Stuck at the Dallas Airport – Want to know what to eat? Just ask the Montreal Madame!

I don’t know what it is about the Dallas Airport – I mean I live in Montreal – why should I so often find myself here?

But here I am – and food I crave.

I have my favorite spot – In Terminal D – home to all the international flights – including the ones to Canada – I happen to be pretty fond of Cool River Cafe. It’s in a corner of one of those islands of food and shops that makes terminal D so neat looking – right near gate D27. The food is simple, but a step above the normal fast food fare, and it has table cloths and service. Winner.

But now I have a new competitor – Cantina Laredo. This restaurant is part of a small chain of restaurants – located in crazy places like Las Vegas, London, and the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Franchises are available if you are interested.

Cantina Laredo is located right around the corner from Cool River, opposite Gate D24 – It’s self-described as modern mexican. I don’t see that – I mean it looks like pretty standard Mexican to me – but it is yummy. And filling. And a nice change from the french cuisine of Montreal.

My husband ordered their Queso Laredo, a cheese dipping dish made with taco meat that while a bit liquid for my taste – more of a soup than a dip – it was deliciously yummy. And the chips were delightful – light and fresh and crisp. I do wish that the salsa had come in more than one flavor though – I’m used to some of the mexican restaurants in Park City with their 5, 6 or up to 10 different kinds of salsa to enjoy. Just one option seems skimpy.

I had my standard fare – a plain quesadilla. But it was a nice one, clearly made to order, toasted on both sides, a bit crunchy, and delicious. Service was a tad lacking – I asked for no sour creme, but that instruction clearly didn’t make it to the kitchen. And the salsa served with the quesadilla was just chopped tomatoes. But even so – if you have to eat in an airport – this is not a bad option. Not a great choice – but not a bad one either. Cool River Cafe can rest easy – it is still my go to place.

Of course – if you can get out of the airport – go directly to the Hard 8 – Texas BBQ at its messy best.

Hard 8 is the Best BBQ ever – Bad news – it’s in Dallas Texas!

You arrive in a strange city – and you are hungry. How do you find a great place to eat? Frommers? Fodor? Insight? My problem with guides is simple – they are by default dated. The reviewer went there – liked it – left, reviewed it, than a year – or more – later, it got published.

Zaggat, Yelp and Urbanspoon – which are on-line restaurant review sites are much better – but somehow – I always forget to check before I leave – and then arrive without internet access.

My go-to solution – ask a local. And my 2 favorite places to find those locals are either at gas stations (hey – gas station attendant have to eat too), or at the car rental counter. Actually – I prefer to ask the guy giving me the car. More often than not – I get good advice. And this time – the advice was amazing.

We’d just arrived in Dallas, TX – and it was lunch time. BBQ sprang to mind. Our question was – best BBQ that is not a chain. We’d rented thru Enterprise (Hi back at you guys) and the efficient Enterprise agent thought for a second – then asked if we wanted fancy. When the answer was no – we just wanted awesome BBQ – he said – Hard 8. He even ‘text’d’ the address to my husband’s cell phone. Now that’s service.

We followed the GPS to what must easily be the best BBQ I’ve ever enjoyed. We knew we were in the right place when we saw that the line stretched out the door!

Hard 8 is in a huge building – about 40% of which is devoted to the BBQ pits, and the smokers. You stand in line until you get your turn in front of the open-pit and are faced with a simply mouth-watering display of BBQ offerings. Signs everywhere warn against ordering too much – but the free taste of bacon wrapped BBQ chicken with a jalapeno Pepper put us in the mood for food.

Everything is cut and sliced to order – so you want Brisket? The pit boss will gesture at the brisket – and chop until you stay stop. Ribs? How many do you think you can eat. The only things not sold by the pound beside the roasted and steamed whole corn on the cab – were the BBQ chicken (1/2 or whole) and the pork chop. Both looked completely yummy – but I wanted ribs.

Of the 3 of us – my grand-daughter took the prize for restraint, just ordering some slices of home spiced and home smoked Kielbasa. I got ribs, my husband got carried away and ordered a bit of almost everything, from brisket to a sirloin kebab. They weighed our choices – then pointed us into the restaurant itself to get drinks, dessert, and add-on’s like mac and cheese or sweet corn with jalapeno’s.

From there – it’s on into the dining room. Well – dining room is a bit generous. More of a cross between a bar and a barn – with a huge heated ‘patio’. Tables are ‘the share with your neighbor’ variety – and on each section are rolls and rolls of paper towels – which speak to the messy nature of eating proper Texas BBQ.

There’s a boiling pot of ‘all you can eat’ beans, more BBQ sauce in case you feel the need – and stacks and stacks of to-go boxes. Yup – we probably aren’t the first – or last – that order too much!

I totally adored my ribs – and ate 2 of them – plus all my grand-daughters Kielbasa. She ate the rest of my ribs – and then gobbled up her share of the brisket that my husband got.The Mac and Cheese wasn’t great – but what were we thinking to even order it. I can’t say I liked the Kebab at all – but again – what were we thinking to order it in the first place.

The creamed sweet corn with Jalapeno was not particularly spicy – but it was sweet. Not nearly at the same – you MUST eat this – level as the ribs, bacon wrapped chicken or the Brisket, but very interesting.

How good was the ‘Hard 8’ – well – my husband is planning on going back today. Yes – that good.

So – if you find yourself in Dallas – and craving a no frills BBQ pit dinner – Hard 8 has definitely got you covered.

Hard Eight BBQ on Urbanspoon

Hard 8 BBQ on Foodio54

Hip, Hip, Hurray for Street Food!

If you ever go to Toronto – one of the pleasures in that city is its street food. Those trucks with open sides that park here there and everywhere – open up and start serving delicious food. I’ll never forget having a sausage in a bun with the works (peppers, onions, mustard, ketchup, and even relish) at 2:30 in the morning just after dancing my little feet off at this fab salsa club my daughter and her friends had dragged me to.

It was yummy.

But here in Montreal – we are much less fortunate. During festival season – roughly June 1 to August 1 – the area around Quartier des Spectacle will suddenly blossom with very upscale street food vendors – not carts mind you, but full-blown restaurants with table cloths – carefully vetted by the authorities of course. And during street fairs – the St. Laurent street fair during Gran Prix weekend is a good example – there are tents up and down the road selling all kinds of things – some of it edible. Even restaurants get in on the fun – putting up tables outside their doors to sell ‘street’ ready food. Some go over-the-top and have lounging and seating areas. So – well – Montreal.

But in general, in Montreal – street food is a no-no.

Why I hear you wonder? I mean what is a city without street food?

Well – in 1967, just prior to the opening of Expo ’67 – Mayor Jean Drapeau decreed that street food was unsafe, unsanitary and unsightly. And banned it. Popular Montreal Rumor has also held that he decreed that garbage bags be only the new green type so they looked nicer when sitting on the curb. This was a Mayor with a mission. But our street food was gone.

Since then various groups have tried hard to convince the city government to change that rule – citing examples of cities like Toronto, Shanghai, even Brussels that manages to hang onto to not only their street food – but their citizens and their restaurants. It’s been a no go. Until this week. Finally – the city councilor have decreed that this summer there will be a street food pilot test – and by the summer of 2015 – if nothing goes wrong – Montreal will have street food.

Oh joy – oh pounding heart.

Wonder what Jean Drapeau is thinking of this turn of events?
Wonder what I’ll have first – Fries or a Souvlaki? Knowing it’s Montreal – probably a Prosciutto and Brie Burger.

8 ways to Get Skinny – by eating Eat Out!

OK – I agree – that seems impossible. But you can do it if you really really want to. How do I know – well I  managed to lose 30 pounds in 6 months following Weight Watchers with complete devotion – and I eat out almost every single night. That was in 2002 – so not only did I lose the weight – I’ve kept it off for 11 years – visiting my local Weight Watcher’s every single month. But this isn’t about Weight Watchers – it’s about my tricks of the trade, so to speak, and these I gladly share.

1) Plan, Plan, Plan. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get a look at a menu – if you’re searching the internet you can find the menu’s for most restaurants on-line. And even if they don’t help you out by offering clearly labeled low-fat/low-calorie options – the safe bet is to go for Fish and Salad avoiding like the plague any sauces or sweet dessert. Just make sure there is a fish option (preferably grilled – not fried and  not baked) before you agree to go.

2) Have a No-No list. My No-No’s (I love this stuff – so saying no is hard) – Anything fried, Anything breaded, Any salad dressing, No mixed drinks (super fattening), No sodas except straight up soda water. One glass of wine preferably with seltzer water – tops. Notice what is not on my no-no list. I can have a bite of dessert, I can enjoy baked potatoes, and I love beef.

3) Have a Yes-Yes list and put Vegetables on the top. Veggies are always a better idea than potatoes, bread or rice, and most restaurants will cheerfully double up the veggies instead of putting on the potatoes. Your diet is bound to be better with more veggies – and your waist will thank you too. Other Yes-Yes foods – plain baked potatoes with Mustard, Salads with no salad dressing, Grilled fish, quesadilla, lasagna, edamame at Japanese restaurants. Butter is neither a Yes-Yes, nor a No-No. But Mustard is a lot better – and definitely on the Yes-Yes list.

4) Drink Water or Tea – Lots and lots of water and tea. Why? It keeps your hands busy (and out of the bread basket), and it tells your body that water is plentiful. That’s critical to weight loss because if your body decides that water isn’t going to be easy to get – your body will hold on to water like mad. You’ll get bloated, and weigh more. So drink up – as long as there’s no sugar involved of course.

5) Leave food on your plate. The more the merrier. Clearing a plate is definitely not for losers! And one bite is all you need to feel you’ve tried the dish. All bites afterwards aren’t totally necessary. A similar idea I read elsewhere – ask for that carry out container as soon as you sit down, and put 1/2 your meal in it before you start to eat. Out of sight – Out of mind. Plus less cooking for tomorrow. (I actually can’t do this – it feels gross. So I take a knife and drawn line down the middle. Then I try not to eat past the line.)

6) Don’t go out hungry. Really bad idea. You can’t stop eating if you are starving – so it’s a lot easier to have a low-calorie snack before you leave for dinner. Cuts down on how much you will order, how much you will eat – and how much you will pay. Good idea no matter what. My preferred snack – low-fat microwave popcorn at 3:30. Works like a charm.

7) Turn back the bread basket. One of the handy things about eating out in Europe is that they charge you for the bread – so it’s quite clear that not having the bread unless it is seriously special is a waist and pocket friendly idea. Here in North America we love our bread baskets – and it shows. So just say No!

8) Pick at dessert. You really don’t need or want that whole piece of whatever – so take one bite and STOP. My husband jokes that often my dessert is an extra fork. I love just getting one taste of his dessert – I feel privileged, and I cut the calories. If you are lucky and eating out with a friend who isn’t as controlled about their food – they will eat the rest. If not – try ordering a ‘finish’ that is lower in fat and calories – fruit cups are great for example. But I’d rather get a single Biscotti and a low fat cappuccino. Half the Biscotti can come home for Breakfast – and I have a very special ‘finish’ to my delicious dinner.

Just remember – Nothing tastes as good as Skinny and Energetic Feels.

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

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

Best Sugaring-Off Spot Ever!

Quebec Sugaring Off

Primitive Wood-Curving showing an old fashioned Sugaring Off

I’ve done sugaring off many many times – and my absolute favorite place is Festin de Campagne & La Cidrerie du Petit Saint-Joseph.

First – an explanation for my non-Quebec Followers. Sugaring Off is a Spring Time ritual here in Quebec. The sap starts to run up and down (up during the day – down at night when it gets cold) in the Maple Trees. People with Maple Stands tap the trees (literally a tap goes into the tree – and when the sap goes up and down – it also flows out the tap either into a bucket (very old-fashioned) or into blue tubes that have a bit of suction in them), gather the sap, boil it down for days – and bingo – Maple Syrup.

Given that 75% or more of the world’s Maple Syrup is produced here in Quebec – you can imagine the vast numbers of trees, taps, and blue hose involved. It’s quite the sight. But that’s not Sugaring Off. As part of the taping, gathering, and boiling tradition – there’s an eating tradition – and that’s Sugaring Off.

Festin de Campagne – despite the fancy name – is one of the traditional cabins snuggled right in a Maple Stand. It’s used only for about a month a year – small, cozy, clearly built by the family, and lacking in any pretension. There’s no petting zoo, no buffet line, no polish. But there is an awesome group of performers – La Famille Laporte – who are completely irresistible – music that you absolutely must dance to. And the food – ah, it’s really about the food.

The meal starts with everyone sitting down on long family style tables – pre-laden with jars of homemade pickles, pickled beets, Coleslaw, and homemade Ketchup. There’s a quart jar of maple syrup per group of 6 – a bottle of fresh milk, and a jug of water. Quickly you get served your choice of vegetable or pea soup – my entire family opted for the pea soup – homemade (like everything else) – with pieces of lard floating among the peas. I added maple syrup – it was delicious.

Next comes the pate – maple syrup infused of course, with fresh bread.

Now the best part – the omelet, ham slices, baked beans, boiled potatoes and my personal – I wait all year to eat these – Grillades de lard or more familiarly called – Oreilles de crisse ( Deep fried pieces of pork jowls – amazingly delicious – and eaten with more maple syrup of course. A quick word about the omelet – I’ve had flat omelets, I’ve had puffy omelets, I’ve had omelets cooked by celebrated chefs, I’ve had omelets made at home – but this omelet is the best I’ve ever eaten. Maybe you can blame the maple syrup – but it’s the puffiest, softest, pillow of an omelet made from eggs you can imagine came from chickens running around on the farm next door.  I’m serious – this is one great omelet.

Did I tell you this is all ‘eat all you want’? I meant to mention that. Want 2nd, want thirds – no problems!

Dessert is a choice of Pudding Chômeur (it’s sweet), Apple Crumble (it’s sweet), or Pancakes (guess what – you add more maple syrup to them too!). You can have one of each if you’d like – or do like my Grand-daughter – just focus on the pancakes!

Then – there’s the Tire. And the dancing. I’m a fan of both – so first I dance to the wonderful music of ‘La Famille Laporte’ till my feet hurt, then I go outside where they are pouring hot maple syrup onto Snow. You stick a Popsicle stick in the rapidly cooling syrup, and twist to make your own lollipop. I had 4. I didn’t count how many my grand-daughters enjoyed – but I know they went down the line more than I did. These ‘lollipops’ are sweet, soft, crunchy, a little warm, a little cold – and completely irresistible.

Eventually you either ride the tractor drawn wagon back to your car – or walk. In our case – we walked slowly – making snow angels as we found our way back to our car – and eventually back to Montreal.

Interesting is trying La Festin de Campagne? You can reach them by phone at 450-623-0687, or try this link:!cabane-a-sucre

It’s no more than a 45 minute drive North West of Montreal – and for a place so ‘back-woods’, relatively easy to find. Be sure to say hello to Simard Paquette for me – she’s the hostess who makes up for her lack of height with a huge smile, and a warm welcome. Can’t miss her!