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Archive for September, 2011

The food: classic meals in Montreal

The story:
On a recent weekend visit to Montreal, my husband E and I stopped in at two Montreal mainstay restaurants for some old school favorites.

First up was lunch at the Greek restaurant Mythos on Park, the interior of which is painted in a throwback Minoan palace style.

We started with a simple Greek salad (shown at top) made with beautiful still in-season field tomatoes. We followed it with crisp, fried, thin slices of eggplant and zucchini, coated in a delicate batter, and served with what E said was stellar tzatziki (still too garlicky for my garlic-averse self). It did indeed look like a superior version of tzatziki, though.

And because we can never seem to get enough of fine fried food (not an oxymoron), we ordered fried calamari too, which had been coated in the same light batter.

Restaurant Mythos Ouzeri Estiatorio on Urbanspoon

The next day, a Saturday, we dared to enter classic French bistro L’Express, at the prime brunch time of 12:15 pm, without a reservation. Few tables were occupied when we arrived and we were greeted warmly and seated. The maitre d even replied to me in French when I stammered, “pour deux, s’il vous plait”, making him the first person in Montreal who had not dismissed my French by answering me in English.

The baguette slices, butter and cornichons brought to the table were a nice touch, and very good, besides.

As the room rapidly filled up around us with English-speaking tourists and French locals, I ordered a daily special, a spaghetti with tomato sauce and roquette, and was treated to a fresh-tasting tomato sauce over al dente pasta, garnished with some fresh arugula leaves – a simple, satisfying dish executed well.

E, thinking about his Montreal childhood, ordered a croque monsieur sandwich with salad that met his nostalgic expectations:

And we had to order a bowl of frites with mayonnaise to share (on top of spaghetti, a sandwich, and the bread we’d had to start), because how can one not order frites when in a French bistro?

They were everything we hoped for, too.

L'Express on Urbanspoon

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Kristen den Hartog is a novelist and memoirist. Her latest (fourth) novel, And Me Among Them, was published last spring. She will be appearing at 4:30 pm this Sunday September 25th, 2011 in the Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival.

Currently residing in: Toronto

Website: http://kristendenhartog.com/

Blog: http://blogofgreengables.wordpress.com/

What’s going on in your writing life right now? My daughter is back in school, so I’m happily back at my desk, researching a second family memoir with my sister, Tracy Kasaboski, co-author of our earlier book, The Occupied Garden.

What’s your writing routine? As soon as the house is clear of husband and child, at about 8:30, I’m working, and I keep at it, breaking for lunch and dog walks, until they’re home around 4 o’clock.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? Cereal with yoghurt and fruit and nuts. Or sometimes toast. Always two essential cups of good strong coffee with a bit of cream.

What good books have you read recently? Lemon by Cordelia Strube. Also the Harry Potter series, which we’re working through as a family. We’re on book five, and all three of us are hooked.

What did you eat for dinner last night? Delicious salmon from the Osler Fish Market nearby, with new potatoes and rosemary from the garden, corn on the cob, and salad.

Writing rules you live by: I don’t sit and gaze out the window and wait for things to come anymore. I believe more in my own ability and determination as the years go on and less in any kind of muse or mysterious inspiration.

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days: Fall is my favourite time of year, and fall food is my favourite too, so I’m happy when the hot weather is done and love to make soups and eat squashy rooty kinds of things. My husband, who loves steaks and especially pie, thinks I’m crazy.

A scene or piece you’ve written that features food:
In And Me Among Them, James eats his regular Thursday pressed ham sandwich and becomes aware that his future stretches out before him in an expanse of sameness he has neither chosen nor rejected. He bites again, and recalls the time his daughter bit into a hot dog and came upon a pig’s eyelid, the lashes like a fossil in the meat. Somehow the moment prompts him to make a life-changing decision and leave his wife … but will he?

Favorite restaurants: Kalendar on College Street in Toronto, where I first met my husband on a blind date. Zocalo, a great new little place in our neighbourhood, at Bloor and Symington.

Three formative books from your youth: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Three formative books from your adulthood: Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro; The Diary of Etty Hillesum; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire: Salads of all kinds, especially with arugula or fresh mint; soups of all kinds; rode kool, or red cabbage, a Dutch family recipe.

Random bits of writing advice: Don’t rush. Take time for each scene. Don’t worry about what the story will be when it’s finished, worry just about what it is as you’re creating it. Stay with the process; in the end (as with life!) it’s the most important part of all.
What do you do when not writing, eating or reading? I love good movies, walking the dog, hanging out with my family.

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading? Comfort food is pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese. And Strub’s Pickles are unbeatable. Comfort reading is what I do with my daughter – rediscovering the books I read as a kid, and finding new ones together.

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The food: 5 meals in 48 hours

The story:

My husband E and I touched down in New York last week for a 48 hour rain-soaked visit, and immediately started eating. Our first meal was a late lunch at Chinatown Brasserie which I’d heard had excellent dim sum. That doesn’t explain why I ordered a prix fixe lunch that was not dim-sum-centric (I’ll blame the stresses of travel and the relentless rain for my faulty decision-making) but look at the pretty appetizer selection of dim sum that I did get, one each of a Curry Black Bass Avocado Tart (especially good), a Vegetable Spring Roll, a Shrimp, Corn & Chinese Chive Dumpling and a Shrimp & Snow Pea Leaf Dumpling.

While we waited – and waited – for our rather blah and P.F. Chang-ish main courses, E engaged the waiter in conversation about the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (#78 – Car Periscope) filmed at Chinatown Brasserie that had recently aired (not the reason we went there). The waiter said he’d missed the Curb filming day but hey, Meg Ryan had just left the restaurant a few minutes before we arrived.

We stewed on this info tidbit – would we have wanted to see Meg Ryan? – until E’s Steamed Sea Bass with Broccoli & Black Beans (tasty and fresh-seeming) and my General Tso’s chicken (not so good – the chicken had an alarming artificial texture and shape to it) arrived with laughably small bowls of rice.

Our next stop was the TKTS line at the puddle-strewn South Street Seaport to buy next day matinee tickets for Follies. While waiting, E engaged in conversation with another stranger(!).

That night, we saw The Book of Mormon, which I thought was clever, funny and lively. I liked the religion mocking jokes, squirmed a little at the baby raping and clitoral mutilation jokes (I wish I was kidding), and wished for more unironic dancing. But I liked this song a lot, particularly starting at the 2:03 second mark of the vid:

After the show, we took our sodden selves to the Shake Shack on 8th Avenue, lined up briefly in the rain to get in, sat at a crowded communal table, soothed ourselves with burgers and fries, and talked to no one.

My all-time favorite burger: the Shack Burger from Shake Shack, with awesome SS fries

Day 2: Still raining. We visited the Met in the morning (where the roof was closed due to rain, grr) and saw Nora Ephon getting out of a cab on our way to the subway. E suggested I approach and tell her I’d reviewed her book “I Feel Bad About My Neck” in the Globe & Mail. I made my alarmed not-on-your-life face and pulled him away quickly.

We went to Torrisi Italian Specialties for an early lunch, and the sides on display looked so good we over-ordered: we had corn salad, fresh ricotta with olive oil and thyme, and fried cauliflower with our reliably flavourful eggplant parm and egg and potato sandwiches:

Spotted in the small house when we were there: Chef/owner Rich Torrisi taking a meeting at a corner table. Woo! We did not say hello.

That afternoon, we sat in our very good half-price seats, with a predominantly white-haired crowd, to see the new revival of Follies. Mixed in with what I thought were some rather tiresome scenes depicting marriage-related angst were a slew of wonderfully performed (with unironic dancing!) and often tear-inducing songs (gotta download that score), including the exuberant Who’s That Woman, an excerpt of which can be seen here (with tap dancing, yay):

After the show, we made our way through the incessant rain to Ippudo for a comforting and delectable bowl of ramen with a side of rice (yes, we were carb loading) and fried chicken.

The next morning, the rain began to let up just as we headed downtown to Locanda Verde for more comforting and reliably delicious food: a late breakfast of uova modenese (I can’t get enough of the cotechino hash and tomato hollandaise) for me, and a zucchini frittata for E:

No luminaries were on hand at Locanda Verde during our visit, though Beyonce and Jay-Z ate there three days later. When it wasn’t fucking well raining.

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