Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Carte Blanche

Hey guys! Back in November ...
*Record scratches*
- Did you say November?
- Yes I did.
- The hell took you so long?
- My mind was elsewhere.
- Yeah whatever.

Every year around that time many restaurants are participating in event named MTL À Table. The concept is simple : the participating restaurants suggest two or three Table d'hôte menus for a reduced price. The idea is to encourage people to discover new places or specialties specific to the place.

In 2014 we gave Decca 77 a try so in 2015 we decided to give Restaurant Carte Blanche a shot. Some of us don't drink ... and some do. When we got there, Khoa and I realized it was a BYOW and bolted to the nearest SAQ in the Gay Village to grab a bottle. We knew we were going to have kangaroo and lamb so we tried to choose wisely.

After running back like mad men in the snow we finally sat down in the restaurant while our friends gave us the look of disapproval. Fortunately the waitress hadn't taken their orders yet so we were safe. The light was really dim, perfect for a dinner between close friends or for at least a third date.

I really enjoyed how the glasses were personalized for the restaurant. It doesn't cost much money but sometimes investing in the small details can make a difference (restaurant owners take note).

And speaking of the little details, my friends made me take this picture of the salt and pepper shakers. Because apparently they are cute. I'm not sure how I feel about getting seasoning from the mouths of two small persons hugging though ...

We had a lot to choose from and thought it would only benefit us to go for different things so everyone could have a taste of everything. Honestly I'm just selfish and will go for whatever I like. My strategy is purely self oriented when it comes to food.

Some of us decided to go for a Yukon gold soup with wild mushrooms flavored with truffle.

Others went for the red tuna tartar with cilantro, white sesame seeds, and a light maple dressing. It was also served with a small spring mix salad on the side with Parmesan shavings.

And some of us (I'm one of them) decided to go for the foie gras and smoked duck magret sliders served on brioche buns.

These were all quite good as entrées. The quantities were not outrageous but we didn't feel like we were getting robbed either.

The soup was not too hearty, even quite light for a potato soup. The mushroom and truffle really gave some nice nutty notes to it. However the presentation could have been better. It looked a bit like they tried making something that would usually look plain look more interesting but instead the scattering of herbs and the checkers pattern with the cream didn't seem to want to work with each other.

The tartar tasted quite good and fresh even though it may have been a bit small even for an entrée. The salad however didn't match in terms of flavors with the tartar. Something with Asian flavors would have been more appropriate because of the cilantro, sesame, and maple dressing.

The foie gras sliders were a good choice. They were pan fried, maybe a tiny bit under cooked (but not enough to make a fuss about it). However I would have put a little bit less confit onions. Foie gras is delicious with any type of sweet but I still want the foie gras to be the main star. The smoked duck magret was also good, slightly ticker than what you may be used to find in pre-packaged form.

Then the mains came. This time we were a bit more impressed.

The most beautiful plate was definitely the mustard and rosemary braised lamb shank. There were roasted vegetables and a potato purée on the side.

Some of the carnivorous ones picked the grilled kangaroo filet served with a blueberry reduction. It also came with roasted beans, potatoes, carrot, and tomato.

The third choice was maple glazed salmon, sushi style. It also came with a side of roasted chopped vegetables tossed in a bit of oil.

The lamb shank was falling off the bone and the rosemary and mustard were actually an unexpectedly good combination of flavors. The vegetables were quite basic and I would have gone for micro roasted vegetables instead of the lone piece of carrot and the mashed potato.

The kangaroo filet had a very gamey flavor to it and was tougher to cut through and eat. We were kind of expecting this from such a muscular and active animal. The blueberry reduction was really good because it wasn't too sweet. The vegetables had the right crunch but their presentation was a bit sad looking.

The maple glazed salmon tasted really good and was moist, but the combination didn't quite physically hold together (Rio just ate them with his hands because they would fall apart). The presentation also was lacking something in the details.

For desserts, we were given two choices.

The first choice was a while chocolate mousse with maple crumble and fresh berries. It came in a very cute fitted lid jar.

The second choice were a trio of small desserts, which the waitress identified but I unfortunately can't remember them.

The mousse was both pleasing to the eyes and to the palate. The ones who chose it said it was the best part of the meal. Smooth, soft, simple yet good.

The trio of desserts was rather disappointing. I mean they weren't bad, but the plate chosen to present them simply wasn't the right one and didn't do them justice. Instead it make them weird to look at and to eat. They kind of fit together because there was some of a theme going on, but they didn't seem to work together as a trio, more like "I can't quite make up a choice so I'll just have what I can".

And so that was it for that night. We had a lot of fun, but each plate that was presented to us (except for the chocolate mousse) could have been improved, mostly visually. The food had great potential but the presentation and certain choices of sides didn't do justice to the main ingredients in the courses and didn't seem to complement them, but instead looked like they were there to fill a void because you can't serve an empty plate to a customer.

I've heard great things about that place so perhaps we weren't that lucky that night. However you could give it a try and let me know how it went for you. I just wish they put a little more thought into the choices of sides and the presentation of the dishes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Le Comptoir Mael

Hey guys! A little while ago I had the chance to try out a place that's opening right there right now in Montreal. Le Comptoir Mael is the perfect spot in Rosemont to grab a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), a smoothie, and much more, whether for lunch or even breakfast.

The concept of Mael is pretty straight forward : you grab and you go. You know how as young professionals we often struggle to find food that's tasty, healthy, and easy to eat? If you know me you know how much I love cooking and yet I hate packing lunch. It's a hassle. It takes space and it's time consuming. There's a whole planning involved when making lunch. Eating out often means grabbing something that's not always quite fresh or that costs an arm and a leg. And don't even mention being unhealthy 90% of the time.

But Mael isn't that kind of place. If you are familiar with banh mi you know how easy to transport and to eat it is. What these guys do is they've mastered four recipes and they provide you with fresh banh mi made right in front of you. And because they don't go all over the place with a dozen recipes, you know the ingredients they use are fresh because they don't need to order enormous amounts of meat and vegetables.

What's Mael? Actually, Mael is the story of three guys : Tony, Nam, and Tomo, who've known each other for quite many years now.
"So how did you guys meet?"
"Oh we go way back ... we met in Vietnamese school."
I knew there was Chinese and Cambodian school, now I know there is Vietnamese school.

But being good friends isn't the only thing that keeps them together : their love for food, sports, and fitness, also accounts for the strong bond between them.

After a trip back from Toronto earlier this year, the guys thought to themselves "Let's open our joint". So they put together their money and savoir-faire and they came up with the idea of a counter. Even though Nam already has a lot of experience with the bar tending and catering industries, they wanted to focus on one goal : providing healthy food at an affordable price.

But why the banh mi? Vua is doing it, certain joints in Chinatown and Côte-des-Neiges are doing it, even certain Asian grocery stores have a section of ready-made banh mi.

"We are the only place in Rosemont that does it fresh, in front of you. Also, we wanted to modernize this food staple that's part of our culture and encourage people not familiar with it to discover it."

With an unique recipe like kimchi beef (which you can see in my hand, their bestseller) some parents may think this is a perverted way to make banh mi. However this fusion makes the die-hard fans like me challenge their palate to something they didn't think of before, and also encourages new fans to try something different from pre-packaged sandwiches.

I tried all sandwiches and I thought to myself "Yep these are good". The marinated vegetables are crunchy, the cilantro is fresh, the baguette has the right crisp, and the sauces make it quite enjoyable. Man I hate biting into a dry banh mi, but that ain't one.

While they were making the sandwiches, I peeked through the open kitchen and saw the guys handling the food with gloves and cleaning the working surfaces. Now I know a lot of people don't care ... but I do. I cringe a lot when I step foot into a fast food joint and realize the ailments are not handled correctly. This not only made me feel safe, it also made me gain even more respect for the guys because they have respect for their customers.

I mentioned earlier something about smoothies ... because yes, if you're not in the mood for a banh mi, you can grab a smoothie to go, either in a cup or a mason jar (yay for eco-friendly freaks like me).

But what's so special about their smoothies? Well these guys are a lot into sports and fitness. Like competition level. So they came up with recipes that pack a bunch of good things for you. The original recipes don't use protein powders, but with ingredients such as chia seeds or peanut butter, you can get something that will fill you up.

The smoothies are made fresh, right in front of you. Because they're smoothies and not extracted juices, you still get all the fibers from the fruits without the free sugars. They do add certain spices for taste and vitamins, but no added sugar. The colors are also natural and the products do not contain any preservatives. The list of ingredients is also available so you do not have to worry about what's inside!

But really the cherry on top is ... ca phe sua da. To go. In a mason jar. If you don't know what that is, it's Vietnamese iced coffee. Only in restaurants or at friends' homes have I seen it made with the actual individual brewer. In certain places when you take it to go it's a pre-made mix they pour into a cup. The guys do it the traditional way and only mix it when you order it.

I'm actually thinking about having my iced coffee only that way from now on ... because I believe it's one of the best ways.

But hey, guess what. All this will be officially available starting this Saturday September 17th. They're waiting for you at their grand opening and I honestly think you should give this place a try. I find it truly admiring to see young people passionate about something get together to give birth to such a project, modernizing something that's been part of their lives while staying true to their roots. People of Rosemont, ditch the junk food and the pre-packaged stuffs, and let Mael be your new fast food. Your body will deeply thank you.

And so that's it for now folks. See you around!
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