Bonne nuit, Montreal

Dear faithful Shoestring Montreal readers,

Thank you so much for reading my blog, and for commenting when you felt compelled to set the story straight or simply share your own views. It’s been a lot of fun writing my reviews, however sporadically.

This post it just to let you know that I’m closing up shop here at Shoestring Montreal. It’s nothing personal, and I certainly haven’t yet reviewed all the Montreal cheap eateries that I’ve been to over the years, but the thing is that I’ve moved!

So, if you’d like to continue to follow my adventures in food, you can now find me at Shoestring Austin, or follow me @shoestringATX on Twitter. You can also keep up with my novel-in-progress at Naked Montreal if that interests you.

Thanks again for everything, Montreal. It’s been swell!

XO,
Laura

L’autre Choix Mini Marché

lautrechoixRecently a friend of mine opened a cool new grocery store in Westmount. It’s called L’autre Choix Mini Marché, and it’s got lots of great items to draw in business. You should check it out!

Located in Westmount at 330A Victoria Avenue, proprietor Clara Kwan’s mini-market is on a hip, happening street packed with plenty of specialty stores, including an awesome cookbook shop called Appetite for Books just up the street, where you can find a repository of books that will help you whip up your gourmet goods into tasty meals!

If you’re looking for organic, locally-grown vegetables, L’autre Choix is the place to be. Clara is selling a wide variety of farm-fresh veggies that vary seasonally, including staples like organic shallots, garlic, herbs like coriander, sweet potatoes, mini pumpkins (great for pies!), avocados, apples, baby eggplants, red and yellow peppers, Romaine lettuce, and lots more. In addition to these vegetables, she also offers some unusual items like salicorne sea beans and pied blue mushrooms from France, which will catch the eyes of foodies.

Along with her unbelievably fresh produce, Clara also offers an assortment of bulk nuts and dried fruits, plus organic pastas, dried mushrooms (shiitake, pèpes and porcini among others), organic spices, loose teas, espresso, various ramen and Korean-style packaged noodles, and various gourmet balsamic vinegars (including Rossini, Carandini and Pelloni Dispensa) and extra virgin olive oils (Toscano and Redoro Veneto Napoli Cella).

A photo from the grand opening (photo by Flickr user Cedric Sam)

A photo from the grand opening (photo by Flickr user Cedric Sam)

Vegetarians are sure to love the Worthington faux meat products, ranging from veggie burgers to Swiss “stake” with gravy to multigrain “chicken” cutlets and even “little links.”

For the meat eaters, Clara can order organic turkeys for your holiday meals (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) at a great price. Who needs frozen Butterballs when you can get a locally raised bird that’s easier on your stomach and the environment?

Oh, and did I mention that the prices here are AMAZING?! Organic avocados for $1.80 a piece, $1.99/lb for organic garlic, $1.99 for a bunch of organic coriander… the list of bargains goes on and on.

If you’re looking for fresh produce, great gourmet items, meat alternatives or even organic versions of the staples you use to stock your cupboards, be sure to check out L’autre Choix Mini Marché!

ADDRESS: 330A Victoria Avenue (Westmount)
METRO: Vendôme
PHONE: 514-369-1888

Flagrants Desirs chocolate

chocolateProving that while all of my desires are, in fact, flagrant, but not all of them are 72% cocoa, I must admit a weakness for the Flagrants Desirs brand of chocolate my local IGA grocery store sells. Available in a variety of flavours, the dark 72% cocoa is my favourite, as I like my chocolate dark, but not too dark. The 72% cocoa is just milky enough to be sweet and creamy, but dark enough to satisfy my craving for that more bitter, earthy taste. There’s an extra-dark 85% cocoa, but I’ve found that anything above 80% is too dark for my tastes. I may be noir at heart, but not that noir.

Also available from this line are chocolates with dark cocoa nibs, as well as the dark orange, dark pear, and dark mint flavours.

Cocoa nibs (image via Gourmet Sleuth)

Cocoa nibs (image via Gourmet Sleuth)

So far I have also enjoyed the dark cocoa nibs variety, which I find tasty but sort of troubling, since the cocoa nibs are pretty small and tend to come off as random grit in the chocolate. I didn’t really expect them to be hard, since I always visualize cocoa as a powder, but the nibs are actually hard specks of cocoa beans (as per the photo at left). The chocolate itself has more of an earthy dirt-like flavour, thanks to the nibs and the cocoa levels, which is interesting, though not quite the flavour profile I prefer.

As a fan of the original Terry’s Chocolate Orange (the one you have to whack on the table to split into individual orange “wedges”), I am very intrigued by the Dark Orange, but have not yet sampled its wares. I think this may be a winning combination, though the lack of whack may prove to be a liability.

The Dark Pear confuses me, since I’m not a big chocolate-with-fruit combo type of gal (and, in fact, tend to find this type of pairing quite abhorrent, barring the inherent deliciousness of the chocolate covered cherry and aforementioned chocolate orange), but in the interests of science, I may have to investigate this option. I just fear that it will go uneaten, as my husband hates the thought of sweet & savoury together, as well as chocolate plus fruit, so anything I don’t like in this department is definitely going to end up in the trash.

After Eight bar (image via Nestlé)

After Eight bar (image via Nestlé)

Dark mint? Obviously delicious. I mean, the York Peppermint Pattie and After Eight mints are proof that chocolate plus mint equals success, and anything darkly chocolatey is clearly a winner in my book.

Overall, I really like this line of chocolates, both for its dark chocolate and willingness to break out of the typically “acceptable” chocolate flavours, and also because it’s hella cheap. The grocery store near me sells these 100 gram bars for only $2.59. Comparably gourmet types of chocolates in this size range often retail for three to five dollars, so this is a rather nice bargain for those with a sweet tooth. I’m also addicted, so I tend to pick one of these suckers up once a week. As far as bad habits go, this one’s pretty cheap, so I’d encourage you to check out the Flagrants Desirs line if you see them at a grocery store near you.

In case you’re having trouble finding the Flagrants Desirs line of chocolates (I’ve noticed they’re not necessarily available at all IGAs), you can currently find them at the IGA at 5144 Bannantyne in Verdun, and you can also order them online for home delivery at the IGA online grocery website.

Restaurant Asha

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, due to many circumstances, including my lack of eating out! But I’ve got an update for you today on Restaurant Asha, which I recently visited with some friends—the proper way to enjoy any dining experience.

Asha is a small Indian restaurant located on Park Avenue, just down the street from the 24-hour Second Cup of choice for McGill students. Seeing as it’s part of the “McGill ghetto” area, it’s a natural choice for McGill students who love Indian food and hate to cook. Oddly enough, I used to live in the McGill ghetto, but had never been to Asha before last week. I am obviously either oblivious, crazy, or spent far too much time in the “Concordia ghetto” to notice this place. Bad reviewer!

In any event, Asha is a great place to go if you’re feeling like sharing a ton of food or want to grab a bite to eat before a film at the Cinema du Parc (we caught “A Wink and a Smile,” as part of the Montreal Burlesque Festival). The ambiance is similar to many of the Indian restaurants in town: real napkins and tablecloths, a kind of formal-casual that doesn’t necessitate dressing up, but where you wouldn’t feel out of place if you did. Plus they’re fully licensed, so you can enjoy some old-school cocktails like the Sling or an Indian beer before your meal.

Lamb saag and chicken korma (photo by Flickr user avlxyz)

Lamb saag and chicken korma (photo by Flickr user avlxyz)

A trio, our party ordered the Chicken Korma, Butter Chicken, and a curry lamb dish whose name has escaped me (saag?). These were mildly spicy, as we weren’t in the mood for the hot stuff, and although the portions appeared quite small, once we had enjoyed our appetizers of onion baji and samosas, it was more than enough for the three of us. You also get basmati rice with your mains, and we added some garlic naan to the mix, so there were plenty of carbs to soak up the sauces. As one of my dining companions wondered aloud, “Why is it that, at some point, you just want to eat all the sauce?”

Why indeed? We don’t know, but we soaked up a helluva lotta sauce with our naan and rice, yum! The mysteries of Indian cuisine live on.

The food here was slightly more expensive than your typical Shoestring “cheap eats” meal, but if you’ve got some extra cash and feel like splurging, this is a great place to do it. If you can grab the window table, you can people-watch to your heart’s content, or if you feel like going incognito, there are tables in the back where no one would ever think to look for you and your hidden lust for curry.

Delectable samosas (photo by Flickr user food_in_mouth)

Delectable samosas (photo by Flickr user food_in_mouth)

Oh, and despite our meaty tendencies, there were plenty of veggie options for those that partake of this zany lifestyle. The samosas were decidedly veggie, as were the baji, but as for the healthiness of these options, well, they were deep-fried in plenty of oil.

All in all, I would recommend Asha to those in the neighbourhood, especially if you wanted to try their special three-course lunch deal (Mon-Fri from noon to 2:30 PM), despite its slightly higher price tags. I think, ultimately, my favourite cheap-eats Indian place has to be Breads of India, with D.A.D.S. Bagels coming in an unexpected second for its late-night satisfaction. (Reviews to come!) There are some nice cheap Indian eateries up in the Park-Ex area, too, but I tend not to venture that far north if I can avoid it. Location, location, location, y’know?

What about you? Got any faves or spots to avoid?

ADDRESS: 3490 Avenue du Parc (McGill Ghetto)
METRO: McGill and a short walk
PHONE: 514-844-3178

Hot summertime eats that will keep you cool

Montreal is sweltering, and the idea of turning on the stove makes me break out in a cold sweat. Actually, it’s only cold sweat because I’m standing in my bedroom in front of the air-conditioner. Otherwise, it’d just be your garden variety of hot sweat. Yuck.

In any event, cooking in the summertime is a challenge, not only because it heats up the house, but also because sometimes you don’t even want to think about food, much less prepare it. It’s just too damn hot.

Therefore, I have compiled a list of my top 5 Hot Summertime Eats That Will Keep You Cool. Check it before you wreck it!

  1. Chicken Caesar Salad – A favourite at my place all year ’round, but it’s during the oppressive summer months when this simple salad really shines. Grab yourself a rotisserie chicken from your neaby grocery store, a jar of Renée’s Mighty Caesar dressing (for the extra garlic punch!), a head of Romaine lettuce and some Parmesan cheese and you’re almost done. Wash that lettuce good ‘n’ proper, spin it a couple of times through the ol’ spinner de salade, rip it up into bite-sized hunks, schmear it with dressing, toss and place it on some nice plates. Rip up your rotisserie chicken with your hands, place the pieces on top of your lettuce, then grab some Parmesan and/or Cheddar cheese to sprinkle on top of the whole thing. Dinner is served!
  2. Sushi – It’s carbolicious, but it’s also served cold. Therefore, sushi is my summertime treat of choice. Save the saké for the winter months and drink a nice, cold glass of white wine with your choice of sushi. Yum! (Yes, this is a lazy woman’s choice, as you will invariably have to order out. Unless you know how to roll your own, which I have done before, but would not recommend as it is rather labour intensive for slug-like summer days.)
  3. moishescoleslawColeslaw – Okay, maybe this is a crazy item to have on this list, but coleslaw has become an obsession with me in recent months. In Quebec, most of the coleslaw is served in a weird vinegary oil. This is not the coleslaw I’m talking about. You want CREAMY coleslaw, something like what Moishe’s makes. Alternately, if you’re not into coleslaw, you can also try their deliciously garlicky potato salad with roasted garlic. Cold salads are your friend. (Except for those weird bean salads, bleh.)
  4. Cottage Cheese/Yogurt – A friend of mine remarked that although his family always had cottage cheese in the fridge when he was growing up, he couldn’t recall ever having seen anybody actually eating it. At my house, cottage cheese is a must-have staple. High in protein, low in carbs, and a great addition to your dairy intake, this could be the perfect food. Don’t stick it in a canteloupe the way those weird Californians in movies do; just eat it straight from the tub. Cold, delicious curds. Great when you don’t feel like cooking. Don’t like cottage cheese? Weirdo. No, but seriously: get yourself some yogurt. I’m a huge fan of the Source “dessert” lemon one by Yoplait, as well as the cherry version. Yum.
  5. Baby Carrots – Feel free to substitute any fresh veggies you happen to like, but I’m a big fan of the baby carrot. Or the “carotte genre miniature” as they are apparently called en français. (What a mouthful.) Cool, clean tasting with a satisfying crunch, with or without dips or dressings, the baby carrot is simply delightful on a hot summer day.

Honourable Mention – Deli Meats

Salami doesn’t seem to be much in demand in this province, which is all the better for me, as I love it. But really, any cold deli meats will do on a particularly humid, disgusting day. Peel off a few pieces, eat ‘em alone, or wrap ‘em up in a mini tortilla with some cheese. God bless deli meats. It’s the one thing I really miss about New York. Montreal doesn’t know shit about delis, and if they’ve got some of those amazing mozzarella knots hiding around here somewhere, like the kind you can see over at the Brooklyn Pork Store, I’d like to know about it. Those things are delicious. Deli style, jugga-jigga-wugga!

So, what are your favourite summer foods?