Montreal knows how to PARTY! – Nuit Blanche Rocks – even for Grannies

For soon to be a senior – the whole idea of Nuit Blanche is a bit frightening. Mobs of people milling around, no toilets anywhere, fast food offerings only, and the events seemingly focused on the younger crowd that finds DJ’s fooling with records entertainment.

But that is so totally different from what Nuit Blanche is really all about. Nuit Blanche is fun. Lots of fun, actually. We started at the Place des Art’s metro station – it’s centrally located, and dumped us right at the heart of the action – Quartier des Spectacles. And what a pulsing, beating heart it was. We were there just at 6:00 – the light shows were happening, there were people roasting hot-dogs on sticks over open fires all around the Quartier, there were people sliding down the ice slide, there were jugglers with fire batons – people playing ‘toss’ with giant balls – and that was just in the short walk from the metro station to St. Catherine’s street. Amazing.

We loved the light shows – heavily animated – entire buildings had become the canvas for animation artists to play upon. There were letters falling out of signs, people walking past open windows which then disappeared (not the people – the windows!), and flashing colors everywhere. We even spotted people writing in neon letters 30 feet tall on another building. It was amazing. And so good-natured. Not a grumpy face anywhere.

We walked down to China Town for dinner – using the underground the whole way so as to avoid any slippery side walks, and after dinner walked back to the one event we’d decided to try. Out of over 1000 activities – this was the one that seemed to us to be ‘our speed’.

Events we decided quickly NOT to try  – Tango Dancing, Gumboot Dancing, anything that mentioned a DJ, anything that wasn’t free (we really wanted free), anything that looked to be mostly in French (our French isn’t that great), anything that started after 10:00 (we’re early to bed kinda birds), and anything that wasn’t near a metro stop. That eliminated a lot of options – but we cut down more by checking if there would be seating (we can’t stand for an hour – not even close), and anything that mentioned ‘experimental’. Hard experience has shown that ‘experimental’ at Nuit Blanche is often smutty.

Out of our short list of about 15 – sounds pretty good choices – we eventually agreed on the Cabaret de la Nuit Blanche. It was being held at the National Theatre School – and there are always seats. And the space has high ceilings and good lighting. And it’s right up the street from where we were going to eat dinner (The Tong Sing – reviewed elsewhere). In a nut shell – perfect – if the advertised acts – Fanfare Pourpour and Les Soeurs Schmutt delivered.

We arrived just at the stroke of 9:00 – just as the band was gathering. We snagged front row seats on the side and settled in to enjoy ourselves. And enjoy we did. The Fanfare Pourpour was quite simply outstanding. I attached a picture – it’s out of focus and not great – and Fanfare Pourpour1it doesn’t even begin to capture the joy they bought to the house. It was in their faces, their voices, and communicated itself throughout the crowded space.

Sharing the stage – and the center of the room – and an overhang in the back of the room were the 2 lovely and extremely flexible young ladies who performed on and off during the evening. Acting as host was a female impersonator – the quite talented Soizick Hebert in the role of ‘Jackie’. Altogether – I was sorry we had to eventually pick up stakes (and purses and coats) and head back home.

Great night Montreal. You sure showed the world exactly how to properly party.

Azuma – so authentically Japanese – it hurts!

I love going to the theatre at the Bain St. Michel – but it’s not my favorite location. Why? Because it’s a long walk from the nearest metro stop. Not the best reason to get upset about a location – but older lady – icy streets – long walk… You get the pictures.

But despite that issue – I’m often going to the Bain St. Michel – and thus I have tried lots of the restaurants within easy striking distance of the Bain – and by that I mean the least walking possible. One of my favorites is the Azuma.

I’ve been there often enough to be greeted – if not by name – then by favorite table and the acknowledgement that I’m going to the Theatre. And the recognition is not surprising – the Azuma is very clearly ‘in the family’. The sushi chef stands proudly behind his counter – and the waitress, hostess, and assistant cook (all rolled into one smiling young lady) is clearly a relative (I’m betting wife – but I’ve never gotten up the courage to ask). As far as I can tell – that’s it for employees – Just the two of them – running the restaurant, making and serving the food, and doing the dishes. It’s so Japanese, so traditional, so ‘family’ – it hurts!

They always bring us a pot of tea (free) and a tiny appetizer of beans with peanut sauce (free). Since we’re budget dinners – my friend and I order 2 or 3 different sushi dishes to keep to our under $15 including tip budget – eat and run to the waitress’ cheery good-bye.

Cozy space - but so nicely located if you are heading to the Bain St. Michele

Cozy space – but so nicely located if you are heading to the Bain St. Michele

Particularly good is their version of the Kamikaze roll, and I’m a fan of their spicy tuna as well. But they make the short list because of their location – and the friendly demeanor. It doesn’t hurt that the seats are comfy, the room warm and cozy – and not overly noisy. The bathroom is nice and clean as well – never underestimate the importance of a clean bathroom on St. Laurent.

Bottom line – going to the Bain St. Michel for a play? Want to eat for under $15 per person. The Azuma has you covered.

Azuma on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Azuma on Foodio54

Does ‘All you can Eat’ save you money? Probably not!

On the west island is “La Perle” – a Chinese and Thai emporium of food that features – indeed even insists on – an ‘All You Can Eat’ menu. We were 6 people – and we were there for dinner – and did the math.

If the all you can eat price is – say $30 – per person – than for 6 you’d be looking at $180. But for $180 you can probably order everything on the menu – at least as much as you could possibly eat. So we opted to just choose and pay for our favorites – and the bill was only $120 for 6. Including the taxes and tip. So clearly – unless you really need to consume copious and unreasonable quantities – avoid the all you can eat experience.

About the dinner itself. Unlike some reviewers – we didn’t have an issue with service. They didn’t ignore us – they did bring us the water we asked for – and the various dishes we ordered arrived promptly.

Quality, on the other hand, greatly varied. I thought the Eggplant and Garlic dish was excellent – and I admit to loving the General Tao Chicken – in all it’s overly fried goodness. Less awesome was the Crispy Duck. While much less salty than the version served at the Tong Sing – the presentation was a uniform light brown – no crispy skin to speak of. Flavor good, Lack of skin – bad. We also had the Dumplings in Peanut Sauce. I loved them – but other’s in my group were less enthused since the sauce was clearly lacking in ‘kick’. If you label a dish spicy – it ought to be spicy, right?

Overall – not my favorite Chinese & Thai place – but if you are stuck on the West Island – it’s a nice option. The parking is good, the location not bad, and if you steer away from the ‘All You Can Eat’ menu – the price is quite reasonable.

Check out their website for their menu, opening hours, and address:

La Perle Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Trad and Cornered – 2 lousy plays in 2 Evenings. Bummer, eh?

I read with great interest Pat Donnelly’s long article in the Gazette – wondering if the fact she’d seen 4 good plays in as many night was a sign of a resurgence in the English Montreal Theatre scene. While I’m all for a resurgence – i don’t think that seeing 4 good plays in a week is a record – I’ve seen play after good play for years.

Unfortunately, while Pat saw great plays – I suffered thru 2 plays in 2 evenings that were both questionable. Both  were so slow-paced they actually had me sleeping. Not good people.

The first was ‘Cornered’ at my absolute favorite English theatre Venue – the Bain St. Michel. I’ve seen such great theatre there – and I have the greatest respect for Guy Sprung. But Cornered was directed by Paul Van Dyck – and it was a terrible let-down. For starters – the accents of the actors was so heavy – so ‘put-on’ that it left a great many of the customers the night I was there wondering what was going on. And the answer was – not much . It’s a rather pointless story, with little to recommend it, spoken by good actors putting on such heavy accents as to render the story incomprehensible to an English speaker. And if English wasn’t my first language – which was the case for most of the underwhelming small crowd of people there on Wednesday night – well – it was a complete waste of time.

My 2nd loser – the heavily advertised, and well re-reviewed ‘Trad’ at Centaur. The set was lovely, the music fun – but again – the actors put on fake Irish accents – and unfortunately – in doing so rendered huge sections of the play almost incomprehensible. I got the idea – they are both old – and thus live in a past that is more exciting than the current present. But was it absolutely necessary to tell the story in accents I didn’t understand. What is the point. It didn’t make me think better of the characters – it just made me go to sleep. Again – audience discussion tended to agree with me – This was not a great production. It wasn’t even a good one. Sorry Sidemark and Centaur. You may have delivered for Pat – but you didn’t deliver for me. Or the people sitting in front of me.

But good news – There’s more English theatre here in Montreal this week – including the Mahalia Jackson tribute at the Segal Centre that has garnered rave reviews from several of my friends. Lots to hopefully enjoy. Just please, please, please – don’t put me to sleep.

2 Words to Avoid when Reading Descriptions of upcoming Theatre Events

As declared several time before, I love theatre – and I’m not particularly picky about what I go to see. if it’s in English – I’m keen to see what’s what.

That said – there are 2 words that when used to describe an upcoming theatrical offering have a tendency to convince me to go elsewhere.

1. Innovative. As in an Innovative look at a story, or an Innovative group of people.

What exactly are we innovating? Theatre is about telling stories – are we not going to be telling a story? Are we going to do without sets, without actors, without costumes? What about theatre are you planning to change? I just can’t see how an innovation is going to better my theatre experience. I suspect you termed it Innovative because you couldn’t think of a better word to describe what you are doing. And that’s really off-putting.

2. Experimental.

This one is really scary – and for many of the same reasons I shy away from Innovative. Are we going to be experimenting with sets? with stories? with the acting. How can you experiment with acting – you do it well, you do it poorly – what kind of experiment is needed?

I’m not afraid of works by new authors, in fact – that’s a lot of fun. But don’t experiment with my time and money – learn how to do it first – then present it to me. I really don’t want to have to suffer thru your experiments

Mi Otro Yo – Kinda weird – some liked it – but not for kids

We were split on this recent offering at Tohu (see my Tohu blog a few days ago – or check out the Tohu website –

For the kids in the audience – the results were rather mixed. And since there were some fairly disturbing parts of the performance – I’m not surprised.

One really neat piece that confused and upset the kids had the two very talented performers moving along a red wall – leaving their hands in place as they went. Cool effect. For a moment you’d have one head – 4 hands – and then a 5th hand would appear holding a sign. Very neat. What upset the kids was that after they were done with this piece – 3 of the ‘hands’ stayed behind. One little kid kept asking her father – but he left his hands…

In another brilliant sketch – the two actors put on a suit of clothes – creating a visual third person composed of the right hand and right leg (acting like a left leg) of one fellow  and the left hand and left leg (acting like a right leg) of the other. I think you’d have to have seen it.

Two people in our group thought the entire piece was awesome – I personally thought that there were brilliant bits – and much less brilliant bits.

Parts I didn’t care for – the tumbling with a book – yes it’s hard to do – but visually boring. And the piece I really found pointless – and way over the top disturbing – the part that involved pretending to kill a chicken – and then having the chicken come to life and ‘eat’ the guy. I guess it might have been good theatre – but I found it upsetting – and very kid-inappropriate.

Wouldn’t go to see them again – bottom line. But it wouldn’t discourage me from going to Tohu later this year when the student’s perform.

“The Matchmaker” – Dawson 3rd Studio students give it all they’ve got – and it’s quite a lot!

I love going to the theatre – you just never ever know what will strike your funny bone – bring a smile to your face – or tears to your eyes.

What I truly love to see, however, is heart and soul on the stage. When the performers do their very best to convince me that this is their very best – I’m pleased, entertained, fascinated, and enthused.

And Dawson Year 3rd Studio Students delivered.

The pay as you go performance of “The MatchMaker” I attended was packed. Every seat in the lovely Dawson theatre was taken. The sets were definitely at Dawson standards – they managed to convince you that you changed location – by just moving bits and pieces around. My favorite ‘directing’ bits were the interludes while the crew moved furniture in the background. In one interesting piece of theatre business – the cast grabbed suitcases, brought them to the ‘train station’ and the proceeded to use them as seats. Some sound effect later – they were off – jiggling down the line – going from the country into the ‘big’ city. Great bit of business – and carefully timed to cover up the set changes.

The performances, as can be expected of studio students, were far from professional quality – but what they lacked in polish, they made up in a keen desire to please the audience.

Like many ‘amateur’ performances I’ve seen and enjoyed – the cast grew stronger and stronger as the evening progressed – and the rousing final act was a delightful farce – enjoyed by everyone. (Thanks Adrienne for the spell check!)

Next  up at Concordia is the 4th Studio students in “The Cone People”.

After just a few years of training – these guys and gals are good. And like their less experienced fellows – generally bring to the stage an enthusiasm for being there that can be lacking in the performances of more jaded professionals.

Prices are great too.

Cocagne goes Sugaring Off

One of these days I’m going to have to try Cocagne for dinner – I was pretty impressed with what the chef put together at a recent brunch during the Festival of Lights – and isn’t that the point of the Festival – to get people out of their comfy hang-outs – and into new and perhaps exciting places like Cocagne?

The advertised meal was the chef’s rap on Sugaring Off – so he started with the traditional meal (check out my blog on the Festin de Compagne) and went from there. There were pickled beets – sliced so thin it was a challenge to get them off the plate – and instead of deep fried Oreilles de Crisse – the chef offered Prosciutto style ham slices sitting on a maple glaze. The omelette – while not the glorious fluffy concoction I had up north – was interestingly seasoned.

Portions were ample – so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he didn’t go far enough – neither the feast of a Cabin a Sucre – nor the extremely elegance of a complete departure from the offerings of a Cabin. Instead it was pleasant, the company was nice  – overall – I didn’t get blown away.

This was clearly not the winner in the battle for my heart – the lack of the inspired group of musicians was enough to put me off. And there was no jug of maple to pour as required – instead there was a tiny metal bowl partly filled for the table to share. Just doesn’t say – Sugar – to me. And there was no Tire of course. But even though I can’t say that Chef Alexandre Loiseau won my heart with his maple based creations – he did intrigue me. I’ll definitely go back some day soon for dinner – just to put his pedal to the metal so to speak.

Bistro Cocagne on Urbanspoon

Searching for dinner near Tohu? Zone D’Asie might work out

As I’ve mentioned before – Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants tend to the basic no-frills, and thus inexpensive side – and when you get out of downtown and are looking for places to eat on the cheap – finding a place like Zone D’Asie is always a good plan.

Dinner for 4 – with left-overs – was just $54 – A bargain $13.50 per person. Since that came with a pleasant smile and a very interesting video of a song and dance show – well, it made for a pleasant, if not extremely elaborate experience.

We wanted something near Tohu – and since Zone D’Asie is about 1 minute away by car, it clearly fit the bill. The menu was the standard offerings – nothing that fancy. Fresh Spring rolls or Deep Fat Fried Imperial Rolls, the standard soups in large bowls with lots of noodles, and deep bowls of rice with bits of pork, chicken or fish on top. Flavors were nice – the cold coffee looked lovely, and the service was pleasant. Comparing Zone D’Asie with Chez NGA – the location is more remote, the portion size a tad larger, but the ability to add extra veggies out weighs any cost savings. So Chez NGA wins.

I would go again if I was looking for speedy near the Tohu – but I wouldn’t rate the Zone as top-notch Vietnamese. Good – but not Extraordinary.

Crispy Duck at Tong Sing – Salty but so good

If you are looking for cheap eats – China Town in Montreal has been my go to location for years. I generally get recommendations as to which restaurant to try from the parking lot attendants – and have rarely been guided wrong.

One of my favorite places – which has undergone the traditional many name changes – is currently called the Tong Sing. I kinda preferred the original name – Great Wall of China – but I think it failed the ‘french’ test. In any case – the Tong Sing offers Dim Sum every day during the day – which I have enjoyed often in the past and will review here the next time I go. But this time – I went for dinner.

First – finding the Tong Sing. It’s not located in the main drag of China Town – it’s at the far end of Gauchetiere really near the Chinese Hospital. The physical address is 43 Le Gauchetiere. And it’s up the stairs – there’s another restaurant on the lower level – called the Mon-Nan. They share not only the physical space, but also the credit card machines. According to our waiter – the kitchens are separate, but what do I know for sure. In any case – at dinner – the Tong Sing caters more to Orientals than to Occidentals – something I always look for in picking a Chinese Restaurant. And it’s often a lot less crowded, another benefit of walking up the flight of stairs.

My friend and I are budget eaters – and our max is $30 for 2, and of course the Tong Sing fit the bill. We had 2 entries – the extremely delicious if a bit salty Crispy Duck and a less yummy hot-pot with beef and eggplant. That dish definitely needed more texture (it was soft, soft, and more soft), plus a bit more seasoning. But the Duck was why we were there – and it was completely delicious. Crispy Skin, tender meat, and a nice portion size. What more can you ask.

We mistakenly ordered 2 servings of steamed rice – one would have more than enough for the two of us. Tea and Dessert are free – unlimited refills of tea, and 2 fortune cookies and some orange slices when they present the bill. Perfect.

So – Dinner for 2 for under $30 including taxes and tip – nice service, enough left overs to make a decent size take-home for tomorrow’s lunch – and finished in time to enjoy Nuit Blanche. Such a good deal.

Tong Sing on Urbanspoon