Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2023

Schwartz's Deli

Okay, we've been to Schwartz's Deli before on our last visit to Montreal, but we didn't dine in due to the long lineup.  Hence, we didn't get the "true" experience and to give it a fair shake, we returned to do it right.  Fortunately for us, there was not much of a lineup (as you can see in the picture).  I've always held the thought that Snowden Deli is better but we ate in there and this was the way to settle the comparison.

So without further ado, let's get straight to the Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich.  It was fairly good size with enough meat to satisfy without being a monstrosity.  It was a combination of fatty brisket and the flat.  There was a background level of smokiness and the meat was just salty enough.  It ate tender and didn't require much chewing.  As for the rye bread, it was pretty robust and held things together nicely.  Definitely solid and is still one of the best.

This time around, I had to get something different, so we went for the Smoked Chicken and Montreal Smoked Meat Combo.  It also included fries on the side.  Well, I regret ordering the chicken because it was super dry and not all that fun to eat.  I mean the flavour was good with smoky pepperiness, but the meat, especially the breast, was practically inedible.  As for the sliced smoked meat, it was excellent.  Tender, moist and flavourful. 

About those Fries, they were fresh cut and fried up beautifully.  They really piled it onto the plate and in reality, it is hard to finish by yourself.  Best to share with a friend (or the random stranger sitting beside you).  They were uniformly crispy and had a nice attractive colour.  Inside, the creamy potato was warm and appealing. These were definitely delicious but they would be better served in a poutine...

Yes, we did get the Smoked Meat Poutine too (same as last time) and it was fantastic.  Unlike last time, we ate this fresh and it made a huge difference as the fries were still crispy in some spots.  The hot gravy had a nice viscosity and was not overly salty.  That was a good thing as the ample amount of chopped smoke meat added all the flavour this dish needed.  Underneath, we found a bevy of cheese curds that were partly melted.  We still had some whole pieces that were at their squeaky best.  Well, I gotta say that Schwartz's still has game and their smoked meat is good as well as their poutine.  Can't say the same for the chicken, but that isn't the main draw here.  There are other places to get smoked meat in Montreal and some of them maybe arguably better, but if you are looking for an iconic place, Schwartz's is it.

The Good:
- Excellent smoked meat
- That poutine!
- It has history and the name

The Bad:
- You'll have to lineup for it
- Seating isn't the most comfortable (part of the charm right?)

Crew Collective & Cafe

I'll admit that I'm not a coffee expert.  I'm only an occasional coffee drinker and even with that, I much prefer more watered down versions.  However, I know what I like and don't like, so that counts for something right?  It helps Viv is a coffee drinker and Costanza is our resident coffee expert.  This bode well for us as he suggested we hit up Crew Collective & Coffee down in Old Montreal.  Other than the coffee, the place is known for its location in an old cathedral-style bank building complete with chandeliers and ornate dome ceilings.  The counter is actually the bank teller counters!  They have WeWork spaces for people to use as well (do not go use that space if you are just chilling with your coffee!).

We lined up with the rest of the patrons and waited until it was our turn.  Make sure you are not in a rush!   In addition to our coffee, we got some pastries including the Cheese Croissant.  This "escargot"-type pastry consisted of a swirl of puff pastry.  It was ultimately flaky and shattered when torn apart.  It was marginally cheesy though and could've used more of it.  It was buttery and had discernible layers.

Staying with puff pastry not quite the same, we had the Double-Baked Almond Croissant.  Normally, these can be a bit denser and harder, which this one was.  However, it was actually rather light in comparison to other versions.  It was crunchy and shattered upon biting into it and the buttery and sweet almond filling was plentiful and evenly distributed.  Pretty good for a coffee house that isn't necessarily a patisserie.

Our last item was also our favourite in the Kouign Amann.  Well, it was quite obvious from the first bite that this thing meant business.  It was super buttery and rich while also being sweet.  There was discernible layers initially on the outside, but as we bit further into it, it just became a buttery sweet homogeneous pastry.  Nothing wrong with that as it went very well with our coffees.  We just needed to walk it off.

So onto the coffees, we had a Latte, Americano and a Iced Mocha.  I would say that their coffees are pretty good with a definitely darker and rich flavour, possibly bordering on a bit bitter for some people.  Yet, it was quite smooth in my opinion.  Costanza, who is our resident coffee expert, did say it was good but not great.  However, the real draw is the old bank building.  It is gorgeous and a great place to grab a drink and pastry.

The Good:
- Beautiful building
- Decent pastries
- Good coffee

The Bad:
- A bit slow with only one machine and a long line-up
- Good coffee, but not great

Mon Lapin

So when you are named the #1 restaurant in Canada according to Canada's 100 Best, there are some pretty high expectations.  Well, shortly after this was announced, I made sure to get a reservation as soon as I was able.  We were going to be in Montreal anyways and of course I was going to see for myself what all the fuss is about this wine bar that has transformed into something bigger, literally and figuratively (restaurant has gotten bigger and their menu has leveled-up).

Seeing how it was a nice day and not too hot, we decided to sit outside in their quaint patio.  We ordered a good selection of items including the Razor Clams with fava beans and ham.  Simple, yet elegant, this dish was all about pure flavours.  We had the sweetness of the clams nicely accented by the mild saltiness of the ham.  Beyond the colour, the fava beans provided an earthy sweetness.  We doubled-up on this dish since it would usually only come with 2 servings.

My favourite dish was the Radish Parfait with chicken liver mousse and a supplement of Fried Chicken Oysters.  Oh look at those beautiful fresh-from-the-farm radishes!  They were so crunchy, bright and earthy with a bite.  Dipped into the creamy, sweet and airy mousse, it was divine.  Let's not forget about the chicken oysters as they were crunchy on the outside while revealing the unmistakable tender juicy little nuggets.

Sure, the next item was not the sexiest thing we had, but who wouldn't want some Bâtard with "bon beurre" (good butter) and La Villana EVOO?  Well, the bread was fantastic with a crust exterior giving way to soft chewy insides.  That butter was really good being creamy and nutty with enough saltiness.  The star was the EVOO as it was super flavourful with hints of pepperiness and bitterness.

Moving on, we had the Scallop Crudo with rhubarb water, sorrel and buckwheat butter.  This was simplicity at its best since there was not much in the way of overpowering items in the dish.  This let the sweetness of the buttery scallops be the highlight.  Light acidity, sweetness and nuttiness complimented the scallops.  This was a truly a refreshing dish that was perfect for a summer day.

Now for something a bit different, we had the Le Croque Pétoncle.  This reminded me somewhat of Chinese shrimp toast, but with scallop mousse instead of shrimp mousse.  This was well-prepared with evenly toasted buttery bread with spongy sweet scallop mousse.  These ate quite well and were a textural delight.  This was served with a classic rouille in the middle that added an aromatic creaminess.  Once again, this was a double-order of this dish.

Yep, we had to double-up our order of the Gnudi di Ricotta as well since we all wanted one of everything.  So this consisted of ricotta gnudi with deceptively similar balls of white turnip and garnished with turnip leaves.  The dish was finished in a very green pesto, so combined with the leaves, this was basically monotone.  It didn't taste that way though as the creaminess of the gnudi came through and it was seasoned enough to stand on its own.  However, the pesto was cheesy, nutty and herbaceous.

Hidden underneath a slice of mortadella (I moved it so we could see underneath), the Whelks were finished with fennel and herbs.  Nothing too complex about this dish as the whelks were the star being briny and sweet.  Texturally, they were like bigger clams and had a tender chew to them.  Loved the tender fennel as it provided classic licorice notes and the mortadella added some saltiness.

One of the most unique preparations was the Sourdough-Crusted Chicken (yes with foot still attached) with potatoes, Manila clams and yellow wine.  Well that crust was amazing with a firm crunchiness that gave way to super tender and juicy meat (even the breast).  Yep, I ate the chicken foot too...  The wine sauce was slightly briny due to the clams and was savoury with some sweetness.  Those potatoes were tender and creamy in the middle.

Our final savoury dish was the Aged Pork with crispy pig ears, pork fat morels and eel sauce.  That fatty pork was cooked perfectly with just a touch of pink.  Hence it was tender and juicy with a heightened "porkiness".  Those earthy and luscious morels were complimented the pork beautifully. Can't forget about those crispy pig ears!  They were gelatinous, fatty and yes, crispy.

For dessert, we shared the Pannacotta with Quebec strawberries, elderberry gelee and elderberry flowers.  This was super refreshing, light and full of floral notes.  The pannacotta itself was perfect as it was creamy and fully set without being too stiff.  This was a light and fruity finish to a solid meal.  Mon Lapin has not only delicious share plates, their wine list is extensive.  Great place to share a bottle or 2 or 3 while dining on small plates.  The question is it #1 in Canada?  Personally I would say no because I like Published on Main in Vancouver more, but I can't deny that Mon Lapin is a pretty good too.

The Good:
- Fresh and delicious share plates
- Extensive wine list
- Knowledgeable and professional staff

The Bad:
- Main dining room can be warm
- Your bill can get up there if you are hungry and thirsty

La Piazzetta

So far, our random food adventures have been acceptable and in fact, some have been really nice surprises.  However, like Murphy's Law, you knew eventually we would hit the wall and dine on something not so tasty.  This was the case at Piazetta just a block from our hotel.  It was sure convenient as we could literally see the restaurant from our room window!    Not that we should trust online reviews (and generally we do not), it had a rating of 4.1 out of 5.0.  It couldn't be bad right?  Famous last words...

So the meal actually started off quite well with the Hot Country-Style Lobster Dip.  This consisted of Chemin Hatley and Alfred Le Fermier cheeses, cream cheese, mayo, baby spinach, artichoke hearts, green onion and
garlic scapes topped with panko crumbs. This was actually not too heavy, yet was still rich and delicious.  Lots of cheesiness with a touch of saltiness.  We had some brightness with each bite and some crunch as well.  They didn't skimp on the lobster as we got quite a few morsels.

Once we got to the pizzas, this is where the meal fell apart.  We tried the Westphalia Ham first and really the toppings were quite good.  They included cep sauce, smoked prosciutto, mozzarella, Swiss, mushrooms, green onion and five-pepper mix.  Due to the mushroom sauce (rather than tomato), the flavours were earthy and full of umami. This complimented the salty prosciutto quite well.  However, the pizza crust was not very good.  It was pale, a bit dense and only a bit crispy (although salted enough).  Maybe we had different expectations but this is one of the least appealing pizza crusts we've had in recent memory.  This includes all types from Neapolitan, Sicilian, Roman and even the run-of-the-mill North American chains.

Next, we had the Diabola with Pomodoro, spicy Hungarian salami, mozza, cheddar, hot pepper, green pepper, green olives, red onion and exotic spices (cumin, coriander, chili).  Once again, this pizza tasted great.  The spiciness came through while the pomodoro had a nice tanginess.  Lots of flavour in this one and the crust was marginally better than the previous pizza.  It was a bit thinner and crunchier.  However, it was still a bit lifeless and dense.

Finally, we tried their Spaghetti Bolognese which arrived as a really large portion.  We found the pasta to be nicely al dente but the sauce was not as rich as we would've expected.  I make bolognese all the time at home and this one here was closer to a tangy meat sauce than the luscious rich and creamy bolognese.  I'm not sure if they used any milk (or very little) and the complexity of flavours wasn't there as it was one-note.  To be fair, this wasn't a terrible pasta.  We actually thought it was decent.  It just wasn't the bolognese that we were expecting.  Overall, the meal here was very meh.  We did enjoy the dip and the pizza toppings were good.  However, due to the crust and the weak bolognese, this was least favourite meal while we we in Quebec City.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing considering the portion size
- Friendly service
- Loved that lobster dip

The Bad:
- Pizza crust was not very good

Microbrasserie de l'Île d’Orléans - Pub Le Mitan

Last time we were in Quebec City, it was the second-to-last stop on our cruise from Boston to Montreal.  Hence, we only had a day and weren't able to hit all of our intended stops.  This time around, with rental car (or mini-van in this case) in hand, we drove out to Montmorency Falls.  After many many stairs down the side of a hill to get the money shot of the falls, we were tired from the hot weather.  We took a break under some trees and planned out next destination - l'Île d’Orléans.  This was not too far from where we were as we crossed the Orleans Island Bridge.  We were looking for lunch and yet again, we did the random restaurant approach and ended up at Pub Le Mitan, attached to the Microbrasserie de l'Île d’Orléans.

Well, since we were at a micro brewery, the right thing to do is have a beer n'est pas?  So Costanza had the Pilsner while I went a completely different direction with the Gose Fraises Basilic (Strawberry Basil).  I will readily admit that I like lighter beers, in particular fruitier ones such as grapefruit radlers and sours.  This one was off-the-hook with a clean and crisp taste while having a generous hit of strawberries with a mild basil finish.  I liked this so much, I bought some to go from the store afterwards.

Onto the food, we had some of their Chicken Wings served with BBQ sauce.  Surprisingly, these were some of the best wings I've had recently.  Since they were brined in beer, they had good flavour and the meat was super juicy and tender.  The skin was beautifully rendered and was crispy despite being glazed with BBQ sauce. We had some extra BBQ sauce served in the middle of the basket and it was tangy with some spice.

For my main, I had the Smoked Meat Sandwich served on toasted rye.  It came with pickles as well as a healthy side of mustard.  As a sandwich, this ate quite well.  Naturally, this wasn't the smoked meat that I was looking for (that would be in Montreal), but it was definitely serviceable.  Unfortunately, the fries were not very good.  They were fried far too long and were dry and lifeless.  I did enjoy the side of coleslaw as it was fresh and had a nice tanginess.

Elaine and Costanza weren't too hungry and decided to share some Fish & Chips as well as a salad with their own order of wings.  Well, this had the same unfortunate fries and they were not very appealing in texture.  The beer battered fish was okay with a moist flakiness.  Batter was relatively thin with a crunchy exterior.  However, the batter closest to the fish was a bit wet (usually it is, but it was more so here).

Viv wasn't hungry either and went for their Smoked Salmon Baguette with a lot of cream cheese on the side.  This was served with onions and capers much like you would find on a bagel.  Also similarly to a bagel, the baguette was a bit dense and hard.  We put all the cream cheese on it to add some moisture and it helped.  Overall, we thought the food was serviceable at Pub Le Mitan but not great, except for the wings.  However, the main draw here is the beers.  I loved mine so much I am looking into getting some shipped back to Vancouver!

The Good:
- Menu has something for everyone
- Excellent beer
- Comfortable dining space

The Bad:
- Food is fine but not the draw here

Le Billig

Coming back from a long day of sightseeing and having some bevvies in the lovely Bar 1608 in the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, we were pretty tired.  So we decided to retire to our hotel rooms and rest up.  Well, that took longer than expected and by the time we headed out for some eats, it was pretty late.  No matter because we were looking for crêpes and in particular, Le Billig on Rue St. Jean, approximately 4 blocks from our hotel.  They are open late and we made it there before last call.

So since we were in the weird time where most people would be having dessert rather than dinner, we decided to go for one savoury and one sweet selection each.  Costanza went for the baseline in the basic Crêpe with Maple Syrup.  Good idea as there was nothing to hide here.  This thin crêpe was delicate with crispy edges.  The rest of it was tender with an appealing chewiness.  It was buttery and accepted the syrup beautifully.

Elaine went for something much more substantial in La Béarn with duck confit, goat's cheese, spinach and onion confit.  Oh yah, this was fantastic with a crispy thin crepe encasing plenty of ingredients.  This was definitely a meal in itself and more so.  The goat's cheese was creamy and rich without being overly gamy.  Tender shreds of duck confit were strewn about as well as tender spinach leaves.  The thing that put it over the top was the sweet onion confit.  It really brought out the natural flavours of the duck.

For myself, I stayed on the same course and had La Galette Saucisse with homemade cabbage sausage, mustard cream, cheese, wilted onions, spinach and potatoes.  Again, we found a uniformly crispy crêpe folded over topped with the aforementioned ingredients.  The sausage was juicy and meaty where it was complimented by the mustard cream perfectly.  It had a nice bite to offset the heaviness.  Loved the crispy potatoes and the spinach was cooked just enough.

Viv ended up with the La Lemon Curd with lemon cream, mascarpone, salidou and white chocolate chips.  This was utterly delicious with pointed tanginess that was balanced by the salted butter caramel on the bottom of the plate.  The white chocolate chips also added another layer of sweetness and texture. Wow, we were pretty impressed with our crêpes!  They were well-made and combined with thoughtful as well as impactful ingredients.  Would recommend this place to everyone!

The Good:
- Solid crêpes
- Lots of selection
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Gets pretty warm in there, might want to sit outside?

Brasserie Les Mordus

Sometimes we choose restaurants based on convenience.  Yes, I'm sure there are outliers to this statement, but let's just say most people have dined somewhere that was not their first choice or maybe not even their 10th choice.  However, due to being at a particular location, sacrifices had to be made.  That was the case when we were strolling around in Old Quebec City.  Sure, there are legitimately good places to eat there including Le Clan, but we weren't up for a tasting menu.  Hence we stopped by at Brasserie Les Mordus for a quick bite.

We started off with the Duo of Duck with rillette & smoked duck breast, onion confit with brandy, homemade pickles & croutons.  We weren't expecting much dining at a random spot but this dish was excellent.  The rillette was meaty and ducky without being overtly fatty (yes, it still was, but it was blended nicely).  The smoked duck was moist and tender with a nice hit of smoky saltiness.  That onion confit really complimented the rillette with a natural sweetness.

Viv went for the larger lunch version of the Tuna Tartare with fried vermicelli and served with croutons, salad & fries.  Prepared Asian-style, the tuna tartare had some soy and sesame oil elements but we felt it could've used more seasoning.  The tuna was buttery and the crunch from the fried vermicelli and crostinis provided textural contrast.  Fries on the side were crispy, but seemed a bit overfried.

For myself, I had the Smoked Meat Open-Faced Sandwich with fried pickle, red onion,
sweet & old-fashioned mustard, salad and hash browns.  Sure, this was not the smoked meat you'd find at some of the best delicatessens in Montreal, but it was serviceable and well-portioned.  Wasn't sure what the dressing on the salad was because it tasted like plain mayo.  Hashbrowns were good though, better than the fries.

Costanza went for the Mordus Open-Faced Sandwich consisting of shredded lobster, crab & Matane shrimp mix and
coconut shrimp, green onion mayo & coconut flakes.  We liked the deep-fried coconut shrimp as they were crunchy and aromatic.  As for the seafood mix, there was no shortage of mayo where the flavours were a bit muted.  Would've been better with some extra acidity.  Salad and fries were the same as the other dishes.

Elaine ordered the Mussels & Fries Provencal-Style with tomato basil and oregano.  This was a pretty large portion of all opened mussels.  The meat was sufficient and buttery soft.  As for the broth, we could taste the white wine and it was tomato forward.  The side of fries were the same being a bit too fried.  Overall, the food at Brasserie Les Mordus did its job and we were satisfied.  It was conveniently located, prices were fair and the service was excellent.  Would it be my first choice?  No, but it worked out decently for what we needed.

The Good:
- Centrally located in Old Quebec
- Comfortable dining space
- Acceptable eats

The Bad:
- Of course there is better, but not where we were and what we needed

Boulangerie Epi'Fanny

Even though I love full-service hotels located in Downtown, it does mean they cost more money and generally, breakfast is not included.  Hence, you either have to spend a lot of money to eat mediocre meals at the hotel restaurant (no thanks) or head out each morning in search for food.  Well, it wasn't necessarily a bad thing in this case as we were only about a block away from Boulangerie Epi'Fanny located on Rue St. Jean.  This gave us an opportunity to sample enough of their wares and to also grab a coffee.

On our first go-around, we had a bunch of items including the Cranberry Daniose.  Even though this looked like a tart, it was not due to its shell being comprised of puff pastry.  This was more akin to a danish and similarly to their Carre aux Fruits in the display case.  Whatever the case, it was light and crisp on the outside while the custard was smooth and just sweet enough.

So one cannot visit a French bakery without sampling their Croissants right?  Well first off, these were not very expensive unlike many $5.00+ croissants these days.  I thought this was a decent version with a crispy exterior and some shattering.  The layers could've been more defined but it did taste buttery.  Not the best croissant I've ever had, but a very good one and as mentioned, reasonably-priced. 

One of their signature items is the Chausson aux Pomme.  Loved the design on the outside and in reality, this was as good as people made it out to be.  Beyond the flaky and buttery exterior, the apple filling was purposefully sweet with a balancing amount of tartness.  We could taste the butteriness of the pastry and there were discernible layers.  As expected, the layer that was in contact with the filling was softer.

As mentioned earlier, they also had a selection of Carré aux Fruits and we chose the mixed berries.  This was a rather large pastry that was impressively not soggy on the bottom.  Even with all of the wet ingredients, the pastry stayed intact and did not sag.  The outside was crunchy and shattered all-over-the-place (which is a good thing).  In the middle, the fruit was tangy and sweet.

Unlike the snails we associate with French cuisine, the Escargot was not that.  Rather it refers to its appearance with the swirled pastry emulating a snail's shell.  This was also similar to the other pastries where it shattered and was flaky.  Inside was soft and buttery while only being slightly sweet.  There were other options for this with various fruits strewn throughout.  We chose the basic one instead.

Lastly, we got the New York Roll with raspberry filling.  This is the latest craze right now with scroll croissants in various forms and flavours.  I found this one very good with a crunchy exterior that shattered everywhere once I bit into it.  There was a considerable amount of sweet raspberry jam inside that helped flavour the entire croissant.  Overall, we found the pastries at Epi'Fanny to be solid and well-priced.  I also had a Croque Monsieur too and it was good, albeit cold (best to get it heated up).  Our coffee was decent too.  That is why we went every morning while we were in Quebec City.

The Good:
- Solid stuff
- Well-priced
- Nice people

The Bad:
- I've had better but not at this price


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