Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bilingual Cuisine

One of the biggest mistakes I made ordering food in a restaurant involved a Canadian all-you-can-eat mussels joint. I don't remember the exact town we were in, or what I chose instead of the fragrant buckets of mussels, or why, but I can still feel the disappointment that marked my meal. My family members were generous and sympathetic enough to share with me, so I wasn't completely deprived of mussels. I learned my lesson and made sure that we found a similar venue on our next Canadian trip, which occurred a couple years later in Montreal. I'm not sure how those mussels compared, but they did leave me with a favorable impression of the city.

I returned last month, after about five years, armed with positive memories and a decent guidebook. I had to order room service on the first night (after fourteen hours of traveling), and I was a little upset about having to eliminate one of my restaurant choices. Luckily I found hazelnut mousse on the dessert menu, and nothing else seemed to matter after I started eating it.

Within a block of the hotel was a cafe called Chez Simon, and their muffins were just about perfect. I tried carrot and lemon poppyseed muffins during the trip, and they both melted in my mouth. The muffin tops had the slightest bit of crunch and were larger than average.

The first dinner I had out of the hotel room was at Red Thai, which turned out to be a dimly lit, chic room with Buddhist statues and crisp white tablecloths. The waitress brought warm towels before our food came, which was consistent with the exotic atmosphere of the room. I ordered a beef dish, which is somewhat uncharacteristic, but it turned out to be both subtle and spicy at the same time - a common enigma in Thai food. I didn't pay close attention to the name of my meal; it was made with tender pieces of filet along with mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, dried chile peppers and onion.

Patati Patata was listed in my guidebook as a good place for burgers and authentic Montreal dining. The restaurant consisted of two small bars, with about 8 chairs between them, and four two-top tables. There was a menu high up on one of the walls, written all in French, and two employees cooking, taking orders, working the cash register, and assuring customers that they'd have seats within a few minutes. They were right too - for such a small place, the tables turned every ten minutes or so, I guess because the menu was limited and the food was quick. Small burgers, tofu burgers, and fish burgers (for $2.25 Canadian at the most) were grilled shortly after they were ordered. A fresh salad or a hearty serving of hot, browned fries accompanied the sandwiches for $3 each. Pitchers and half pitchers of local beer and poutine (gravy, french fries, and cheese) rounded out the menu. Patati Patata wasn't a tourist stop at all, although I felt like a tourist eating among French-speaking students. Even though the waiter had to help me with some of the menu, eating there was one of my favorite traveling experiences.

In contrast, La Moulerie was in one of Montreal's nicer neighborhoods, and the average diner was probably fifty years old. I had to try it because of my fondness for mussels, and I certainly would recommend dining there. My mussels - mussels sicilienne - came in a sauce of pesto, roasted
tomatoes, goat cheese, and pine nuts, and they were fantastic. It's easy to distinguish good seafood from bad seafood, and I had no complaints. Nor did I have any reason to complain about the homemade ice cream that I got down the street, which was rich and smooth. Montreal may only have a few months of warm weather, but it's a city where even frozen treats are made well.

Stay tuned for another installment from my Canadian vacation...

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