Archives for posts with tag: canada

Why I love America: Mexican food.

My three favorite Spanish words: Carnitas, Lengua, Pastor.

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Why I love Canada: Asian food.

My three favorite Japanese words: Tobiko, Maguro, Maki.

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Sometimes, eating alone is sad. Sometimes, it’s not. When you’ve got three chefs and house-made charcuterie for company, not so much. I wondered where to go for my solo dinner in Montreal, debated a classic French meal at a famous bistro, a light vegetarian meal after the days of amazing indulgence (more on that later), but settled on Le Comptoir, only a 20 minute walk away and oh, just voted into the top 10 restaurants in Canada.

Crossed my fingers and called for a spot at the bar, got a harried yesofcourse, and trotted on down to Rue Saint Laurent. Took my spot at the bar, a ringside seat for the kitchen drama unfolding right there in front of me. Three chefs, one dishwasher, and an array of extraordinarily hip waitstaff diving and ducking and twirling around each other, plating perfect dish after perfect dish, carefully measuring out slices of sopressata, stacking bright tomatoes atop one another, calling out for service, whisking the food off to the awed spectators. I started with a glass of organic Greek red wine (number one reason I like Canada), chosen by my waiter and guide through the all-French menu scrawled up on the wall. Then a plate of charcuterie—a must, seeing as they make the stuff right downstairs.

Soppresata, fennel sausage, chorizo, pig’s head (Yes. And explained by my Francophone waiter, “This is of the pig’s whole head, cooked and chopped.” And yes, shockingly good.), and a little rectangle of terrine. With a healthy dab of house-made mustard, a couple perfect little pickles, and a big hunk of pickled fennel. Took me a while to work my way through all the pork, but I made it to the other side for my next blissful course: poelee de chanterelles, langue de porc braisee, mini raviolis a la puree de racine de persil. I could pick out “chanterelles” and “pork” and “ravioli” on my own, and I was pretty much sold. Then once I got the full translation and realized pork tongue was up for grabs, I was super sold. I love weird animal bits. If anything was to convince me of divinity in this world, it’d be foie gras. Sweetbreads make me want to sing, bone marrow makes me want to dance. I always, always go for the lengua from the sketchy taco trucks. Pig tongue at the 8th best restaurant in Canada? Yes please.

Another glass of wine, this one a French red, arrived along with my bowl of heaven, chosen and explained in great, kinda indecipherable detail by my very knowledgeable waiter. And then the braised tongue, incredibly tender and perfect alongside the earthy mushroom and rich sauce. (And I swear they were morels…or maybe it was all so good that I just went ahead an hallucinated an once more of goodness…) And perfect little raviolis, all in a sauce of the gods, topped with a very necessary cloud of greenery, just bitter enough to cut the richness of it all. I’m not a very slow eater, in fact, a little bit of a scarf-er, but I savored that dish for a very solid twenty minutes.

Added to the flavors of the plate and the perfectly-picked wine was the joy of watching the three cooks practice their craft; the pantry man careful and deliberate with his many many mixing bowls, the broiler-grill duo wielding hot pans, coloring plates with sauces, timing a million things in their minds. Such a delight to watch this goodness come into being, to watch people do something they’re really truly good at. And a tiny bit of melancholy envy, mostly of their focus and their clear satisfaction. I miss that little jolt of joy when you see a row of perfect dishes ready to enter into the world, made by your own hands. But I got over my little pang when I noticed that all the glorious chefs were sweating like mad, wiping their brows on dirty kitchen towels and sneaking sips of wine out of water glasses. Then I snapped back to reality and relished my position on the other side of the counter.

I hadn’t noticed the dessert menu drawn up on the wall behind me, and hadn’t planned on dessert, with my double pork, double wine meal. But they had panna cotta. Panna cotta, compote de pommes, a la feve tonka, puree de date, sable Breton aux pecans. Apples…dates…cookies…tonka? Not so sure. And it was explained to my little English-only brain, but it was loud and I was in a pre-panna cotta haze, so I just nodded. And maybe drooled. The panna cotta arrived in a little glass, just like Mom makes; just like how its supposed to be. Jelled cream topped with something fruity. Pure, bright bliss. I love panna cotta because it manages to be rich and refined. It’s straight cream, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s the girl you never knew was uber wealthy till you spied her beautiful shoes. It’s quietly decadent. It’s the best. “Was it what you were dreaming of?” my waiter asked. Yes, yes, yes. The pure creaminess cut with the warmth of the apple and date, the silkyness contrasted by the snappy sable. I lingered for a good while longer over my panna cotta and last little milliliters of wine, not wanting to leave the glow of the kitchen, of cooking, of good food, of people all delighting in creating and eating and drinking and savoring and sharing.

But here’s the walk home:

<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/67/1559072/restaurant/Plateau-Mont-Royal/Le-Comptoir-Montreal”><img alt=”Le Comptoir on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1559072/minilogo.gif&#8221; style=”border:none;width:104px;height:15px” /></a>

I finally had poutine! Poutine is to Canada as apple pie is to America. Poutine is a salt-bomb of fries, gravy, and cheese curds that originated in Quebec and has been adopted and adapted by every corner and culture in Canada. You can get Asian poutine at the izikaya down the street in Vancouver, topped with pork belly bits and miso gravy. Sweet potato poutine, vegan poutine, foie gras poutine (or so I hear.) But the real thing is to be found in Montreal, so when I got in from Vancouver at midnight and met dear Bali-friend Bari and her sweet friend Jaq, we declared it high time for a poutine outing.

So off to Eddie’s we went, a old-school late night diner, complete with plastic-lettered menu, formica tables, and droves of drunk people. I’d written off poutine as a slightly gross product of the coldness and boredom of the long Canadian winters, but I have to admit I was wrong. It is pretty dang good. Fat on fat on fat, where can you go wrong? Jaq, a true-Montrealer, said that Eddies poutine was illegitimate, that they broke the poutine code and put cinnamon in the gravy, which I think they certainly did. But still. Hello… cheesy fries with cinnamony gravy is still fries with cheese and gravy. I eat my words Canada, you have something good going here.

Unexpected sunshine > expected sunshine. Florida sunshine was undoubtedly wonderful, but November sunshine in rainy Vancouver BC is just about 1,000,000x better. No better feeling than waking up to sun streaming into your room when you were expecting dark greyness accompanied by rain tapping on the roof. And it gets better, going to a big beautiful farmer’s market still full of colorful, wonderful things, so late in the year and so far north. Started off the morning with a big (warm) cup of coffee–I love coffee part for the caffeine, part for the taste, but mostly for the warmth–and breakfast tacos. Yes, breakfast tacos. Smelled them from a block away. I’d read about Off The Wagon before I even moved to Van-land, but hadn’t actually experienced them till now. Nicole (best farmers’ market companion ever, buys not just produce but also baked goods and is really, really good at sharing) got yam and black bean, I got one yam n’ bean, one chorizo and egg.

Corn tortilla, topping, cucumber salsa, avocado. And a maybe-too-hearty of a dash of jalapeno sauce, if you’re me.  Perfect market-ing fuel.

Aside from the joy-inducing tacos, got crazy-looking romanesco broccoli, a watermelon radish (green on the outside, pink on the inside), kale (of course), beautiful little tiny heirloom tomatoes, and the best loaf of bread ever. Then on to the Vancouver Yoga Show, home of more yoga pants than you ever dreamed of. And lots of free samples of super groovy health drinks, and lots of good people watching. Vancouver: the land of November markets, late fall sun, and yoga.

I’m interning at the sweetest community garden project in Vancouver, The World in a Garden, and this weekend we had a lovely and surprisingly sunny harvest party. The sunshine busted through the weeklong wall of clouds and we were able to spend time in the garden, eating piles and piles of super-ultra-literally-just-picked-fresh kale and fragrant roasted garlic, drink cozy hot apple cider, chat with passerby (and get them on the kale train), sell blueberry jam and stewed tomatoes and honey from the garden tribe of honeybees, give garden tours with tiny people and grownups alike, get some wisdom from the Mayan gardeners from UBC, and listen to the Wheely Slow Cooking Tour, a charming little folk duo. The Wheely girls just got back from a summer tour around the farms of Canada, going wherever seemed right, staying with farmers and eating good, fresh food and writing songs about the earth and fields and food and home and goodness in general. We had a few kids in the garden, guessing the names of plants and digging up tiny carrots and beets, to their total delight.

The next day I was back out in the garden for another sunny day, the brightness countering the coolness. We have drop-in volunteer days on Mondays, and this Monday was particularly quiet, but there were a few visitors, one of which was an amazed little girl who walked around the garden, peeking under leaves at the colorful squash, peering up into blackberry bushes at the last few berries. “Wow, food comes from nature,” she said. I love that, and that’s why I love the garden. We should all know that, and more than just know it, wonder at it! Food comes from nature! And nature can be right smack-dab in the middle of a city, in a little garden nestled between old train tracks.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get an all-expenses-paid (unless you are a foodie with awesome foodie friends) trip to Ottawa, Canadia’s lovely capitol, to hang out with a bunch of other college students who are odd enough to be doing a study abroad in our upstairs neighbor country. I somehow finagled myself a nice little fellowship from the Killam/Fulbright people to come hang out in Vancouver and “foster international understanding” along with a bunch of other students shuffling across the border to Montreal and Los Angeles and all over the place, and this was our orientation. Sadly, as it once and for all confirms my ultimate nerdiness, going to an academic conference was shockingly fun. It’s actually is pretty fascinating to compare the States to Canada, and living in a place that’s so similar to home while being so different at the same time (it’s a whole ‘nother country, as it turns out) makes you notice the differences all the more. Like… the Queen is still in charge of this place, technically. And… they call their money “Loonies” and “Toonies.” Anyways, so here I am in Ottawa. Long-time readers might remember Jackie-Bari-Chelsie, the Canadian trio I met in Bali, where we kinda built a house and ate some very good and some very bad food. We sadly sadly sadly parted ways in Bali, hoping to see each other again somewhere, sometime in the great big world. And somehow, we have! We’ve all ran into each other, in New York, in Miami, all over. And luckily enough, Jackie lives right there in Ottawa and Bari only a train ride away! And the best part of all: these two lovely, much-missed girls are huge foodies. Though they fed us at the conference (surprisingly good food too, thanks Fulbright folk) I held off at most of the dinners because I had a much better dinner coming my way each night. Friday night was Whalesbone Oyster Bar, the most popular little seafood restaurant in Ottawa right this second.

Tucked into a long long skinny little space, the restaurant was jam packed with Ottawa-ites, chowing down on oysters. Seated right next to the open kitchen, our mouths kind of might have started watering right away. Then they brought us the best bread ever with (get this) brown butter. A big ol’ serving of nutty, caramely, brown butter. This may have rivaled the Campagnolo bread experience last week. This butter…. this butter. I can’t say anything else. If there is heaven, it is made out of brown butter. We finally narrowed down our order and got: chefs choice of 4 oysters, octopus, calamari, and sea bass. First the oysters, two simply raw and simply perfect, two poached in butter, nestled in a big hot pan of corn and prosciutto and… butter. Goodness.

Then the octopus, grilled with big hunks of melon and prosciutto. I’m a sucker for octopus (get it? ha. ha.) so I loved it. Cause I love everything. But good, and especially good with the sweet-salty melon-ham classic alongside. Then the calamari, old-school crispy with tart marinated zucchini and a crazy-good curry sauce. Mmm. And lastly the bass, with a big ol’ buttery braised leek, a pile of sweet corn, and a handful of salty chantrelles. My god, I love Ottawa. Eating really good food rocks. Eating really good food and talking about really good food while you’re eating the really good food? Aw yeah. So full and happy, we all made our way home, Bari anxious to get online and scope us out another restaurant.

The next day: Play, a rad little small-plates spot right next to Jackie’s apartment. After a painful deliberation process, we finally settled on the arctic char gravalax, bean and potato salad, zucchini gratin, rainbow trout, and meatball sub. Gravalax goodness, especially with the kickin’ little apple-ginger slaw and wasabi dressing. Purple potatoes and snappy beans plus bacon equals warmth and delight and yum. The zucchini tomato gratin, as simple as it was, might have been my favorite. I’m a major zucchini fan, and it was pretty perfect. (And served in a tiny little American Girl doll-sized cast iron pan…!!) The rainbow trout… I have a weird relationship with trout, post-trout-murdering. It was good, for being trout, but the caramelized carrots along with it were the stars. Meatball sub, mmm. Bread, eggplant, meatballs, barbecue chip bits. Then to top it all off: gelato. Ginger, raspberry, and oreo gelato. Delicious, heavenly, creamy gelato.

The next day, if you can believe it, we managed to squeeze in one more: Benny’s Bistro, touted as Ottawa’s best brunch. You walk in through a beautiful, aromatic little French bakery and your stomach instantly starts growling. Another good thing about Jackie and Bari: they are share-ers. I hate eating just my own dish. I am plagued with the worst order envy on earth. Sharing means: not having to decide on one dish, not coveting thy neighbor, and being able to all gush about how good every single little thing is. And: it lets you get french toast annnnd salmon for breakfast. French bread, French restaurant, all signs pointed toward The Best French Toast Ever. True. Topped with a little cinnamony cream, peach compote, and tiny little blueberries. Alongside our other bfast: fingerling potato salad, arugula, salmon gravlax, sunnyside-up egg. Sweet joy, salty joy. Then we walked it off in the the Byway Market (Ottawa’s less nuthouse-y Pike Place) and kept right on talking about food.

There was one more food experience of note (yes, really.) Another perk of the smart-kids-go-to-Canada deal: cocktail party at the American ambassador’s (gigantic) house. We all dressed ourselves up and went out to the fancy diplomat ‘hood. Everyone filed in and shook Mr. Jacobson’s (that’s Mr. Ambassador to you) hand, and I think I might have gotten a tiny bit nervous and thus a tiny bit ultra perky and said something like “Potato state!”

(Of course I saved my invite, I’m treasuring it forever.) Aside from the interesting conversation and awesome house gawking, there were some stellar hors d’oeuveres. (I definitely just had to google that spelling….) A few other ultra-clever girls and I camped out all nonchalantly beside the kitchen doors, assuring our first pick of the snick snacks. One of the best: Jack Daniels shrimp. Sounds so weird, was so good. Spicy, sweet, roasty, creamy shrimp. Probably the Americans’ signature thang for all the cool Ambassador shin-digs I’m sure they have. “Invite the Americans, they always bring those awesome shrimp.” Also: salmon atop petite little purple potatoes, crab cakes perched on cucumber rounds with tiny basil leaf hats, surprising salt and pepper tofu, and perfect little steak cubes wedged between bright onion. The perks of nerdiness. Ottawa: A plus all-round.