Post Mushroom Week of Treats
Now that I’ve come down from my mushroom high, and I am catching my breath, happily, I am finding a bit of time to indulge myself. Albeit without much of a break, I still managed to make this a week of treats, knowing that I have to nab the moments before the rush of Christmas parties begins.
Starting with Sunday, to celebrate our success, as well as our first day off in a month, François des bois and I decided to take ourselves out for dinner. We were exhausted, but wanted to eat well and to be served, but without too much fanfare. François had a big slab of meat in mind, and I was in the mood for fish; we both agreed that a nice bottle of wine was in order. We wanted no foie gras or sweetbreads, definately no tasting menu. So off we went on our quest for our reward. However, without driving into Montreal, the pickings are slim as far as good restaurants go, especially on a Sunday. We settled on Derrière les Fagots in Ste-Rose (Laval). It was in this parking lot that we shared our first kiss 3 (or maybe 4?) years ago. Aw shucks.
So, we’re feeling warm and fuzzy as we walk into the nicely lit, peaceful dining room, where the tables are large, linened and generously spaced apart, the chairs are comfortable, the servers warm yet professional. He orders a bloody caesar, and I a glass of champagne. So far so perfect. Until we pick up the menus and realize that it will be difficult to eat simply here. This is a fancypants place, and they know us. And so our battle with the chef begins. Of course, he won out (chefs usually do) and a 7 + course tasting menu with wine pairing ensued, foie gras, sweetbreads and all. At least, François got his beef, and I my fish, but we had to wade our way through umpteen precious little conconctions beforehand. Don’t get me wrong, the food was lovely. We enjoyed the veal cheek amuse and the tuna in a glass with daikon, oyster mushroom, and a yogurt sesame foam; I especially enjoyed the mackerel with coco bean purée, chorizo, raisins and almond. The sweetbreads were very “cochon” with butternut squash, bacon, arugula, Comté and truffle, but delicious. The first dessert, a coconut thingee with pineapple and passionfruit (again in a glass) was refreshingly sublime; the next dessert a valid effort in making quince and walnuts exciting, and the coffee was great. In the end, we left very happy. I guess what we needed most was to have someone else take charge, and to be spoiled. It was decadent and restorative. Sampling a talented chef’s artistry is always stimulating, even if you have to be forced into it. Gilles Herzog is very good.
For the rest of the week, needless to say, I satisfied my cravings for the simplest of food…. Cheese, eggs, oysters, home-made broth, plain white rice and lots of greens; I cannot get enough greens.
Another treat was Thursday night off and a comforting dinner at my home away from home, the Tavern, with my good friend, Barb. I ordered two salads. The kitchen must have thought I was crazy, but that’s what I wanted. A Caesar salad, followed by a grilled calamari, lentil and arugula salad. I know it disappoints chefs when another chef doesn’t order right, and isn’t interested in trying their most elaborate dish that they are most proud of. I remember getting frustrated with other chefs myself, trying to coax Anne into having the latest discovery or Dave McMillan into having something other than roast chicken, not getting it. It took a few years, but now, I realize that that is just the way it goes; the more you work with complicated food, the less you want to see of it on your time off. Or since you’ve tried it all, the more particular you become about what you like and want; you don’t need to impress or be impressed. In any case, I wasn’t going to be bossed into another meal I didn’t order this week. And it was great.
A third treat for me this week was not about eating, but about cooking, in the kitchen of my dreams. I catered a dinner in a private home, and that is where I met this most fabulous kitchen. My favourite feature besides the full set of All Clads, was the GIANT island with pull out refrigerator drawers for your MEP. If you don’t count the wine cellar... Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is often a headache, but this was a breeze, I actually had time to twiddle my thumbs. When asked to add an improvised cheese course, I scrambled to find some garnish, but no problem - the woman of the household had an assortment of aged balsamic and fresh fruit....not to mention all the plateware and utensils you can imagine, a noiseless dishwasher....wow. I’ve been around nice condiments and appliances before, but altogether, this was the best designed home kitchen I have encountered. It is mine now, in my dreams anyway.
A couple more days of work, but with small groups of clients, turned out to be a treat too, because then I get to do stuff I wouldn’t attempt on a big night. I made veal cheeks, sushi (which I had forgotten about because I made too much in the early 90’s) with salmon, wild ginger and sea asparagus, I made fresh pasta with crinkleroot, I fiddled around with dessert, patting a fragile butter crust into molds with an apple, wild cranberry filling and a clover-frangipane topping, adding many more components and steps then I normally would. Usually, I stick to “cook’s desserts”, you know....crème brulée, mousses, simple cakes and ice creams, wafer cookies and every combination of these. I save the sabayon, floating islands and finnicky stuff for small nights. So these small nights are a treat for me, I’m not the one counting the cash.
My week winded up with the treat of treats, dinner with the girls. The occasion was bittersweet since my good friend Ange is moving away, but we had a fabulous time at La Montée de Lait, a little gem of a restaurant on the Plateau, or is it Mile End (on Villeneuve near St-Denis). The room is very stark design-wise, the tables are cramped, but the food is inventive and enticing if you’re in the mood for a few frills without breaking the bank (4 courses for 40$). It is casual but with a “everything 3 ways” kind of menu. The wine list is very winner, as in researched and diverse in the good value category, with a few big bottles for the big spenders.
We sampled most of the short menu and everything pleased. There was a scallop appetizer done “à la carbonara” with bacon, egg yolk froth and parsley purée, a shrimp dish three ways that consisted of a bisque and skewer, another shrimp with leek compote and a fried shrimp with roast garlic and Ossau Iraty, very tasty. The Mac’n cheese was a ravioli stuffed with Mimolette cream, served with tomato confit and onion rings – amazing! The root vegetable medley, although listed very plainly, turned out to be four root vegetables all cooked differently: a sunchoke soup, a raw rabiole salad, a turnip gratin and a parnip dip with parsnip chips, all very successful. I like it when not everything is spelled out on the menu, and the plate surprizes. As a main or fourth, the other girls had pork belly with molasses glaze and brussel sprouts, very good, and I had a venison tartare, which was served in a glass (this time, I don’t agree) with a corn foam and potato chips. After I removed all the chips and started digging in, I found it perfectly seasoned, like a light version of traditional tartare, with the necessary spice, yet made delicate with a light hand and the corn.... I would have preferred it earlier in the meal, but whatever, it was delicious. Everything was. My girlfriends had dessert and equally enjoyed the (again glassed) chocolate-sponge toffee concoction. The fancy water was good too, although the appeal in perusing a water menu (and spending 9$ on a bottle) eludes me. Maybe it gives those in AA, or pregnant or straight, something exciting to do and think about beverage-wise, which is fine I suppose.
I was most glad to leave this place with a pleasant experience to associate it with, since the last time I dined here, although the food was fine, I didn’t have the greatest time. It went sour for a number of reasons, no one’s fault really..... my boyfriend and I were scrapping, he didn’t love his food, I made a poor pick with some experimental organic wine, there was a cold draft, nothing worked. That was the only time over dinner that I didn’t talk for ten minutes straight (we were in silent treatment mode) and it was certainly the only time that we didn’t finish a bottle of wine at a restaurant. Brutal. Anyway, now after today, that is erased, and I will only have fond memories of La Montée de Lait.
My week of treats was perfect. I saw my friends, got to visit my little pad in Montreal , I ate some great food, both simple and elaborate, I am sated. I’m ready to tackle anything. Bring on the Christmas season!
Also, here are some very cool things to check out:
This article appeared in the NY Times a week or so ago – it is a good summary of the food ethics issues I find most important…
Forwarded to me via Joel, this is a very cool hopeful story about chefs doing their part for peace in the Middle East.
Here are some food movies to see, Ange's contribution....