Feb 14, 2011

CONFUSION – Montreal’s Sexiest Restaurant

Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Fernando Alonso, Picasso, Gaudi, Rafael Nadal – Ah yes, Spain has blessed the world with a lot of wonderful things, and food not one to be excluded. Anyone who has visited the magical cities of Barcelona or Madrid will tell you that their favorite thing about Spain was the incredible cuisine. Montreal has been no exception to the Spanish conquest of the culinary scene in North America. Tapas bars are popping up around the city faster than you can say olé! Tapas, which are essentially small amuse-bouche dishes and originally intended to accompany the 5 à 7 cocktail hour, have now turned into an entire dinner concept on its own. It basically allows you to order small portions of different dishes, and sample a variety of things on a menu, without being committed to one main dish.

Restaurant Confusion in the Latin Quarter is by far, the coolest restaurant you will step into in these parts of the city. Where else can you eat your tiny samplings of food while rocking back and forth on a swing? 

Feb 8, 2011

VAUVERT – Gothic Enchantment in the Old Port

Nestled into the majestic Hotel St-Paul and racking up some serious it-status as one of the hottest supper clubs in the city, Vauvert is quickly becoming the party place extraordinaire of the Old Port. Think of it as the more sophisticated and tamer version of Globe –whose narrow and often over packed confines make being elbowed in the ribs by passing waitresses and simultaneous stilettos stabbing a common occurrence.

Since the food at many of the city’s supper clubs is not exactly meant to be the culinary revelation of the decade per se, Pascal Leblond (chef at renowned Cube a few years ago) and now chef behind Restaurant Vauvert, had us thinking we might be entering into different territory. However, one glance at the black leather-bound menu, and a chorus of sighs of disappointment echoed across the table. One would hope that the restaurant’s avant-garde edginess that reverberates through its black lacquered walls, overlooked by a canopy of twinkling lights would be mirrored in the menu, but sadly it didn’t.

And now, a few memos to you supper club chefs (and Vauvert’s in particular): if you want to set your restaurant apart from the crowd and make your food as fabulous as the party scene – how about you drop the standard tomato buffalo mozzarella appetizer? It’s predictable, it’s boring, and we can put it together at home for under ten bucks. Furthermore, tuna tartar seems to be a popular starter on a lot of menus these days. Every restaurant has its own take on it and the texture and seasoning varies from chef to chef. But as a standard rule, the fleshy mound of gooey goodness needs to be eaten with some sort of crispy bread or cracker. So expecting your customers to eat a pile of raw fish atop a stainless steel fork, shows a lack of finesse. And finally, dear chefs, please make sure you remove your baguettes from the freezer well in advance and to allow proper thawing before serving it to your patrons.

While many items on the menu leave much to be desired, most of the dishes are decent but lack the wow-factor that one would expect from a place of this pedigree. The rest of the starters were equally lacking in innovation. The duck dumplings for instance were extremely dry and under seasoned, and a couple more could have justified such a hefty price tag. 

The mains showed a bit more creativity. The angus burger seemed to be the popular choice and was quite tasty. The accompanying shoestring fries were a bit too salty but this was overshadowed by the fact that they were served in fun kitschy Chinese take-out containers. The veal was perfectly cooked and seasoned, but the plating was poorly executed. Served atop a pile of mushy greens in a lazy and half-hazard manner, the bitterness of the vegetables was lost in the brown sauce and everything turned into a lumpy soup of too many flavors and textures; not exactly the finest of veal dishes we’ve come across. The filet mignon seems to have been the star entrée; its buttery texture and fresh flavor were well received.

At this point, we were stuffed with a somewhat underwhelming meal, and were envisioning the numbers tallying up on our bill, so we opted to start the party and turned to bottles of vodka for dessert. If popping bottles of Goose is not your thing – then head over to the bar and order your cocktail of choice, because the drinks are the real stars at this Vieux-Port hot spot. Now, with drink in hand, and some great tunes to dance to, feel free to soak in the devilish charm of this locale’s gothically-enchanting atmosphere. Painted pitch black, but not in a cold, unwelcoming way, the walls at Vauvert are delicately illuminated by twinkling ceiling lights and make you feel as though you’re standing beneath a starry sky. Too bad the food was not as bright a star as the décor.

Bottom-line: Come for the party, not the food. Otherwise, if you enjoy paying an expensive bill for an average meal, then this place is perfect! The crowd: a good mix of everything, but a bit older than the twenty-somethings we usually see at these types of places.  Dress-code: we saw outfits that covered the gamut from casual lumberjack-chic to Cher-inspired sequin spandex… so it seems pretty much everything goes. Spotted: famed Argentine-director Santiago Amigorena chatting up the runway-ready models/waitresses.

Restaurant Vauvert
355 McGill St
Montreal, QC
(514) 876-2823


Restaurant Vauvert on Urbanspoon

Feb 1, 2011

Biting Into the Big Apple – Best of NYC Restaurants

Tao – “Buddha-licious”

Remember that scene in the movie Hitch when Eva Mendes goes to a speed-dating event with her permanently single friend and Will Smith traipses in past an enormous Buddha, hoping to redeem his honor whilst declaring his love for Eva? Did you think while watching: “wow, too bad Hitch stormed out of there because I bet the food is really great…?” Well we did. Made famous not only because of its cameo in the romantic comedy, but because of its frequent celebrity patrons, Tao is a definite New York must.

The food isn’t mind-blowing but the experience certainly makes it worth a visit. Be prepared to wait for a table for over an hour (even with reservations). In the meantime, head over to the bar and lounge area, which is cleverly separated from the main dining area by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The crowd is an interesting mix of young professionals, couples, tourists, and unsuspecting families with kids. This place is about seeing and being seen. As you sip your cocktail, waiting anxiously for the buzzer in your hand to ring (and which probably never will), you can sit on the slick leather seats and do some serious people watching. We counted some NBA players, and a few models in the hour we waited. So word to the wise, do not come here hungry unless you are prepared to slip the hostess a twenty.

Once you rejoice in the victory of scoring a table and have finally sat down, take in the room. This is trendy New-York dining at its finest and unlike any restaurant you’ll find in Montreal. The service is impeccable and surprisingly friendly for such a swanky place. Our waiter gave us a few suggestions and wasn’t pushy on anything and we ended up having some very unique and delicious dishes.

The food: tuna tartar on crispy rice (appetizer), swordfish with a chili drizzle and asparagus tempura (entrée), kung-pao chicken with assorted vegetables (entrée), banana pudding with fortune cookie crust (dessert), Tao infusion tea with lavender and chamomile.

It was difficult to choose a single entrée from the assortment on the menu (others included a mouth-watering beef tartar tempura and lobster dumplings). The tuna tartar was a departure from the traditional texture one normally sees with this appetizer. This one was more of a purée version, delicately seasoned and placed on warm crispy rice with a soft interior –definitely a highlight of the meal and a great way to warm up the palate. It’s a good idea to balance out a meat with a fish at Tao because both are done exquisitely. The swordfish was perfectly cooked and moist, and paired quite nicely with the sweet chili sauce. The asparagus tempura was an interesting side and complemented the flavors of the fish beautifully. The kung-pao chicken was delicious – not overly spicy or sweet – and that means a lot coming from someone who is not the biggest fan of Chinese food. The portions are quite large and the sharing concept is true to its Asian inspiration.

We often tend to judge a restaurant by its dessert. A bad dessert has the potential to ruin what would otherwise be a spectacular meal. This was not the case at Tao. The banana pudding is like a tropical-Thai twist on the Italian tiramisu. Layers of banana and fortune cookie crumbs with flavored custard in between were an immaculate and inspired way to end the meal. We paired this with a lovely lavender tea infusion which helped lighten the heaviness of the pudding.

All in all, an excellent meal without being too pretentious or avant-garde, and offering some great twists to the classics. Reserve early, and expect to pay about fifty bucks a head for a decent sized meal. If you are seated at the bench area and you’re short, opt for the chair or you will feel like a child in need of a booster seat during your meal. If you’re a tourist, leave the kids at home and DO NOT come dressed in your sightseeing attire of mom-jeans and sneakers.

Fun fact: it’s been reported that on occasion, the wait staff has to pull down people trying to climb the 20 ft. tall Buddha.

42 East 58th Street
New York City, 10022-1910
Tao on Urbanspoon

Biting Into the Big Apple – Best of NYC Restaurants

eatery nyc
Cool Comfort in NYC's Theater District

If you want something a little less sceney but not without a significant cool factor, go to Eatery. Recommended by a local friend of ours, this place is not on the usual tourist radar and offers lots of delicious food choices. We stopped by on a busy Friday night without reservations and only waited five minutes for a table. However, those few minutes were certainly well spent– thanks to the mind-blowing cocktails created by the amazing man who tends bar here. He is clearly a master of his craft and takes his liquid creations very seriously. If you have the coconut-rum mojito you will have thought you died and went to heaven.

The food: crispy rice cakes (complimentary snack while you wait), baked Camembert with wine-soaked grapes (appetizer), braised short-rib with red-wine reduction (entrée), and chicken eggplant tortellini made in-house (entrée).

This meal was simple and fabulous. Sometimes simplicity goes a long way and this restaurant goes the full mile. The menu boasts some classic home-style cooking choices with some funky twists, but maintains an overall contemporary American style.