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Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, Fall 2019 Edition (St Benoit de Mirabel, QC)

As regular readers know, every few years I try to go to one of Quebec’s bigger culinary events, the Cabane à Sucre (“Sugar Shack”) event run by Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon. It’s one of the Montreal-area big ticket events, and a bit of effort is required to score a reservation, usually requiring waking up at midnight to get a good spot on the waitlist. It is truly a culinary “shock and awe campaign”; you can read my writeups of my trips there in the winter of 2014 and 2017, but both of those visits were to the winter maple sugaring event (which is mostly a “how many dishes can a chef come up with that involve both foie gras and maple?” sort of event). But this year, we decided to mix it up a bit. In addition to their annual maple sugaring feast, Au Pied de Cochon also runs a fall harvest season event, focusing on apples and other fall harvest fruits and vegetables (with, again, an implausibly large amount of foie gras worked into the menu as well). So this year, I arose very early on April 1st, and managed to score a table for 8 in late October. So, rounding up an assortment of my local friends, we drove up to Montreal for a merry weekend of excessive dining, Montreal-style.

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Health Check: Reservoir (Montreal, QC)

Back in 2013, I did a brief review of one of my favorite Montreal beer bars: Reservoir. Since then, I’ve had half a dozen revisits there, ranging from just stopping in for a pint, having dinner, and, well, everything in-between. On our recent trip to Quebec, we needed a light “fill in” meal to tide us over to a feast the next day at Au Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a Sucre, and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity to stop in and do a follow-up review of reservoir, including some of their mid-day menu.

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Agrikol (Montreal, QC)

On our usual trips to Montreal, one of our primary goals is usually “eating”, since Montreal has an impressive assortment of restaurants, including several cuisines that we don’t normally see at home. However, since this trip was built around our meal at Au Pied de Cochon’s Cabane a Sucre, an important strategic choice was to preserve some stomach space for that legendarily excessive event. But despite that, it’s hard to resist the siren call of many of Montreal’s more interesting restaurants, so we decided to also do a light dinner at Agrikol, a Haitian place in Montreal’s Gay Village neighborhood.

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Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, 2017 Edition (St Benoit de Mirabel, QC)

Since it’s now mid-February, that means it is starting to become Mapling season throughout the Northeast and Quebec, and that also means it is time for the annual Au Pied de Cochon (PdC, for short)’s Cabane à Sucre harvest breakfast! It’s one of the Montreal-area’s toughest reservations (usually involving getting up at midnight on 1 December, cursing at the constantly-crashing website, and then waiting weeks for your callback on the wait list), but as you can read about in my previous writeup, it really is worth the trouble, since it’s one of the most amazing culinary experiences. When we last went in 2014, we had an amazing time. But there were two lessons we took from that experience: (1) to starve ourselves more beforehand, since it truly is a massively excessive amount of food, and (2) the experience you got as a party of two was just a fraction of the experience the larger, full tables got, since many of the items are best served up table-side (better to receive entire cakes than just slices, for example). So this time, when they opened up the waitlist in December, I immediately signed up for a table of 8 and got a combination of local and online friends to come up and join me. Thus, on 18 Feb 2017, we found ourselves again in the outskirts of St Benoit de Mirabel, QC in an enlarged sugar shack, waiting for items to arrive from the kitchen.

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P & A Gargantua Grilled Cheese (Montreal, QC)

After a few years resisting, in recent years Montreal has finally started to embrace the food truck, offering up a permitting system for up to 50 trucks each season (running from Spring to Fall) at 38 designated locations around the city, as well as special events. As a result, the restaurateurs of Montreal have responded, and there’s now no shortage of food trucks, ranging from those run by established restaurants to those opened by new chefs. Last summer’s trip to the Mondiale de la Biere festival in Montreal (yeah, last June… I’m still behind in my writeups) allowed us to sample a good cross-section of some of the city’s food trucks. One of our clear favorites was P & A Garguantua, serving up grilled cheese.

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Qing Hua Soup Dumpling (Montreal, QC)

Like Montreal’s Dragon Beard Candy Stand another place we’ve walked by many times is this little sign in Chinatown that says (well, the English portion at least) simply “Soup Dumplings”. The restaurant itself is called Qing Hua. We’ve been meaning to go there (or their original location over in Ville-Marie) for years, but kept getting stymied by one little factor: They aren’t open on weekends, which is when the majority of our visits happen. But when we were in town for the Death March, several of us were getting hungry, and decided to have a mid-afternoon snack of dumplings. And thus, we were finally able to visit Qing Hua.

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Universel Déjeuners et Grillades (Montreal, QC)

(Moved) As I mentioned several times, one of our annual traditions is to get together with friends, find a random city with decent walking routes and good food, and hike about 20 miles across the city, eating and drinking as we go. We call it a “Death March”. This year was our first “international” one, in Montreal, picked because it’s familiarity to us (we go to Montreal at least once a year), ease of travel, and the rather impressive array of restaurants, bars, and cocktail clubs available across the city. We also (not completely by accident) managed to book our trip to coincide with Mondial de la Biere, the Montreal beer festival. But like any of our Death Marches, about half of the eating and drinking happened on the days before and after the march. And thus, after settling into our hotel (the very eclectic, but affordable, Hotel Kutuma, complete with zebra-print sheets), we set out in search of a great breakfast, settling on the nearby plateau location of Universel Déjeuners et Grillades (one of two in the city, the other on Rue Peel down by McGill).

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Dragon Beard Candy (Montreal, QC)

Our May visit to Montreal also had us knock another place off of the “we should try that!” list. In this case, it’s over in Chinatown. Way back in 2003, coming back from a Cirque du Soleil performance on the waterfront, we wandered by a little stall with a simple “Dragon Beard Candy” selling pretty much one item: Dragon Beard Candy. We weren’t really hungry at that point, but were really curious to find out what it was. And then over the next dozen or so visits to Montreal, either didn’t go through Chinatown, went when the stand wasn’t open, or just plain weren’t hungry (a stomach full of poutine and smoked meat has a way of doing that to you). But this trip, we finally had a convergence: we were on a long walk (doing a test run for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike across a city), hungry, and Dragon Beard Candy was open.

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Rotisserie Coco Rico (Montreal, QC)

Every once in a while you run into one of those places that you’ve passed by a gazillion times, every time vowing that next time you’ll actually go in and check it out? Well, in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, one such place is Rotisserie Coco Rico. We first noticed, not because of the food, but because Coco Rico has a long tradition of having elaborate graffiti-style wall murals. I no longer remember what the mural was like the first time I saw in in 2002 (on the way to Schwartz’s down the street), but by 2007 it involved a simple spraypainted chicken adorned with hearts. By 2010, it involved a group of singing chickens. And by 2013, that had been in turn replaced by an elaborate “Conquistador Chicken” mural. But that’s not what made us stop. No, lingering to look at the mural also immerses you in the intense aroma wafting out of the store, of multiple marinated chickens roasting away on their rotisseries. So on this visit in 2015… we finally had a chance to stop in and visit.

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Restaurant Chez Pépé (Pike River, QC)

(Closed) This summer had two trips up to Montreal, both associated with my annual Death March tradition (in which we find a city and hike across it, exploring the sights and eating the food). The drive from NH up to Montreal is always a bit amazing to me, since driving up I-89 it’s basically the rolling green mountains of Vermont, until you cross the border at Highgate Springs. I-89 becomes Provincial Highway 133, and the rolling green mountains of Vermont become…. Iowa. Well, at least a Quebecois version of it. The land becomes flat and open, with spacious farms lining farm fields. And, at least until the expansion of Provincial Highway 35 goes all the way to the border (expected sometime about a decade from now), it also means a transition from highway driving to fairly quiet country roads. Along the way, the route to Montreal meanders through several smaller farm towns, with a nice mix of English and French names (Saint-Sebastien, Saint-Armand, and Pike River). And most of these towns actually have some interesting little diner places, two of which have been on my hit list for a while. One of these is Restaurant Chez Pépé, right on the border between Pike River and Saint-Sebastien, which always has a healthy collection of cars outside (The other, Chez Ti Polo, over in Henryville, is no longer on the route since the Hwy 35 expansion, so I’ll have to catch it another time). So this time, we decided to stop and give them a try.

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