Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Daily double, wet n sloppy snow.

I'm just going to write one more small quick post here just to talk about how I haven't been walking out much lately. Quite frankly, I'm just getting real sick of winter. And since spring is coming soon, the weather has warmed up just a little bit. And by warmed up, I mean that it has gone from a frigid hell-freezing cold of -40 degrees Celcius (that's actually -40 in Fahrenheit as well!) to 0 C (32 F), but the humidity is unbearable.

Today, just as I thought we would start to have some warm dry weather again with most of the snow melted off the sidewalks and the streets, mother nature decided to have snow diarrhea and shit up a wet sloppy snow storm. I mean, it really was big wet floppy snow that was falling from the sky in large clusters and it just stuck to everything.  And since it was pretty warm, it melted the second it touched the ground, but at the rate it was falling it eventually piled up in this gross sloppy mush. Even my super-ultra-mega-forever-dry North Face winter boots were no match for this sloppy shit.

Ugh! God, it's everywhere!

I still went for a walk though. I had to go outside and move after being stuck on a chair at work for so long. But, I soon regretted it when I came out the metro. Just a couple of minutes outside and it felt like a thousand ice pigeons were taking a cold shit on my face. It's like I was being repeatedly spat on by old man winter, that gross bastard. Eventually, because it was so sticky, it just accumulated everywhere and soon fell from branches and light posts in huge semi-wet cold chunks onto the heads of passer-bys.

Still, there is one advantage to this kind of snow. Because it's so wet and sticky, it's great for making....


That's right! Snowballs! Just grabbing a handful and it all just stuck together. And I'm sure you've heard of the snowball effect? Ever wondered why it's called that? Just start with a snowball as small as the one pictured above, and just roll it in the snow on the ground and next thing you know, you have the bottom part of a snowman! Roll up two more and you can make the full snowman! But, by the time you're done, your clothes will be soaking wet and you'll soon suffer from hypothermia if you don't go somewhere dry and warm.

Anyway, I haven't gone out much lately because the weather is shit and cold and wet and I'm sick of it all. I can't wait for spring to come. Especially the maple season with all the sweet, sweet maple goodies!!!

Chinatown Ramen

Those who know me know how much I love Ramen. That's why Ramen-Ya has been my favourite restaurant in Montreal for so long. It has been pretty much the only place that served ramen in Montreal for a while as far as I know. Recently, this dish started to become increasingly popular. New restaurants that specialize in that dish started to pop up here and there. I've been paying close attention and I've found a few places through word of mouth from the most random people. One of them, located on Stanley street and that I have yet to visit, I heard about from a sales guy at a digital camera shop in the Place Montreal Trust shopping mall. He told me he tried it for the first time in Japan and had been looking for a good place here that served it and that was his spot. I think I might go try it out sometime soon.

Another place that I heard about through god knows what source is a restaurant in Chinatown called Sumo Ramen. I have been meaning to go there for a while and last weekend I decided to stop by for a quick meal before spending the night at a friend's place. My impression was already made before I even got there. I thought that it wasn't going to be authentic. I mean it's called Sumo Ramen. It sounds cheap and cliché as hell. Also, if my experience eating in cheap cliché restaurants in Chinatown has taught me anything is that the food is going to be pretty mediocre. But, you can't judge a place before trying it out. Sometime, you can get pleasantly surprised.

I got there pretty quickly. The restaurant is above some sort of souvenir shop and the entrance wasn't very big. If it wasn't for the signs on the sidewalk I would've totally missed it.

I went up and asked for a table. I sat down and looked around to check out the decor and the customers. The place looks alright. It was bigger than I expected but, it felt very crowded because the tables were all close to each other. The decor was obviously inspired from a traditional Japanese house, but it wasn't too much.

As for the crowd, I just found out where all the otaku nerds go for dinner on a Saturday night. You couldn't miss them. Teenaged, greasy haired anime nerds with Totoro hats and t-shirts with characters from Ano Natsu de Matteru or some unknown anime that no one's ever heard about, talking about the latest episode of Naruto. (Naruto is okay though, I watch it every Saturday morning with my breakfast right before I watch Adventure time.) So yeah. This was it. The place where all the anime fanboys and fangirls go to eat the favourite meal of one of their favourite anime character. For the record, the first time I heard about ramen was back in the late-90's while watching a Japanese repertoire movie called Tampopo. I heard about it way before it was cool. So I'm the ramen hipster.

Seriously though. If you can get your hands on a copy of the Tampopo movie, I most highly recommend watching it. It is the most fascinating foodie movie you will ever see in your life and I guarantee that at the end you will be hungry.

So I was sitting at my table and looked at their menu. It had a good variety. Especially for the appetizers. They had lots of tiny little servings of finger foods to share with friends. As for the ramen, they had only three kinds of broth: soy, spicy and miso. They had three home specialty ramen bowls that you could choose from or select your ingredients to make your own combination. One thing I was really excited about was that according to the menu, the ramen noodles were home-made. So, I picked some fried pork dumplings (gyoza) as an appetizer and the volcano ramen. The volcano ramen is a miso soup with noodles, spicy ground pork, corn, green onions and mushrooms. Sounds good.

After a while I got my dumplings. I was a bit surprise because they came all stuck together to a ribbon of what I could only imagine could be fried rice paper. The dumplings were good, but lacked flavour. A little while after I got my soup. At first sight it looked pretty plain. I mean even I made intant ramen soups that looked way better than this. Also, the smell is very important. I know what good ramen should smell like, but this one kind of just smelled like bacon.

I started by tasting the broth. It was surprisingly good. Actually, I've never been a huge fan of miso, but this one was delicious. The pork, like the dumplings, lacked a bit of flavour. It could've used just a tiny bit more salt. The most disappointing part though were the noodles. They just looked, tasted and felt like spaghetti noodles. Anyway, I was a little disappointed in the quality, but overall it was alright. It was a good soup and I ate the whole thing to the last drop.

I've heard people say this place was authentic, but I strongly disagree. I've been to the very famous Ippudo in New York which is famous for having the best ramen this side of the hemisphere and, frankly, Ramen-Ya is, so far, the closest thing I've ever tasted to the real authentic stuff. Sumo Ramen was what I expected after all. It's not bad, but it's not excellent either. I might drop by sometime for a quick lunch since I work close by, otherwise I'll stick with my usual spot.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Fun in the cold

For a couple of weeks now there have been stage crews around Place des Arts. They were building something, but it wasn't clear at first. This Friday, I finally found out what was going on. There was yet another Montréal en Lumière festival. I was walking back from the comic book shop And heard a buch of music and saw some lights, so I though I'd pass by and check it out. The first thing I saw was that they had set up this laser machine that projected on a building wall. People would draw something and the laser projector would draw it up on the wall. That was pretty cool! I managed to shoot a video of someone writing a love message in Chinese.

Then again, a week later someone wrote this.
(It says: "we're looking for pot")

The night wasn't too cold and the snow wasn't all melting wet and gross all over. The area was all lit up with bright colourful lights everywhere. A couple of stages were set up where bands and DJs were playing music. Albeit, not really good music, but some people seemed to enjoy it and it made it all the more festive.

Some fireplaces were set up where people could huddle and warm up. Some of them even sold marshmallows on a stick that you could cook over the fire. That is super awesome! There were also some stands set up that sold alcohol in case you wanted to warm your guts with some liquor.

Further up Jeanne-Mance street, some heated futuristic plastic bubble domes were set up with bars in them where people could walk in, sit down, get their drink on and warm up while still be able to look at the pretty lights outside. There was also a ferris wheel in the back where you could hear the wussies screaming their heads off. Jesus, it's just a ferris wheel, not the super jumbo mega death roller coaster of ultimate doom 2000. Get a grip!

One thing that Montréal has been working a lot on is trying making the city visually more attractive. Especially around the new Quartier des spectacles (entertainment district - and by entertainment I'm not talking about hookers. Though the area used to be a popular spot for that kind of stuff) the city has been investing a lot in visual projections on buildings. I don't know if  you can see a little bit here in the video, not just the little projection on the white bubble dome, but also in the back on the UQAM college building in the back, what it looks like.

Finally, as I was heading towards the metro station, I had to walk on a little overpass that goes over lit up ice slide where people were just zooming by on little plastic sleds. That looked like a lot of fun! This little festival was pretty cool and apart from the booze that they sold on the site, they also had a bunch of cool little activities and also the traditional maple taffee on snow which is perfect for kids.

Montreal always has a festival almost for every season. In the summer, they even overlap each other because of how many there are. This city is great for that. And this little festival they set up really helps light up the mood at a time when people are getting completely sick of winter.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Valentine's day and the jazz singer

It feels like I haven't been going out much at all in the past few weeks. Much less even write about it. Today, I decided to make up for it and go for a long distance. I thought I'd do the same as I did on Saint-Laurent all the way up to Mile-End and walk up Saint-Denis this time as far as I could. So I took the metro and got off at the Berri-Uqam station.

Saint-Denis is a really nice street. Unfortunately, I found that once I got past Laurier there wasn't much left.  Even past Mont-Royal it got pretty dead. There are however a few good restaurants, some art shops and designer clothing stores among other things, but it's not quite as dense as what you get between Mont-Royal and René-Lévesque. Speaking of which, tonight was Valentine's day and it was easy to spot all the loving couples walking up and down the street. The restaurants were all prepared to welcome them with pink and red heart shaped decorations and little cupids everywhere. Occasionally, some girls had a rose in their hand from the gentleman accompanying them. So cute. I was happy for them. What else can I do? Sulk and be all sad about being by myself on Valentine's day? Pfff! Fuck that. At least I don't have to fear any disappointment. For once, I've been starting to feel happy about myself and my life. I haven't felt like that in a long time. And who needs a girlfriend anyway? Bitches be crazy!  Am I right guys?

Anyway, like I was saying, I walked up Saint-Denis. Past Mont-Royal the street is a little darker. There are more apartments than businesses and therefor less bright lights to shine on store fronts. Frankly, I took almost no pictures. I didn't really see anything worth taking a picture of except for a couple of places. First, there's the Pizzaiolle at the corner of Gilford street. The restaurant is set in a really nice chrome wagon-style diner.

One of a kind in Montreal.

I think it's a real shame that such an overpriced pizza restaurant bought the place. Call me a purist, but I feel this completely breaks the tradition of the diner. Still, I feel like I should go eat there just once to see what it looks like inside, because the place is beautiful on the outside. I'm even surprised it still looks this good with the weather we have here.

Close to that place, just a couple of blocks north, there's one of my favourite breakfast spots. You want to go out for a brunch on the weekend and get a delicious full breakfast? Forget Chez Cora, La Petite Marche is where it's at. For around $15 you get a big ass breakfast with a small glass of OJ and unlimited coffee. Their food is delicious and I have never been disappointed. The staff is also very friendly and there's always room to sit. I highly recommend it.

Other than that, I really didn't see anything interesting. It was boring even. But, I kept on going. I wanted to go as far as I had been on Saint-Laurent. And I did. Even more so. I actually walked all the way to Rosemont boulevard! That's a long way from Sainte-Catherine. From that point, if I wanted to walk over to Saint-Laurent, I had to go on an overpass to cross over some railroads. It was interesting. And kind of scary because I there was not another soul on that overpass and it was pretty long as it spans over several blocks. I did however get a nice view of the Mont-Royal mountain from there and the iconic Saint-Laurent warehouse with the water tower on its roof. Yep, I was crossing over to Mile-End.

Eventually, I reached Saint-Laurent and the overpass kept on going, but there were stairs to go down to the street. When I got down I saw some really cool graffiti under the overpass. I love street art and I was happy to have made this little discovery.

Heh, we need more of those to hold up the bridges around Montreal.

Speaking of street art, on my way back down Saint-Laurent, I spotted a designer furniture store that had what looks like an original graffiti from a famous female artist called Miss Van. That is pretty fucking awesome. Sorry the picture was so bad, there was a lamp right in front of it in the window, but we can make it out. Also, I forgot to check the store and take a picture. Damn! But you can actually see it in her collection of street paintings here. This looks genuine. I'd have to go back in the store and check it out.

Coming back on Saint-Laurent, I was actually further than where I had been a couple of weeks ago. I noticed some new streets going west that looked mighty interesting. I think I know where I will be exploring next. The Mile-End looks like a really nice area with tons to offer, but I never really hear anyone talk about it much. It's alwasy "the Plateau this, the Plateau that". Well I'm checkin' out Mile-End from now on.

When I finally got to Mont-Royal, on my way down the street I spotted this van. A GMC Vandura, Gypsy edition. We don't find many of these old vans anymore these days. I remember they used to be popular back in the 80's what with The A Team and all. They're pretty awesome vans and I bet they're perfect for road trips.

Making my way back down I was also back to running into all the couple coming out of restaurants and heading back home. Though it wasn't so bad. But, I kid you not, the entire area smelled of wine! There were some lonesome people walking by themselves, heading home, like me. When I was walking by some of the girls, they had this look in their eyes. A look that said "I wonder if he's gonna be the next one!" Truth is, I probably had that same look too. I mean, it's Valentine's day. People hope for a miracle to happen and to meet "the one" on that night by chance. Or maybe it's just me and I'm just imagining things. Anyway, there's no point in hoping for anything to happen or else you end up disappointed at the end of the day.

At some point I started hearing some music. I passed in front of a restaurant that was all decorated for Valentine's day, of course, with red table cloths, heart shapes dangling from the ceiling and couple sitting at small tables all looking at the jazz band that was playing in the corner, next to the window. It was good music. Very calm and soothing. There was a girl singing too and she had a very nice voice. I stood there for a minute to listen to the music and as I did, I guess some people noticed me and the singer turned around and looked at me. I just smiled at her like an idiot. But, she smiled back. She was very pretty. She turned to face her mic and the crowd and I could see her audience laughing inside. Then she turned again and smiled again. I think I might've broken her concentration. Everyone was looking at me inside and laughing. I was so embarrassed that I left. But, I laughed. I also thought what would've happened if at that point I just went inside and sat at the bar to have a drink and listen to the music. Maybe she would've come and said hello in between songs. Or maybe not. I'm dreaming. Who am I kidding. Everyone noticed me anyway and I would've probably made a fool of myself. Still, she noticed me. And her beautiful smile gave me hope. Hope that maybe I won't be walking "solo" for a very long time.

On second thought, maybe I should've gone in for that drink...

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Mile End less traveled

During my walks I've been mostly hanging out either on Sainte-Catherine, walking on Sainte-Catherine or Maisonneuve from the Concordia university area all the way to Place Des Arts, or walking up Saint-Laurent to Mont-Royal and coming back down Saint-Denis. Occasionally, I'll walk on Notre-Dame from Place D'Armes all the way to the Little Burgundy and the Atwater market and head up the street of the same name until I reach Sainte-Catherine again. But, that last one is rare. It brings back too many memories.

Recently, when I got to the corner of Saint-Laurent and Mont-Royal, I thought "you know, I never really go north of here. I should probably do that sometime and check it out." I used to travel up there every day when I used to work as an intern for an open source software consulting company ten years go. This week I decided to go and take a look to see what's changed. To be honest, not a lot has changed, other than the fact that there are some new ugly modern condos whose facade doesn't fit with the local architecture and heritage of the neighbourhood. But, what can we do when the city is going on an all out condo construction rampage where they build more condos than there are actual people to live in them. Anyway, enough with the rant.

Wednesday night was fairly warm. Like, spring weather warm. It was 10 degrees Celsius. (50 F) The snow had melted everywhere and the air was moist. The city smelled like a gigantic wet dog. I drove downtown and parked around Place Des Arts. I know a spot where there's always free parking available after 9pm. I got out of my car and walked up Saint-Laurent. On my way up I stuck to the west side of the street since I always walk on the east side. I spotted a cool little sore that sold Montreal memorabilia. T-Shirts, mugs, posters, hats, etc. With all sorts of prints from famous spots around the city like the Farine Five Roses flour manufacture neon sign, the big orange from Orange Julep on Decarie boulevard. That's kind of cool, I guess. Especially if you want to represent Montreal wherever you go.

Other than that store, I didn't take any pictures until I reached Mont-Royal. My objective was to take a few shots at what is further north. And when I did, the first place that I thought was worthy of talking about is a vegan place called Aux Vivres, which translates somewhat to "to foods" or "at the foods". It's basically a small restaurant and grocery store where everything is 100% vegan. I'll be honest. I am a meat eater. But, there are times when I want to eat a good meal that's easy to digest and the best thing for that is vegetarian/vegan food. Looking at their menu, it seemed very interesting, but it's pretty much the same as any vegan place. Most of the items are inspired from Asian cuisine and, other than the burgers and a couple of dishes, there didn't seem to be a lot of hot meals. I'd probably go there in the summer instead for a light dinner or something. Overall, it seemed like an interesting place.

Further up, there was another place called Robin des Bois, which is the French name for Robin Hood. It's a nice looking restaurant with a special twist. It's a not for profit organization. From what I read in their window, the restaurant is supported by volunteers and they donate all profits to some charitable organizations that "help fight solitude, social isolation and poverty". That's pretty noble of them. Their menu seems quite nice too with a lot of variety and some awesome dishes too. To my understanding, the menu is organized by table d'hôte and how much you are willing to pay. So you have a $20 dinner, another at $35 and for groups you have shared dinners at $50+. They also received many awards for being a great place to go to the guide Debeur, Zagat Rated and others. I think this would be a great place to try out some time.

Further up there was another place that seemed a bit mysterious. Or maybe it's just me. Whenever I see a a really nice looking place that's completely empty, it just seems mysterious. Why would such a great looking bar/restaurant be empty? Well it was on a Wednesday night after all and it was kind of late. Maybe I should swing by on a Saturday around dinner time and see if it's still the same. But, I digress. The place is called the Sporting Club Montreal. What's weird is that it doesn't look like a sports bar. There were no TVs! It also said it is a Bar à bouchées, which means something along the lines of finger food bar or food bites bar or something. That makes it even more mysterious. A sports bar with no TVs that serves what I could only imagine would be tapas, a European Spanish cuisine thing where you serve various finger foods for dinner. A little googling revealed an article in the Nightlife magazine that his is basically a nice tapas wine bar with a decor inspired from the glorious boxing days of old. The article also mentions that it's an awesome place if you want to sit down, taste different kinds of wine and match them with the various bites that their cook comes up with. It sound like the kind of place for a great tasting adventure.

And right next to it (I swear, they must share the same kitchen or something) is a small restaurant with almost the same decor. It's called The French Connection and it's a restaurant, like we say, du terroir, which means from local sources. Looking at the menu, as if the name of the place wasn't a big enough hint, this is definitely a French restaurant. It looks good, very fancy, but expensive.

Just across the corner from that place, there was another restaurant called the Biarritz. It looked really nice inside. The menu was very interesting as well and very original, but limited. You can tell they are very specialized. The prices were quite reasonable too. It looks like a cool hangout and I would definitely like to try it out eventually.

Just a few more steps down the road and there was yet another wine bar. This one, however, is a deli wine bar. It has, apparently, been named one of Canada's best new restaurants. The place is named Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins which means The Counter, deli and wine. This has nothing to do with the famous Schwartz's or Dunn's smoked meat deli kind of place. This is a swanky restaurant that prepares and serves deli cuts in all sorts of extravagant fashions, coupled with matching wine. If you like small, expensive portions of food, this is where to go.

Sorry I didn't take a better shot, I didn't want to photograph their patrons.

After walking for a bit with nothing that stood out, there was a bar with some loud music and a very... lush... front window. I couldn't see inside from all the plants, but there were a lot of people coming in and out of the place. The place is called Casa del Popolo. From my Latin French background, I can assume this means The house of the people. Looking at their website, I realize it's a cafe/bar/concert venue. And they seem to be associated with the Sala Rosa, which is literally across the street from them. That place is another cool spot with a Spanish restaurant serving tapas, paella and other dishes as well as its own concert venue as well. Since my sister just spent 6 months in Barcelona for school, maybe I could take her there and see what she thinks of their Spanish food. The Casa del Popolo and the Sala Rosa look kind of underground. I know I passed in front of them before, but never really noticed them. It's probably a real hipster hangout and if I talk about it to any of them, they'll be all like "I used to hang out here before it was cool" and I'll be all like "Calm your tits and loosen up those jeans Mr. Beanie McBeardo. Nobody cares." Anyway, if there's good food, good drinks and good music, it's worth it. I oughta try it out some time.

Further north I found a burger place. There are two types of food that I absolutely LOVE. The first is Japanese ramen noodles and the second are hamburgers. Montreal lacks good gourmet burger places that don't cost an arm and a leg because the restaurant owners pimp out the place and turn it all into a luxurious fancy dining restaurant with wild bison filet mignon burger or some other expensive crap. They're hamburgers! It's like charging $50 for some fancy fried fucking chicken! Come on! Anyway, the place is called Burger de Ville (city burger) which doesn't really inspire me. It sounds like it's made from ground rat meat and stale burger buns found in a dumpster in the alley. Or maybe something along those lines:

Anyway, Burger de Ville is the name of the place and if I can has cheezburgers, I checks it out. The menu was a standard diner menu. Burgers, fries, poutine, steak, salads, etc. From the big flashy sign and the good looking interior (from angle I saw anyway), I was a bit disappointed. There wasn't any big variety of burgers or anything special. Nothing worth calling the place Burger de Ville anyway.

Finally, I walked all the way up to Saint-Viateur where the local Ubisoft headquarters are located. I actually have a couple of friends and a cousin who work there. I know one is a sound designer and my cousin's a sysadmin who manages a shit load of important gaming servers. He keeps them up and running so you guys enjoy your online gaming. I find that pretty fucking awesome in my opinion. Like I mentioned before, I used to work in that building for another software consulting company.

Saint-Viateur was where I was going to stop. I kind of knew this area back in the day and  there wasn't much to see north of that street. But, on that corner there were some pretty awesome eateries and it just seems like there are a couple more that popped up. There's a deli shop on a corner there and it's owned by an old Italian couple I think. They served freshly made sandwiches during the day. I swear to god, I have never had a tastier sandwich in my life thus so far. And, I recall that they used to sell some kind of soup. I think it was a clam chowder. They served it only one day of the week and there used to be a looong lineup all the way outside onto the sidewalk to the corner of the block to get some of that soup. If you didn't get there early enough, they would run out and you'd be shit out of luck. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege to have a couple of bowls while I worked there. I remember that the soup was extremely delicious. I'd very much like to get some again eventually.

Right next to it, a fish n chips place opened up called Comptoir 21. They have a simple menu with various fried seafoods. The place is small and has this really nice neighbourhood restaurant feel to it. It's a great place to grab a quick meal. I'm a big fan of fish n chips, especially since I discovered Brit n Chips last year. But, Comptoir 21 looks interesting and I'm very curious to try their fried fish and see what it's like. The restaurant opens late, 'til 11pm. Maybe I'll stop by sometime and grab a quick dinner before walking back down to go home.

At that point I turned around and started to walk back down the Saint-Laurent boulevard and get back to my car. Walking up the Plateau all the way to Mile End was a long walk, but definitely worth it. I made some pretty good discoveries that night, some I didn't even mention here as there were a lot more. But, most of them were excessively expensive and exaggerated. One place served French cuisine and there was not a single dish on the menu that was under $25. And that's just for one plate, not a table d'hôte or anything like that. That's a bit too much for bite-sized servings of raw meat with a couple of leaves of greens if you ask me. Oh! And on my way up to Mile End, I met one of my friends who works at Ubisoft. He told me he liked my blogs, especially the one with the recipes. I was really happy to hear that! You know, it's hard to tell how much of an audience you have when only very few people comment on your posts. Anyway, I don't care too much about having an audience. I like doing this because it keeps my mind off of the other crap that happens in my every day life. And the original purpose of this blog was to keep someone up to date with my life and give that person some advice on where to go if ever they wanted to get to know this city better and all that it has to offer. But, I'm just glad there are others out there who enjoy what I write. At least this is not all for nothing.