeble vegetarian. It’s a caveman’s oasis with slow-roasted beef brisket, roasted pulled chicken and the pulled BBQ pork shoulder (the Camel signature). For $7.00 you are offered your choice of meat (way more than the suggested deck of playing cards serving), plus two sauces and/or condiments. The Black Camel BBQ sauce with caramelized onions is the blissful marriage that the ever-helpful and smiley Eli sold me on, behind his shaggy bangs. But there’s more: chipotle mayo, Charamoula mayo (??), horseradish with enough inferno to give you a nosebleed, fontina cheese, sautéed cremini mushrooms, slow-roasted roma tomoatoes, eggplant and sweet red peppers.

The Black Camel keeps it simple and refined—focussing on basic sandwiches, chilli and coleslaw. This is not first date-quality food as the sandwich is abnormally big and drips like a leaky faucet. But, what a memory maker. I walked over to the park with a chilly Brio and ate in a stunned silence. The Brio, for those who haven’t experienced the Italian chinotto, is like a DNA mix-up of Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper. The soda is made from the bitter citrus fruit of the chinotto tree (which is also an essential component of the aperitif Campari), with quinine and other herbal extracts. So, it’s like an all-natural Coke.

And for an all-natural one-two punch follow-up, I rely on Marche Movenpick’s bircher muesli that is straight out of the Swiss Alps. The soaked raw oats are mixed with plain yogurt, shredded apple and elderberries. It looks like a mauve cat fur ball, but has become my go-to for a healthy hit. Because one cannot survive on pulled pork alone, unfortunately.

A week ago, after a night at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) with Dax and Kelly, oatmeal and eight glasses of water were required, stat. Dax and I had bravely ordered the $5 bacon with chocolate sauce after our deep-fried pogo stick entree. Not so surprisingly, the combo worked—that is, if you are a lover of sweet and savoury. My Brit friends Denny and Gillian are continually disgusted by my affection for “eggy bread” and maple syrup, or worse—sausage studded with apple and raisins. Lamb and mint jelly? An embarrassment to the lamb, for sure.

Another lovely, local sweet and savoury companionship that I immediately sought out in Toronto is found at The Garage Sandwich Company (Church St. at Wellesley). I check off the same vital ingredients on the cutesy menu order scripts every time: 7 grain bread, alfalfa sprouts, bacon, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado and honey mustard. Matched with a juniper soda, the Dagwood sandwich that requires toothpicks to hold its guts together is my death row request.

And moments before the dead-man-walking moment, I’d ask for an oatmeal raisin cookie from Le Gourmand on Spadina. The cookies are as big as Frisbees and could easily serve as a meal replacement (best paired with a Jet Fuel mochacinno–which leaves a beehive in your head with the detonation of the two shots of espresso).

For an equally furry head, the Bulldog (98 Granby street) whips up a frothy monster that is delivered as “The Bulldog Latte” for three bucks. The service is reliably snooty as the baristas have the bedside manner of jilted lovers (i.e.– not really caring what you want). But, the lattes are pretty and come with delicate fern designs in the foam.

When the coffee buzz buzzes off, C’est What? (67 Front street at Church) has set the bar for beer drinker palates with their hazelnut chocolate ale, caraway rye beer, coffee porter and the Homegrown Hemp Ale which is my old Beer Store standby.

The Local 4 Restaurant (4 Dundonald street at Yonge) provides a “warm, low-pressure venue for drinking, dining and relaxing.” They are vital supporters of Ontario and Quebec micobreweries and feature Church Key Brewing’s Holy Smoke beer which tastes like a mouthful of campfire smoke, minus the stinging sensation in one’s eyes (and jerky mosquitoes). They also serve the Absinteeni, that boasts a bold shot of absinthe (alcohol content of 45-74%, AKA “the Green Fairy”). Dax and I always scour the beer list, but fall prey to McAuslan’s apricot wheat ale every time. When we went for a near-midnight pint last week, one of the owners, Nancy Gilmour, surprised us with just-baked chocolate chip cookies at our table. Let me tell you, that bolstered our relationship with The Local 4 ten-fold. Side note: the sweet potato wontons and bourbon back ribs should be considered as aphrodisiacs.

And when oysters and truffles fail to bolster sexual desire, Greg Mahon of Greg’s Ice Cream, can make the most frigid, melt. The 14% butterfat content should make anyone weak at the knees, but the flavours are the most compelling: Grapenut, green tea and ginger, lime chiffon, mincemeat, chocolate banana chip, coconut pineapple rum, malt ball crunch and, wait for it, roasted marshmallow. The two scoops of roasted marshmallow provide all the best elements of camping, in a cup or a waffle cone, experienced in the urban comfort of Bloor street.

Petite Thuet (1162 Yonge) is another reliable sweet sanctuary. The salted caramel and pistachio macaroons ($2 each) are dangerously good. Chewy and laced with a butter icing middle, they made me hesitate in the middle of the sidewalk, selfishly contemplating more. The coffee éclair I bought for Dax vanished within moments of his return home from the gym.

And there’s more. My list gets longer with every issue of NOW, and the fall preview of Toronto Life issue. First up is The Great Pumpkin martini at Ceili Cottage (1301 Queen St. E.). As bar bitch Kevin Brauch tells T.O. Life: “My Charlie Brown-inspired cocktail mixes two spoonfuls of pumpkin puree with small-batch bourbon, a drizzle of raspberry puree, orange bitters and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Tastes best in a devil’s costume.”

Other top-of-the-list makers are The Hoof Cafe (923 Dundas St. W.) for serving up rabbit pancakes and the Gourmet Burger Co. (482 Parliament) has a 100% beef burger with an Australian injection—it comes topped with beets, a fried egg, pineapple, bacon, cheddar, mayo, lettuce and tomato. Hard to believe Aussies could create such a beautiful burger and roar over that Vegemite and Marmite crap.

Ten Feet Tall promises “lamb lollies” (meatballs on a popsicle stick) with a tart mint-yogurt-cucumber dipper. Amber has lobster quesadillas while Tutti Matti boasts house-made tortellini stuffed with squash puree in a sage butter sauce. Oh—and then there’s that place in Little Portugal that advertised chilled cherry soup that I have to locate again.

But tomorrow? I will eat at home, with my parents, and my mother will prepare something incredible with a glass of wine in hand. And this will be the best treat of all.

Categories: Eat This, Sip That | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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