If Yan Could Cook. . .

Archive for November 2008

Saltshaker in the Pocket: L’Avenue, Ramen-Ya

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This morning I went to L’Avenue (922 Mont-Royal E) for the first time, ostensibly a Montreal breakfast staple, a notion upheld by the long line for the door in the rain.

Usually when I go out for breakfast, I want breakfast: a bottomless mug of mediocre brewed coffee, a dependable diner combination in salt and grease that cures hangovers and gathers friends. L’Avenue could not do that. The bright, high-architectural decor and club-thumping-stripped-vocals-remix music would only aggravate hangovers and school exhaustion, and my companion and I could hardly hear each other. The waitresses wore short schoolgirl skirts and our waiter wore a bowtie, suspenders, and a kilt, similar to the mannequin in the glass entranceway; a motorcycle was mounted to the wall; the bathroom was essentially a piece of concept art, complete with dim red lighting, murals of naked girls, walls of mirrors, a metal rectangular column sink in the centre, and arbitrary pieces of chain-link fence; food is served on white, angled plates, on spears, in miniature crock pots, in gigantic cocktail glasses – in short, the place was forcefully po-mo trendy. I was thrown: the best breakfasts, I thought, are found in sweet, grungy, dirt-cheap diners.

The food was amazing. Again, I would never come when I felt like a classic breakfast, when I want eggs and toast and peace. I would come again if I felt like having a substantial, chaotic meal before noon.

I had the dejeneur fruite, with two eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, and pain doré with maple syrup. The elements are the same, but everything is heavily and complexly flavoured and dressed up. There were chives and an appropriate amount of air and softness in my scrambled eggs, wonderfully fluffy, thick, and cinnamon-drenched pain doré, five (count ‘em, five) strips of unusually intense bacon, vaguely sweet curried potatoes, and a pile of mostly out-of-season fruits. Only the potatoes lost me; the flavour was too strong to be part of this team. They would have made a better sidedish for a sauceless piece of meat, or in a salad. I had a bagel for the toast, and it was good Montreal sesame bagel. When all this was laid out in front of me I remember thinking of a sushi boat or a wedding cake, some perversely large and ornate amount of food. There was hardly room on the table for our coffees (the cafe au lait is lovely and well-frothed; the mocha is cloyingly, sadly made from Nesquik syrup).

My companion, enviably, had the Idaho omelette, so massive it resembled a small piece of furniture. Four eggs stuffed with reggiano, a unique and smooth potatoes frissée, bacon, red onions, and sour cream, and creamily puffed-up as a radial tire, it was, again, no longer really an omelette, but something else that merely bore the idea. After eating the entire thing my boy nearly died right there at the table, but he would have gone out smiling.

The night before we went to Ramen-Ya, a fairly new addition to the Main (4274 St. Laurent). Before last night, my staple Japanese place was Osaka (2137 Bleury). Four out of the last five times I went, though, they were full or reserved to capacity and the waitress suggested we come back in a few hours. Ramen-Ya might be taking its place in the roster. My boy, a travel snob with an SD card full of pictures of Japan, said both the food and the experience was impressively authentic. Me, a compulsive eater and a lapsed Asian, can only say that it was delicious.

We sat at the bar and shared some pork gyoza and spider rolls (deep-fried soft shell crab in maki), and they lived up to the Vancouver standard that seems like a pipe dream here on the East Coast. We both had donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) ramen; I had it in shoyu broth, and he had it in spicy miso broth. I suppose it’s a matter of taste, but I always prefer when the something in a something-and-soup combination (tempura, cheese croutons, etc.) is served on the side rather than in the soup, so that I can put it in piece by piece at my leisure rather than deal with a frantic soggy emergency (the pork, pleasantly light on the breading, arrived on a separate plate). The noodles retained their bite and shoyu broth was tasty and mild.

I keep trying to explain this to people, but it’s hard: see, you can buy contentment. On any given street, there are more places that sell it than anything else.

It worries me that food tastes better when you have someone to hold hands with between courses. If he leaves, I’ll have to carry a saltshaker in my pocket all the time.


Written by skimfu

November 16, 2008 at 3:50 am

Posted in Restaurant Reviews

This Pedestrian Life: Hip Steak Wraps, Beef-Lentil Soup, Roasted Vegetables, Pulled Pork

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While processing an insane amount of vegetables, alone at home, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” for the first (and second and third) time. On the one hand, it irked me to be so cliché. How many teenagers and college students, decades worth, dead and alive, had sat around and had their minds blown by this album? And then it irked me to be having that thought, that pathetic, moronically young, pseudo-nonconformist desire to not be like everyone else, not like what they like, so that what you like can define you. But then it just washed over me: first a smile, a movement, a creeping joy, then a stillness inside. Yes. The music: mind-blowing.

Somebody asked me what I eat on any given weekday, and I’m going to pretend all of you care. I don’t change my Facebook status or use Twitter, so allow me this “hey world, look at the mundane workings of my life!” narcissism.

This month orange juice and peach yogurt have been a permanent fixture in my fridge, along with frozen mangoes, strawberries, grapes, and raspberries. Any combination of the above, with ice, in the blender, sends a cool, flickering sensation through the limbs.

Last week I made a bunch of hip steak wraps to take with me each day. In second year I thought this was a stroke of genius; now I regard anything that has only three major ingredients to be a quick-and-dirty affair. Foodie snobbery infects without warning, and the prognosis is swift and grim. Strips of onion (1/2 inch half-rings) are left to caramelize until inarguably sweet, then stir-fried with strips of hip steak, strips of green pepper, minced garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, and black pepper. Because of all the sitting-in-ambient-heat time, it’s better to leave the beef considerably rarer than you actually want it. Then roll appropriate portions up in tortillas, let cool, wrap in foil, and then eat them with aggressive messiness in class, dripping onion juices in your lap.

This week’s second-year classic: beef-lentil soup. Half a large yellow onion, chopped small, sweated with minced garlic, one beef bullion cube, one chicken bullion cube, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper; cubes of stewing beef are seared with the mixture. Five medium-small carrots and three large stalks celery, sliced, white-flesh potatoes in large cubes, a can of tomatoes, loads of green lentils (3/4 pound), and enough water that it isn’t stew get tossed in. Even loaded with red chili flakes at the end (which is essential!), it’s a comforting, straightforward soup. Portioned out and frozen for the grab-and-go.

Man, that is an unpalatable brown.

At the same time I was making this soup, last night, I chopped extra celery, onion, carrots, and potatoes, as well as some zucchini in large cubes, tossed it all with oil and coarse Montreal steak spice, and then popped it in the oven in two roasting pans covered in foil. After an hour and a half of being ignored, at 350 degrees F, a weeks’ worth of easy veggie snacks!

This morning, I rubbed a pork shoulder with a dry rub of brown sugar, celery seed, dried cilantro, paprika, cayenne, and oregano. It went into the oven at 200-225 degrees F (my oven is kind of imprecise at such low temperatures) for four hours: one hour uncovered, three hours under foil.

Finely chopped celery, green pepper, and onion were cooked in a few spoonfuls of broth and fat from the roast. To this I added dijon, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, honey, tomato paste, and pepper. Dismayed at how much it tasted like pasta sauce, I also added some pureed chipotle (which I cannot seem to get rid of) at the end. Then it tasted…well, kind of like a meatball sub, but still closer to pulled pork.

roast1 roast22

roast3 roast4

When the pork came out, I tore it apart with tongs and my hands, and drenched in the sauce. So far I’ve eaten it on hallah bread; I imagine it would be good on rice, too.

Written by skimfu

November 9, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Beef, Pork, Soup