for February, 2012
Fully decked out in Christmas lights, Chao Phraya casts a warm glow onto the snowy street outside even though the holiday season has long passed. Hurrying inside to escape the cold on a Thursday night, we were seated almost immediately in arguably the best seats of the house. We were a party of three sitting right by the front window looking out onto Laurier street.
We arrived at Bouillon Bilk on an infamous restaurant night – Valentines day. Yes, it was a night of overbooked restaurants and high expectations. Bouillon Bilk can be hard to notice from the outside – it is situated on a sketchy stretch of St Laurent between St Catherine and Ontario.
A friend of mine recently came back into town suggested we go to Atomic for some real Greek food. It’s been a while for me – the last time was at Jardin de Panos a couple of years ago. I get a little Kojax here and there but to compare it with these restaurants would be unfair on both ends. Of course, I accepted. Who doesn’t like trying new restaurants and new foods?
Overlooking the park, restaurant Le Filet is situated in a beautiful spot. Fully equipped with a small terrace for warmer days, the restaurant embodies haute cuisine in almost every way thanks to the careful attention to detail in the meticulous presentation of food, the well-trained servers and the overall decor of the place. Walking in, you immediately notice the long bar, the open kitchen closer to the back and the mesmerizing three-dimensional photographs of seafood, illuminated by a backlight behind the bar. Very cool.
With several locations across the city, Le Commensal offers a veritable buffet of vegan and vegetarian foods both hot and cold. This was not my first time visiting the restaurant, but it has been years since I last patronized the place. My memories from my previous experiences were not rosy and sadly, my return only reconfirmed the sentiment. Hot dishes are served lukewarm as they sit in buffet style trays for an indeterminable amount of time, placed on an island in the middle of the self-serve area. There are a good variety of dishes to choose from and I appreciate the fact that there aren’t too many vegan restaurants around but unfortunately for me, this place doesn’t cut it. Taste-wise the plates I sampled were okay, verging on flavorless and unappetizing. Here, you pay for what you choose by weight. I got about three bites of the five different items I chose and it cost just over $9. I got a serving of pesto penne which was dry, tasteless and room temperature, half a black bean quesadilla and a scoop of chili on white rice which were actually pretty good and some tabouleh and chickpea salad which were both tolerable. To me, it isn’t worth the money. At most other places, vegan or not, paying the same amount or less sates the hunger in your stomach and doesn’t leave you craving for food an hour later. Places like Le Panthere Verte, Crudessence or Lola Rosa are in the surrounding area and offer much more for the same price – my suggestion is to go to one of those restaurants first.
On the upside, Le Commensal on McGill College has a beautiful view of the downtown core. When we went, the sun was shining and it was a lovely spot to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages.
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The Wok Cafe goes for a more understated name that doesn’t rely on a play on words that incites a smirk or an outright laugh. Take Wok and Roll or Wok and Run, where the puns are taken to another level. Don’t get me wrong, they’re hilarious – I chuckle every time. We’ve caught fleeting glimpses of the Wok Cafe on our way to the fish market but never looked at it long enough to realize that it is much more than just a cafe. Actually, it’s not really even a cafe at all. It’s a Chinese restaurant that serves some pretty great dishes that include your typical crowd pleasers like General Tao chicken, sweet n’ sour pork and crispy noodles but more importantly, some authentic ones – look out for the menu written in Chinese only at the last page. If you don’t know how to read the characters, just ask. I’m sure the servers would be more than willing to explain. One of these items is the fish belly, crab and squid soup we ordered to start. The texture is admittedly unique, with the fish belly and squid tasting a little more jelly-ish and rubbery that you would expect (this is good) and the soup just between thick and thin in consistency. With a spoonful of black vinegar mixed in, this soup is not quite like any other. I love this soup – it’s an old favorite that’s served at almost any Chinese restaurant and if you haven’t tried it before, I say go for it.
We had a red curry and coconut beef dish that was served along with some red and green peppers. They amount of peppers was overkill and for some reason the red ones tasted much fresher and crunchier than the green ones… There were easily at least ten slices of green peppers left on the plate when we left. Luckily, that didn’t take away from the tastiness of the protein. The eggplants were served hot sufficiently mushy – these have a strong taste and are harder to eat alone but on top of rice, they’re just right. Lastly, we had an order of Thai seafood which came with crab meat, shrimps, peppers, onions and a variety of other veggies. I noticed that all the crab meat served was artificial which I wasn’t a big fan of. Either deal with that or order dishes that don’t include the crab. All in all – definitely check this place out if you’re in the West and are at a loss of where to go out for a quick and easy dinner.
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Damas is the other major contender for the top spot in Syrian cuisine in Montreal’s Mile End. Going quite literally head to head with Kaza Maza (the two restaurants are within a couple blocks of each other), I have to say both places are very good – but there are slight differences that may sway one diner towards one or the other. For example, Kaza Maza has more of a casual dining atmosphere and prices to match. It is smaller and has a more homey feel with a little couch in the front, some throw pillows and a beautiful Syrian printed cover to match as well as a house-like interior with alcoves and a variety of different rooms partitioned by stucco-like walls. Damas has more of a fancy “night out” feel as the place is more ornately decorated, has dimmer lighting and a more open space concept. Prices here are significantly higher but the size of the main meals are more than enough to fill one hungry person whereas at Kaza, you might order a few mains to share to get full. Both places though, as mentioned before, are phenomenal. You’d be in good hands no matter which of the two you choose!
Montreal is a city with no shortage of mid to high priced burger restaurants. Unfortunately many of them bad – and the cheap places tend to be a better bet. Perhaps the pressure of consumer expectation when paying more than $10 for a burger is just too much. Thankfully, ART:brgr (why no vowels?) actually delivers on the lofty promises of the $12 – $20 burger.
The location is on Gilford street just off the corner of St Denis and the interior decor is random but charming. Notably a pool table lies at the north side of the restaurant and a bar in its center. We stopped by on a Saturday evening and were a little curious as to why it was empty. The restaurant is larger than we expected and there were only two other groups of diners when we stopped in.
The menu consists of signature burgers, build your own burger and homemade hummus plates. I suppose the hummus plate is way of accommodating vegetarians? We ordered the Rojas Burger with lettuce, tomato, thin fried potatoes, jalapeno, cheddar cheese and a sunny side up egg with spicy home made aioli tomato sauce and the Steve McGarrett Burger with lettuce, spicy sweet chilli sauce [ house ], grilled pineapple, grilled onions and brie cheese. There are a couple of beers on tap including the usual St Ambroise as well as Carlsberg.
The Rojas Burger was straight up delicious. The patty was thick and perfectly cooked. This is where a lot of these pricier burger restos fall flat – they get so caught up adding expensive ingredients that they forget to honor the patty. The sunny side up egg has the potential to create a messy situation but instead the yolk became your friend. It seeped into the meat and added genuine flavor to the condiments.
The Steve McGarrett Burger was doing something more unconventional with the grilled pineapple and I dare say it could have been gimmicky. It was saved by a shrewd pairing of brie cheese and grilled onions. The soft cheese tones down the fruitiness of the pineapple and allows for the meat and chili sauce to come through.
Both the burgers were extremely filling and came with fries and salad. I was relieved at the portion size of the fries because a lot of burger places go overboard with it. The fries were thick and crispy – very tasty. I also like not having to choose between fries and salad but I guess that is one of the amenities of paying $13 for a burger plate.
Overall, we enjoyed our burgers and they lived up to the $13 price tag. There are some burgers on the menu that flirt with the $20 range so whether those ones are worth it we can’t say just yet. If you do end up going let us know in the comments!
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Guu Sakabar is exactly what it should be. It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s crazy and it’s delicious. We showed up on a Saturday evening and waited about an hour and 15 mins for a table. This seems par for the course at any of the trendier restaurants in Toronto. The Sakabar is located on Bloor street close to Bathurst while the original Izakaya is located on Church street.
After having one of the greatest meals in 2011 at Icehouse, we got a chance to try its sister restaurant Kitchenette earlier this month. A little off the beaten path, the place is located on the outer edges of the Village on the corner of Rene Levesque and Panet. There is a distinct vibe that lends itself to the space – an open kitchen is prominently featured, being visible from almost all angles of the restaurant. The mix of antique decor – leather banquettes, old wooden floors and weathered barstools – with the modern facilities of the kitchen meshes incredibly well to create an intimate yet contemporary atmosphere that is unlike any other.
The Thompson Diner is the restaurant counterpart to the swanky Thompson hotel, located in the trendy King West Village district. Home to the offices of One Method, Cossette and other creative agencies, the area is teeming with artistic and eclectic shops, restaurants and clubs (I’m talking about Spin Galactic, the ping pong club founded by Susan Sarandon – how amazing is that?!). While some elements of the traditional diner remain – vinyl booths, servers dressed in gingham and unbeatable milkshakes – it is clear that they have revamped the concept with an eye for a more modern look suitable for the times.