Jan 26, 2011

Café Vasco Da Gama

After discovering this little downtown gem less than a year ago, we’ve found ourselves using downtown shopping sprees as an excuse to come here for a cup of coffee – and    nothing soothes the post credit card bingeing blues like a warm latte. Ten months and too many shoes later, we now count Vasco Da Gama as one of the best coffee shops in the city. If you’re a tourist and looking for an authentic gourmet coffee experience, head no further than this quaint downtown locale. 

Considered the younger sibling of Café Ferreira nearby, Vasco Da Gama offers more than just great coffee and delicious pastries. While we could go on about its mouthwatering cappuccinos, the food here is equally spectacular. Stop by for a healthy breakfast of goat milk yoghurt topped with fresh blackberries and kumquats, or a custom-made omelet.  The array of burgers, sandwiches and paninis makes for some difficult decision-making at lunch time. Prepared on-site, each is a creative combination of ingredients, flavors and color. When half the workday has passed and you’ve already been worn down to a drooling buffoon at the site of any kind of nourishment, how can you choose between the eggplant goat cheese and the duck confit panini, topped with caramelized figs, mango and St-Jorge cheese? To make matters worse, you have to choose a side salad from a spread that would rival the health factor over at Liquid Nutrition. Each is expertly dressed, and a color palate coordinated to perfection. The celery root is speckled with dried cranberries, and the baby string bean tomato salad was like summer in a bowl. Our favorite is the simple and understated Ferreira Club with a side of quinoa salad. And why not enjoy a glass of champagne with your quick and tasty panini, followed by a frothy cappuccino? Or how about trading in that after lunch breath mint for a Fleur de Sel caramel at the check out counter?

The menu isn’t fussy – only pure flavors arranged in fresh, innovative ways.

The room is a narrow stretch of brilliant ocean blues and pale creams – reminiscent of a Mediterranean dream. Tall arched ceilings and painted mosaic tiles on the walls offer a much-needed sunny escape from the dreariness of Montreal’s winter weather. The ambience is always quietly buzzing, and you’ll likely see an eclectic mix of business people, students, couples, and exhausted shoppers. Cordial and efficient, the staff is always on top of their game, along with the manager –who comes around regularly to mingle with patrons. With the convenience of coffee to-go franchises around every corner, it’s easy to forget to take the time to visit the smaller, lesser-known cafés the city has to offer. 

Vasco Da Gama is a small place that packs a big punch. Alone or with friends, this downtown gem is definitely worth the visit.

Café Vasco Da Gama
1472, Rue Peel
Montreal, Quebec
(514) 286-2688

Café Vasco Da Gama on Urbanspoon


Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes 

It’s always a good idea to have a go-to dessert that you know will be a guaranteed crowd pleaser. It has to be simple enough to make, but not without that significant wow-factor. Quite frankly, it’s that staple dish that makes you look like a gastronomic genius when you may be, in fact, quite far from it.

This is why I absolutely love this cupcake recipe, which I adapted from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. There’s something in these that seems to excite the inner child in everyone, even at a formal dinner party. They can be elegant or whimsy and are highly adaptable for any occasion.

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes 

 1 cup unsalted room-temperature butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs (room-temperature)
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted room-temperature butter
3-5 cups icing sugar
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a muffin tin (large) with cupcake papers
3.In a large bowl, cream butter on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar gradually until fully incorporated and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until mixture has increased in volume.
4.In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift together.
5.Prepare a measuring cup with milk and mix in the vanilla.
6.Add the milk and flour mixtures to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating. Beat on medium speed only until ingredients are fully incorporated.
7.Spoon mixture into cupcake liners about ¾ full.
8.Bake for 20 minutes. To test, press the top of the cupcake and it should spring back.
9.Let cupcakes cool in tin for 5 minutes then remove and let cool completely on wire rack.
10.Prepare icing.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing
1.In a medium bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.
2.Add milk and vanilla and beat until incorporated.
3.Add a cup of sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Add a cup of sugar at a time (beat about 2 minutes after each addition) until it develops a good spreading consistency. You may not need all the sugar.
4. Separate icing into different bowls (as many colors as you want to make) and add a couple of drops of food coloring of your choice.
5.Spread icing on cooled cupcake with rubber spatula. Use decorations of your choice.



Baldwin Barmacie

If you’ve never gone for a drink at Barmacie, you’re either over the age of forty, a boring homebody who stays in on Saturday nights to watch Say Yes to the Dress marathons or perhaps a recovering alcoholic. Okay, harsh words, but really, what is the matter with you? A place once kept severely under wraps by local trendsetters and twenty-something hipsters, this plateau watering hole is on the cusp of being discovered by one too many people.

As the name implies, Baldwin’s is a pharmacy-turned-bar and the place stays true to its genetic origin. In the end, what is the difference between a pharmacist and a bartender really? Both are people who mix cocktails in glass vials to soothe our anxieties and pains, act as confidants for our troubles, and both stand behind big counters as we ask to be placated with the best concoctions medicine or mixology have to offer. So if you’re like us and have graduated from the coed-infested halls of McGibbins and Trois Brasseurs, step into Barmacie for a vial of an expertly mixed cocktail in a low-key trendy ambiance. Ladies, leave your Globe-faring attire at home and gentlemen, please abandon any Jersey-Shore inspired ensembles – this isn’t that kind of place. Feel free to wear those obnoxious fake nerd glasses however, because you’ll fit right in.

The stars among the cleverly named cocktails are the mojitos. If you need a bit more nursing than a simple cocktail, the small carafes of liqueur are a popular and ingenious alternative. Also be sure to sample one of Barmacie’s deliciously greasy grilled cheese sandwiches to curb that post drink appetite before you head out the door. The music is like that friend who makes a great companion but blends perfectly into the background when necessary – fun but not overly intrusive.

The bottom-line: great drinks, great music, great ambiance. It’s easy to lose the drive to go out at night in the winter months, especially in Montreal’s sub-zero climate. And since standing in line outside a club in a mini dress is best left to the teenyboppers; Baldwin’s is a great excuse to leave the warmth of our living rooms and engage in some serious and sophisticated medicating.

Baldwin Barmacie
115 Laurier Ouest
Montreal, QC H2T 2N6, Canada
(514) 276-4282

Galo - Best Kept Secret in TMR

Every once in awhile a restaurant opens up in the most unlikely of places with such authenticity and genuine appeal, you feel like you’ve been admitted into a secret society just for having discovered such a gem. For fear of betraying the trust of this covenant, you never suggest this place for a birthday party or friendly get together. You keep it all to yourself and you revel in your ingenuity and Bacchanalian pleasure with every meal you consume here.

Such is the case with Galo. Think of it as a classier, less chaotic version of Coco-Rico where you can enjoy fantastic Portuguese cuisine at its finest. The dining area may be as small as the average living room, but that is what lends to its charm; and like a J.K. Rowlings’ style magic, there always seems to be a place waiting for you no matter what time of day. The owners are a mother and daughter team who take care of you like you’ve come for a meal at their home. As the service is gracious and affable, so is the décor with its warm Mediterranean undertones and casual flair.

The more often one frequents this paradise of Portuguese home-style cooking, the more one develops a collection of favorites among the menu’s offerings. While we encourage you to try everything on the menu because without exaggeration or pomp - everything will be delicious; there are a few must-try dishes.  Since this is first and foremost a rotisserie, a newcomer’s first visit should include a sampling of the mixed meat grill – a combination of chicken, chorizo, and pork flank enrobed in a succulent blanket of garlic and herb seasoning. The flavors are bold but never overpower the taste of the meats. Cooked to perfection on a real charcoal grill, we have never once encountered a dry piece of meat- which tends to be the danger at many rotisseries. The mixed platters are accompanied by the humble French-fry; a perfect accompaniment since they are not overly greasy and cooked with the skin-on. If you’re one of those who come here to order a healthy salad with grilled chicken on top, go home. Don’t bother taking up the precious space of this small eatery with your healthy request, because there’s some real food lovers waiting for a table behind you.

Be sure to accompany your meal with a selection from the array of Portuguese wines available – from the fruity to the dry, they will complement the richness of the meats or the daintiness of the seafood with perfection. For desert, you have no choice but to have a nata –which we dare you not to try. These small custard pastries go quickly over the course of the day, so we often reserve one as soon as we order our meal. Gentleman and ladies, impress your significant others with a quiet evening of succulent food and wine, without the gregarious pomp of the higher-end locales. We guarantee you will leave Galo with a warm tingling sensation that often accompanies a new discovery, just keep it to yourself okay?

1970, boulevard Graham
Mount Royal, QC H3R 1H3, Canada
(514) 504-5110

Galo on Urbanspoon

Faros - Get Me To the Greek

While it’s safe to say that Montreal is not without its supply of Hellenic cuisine, finding a chic, upscale Greek restaurant where you won’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house after an evening out can be a bit of a challenge. Stripped of all the pretentious opulence you see down the street at Milos, Faros delivers equally, if not superior, quality dishes to satisfy your inner Spartan.

Faros holds a special place in our hearts because it is the site where a dramatic transformation amongst us took place. A fish-hating dinner companion of ours was officially transformed into a fish-lover. And by lover, I mean he suggested we pay a visit to the quaint Greek eatery because he had been craving their fish all day. I of course stared in disbelief, but happily made my way over to this quiet Park Ave site. It was their magically marinated swordfish that was responsible for this transformation and is guaranteed to have the same effect on any fish-hater out there. I will never understand you fish-haters – I can only assume your avoidance is due to a traumatic fish-eating experience (as was the case with the afore-mentioned dinner companion).

Do not fear coming here with a huge appetite. The generous portions are prepared quickly but at no expense to their quality. Start the meal off with a crispy serving of fried zucchini and eggplant, piled onto a heap of hidden creamy tzaziki. Although octopus is not for everyone, the salad is made with expertly dressed tender pieces of this seafood. The Greek salad is a wonderfully refreshing primer to the main course but can sometime be a hit or miss. At our recent dining experience here, the kitchen had seemed to run out of cucumbers since our salad was comprised of mostly onion and tomato. It can also be said that every option of main courses is a safe bet. The lamb is always perfectly seasoned and roasted, the chicken equally tender and tasty, and I’ve already mentioned that the swordfish is divine-incarnate. Sharing concept is key at Faros, which makes it an ideal place for a dinner date, a birthday dinner with friends, or a night out with the parents. End the meal with a clever and complex fruit platter to share amongst your fellow epicureans. Even mid-winter, the fruits are unbelievably fresh and when do you ever see slices of succulent dragon fruit on a desert plate?

The flavors are genuine and uncompromised by its simplicity. A casual ambiance ensconced by professional service makes Faros a comfortable and satisfying dining experience.

Restaurant Faros
362, avenue Fairmount Ouest
Montreal, QC H2V 2G4, Canada
(514) 270-8437
Faros on Urbanspoon

Jan 14, 2011


Montreal. You think you’re so cute with your European flair, your sidewalk terraces, and joie de vivre. Your poutine and smoke meat sandwiches may set you apart from your sister cities, but you are more than that. You are a paradox of chic and grungy. A plethora of flavors, textures, and complexity.

This site is about the love affair one forms with Montreal and its food. Whether you’ve lived here all your life or have come for a short visit – you will know that the city’s restaurant scene affords an infinitesimal array of experiences. Our intention is to compound a series of posts about the quality eats the city has to offer. The reviews will focus on fantastic (and perhaps not so fantastic) restaurants we visit. Before showing you some of our favorite places, let’s clear the air a bit. This blog will focus mostly on food, but other venues are subject to review as well. Also note that we leave the city on occasion and when we do, we’ll be sure to write about great places to eat and drink outside of Montreal. Consider this a random place-to-go generator of sorts and tailored for the indecisive.

Some of you may read restaurant reviews by professional food critics in the newspaper. If you are like us, you will find that your Saturday mornings are spent reading nothing but tedious and scathing reviews by L. Chesterman and her peers. You will also notice that these columns often review the same restaurants three times in one year (Bice anyone?). Montreal has some of the most incredible, charming, unusual and often unexpected restaurants and bars waiting to be discovered. That’s where we come in.

Some of you may also turn to restaurant reviews online. These are sites that are often sponsored by (what-else) restaurants and either give extremely biased reviews or are comprised of forums where people just like you will write little one-liners about the fabulousness of a place and others will berate their dining experience in meticulous detail and hope it will propel the restaurant into bankruptcy. This is also where we will try and help you out. We promise to deliver unbiased reviews, while giving you something more to go on than just two chili peppers out of ten, or: “worst restaurant ever – waiter brought my check without me asking! BOYCOTT this place!!”. So save the drama for your mama, because a great restaurant does not deserve to be verbally massacred because of a trivial mistake by a waiter.

Also note that no place is too lowly, too trendy, to out-of-the way, too commonplace, too popular, too little popular, too new or too old to be featured.

Bon appetit!

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Be forewarned that these reviews will not include any star ratings or thumbs up icons to help you skim through and filter out which restaurants suit your mood. If this is not your method of choice, then pick up your iPhone –there’s an app for that.