Mezcla – Tiny, Delicious, Fun – A South American Winner


We’d had the Mezcla recommended a couple of times – both for the price point (not too expensive), and the quality of the Tasting Menu. At $49 for 6 courses – it’s a bargain of outstanding proportions!

The Mezcla is located on a side street in Montreal’s ‘Latin Quarter’. At the heart of the district is St. Catherine Street – which becomes a Pedestrian Only throughfare packed from dusk till late with couples of all descriptions. It’s one of my favorite parts of the city – and the thought of a great restaurant within easy walking distance was enough to make me call for reservations – pronto!

We went on a relatively ‘quiet’ Wednesday night – expecting diners to be few and far between – but the place was at least 3/4 filled. I can easily imagine waiting lines on the weekends. The place is tiny – I’d guess a max of 20 tables, and there’s a ton of staff. I saw at least 5 different wait-persons for sure. So I wasn’t surprised that the service was at a high standard. Dishes were presented by multiple servers, ensuring that everyone got to enjoy their dinner at the same moment. The only serving failure was at the very end. For no discernible reason, there was a considerable delay between our dessert course and the presentation of the bill. Rare that – generally they want to turn the tables! I guess we’d passed the turning point – and I will admit, we were definitely not rushing our charming, and very knowledgable server.

But at the Mezcla – the food – and the presentation of same – was clearly the highlight. I was amazed. Course after course was seriously delicious – and surprising. The Mezcla claims a South American vibe – so flavors were definitely different. Lots of citrus for sure.

My favorites of the 6 courses – and I have to say that I’m picking dishes that were absolutely outstanding – not just seriously good – were the Ceviche and the Scallops. They were stunning – not just in flavor, but in presentation as well. The Ceviche was a bowl full of deliciously marinated fish chunks, large enough to be easily identified as salmon, tilapia, and octopus. At the table, the server poured the positively yummy sauce over the fish – explaining that we were to eat the fish with our fork, and when it was gone – she’d bring us spoons to enjoy the sauce. But I couldn’t hold out that long. So I used my spoon to eat both at the same time – reveling in the multiple textures and flavors. Yum just doesn’t describe it.

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But the stand out for me was the scallops. Such a pedestrian protein – here presented in a fried ‘nest’ made out of strips of puff pastry and topped with a foam. Pictures simply can’t do it justice – it was sweet, and crunchy, and delicious! I ate my entire portion – and then ate 1/2 of another serving. Yes, it was that good.

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For dessert, they served a light, yet satisfying tropical home-made ice-cream with a dulce de leche sauce. Not too sweet either. A wonderful way to end an outstanding meal.

Complaint – like most ‘modern’ bistro restaurants, there’s little space between the tables, and the hard surfaces guarantee a noisy environment. Not too bad when we first sat down, but increasingly annoying as the meal continued. At the end, I could barely hear anything the people at our table were saying, nor understand the explanations given by our server.

Despite this – the Mezcla is a winner, clearly a winner.

Mezcla on Urbanspoon

Mezcla on Foodio54

Where you sit makes all the difference!


Where you sit makes all the difference!

A man on a chair that towers over the heads of all around him has a different perspective on life – and “Chairs, a Parable”, the new play by Sebastien Archibald takes a radical approach to the idea of perspective.

The play starts simply enough – 3 guys are sitting on the floor – all equals, all sharing in the tasks and experiences that have gone before – and lie ahead. A shadow play behind them shows the passage of time – and evantually becomes a window on the world outside of the theatre stage.

Drawing heavily on works by Pinter – and with the occasional nod to Theatre of the Absurd, the actors in “Chairs” craftily draw the audience into their world view.

Once the first chair – with it’s drastic change in perception – comes on stage – the relationships between the 3 characters begins to change – in increasingly radical ways. At first it’s 2 on the floor against the one with the chair. But eventually it dawns on the 2 that they could build a 2nd chair, slightly shorter than the first one. But it isn’t clear which of them should get the ‘seat’.

Eventually, one is ‘promoted’, and now you have a ‘superior’, a ‘supervisor’ and a worker. The character in the middle position twists and turns trying to see the world from both sides – sometimes successfully – sometimes with very discouraging results.

To describe the play as facsinating would be an understatement. But it’s not just well performed, it asks important questions in a very approachable way. Throughout the whole play I kept thinking about how I look at life – am I guilty of looking at the world only from my point of view? I suspect that most of us do that without realizing it – so isn’t intriguing to watch a play that through the approachable conceit of chairs exposes our inability to recognize our own blinders.

“Chairs, A parable” being performed twice more here in Montreal – on Saturday June 22, 2013 and Sunday June 23, 2014. Make an effort to see it – you will not be disappointed.

Why, oh why is travel so challenging?


I must be a sadist at heart – or else why would I book another trip just a week after flying back from Korea? I mean – isn’t 25 hours of travel enough? It took me 3 days to recover from jet lag. Who needs more of this stuff? Well – apparently – I do.

Months ago my 2 sisters and I had agreed that it had been way too long since we’d had a decent conversation with each other. get-together with kids and husbands around were fun – but opportunities to actually talk – non-existent. So despite the conjunction with my trip back from Korea – we’d planned an “I’m not yet 65” birthday sisters weekend – in Lake Lure, N.C. This meant I’d fly to Columbia, S.C. on Wednesday, see my sister’s newly redesigned kitchen, then we’d drive the 2 hours to Lake Lure. Sounds great.

Bonus – when I go to check in on-line – I’m offered a $49 upgrade to business class! Winner. Amazing. Sure – I’ll take it.

So it’s Wednesday night – and here I am – at the Montreal airport – booked on a United flight thru Washington, D.C. I eat a lousy dinner at the airport – something billed as meat lasagna – but tasting more like cheap tomato sauce with meat waved in its directions and I join the suspiciously large crowd around gate C82.

Hmm – the sign doesn’t say Washington, D.C. yet – is says Cleveland.

But like most well laid plans, the weather angels decided it was a no go. Cancelled flights here, there and everywhere – just because of some rain and severe thunderstorms lasting 6 hours in a 250 mile swatch running across most of the midwest. Honestly. Is plane travel so retarded that they can’t land in a little rain? Maybe it was the cross winds. Whatever – no plane, no go. So sorry.

Options – I fly to Dulles, spend the night on my own dime (if I can find a hotel room – with canceled flights all over – likelihood not good), and fly on in the morning from there. Or – I go home, spend the night in my own bed – and just start over again on Thursday.

I opt for my own bed. Bad news – the guy who rebooked me doesn’t do it right – I lose my paid for status as ‘business class’ –

So now it’s Thursday. And with better weather, planes are at least taking off on time. I’ll manage to get where I want to go some time today.

Being a optomist at heart – I’m willing to forgive United the boo-boo – particularly because when I get to Chicago (mid-point of flight – nothing from Montreal goes direct to anywhere I want to go) – I discover what really bad looks like.

Chicago is a mess. No seriously – a mess. On Wednesday flights got canceled and delayed – and when they re-route, reschedule you because of weather – they have a lovely little pre-printed brochure that effectively says no food, no lodging, no refunds! I ran into a wonderful family of 4 that had finished a fab holiday in Spain, including a cruise, and were just trying to get home. They’d arrived in Chicago at 7:30 pm on Wednesday – I ran into them at around 10:00 am on Thursday – and it didn’t look good. They’d been re-booked onto a flight that got canceled early this morning – been standby (and clearly not made it) on two more flights – and were now officially giving up. They got an absolute booking for a flight on Friday – and were on their way to a hotel to sleep.

There are literally people everywhere – some just sitting and looking sad – some actually asleep. The stand-by lists to just about everywhere are filled – and I’m guessing that they can’t just bring in a larger plane – or 2 – or 3.

This is truly sad. On the positive side, a gentleman just got up to give his seat in this overcrowded waiting area to an older couple. Nice.

And just to make sure I’m awake – another guy just announced that there are severe thunderstorms forecast in my destination city.

If nothing goes wrong – it’s not much of an Adventure, is it?

Signing off – and hoping the plane flies…. The Soup Lady

PF Chang – the Montreal Version – Not quite up to snuff. Sorry folks.


PF Chang – High end Franchise opens near me – cool, eh?

My first experience with PF Chang was in Florida – I was hungry – they were there. It worked out. I thought the restaurant was beautiful, and the food quite delicious. So I was very excited to discover that they were opening a branch right around the corner (sort of) from my office.

We eagerly planned our next luncheon to be there – and since we had lots to discuss, knew it would be long lunch. PF Chang was great on at least that aspect – we could sit as long as we liked, no problems. There were plenty of empty tables (not a good sign, eh?) – and we were tucked nicely into a corner where we were out of sight – out of mind. Perfect.

Unfortunately, that was the highlight. Well, that and the Signature lettuce wrap with chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts. That was delicious. I was not really impressed with much else unfortunately. And I wanted to be – I really did.

I will give our waitress full credit for a nice try. She was extremely pleasant, and very well-informed on the menu – nope – the problems lay elsewhere.

We managed to confuse the kitchen by mixing up our order, one of us ordered the lunch special, the other 2 ordered a la carte. Shouldn’t have been an issue – but I guess the kitchen is still working out the kinks – the luncheon special main course arrived long, long before the rest of our order – to the embarrassment of our waitress. She apologized, but it ended up meaning that one of us ate a cool lunch that should have been hot. Better – just remove the dish, and take it back. By asking if it’s ok – you put the customer into complaint mode – and my friend felt awkward complaining.

My ‘main’ course was billed as Cold Ahi-tuna Slices with a mustard sauce – way too heavy on the sauce unfortunately – couldn’t taste the tuna at all. My friend who got convinced to order a chicken dish wasn’t exactly thrilled with hers either. And the cool instead of hot main course of my friend was never going to be right.

In comparing the menu we were offered in Montreal with the menu on the US website – I think part of the issue might be that the Canada franchise isn’t offering exactly the same things as the US version – at least the menu seemed quite different. I couldn’t even find my tuna dish on the US menu – good thing to be honest. It wasn’t great.

We ordered one desert to share – the Banana Spring Rolls with coconut pineapple ice cream. It was good – but not blow you away. They ‘under-drizzled’ the caramel and vanilla sauces in my opinion, at least I couldn’t taste them. The ice cream was so cold that you couldn’t taste the coconut and pineapple – and I thought the fried banana spring rolls were terribly rich. Not a bad thing for dessert of course, but I wasn’t thrilled.

So – lovely restaurant, nice waitress, some good, some not so good food. Can’t give PF Chang an A. Sorry people. Better luck next time.

P.F. Chang's on Urbanspoon

PF Chang on Foodio54

Dawson strikes out with “The Chorus of Disapproval”


I generally enjoy the productions at Dawson – it’s a very comfy theatre with good sight lines and clean toilets (yes – I have a fixation – what can I say. Grannies need toilets – and we prefer clean ones). But this time I was very disappointed.

First the facts – this production – unlike many of the Dawson presentations – features a huge cast (I counted 20 performers on stage at one time), and runs until April 27th. So you too can get tickets and be bored. And for Dawson – the tickets are pricy. $12 each is not a fortune, but it’s a waste if the production doesn’t keep you interested. My husband walked out at intermission – along with the couple sitting to our left. I stayed for the whole thing – and was glad I did – it did improve in the 2nd half.

My favorite piece – the bar room fight scene. Not completely believable – but pretty darn good I’ll tell you. They threw punches, rolled on the floor, and even got pulled apart by the other cast members. Nicely done.

I won’t bore you with the story, but I will explain what I think went wrong. Like “Trad” and “Cornered” – this is a British play – and the young actors were directed to use british accents. That’s ok – if they do it well. But I think they found getting the accents right so challenging that they forgot they had to act as well. The result – amateur acting and difficult to understand speech. How silly is that. Had they just been directed to forget about trying to be ‘british’ – their acting skills would have carried the day. Oh well.

Always looking for something good to say – I must tell you that aside from the fight scene, the musical parts were by far the highlights. The cast mostly forgot about faking the accents when singing – and the results were a great deal more pleasant to watch and a lot easier to understand.

The house was relatively full – and based on the applause, and extremely loud laughter from the gentleman to our rear – either friends or family of the players. As it was Opening Night – they served fruit, cheese, crackers and wine after the play. I’m sure they meant it to be a treat – I thought it was a way of rewarding you for sitting through the entire disaster.

Dawson – I know you know that you can do so much better.

Closer – Not for kiddies – but so very good


Saw a fantastic piece of Theatre at Mainline last night – and best of all – it’s on until the 27th of April. Plenty of time to get tickets. And you definitely want to see this one.

http://www.mainlinetheatre.ca/en/spectacles/closer

I generally enjoy the productions that happen at Mainline. Put on by tiny, yet professional companies that have a creative itch they must scratch – the plays are interesting, well rehearsed, and well produced. “Closer” (as in getting closer) is no exception. The story line – that of 4 people (2 men, 2 women) who meet, become lovers, find out information about each other that disappoints, and try again – is intensely disturbing, profoundly interestingly, well-presented and very well performed.

There’s a scene of an on-line ‘date’ that is extremely funny – particularly for the older generation (like me!). Karine Kerr – who plays the part of the stripper Alice – is strikingly beautiful, and while she never strips completely, she does strike the pose – and hold it extremely convincingly. I also found the 2 men very appealing, Alex Gravenstein is so attractively scruffy as Dr. Larry it’s hard not to want to reach out and ruffle his curly hair.

My complaints are very minor – I dearly wish that the ‘professional’ photographer had used a more appropriate camera. The one she uses is a joke – and for anyone with knowledge of photography, very distracting. No professional would use a camera like that, finding one that fit the role better surely wasn’t that hard. And I was rather alarmed at the very distinct lack of audience. I’ve never ever seen Mainline so empty – granted it was only the 2nd night, but still. This is a very good play – why weren’t there more people there to enjoy it?

And I have one caution – the topic revolves around sex – and while you don’t ‘see’ any – there are lots of pretty descriptive sections. So don’t bring your pruddish cap – come open-minded and you will truly enjoy yourself.

Montreal has a Croissant Festival – Amazing!


I love, love, love Croissants – I mean what can be wrong about these flaky pastries – beautifully browned and crusty outside, yummy inside, and the entire thing brimming with butter. Oh – if that doesn’t make you hungry – nothing will.

And – there is nothing more disappointing than lousy grocery store ‘croissants’. I hate to even use the term for those flat squishy lacking in flavor butterless creations. I can’t even imagine why anyone would waste calories (and money) on eating those things. Nope – if I’m going to indulge – I want to get the best.

So you can imagine my absolute delight to discover that Montreal has a Croissant Festival – organized by the artisanal bakeries that flourish in this city where food is King. This is  our chance to be at-home reviewers (the best kind) – and taste our way around the city.

The idea is the brain child of Franck Dury-Pavel of Fous Desserts – but he’s sharing the ‘stage’ with 13 other bakeries this year. So on Saturday – April 20, 2013 – all the participating bakeries are going to be discounting their astounding creations. Not free – alas – but either discounted, even to half price or the best bet – 2 for 1. I suggest quickly organizing a Croissant Taste-off for Saturday evening – or Sunday morning for the more traditional among us. Then – drive around on Saturday from shop to yummy shop – picking up Croissants. Label the bottom of the plates – and report back here.

Be sure to tell them I sent you – so they will know where to go to find out whose Croissant is King!

The Question: Who has the best Croissant in the City?

The Judges: You and your family

So let’s get shopping, eating, and comparing. Just please remember to come back her and let me know your results!

Participating bakeries are:

Montreal:
Arhoma – http://arhoma.ca/accueil/
Chouquettes et cie – http://www.chouquettesetcie.com/c/
Les Co’Pains d’abord – http://www.yelp.ca/biz/boulangerie-les-copains-d-abord-montreal
Fous Desserts – http://www.fousdesserts.com/acceuil.html
Mamie Clafoutis – http://www.mamieclafoutis.com/
Marius et Fanny – http://www.mariusetfanny.com/
Mr. Pinchot – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boulangerie-Mr-Pinchot/123627617717361
Petite boulangerie – http://www.lapetiteboulangerie.ca/

South Shore
L’Amour du pain – http://www.lamourdupain.com/
Chouquettes et cie – http://www.chouquettesetcie.com/c/
O Gateries – http://www.ogateries.com/index.php
Patisserie Aux Beaux Tilleuis – http://www.yelp.ca/biz/patisserie-aux-beaux-tilleuls-saint-lambert
Tartes et clafoutis – http://www.tartesetclafoutis.com/

Laval:
Marius et Fanny – http://www.mariusetfanny.com/

National Theatre school rocks Opera – Such a treat


Ok – first things first – if you want to catch this event – you must move quickly. Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” and “Amal and the Night Visitors” are only being performed twice more this year – once on Thursday (4/18/2013) and once on Saturday (04/20/2013).

http://www.operademontreal.com/en/shows/season-2012-2013/visitors

And I checked – there are still seats available, and they are well under $50 each. Which for opera at this level of expertise is a deal. So if you like opera – go. And if you’ve never been to an opera and think it a waste – now is the chance to find out if you are right or wrong. Go.

Ok – Now the review. First off – I have to say that I have a great fondness for the National Theatre School. The physical plant is just about perfect for theatre. There are 3 performing areas that I’ve been in – the Studio, the cafe, and the Theatre. The Theatre (where the operas are performed) is a classic of the old Style, with cushy red velvet seats, enormously high ceiling, good sight lines from everywhere – and wonderful acoustics. And they have lovely bathrooms. Never underestimate the importance of a nice bathroom.

The stage is large – and the stagecraft exhibited is top-notch. One can expect to be impressed – and I’ve never been disappointed. In this case – the first opera (the Old Maid and the Thief) was original written to be performed on radio – so the director literally had the stage crew build a radio station. The actors sit on the side waiting their cues; the narrator sits in a booth high above everyone’s heads, and occasionally part of the ‘sound stage’ crew move pieces of the set to create the illusion of another space. There is a wonderful sound guy in the orchestra pit doing the sound effects – rustling paper, creating the sound of rain, opening door noises. One complaint – I do wish he’d been more visible. I had to crane my neck to see what he was doing.

The singers were young, enthusiastic, and clearly in love with their ability to sing. Nothing is more likely to please me that a group of young people putting their heart and soul into the music. And sing like the world was ending they did. Just delightful. I won’t ruin the story for you – but I repeat – go. Definitely worth it.

The second Menotti opera (“Amal and the Night Visitors”) is so well-known, there’s nothing in the story to be ruined in the telling. But it is the parts of Amal and his mother that make or break this opera – and Frederique Drolet and Emma Char absolutely rock their parts. Both are young women – the shorter one (Frederique) does Amal – and almost convinces you that she is a he. Close – so close (but not quite). The part requires a wide-eyed innocence and joy that if done well, takes the audience into Amal’s world of big stars, fascinating animals, and wondrous events. And they do well. The final scene, when Amal’s mother is watching her son grow up and disappear out of her life is heart-rending – in a good way – Her pain is the pain of every parent. Joy that they are making their own way in the world, heartbreak that the cuddle at night is no longer going to happen.

And here’s the best news – these 2 incredibly talented young Canadians are doing it again – as Hansel and Gretel for next year’s Opera de Montreal season. Can’t wait to hear them a year from now – just to see how much they will have matured.

Have I convinced you to go yet? If not – why not? It’s not that expensive, it’s good solid opera with approachable story lines that make sense, it is young people friendly (my 12-year-old grand-daughter loved it) – and you don’t have to wait till the fat lady sings to know it’s over.

Go.

7 Unique and Lip Licking ways to Enjoy Maple Syrup


Hey – I’m from Montreal – and Quebec accounts for over 75% of the world’s production of Maple Syrup. That’s an awful lot of Maple, people! You have to assume that over the years we’ve come up with some pretty creative ways to use the stuff!

1. Maple Fondue: Talk about gilding a lily. Like Chocolate fondue wasn’t good enough. Nope – take your fondue up a notch by adding a splash (or two or three) of Maple Syrup. Yummy

2. Spicy Maple Almonds: I adore almonds, and the thought of combining them with the heady taste of Maple is just delicious. And it’s easy. Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet melt 1/4 cup of butter, remove from heat, add 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 of cayenne (for a bit of a kick – optional of course) and 3 tbs of Maple Syrup. Mix well. Add 2 cups of whole almonds and stir gently until the nuts are covered. Now just spread the nuts on parchment paper, put on a baking pan in the oven for 15 minutes. Season with salt as desired. Yum.

3. Maple Milk or Dark Chocolate: Melt good quality Chocolate in a double boiler and spread it on parchment paper. Sprinkle with maple flakes. Cool and Crack into pieces.

4. Maple Vinaigrette: Quebec’s quintessential salad dressing! Make your standard vinaigrette recipe, but just a bit of Maple Syrup to add that sweet delicious kick.

5. Maple enhanced Jams: Buy any commercial jam – preferably a savory one like Onion – and just blend in a bit of Maple Syrup. Use on a cheese plate to take something ordinary on an elevator trip to the sky!

6. Maple Beer: No seriously – can you believe they take beer to the edge of disaster by adding Maple Syrup. It’s too sweet for me – but if you want to go crazy…

7. Or better – just pour it into your baked beans, add it to a cream soup (I adore maple syrup in Pea Soup), or make an omelet and pour it on top. Or do a tire! Get some clean snow, heat up your syrup to near boiling and pour a thin strip onto the snow. The syrup will start to freeze, and you can create your own home-made Maple Lollipop. Now that’s sweet.

The season is so short, the maple syrup so delicious – why not just Sweeten your life – it’s Spring!

Yes – I am staring at you


Confession time – we are a one car family, and I’m not the one with the car. That means I’m often on the bus/metro going to and fro. Which I love. It gives me time to think – and right now – it is giving me time to ‘blog’.

I love watching people – and yes, sometimes I stare. So when you spot someone kinda watching you – ever wonder what they are thinking?

If it’s me – I’m wondering if you like the music you are listening to thru those ever-present headphones, I wonder if your blue nail polish goes with that purple scarf. I wonder what is in your shopping bag – and if it came from the store that it says it did. I wonder how you can lift that big purse or heavy-looking back-pack. I consider your earphones – why are you still wearing earphones that look like ear mufflers when those ear buds give better sound? Must you have a bluetooth in your ear so you look like a cyborg? Or do you want to look like a cyborg – so you wear one? Are you really reading that newspaper – or just looking at the pictures and checking out the headlines? Are you ‘rocking’ your outfit, or did you just throw on anything this morning? Are your shoes/boots unlaced for a reason? Maybe your shoes don’t fit – or maybe it’s a fashion statement. If it’s a fashion statement – what does it say? I’m so cool that if my shoes fall off, it’s not a problem?

I wonder about %’s – What % of the people I see have ear-phones plugged in? (lots) What % are overweight (not so much here in Montreal). What % are young, What % are old, What % are male, What % are female. And why are there so many young people traveling – shouldn’t they be in school? CEJEP or University?

Sometimes I’m just wondering when you last combed your hair. In Montreal, in winter, seeing someones hair is a bit of a treat – we tend to the hat/hood/cover-up motif. So today, with the sun out – most people are letting their hair show – and it’s kinda nice.

And sometimes I’m thinking about the bus – how does the driver always know where to go and where to stop. I was once on a bus that got lost – it was so weird. The passengers were trying to tell the driver he had taken a wrong turn – and to his credit – he owned up to the fact that it was his first time on our route. He really was lost. But I have other questions about the bus – does the driver care if he’s on time? Does he care that I always say thank you and have a good day when I get off? Does she think about the fact that it’s really unusual to have a woman bus driver. Does she sometimes worry for her safety – at night, alone, on the bus, way out in the suburbs? Or is downtown more scary? What would he/she do if there was a fight on the bus? Would it make a difference if it was a he or a she?

So – next time you spot someone staring at you on the bus or in the metro – Smile. If it’s me – I’ll smile back. Promise.