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Tea Time: Ti Kuan Yin Oolong (Review)

Well, I finally got to visit the tea shop My Cup of Tea again, after having been away from Montreal for a year. You would think that in Korea I could have visited some nice tea sMy Cup of Teahops and tasted some interesting teas, but though I went to a tea expo, it seemed to be less about tea and more about crockery.

My Cup of Tea

In any case, I wanted to pick up some of their Milky Oolong, which I hadn’t tasted in a long time, so I headed over to China town, where the shop is located on St. Laurent. The staff was helpful as always, and you’re free to smell thMCOT tease tea samples. The boxes of teas also look colourful and inviting. While I was there, I decided to pick up a box of ginseng oolong, which I had already tried, as well as a box of Ti Kuan Yin oolong.

Ti Kuan Yin

This tea is a few dollars pricier than their other teas, at $18 for 100g as opposed to $15, and it is limited edition. When considering the price, however, one should keep in mind that these types of premium, whole leaf, hand-rolled teas can be re-steeped up to 3 times.

Ti Kuan Yin (back)

Ti Kuan Yin (front)

The Chinese Goddess of Mercy

According to the package, this tea is named after the Chinese goddess of mercy, and Kuan Yin is short for Kuan-shi Yinwhich means “observing the sounds (or cries) of the (human) world.” IN one legend, Kuan Yin sets out to save all sentient beings from their unhappy plight. However, since there were so many people who needed to be saved, she struggled so to comprehend their suffering that her head split into eleven pieces. When the budda saw what had happened to her, he gave her eleven heads. After that, she tried to reach out and help all of the beings who were struggling. However, since she only had two hands, they shattered into pieces. Again, the budda helped her, giving her one thousand arms.

While I’m not quite sure what the goddess has to do with this tea, I do enjoy reading such legends.

Taste

This tea has a rather delicate, mild flavour. It does carry a hint of Ti Kuan Yin (leaves)sweetness, but I wouldn’t really describe it as floral. I’d like to try it iced after over steeping it a bit, as I think that may help to draw out its flavour. Ti Kuan Yin does have an interesting mouth-feel and its delicate taste does linger on the tongue, as is described on the box.

Well, ’til next time…enjoy your cup of tea!

Cocktail Hour: Romeo’s Gin (Review)

Romeo's gin 1st edition
Romeo’s gin 1st edition

Wow, exciting things have been happening on the Quebec gin front since I’ve been abroad. Yet another new gin from la belle province has made its way onto store shelves…and this one is even being marketed as ‘Montreal Dry Gin’. What a great time it is to be a Montrealer…well, if you overlook the struggling economy, bad weather, and ever-present language tensions. Still, I’m glad to be back in the city after a year of pining for cheese, bread, beautiful churches, and artichokes. As an added homecoming bonus, this gin is good enough to help you forget your worries…Romeo’s martini, anyone?

Romeo’s Gin: Background Info

Romeo’s gin comes from the maker of Pur Vodka, entrepreneur Nicolas Duvernois. After realizing that the restaurant business wasn’t for him, but that vodka was very popular, he decided to look into producing his own. Pur vodka, at the time it came out (in 2009), was the only vodka made in Quebec, and is to date the most-awarded Canadian vodka. Another Quebec vodka has since come out (in 2014), Quartz vodka.

Romeo’s gin was released to the public sometime between December 2015 and January 2016. I’m not sure what inspired Nicolas to choose gin as his next project, but I’m glad he did, since it is one of my favourite types of spirit. I’m also not sure what the story behind its name is…when I asked the question on their Facebook page, I received the following reply: “We called it romeo’s gin because of several reasons… But mostly because it’s a love story between Montreal, gin and art !”

MoZ
Mo’Z

This brings up the next point which makes Romeo’s Gin cool and unique, its link with art. The original design of the bottle features a logo and a work of art, Mo’Z done by a local (Montreal) artist, Stikki Peaches. The logo is to change every year, and next year and for every year thereafter, the distillers plan on creating two different logos, one featuring  a local artist and one featuring an international artist. It’s certainly a great idea, one which will no doubt help to achieve Nicolas’ goals of democratizing art and promoting local artists. He has additionally created a foundation called Romeo’s which aims “to preserve, democratize and modern[ize?] art.” 50 cents from the sale of each bottle of gin will go to said foundation.

Romeo’s Gin Flavour

Romeo's gin gibson
Romeo’s gin gibson

The main aromatics which were chosen to flavour Romeo’s Gin are juniper, cucumber, dill, lavender, almond and lemon. When I smelled it, I was only able to detect the juniper scent, which told me it was, indeed, gin. When I tasted it on its own, it tasted strongly of cucumber. After mixing it with vermouth in order to make a martini, I was able to taste, in addition to the cucumber, a floral flavour from the lavender and a nuttiness from the almonds. The almond seems to give it a slight bitter finish, which I’m not sure I like, but it does seem to be growing on me. On the whole however, it is an excellent gin with a unique flavour, and tastes very fresh and smooth. Though the cucumber taste is predominant, as in Hendrick’s gin, its flavour is different and distinctive. It’s no wonder they have just walked away with their first award, a double gold metal, which they received from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (2016).

‘Til next time, cheers to Montreal, art, and Romeo’s Gin!

 

Restaurant Review: Copper Branch

Copper Branch PoutineIn honour of Poutine Week, my sister and I headed over to Copper Branch recently in order to try their portobello poutine with miso sauce.

Copper Branch: Vegan Fast Food

I had never heard of Copper Branch prior to this foray.  The company was established last year and is thus a newcomer to the vegan restaurant scene.  It is native to Montreal, and aims to expand globally through franchise.  It’s off to a good start, as it already boasts three locations: two in Montreal, and one in Brossard. They bill themselves as a healthy, vegan, environmentally responsible alternative to fast food.  They also deliver.

The Original Location (on Bishop): Atmosphere

My sister and I visited the original location on Bishop below St. Catherine.  It is a little bit out of the way, the sign isn’t super prominent, and from the outside it doesn’t really look like a restaurant, which made it sort of hard to find. I did notice the terrasse in front later on, so I guess that in the summer it is easier to spot.  Upon entering, one is struck by the rather odd juxtaposition between the fast food-style menus and counter setup, and the decor (faux-copper ceilings, copper pipes).

We ordered at the counter, paid, and sat down.  When our poutines were ready a few minutes later, we went to pick them up at counter.  The food came in large ceramic bowls, but the tea I ordered came in a take-out cup.  The cutlery was plastic, and in terms of salt, individual packets were available.  I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind deciding to use real bowls for the food, and disposable drinking containers and plastic cutlery.  Maybe they couldn’t decide on their priorities so decided to hedge their bets?  Maybe they wanted to make their food seem classier, but weren’t prepared to go all the way with the silverware?  I don’t know.

The Copper Branch Poutine

On to the poutine!  The best thing about it was the fries, which were nice and potato-y.  On their website it says that they avoid frying, so it’s possible the fries were of the oven-variety, but in any case, they were good.  The miso sauce was rather thick, and wasn’t very flavourful.  It most certainly lacked salt and pepper.  The portobello mushrooms were few and far between.  The vegan cheese added absolutely nothing to the equation, neither flavour nor texture.  To those of you who buy daiya vegan cheese on a regular basis…do you actually enjoy the flavour of this product?  Or do you use it only for presentation’s sake?  On the whole the poutine was rather soggy and bland.  It lacked the textural interplay of a traditional poutine, and thus wasn’t very fun to eat.

Vegan Superiority Paradox

Judging by this one dish, Copper Branch, like most of the vegan restaurants I’ve eaten at in Montreal, seems to the guilty of something I’d like to call the vegan superiority paradox.

vegan superiority paradox:

The belief that because one is serving food which is ethically superior (whether because it’s vegan, sustainable, fair-trade, eco-friendly, healthy, etc.), one does not need to strive for culinary greatness.

Paradoxically, for now, at least, these companies/restaurants seem to be right in this belief.  Although the food served at vegan restaurants isn’t, in most cases, as tasty or as good (flavourwise) as equivalent dishes served in regular restaurants, they are still popular, and in most cases do very well.  This is either because their customers lack alternatives, or because they believe that healthy food should be bland.

It is a good thing that more vegan and vegetarian restaurants are opening up and that the public is waking up to the problems with our food supply.  I do find it saddening that so many of these restaurants seem to feel that ‘okay is good enough’ when it comes to flavour.  I find it saddening because I know that vegan food need not be bland.  It can be delicious.  Build some flavour.  Add some seasoning.  It’s not that hard.

Hopefully one day I will finally have the opportunity to open my own restaurant so the I can prove that to the world.

‘Til next time…

Review: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel’s Rescousse (to the Rescue)

Dieu Du Ciel- 'Rescousse' boxDieu Du Ciel- 'Rescousse' bottleA local beer whose brewers will donate 66 cents for every six-pack sold to the Fondation de la faune du Quebec?  And which boasts this nature-goddess-like figure on the box?  How could I resist?

Described as an altbier (which is German for ‘old beer’), it is a style of beer brewed using top-fermentation.  This rousse boasts a surprisingly bitter finish with notes of chocolate and coffee…something one doesn’t usually find in red beers.  And there’s a a short poem on the box.  Awesome!

‘Till next time…cheers!

Restaurant Review: Bier Markt

MenuTonight I attended my first ever Concordia Alumni Relations event: ‘an evening of beer tasting and food pairing at Bier Markt’. Though I had never heard of Bier Markt before registering for the event, I have since learned that it is an Ontario-based chain whose Montreal location has been open for a couple of months. It is located on Rene Levesque where high-end steakhouse Queue De Cheval used to be. Having never been to Queue De Cheval, I can’t say how the restaurant’s appearance has been altered since that time, but I can say that the decor is quite nice. I found the bricks on the ceiling especially interesting.bricks Bier Markt

The place was quite busy when I arrived at about six. I checked my coat at the (free) coat check down stairs, then headed upstairs and checked in at the Concordia table. I eyed the menu which was table d’hôte style for the group and included 3 courses with a beer ‘pairing’ to go with each course, all for a flat fee of $30 which included tax and tip. This was quite a deal, especially when one takes a look at their regular prices. I also scanned the beer menu, which includes over 150 beers, about a third of which are on tap.

Palm Speciale Belgian Ale

Palm Speciale AleThe waiter who took our order was nice enough, and took the time to give us his recommendations food-wise. We received our first beer, the Palm Speciale Belgian Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Brewed approximately 40 miles outside Brussels in Steenhuffel, Belgium, Palm is a well-balanced, approachable amber Ale that is full-flavoured up front and finishes with notes of spice and citrus.’ I thought it had a good, if not particularly remarkable, flavour,  some bitterness, and altogether was very drinkable. As it was only a half-pint of beer, and the wait for the first course wasn’t short, I drank about half of it before the soup arrived.

Bier Markt Mushroom Soup

The mushroom soup consisted mostly of an oily, lukewarm broth, which was faintly mushroomy in mushroom soupflavour. There were some sliced mushrooms (mostly button) in the soup as well, and some parsley floating on top. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good. I think I could have produced something similar in about five minutes with a mushroom stock cube and some button mushrooms. Okay, so to play the devil’s advocate here: I know that groups can be a pain, and that maybe the cooks thought the people in the group wouldn’t really appreciate/pay attention to the food. However, this soup is on the regular menu (so they should know how to make it), and soup is the easiest thing to prep a large quantity of ahead of time. For those reasons, I think the devil’s going to have to accept defeat, here. Since no beer pairing could have enhanced this soup, the beer-food pairing was a fail.

Service & Beer Pairing Gripes

Service started to get spotty at this point. The wait for mains was, again, not short, but the real issue was that our beers arrived when we were half-way through our main courses. This was an especially glaring faux-pas considering the nature of the event. It is apparent to anyone who has ever poured draft beer that (surprise!) it takes time to properly pour draft beer. Yes, they were busy. However, this problem could have been avoided by either pairing a bottled beer with the main, or offering different beer pairings for each of the three options. Pairing the same beer with each of the three different mains doesn’t really make sense anyway- if you take food-beer pairing seriously- which Bier Markt doesn’t really seem to do. In any case, the food should really have been held until the beer made it to the table.

Bier Markt Main: Salmon

SalmonAs for the food itself, considering the fact the I don’t eat meat, I was forced to choose the Atlantic salmon, something I don’t usually eat due to both sustainability and health issues. That said, the portion was large, and the fish was properly cooked and seasoned, though some fresh herbs and perhaps a wedge of lemon to give it some zip would not have been out of place. The tomatoes were fine, though not flavourable enough to add much to the equation, and the garlic chips, though properly cooked, were too few in number to enhance the salmon.  The quinoa cakes were good, though they also could have used more punch, and the bok choy and wilted spinach were fine…but unremarkable. Concerning the proportions of the dish, I could have done with a smaller portion of fish, only one quinoa cake, and more vegetables.

Erdinger Weissbier

When I finally received my pint of Erdinger Weissbier, I found it quite enjoyable. The menu description reads: ‘This Wheat Bier Erdinger Weissbiercomes from Erding in the heart of Bavaria. Erdinger Weissbier has a beautiful golden-straw colour that owes its Champagne-like effervescence to keg fermentation. Brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, Erdinger is an excellent match with seafood or chicken dishes.’ While it is easily the most bitter wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, it also has some of the lightness and sweetness one expects from wheat beers. While I found it quite enjoyable on its own, I wouldn’t say it went particularly well with the salmon.

Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale

Früli Strawberry Wheat AleThe next beer to arrive was the Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Früli is a unique blend of high-quality, lightly hopped Belgian White Bier and pure strawberries. This all-natural Bier is a soft, refreshing indulgence that is
perfect as an aperitif, with a salad, or even as a dessert’. The intensity of the strawberry flavour was actually surprising. It reminded me of Fragoli, a wild strawberry liqueur. It definitely makes an interesting dessert pairing.

Chocolate Cake

The dessert itself, however, left a lot to be desired. I chose the chocolate cake, seeing as how late February is not exactly the season for strawberries in Montreal. It was okay, though I ate it more out a sense of duty than anything else. Though described as being a dark chocolate cake, the depth of flavour just wasn’t there, and I could taste no hint of mocha.

Chocolate Cake

If coffee or tea was eventually offered or not, I don’t know, but by the time I left, it still hadn’t been. Having only visited Bier Markt this once, I can’t comment on any of the other menu items, but, personally, I’d recommend steering clear of the food. If I do go back, it will be for the beer, and perhaps the oysters (of which they offer four different kinds).

‘Till next time!

Cocktail Hour: Piger Henricus Gin

Piger Henricus gin martiniOkay, so, a micro-distilled gin, made in Longueuil, Quebec…how cool is that?  Exciting things are happening on the Quebec gin scene…first, Ungava…now this.

Why Piger Henricus?

First, a little background information.  According their website, the distillery Piger Henricus is named after the latin word for a type of furnace used by alchemists during the middle ages.  The English translation of Piger Henricus is ‘Slow Harry’, and it was named as such due to its use in long and slow operations.  This type of furnace is also known as an athanor.

Piger Henricus- Flavour

Next…taste!  This gin is made using traditional flavouring agents such as juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel and cardamom…however, the surprise ingredient, parsnip, is what makes it really special.  According, once again,  to their website, parsnip gives the gin a “delicate bitterness and a subtle floral aroma”…however, I would disagree and say that it gives it a subtle sweetness and earthiness.  Certainly, this is a quality product, and its flavour is smooth, unique, and quite delicious, providing justification for its price, which is comparable to that of Hendrick’s Gin (when one takes into account the smaller size of Piger’s bottles).

The Subversive Distillers

This is the first offering from the  ‘The Subversives Distillers’, a company made up of four guys whose desire to produce more micro-distilled booze in Quebec led them first to the states (in order to learn their craft), and subsequently back here, to set up shop.  Cheers to that!  I’ll be awaiting their next offering in eager anticipation.

Emson Smoker, Round Two: Smoked Tomatoes

So, for my second experiment with the Emson smoker,  I decided to try smoking some tomatoes.  I bought some organic cherry tomatoes that I found on sale at Vert Pomme Fruterie, and some brown tomatoes, both grown in Canada (yay!).  After a bit of research, I decided to leave the cherries whole, and cut the brown tomatoes in half, before smoking for ten minutes on the hot-smoke cycle.  My boyfriend suggested we also try smoking some sun-dried tomatoes.  So, we loaded everything into the smoker:

Tomatoes about to be smokedThe cherries were too small to stay on the rack, so we decided to put them on parchment paper. My boyfriend punched holes in the parchment paper, but I’m not sure that’s really necessary. I left him to start up the smoker while I went to attend to other things.

Unfortunately, he thought he had to soak the wood chips- so they never lit and didn’t actually smoke.  The tomatoes only smelled a bit smoky due to residual smoke inside the smoker.  So let this be a lesson to you; don’t soak wood chips when using the Emson Smoker!

However, all was not lost!  When we learned of our error, I suggested that we try cold-smoking the tomatoes for 10 minutes.

Tomatoes about to come out of the smokerThat worked out well.  The cherry tomatoes and the brown tomatoes were delightfully sweet and smokey.  The smoked sun-dried tomatoes were amazing.

The smell of smoke is a bit more prominent during the cold-smoking process, but it’s certainly not overly invasive, nor is it strong enough to set off smoke detectors.

Smoked Tomato SoupI used the smoked cherry and brown tomatoes to make a tomato soup.

I topped it with some chopped eggs that we had also smoked, cilanto, sour cream, and avocado oil.  The flavour was really nice.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Until next time,

Sarah

Emson Smoker

emson smokerSo, my boyfriend and I were at Walmart today (not the most sustainable store, I know, but sometimes you have to pick your battles), and we came across the Emson Smoker/pressure cooker on sale for $70. I’m not exactly sure why it was so cheap, since even on Amazon.com the list price is $179.99. Based on the the cheap price, and the pretty positive reviews, we decided that it would be a good buy. Anyway, Emson bills this as ‘the only combination pressure cooker and indoor smoker’. What’s really cool about this device is that you can both hot and cold smoke with it, and it can be used indoors. Whilst hot smoking, food will cook more quickly, due to the combination of hot smoking and pressure cooking. You can also use this device as a regular pressure cooker. Another feature that’s pretty cool is the option to program the smoker to first cold smoke, then hot smoke, automatically.

For my first experiment with this machine, I decided to do smoked baked potatoes (one of the recipes provided in the Emson smoker instruction and recipe booklet). All I had to do was put some wood chips in the little wood chip container (I decided on apple chips), put 1/2 a cup of water in the bottom of the cook pot, scrub the organic PEI yellow-fleshed potatoes that I had decided to use, place them on the racks provided, put the lid on the smoker, and place the weighted knob on the pressure cooking valve to seal it. I programmed the machine to hot smoke for one hour, as per the recipe.

The smoke smell, though detectable, was mild, kind of like shisha smoke, and did not set off the smoke alarm. However, according to some of the reviews that I have read (again, on amazon.com), the cold smoke setting releases more smoke into the surrounding area than does the hot smoke setting (I suppose because during hot smoking, you are pressure cooking, whilst during cold smoking, you are not). I plan to try cold smoking with the smoker soon, perhaps with eggs.

Potatoes in the smokerSmoked potatoes

The potatoes were perfectly cooked, and had a nicely smoked taste, almost like potatoes cooked on the BBQ (at least, that’s how my boyfriend put it). I used the minimum number of wood chips recommended in the recipe, so as not to overpower them with smoke flavour the first time around. Obviously, the amount of wood can be adjusted for more or less smokiness. I’m sure the the potatoes will be delicious with some salt, pepper, and sour cream!

smoked potatoSo far, I’m quite satisfied with this purchase and am excited to try smoking cheese, tofu, tomatoes…the possibilities are endless. My boyfriend has a littlechef smoker, but it cannot be used inside, and stays at his house, because there is more outside space at his place. This little Emson Smoker provides a lot more flexibility and possibility for experimentation.  I look forward to said experiments!

Till next time,

Sarah