Wednesday, December 23, 2009

i got my wish

we spent an inordinate and borderline unseemly amount of time holed up in our b&b...but how could we not? the place had a SECRET doorway! the b&b consisted of two buildings bridged by a secret door (hidden by a wardrobe on one side and a giant painting and faux potted plants on the other) that opened and shut when you trigged a motion sensor with your hand. i wish we had gotten video of was aces. they also had a billiards table so we did a lot of that and playing team trivial pursuit which is kind of the worst game on the planet. you try naming the 7 wonders of the ancient world. good luck! the b&b was called victorian heritage b&b - the breakfasts were of the dreaded (to me) continental variety, but they did feature freshly squeezed tangerine juice and one of the best fruit cups i've ever had in my life. it was also a really decent price and centrally located. i really really love my b&bs when they're all old-fashioned looking and appointed thusly. it really contributes to the impression that you're "away" somewhere.

on our way down we hit st. hubert's in cornwall, which was an extraordinarily good call by me. st. hubert's DESTROYS swiss chalet's sorry butt. the sauce! plus, the lunch meal deal is a steal (see what i did there?) you get unlimited coleslaw, bread, and sauce, AND dessert (in my case a too-sweet and underbaked tasting pouding chomeur. the dotytron ordered more wisely and got a light as air vanilla cake with a sticky maple-y caramel topping.) exhorted to by dr. rei, the dotytron ordered the chicken à la king - with mashed potatoes. when he put in the mashed potatoes ordered, apparently i mouthed the words, "WHAT THE F**K???" so clearly formed that i might as well have said it out loud. i can't help it! i'm a purest. when i go to a place, i zero in on the thing they do the best, and order THAT. i don't go off-list, the way dr. rei and the dotytron like to. that's like going to a philly cheesesteak place and ordering the burger. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

our first night we ate at kitchen galerie. the conceit of the place is that it's market-influenced cuisine, prix fixe, with a choice of appetizer, main, and dessert - the big reveal is that THERE ARE NO WAIT STAFF. the chefs do all the serving, wine pouring, AND the cooking. bwong was a little skeptical, to say the least - and i would say that i don't think it came off successfully, at least not in the kitchen galerie format. when i say the words prix fixe to you, i'm sure you think as i do - that there's going to be a set price (say, $80) for a 3 courses and a limited card from which to choose (in paris, the number was generally 3-4 choices in each category). at kitchen galerie, EACH MAIN was priced differently, and included a choice of 3 unappetizing sounding starters (like creamed onions ?!!???) - you could add on additional starters (anything involving foie, oysters) for an ADDITIONAL price. it was very confusing and kind of threw us into a tizzy. our anxiety was further ratcheted up by the chef coming by and (naturally) trying to up-sell us on the MOST expensive add-on, the whole lobe of roasted foie, at $80 to share.

i also question just how market influenced the menu is. they're right next door to jean-talon market, but the menu looked like it was pretty standardized. also, we were served baby beets and that's a summer thing. the food was good...i had one of their signature dishes, a potted foie that's cooked in the steam of the dishwasher, served with a wine-y gelée and brioche.

i loved this, but that's a bit misleading because i've never had a POOR foie dish. the dotytron got the foie parfait, which was lighter, kind of whipped and more mousse-like. at the server/cook's suggestion (conflict of interest!) we got the rib eye for 2, which came with transcendently light garlic mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables and a way too anise-y tarragon jus. they practically threw a whole bunch of tarragon in there. i thought the dish as a whole was too round - we needed some acid or something to cut through the grease. also, the roasted vegetables were coated in a slick of fat - which wasn't pleasant.

i was also pissed because i like to order my rib eyes medium - generally, when i'm being an a** i say, "medium, but on the rare side of medium, please" because rib eyes have a LOT of fat and medium rare doesn't get the fat hot enough - you end up with globules (this is the case when i'm eating it grilled, if it's served prime rib roasted-style, i like it to be medium-rare (but on the medium side of!) ANYWAY, the cook/server was all like, "i'd recommend it medium-rare, because we trim all the fat and with this cut it's really at it's best when it's medium-rare" so i changed my order, and when it came out, IT WAS MEDIUM (and on the medium side of medium). listen you shoemaker, we served a LOT of beef at bymark and while i was never the one doing the cooking, i knew what my meat colours were supposed to look like and THAT, sir, is no medium-rare! it's also super-hard to give honest feedback when it's the CHEF coming out to the table - you really need another layer of mediation between the customer and the cook, i feel.

the desserts were lacklustre. nothing really that i particularly enjoyed. the vanilla creme brulée was way more milky than creamy/eggy, the banana bread pudding was dense and cold (i like my bread pudding to either be quiveringly under-done, or bready and soused with sauce - i'm not a fan of the "uniform brick of custard" school of bread pudding) and the apple crumble was uninspired.

overall, it worked out to about $70/per person for apps, mains, and dessert and a bottle of wine. the place is touted as having really good value for the price - i agree. i think i would like it more if they did the math and just CHARGED you the price of the highest cost of what's on the menu (say, $70) and then made it a true prix fixe. instead, they kind of set the cost of the LEAST amount you can pay (and make it unappetizing - creamed onions?!?) and then have all these add-ons for extra. too much! either make it prix fixe or à la carte - not some weird hybrid. i think if i had gone in knowing that, i would have enjoyed it more - but it wasn't anything to write home about.

the next day we woke up and met up with my montreal friend I for brunch at the sparrow. oh, love! could i love this place any more? it's a vaguely hipster-y (but not really. not like in the toronto sense) gastro-pub in mile-end. warm, cozy, frequented by patrons of all ages and persuasions (in this way it's not much like the hipster spots of toronto). another thing i love about montreal - brunch is NOT a competitive sport. we got there at 11 and were seated shortly thereafter. there wasn't an insane line of people. also, montreal is fantastic for splitting the bill. it's like, no big deal. try asking for your bill to be split in toronto - good luck! much eye-rolling will ensue and you'll feel like you've just asked the server to separate all your food into self-contained dishes by salty, sour, bitter, and sweet. the sparrow has an interesting british-influenced brunch card FILLED with things you want to eat. you literally want to eat the world. and taxes and refillable coffee is included! and the service is impeccable - bwong sloshed some of his coffee onto his saucer and our server replaced it without a thought.

we shared a plate of the custard-filled beignets. delightful. then i had the deviled kidneys on watercress and toast, which they give you the option of adding a poached or fried egg to (i added 2 poached). so very tasty. i LOVE kidneys and they're mad underrepresented in the cooking world. what a fantastic breakfast. it reminded me of that braised duck heart, arugala, and shaved parmesan on toast dish we had at the publican in chicago (another gastropub). the dotytron had the english breakfast which came with one of the best representations of blood sausage i've ever encountered. faintly metallic, filled with subtly spiced rice and grains - it was a revelation. i could have eaten a plate of just the sausage topped with a fried egg.

after tearing ourselves away (reluctantly), we walked around I's neighbourhood and stopped for a late afternoon snack of hot chocolate at juliette et chocolat.

the dotytron got a bittersweet chocolate from their hot chocolate menu (they're famous for their hot chocolate), served "grandma style", which means it's thicker and more unctuous and not cut with as much milk. his was 70% cocoa solids, a bitter, acidic, tangy, fruity mouthful. i got the milk chocolate at 40% cocoa solids - rich and soothing with still a fair amount of brightness. not the cloyingly sweet stuff you usually find.

we headed back to the b&b to play a million rounds of billiards and prepare ourselves for dinner at au pied de cochon. we managed to shoe-horn bwong into our reservation - what a space! it's a raucous, jolly, warm-wood, tiny-kitchened little thing, packed full of foodhounds and carousing quebecois. i was mentally prepared. the dotytron and dr. rei and hanbo insisted on hitting the bread like n00bs, but i didn't want bread taking up valuable real estate in my belly. the appetizers were so freakin' good.

(forgive the photos, the white balance on my camera was le wack - the good news is i've figured out the manual settings). from the top, we have the foie gras poutine, a fantastic dish (again, how do you go wrong with foie?) marred by the fact that by the time it came to the table, it was tepid. then you have dr. rei's tongue dish - thick, meaty slabs of tongue braised to tenderness anointed with some vinegary sauce and served over toast. the dotytron got beef tartare, served sushi style in nori which added a nice fishy umami to the slightly spicy beef. i got the fried pig's ear's (basically pork rinds) which were little delicate puffs of pig fat (much better than the unwieldy publican style of the same dish). hanbo got a foie mousse of some sort and then bwong had the head cheese croquettes special - quite possibly my favorite. little cubes of head cheese breaded and fried and served with a sauce gribiche. i loves me a sauce gribiche.

for the mains, the dotytron got the pig's foot stuffed with foie. bwong and i shared the pig's head for two, which came with brains in situ AND eyeballs, both of which we tried, AND a lobster rammed into the pig's mouth, which was vomiting a pool of mashed potatoes. it's all kinds of awesome. when the waiter informed us that the pig's head came with lobster on that particular evening, he felt the need to add - "i've never seen that before." lol! the bad part was, that the dotytron FAINTED.

here's how it went down. it was kind of warm and a little claustrophobic in there. the dotytron has been nibbling away at his pig's foot (unrelated, but useful for posterity: it was breaded) then he said, "i'm really full guys" then he pushed himself away from the table. then a few things happened simultaneously. dr. rei asked him, "are you okay?" he said, "no." dr. rei said, "guys! he said he's not okay!" i said, "I KNEW IT. I TOLD YOU NOT TO EAT THE BREAD." and then he crumpled to the floor. it was a really graceful fall - as bwong said, it was like an old man easing himself into a tub. i leaned over at him prone on the floor and looked into his now open eyes and asked, "are you okay?!?" and the dotytron said, "yes." and then with the help of a nurse who happened to be eating there, we got him into a chair and he stuck his head between his legs and drank some water and we put a cold wash cloth around his neck. then i hustled him outside and he got some cold, fresh, air and i made fun of him for a bit and then we headed back to the b&b (first i went back into the restaurant to tell the guys we were heading back and i stuffed myself with a lobster tail). CRAZY, huh? the dotytron used to faint as a kid but it hadn't happened since he was 15. it was kind of scary.

so i got him into bed and goosetang came back with 2 sugar pies for 2 and i went down to meet them and then went back upstairs to check on the dotytron. i leaned over him in the bed. he was fast asleep. i farted. i asked him, "hey buddy, are you okay?" and he kind of half-awakened, wrinkled his nose, and said, "it stinks!!" and i asked, "what stinks?" and in his still-asleep state, he identified, "something!" and then fell back asleep. lol! this story makes me laugh every time i revisit it. he contends that it was disingenuous for me to ask "what stinks?", all innocent-like as if i didn't know that it was ME, who stunk.

anyway, APDC is the best deal in town. with all that food, the bill was under $400 for five people, 6 drinks, 3 courses each, including tax and tip. WHAT THE HELL? it was well under 4 hunny, too. like, it was $380 at the end of the day.

i've written too much. i'll finish recounting the remainder of our time spent there tomorrow. today i've got to do some house cleaning, some xmas dinner baking, and picking up the food we ordered from the mennonites.


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