Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sending customer satisfaction (and safety) across the table...

The tittle pretty much sums it up, some restaurants have just completely lost all notions of customer satisfaction and social responsibility. I have never before in my life had such an awful experience as the one my friends and I encountered Thursday night in Montreal's Restaurant/club 'Cafeteria'.
The strangest thing about this evening, was that the two separate times we frequented this place yielded two completely opposing results. We first sat down to dinner and had quite a satisfactory meal; tasty, reasonably priced and attentive service. We also noticed that from 10 to 12pm there was going to be an open bar for the ladies. We were quite thrilled, thinking we had found just the spot to return to with a different group of friends later on in the evening.
However, upon our return, things took an unpleasant nose-dive for the worse. Before waltzing into our hot spot, I made sure that the open bar was indeed an open bar and after a little bout of confusion (which apparently should have alerted me to the fact that none of the workers knew what was going on), we were told that the open bar was going on and that we could enjoy its services at a table and that they included the wine list as well as the cocktail menu...Paradise! I should have headed the warning sirens going off distantly in the back of my mind.
But before I get all wrapped up in the woes of this doomed tale, allow me to introduce a character to the plot...this being the obnoxious and intoxicated individual who decided to pay us a couple of visits.
While we were enjoying our first cocktail, he interjected our conversation with some relationship revelations. These were quite entertaining and left us no more than a little abashed in our booth. During our second cocktail (and his one millionth), he returned with some more direct approaches, including attempts to kiss my friend as well as offers to buy us another drink. Instead of succeeding with the latter, he proceeded to knock my friends cocktail clear across the table where it shattered into ten different pieces. By this time the entire restuarant was all in a dither about this scene...meanwhile, the restaurant workers finally step in and bring the individual back to the bar (I say, smart move!) After we settled back in our booth, my other friend realises with pleasant surprise that her leg has been sliced by a stray fragment of glass.
This is when we should have just left, but because we were still under the pretense of getting more open bar service, we decided to stick it out for one more drink once my friend got all patched up. You can imagine the confusion when we told our waitress we were done and she said she would be right back with the check.
Suffice it to say that the open bar, was only at the bar (like I originally thought) and only on certain drinks. Both facts which had conveniently been withheld from our knowledge as we proceeded to order our cocktails. Even more unfortunate was the manner in which this miscommunication was handled by the so-called manager. After I had explained our distress in the whole evening, he said and I quote, 'It is not my responsibility'. Any manager who can say that and mean it, is without a doubt, among the dimmer creatures of this world. I could see I was fighting a loosing battle and settled with the pathetic twenty percent off they gave us.
In retrospect, I should have alerted the police of the public disturbance going on at the Cafeteria restaurant and at least that would have put the fire in the right place.
I now only feel sorry for those who have to work under such a slimy individual, at least we got to walk away from the place with nothing but life experience and a little cut...some of those waitresses looked a little trapped...
For future reference, avoid this spot: 3581 St-Laurent Blvd, Montreal Quebec.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Taste of India

The Frugal Foodista goes abroad again! Now, before you get too excited, I didn't go to India, but rather, just across the border to Toronto. However, if any of you know what Toronto is like during the summer, you will be well accustomed to the diverse cultural events that go on all over the city.

I went to one such event this weekend, called Masala! Mehindi! Masti! which celebrates South Asian culture. Hosted at the Ex (exhibition center), South Asian culture was displayed in all its beauty and colour with food tents, live entertainment and bazaars, it made for a very vibrant and exotic display. In its tenth year, this event is designed towards celebrating the South Asian culture which is immenent in the city while extending a welcome to those who do not have much experience with it.

I am a huge fan of all South Asian cuisine, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, you name, I love it! So when my father held out the newspaper clipping which had the article advertising it, I jumped on the opportunity the very next day.

The event was a success! Each food stall beckoned you closer with its fragrant scents of tamarind and tumeric...its masala powders and chick pea curries. We all had different dishes, Palau rice, samosa, pakora and butter chicken. We gorged ourselves among the rich and textured flavours. The director of the event would have been proud, as he states, 'Street food is like a tasting table,' and taste we did!

Toronto is a great city, and its celebration of cultural diversity is without a doubt one of its highest acclaims.

For more information on this and other festivals, check out the following link:http://http//

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Gallows - ironically, full of life!

Last night I fulfilled my sentence with The Gallows. As ominous as that may sound, the experience was well worth the wait and subsequent meetings are sure to be in the near future.

This new bar restaurant opened its doors about two months ago and from what I have been told and what I myself experienced last night, it is a pretty hot spot. The fact that the place was buzzing with people and noise from 6 oclock onwards on a Wednesday night is a tribute to success in itself.

The Gallows took up shop where the old Sage used to be and I must say, they have done a great job refurbishing and giving the place a completely different style and feel. The interior is a cross between urban abstraction and old barnyard. It has a bar section in the front which does wonders for drawing in the crowds and a sit down restaurant in the back. Wooden panels cover any walls which are not brownstone and little lights are placed under certain boards, creating a neat shadow effect. Other lamps are hung from the ceiling and slightly mimic the style found in interrogation rooms. The effect is undeniable, you feel as though you are dining within the confines of a darkly historic building...heavy with ghoulish scars. The bathroom takes the cake however with its House on the Prairie dress hooked up on the wall by the sink with a crow perched right by it. Very eerie...

As far as food goes, I went with a pretty strict mission in mind (to tackle their cheeseburger) and I found it very hard not to get distracted by all the other delicious sounding menu items. There was a particular magnetic force behind their traditional poutine: hand cut fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds as well as their farmer's plate, which was a beautiful assortment of cheese, spreads and pickled vegetables. Luckily, I was able to resist these many temptations and I stayed true to my path...the cheeseburger was all I had built it up to in my mind...and more!
Perhaps part of this was because I had been cheeseburger deprived throughout my stint to Europe, but whatever the reason, nothing can deny the perfect juicy medium rare burger topped with a slice of american cheese (cheddar would have been better but for the additional 1.50 charge...), sautéed onions and homemade pickles all hugged nicely, but not overpowered, by a modest white bun. The size was perfect, it was a hefty burger, but one I managed to finish off without too much discomfort and the portion of fries was just right.

My friends tried a few other menu items, the arugula salad with grilled peaches and pecans was up as well as their infamous scotch egg. (soft boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried...ooer). All dishes got a stamp of satisfaction from relatively tough judges.

To finish the experience off, we had their very own bananas foster brulé which was a monstrosity of layers including peanut butter, chocolate ganache, caramelized bananas and torched fluff to finish it off.

All in all, it was a great meal and dining experience, the staff were very nice and attentive and the usual opening kinks were nowhere to be found. The only thing I found a bit disheartening was the level of noise. It was not the music that was loud, but rather the accoustics of the place which made it seem that the room was fit to burst with noise. I don't enjoy yelling across the table at my friends and I am sure the waiters don't relish the fact that they have to belt out the dessert menu multiple times before everyone at the table hears it.

Apart from that, the restaurant is a go and one I will be returning to promptly.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Paris, Je t'aime.

The title of this segment sums up the past few days in Paris. Simple pleasures, good food, beautiful history....a fabulous vacation.

For our final night, we will have a last taste of french cuisine and then head down to La Seine with our bottle of red and a pinch of nostalgia.

I would love to stay in Paris longer, I feel I have a certain affinity towards to the place. I believe I could someday live here and take up the Parisien lifestyle without too much difficulty. However, although my leaving is tinged with a sadness, it has been such a long time that I have been living out of a suitcase and my apartment in Boston resonates a very warm welcome.

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to epxerience the City of Lights and Love, if you get the chance, seize it!

The amazing sights and all the other great things I have touched on far outweigh any pompous parisiens should you encounter any...we were lucky, this was reduced to a minimum I think because the language is not a barrier for me.

Looking ahead, I do have a few cravings I need to satisfy upon arrival in the States. The guessed it, a good American cheeseburger. To honour this, I will head straight to the Gallows on Washington street to try out their cheeseburger. I also have a new mid-summer resolution to push myself to try out new places and different things more often. Thank goodness I have some motivation, otherwise leaving this land of beauty and inspiration would be much, much harder!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bienvenue au pays de la baguette!

Aahhh le Gay Paris! Accordions playing by la Seine, horizontally stripped clothing at every corner and baguettes under everyone's arms, c'est la vie!

These may seem like stereotypes but they are actually very realistic, my friends and I sat outside during a happy hour and people watched (another big parisien thing) for an hour or so and during that time we counted 56 people with stripped articles of clothing and ten walking baguettes. It's a fun game, you should try it sometime.

But let's focus a bit more on the culinary activity of this amazing city. Along with many other aspects of society like arts and culture, Paris shows a large amount of ingenuity with its on-the-go options. There are little sandwich and crepe stands at regular intervals throughout the city. These stands offer fresh paninis, breads, crepes and salads for very cheap prices. It is something so simple and yet so effective. Things like this are lacking in other places. For one thing, it is incredibly difficult to find a good, hearty, sandwich for under five dollars in Boston.

Their crepes are also a great, simple idea. You can get them with savoury ingredients or as a something sweet with nutella, which is a very popular condiment in this part of Europe.

Perhaps I will come back to the states and bring these ideas back with me....then again, I will probably just end up grieving them....ah well....c'est la vie!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spain done - France here I come!

So today marks the last day of our Spain tour and the end of a great adventure, both culinary and otherwise.

Since being in Madrid, I come out with a very good fab meal to bad meal ratio, especially considering the incredible tourist level in the area we have been living in.

I think the highlights would have to be the tapas restaurant I reviewed in the previous post, a cheap family-run vegan restaurant with a delicious burrito and a fabulously small and local bar we went to yesterday night following the Spain triumph over Germany at the semi finals of the FIFA World Cup.

I was lucky to finally get out to the La Latina district, where all the hopping bars and authenticity of the city's nightlife are hidden away. I was also lucky to be escorted by two men who had spent their entire time in Madrid scoping out the best places to eat and drink. One of the latter took it upon himself to order me the 'best dish of the house', this being a pork tenderloin dish glazed in a sweet apple sauce reduction and caramelized onions. A pretty traditional dish I hold my mother in high esteem for...but this one was something else altogether. It was indeed the simplest and yet the most ingenius thing to put on a plate. I had to resist not licking the plate clean once I was done...actually, who am I kinding, I soaked up every last bit with my piece of bread and wasn't embarassed in the least. I need to go out with these boys more often, they would make excellent accomplices!

Although Madrid has been such a success, I must admit I am ready to move on to explore a new country and culture. The French after all are famous for many a culinary inventions....or masterpieces.

I can't wait to sit by La Seine with my fresh croissant or my baguette and Camembert. This will be the vacation within the vacation...I have been so spoilt!

Tonight, what is left of the Boston Ballet tour will dine together at an Argentinian restaurant that has been a favorite of many throughout the Madrid segment. I sincerely hope it lives up to the hype placed over it!

I await gay Paris with increasing anticipation and an aching belly!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Endless tapas...endless pleasure

Upon arriving in our hotel on Gran Via in Madrid, I quickly realised that it would be a place where tourist restaurants abound and little gems are hard to dig out of the rubble.

Luckily however, one of the principal dancers in the company has family in Madrid and even more lucky was the fact that two of his cousins own restaurants a little outside the city. The first night, after another slightly streesful travel day, we went out to this restaurant to experience the Spain vs. Portugal game along with good company and good food.

The restaurant's name is 80 Grados, which means 80 degrees (that was a tricky one..haha), but it is so named because all the food is cooked at this temperature.

Upon arrival, we got situated with some beer or tinto verrano, fanta limon and wine...very refreshing.

There was a big projection screen and the game was set to start in a few minutes. As soon as it did, little tastings and hors d'oeuvres began being passed around. These continued from the begining of the match and continued through to the end. Everything was made with top quality ingredients and presented in a very appealing way. We tried three different kind of croquettas, all of which were light on the fried batter and full bodied in taste and filling. We also tried fried shrimp skewers with some soy based diping sauce, calamari with avocado aioli, blue cheese and arugula chicken salad, creamy pate, gazpacho with coconut ice cream, pork bocadillo and patatas bravas in a cup. I know what you are thinking...what a delicious sounding meal! That's what I was thinking throughout the entire experience, the whole set up allowed us to taste everything and enjoy each taste because you didn't have to eat an entire plate of it. The luxury of this kind of eating is that you keep surprising your palate with new and exotic flavors. Each dish was fairly typical, yet they each had there own twists which made them that much more special.

At the end of the game, which Spain won (good thing too or the mood may have been much different), I went around thanking the owner and the whole family and singing praises. This is the point at which someone looked at me with a strange face and said, 'You realise the meal isn't over, we actually haven't even started yet, they have the entire seating area ready for the main meal to begin...'.

And lo and behold, as I turned around to look, a waiter was ushering people into the main dining area where two long tables were set and ready for out party.

I almost fainted.

I was all in a dither, because even though I wasn't full to the brim, I had eaten a lot more than I would have if I had known that an entire meal was about to follow.

Luckily, I was able to put mind over matter and march bravely over to a spot at the table, ready to conquer whatever dish landed in front of me.

This portion of the meal was a three course meal but again in tapas sizes, which really saved us all. We started with a salmon ceviche and two salads, one with tuna, tomatoes and a strange slushy tomato sauce and another with salmon and a smoke salmon iced cream. All very fresh and exquisitely balanced. Then came the risotto topped with froth and the meat with gravy...oh and another onslaught of croquettas. There was also an interesting egg dish consisting of fried egg with crispy noodles on top. A few other dishes are escaping me, but we litterally tried the entire menu.

After all of this was cleared, there was a moment of panic when we all asked ourselves if more food was coming or if they would have mercy on us and just bring the dessert. Luckily it was time for the latter and they presented us with three different desserts. The first was a blackberry sorbet over cheesecake, the second was a chocolate brownie with cinnamon gelato and dark chocolate ganache and the third was a chocolate cookie with chocolate gelato and whipped banana topping. This was really my forte and all the others watched in awe (or horror) as I consumed all three to within an inch of their lives.

I don't think I could use words to describe the feelings of unbounded joy I felt throughout the night. This is unqeustionnably one of the best meal experiences I have yet had. I doubt any other will come along and surpass the fabulous mixture of friends, entertainment, service and inspired food for a long time to come.