Showing posts with label REVIEWS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label REVIEWS. Show all posts

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Authentic Greek Puff Pastries aka Lou'kou'ma'des at Mr Puffs Pastry in Montreal


Does your shop scream 'Authenticity'?  If yes, chances are you're starting on the right foot and you are on your way to a flourishing business.


Whether we like it or not, genuine, veritable and real are terms that have been integrated deeply into our subconscious minds since our childhood and that we continue to embrace to this day.  "Authentikós" is the Greek word equivalence to original, genuine and principal which all share the sense of actuality and lack of falsehood or misrepresentation.


When was the last time you appreciated someone who was 'fake'?  I doubt that anyone would welcome with open arms a 'fake' friend.  As human beings, we're all naturally drawn to people who are real and remain true to our eyes for the main reason that these persons often turn out to be reliable and trustworthy.  Being in the presence of positively genuine individuals help us grow by creating a need for us to remove the "mask" we've been wearing all our lives to impress or to be liked by others.  Essentially, we slowly learn to accept ourselves.  As such, it is a phenomenal step forward if you're already starting to take little steps towards that personal goal.


What does it all mean in the business world?    If you remain truthful with yourself, odds are that unquestionable trait will undoubtedly reflect in the way you run your shop.  Your business will be one that is sincere, unique and difficult for customers to disregard.


Authenticity is the word that would best describe Mr Puffs Pastry's delicacies and service. Billy and Marina who are the husband-and-wife team running their bakery, have just celebrated Mr Puffs Pastry One Year anniversary last December 21st, 2011.


Their idea is to introduce their Greek delicacies to North Americans. These delicacies are also known in Greek as Lou'kou'ma'des.  They are small mini doughnuts or "beignets" as we say in French, made with all the good stuff.  Their small shop has a welcoming aura that makes foodies and newcomers to keep coming back for more.  Let's face it, a successful start-up place like theirs is all about quality of products and exceptional customer service.   Billy and Marina's team has definitely nailed it.  You'll see these qualities in the short clip below and the review I wrote further down in this post.




We invite you to comment on this video as Mr Puffs Pastry would love to meet you and to hear from you as well.




My visit to Mr Puffs Pastry - Review


Mr Puffs Pastry is situated in a somewhat obscure strip mall located in the northern outskirts of Montreal.  You can count on a good 30 minute drive by car from downtown Montreal, without traffic, to reach their shop.   It's worth the ride.  The best time to avoid crowds and long line-ups is during lunch time.  Their puffs are often purchased after work for pick-up orders to be served as a dessert or a late snack.  They're also a hit at family and corporate dinner parties.   Ordering in advance is the best way to have your fresh batch nicely packaged and ready for your special event.

First impressions:
When fellow foodie Tony first told me about these decadent puffs, I automatically pictured mini Dunkin Donuts or Tim bits. With his insistence that the puffs were nothing like the doughnuts from the big chains, I was finally convinced to go.  Along with other fellow foodie Farah, we drove there one Thursday early afternoon to check the place out.  To our pleasant surprise, we were relieved to see that Mr Puffs Pastry did not have the typical look of a big franchise, but rather appeared secluded, despite its vivid orange banner and signs.  It made me want to check it out more.



The ambiance:
As we walked in, we immediately felt welcomed.  It may perhaps be that the place is very small which  accommodates three small tables indicating that their business is more of a take-out place than a sit-in coffee/snack shop.  I was amazed by how the place was well ventilated.  The air didn't smell greasy.   Their concept is that of an open space where everyone can see everything the staff does for the business.   There is definitely no hiding as their work station is visible to all customers as soon as they set foot in the shop.  We all dig the "what you see is what you get" concept.

The staff:
Billy and Marina are the opposite of being pretentious.  In fact, they're so grounded that they instantaneously make strangers feel like they're part of their community.  What did strike me the most about their philosophy on running the business is the fact that they love sharing any information on how their business started and on how it operates.   Their show-and-tell approach allows them to easily build customer relations. Within one short year, they were able to create strong and durable relationships with their loyal clientele.  As mentioned, it's not a chain but they do intend to expand their business by maintaining the same customer satisfaction.

The service:

I need not to repeat how exceptional their service is.  Oh, I guess I just did.   The Mr Puffs Pastry team wants to make sure it reaches out to as many people as possible in Montreal to show the world how amazing their puffs are.  How do they achieve that ambitious goal?  They go Mobile!  That's right, you heard me. With a fantastic functional trailer equipped with all the necessities to make fresh puffs, they're able to market their product to whichever place the party is held. If you miss a bright orange trailer with a slapped-on logo of an olympian mascot, you may want to get your eyes checked. Believe me, they do go to most major events held in Montreal, like the Grand Prix, to thrive.  Their hard work does pay off and needs to be applauded. 


The puffs:
At first glance, they look exactly like mini Dunkin Donuts or Canada's Tim Bits, which are both heavy in texture and overly sweet.  Once you've popped one puff pastry in your mouth, you are sold and immediately swear to never look back at the chains' fatty doughnuts, ever.   The puffs are:

  • dairy free
  • egg free
  • peanut free
  • preservatives free
  • yeast-risen as opposed to cake-based, therefore lighter in texture and in calories
  • fried in pure canola oil


Because of its lighter texture, the inside is moist and fluffy. Whereas the outside is crispy.  It simply melts in your mouth. You'll never see that with a Tim bit.   As a taste test, we brought two huge batches back to the office without letting anyone know where the puffs came from.  Within 30 minutes the two boxes were nearly empty.   Most of our colleagues, who love Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts, could not believe the crispiness of the puffs.  Mr Puffs Pastry had passed the taste test!

The price:

Prices are very reasonable for the quality of the puffs you get.  You may consult Mr Puffs Pastry website here for more details.

Luscious Café Frappé made with coffee, sugar, ice and milk. Out of this world!
If you have never tried Mr Puffs Pastry, we urge you to pay them a visit without further ado.
Or if you are a regular customer, we would love to hear from you about your experience at Mr Puffs Pastry.  Don't be shy to comment!


Bon appétit!



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Laurier Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Montreal, worth the wait?

Laurier Gordon Ramsay restaurant
Most montrealers who gather around a table to relish a good meal and conversation with friends are most likely not star-truck by celebrity-run restaurants. They'll be going to a restaurant mainly to discover new dishes, new flavours, or to simply eat good food with great company. If you categorize yourself as one of the forementioned restaurant-trotters, Laurier Gordon Ramsay's new and hip restaurant might not be for you. On the other hand, if you are merely curious or, even more so, a loyal admirer of the 12 Michelin Star celebrity, and want to see what fuss Chef Ramsay has brought about one of the liveliest streets of Montreal's plateau area, then this family eatery is a must-try.

After reading so many mixed reviews on the newly vamped and hyped up establishment, from both longtime regulars and new customers of the new Rotisserie joint (formerly known as Rotisserie Laurier BBQ before its highly-publicized acquisition), I decided to go and judge for myself yesterday. It was a beautiful Friday evening and as clearly warned by reviewers, the place does fill up quickly at its dinner opening hour. If you beat rush hour traffic and can rapidly grab a parking spot to avoid the anticipated line up of people, you can get a table in no time. If you're a little late like we were, you'd be lucky to have a 45 minute wait. Otherwise, two hours is plenty of time for you to take a stroll around the area or to get into your social media frenzy with your iPhone. Luckily, the place is located in a groovy neighborhood filled with quaint boutiques and charming little cafés and restaurants. One of the hostesses was pleasant enough to let us know that we could walk around during our 45 minute wait but to make sure to come back at least 5 minutes before our table was ready. My friend and I were both getting very hungry, but thankfully the local stores quickly engaged our attention. In fact, we were enjoying our window shopping so much that we had lost track of time. We rushed back to the rotisserie before losing our spot and got back just in time.

*My views on Laurier Gordon Ramsay are purely objective and subject to the level of my hunger, which on a scale of 1 to 10 was 10! So I was hungry, but remained impartial*

First Impressions:
The entrance of the place is very crisp and clean with a european country flair. From afar, the white walls with the contrasting dark grey window frames and the huge metallic rooster on the roof top all stand out from the neighbouring buildings . In other words, you really can't miss it. Yet its 'Old-Montreal'-architect-style seems to blend seamlessly well with the rest of the street's decor.

The Staff:
An experienced restaurateur will have a good system in place to run the place smoothly and efficiently. The hostesses and waiters' professional demeanor immediately reflected the owner's engagement towards customers. They were all genuinely friendly and had a good knowledge of the menu. We were lucky to have a waiter with a good sense of humour. He started pronouncing too quickly an item on the menu by saying 'freakin' chicken, when his intention was to say fries and chicken. Hence, the reference of 'freakin' chicken in my tweets. What can I say, the effect of serving such lovely customers as ourselves! Although I couldn't help wondering how the employees were hand-picked by such a renowned temperamental individual. Was there an ad on the paper or a casting call? Being a foodie at heart, the restaurant business is still one of the few things I would really enjoy doing in my lifetime. Who knows what life has in store for any one of us!



apologies for the blur - old camera which I dropped a couple of times accidentally

The Food:
For a foodie always on the lookout for a new gourmet experience, the food has got to be extraordinary. In other words, it's the key ingredient to a successful restaurant. It needs to become a place where you would want to go back for more. I ordered the chicken. After all, it is a rotisserie. My friend ordered the smokey ribs.

Chicken, fries and sauce:
Pleasantly enough, I found the chicken to be well cooked and adequately seasoned. The skin was golden and crispy and the meat was well cooked, moist and juicy. Flavour wasn't missing, but my quarter chicken wasn't too salty either, which I liked. Unlike the reviews I read from longtime customers, I didn't find the fries nor the sauce to be too sweet. The fries were fresh and golden brown with a nice tinge of barbecue flavour, just like BBQ chips! That was a nice surprise! The sauce was actually excellent. Since it was my first time at that rotisserie, I have no comparison to make. BBQ sauces I've tasted in the past from other local rotisseries, like the popular St-Hubert or Swiss Chalet, are often too thick, gooey and salty. Laurier GR's sauce had a nice light velvety texture with a subtle tang. It's the sauce reviewers were raving about. In any respect, I very much enjoyed my meal but it didn't knock off my socks either.

Smokey Ribs:
My friend had given me a piece of the ribs she ordered. We were both disappointed. The meat was dry and didn't fall off the bones like it would from a nicely prepared set of ribs. The sauce was too sweet and didn't add any moisture. We wouldn't recommend it.

Poutine:
Though we were tempted to order it, we had no room! A fellow twitterer had recommended to try it as he had heard from friends that the poutine was excellent. Next time perhaps.

Dessert:
One of the shocking surprises of the evening was the way our waiter was notably straight-forward-honest with us when it came to recommending menu items. My friend and I were both ready to order the moka cake, which was highly rated and acclaimed by numerous local reviews. Fortunately, our waiter was dead-set serious when he described the moka cake as being very dry. It's in fact an old customer favorite from the original Rotisserie Laurier BBQ menu. As a new customer, I really appreciated the honest opinion and the fact that the new owner hadn't taken all away from the original menu just to keep the regulars coming. So instead, we both had the tarte tatin served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's GR's most popular recipe featured on Youtube, so I had to try it. If Gordon Ramsay ever comes across this posting, I must confess that my expectations of his cooking were positively turned around. Whenever I watch his quick recipe clips, I always have the feeling that he over seasons his meats or over sweetens his desserts. I was wrong. The tarte tatin was satisfyingly sweet and tangy, and the crust was pleasingly flaky. In addition, the crème de la crème of the dessert part was the Chef's signature scoop, the oval shaped ice cream scoop that I often see in his cooking clips. Has anyone ever noticed that? Being a fan of many different chefs, I felt excited to feel a six degrees of separation between one of them and myself!

The ambiance:
Modern, loungy, inviting, lively, family-oriented and very noisy. In fact, it's so noisy that I couldn't hear the music playing in the background. My friend must have the hearing of a dog, because she kept asking me if I remembered the songs that were playing. Apparently, it was all 80s music. Great place to have a fun evening with friends or family. Not recommended for a quiet romantic dinner.

The price:
Though my tweets may have mislead followers as I was slightly tipsy and suggested that the bill was too $$$, the food is reasonably priced for the name of the place. Portions are not overly abundant either. It's just right. Notwithstanding, a good roasted chicken can be enjoyed just as much at any other Montreal reputable local rotisseries, with a bit less stress on your wallet.

To cut to the chase, Laurier Gordon Ramsay's restaurant is a must-try place for star-struck fans and party-goers and is a fun experience for the curious minds. Keep in mind that this restaurant is family-style. So if you're looking for fine dining, this is not the place. In all honesty, good company makes your dining experience at Laurier GR more memorable than the food itself. Though I wouldn't bash it, unless I was one who really gets turned off by heavily marketed spots, my energy is more focused on scouting for more family-run restaurants.

What makes this place such an intriguing attraction in Monreal, is only one factor : Mr Gordon Ramsay himself. Having such world wide stature as Ramsay is sufficient to bring in a crowd to a new joint. In my opinion, 'location, location, location' can easily be disregarded. If his restaurant was located on Hochelaga street or at Pointe Saint-Charles, it would still attract a large crowd. As long as it's easily accessible, people will go. Only time will tell how long this place will be around.

This personal review may have enticed you to check out the place for yourself or to completely ignore it, I just hope you enjoyed reading it. If you need a second opinion on Laurier Gordon Ramsay, here is a review on a lunch experience by fellow blogger Jenn.




Bon appétit!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Recipe to Riches Audition Experience in Montreal!


I don’t think I’ll ever forget February 19th 2011. It all began last Monday Feb. 14th, on Valentine’s day, at exactly 8:03pm, when my phone started buzzing, letting me know that I had an email waiting. I checked it immediately, as we were finishing our luscious seafood dinner, and to my disbelief, I had just received a casting audition call from a TV show coordinator asking me if I would be interested in participating in the open casting for an upcoming TV show, on Saturday Feb. 19th in Montreal! I reread the email, making sure I hadn’t misinterpreted it, or if it wasn’t a scam. But no…all the information was there in the email with the website url http://recipetoriches.ca/. This coordinator happened to have stumbled upon my blog and was complimenting me about a plum tart recipe which I had posted last summer. This new TV show called Recipe to Riches, is calling out for Canadians with great recipes and stories airing on Food Network Canada and Global Television this fall! My heart started thumping as I couldn’t believe the opportunity that was presented before me. I replied right away that I was definitely interested without thinking about anything else. She was pleased to receive my quick response and asked me to pre-register first to have a better chance of meeting with the judges to present my dish!

Then, it hit me later that evening that I only had less than a week to pick and test a dish among my numerous recipes! I really didn’t have much time to go through my entire archive and didn’t want to rack my brain over the ‘perfect’ dish to present on Audition day. I decided to sleep on it.

As soon as I arrived at the office, I shared the exciting news with my friend Farah. I think she was more excited than I was. She started Googling the show and read through the site very quickly. Instantly, the ‘Oh my God, what are you going to do, what dish are you making, are you doing it, I have to forward this to my friend….’ words rambled from her mouth with such enthusiasm! I looked at her with an amused and appreciative smile. She was behind me all the way. At that point, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to prepare and thought that if I couldn’t come up with anything by the end of day, I would have to bail out. That is right. I was that close to giving up. On the other hand, my intuition was telling me to go for it, just for the fun of it!
*
When the evening came, I felt agitated and contacted most of my close friends to tell them about this great occasion to show Canadians what I love to do…cooking! My two very close friends Eddy and Lisa were my strongest supporters. Eddy was emphasizing more on the fun experience this opportunity would bring me. Lisa was bringing laughter and creating fun with her infectious chuckling and her silly humour during our conversation. Their energy was so positively reinforcing that I was now determined to take part in Saturday’s audition!
It was Wednesday, and I couldn’t focus on my work at the office. I also started to be a little nervous as I hadn’t started testing the recipe or hadn’t even pre-registered yet. To complete pre-registration, it’s required to submit an accurate recipe. Pre-registration did not guarantee a spot to meet with the judges. Only the ones receiving a follow-up call would have a chance. Wednesday evening, I started working on the sweet pastry crust. I wasn’t satisfied with the recipe that I’ve been using for this tart the past year, so I decided to call my friend Fabienne to come to the rescue. Fabienne is a great baker and when it comes to French cooking, she knows exactly what she’s talking about. I kept her helpful tips in mind for my first baking test the following day. This time, I was ready to complete the online pre-registration. To my dismay, the application form displayed the message ‘MONTREAL AUDITIONS CLOSED’, when I selected the Audition place on the form. I thought, ‘F---, no!’. Why wasn’t I given more time to know about this contest! Surprisingly, I was still able to submit my application. I was hoping for the best.
*Thursday morning, I received a call from an agent from Recipe to Riches letting me know that she received my pre-registration request and that I was eligible to meet the judges! The story behind my plum tart seemed to have intrigued her! I had to fill in last-minute forms within the hour followed by a short chat with her. It was a fun pre-audition interview which pumped me up for the big day! That evening, I rushed home after work to buy all of the ingredients needed to make the tart. Because I was in such a rush, I wasn’t paying close attention to the size of the only available plums at the local fruit and vegetable market. It’s not the season to find a selection of sweet and ripe plums. But I had a technique in mind that would help remedy that particular problem. I started testing in my kitchen. Everything was going wrong. It was nearly midnight and I couldn’t get the dough right…it was crumbly and dry, and I didn’t have enough plums…the plums were too small! I hadn’t made this dessert since last summer that I had completely forgotten how big, plump and juicy the plums were in the summer. But I had managed to make a few samples for my co-workers to taste-test Friday morning.
*Friday morning, five of my co-workers (Tharah, Gene, Morocan from Nice, Mongolia and Masala, thank you!) were sampling the tart slices I had brought to the office. They gave me their brutal honest opinion just as I had requested. Their feedback? The crust required more butter and the plums needed to be less sour and a little sweeter. I took note of their critiques and right after work, I went home to get a lot more plums and more butter. Off I was, preparing the plums by coating them with sugar for a couple of hours, to remove the sourness and give them more sweetness. The crust turned out superbly. It was worth staying up until 1am! As Julia Child would say, ‘there never is too much butter!’ The tarts were ready. I had made three, two for the audition and one to taste-test and pre-cut that morning.
*Audition day, February 19th, 7am. I am up and feel much incitement to see the tarts after being chilled overnight. They looked fabulous! I cut and tasted the ‘test’ tart. I couldn’t be happier. I started getting ready, do a bit of yoga exercise and meditation to calm my nerves. I had less than 4 hours before my scheduled time. Eddy couldn’t accompany me due to professional obligations, but he did drop me off at the audition place. Lisa was to meet me a little later. With my tarts packed carefully in my practical cooler bag, I entered the audition waiting room. As soon as I stepped in, I felt the electric and passionate energy of home cooks like me, nervously and patiently sitting and waiting. That energy ultimately changed my nerves to a more serene state of mind. I was happy that my tarts had made it safely. They were immediately taken away from me to refrigerate after I signed in. I was given my number, sat down amongst the pool of competitors and quietly observed my new and exciting surrounding. Unfortunately, I can’t share with you any more details on the audition process from that point on, but I can share with you the emotional experience most of the contestants, including myself, went through that day.
*The atmosphere was filled with an incredible joy to participate in this contest or to have that possibility of sharing with the nation our passion…..food. Some were very talkative, especially the ones who brought along their cheering squad, and others were more quiet and kept to themselves. A few were not smiling at all, so much they were stressed! Nonetheless, one thing brought us all together…nerves. Waiting for hours can make one’s mind wander towards confidence or even self-doubt. But seeing a couple of contestants walk out with a gold ticket, a ticket to the next round of the competition, created hope and cheerful thoughts!
*
My friend Lisa had finally arrived. She was all smiles (up to her ears) which contagiously cheered me even more! She introduced me to another contestant, Joe, whom she knew through her husband. He found out about this audition only after the day I had told her about it. He had prepared an Italian fish soup/stew in a bucket. What a unique idea! I was getting a tad hungry despite the nervousness, and I didn’t want my stomach to growl on television! I think I would have asked the judges to give me a piece of their pie! During break time, I offered Lisa and Joe some of my grilled cheese sandwiches. Joe said ‘no thanks, I think I’ll puke, but it’s ok I have my bucket’. We were all laughing and in good spirits. I was glad to have my cheering buddy with me and a funny Italian contestant. It just made the experience even more fun.
*
Every time a contestant would come out with a gold ticket, Lisa would hilariously say ‘Oh my god, it’s like we’re on American Idol!!’ We were having good fun. As I was getting closer to my turn to present, I was moved to another part of the room. Lisa was telling me that in order to be closer to me she had to ask a lady, who was anxiously waiting her turn, if the seat beside her was taken. That lady had told her ‘yes it is, but if you sit here, you’ll have to talk to me’. It’s funny how stress can turn a complete stranger to a funny conversationist! Some, as Lisa observed, were even almost hyperventilating and shaking like leaves.
*My turn was up, I felt the adrenaline kick in immediately. Lisa and Joe crying out ‘Good luck!’ I was focused but found such an enjoyment in the frenzy backstage area with the culinary staff, the camera men, the microphone guy, and the coordinators. I felt it was MY moment to enjoy and to experience it to the fullest. As I walked in front of the camera and the judges, I was surprised to see that I was more comfortable than I had anticipated. Surely, I was a little clumsy on my words and on where to look, but I think it went really well for a first-timer being filmed for a national television show.

I didn’t get a gold ticket because my plum tart was not sweet enough for the North American market, but I did get two great comments from the judges : ‘I also like desserts that are not too sweet…it would be too bad to let this one go...’, which put a huge smile on my face, and ‘... great story!’. I won’t lie. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t go through the next round. When I walked out and returned to the waiting room to see Lisa, I carelessly mumbled ‘Can you believe that, more sugar!…do they not realize that there are so many diabetics out there!’. Lisa smiled and laughingly said, ‘oh my, thank god they didn’t catch that on camera!’ I then chuckled and realized that I was definitely tired and needed to say ‘ok, it’s done and over with. I had fun’.
*One thing I realized after this amazing experience is not only I really enjoy meeting people who share the same passion for food as I do, but I also tremendously enjoy being on TV, for shows related to food. The adrenaline, the disorder, the frantic energy….is loads of fun!

Good luck to all participants for the Toronto Auditions! And remember…..have fun!!!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Viet-Thai Restaurant La Perle Noire

A spicy caramelized calamar appetizer plate.
While my relatives from Europe were in town this month, we discovered a new restaurant that is located nearby my place, right on the south shore of Montreal. It's a fusion of Vietnamese and Thai food which I found excellent. Although, my family are mostly into salty dishes, they found most of the dishes on the sweet side. I didn't mind it as I didn't find the sweetness overpowering. The presentation was impeccable and every dish we ordered hit themspot.

The restaurant is called La Perle Noire, and I do recommend it. Remember the saying, if you see a lot of Asians in an Asian restaurant, it means the place is good. Well, there were quite a few of us Asians enjoying the food there ;)

Here are a few pics of the luscious food we savoured, just to make your mouth water....Enjoy!


A Hot and Spicy soup filled with sea food.
Tofu stir fry with veggies


A finger-licking, lip-smacking deep fried Red Snapper served with a fish sauce dip.

Caramelized salmon steaks with ginger, garlic, onions and chili.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rich and Creamy Gelato....Without the Cream!


The first time I saw the soon-to-be opened Fusion Montréal Crémerie Artisanale, last year, my first thought was that it reminded me of this really expensive ice cream shop, carrying an Italian name and located in major touristy spots of Montreal like downtown or the Old Port of Montreal. Personally, I found that Italian gelato/pizza eatery to be OK, and this was overshadowed by the unfriendly and cold atmosphere exuded by the staff.

So my concern was that another fancy ice cream stand, not popularly sought after by most of my acquaintances and myself, was going to open right at the most convenient spot of the business district of Montreal's downtown area, which is a major hub for most commuters taking their trains or buses to go to work or home. It's always a treat getting a refreshing ice cream for dessert right after lunch or even after work for the munchies, on a hot summer day.

On the day of the opening, last Fall, and to my surprise, it turned out to be a very independently run sweets-and-dessert eatery with the name Fusion Montréal Crémerie Artisanale. The first thing that caught my eye was the ice cream stand filled with beautifully flavoured and ornated gelati that looked….oooh…so sinful. I approached the counter and started talking to one of the staff members, who happened to be the owner. His name is Hazem, a true-at-heart Montrealer. He immediately asked me if I wanted to taste the ice cream by offering me a tiny plastic spoon with a sample of the gelato. It was indeed… divine…
My favourite is the pistachio flavoured gelato because it has the very subtle healthy and natural green colour and not that fluorescent green like you see in many popular ice cream brands found at supermarkets.
Best part of this gelato, is that it is made with whole milk…NOT CREAM. Forget about the guilty pleasure sweets, this one is absolutely guilt free. It is incredible how creamy and rich this gelato tasted! Of course, there is little sugar added for a tinge of sweetness but enough sugar to allow the gelato to stick together with the right texture – smooth, creamy, and dense, as opposed to hard and lumpy. As for the rest of the ingredients, Hazem reassures every one of his clients that they are 100% natural. For instance, he will get the best quality dark chocolate to make a chocolate gelato, and fresh fruits for his sorbets. Nothing is artificial, most ingredients are either freshly picked or organic. My second favourite gelato he recently created is this wonderful creamy and so tasty Lychee and Coconut gelato. It’s a great success especially at this time of year. If you don’t feel like having a sorbet primarily made with water and sugar, but something for consistent, then this creamy Lychee and Coconut gelato really hits the spot. It’s refreshing and very creamy.
Now, if I talked about the atmosphere at Fusion Montréal….it’s very welcoming with positive energy. It’s not comparable to the Italian gelato/pizza place I was referring to earlier. The staff is very friendly, extremely customer-focused, without being intrusive. They are professional and respect every customer. If you don’t feel like chatting, there’ll be no chatting – just helpful information and suggestions on their products will be gladly given.

Why the name “Fusion Montréal?” I asked Hazem; “the name is to symbolize the mixes of different cultures and languages Montreal displays today”. You’ll also notice the name Crémerie Artisanale, which signifies that, in addition to the gelati, everything is homemade, the crêpes, the wafer cones and cups, and many other gourmet sweets like almonds covered in dark chocolate. To some, and especially students dropping by, the gelati and other sweets offered by Fusion Montréal might seem very pricey at first. But as mentioned by Hazem, everything is 100% natural. It’s still very affordable, but once in a while won’t hurt your wallet.
If you have not tried this place out yet but are planning to, you’ll immediately notice a “zen/contemporary-Montreal chic” décor filled with good energy. Personally, when I go to a sweets eatery or a coffee shop I like feeling cozy and prefer a homy ambiance, like wood and fabric chairs or sofas, plants and warm colours. Because of its contemporary/modern look, I feel the coziness, for me, is missing just a little at Fusion Montréal. Then again, Fusion Montréal is located right at the heart of the major business district where major corporate yuppies and business executives walk out and about during their breaks. They have the money and appreciate more the contemporary/chic metropolitan décor, than I do.

If you ever go, and are a foodie like me who enjoys tasting every morsel and savouring every flavour, you’ll enjoy this place. Price won’t matter.

Fusion Montréal Crémerie Artisanale
1000 Rue De La Gauchetière O Bureau (RC-28)Montréal, QCH3B 4W5
(514) 759-0608

Enjoy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unwind With An Afternoon Tea at Le St-James

My daytime job has kept me incredibly busy the past couple of months. I work in the telecommunications industry, mobile/wireless sales mostly. It's a dynamic and exciting field where I don't have time to get bored. I'm a people person and love interacting with customers. When I make a customer happy, I'm happy. These days, business has been picking up quite rapidly which means that I've been struggling to maintain that same level of customer satisfaction. But my body is smart and always manages to let me know when to slow down, take a break and decompress. It won't hesitate to scream at me : "Woa, woa, 'minute là!' stop and breathe!".

We all need to live a healthy and well balanced life. To do so, we owe it to ourselves to listen to and be conscious of the little messages our body sends us. It's not hard like a lot of us would tend to believe. It's simple. Listen to your body. Let everything go. Learn how to do absolutely NOTHING just for one day, even for a minute. Treat yourself.

This brings me to sharing with you how I pampered myself last Friday after an insane week at work;

Spending an entire afternoon having tea at Le St-James, a luxurious hotel in the heart of Old Montreal.

It was an excellent way to "disconnect" myself from the craziness of the day without traveling distances to a getaway resort. It works for me because it involved drinking some of the finest teas in the world, a relaxing setting, great conversation with the wonderful company of my dear friend Anne and of course, great food.

It was my first "English" afternoon tea experience which I found truly soothing, pleasant and fun. Only 2-3km away from my workplace, this hotel had the perfect "getaway" ambiance which made me feel like I was at an out-of-town spa resort.

We were both spellbound by the beauty of the The Grand Salon formerly known as the 'Bankers Hall', with its two mezzanines fit for an opera. Smaller alcôves are clustered around the room for intimate tête-à-tête. We were treated like special guests by the attentive and friendly personnel. It was like traveling back in time and having tea on the legendary Titanic.

From the moment we walked in The Grand Salon, we both knew we were going to enjoy this experience. We were ushered to a small and private tea room, one side opened to The Grand Salon and the other to a window viewing rue St-Jacques of Old Montreal. It was exciting. We each had our own beautifully upholstered couches facing one another and separated by a beautifully carved mahogany tea table, already set, waiting for us. Our attendant even offered us more cushions to be more comfortable. How indulging. We could have taken a nap if we wanted to!

I believe most luxurious hotels in big cities would offer Afternoon Tea service. If you ever come across one, please do try it out. It's an unregrettable experience. And believe me, you'll be mesmerized by the whole experience that 'work' won't even cross your mind. Oh, and make reservations to have the best possible seat and table.

Tea menu.

To start, a sublime chilled white porto, Porto Blanc, Offley Cachucha

Amuse-bouche : Fois gras, shrimps and caviar canapés
Refined teas: Pleine Lune (very aromatic and spiced tea)

Pear and blue cheese delight on seven-grain bread with cream cheese, chopped roasted nuts
Smoked salmon, lemon, lettuce, soft "viennois" style bread
Feuillantine of white bread with crispy cucumber

Petits fours

Fresh Berries with Crème Chantilly

A glimpse of The Grand Salon at Hotel Le St-James


As for the cherry on top, we were there but missed this by probably a fraction of a minute! All this entire time we were enjoying our afternoon tea, he was probably in his room maybe just 2 floors above us, getting ready for his big gig at the Montreal Bell Centre that same night. If we had walked in a little earlier or left a little later, we could have been amongst the screaming crowd, or probably having a deep meaningful conversation with him at the main entrance. One can always dream.

Oh, well, they don't call it 6 degrees of separation for nothing.

Old Montreal right outside of Le St-James

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Savoury Tonkinese Soup with Beef (Pho Bo) at Pho Zen restaurant

I can't seem to find anyone who doesn't like Vietnamese Tonkinese soup "Pho". The most popular "Pho" and my favourite is the "Pho Bo Tai", the soup with beef broth and medium rare flanc steak. This past weekend, I couldn't find a better way to reward myself with this warm and gratifying treat at a sleek nearby Pho restaurant called Pho Zen, after a nasty cold that merely made my week miserable and my exam writing arduous. But I made it through! I was glad to go out for dinner and slurp the savory broth directly from the bowl.


I have a message to most of my non-asian friends, and to all non-asians out there. Please don't be shy to slurp your noodles and the broth directly from the bowl when you are enjoying this wonderful soup, especially in the company of asian friends or when you are savoring this soup in a vietnamese restaurant where the majority of the customers are asian! Make yourself at home. You may not feel comfortable at first, because most probably it is very unliky that you are used to such table manners, perceived as rude and embarrassing by most westerners, but it's fun and you get the most out of your experience in eating this truly vietnamese delight.

It is very difficult to make a perfectly tasty "Pho". The right blends of ingredients and the long process (8 hours) of cooking the broth are key to a star-rated "Pho". Being vietnamese, I have picked up my parent's fussiness when it comes to finding a restaurant serving the right tasting "Pho", which shouldn't be too salty or bland, but have the right concoction of flavours released from the herbs, spices and the beef.

Since the original recipe is very time consuming, which is not the aim of my blog but to share easy and simple recipes, I am planning to post a simplified recipe of the famous "Pho" soup very soon, by...hushhh...cheating a little. And believe me, it tastes just as good.

Overall, Pho Zen restaurant is worth a dining experience, not only for it's sleek design and cleanliness (you won't have to wipe your chopsticks and spoons twice before using them, like other places) but for it's truly authentic and flavourful authentic Vietnamese Tonkinese soups.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yuukai Japanese fusion dining experience

The first time I ever ate raw fish was back in university when a bunch of friends and I met a group of international exchange students from Sweden. They were 7 blond, insightful, stunning-looking, exotic Swedes; 7 guys and 2 girls. What a distracting summer, especially if you were taking a summer class like I was. I think we met up with them almost every weekend to explore the reputable spots and events of Montreal, whether it be the Montreal Jazz Fest, Old Montreal, picnicking on Ste-Helene's island, or going out to dinner. At a casual potluck get-together, they had brought their famous swedish meatballs with potatoes, and pickled Herring . Back then, my stomach wasn't ready for anything raw. Fortunately, I wanted to show our international guests that I was keeping an open mind, so I hesitantly tasted the raw herring. And to my suprise, it wasn't bad at all! In fact, it wasn't slimy as I had anticipated, but sweet and acidic in taste, and soft in texture - it just melted in my mouth. Ever since then, I slowly started discovering the already-established sushi restaurants in Montreal. 'Posh" is the word to describe most of them. The cold contemporary decor with the aloof and pretentious approach of the waiting staff, made one feel uncomfortable to enjoy one's dining experience. But I must admit, their sushis were delectable at all times.

Unlike other sushi places, Yuukai is one of the first BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine) sushi restaurants that are out there. The menu consists mainly of japanese fusion cuisine, which means, sushi/sashimi, as well as, modern Asian dishes. The family owned restaurant opened in the Fall of 2004 and has gradually become a great success story ever since. Rave reviews were written about the new zen-like place by the local Montreal newspapers such as the Voir and the Hour. Important qualities to keep in mind; their Sushi is one of the freshest in the city, the owner and waiting staff are genuinely warm and friendly, and you will not be paying an arm and a leg for your meal. Nowadays, reservations have to be made in advance especially on weekends.



A great way to start your dining experience at Yuukai's is to nibble on the small savory sushi-pizza appetizers, which are made of a rice-tempura based crust, smoked salmon and fish eggs. They are so popular that guests ask for take-outs before leaving the restaurant, to eat some more at home!



Another appetizer that would be appreciated mostly by Asians or tofu fans is the Agadashi Tofu with Bonito flakes. It's basically deep-fried tofu covered with shavings of dried smoked tuna, served in a soya-sauce based broth. What's amazing is the heat generated by the tofu causes the thin Bonito flakes to slowly move, creating an illusion that the flakes are alive! This is intriguing to some who see Bonito flakes for the first time!

There are two menus; Sushi à la Carte and a Modern Asian Cuisine menu. The sushi à la carte has a wide variety of sushi and sashimi which makes it difficult to not want to try almost everything! As I commented earlier, their sushis are remarkably fresh, which is THE criteria of a top sushi restaurants. That evening, we had a soft-shelled crab, avocado, tempura sushi roll and spicy-tuna sushi roll. The latter was rolled in a green rice paper, which was very appealing to the eye and softer on the taste buds, as opposed to the traditional seaweed sheets.


What's interesting about Japanese fusion cuisine is that you are not limited to sushi only. At times, when we go out as a group of friends, not everyone is in the mood to eat the same thing, and that's the beauty of Yuukai. If sushi is not for everyone, others can order a grade A Rib Eye Steak grilled and seasoned to perfection and served with the Chef's own Wasabi sauce. Without exaggeration, this steak is the best in town. It's so tender and juicy, even Italians and French Canadians will choose Yuukai over well-renowned Montreal steakhouses to devour this steak.



Finally, there is nothing better than to end your meal with a light and creamy Matcha Green Tea ice cream, to clean your palate and satisfy your sweet tooth. So refreshing.


***

A gratifying experience worth sharing with family and friends.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Greece, the epitome of heavenly scenery and food

Aah, Greece and Crete. These photos are just about the closest I'll ever get to Greece until I decide to make that long-awaited trip over there! I just found those shots of Greek food and scenery so stunning that I had to write a little about it. They were sent to me by a friend of mine who just came back from the magnificent Greek islands and who loves to eat good food as much as I do.

The picturesque table setting overlooking the sunset in Santorini is just breathtaking. I think my ears were burning when my friend was enjoying the Greek Bruschetta, drinking the nice glass of white wine, overlooking the entire island of Santorini. Probably talking on and on about what I was missing! And yes, I can see that I was missing lots!

Now this photo really caught my attention not only for its vibrant colours, but because I love cooking crustaceans, whether steamed, grilled, fried, you name it! These looked freshly picked from the sea.
The Greeks are well known to use their-catch-of-the-day to prepare their seafood delicacy. Every single creature that is caught that day is slaughtered, chopped or grilled alive right in front of you. It's a gruesome sight for some, but I think it's something that I could get used to, as long as I don't do the slaughtering myself. Langoustines are like LARGE prawns. As explained to me, they were layed out on a plate ready to be picked by guests and cooked at a restaurant called Nikos, on Mykonos island. What are the chances of picking a freshly caught Langoustines to have it prepared the way you want it in a restaurant...in Canada? Almost NIL.

Here's a picture of octopuses hung to dry at Santorini. There's a sight for sore eyes, especially for foodies who love sea food and who are not appalled by creatures with tentacles!
Thank you K for sharing your lovely photos and for the temptation to head down there and experience this myself!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Food for Yogis

That's right, yogis do eat fries once in a while. After a strenuous Ashtanga-Iyengar yoga session, my pal and I love to go to one of my favourite bistros just downtown of Montreal, called Le Cap Vert, for soup and Pommes Allumettes fries!


It's a quiet little place with a Parisian-contemporary ambience, where you can catch up with friends or simply spend quiet time alone reading a good book. I think it's a popular Montreal spot, just to relax over a nice cup of tea after a busy day and watch people walk by on McGill College Avenue. I discovered this place when I was a university student and always loved to go there for their Tiramisu. It was so divine that I would have their Tiramisu almost every week!

But their soups are to-die-for. We've tried them all. They're rich and creamy. So far, we agree that the best one is their Crème de Carottes (cream of carrot). Their onion soup is also a must-try. Gratifying...

We always look forward to our evenings of yoga and fries!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dining experience at Montreal's hip spot Rumi's

The first time I ever heard of Rumi's was from a local Montreal tv show called "Culture Shock". What intrigued me the most were the owners of this charming eatery, who are two brothers (Todd and Anthony) and who, at first glance, exuberate a joy of living life in the moment and of eating good food. When seeing them, I just feel like smiling. This Turkish/Persian-style restaurant is located at the heart of Montreal's hippest districts, where an endless number of exotic-cuisine restaurants, boutiques and interesting-looking apartments capture the attention of inquisitive local Montrealers and even tourists.

After hearing so much about Rumi's restaurant, a bunch of friends and I voted to go there for our annual "Lazer Blazer" reunion dinner last fall 2006. We had worked together for two years back in 1999 and had clicked right away. We remained very tight as a group, even if a few of us had gone separate ways, and felt like a family ever since. "Lazer Blazers" comes from the days when we were a bunch of engineers working for a telecommunications company, putting up fiber optics networks around the world. Having not been close, we never would have named ourselves such a silly name! I'm definitely digressing here... so, to get back to my point, Rumi's is an ideal place for a family or friend gathering. It is a jewel.



The first thing that impressed me, the minute I walked in, was the warmth and the vibrant colours of the decor. I had this sudden hunch that the food was going to be fantastic, I could just smell it. And it certainly was! The service is impeccable and amicable, especially for big groups. They really don't lose track of your orders. One of the highlights of our dining experience at Rumi's is the moment when Todd and Anthony, bearded and dressed in long tunics, greeted and welcomed everyone of us as soon as we were seated, which made us feel right at home. Without a doubt, THE highlight of the evening was the exquisite food.



And so this Friday, for one of our "Lazer Blazer" friends who was leaving for Singapore for a new and exciting work experience overseas, we wanted to grant his wish to have a last group meal with his friends at none other than Rumi's. We had ordered their fabulous Mezzes, which are appetizers consisting mainly of flavourful hummus, eggplant dips and roasted red bell peppers, all pleasantly savored with a hot naan bread.

A main dish we all fought over for the last piece was their "Koresh Épaule d'agneau braisé", mainly a braised lamb shoulder that just simply melted in my mouth as I relished it. A Koresh chicken with mushroom was also on the menu. The plate was emptied in no time, especially the rich creamy sauce which the chicken was slowly simmered in. There are no pictures of these wonderful dishes, as I thought that my description would already trigger a mouth-watering reaction and imagination to my readers.


And finally, one of the two men behind the extraordinaty delectable dishes is our sympathetic host Todd. Todd and Anthony seldom fail to please their guests.

Rumi's is a rare gem that I am most certain you will appreciate as much as I do.

Bon appétit!