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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dinner at Le Garde Manger

I love the show Chuck's Day Off. It's a program on Foodtv Canada and I love Chuck Hughes' cooking, plus he is rather easy on the eyes which doesn't hurt. He also happens to have a restaurant in Old Montreal so I dragged my friend Roxy down there last Friday.

The restaurant is rather trendy. So trendy in fact that there isn't even a sign for it. It's like a speakeasy in the 1920', you just have to know that it is there. I had to double check the address to make sure we were at the right place.

You will all have to bear with my so-so pictures for this post. Shooting in the dark is not my forte and the only light in the place were little candles on each of the tables.

Please forgive the blurry pictures. I had a very off picture taking night.


To start off I had a lychee Martini which was excellent. I could have easily had a few more of these. It was actually my first time ordering one and I think it could become my go to drink when going out.

By this time I was ravenous. When the waitress brought out the bread basket I practically attacked it. There were different kinds of bread and a paprika, cream cheese and caramelized onion dip that was absolutely delicious. We actually went through the entire basket and asked for another one.


I ended up having salmon tartare for an appetizer. I wish the picture had come out better because it was amazing. The stuff on top is panko not coconut flakes which is what it looks like. The quality of the fish was extremely good considering we are in Montreal. The chunks of salmon had been tossed in a light citrusy vinaigrette along with fresh chives and green onions and at the base there were crunchy buttery croutons. The differing textures in the dish, the soft fish and the crisp croutons, were very interesting.

Roxy had the lobster salad. It was basically two lobster claws on a bed of lightly dressed greens with two giant onion rings. She said it tasted good but that the onion rings were not hot which was a disappointment as the differing temperatures would have made a good contrast.


This was my main course: lobster poutine. This was so good. The sauce was made from seafood stock and tasted like like a very rich bisque. My only qualm was that I didn't get enough sauce so I asked the waitress for more which they gave me with not qualms. I like my poutine practically drowning in sauce. The portions of lobster were very generous, in fact the portions were generous for everything. I didn't even end up finishing this course because it was rather big. I picked off all of the lobster and most of the cheese but left a lot of fries because I was so full.

This was Roxy's meal. Doesn't it look absolutely gorgeous? It was a duck magret (duck breast) in a port reduction with foie gras and fresh figs. There were also roasted potatoes lurking in there somewhere. She gave me some to try and it gave me a serious case of dish envy! Although I loved my poutine I was muttering "I should have ordered the duck" for the rest of the night. The magret was perfectly cooked. Roxy is as picky as I am about food and even she couldn't find anything bad to say about it. As she said the only improvement that could have been made would have been providing better knives to cut the meat.

By this point we were both stuffed with excellent food and alcohol. However, since we are dedicated foodies we decided we would make room for dessert and coffee. I ordered a latte which was good but could have been a trifle hotter. I liked the funky touch of serving it in a glass instead of a regulation ceramic mug. The temperature of some dishes was a problem though. When we first got to the restaurant we were the only ones there but by this time the place was packed and it seemed like the waitresses were having a hard time getting to everyone and serving tables as soon as their meals were ready.

Roxy and I decided to share two desserts. On top was a brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream and on the bottom was a fried mars bar with vanilla ice cream. Seriously, dessert was the only let down of the meal. The vanilla ice cream was not very good quality and the mars bar and the brownie were barely warm. It kills the hot and cold combo when your dessert is room temperature. The brownie was ok. Not bad but not spectacular. Same thing with the mars bar. The breading was very thick, instead of being light like tempura batter which is what I was expecting. It wasn't bad. I just wasn't blown away. Well, I suppose all restaurants have to have their achilles heels. The reviews for the desserts that I had read were pretty good so I was a bit disappointed but maybe the guy in charge of desserts was having an off night.

Dinner set me back 82 bucks with tax and tip and considering how much food I had it wasn't bad at all. I would definitely go back eventually. The owner doesn't work Fridays and weekends so I suspect that the food and the service might be even better when he is around on weeknights. I am not sure if I would try dessert there again but the rest of the food was excellent and worth the price.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caramel Birthday Cake

I make my own birthday cakes. That is my confession of the day. I suppose it sounds awful but I actually prefer it since I get an infallible excuse for making a cake just for myself. Since I didn't want the temptation of a whole chocolate cake in the house I decided to make a caramel birthday cake from a Southern cookbook which I could shared with The Husband, since he hates chocolate. Well, I can see why the South is the most overweight part of the the U.S. This recipe called for two pounds of butter; one in the frosting and one in the icing. Since I figured that anything with that much fat had to be good I wanted to try it.

This is my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer. I got it for 100 bucks when Sears was having a ridiculous sale because they were discontinuing the colour. It seriously is one of my most priced posession and if it ever broke down I might quite possibly start to cry.

This recipe called for putting the sugar and flour in the mixer and then blending in softened butter. I am not sure what this accomplishes since most recipes call for creaming butter and sugar together and then adding the flour but with cakes I generally follow directions.

After that was blended in I added milk and eggs in alternate batches. There were four eggs in this. Cholesterol friendly this recipe is not.

The cake was supposed to go into two cake pans. They were both overflowing before they even went in the oven.

A pox on all incompetent cookbook authors. The cake was supposed to bake in 25 minutes but it took 45 minutes. I double checked all the steps, the pan size and the temperature and I had done everything right. This was only the first problem with the instructions however. More on this later.


When the cakes were cooled down I cut both of them in half to make four layers. This is not my forte so my layers were not uniform in thickness.

Now for the icing. I grabbed one of my biggest pots and started. First step was to melt the butter over low heat.

Afterward I added white sugar and some corn syrup and stirred it until the butter was dissolved.

Next step was to 30 marshmallows and cook the mixture until it reached 262 degrees. I only had half a bag of miniature marshmallows so I added that instead. I tried to find out how many miniature marshmallows equals a large marshmallow but alas, Google let me down.
Here are the different stages in the process.


By the time it got to the last picture the stove was a mess. The cookbook didn't specify at what temperature it should be cooked so I left it at low. When that was taking way too long I raised it a bit but the mixture basically doubled in volume so I had to get another pot out and transfer half into that. When that overflowed and I didn't have another spare pot so I had to transfer part of the second pot into a bowl. Eventually the mixture reduced enough so that everything fit in the original pot but it was a huge mess to do all of this.

One it reached the right temperature I poured it into an aluminum bowl and beat it with a hand held mixture until it cooled down. Since the icing was starting to set I had to work quickly.

I iced every layer individually and then put them one on top of the others and iced the sides.

Not that prety looking at this stage but it tasted awesome. Here are some better pictures.



I was very cranky during the cake making process because of all of the problems but with one bite my bad mood disappeared like snow in the month of June. It was sweet and super caramelly. I love sugar and this really hit the spot; it is the perfect cake to eat with a glass of milk. The cake part is very soft and buttery and the icing is dense and rich. The Husband has already informed me that he wants me to make it for his birthday and we are negotiating to see who gets the leftovers. He suggested that he 'take on for the team' and finish it off so I won't gain any weight eating it. Yeah right, nice try.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Afternoon Tea at the Queen Elizabeth

When I told a friend that I had gone to Afternoon Tea in Toronto and showed her the pictures she declared that we had to go have afternoon tea. So began my mission to find a decent tea room in Montreal. This is not exactly the greatest place for anything British because most people still hold a grudge against them and General Wolfe. At first I called Le Hotel St-James which is very swanky but I had no luck as their restaurant is undergoing renovations until next month. Next I called The Ritz-Carlton and was told that they were renovating until 2010. Apparently everyone is in a renovation blitz here for some bizarre reason. My last attempt was The Queen Elizabeth Hotel where I was finally successful.

Sorry about the blurry picture of their lobby.

With reservations made we trooped downtown on a Saturday all dolled up hoping to nibble on dainty cucumber sandwiches and sundries. The day did not start off well as when I asked the receptionist where their tea room was they informed me they no longer serve afternoon tea. When I said that there must be a mistake as I had booked tea for four a few weeks ago she pointed me towards the restaurant without batting an eyelash. Not a very auspicious beginning.

A shadow of its former glory, The Queen Elizabeth Hotel is rather like a genteel aristocrat that has fallen upon hard times, can no longer afford a servant to peel her grapes but still puts on airs. Or as my friend Roxanne says, "a place you bring your grandmother to".

Yes, those are plain coffee mugs, please compare it to the tableware at The Windsor Arms. Last bastion of this British empire this place is not. And no, your eyes do not deceive you, those are tea bags you see. Apparently a selection of loose leaf teas would have been too much of an effort. I think someone's patrician grandmother would need smelling salts to revive them if they knew to what depths they have brought this fine British gustatory experience.

By this point we were starving, we didn't even have any water after fifteen minutes of sitting in a nearly empty restaurant and two waiters were casually chatting with each other by the bar. I was not too amused and went over to ask where our food and water was. The exchange went something like this:

Me: "Excuse me, can we have some water please?"
Waiter: "Yes, we have water."
Me: "Yes, I know that YOU have water. Can WE have some water? And where is our food?"

The waiter mumbled something distractedly about find the second water. By this point I felt like organizing a riot in order to at least get a cracker or something. Yes, keeping four women waiting for food is serious business, very serious indeed.

Finally the waiter came out with the trays and all was well with the world once again. Funny how the sight of carbs can produce that effect.


Since we were all hungry we started with the sandwiches.

This was a turkey, spinach and cranberry sandwich. It was not bad, the turkey was standard deli turkey though.

This was an egg, watercress and cucumber sandwich. I can't remember if mayo was involved somehow. I liked this one the best, I think the ingredients really went well together.

This was your standard smoked salmon sandwich with some mustard. The smoked salmon was good but nothing special.


Next up were the scones with Devonshire cream. Oh how I love to slather this stuff on.


Alas, the scones were dry. Very dry. When I was trying to cut them in half they started to fall apart. I know that there are two schools of thought on scones; fluffy and cakey or dense and buttery. This was neither to my great disappointment. The cream added much needed moisture to the whole thing. The jam wasn't bad but it was exactly the same stuff that I could get at the supermarket.

To finish off we had our petit fours.

This was a raspberry macaroon with a very jammy filling. I really like this and could have easily eaten a few more.


This was supposed to be chocolate shortbread filled with ganache but two members of our party said that it tasted like weed. I've never had any so I can't verify but it tasted like a mouthful of freshly mown grass. I think we each took and bite and put it aside. They were going for a mint chocolate taste but failed, badly.

This was a mini chocolate eclair. Pleasant but just ok.

To finish off there was a strawberry tart filled with pastry cream. I liked this but the shell was so soft that it started to fall apart as soon as I picked it up.

My overall impression was that this was a passable version of afternoon tea. I expected better and was disappointed, however it cost only 25 dollars which wasn't bad. We seemed to be the only people in the restaurant having tea and I suspect the quality would be better if they had a larger clientele. Regardless, this does not excuse the poor service that we received. Between The Windsor Arms and The Queen Elizabeth, the former is most definitely still my favourite.
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