2012 is in the books. This year, Montreal saw a plethora of new dishes and interesting events occur, resulting in the wonderful evolution of our fair city’s food scene. Street food took on new life and amazed us all, different takes on classic dishes became new favorites, and special, original menus shined. There’s also the whole McLeans “Best Restaurants in Canada” story, The Laurier BBQ/GR/1936 controversy, and on the plus side, we saw Montreal chefs continue to lead by example and show why this city is one of the best culinary destinations in Canada. Personally, I ate some really good food in and outside of Montreal. One incredible event occurred this summer, where I was very fortunate to experience a trip of a lifetime. I traveled across Canada on a train sponsored by VIA Rail, and also benefited from a couple days in Vancouver. A couple delicious days in Vancouver as you will see below. I’m pretty sure I ate more this year than I did last, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed most of it. So, here are the best foods I ate this year, in no particular order.
I’ve eaten a lot of poutines. Some are good, some are better. I believe La Banquise makes the best poutine in the city, which they should since that’s what they’re known for. However, there’s two poutines that should NOT be missed. Blackstrap and Moishes couldn’t be further apart on the spectrum of meat driven restaurants. It’s rare you would even say Blackstrap and Moishes in the same sentence, except when discussing their poutines. Blackstrap, only opened a few months ago, is a very casual southern barbecue eatery, and Moishes is a 70-plus year old institution serving some of the best steaks in Montreal. Both feature delicious fries, and use traditional Quebec cheese curds. The parts that differ: the gravy and the added delicious meat. Blackstrap’s gravy is made from the drippings of the meats from the smoker, giving it a very dark, rich color and tasty smokey flavor. The meat added to this poutine is known as burnt ends; the slightly crispy, very juicy, and fabulous end pieces of a smoked brisket. I love the fact that after more than 70 years of serving amazing steaks, pickles, coleslaw, monte carlo potatoes, and much more, Moishes is now serving poutine. Their gravy is made of a veal demi glace, made in house, mixed with their famous peppercorn sauce. Ridiculous. As for the meat, they add a 10-ounce filet mignon…no big deal. Both poutines are outstanding. It’s hard to pick which one I like better, since they are very different. All I know for sure is these two dishes are amazing.
Cream of squash soup au gratin (Emmental cheese), Amaretti garnished with apples- Au Pied de Cochon Cabane a Sucre: Apple Season Menu
Besides maple season, apple season is my second favorite. The exact moment I heard that APDC was doing an apple themed menu, I sent in my reservation request immediately. I got that reservation and was treated to one of the best meals of the year. Even though everything was amazing, the soup was by far the best. When we think of fall, many foods come to mind. Two of my favorites are squash and apples. Make a delicious soup out of it, add a lot of cheese, and sweeten it up with chunks of Amaretti cookies, and you’ve got me hooked. The large group I was with concurred this was one of the best things on the menu. Can’t wait for maple season 2013.
Corn on the cob with chipotle mayo, home made cheese curds, and cilantro – Grumman ’78
As one of the biggest advocates for the legalization and regulation of street food in Montreal, Grumman ’78 is most known for their tasty tacos. This year, on several occasions, I never passed up on their variation of corn on the cob. Trust me when I say, you haven’t had corn on the cob until you’ve had this. Sweet corn dredged in buttery, spicy chipotle mayo, sprinkled with cheese, and flavors heightened with a few cilantro leaves. It was all over my face at the end and I almost licked the napkin.
Le Decadent – La Mangeoire
Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? Breakfast sandwiches, sandwiches for lunch, and even dinner can always be delicious depending on what’s in the middle; however, it’s rare we see one for dessert. A new food truck, La Mangeoire, prides itself on offering gourmet sandwiches. They were around at all the street food festivities, especially at the Souk at the Just for Laughs Festival this summer. That’s where I had my first bite of sandwich heaven. It’s a grilled sandwich with Nutella, peanut butter, and bacon. I’m sorry, but what’s not to like here? The classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter with the one ingredient that goes well with everything. Le Decadent is a sandwich of dreams.
Spaghetti Carbonara – Giuseppe Sacchetti, 753BT
I almost (almost!) forgot about this meal. I along with a few select guests were invited by the young and talented chef, Giuseppe Sacchetti for a true Roman style meal called Cucina Romana. In true Italian style, each plate was simple, classic, and comforting. One of my favorite Italian dishes is pasta carbonara. Everything about it is amazing. It’s creamy, cheesy pasta. This chef’s take on carbonara is not only one of the best things I ate this year, but is one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. Made with fresh spaghetti (the only way), the sauce consisted of the best Parmigiano Reggiano, duck egg yolk for extra creaminess, and guanciale, which is Italian bacon made with pork jowls. Just bask in the photo and try to tell me that doesn’t look good.
Porketta Sandwich – Meat & Bread (Vancouver)
After three and a half days on a train from Toronto, it was nice to reach the final destination in Vancouver. Traveling with other food bloggers definitely has its advantages. On one of the days, all we really did was eat and walk. I mentioned before how much sandwiches mean to me, so when I heard we were going to a place called Meat & Bread, I almost couldn’t handle the excitement. This place was actually featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, and I ate exactly what they made on the show: the porchetta sandwich. This is literally one of the top sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. Every bit was better than the next in the purest sense. The wonderful porchetta is slow roasted, and skin becomes deliciously crispy. They make their own ciabatta bread that’s nice and soft, and holds up very nicely. The tender, juicy meat is hand cut, cubed and piled on the bread. Then, the skin is chopped and sprinkled on top for some saltiness and crispiness. Finally, a herbaceous salsa verde is drizzled on top. Yes, the sandwich is as good as it looks. This is one dish I literally dream about and would travel to Vancouver just so I could eat this again.
Double Cheeseburger – The Burger’s Priest (Toronto)
There are burgers, and then there are burgers. It doesn’t matter how expensive one is, or what fancy toppings accompany it. As long as the meat, the bun, and the simple essentials work harmoniously, then it’s going to be good. A friend of mine living in Toronto didn’t shut up about this place, so I finally went. I ordered the double cheeseburger with bacon, no ketchup, no mustard. The key to these burgers is the meat cooked on a flat-top griddle and not on a grill. Also, they only prepare enough meat for the day, so if they run out, they run out and they’re done until tomorrow. The Maillard reaction (a.k.a. the caramelization of meat) creates a flavorful crust locking in the juiciness which eventually dripped down my pinky towards my elbow. The bacon was at the ideal crispiness, the bun held up nicely, and the cheese was great. This is literally one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. It’s not a fancy burger by any means; it’s a refined, delicious, satisfying mess of a burger.
“Beuchelle Tourangelle” of veal sweetbread and brain, white port and morel sauce – Chez Levesque
This year, Montreal experienced it’s first official restaurant week; special menus at select restaurants for either $19, $29, or $39. Among the long list of places, one that’s been on my radar for a while was the classic French restaurant, Chez Levesque, on Laurier. I dined on the 5 course menu for only $39 (an absolute steal) with Na’eem Adam (Mechant Mangeur) and Foodie Date Night. The meal was excellent, and one dish in particular brought me back to a previous experience I had with offal. I enjoy sweetbreads on the rare occasion, and brain doesn’t usually appeal to me, but in this case, I had a good feeling about what I was about to eat. Good thing I followed my gut. The earthy morel sauce draped over little pieces of perfectly cooked sweetbreads and bits of well cooked veal brain masked the “offal”-ness of the ingredients and brought out the best flavor in both of them. It was fabulously rich and just wonderful.
Here’s to a great 2012, and an even better 2013!