April 29, 2012

Montréal Food

Breakfast in Montréal, and we wanted good smoked meat. We had heard, like most Canadians, of Shwartz's reputation. However, on-line reviews warn of hour-long line-ups and of the effect that a reliable stream of tourists (like us) has had on the quality of the food.

Main Deli And Steak House across the street seems to be where the locals are going instead, and that is where we headed.

Smoked meat, eggs and grilled latkes.

These latkes weren't much to look at, but the density is something to be respected, like the beginnings of a black hole. Smokey from the grill, they are absolutely incredible.

The smoked meat pushed all the right buttons; salty, fibrous, soft, juicy, peppery... On the last day we rushed back to Main Deli before heading to the airport to grab some sandwiches for the plane ride home. We would have got latkes, too, but they probably would have put us over our weight limit.

Montréal has got the old European sense of making coffee; if it came out of the espresso machine and has milk and foam, it must be a cappuccino, so tais-toi and drink it. Perhaps the cigarettes have dulled everyone's taste buds.

Never mind the coffee, though, the croissants are, more often than not, out of this world. Crisp and flaky while the interior is still a soft spiral of buttery feathers. These two chains of bakeries make excellent croissants at surprisingly reasonable prices: Au Pain Doré and Juliette Et Chocolat.

Even a cafeteria-style spot in La Marché Jean-Talon produced a delicious lunch, like this gratin of asparagus wrapped in ham. The tourtière was delicious, too, although oddly (?) served upside down.

Rotisserie Romados makes, without a doubt, the best rotisserie chicken we have ever had. A long, but rapidly moving line-up showed that many Montréalers feel the same.

Forty chickens on the grill at once, and the warming trays are kept full. This is a busy shop.

Just down the street is Patati Patata. We found them  on a blog devoted to Montréal poutine. Run by a young, hard-working couple, this place is busy because they get it just right; proper proportions of crisp fries layered with hot gravy and half-melted cheese curds.

We dragged our haul of roast chicken and poutine back to the hotel where we devoured it all with cold bottles of Ephémère apple. One of the best travel meals ever.

We liked the logo and the brew-pub-like feel of this local chain, but something had gone a bit off the rails.

The menu strikes a good balance of local/popular and their in-house brand beer is available in six varieties, but something is missing. The onion, bacon and raclette pizza was very good, with a thin crispy crust, but everything else seemed to be reconstructed by looking at photos of something much better. The beers looked great but lacked any distinctive flavour, and even we west coasters knew enough to be embarrassed by the poutine: pale, powdery fries, thin gravy and still-cold bits of cheese (not curds). It's like a corporate accountant has gone through every item, making cost-effective replacements everywhere at the expense of flavour and character. "Ersatz" was the word that kept coming to mind. Too bad.

April 24, 2012

BC Liquor Stores App

Sir Oliver Mowat, great great uncle of that Mowat, was Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896 and one of our Fathers Of Confederation. He was instrumental in wresting control over rights to natural resources and other goods away from the federal government in favour of the provinces.

One of those "other goods" was alcohol and this decentralization of powers meant that the provinces could make up their own rules when the Temperance movement started influencing politics in the early 20th century. Each enacted legislation that kept tight control of what the people could drink, and when and where, in the hands of the provincial governments.

Since then Alberta is the only province that has completely privatized retail of alcohol and although it operates through a private contractor, it still has a monopoly on wholesale distribution.

Why is this interesting?

Because it is another example of Canada's essential conundrum: the delicate balance between what the people think they want and what the government thinks they should have.

From the number of Alberta license plates in the parking lots of Okanagan wineries, we can assume that some Albertans are fed up with the shelves full of Yellowtail and Molson Canadian in their local liquor shop.

In BC we love to complain about the Liquor Distribution Branch and their retail wing, the BC Liquor Stores. Their monolithic policies and control of imports and distribution can be maddening. That Rhône red you wanted to try? Only available in Prince Rupert. That 90-point Mosel-style Ontario Riesling selling for only $18? Not going to see it here.

But they do many things very, very well, too: their Signature stores are a pleasure to visit (and are open on Sundays, which hopefully infuriates a priest somewhere), they give lots of shelf space to BC wines, and their website is excellent.

Another thing they do alarmingly well is the BC Liquor Stores iOS app.

Free from iTunes, the app is stable, well-designed and updated regularly.

The landing screen ties in to the content of the latest issue of their in-house magazine, Taste, which is handy if you're trying to find a product you just read about.

Here we are looking up a Wild-Ferment Chardonnay from Errazuriz. Text-recognition finds the product after typing in only a few letters.

As well as the price, details, tasting notes and pairing suggestions, it tells you the nearest open store that actually has the wine in stock. This is the best use of government funding we've seen in since paved roads.

You add your own rating and notes about the wine and then organize them into lists of Favourites, Recommendations, Under $20, Never Again, or anything that makes sense to you. You can share these lists by e-mail or you-know-what.

One excellent feature is that the lists are stored on your device so you don't need to go on-line to review them (like when you are standing in a shop). This is very helpful for people like us who are using an iPod Touch that relies on wi-fi access.

Got a bottle and wondering what to eat with it? Scan it with the iPhone's camera (or type in the bar code number) and check the tasting notes for pairing recommendations. There is also a Pairings section that works the other way, showing suggestions based on a variety of typical dishes.

The Pairings section could use a little improvement, we think. One option in the "Meat" category is "Pork or Veal in Cream Sauce with Mushrooms". Why mushrooms, in particular? Strangely, one of their four wine recommendations for this specific dish was "Pomino Bianco" which actually yielded no results in the product list. Oops.

Here is another issue: if you don't spell the item correctly the search feature doesn't help at all. By now we are used to Google interpreting our typos and suggesting what we really meant, so this old-school, "Chardonnat? Does not compute!" kind of result is no longer acceptable.

Over all, this is really a very, very well-done app and the LDB should be congratulated. However, there is one glaring omission: 

Where is the Android version?

While it is not always easy to decipher the stats (Google counts in units shipped and doesn't sell phones (yet), while Apple counts retail sales), by many reports the Android platform now outsells Apple's iOS.


There is no longer any rationalization for not developing an app for Android devices, especially if you are a publicly-funded branch of a provincial government, awash in tax revenue.*

*Edit April 25/12: We just received a call from someone at BC Liquor Stores who tells us that they do have plans to make an Android version of their excellent app. There is no release date yet, however.

How does BC Liquor Stores' app compare to those offered by commissions and boards in the rest of the provinces?

Alberta has LiquorConnect which doesn't seem to have a mobile app at all, which is what happens when you privatize retail.

SaskLiquor  doesn't either, but for different reasons.

From the design of Manitoba's Liquor Marts Online it looks like apps of any kind are still a couple of decades away.

Ontario's LCBO is on the iPhone but doesn't have an Android app.

Quebec's SAQ does.

New Brunswick's ABNL leads the maritimes with apps for both platforms.

The NSLC in Nova Scotia has a series of podcasts and videos, but no mention of mobile apps.

Neither PEI nor Newfoundland seem to have a mobile app between them.

Nunavut Liquor Commission... well, you can read their annual reports.

Northwest Territories Liquor Commission...
The Yukon Liquor Corporation isn't doing much better.

So congratulations to BC's LDB on a job well done. We look forward to reporting here that an Android app is on the way soon. Can't let New Brunswick out-shine us, can we?

And to our northern brothers and sisters, we offer a hearty ᐅᒥᐊᕐᔫᑉ ᐳᓪᓕᓕᒫᐸᒐ ᑕᑦᑕᕐᓂᖅ ᐊᒻᒪᔭᖅ (Umiarjuap Pullimmaqpaga tattaurniq nimiraq.) and we hope you can find a good bottle of wine this summer.

April 21, 2012

Ottawa: Still Cold

Returning to Ottawa after 22 years, Keith was quickly reminded of a certain kind of March that we just don't have in Vancouver.

However, it also has buildings like no-where else out west. The blowing snow and the stubborn, dramatic structures, like rock formations crystallizing out of the cold ground, were beautiful in a way that they never had been to a busy student.

Byward Market doesn't really compare to Granville Island, but that's just not being fair.

It did offer up a delicious Atlantic salmon pie for lunch.

Bourgeois' Mother spider at the National Gallery.

Roxy Paine's 100 Foot Line looked like a crack in the flat grey sky.

Just outside the front door, the National Gallery has an unintentional piece of light sculpture on their hands. Perhaps we can get a grant to name it and point it out to them, since it's already installed.

Sushi Go has great interiors and logo design. The ramen was okay.

With one word this became our favourite café. We're suckers for Futura anyway.

Aya grabbing $750,000 at the Canadian Mint.

On a completely unrelated note, we went directly to prison after that.

These are the cells converted to dorm rooms in the Ottawa Jail Youth Hostel. (We had a nicer room upstairs).

Chicken breasts from the market, one stuffed with Camembert and cranberries and the other with mushrooms and shallot butter. We cooked them up in the hostel kitchen.
A cold bottle of the ever-reliable Friexenet Cava, with its fine bubbles and citrus-mineral flavour was the perfect match. Prison food is not what it used to be.

The evening train to Montreal, another city full of beautiful buildings and amazing food.

We really did not expect to have quite so many posts about trains.

April 16, 2012

Kyoto Trains

Further on the Japanese railway theme, we saw these two posters in Kyoto in October, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Kyoto City Subway.

Embroidering the trains onto "gama-kuchi" (frog-mouth) purses cleverly ties the subway system to Kyoto's history.

These are just adorable:

Yōkan (羊羹) is a thick jellied dessert made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar. It is usually sold in a block form, and eaten in slices. Kyoto is famous for it.

From the low number of views, it seems that not many people were interested in the train videos in our post a week ago. To show that we don't cave to popular opinion (or lack of it) here are two more.

A view of Kyoto rooftops on the way to Arashiyama (25 seconds)

Going from Osaka station to Shin-Osaka, the first leg of the trip from Osaka to Kyoto. We cross the huge Yodo-gawa river at 55 seconds (2:32):

For anyone who made it this far, click the map below to see the distance and route covered (blue line):

View Osaka to Shin-Osaka in a larger map

Okay, no more trains. Back to food and wine for a while.

April 12, 2012

Montreal Beer

Beside Montreal's wonderful Marché Jean-Talon is Le Marché Des Saveurs which does a very good job of promoting Quebec-made goods.

This cooler, for instance, contains only beers that were brewed in Quebec.

Most of them are not available in other provinces, but a happy exception is the line-up of beers from Unibroue.

With labels looking like 70s rock posters or fantasy novel cover art, what is on the outside is as distinct as what is on the inside. Unfiltered and with lots of lees exposure, the flavours are full, rich and rewarding.

Their Éphémère apple is a white ale brewed with apple must. It is fully dry and crisp, packed with tart green apple flavour and a long, satisfying yeasty finish. A real treat on a hot summer afternoon, but also great with a spicy dinner.

Their Ephémère black currant is made the same way and is similarly amazing. Fruity, spicy aromas and delicious black currant flavour. Like Ribena-and-soda without the sugar and all grown up.

The Blonde de Chambly is a Belgian-style beer with lemongrass and floral aromas leading to a palate full of crisp citrus and bitter hops. Just wonderful.

We're lucky to have some of these available at BC Liquor Stores and Legacy Liquor Store. Highly recommended.

Unibroue was bought by Ontario's Sleeman Breweries who was in turn bought by Sapporo Beer Company (サッポロビール株式会社). It would be great to someday drink an Ephémère apple after a long soak in the o-furo.

One note about the larger bottles of Unibroue is their unique cork-and-cage closures:

Quite fun, but they can be a little tricky to open sometimes. The cage is easy enough, and then they only need a twist to get the cork started. However, the head of the cork is smaller than that of a Champagne cork and on some bottles it can be difficult to get a grip on it.

We found that a rubber dish-washing glove is the simple answer. Drape it over the cork and it increases your gripping power enormously due, of course, to Schallamach waves.

April 2, 2012

Roast Pork and Anciano Tempranillo

Recently we had good cause to wander into the bit of Main Street history that is Windsor Quality Meats (AKA Windsor Packing Co, not to be confused with another shop in North Vancouver) and lighten their stock by the amount of one pork shoulder, skin on.

Rubbed with salt and pepper, it came out simply beautifully:

Note the big piece of crackling on the block. It was next under the knife:

Speaking of the knife, it is a special treat to ourselves that we splurged on when in Sakai, Japan, last fall.

Sakai was historically a steel town, manufacturing swords, and later guns, for the Samurai. After the war, arms-makers were forced to apply their skills to other kinds of manufacturing, and Sakai became famous for its bicycles and kitchen knives.

A good reason to slice up a roast pork is the opening of a bottle of Tempranillo like this one: Anciano Gran Reserva 10 year-old Tempranillo from Valdepeñas. Spanish winemakers take the risk and burden of aging their wine for us, releasing it only on a pre-arranged schedule.

This 2001, then, has been aging gently, developing wonderful flavours, and is now somehow available to us for the unbelievable bargain of $16. Still tannic when opened, it could continue to age for another 5 years at least.

We left it for about 30 minutes and it opened up beautifully, showing red and black fruit, leather, spice and nutty-earth. It was still developing as we poured the last drops.

We were tipped off to this under-valued treasure by the weekly e-mail we get from Canada's own Wine Access magazine. This one recommendation alone is worth the annual subscription. If we were under the illusion that anyone actually read this blog, we would be much more reluctant to post about this case-worthy wine.

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