Saturday, 30 March 2013

Royale With Cheese

All week I've been eating vegetarian food. It has nothing to do with Lent or Good Friday. I was inspired to make something vegan for my lunches after eating out at Aux Vivres. Also, I find that I feel a lot better after eating no meat for a little while. But, as good as my curry was, at the end of the week I couldn't even look at it. I was fed up with it. And I was craving a burger so bad. So I thought this might be the opportunity to try out this new place on Saint-Laurent called Burger Royal just north of Avenue Des Pins. The one thing that I noticed about this restaurant was that they actually had a burger called Royale With Cheese. What Tarantino fan could turn down an opportunity like that? So this Good Friday evening I decided to head on out and get my burger on.

I spotted the place a while back, maybe last fall. They were still under construction. Since then, I never really had the time to stop there to eat. Or maybe it's because I lost faith in the burger places in this town after The Meat Market restaurant closed down. The Meat Market had, hands down, the best blue cheese & walnut hamburger I had ever tasted in my life. Except, it was hard to actually eat there because they were closed half the time to cater to small groups who decided to make a little party in that place. When you close down your restaurant for an entire evening for about a dozen guests all the time instead of letting people eat in and leave and have a rotation of customers, you're bound to go bankrupt. Now, I mourn that place since it has closed down. R.I.P. best burger place ever.

So back to Burger Royal. The place feels big and empty even when it's packed with people because of the geometry of the room. It's just one big room with a tall ceiling and a couple of big tables where everyone has to sit together and a counter with stools in the front window and a bar at the back where the kitchen is. So the cooks basically prepare everything in front of you. I went in and sat at the bar so I could see how they prepared the food and to have a chat with the staff while eating.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk to them much. They were very friendly, but they were in a rush because they had a huge table filled with three whole families with kids. As I was sitting there, I saw them prepare some small cups of mac n cheese that they popped in their oven. It looked delish! Their menu was written in chalk on a large black board near the cash register and it was a little hard to make out what was what. But, I spotted the Royale With Cheese. I asked the waitress what was in it and she said it's a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato ketchup and mustard. It sounded plain and I was very hungry, so I picked The Big Boss which is like the Royale With Cheese, but with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and house sauce. I ordered that with a small side of baked mac n cheese and a bottle of Stewart's dark cherry soda. (They didn't serve beer. Well not yet, but it's coming according to the waitress.)

One thing I'd like to mention is that whenever I eat out at a burger place, whether it's some McFastFood chain, a greasy spoon, potato shack or gourmet burger place, I can't help but order the biggest burger on the menu, regardless of the price. I don't know if it's my man genes, chromosomes, testosterone or just my ego, but it never fails. That is probably why I passed up the occasion to eat a burger that's actually called a Royal With Cheese and got The Big Boss instead.

As I waited for my order, I grabbed a newspaper and read for a bit while sipping on my soda. I got my mac n cheese and started to nibble on it. But, I wanted to keep it so I could take a picture of the whole meal. When they finally served me my burger, my eyes popped out. That thing is huge! (That's what she said.) And boy does it look good!

It took one bit. Just one. And I was convinced this was the best hamburger in Montreal. Forget Five Guys. Forget Frite Alors. Hell, forget any other fancy motherfuckin' burger place you've ever been to. That shit is da bomb, okay? The bread was awesome. That is fresh bakery quality buns right there. The bacon was smokey and delicious. The onions and the mushrooms took the burger to another level. And the cheddar cheese was fresh, strong cheddar the likes I never had in a burger before. But, the beef. Oh-My-God!

Burger Royal is where the beef is at, bitch!

The beef patty was cooked to perfection. It was tender, just a little pink and so, so juicy. The cook told me that they use organic beef with no additives, no hormones, no B.S. And to top it off, they grind it on site. That's right. They have their own meat grinder in the back where they grind their own beef to make sure that it's only the best cuts and that it's fresh. Now, THAT is dedication. Burger King ain't got nothin' on this royal hamburger. Then, a customer walks in and asks, and I swear he actually asked this, he asks how much beef they have in their hamburgers. Really? Are you that stupid, or did you just live under a rock on another planet for the past two decades? OF COURSE IT'S A QUARTER POUNDER! GAWD!

Seriously, I was not disappointed. This is a very high quality burger and I will definitely come back here whenever the craving hits again. The staff was pretty cool too, even though I didn't get the chance to talk much with them. Actually, the waitress kinda made fun of me when I told her about my vegetarian situation. She told me: "Of all days to pick to crave and eat a big hamburger, you had to pick Good Friday, the one day  you're supposed to give something up in remembrance of Jesus's crucifixion." So I replied: "Hey, I made a whole week of sacrifice, okay? Jesus! Give me a break!" And it's only when I got home that I realized the irony of my answer.

That was a great dinner and definitely killed my craving. Kudos Burger Royal for making such amazing hamburgers.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Stanley cup of ramen

Last Saturday I had a very bad craving for some tasty ramen. If you've been reading this blog and my cooking blog as well, you will know that I am a big fan of this tasty Japanese dish. I firmly believe that it embodies the very essence of his noodliness, the great Lord and king of the Pastafarians.

For a while now there has been a big ramen craze and a bunch of new restaurants who specialize in ramen have opened up. Once, while browsing a display of digital cameras in Place Montreal Trust, the sales clerk and I were talking about my recent trip to San Francisco. I told him how I regretted not having a real digital camera and having to take pictures with my crappy phone camera. He told me about one camera he had during a trip to Japan and I asked him if he had any ramen while he was there. Right away he knew why I was asking. He knows. It's delicious. And once you have the real deal, nothing compares to it.

That's what her popular song was all about.

Anyway, I told him about my favourite spot in town, Ramen-Ya, and he said he didn't know about it. He took notes and he told me about the only place he knew which is Hakata Ramen on Stanley street. It had been six months since then and I still never took the time to check it out, so this weekend I decided to go.

Before I talk about the restaurant, there are some interesting facts about Stanley street:

  • On this street there used to be one of the most modern indoor ice-skating rink of its time from 1862 to the 1920s. It was called the Victoria Skating Rink and it hosted the first ever Stanley Cup playoff games in 189 with the founding of the first championship ice hockey leage, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, the precursor of the NHL. Today, the location of this skating rink is nothing but an ugly brown square building for National rent-a-car.
  • It was the location of one of Molson's Banks, which, for a period of time, employed Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Nazi Germani during the second world war and close friend to Adolf Hitler. During his stay in Canada, Joachim Vom Ribbentrop also worked with local engineering firms on the construction of the Quebec Bridge in Quebec city. This bridge is known also for its collapse due to poor engineering and a lack of quality assurance. After its collapse, the Quebec Order of Engineers was created for the protection of the public and to preserve the credibility of engineers. Rumor has it that the pinky finger ring given to everyone who graduates from an engineering program is made from the very metal of that bridge. (That statement is false by the way. Trust me, I'm an engineer.) Joachim Von Ribbentrop did all this before the second world war, of course. When war was declared and Canada got engaged in the fight against Germany, he left and went back to his country to serve under the Nazi regime. He was later hung after the war when he was found guilty of crimes against humanity during the Nuremburg trials.
Man, I should really do more research like this. This is turning out to be very interesting! At first I just wanted to talk about the Victoria skating rink, but my research led to so much more. I mean, wow! And it's pretty interesting to learn about this place being the old gay village and how a movement that started there lead to improve equal rights for homosexuals. Especially right now as the United States are debating the constitutionality of same sex marriage and whether married same-sex couples should have the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. I'm also surprised to learn about that Nazi guy. I mean, wow! Talk about history! Why don't they teach this stuff in school?

So, back to my ramen craze. The restaurant is located between René Lévesque and Sainte-Catherine, next to the famous gentlemen's club (read strip club or cabaret) Chez Parée. The entrance to the restaurant is very small and barely noticeable. The entrance is a flight of stairs and the restaurant is located on the second floor.

Inside the restaurant, it looked very nice and upscale. The decor was inspired by Japanese art, but they didn't overdo it. From the look of the place, I was already expecting some delicious good quality food.

The staff was very nice and showed me to my table, which was right next to a trio of young, very well dressed students who, from what I overheard, just came out of some kind of office party, were still in Cegep, and were discussing their plans to go to university. It was funny to hear them talk about what they thought university was like. They have no idea what's waiting for them.

I was browsing their menu and I was impressed. They have a pretty good variety of ramen dishes and a lot more. Something else that looked very interesting is their hot stone bowl dishes. Another thing I saw that I never heard of are omurice - an egg omelette stuffed with various kinds of rice, such as fried rice. They serve this with Japanese curry. There is a whole lot more on there that I could talk about, but those are the ones that stood out. To top it all, the prices were very reasonable. Most dishes cost around $10.00. I mean, that's cheap considering the look of the place, location and the type of food they serve. Usually, Japanese restaurants are pretty expensive because of their exotic side. But, not Hakata Ramen. The only let down I could find was that they didn't seem to have a choice of broth for their ramen soups. Then again, I haven't tried them all so maybe each one has its own. Oh and they also serve bubble tea, daiquiris and Japanese soft drinks, such as Ramune!

For my dinner, I first ordered a bottle of Asahi Super Dry beer and some pork dumplings, or gyoza. The dumplings were big, delicious and full of flavour. It came with a little cup of vinegar dipping sauce. It took a while to get them, but was well worth it.

I had 5 originally. I couldn't wait to eat one.

For the main course, I ordered the tonkatsu ramen, or breaded pork ramen. The soup was a little smaller than what I expected, but they made up for it by serving it with two huge, thick breaded pork chops and a small salad. The ingredients were definitely fresh and of high quality. The salad had a little vinegrette in it which was delicious. The pork was so juicy and tender. The noodles were amazing! Cooked just right and a little springy, they were some of the best I've had so far. The ingredients in the soup were definitely fresh. There was some zucchini  corn, green onions, seaweed and a soft boiled egg, all sprinkled with some sesame seeds. The only bad thing I have to say about the soup was that I found was that the broth lacked some flavour. It was miso broth and I thought it was a little bland. That is too bad because the broth is what gives the soup its body. If the broth doesn't have flavour, then your soup won't taste like much. Otherwise, I definitely enjoyed my meal and I still thought that overall it was very good.

Finally, even though I was stuffed, I waited for a while before my waitress came back to pick up my empty plates. I eventually decided to go for some dessert. They have nice little Japanese desserts, but I opted for something small, so I picked the ice cream mochi. That's basically balls of ice cream wrapped in a flavoured glutinous rice paste. They had two kinds: sweet red beans and mango. When the waitress saw that I couldn't make up my mind, she offered to bring me one of each. I agreed. It was delicious. This was a great ending to a great meal.

The bill went up to $37.00 with tip. But, that's because I went all out with a beer, appetizer and dessert. Othewise, at $10 per bowl of ramen, I could've eaten there for a lot cheaper. Besides, I left the place full, satisfied and very happy. I would definitely go back there again.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Fairmount street

Wednesday of last week, I decided to check out one of the streets I walked by when I went all the way up to the Mile End. So, with my Ray Ban glasses hiding my true human appearance and with a vintage leather coat and some tight jeans and Chuck Taylor Converse shoes, I was able infiltrate hipster territory without being noticed and observed them in their natural element. Haha, I'm kidding. Actually, they saw me coming a mile away. Chuck Taylors and Ray Bans are already way too mainstream. Though they still accepted me thanks to my old worn out leather jacket that I've had for over ten years, which totally passed as vintage.

Hipster jokes aside, the first street that I crossed that night was Fairmount, just west of Saint-Laurent. It was getting late though so most shops were closed, but I still got a pretty good feel of the area and saw a few very interesting places. There were many cute little neighbourhood restaurants and cafés, some art galleries and interesting little shops and a couple of very interesting bigger and specialized restaurants that I would love to try.

The first place that I walked by was a Japanese paper shop. That's right, a store that specializes in Japanese paper and paper-related arts and crafts. When I looked inside, they had different kinds and colours of paper for all sorts of uses. They also had books that covered your typical traditional origami stuff to instructions on how to make lamps and build your own Japanese paper wall. That's pretty neat! Maybe I should go get myself equipped and change my ugly red curtains that separate my bedroom from my living room and replace that with a Japanese paper wall! Though, I don't really have any room to build one of those either. I guess I'll stick with the curtains...

Next was an old little deli shop called Wilensky, after its owner Moe Wilensky. It had this really old classic look you'd find in a place right out of the 50's. The owner really kept the place looking nice after all this time. I would love to try that place out just for the experience.

Another block further and I found one of Montreal's first and one of the best bagel bakeries in town, Fairmount Original Bagels. According to their website, this little shop has been there since 1949 and was founded by one of Montreal's first bagel bakers, Isadore Shlafman who used to sell his bagels in the back-alley of his home in 1920's. Along with Saint-Viateur bagels, Fairmont Bagels makes some of the best Montreal-Style bagels you can find. This place is definitely worth a stop during the day. When I was passing by, there were trucks getting loaded to ship these bagels in grocery stores all over town. All these bagels and they are still being made in their original locations from all the way back in the 50's!

After that there wasn't anything else for a while on my side of the street. I went past Avenue du Parc and when I saw that there was nothing really interesting anymore, other than apartment houses, I was going to turn around and walk back along the other side of the street. But, I noticed this one restaurant whose name rang a bell. It's called Rumi. I went closer and I saw what it was. It's a middle-eastern cuisine restaurant. I've heard of it before and I've heard really good thins about it too! Their menu was quite impressive and it looks like they have some high quality food there. If ever I'm in the mood for some good kibbeh, chicken or an authentic tajine dish with couscous, vegetables and aromatic spices, this would be the place to go.

On my way back, on the other side of the street, I didn't notice anything really worth mentioning. There were a couple of beauty, pedicure, manicure salons and some quaint little local cafés and diners, but nothing that quite got my attention. Maybe except for this croissant shop. Maybe it's the French in me, but I loves me some fresh butter croissants! Especially with a large bowl of cafe au lait! One of my favourite places in Montreal has been Croissanterie Linda on Sainte-Catherine near Saint-Marc. But, I like to have variety and to try new places and compare. So, I was very happy to discover another croissaterie in town. I should try this place out one morning for breakfast and see how their croissants compare.

Not until I got back to the corner of Saint-Urbain. There I found what I think was the discovery of the night. A restaurant called Cartel that claims to be a street food bar. The place looks beautiful inside. I looked at their menu and it was very interesting. Indeed, they served street foods. The kind of stuff you would usually get off food trucks like Grumman 78. It was mostly Mexican and Asian. They also serve larger dishes with steak, duck, chicken, etc. But, the one thing that caught my eye was the lobster rolls. I remember the lobster rolls I ate in Old Orchard Beach last summer and suddenly had the urge to get some. I still do. I need to go back there and get my lobster rolls on!

Fairmount street is your typical quaint little Montreal neighbourhood street. Along with its old fashioned deli and cafés and typical old apartment buildings and small art galleries, you find a true Montreal Icon: the original Fairmount Bagels bakery. If you really want to experience Montréal and its soul, I think this is a good place to go to get a good feel what this city is really all about. Or a good part of it at least, because the spirit of this city changes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. And that's what makes walking around in this town so interesting.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bail out Saturday

Well Saturday was off to a bad start. What was supposed to be a nice afternoon and dinner with my family and an evening with some friends ended up with me spending most of the day by myself.

My mother and my sister were keen on going to see an art exhibit in Montreal's underground complex because a part of it featured pieces made by artists from Barcelona. My sister spent six months this winter in the capital of Catalonia as a foreign exchange student and my parents went to visit, so they were looking forward to see some objets d'art that reminded them of their beautiful journey there. That particular part was exhibited at the Complexe Desjardins, so that's where we plan to meet. My mom, dad, sister, her boyfriend and my little cousin all showed up around 1pm. When they saw what the oeuvres d'art were all about, they were severely disappointed. It turned out to be just a few booths with video projections of artsy fartsy crap that don't make sense. Like watching a bunch of shadows move in the light reflected off of a bunch of steel balls. Another was a video of someone filming the ground as he walked and some captions talking about how a close up view of moving pavement looked like canyons and valleys (it didn't). When they saw that, they decided to cancel out on the whole art exhibition thing and go to Chinatown instead.

Walking in Chinatown I discovered a brand new ramen place. Apparently, they make their own noodles. But, after my experience at Sumo Ramen, whose ramen noodles are also home-made, it doesn't mean that it's actually good. It'll be worth a try. Maybe I'll go for lunch sometime.

In Chinatown, my folks wanted to go to a tea shop. They came out of it and my mother suddenly felt queasy. She's been ill for a while and the doctor told her to stay home and get rest. She thought she felt good enough to go out but it turns out she was wrong. So they turned back and decided to go home. My poor mom has been working way too hard lately and it finally affected her health. So, I understand it was best for her to go get rest. I invited my sister and her boyfriend to stay with me and hang out downtown, but they rode in with my parents and didn't want miss their ride home. Besides, my sister's boyfriend went to a rock concert the night before and his head was still ringing from the noise. So everybody left.

I tried to call a bunch of people to hang out, but it was already late in the afternoon and most people had made plans already or were too tired from partying the night before. So, "screw it" I said. I decided to go have dinner somewhere and enjoy the rest of the day by my own damn self! On that day, there were a couple of cool events happening. First, there was a roller derby somewhere in Montreal Nord with the three local roller derby teams doing a round robin. Later, there was a burlesque show happening downtown. I knew there was another roller derby happening some time soon, so I opted for the burlesque show. But first, dinner.

I walked up Saint-Laurent until I reached a restaurant I found no so long ago. I talked about it when I walked in the Mile End. It's a vegan restaurant called Aux Vivres. A friend of mine highly recommended it and said it was his favourite restaurant. So I decided to try it out. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to turn vegan anytime soon. Hells no! I'll eat bacon every god damn chance I get.

It's a little place that looked like it was under renovation. They sat me down at a table and handed me the menu. I was a little uncomfortable at first because there was nothing with meat and I was afraid I might end up paying for a meal that's going to leave me on my appetite. Their soup of the day was a sweet potato, carrot and ginger soup. Their specialty seemed to be some kind of big bowl filled with veggies and tofu or big pratha bread sandwich wraps. Their pratha bread is made from scratch too. I decided to go with the wrap. It had a slice of grilled seasoned tofu, pickled carrots and turnip and lettuce and a really great Thai peanut sauce. And the thing was motherfucking huge! I really had trouble finishing it. I was completely stuffed. When I was done with my plate, I paid and left and I didn't feel too bad. You know that stuffy bloated feeling you get after a big meal sometimes? Well I didn't have that. It was great!

I went home for a bit and tried to call some people to accompany me at the burlesque show, but it was too late. Nobody could come. So, again, I went by myself and felt like an idiot to go see something like that alone. But, I didn't want to miss it. I'm sure glad I didn't because it turned out to be a cool show. It was happening at the Café Cléopatre on Saint-Laurent at the corner of Sainte-Catherine. The old red light district. I went there just before the doors opened up and stood in line.

When we were finally let it, we went up the stairs to the cabaret. 10$ entry fee. It was a nice little place. The show turned out to be pretty cool. The show was sponsored by Les Toutounes Atomiques (The atomic chubbies) which is a cool retro pin-up style fashion store for plus size ladies. The girls are members of a group of performers called Sublimes Rondeurs (sublime curves) and they do burlesque cabaret shows like this regularly. Also, it just so happens that one of the girls is a mutual friend of a bunch of friends of mine. The show that night was called French Kiss and mostly had a French theme, though there were some cowboy and lumberjack scenes. The host of the evening was a drag queen and was able to get the crowd cheering and applauding. The ladies gave us a good show and were very entertaining. Overall, I had a great time.

I had quite a few drinks and ended up taking one of the last couple of metro trains of the day to head back home. When I got home I just crashed and went to bed. And that was my Saturday.