Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Therapy Poutine?

I'm having mixed feelings about Montreal these days.

It's springtime, and I've got itchy feet. I'm looking to stretch my wings.

I also received a notice from the landlord that our rent is increasing by $20/month starting in July. Fucking shit! That's like taking my landlord out to dinner every month. Not just a sandwich either. We're talking someplace nice. Of course, my roommates Dill and Pickle and I plan on refusing the rental increase, with the assistance of the Villeray Renters' Association. The Villeray Renters' Association (ALV) has got the backs of poor people, so a big shout out to them for fighting the good fight.

I'm clutching the piece of registered mail from our landlord when I run into Cay on St-Denis. "I'm having an existential crisis," I say. She's lighting a smoke. I hold up the envelope: "Bad news." She exhales. "Our rent is going up by $20 a month." "Ours too," she says. "By the same amount. We're gonna refuse." I explain that I need a poutine. Therapy poutine. Poutine to convince me not to move out of my dreamy homestead to greener, cheaper rent pastures.

We chat briefly about a video shoot that our mutual friend is coordinating for May Day, and then I'm off. I head straight to Jonas.

Photo: http://maudetoby.blogspot.ca

I've been to Jonas a few times. It's a diner. It's near my home. They serve breakfast and make burgers and they have large booths--what's not to love?

I ordered, for the first time, a Boréale Rousse on tap. A glass. It tasted divine. I then ordered a poutine. They only have one size. My food arrived promptly. I was the only customer seated in the restaurant.

The poutine was good for the first few minutes. The cheese curds were still firm. I went for the shorter, crispier fries. The gravy was slightly spiced, not too dark, nice. Then I reached the mid-way point, and that's when it started to feel like soggy, gravy soup. I mean, it's hard to complain about poutine being a soggy mess of gravy, melted cheese, and potato, 'cause, by definition, that's what it is. Poutine is meant to be poutiney. Or poutine-esque.

I'm not sure I really experienced the Montreal Moment of Truth I was looking for. There was a hockey game on the teevee, and the announcers were narrating the game in French. I was eating poutine. I was looking at an envelope that spelled bad news and constant struggle: the increased payment of rent. I don't think there's ever a poutine that will relieve me of the shame, horror, and humiliation of paying for housing, no matter how gooey and soupy and cheesy it may be.

Therapy poutine fail.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking Myself Out on a Date at Frite Alors!

I haven't left the house in two days except to eat a poutine and visit Jarry Park. Leaving the house when it's freezing outside is challenging, but it sometimes has its rewards. Yesterday's sunset was my reward:

Parc Jarry, March 2014
I wish I could say as much for my dining experience at Frite Alors! on Villeray. I usually love dining there. I usually call eating at Frite Alors! on Villeray "taking myself out on a date." It's a small, intimate, warm, and inviting spot that is steps from my home. I almost always treat myself to a beer--either a Boréale Rousse on tap or a Coup de Grisou in a bottle--and a small Poutine Montréalaise. The fries are crispy, the smoked meat is lightly sauteed on the grill, and the cheese curds are plenty satisfying. It's soul food that sticks to the ribs. The Coup de Grisou beer is spicy, Belgian-inspired. It's the perfect winter treat. The atmosphere is also usually relaxed. I read the cultural calendars that are kicking around on the racks, such as Voir, Beaubien Cinema programmes or the FIFA guide. I feel very cultured when I eat at the Frite Alors! on Villeray.

It's not cheap, really. For a beer and a small poutine, my bill came to $16,10 with tax. Plus tip, and it's a $20 price tag. That's why I like to think of Frite Alors! as a special sort of outing, as though I'm marking an anniversary or the successful completion of a work project. When I go to Frite Alors!, I'm taking myself out on a date.

I took a date there once, and while it's a well-suited spot for romantic-ish dinners, I think I prefer the solo experience. Partly, perhaps, because I am comfortable there dining alone, which is not something that can be said for every eatery. Many restaurants are intended as social meeting spaces for families, friends or couples. Frite Alors! Villeray is a fine place for reading or list-making.

Yesterday, the romance of my solo dining date was cut short, however. A family of four entered the restaurant as I had begun lifting forkfuls of gravied, cheesied, deep-fried potato sticks into my face. At this point in the late afternoon, free seating was limited to tables of two. Glancing around, a few customers who had finished eating realized that it was time for them to move on, as a courtesy to the new customers. Everyone in the restaurant, it seemed, became at once collectively aware of how much space they were taking up. Except this family of four: two middle-aged parents, one young adult son, and his girlfriend. They complained they didn't want the table that had just been vacated for them. They were eyeing the large table near the window where four friends sat, finishing their sodas.

"Is this table okay?" the father asked the son. "No, I'd prefer the light of that table over there." All within earshot turned their heads to observe each of the four friends pay the server her bill. Meanwhile, I'm rushing through my poutine, the relaxed atmosphere broken. This family of four out on a double date had managed to nearly clear the entire restaurant with their sense of entitlement. Couldn't they see that several people had already gone out of their way to accommodate them? The vibe shifted. The sense was that these customers would be impossible to please (possibly the worst kind of customers, next to aggressive types).

Poutine magic--poof! Spicy Belgian beer delight--poof! Both evaporated.

I visited the washroom, paid my bill, and left, leaving the server with the double dating family.

With warming poutine in my belly, best to move on.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Welcome Back!

First post in five years.

Where have I been? Where am I now?

The short answer is everywhere. From the Andean mountains to the Arabian Sea, I've swam in rivers, lakes, and streams from north to south, east to west. My latest adventure was a one-week squat on beaches in Puerto Rico, followed by a stint in the El Yunque rainforest. I spent time in New Brunswick. I visited many small towns in Quebec.

I now live and work in Montreal.

Jean-Talon Metro, via Wikimedia Commons

More specifically, I live and work in a neighbourhood in the northern part of the city: Villeray. I am near the Jean-Talon market, many bakeries, fruiteries, and eateries of various stripes. While I sometimes miss the roti of Toronto, Montreal also has much to offer the palette.

I am reviving this blog after a five-year hiatus to share with you my dining experiences in and around Villeray, Montreal. Cheap eats still tends to be one of my main criteria for leaving the house.

Stay tuned, and welcome back!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rustic Cosmo Cafe: Cozy and Delightful

Rustic Cosmo Cafe is my current favourite restaurant in Parkdale. Located at 1278 Queen Street West, the cafe serves up good breakfasts and good coffees: a winning combination.

On weekends, the cafe serves the best eggs benedict, with a side salad, and spicy homefries. Add a fancy cafe latte, and a warm 'n cozy atmosphere, and you've got yourself a great Saturday morning. The trick is to arrive early, or wait your turn in a short line-up. Do not even consider going to the Cadillac Lounge for breakfast down the street instead -- the homefries just won't cut it. (The last time I went to the Cadillac Lounge for breakfast, my homefries were not even completely cooked.)

Wooden benches, an open kitchen/cash area, good food, good coffee, and the comfortable atmosphere make Rustic Cosmo a delightfully relaxed neighbourhood locale.

Le Tibet: Fine Tibetan Cuisine?

Keeping in line with the Tibetan theme, Tasty Tastebuds and I checked out Le Tibet, located at 1526 Queen Street West. Okay, our original intention was to visit Danijela's, but the latter had actually shut down, and lo and behold, Le Tibet was in its place. So we decided to check it out.

(It's so hard to keep track of restaurant closures on the most western stretch of Queen Street these days -- there seems to be a revolving restaurant door as the neighbourhood moves somewhere in between, back and forth, from gentrification to ghettoization).

Le Tibet had amazing mulligatawny (yellow lentil) soup. Definite highlight. Otherwise, the meat dish that Tasty Tastebuds ordered was very rice-heavy, and my vegetable noodles were equally so-so. One should probably expect more from a restaurant that bills itself as "fine Tibetan cuisine." Locals seemed more inclined to treat it as a family restaurant, as the other diners among us all shared giant pasta dishes and dumplings as small groups.

The view of a massive, brightly lit big box store across the street is also not so "fine." But I saw today that owner Tenzin T. Valunbisitsang has set up a beautiful quilted window hanging to cozy up the atmosphere a tad. So he's on it.

In the end, we were not overly impressed by Le Tibet, with its only "finesse" in the fine service and fine price tag. But if you're a die-hard Tibetan foodie, and must check this place out for yourself, do try the soup and dumplings, but steer clear of the mains. Oh, and the hot sauce on the side is kinda nice too.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Taste of Tibet, Queen West Art Crawl, and Parkdale Gentrification

One of the many Tibetan restaurants in my Parkdale neighbourhood has closed. Taste of Tibet, located between Jameson Street and the mini strip mall that houses a sweet computer repair shop, a laundromat, the Sally Ann thrift store, and the awesomely seedy Parkdale Breakfast on Queen Street West, has brown paper covering the inside of its front windows. No, it's not an installation exhibit on the Queen West Art Crawl. The restaurant is officially closed.

That Taste of Tibet never made it in the Queen West Art Crawl, I believe, raises an important point, and says more about Parkdale gentrification than encroaching condo-developers from Liberty Village would wish to hear. Who selects which businesses are featured in these neighbourhood festivals (not limited to the Art Crawl) and walking tour maps and guides? How are selections made? How are certain co-promotional partnerships pursued with some businesses and why not others? Whose Parkdale is it?

Parkdale, without any doubt in my mind, is undergoing a major re-branding. And yes, I am a part of this process of gentrification, making it a safer neighbourhood for young, up-and-coming twenty-somethings to move in, take up space, spend my money on expensive brunch, and take advantage of the cheap rent and proximity to downtown. But there are certainly other power-holders at play.

Opening up the blogto.com/torontomaps guide that I picked up at a vintage clothing store on Queen Street West in Parkdale, I discover that none of my favourite eating establishments are promoted. Roti Lady? Not there. Taste of Tibet? Non-existent. What about the Vietnamese pho place Tasty Tastebuds and I love so much? Not there either. Many of these eateries have been in the neighbourhood far longer than Poor John's Cafe (not actually for poor people) or Mitzi's Sister (formerly the Tennyson Pub) which are both listed. Where's Happy Time, whose special is always -- gotta love 'em -- fish and chips? Where's Bukuchoy, the Filipino take-out joint on King Street with the best frickin' Saturday special on peanut butter stir fry ever? Whose Parkdale is it? Why are these restaurants excluded from Parkdale's brand image?

Maybe I should make an alternative map to the BlogTO version. In part, this is what this blog should be about: restaurants "undiscovered" (or simply not promoted) by the Parkdale Liberty Economic Development Corporation. Apparently, I have serious work to do. Suddenly, I am realizing that reviewing restaurants is becoming increasingly political.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yummy Chinese Food in Parkdale

Portions were huge. Food was good. Really, you should check this place out. I am not sure why Tasty Tastebuds and I waited so long.

Yummy Food, located at 1533 Queen Street West, offers free delivery after 4:00 pm, and besides the waste packaging created by take-out food, I would recommend this place as a take-out joint more than a dine-in restaurant.

We dined in, and ordered the house special pad thai and eggplant in yu-xiang spicy sauce. The pad thai featured various meats and vegetables, including shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. The eggplant dish in a sweet and spicy sauce would have been good served on a bed of rice. We were not offered water to drink, even though the food was very hot/spicy. For this reason, I can see why this would be a good take-out or delivery place. Your own tap may be readily on hand. In the end, we were so full on our $20.00 (including tax) meals that we had to package a portion to go in a styrofoam container anyway...

Next time I'm looking to treat myself to huge portions of chinese food from down the street, without leaving the comfort of my own home, I'll order Yummy Food. Their menu boasts different dinner for two to five combos as well -- what I'll definitely be trying next. Call to order: 416-588-1333 or 416-588-5664.