Virtual Gourmet

November 22,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER



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In This Issue




by John Mariani

    Montreal and Toronto have a more-or-less friendly rivalry going on, though neither can claim to be a "typical" Canadian city, just as neither New York nor Los Angeles can claim to be a typical U.S. city. Toronto can easily claim to be Canada's most modern city—architecturally advanced and the economic engine of Canada.  Its dining scene teems with strikingly new global and ethnic restaurants, and I shall be reporting on Toronto's in the next few weeks.
as soon as I arrived at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, I knew I wasn’t in Toronto anymore.  A sense of taking one’s time, not rushing anywhere, and looking forward to a leisurely meal took hold immediately.
      The more time I spent in Montreal, the more distinct the French influence on style, food, and la bonne vie showed itself. It is a lustier city with considerable savoir-faire you see in the way the locals dine out—packing old bistros and new eateries until after midnight, spending more freely  on their appetite, and generally shrugging off the world recession, in which Canada is faring quite well. (And at the moment, so is the Canadian dollar.)
     Canadian chefs have proudly culled the best from their own seas, rivers, and farms to create dishes that have strong French roots, but those chefs are every bit as aware as any of how popular Mediterranean cuisine has become.
      Here are some places I really enjoyed on a recent visit to the city. (All prices are in Canadian dollars, currently pegged at 95 cents to the US dollar.)

1045 Avenue Laurier Ouest

     The gastro-scene in Montreal is conservatively rooted in French tradition, mostly bistro-style food, and I’ve found it to be the equal of those bistros and brasseries in Paris.  The restaurants in Montreal are always busy, always bustling, and stay open far later than in Toronto. One night, as I eased out the door of Leméac, in the Outremont area, near midnight, people were still lined up to get in and the long bar was jammed.  The restaurant even has an after 10 PM special menu.
     Leméac is one of my favorite eating spots  in the city, a trim, casual, white tablecloth place with 100 seats and an outdoor garden in summer,  bright and cheery, noisy but not overly loud, fast-paced but very friendly, and offering a menu at very good prices. It's got the look and spirit all good bistros have.
Owners Émile Saine and Richard Bastien, with chef Éric Dupuis offer a large menu, so you might begin with a selection of seven different oysters or hearty, creamy rillettes of pork and crusty French bread. Snails--that old French standby not seen much anymore--come with portabello mushrooms, a sweet tomato ragoût and basil butter sauce. A vegetable tian is treated to a gratin of  raw milk cheddar, and for the confirmed carnivore there is blood pudding with celery root puree and cider sauce;  a velvety duck foie gras is crafted "au torchon."  Classic confit of duck with roast potatoes could not have been juicier. I also loved the lightly gamy venison en croûte with a puree of caramelized onions.
     Braised beef short rib is accompanied by  barley, Swiss chard and mint pesto, while a beef filet is served with bone marrow butter. 
If you're in the mood for seafood, have the pan-seared scallops with buttery, mashed fingerling potatoes and a gilding of Mujjol caviar.
     For dessert consider the finely textured coffee-flavored "crème caramel" or the quite Canadian take on French toast with maple caramel and milk jam ice cream.
     Leméac's winelist is one of the best in the city, decently priced too, and the selections fit this hearty style of cookery perfectly.
     If you to find one restaurant that would give you the best sense of Montreal bonhomie, Leméac would be the place.

Lemeac is open Mon.-Fri.  from noon to midnight, Sat. & Sunday, from 10 am to midnight; Appetizers are $6.75-$17.50, entrees $19.50-$38; Night-Owl menu From 10 pm for $22.

Beaver Hall

1073 Beaver Hall Hill

Beaver Hall--subtitled "Bistro Gourmand," not "Gourmet"-- is a big, bold downtown brasserie that on any day of the week is a tough table to get even at midday. The tablecloths are soft and bright, the place gaily lighted, Locals pile into the wide and deep dining room for good, piping hot onion soup gratinée, its gooey Gruyère still bubbling with browned caramelization. For the fall and winter, they do a steaming cassoulet, brimming with long-baked meats and tender beans in a rich winey sauce--excellent with a Canadian beer--although every dish on the menu has a recommended wine appended.
     Calf's liver, cooked nice and  pink, comes with a  sweet shallot confit, and there are plenty of other hearty dishes here, like braised knuckle of lamb, "Quebec's porc chop" with braised cabbage and chorizo, and crispy salmon in phyllo pastry in a rich lobster bisque.  And to begin, don't miss the addictive cheese sticks with tartar sauce.
 The winelist is skewered towards French regional wines at modest prices, and everybody orders the macaroons with chocolates at meal’s end.

Beaver Hall is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly. Menus are both a la carte of table d'hote, the latter from $14.50-$23.50.


Opus Montreal
10 Sherbrooke Street West

     Certainly the most dazzling new restaurant in Montreal, with a very chic, hip crowd that arrives on the late side of the evening, is Koko in the equally stylish Opus Montreal Hotel, which is where I stayed quite happily during my visit.  Modern, cool, and very comfortable, I'd highly recommend this as the epitome of Montreal moderne and a well-situated hotel in a quiet part of the city.
    Koko is decked out in silver, black velvet, violet, and white leather, and the menu is a reflection of its global sophistication. The bar (above), packed after nine PM, and lounge, with its swiveling, upholstered chairs, is with the dining room adjacent to an outdoor patio (below), a prime meeting spot for drinks and snacks in good weather. Woolen throws are draped over the seating here in case a Canadian breeze blows through.
      Chef Matthew Piercy, who spent a good deal of time cooking in Tokyo learning  balance and more attention to his own senses, here mixes
Asian and western cuisines with flair and imagination.
     The results are impressive, from a salad of Thai green papaya with grilled satay prawns to a well-marbleized Kobe flank steak teppanyaki style with shimiji mushrooms. His treatment of soba noodles with tofu and enoki mushrooms adds considerable flavor to what can so easily be a bland dish, and his Szechuan chicken with braised shallots, water chestnuts, and “flowering fragrant oil” was an impeccable take on a common dish raised to a refined level of taste and texture. Desserts, fortunately, are more western than Asian, but his spiced pineapple crumble with coconut ice cream hits the delicate balance of the two.
Koko is open nightly for dinner; Appetizers are $7-$16, main courses $24-$34.

Marché 27
27 Rue Prince-Arthur Ouest

     And if you really want a sense of the way young Montreal likes to eat right now, head for the tiny slip of a corner eatery named Marché 27, a drop-in, deli-like, white-tiled room where you’ll sit next to locals speaking Canadian French mixed with Canadian English--often at the same table--and choose from a blackboard menu that is a canny mix of comfort foods, both humble and sublime, like smoked salmon and Brie sandwiches, a hefty, succulent grilled pork chop with asparagus, and an array of ten different tartares prepared on the spot and sauced with Italian, Japanese, French, and Thai seasonings.  Marché 27 also makes some of the best pommes frites, with a chili-spiked mayo, in the city.
     So I’ll call it a tie between Toronto and Montreal on the food front, although Toronto has he edge on ethnic food in its various neighborhoods.  For sheer joie de vivre, Montreal comes out ahead.  If Toronto were Boston, then Montreal would be New Orleans. It’s not a matter of quality over style, but just a simple choice of where do you want to eat in two great cities with such wide-ranging appeal and rich food cultures. So stay tuned--my favorite Toronto restaurants will be in an upcoming issue here.

3895 St. Laurent Boulevard

    Depending on what you read of Schwartz's brochures and websites, this 80-year-old  eatery is either a "Hebrew Delicatessen" (like there's another kind?), "Charcuterie Hebraique,"  or a "Steakhouse."  Once you see the menu, though, you'll side with the latter, for there's not much here that would remind any New Yorker of the offerings at even the average deli.  Nevertheless, Schwartz's is an institution in Montreal, and I was anxious to get back after many years.  In one sense, it was good to see that nothing has really changed; for the same reason, it was a little disconcerting to see slabs of meat lying chock-a-block in the window, and the place looked plenty scruffy, including sections of duct tape that seems to be holding parts of it together. The place looks like it could use a good scrub down, without ruining the old-fashioned, timeless atmosphere of a place to come for simple good eats.
     Schwartz's was founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, and is a single, small, cramped room where tables are tough to come by the moment the doors are open. And even in the withering Montreal cold, there will be a line out the door until they close.
     Everybody pretty much comes here for one or two items--the platter of smoked meats ($10.95) or a ribeye ($16.95)--both good. You can get those smoked meats also on a sandwich ($5.20), and they are a formidable meal on their own.  You'll also want to order a side of French fries, maybe some coleslaw, and  that's about it.
     Unfortunately--real unfortunately--Schwartz's has never had an alcohol permit and no intention of getting one--so a true feinschmecker is going to have subsist on soft drinks. And don't think of bringing your own wine or beer, which is also forbidden.

900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle
Montreal, QC H2Z 2B2, Canada

      For many years now Normand Laprise has been one of Montreal's most treasured chef/restaurateurs, with wife Christine Lamarche, owners of the stylish Toqué on the very pretty, leafy Place Jean-Paul-Ripolle. It also stocks a very fine wine cellar and has long been the place to come for romance, celebration, or business (though it's only open for lunch a few weeks in December). Not as formal as it once was, the décor, which reminds me of first class airline lounges of the 1970s,  is done in fine, burnished wood and salmon-colored gauzy curtains over tall windows overlooking the plaza. Amenities, tablesettings, and service are all first rate.  Now 16 years old, Toqué's commitment to the best artisanal producers, many listed on the menu, has never been stronger, so you dine on food that is always seasonal, best appreciated with the tasting menu of seven courses, at $92 (with wines $151).
      With a friend I began with excellent marinated scallops with cranberry water and apple foam--a little fussy (as are plate presentations throughout) but delicious. Smoked suckling pig cheek was served not as slabs or slivers with its own skin but within a pastry cylinder, with beer sauce and a maple sponge taffy whose sweetness overpowered the meat's flavor.  Marinated trout was done as a brochette with beets and bok choi, sour ream and a zesty peperoncino oil.  A superb, beautifully roasted squab was cooked in a glass cocotte, with its own juices scented with licorice, juniper powder, cranberry puree and a confit of green garlic. Wild striped bass took on a mantle of herbed whipped cream, with an accompaniment of caramelized beet salad, pine nuts, and Japanese green onion.
      I enjoyed all three of the desserts I tried, especially the frozen coffee mousse with cocoa powder and a wonderful wild ginger ice milk, as I did the warm molten chocolate cake with fruit powder.
      This is highly creative cuisine, by Laprise and chef de cuisine Charles-Antoine Crête, that bespeaks the more rational forms of la nouvelle cuisine, and you won't find anything on the menu that has not been conceived with flair rather than just cooked according to tradition.  It is also very expensive by any standard. If that is your wont, then Toqué is your restaurant in Montreal.

Toqué's first courses run $19-$23, main courses $39-$46.



by John Mariani

Uncle Jack's Steakhouse
440 9th Avenue (near 34th St)

     Will you just look at that ribeye?
     Can you resist such a beautifully charred, juicy piece of Prime beef?  Then think of all the sides dishes you can have with it!--French fries, onions, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach--the appetite races, the mind gets woozy, you're faint with hunger. You can find similar pleasures at many of NYC's great steakhouses, but few demonstrate the hospitality and personal attention I've seen shown to everyone at Uncle Jack's, with three restaurants, one in Bayside, one on West 56th Street, and one across from the Javits Center.  It was this last (below) I visited a couple of weeks ago, and I'll rank it among the best in the city for steakhouse fare and right near the top for service.  Your greeting, your captain, your waiter--in a tux!--and wine guy all seem completely at your behest, even though they can spin on a dime to do the same for another guest's table.
      William Jack Degel is the owner of the restaurants named after his raffish uncle, done up in a mix of
Gilded Age Victoriana and Prohibition saloon décor, with great golden lighting,  a massive  mahogany bar,  copper-pressed ceilings, and glowing glass fixtures. The Ninth Avenue branch opened in 2002 and gets a crowd from the Javits Center and the not-too-far-away Madison Square Garden. Upstairs are private dining rooms with a considerable degree of posh.
      The winelist is very solid in every category, especially Bordeaux crus, and there are enough bottlings under $50 so you can drink well without busting the bank.
      So where do you begin? Maybe the Panamanian jumbo shrimp cocktail  or the Maryland lump crabcakes (with plenty of fat, sweet lumps, too), and there's a pristine tuna tartare as good as you get at a Japanese sushi bar. Fried calamari are crisp and perfectly tender.
       But you come here for the beef--USDA Dry-Aged Prime, a category that has been so dumbed down in recent years that the mention of it makes me yawn with skepticism.  But Uncle Jack's has the real, beefy, mineral flavor that distinguishes the Real McCoy, aged 21 days. Even the filet mignon is Prime--rarely the case elsewhere, because there aren't enough filets to meet demand--and that succulent ribeye in the photo above is the richest, fat-riddled of all the cuts. Still, Uncle Jack's says their porterhouse, available for two or more people, is their signature dish, and you'll believe it--a thick strip steak and bone with a big filet attached--American beef at its finest. There's also Kobe beef, at $100, but who needs it when the American beef here is so delicious?
       Tell your waiter just to send out some sides--garlic mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, silky creamed spinach--you're not going to go wrong with any of them.
       You know you don't need dessert but you know you want dessert, so share a thick slice of the cheesecake or the chocolate soufflé cake. Be happy.

Uncle Jack's is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly. Appetizers run $9-$16, main courses $45-$100.



Michael Anthony Sessions of Vero Beach, FL, walked into at Great Spirits Liquors and told staffers to call police because he was about to steal a bottle of vodka, then grabbed a bottle of $16 bottle of Gilbey’s Vodka and said that he wasn’t going to pay for it: “I’m stealing this and going around back to drink it. Call the cops.” An Indian River County Sheriff’s deputy found Sessions in the woods behind the store drinking.


“There’s a reason I write these reviews the way I do—why, for the past seven years,  have taken them so personally and written (almost) as much about myself as I have about the food.  It’s because every time I walk through the doors of a restaurant, I try to imagine myself in the situation I actually found myself in last week: as a customer who, for whatever reason, doesn’t just want dinner, but needs it. First dates. Last Dates. Marriage proposals, Grief. Restaurants are, in so many cases, stages for all of mankind’s small dreams.  . . . Every week I try to think like a normal person—not a critic, not a writer—and imagine how I would feel had I been given. . . this.”—Jason Sheehan, “Mourning: a review of Mark & Isabella,” Westword (Oct. 28, 2009).


Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

IMPORTANT NOTE: Owing to the number of Christmas holiday announcements received, QUICK BYTES cannot publish any but a handful of the most unusual.

* From Nov. 30 through Dec 3 in Oakland, CA, Ozumo Oakland will celebrate its 1st anniversary by offering a 5-course dinner showcasing signature dishes at $36 pp.  Call 510-286-9866.

* On Nov. 22 in Phoenix, AZ, the Arizona wine industry presents its 1st annual Arizona Wine Growers Festival at The Farm. The state's top wine growers will showcase the best of AZ's juice at an interactive event where guests will learn about Arizona wine production, explore exhibits of the state's grape growing regions, taste hundreds of wines and ultimately vote for their favorite wines. $65 pp;  Awards dinner $125  at Quiessence Restaurant.) Call 480-306-5623.

* From Dec. 1 thru Feb. 28, Yountville, CA, heats things up with a town-wide  "Moveable Feast" promotion.  Sporting six Michelin stars and a chef  line-up worthy of a world tour, the town's top toques and hotel properties  offer 3-course dinners for $70 per couple, 50% off VIP winetasting  and up to 25% off hotel/dining  packages, starting at $165. Download passport at; 707-944-8008.

* Through Dec. 31, guests of The Palm restaurants nationwide can purchase a glass of Veuve Clicquot paired with 6 oysters for $25, and a portion of the sale will be donated to Dress for Success. Call 212-532-1922 or visit

On Dec. 3 in Miami Beach China Grill presents BYW Wine or Champagne dinner. Pommery Champagne Reception at  followed by a 6-Course Dim Sum & Sushi Dinner by Chef Tim Nickey.  $55 pp. Call 305- 534 -2211.

* In NYC, every Thursday of the month, Esperanto will host Flamenco nights, with musicians Alfonso Cid from the band Gazpacho Andalu and  dancer Isabel Del Dia.  Esperanto’s regular Latin inspired menu and cocktails will be available.   Call 212-505-6559;

* On Dec. 2, in NYC, Brasserie Ruhlmann will offer a primeview and prix-fixe special for the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony:  a 3-course meal of Executive Chef Laurent Tourondel’s signature dishes, and a champagne toast at 8:55 pm when the ceremony begins. Dinner for two will be given away to the person who posts the best reason for wanting to attend the event on Brasserie Ruhlmann’s Facebook. Call 212-974-2020.

* From Dec. 6-8, One&Only Le Sant Géran, Mauritius, will celebrated the 10 year anniversary of Alain Ducasse’s Spoon des Iles at One&Only Le Sant Géran with a “10 Years, 10 Dishers, 10 Wines” pairing menu and 3-day hosted weekend with Chef Alain Ducasse.  The property has created a food-themed travel package to enjoy a private cooking lesson with Spoon’s head chef Romain Meder and dinner at Spoon des Iles and a Spoon cookbook signed by Alain Ducasse. Valid Nov.  20 – Dec. 20.  Go to or call 866-556-0001.

* On Dec. 8, in NYC, Japan Society hosts chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant and food journalist Harris Salat, authors of Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals, to explain everything American cooks need to know to prepare these deliciously simple and healthy meals. Followed by a tasting. $18/$15 members, seniors & students. Call 212-715-1258 or visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK: Do You Believe These 15 Myths of Travel?


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK:

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Bloomberg News, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2009